A question of numbers

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Calibration is an often hotly discussed concept. Being about to ‘take’ a good cut or thrust is central to our honour system of governing the outcome of tournament combat.

We have adopted a numbering system in order to gain a common frame of reference when talking about the perceived impact power of an attack.

I need to emphasise that this is an entirely arbitrary system and is totally subjective. A combatant needs to take into account many different factors in a very short space of time. What was the armour in the way? What was the target location? How were people moving etc etc…

So we can describe the power on a 1-10 point scale. It is not a precise measure but an only an attempt to provide a short hand descriptor.

5 – This is a ‘good’ cut or thrust. The minimum level required to make an effective attack. Remember face plates need to be taken lighter.

8 – is getting on the hard end of the scale.

9- This is about the hardest you want to be hit.

10- Excessive.

Most people should be aiming to strike in the 5-7 point range.

 

Ok, remember that this is an objective rating. One person may ‘read’ a cut at 8 while the person making the cut may think it is a 5. What the rating scale gives you is a common vocabulary.

We will use this to compare were we are in power levels. After each bout the person hit gives a number of what they perceive the power was at and the person making the attack also gives what they think the power was. This allows you to work together to reach a consensus on what is a good level of power.

This schema is only a tool. Good communication and constantly talking with your training partners and all the people you fight with is essential.

Have fun, train hard.

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts about training etiquette

I thought I would jot down some of my thoughts about etiquette and behaviour during our training sessions. This is in addition to the points I made in an earlier post here.

Be ready

This should be straight forward. Be ready to go. Do not leave your training partner/s waiting for you to get your helm on or for you to do whatever. If you are running late or are delayed, let the people running the session know and allow them to proceed without you. Remember that we often do not have large numbers and some drills and exercises need several people there to make them work. In short, do not make people wait for you.

There is one teacher in the room

Again this is a basic piece of courtesy. There is one person running the class or session. Follow their instructions. By all means ask questions but this is not the place to start a long discussion or demonstration of your take on things. Offering correction is fine (if you know what you are doing) but do not start instructing other people.

 

Keep things short and concise

We often have to break for a quick check about the effects of an attack or something that happened. Most of the time this should be very short. We are here to train not to talk. So, if you strike someone and they ask if it was good give them an immediate answer. I thought it was good/not good/flat/whatever. Then they can decide. Remember it is always the person receiving the hit that calls the result.

We use some short hand to let people know what is happening. Anything more than a few words and you are taking too long and waffling. If you need to long discussion then wait until you take your helm off.

Shield-the weapon hit the shield and the shield hit you, please do not take it.

Traffic- the weapon hit stuff on the way in, please do not take it.

Not face – the weapon did not go into the face but has hit the helm, unless it is a good hit, please do not take it.

Not good/crap/etc-I do not think I got enough power in the attack, please do not take it.

When calling something be clear – a simple yes or no/light is all you need.

If there is ever a doubt then the strike is probably not good. Your job is to deliver an attack as to leave your opponent in no doubt.

Giving and receiving feedback

During feedback/critique sessions keep your feedback concise. In general keep your comments to one or two points. Be specific. “Your foot work needs work” is not a useful comment. “As you enter range you plant your feet and stop moving” is useful. Be mindful about other people lerning styles and progrssion.  Your feedback should be constructive and this includes an awareness of how different people interact.   

When receiving feedback accept it gracefully. Yes you may be working on something specific and this is a good thing, but listen to the comment, note what you need to, thank them and move on.

Understand that you will not always receive positive comments. People are trying to help you by spotting things you need to work on. If you want positive reinforcement on how awesome you are watch Oprah reruns.

(I know I will offend some folks with my Oprah comment, I very much understand that it is important to receive positive as well as constructive feedback. Training  is more likely to be a situation where you get feedback about where you can build on your skills.  Use tournaments and wars as the basis for ongoing positive affirmation.)

If you are not getting something out of it…

Training will at times be hard, sometimes it wil hurt, particularly if you are struggling with learning or developing a particular skill, however it should contribute to your overall enjoyment of your martial art.   If you are not enjoying the training, take the time to talk with your trainer at the end of the session about this.

Show me the child at seven

I have been asked to provide some thoughts on how we can ensure the retention of those new people who have just begun their first steps in learning swordsmanship.

Our experience has been that for every ten people we get starting training such as the Beginners Classes only 20-40% will get to free sparing in armour. Of these, 50% drop off before too long. What then can we do to increase these retention rates?

I will start by admitting that SCA combat is not for everyone. It can be hard to get the basics down and it takes time. Compare this to Foam weapons groups were you will be out there wielding a sword in your first session.

My feeling is that we have to provide a range of attractor’s in order to keep people coming back. So here are some of my ideas. I would suggest that these are not in any order of importance as different things will appeal to different folk.

Training and progression

The first thing we need to do is provide new combatants clear and progressive training beyond authorisation. This can be difficult but I am sure most groups could easily together training sessions or seminars on different weapons forms, war fighting, different shield types.  This gives new people a clear path of learning and also means they are not dumped in a tournament facing something that they have no idea of what to do.

I think a grading system would be a useful thing. I am not convinced that we can be able to introduce such a thing on a Kingdom wide scale. However we often do have the awards system and the various guards such as your local Baronial Guard. Make this recognition of progress for new combatants. Something to aspire to and maybe work towards. It trick always is to pitch such acknowledgements at a level that requires some effort. No one wants an award for attendance.

What is important is to give people progressive and achievable goals within the tournament arts.

A place to belong

The social parts of the SCA is often one of the things many people tell me keeps them coming back. Ensure that your new people are bought in to the social activities of the group. Get people to go to events and participate. Invite the new people to the pub after training.

War Units are a good group building activity. Getting your newly authorised combatants to be formally inducted into your group’s war unit can be both good theatre as well as groups building. Call a newly authorised person up in court and hand them a tabard and shield.

Pageantry and romance

Even though I have not talked about this a great deal on this blog, pageantry and romance are one of the big excitements for me. The entire image of banners flying the breeze, gorgeous ladies in the gallerie and heralds calling you to the field to swear an oath to the King, is in many ways what the SCA does best. It is important that we get our new people to be able to walk that stage as well. In their first tournament make sure they are carrying a favour. Make sure this means something. Point out all the good moments. Reward and acknowledge, but again this should be for real achievements and not so every kiddie gets a prise.

This is not for everyone

The final point I would like to make is that the activities of the SCA, LARP, HEMA, Metal Weapons, Battle of Nations, whatever group is not for everyone. Different people will have different levels of interest and involvement. Some things will appeal to differently. There is no shame in this.

I tend to start off by telling my beginning students that this is not the easiest of activities. It can be hard work, painful and bruising, frustrating and costly. But for those who put in the time effort and passion, you can get a lot out of this. Be honest with what it is we do, but also let people know that in all of this there is great friendships to be made, adventures to be had and victories to be won.

A Rubric of Knighthood

It is quite natural for many up and coming squires to wonder about what does it take to gain the accolade of knighthood. We do not make this an easy conversation as there is not commonly agreed set of criteria. Too often I have head members of the Chivalry construct a rubric that is ‘just a vibe thing’. While some of this gives you the warm and hippy fuzzies, it is not that helpful for those that aspire to attain this level of accomplishment.

I have talked before about this before and I suppose I am trying to develop my own set of criteria. I believe that it is a good thing to have such a clear and transparent markers. In this way, those that want to be Knights (and I would like to think everyone would want to be at least knightly) have some better signposts to show them the way.

I offer then some things that I am looking for. Remember that these are my criteria alone…8-)

Nobility and appearance
Nobility is a requirement. This nobility should be apparent in both appearance and behaviour. Your armour and equipment must be an example to others. Show that you care and that you will add to the spectacle of the tournament. You must have other accomplishments away from the tournament field. Nobility is something naturally generated as one progresses to a higher level in terms of technique and spirit. Train hard in both physical and mental aspects of tournament combat and face opponents with a belief of winning rather than being possessed by winning.

Attitudes and manners
This is a requirement that applies to everyone, but for a Knight, an irreproachable attitude and manners are required. This goes beyond just ‘do not be a dick’ and becomes an example to all.

Qualifications as an instructor
It is required that a Knight understands tournament combat both in techniques and in theory and is able to pass these on. A knight works to training new people and grow the Society as a whole as well as the combat arts.

Crisp technique
In short, this means that one never misses opportunities to attack, use of measure to the advantage demonstrate a good body manoeuvre, does not engage in unnecessary attacks. There should be no unnecessary movement or attacks; it is a result of perfect balance, strikes, techniques and focus. Once you achieve this level of combat, the tournament becomes a thing of beauty in its style of form and movement.

Rational response to an opponent’s attacks and change in technique
The more experienced you become, more rational response to a change is required. Do not be perturbed by opponents, show rational response to attacks or a change in opponents’ attacks. A Knight remains calm against any changes in opponents techniques and respond rationally to it with appropriate counter techniques.

 

So these are the things I am looking for and indeed they are also the things that I must also continue to work on. While some may see the belt chain and spurs as a reward for your achievements, it is only a marker on the long road of swordsmanship.

Passing the Torch

This was going to be a bit of a summation on Lochac Crown Tournament but I may wander off a little.

Last weekend was Crown. I love Crown Tournaments. This is where the pageantry, excitement, expectation and challenges all come together. The challengers to the list are there in their best harness, consorts beautifully dressed, banners and a heady sense of expectation. This is where people bring their A game. In no other tournament are the eyes of the gallery so focused on what happens on the field. Renown will be gained and reputations can be lowered.

Everyone should entre Crown Tournament if they are able. It not only enhances the list but why miss an opportunity to challenge yourself and (this is the best bit) represent your consort on the centre stage of the Kingdom.

This list had 20 entrants, seven of these Knights, rather good for a Lochac Crown. Of this I had about eight combatants from my household and associates, so I was playing soccer mum for a third of the list.

All of them did very well, even after the enevatble late night repainting shields and making surcotes and arming doublets. Many of them this was their first big tournament and I am happy to say they brought the fight to their opponents with dash and élan. It is a tribute to the efforts and time these people have spent on their training, gear and commitment.

But the Tournament belonged to Sir Felix Arnett von Dazing. His bouts were one of the finest examples of control and timing I have seen. He was surgically efficient. It was wonderful to watch. At the end it was Felix who was able to give Eva the Coronet of the Crown Princess.

As some of you would know Sir Felix was a squire of mine and Eva still has a red belt. Seeing your students’ win Crown is a humbling thing. The role of a mentor is always to ensure those you work with can exceed what it is you do. It is an awesome moment when you realise this has happened.

I hope (and probably know) that there will be others to win Crown in the future. But there is that first moment when the young take that torch from you and with that fire are able to run far ahead.

And there are two paths you can go on…

On of the more interesting aspect of our combat form is the idea that the outcome is declared by the defeated.

This idea is neatly articulated in the ‘Laws of Honourable Combat’, these being-

The First Lemma of Honorable Combat being that victory is achieved
only through declaration of the vanquished.

The Second Lemma of Honorable Combat being that the force of a blow
can only be judged by the recipient of same.

The Third Lemma of Honorable Combat being violation of either of the
first two does corrupt the probity of Honorable Combat.

This idea is possibly the most important aspect of our tournaments. It is this that focuses our actions and demands a high level of personal responsibility that is hard to find in any other sport or martial art. We cannot rely on some third party judge; there is no action reply on the day.

We must enter into a bond of trust with all those we face. We must place in our competitors that they walk onto the field with the same honesty as we do. We trust that they will follow the rules and are playing the same game. We trust that they will strike us in appropriate target areas, we trust that they will strike with the blade and we trust that they will strike hard enough that a good attack can be called confidently.

It is also beholden on us to do our utmost to return this same trust, not only to our opponents but also to the Gallery. Our actions must leave no doubt to our honourable intentions. It is sometime more important that we be seen to fight crisply and with honesty. Should I strike my opponent I want it to be without doubt. If they are standing there wondering if a cut was good, then I have not made a successful attack. A good cut or thrust must land so there is no doubt that that it is good.

The same thing also applies to cuts. It is better to refight about if there was any doubt that you did not strike with edge. If you have cut them properly the first time then you can do so again. If you did not manage to cut properly then the victory was never yours in the first place.

Do we use a particular tactic because it is within the rules or because it leads to a great contest of arms? Just because it is permissible does not make it Knightly.

In all of these, your greatest opponent is often yourself. The greatest challenge we face in our tournaments is the defeat of our own ego and desires to win. Yes, victory on the field is what we train for, but it must be tempered by never letting go of the trust that is placed on us every time the lay-on is called.

 

 

Ultimate Warrior

It has been interesting watching the development of marketing materials for SCA tournament combat. I think these are a great step forward and I hope they will bring a lot more people into out game. But there is something often missing. While the flyers encourage people to discover western martial arts or to become warriors there is hardly any mention of being a knight.

I find this a little odd. One of the central themes of the SCA is the quest to better your own skills and character. Why is it that we shy away from placing the quest for Knighthood front and centre to what we do?

Perhaps it is a bit too complex to distil in a short advertising flyer. We already have the idea of warrior imprinted in modernity through games, MMA and mainstream sports. I am sure it appeals to many, particular those more familiar with levelling up in World of Warcraft. He is an idea that you can start as a couch dweller and turn yourself into a warrior, fit, ripped and ready to fight anyone who is in your way.

While I would like to be fit and ripped, I am not sure this is really what we are about. To me the image of the warrior is a little raw in tooth and claw. It comes from a tribal way of warfare. It is the cult of the individual above all else.

What then is the path of knighthood? The ideals of the Knightly arts go far beyond martial prowess. Beyond the weapons and armor of a Knight is the focus of social and personal responsibility. Here then is the shifting of a pure warrior ethos to one focused on several virtues: Fidelity, Justice, Courtesy, Honor, Prowess, Humility, Strength, Courage and Honesty.

It is the knight, not the warrior who stands on the field of combat to win honour and renown for their consort, not themselves. It is the knight who thinks of the group and others first. Perhaps these ideas of humble achievement and service do not market well in a society where the individual is everything? Yes we need our heroes, but what sort of heroes do we need? I am sure that Arthur and Lancelot would have a very interesting conversation with Conan and Rambo.   

 

Still trying to reclaim the blade

Many of you would be aware of my slight obsession with always striking with the edge of your sword. I even did a short clip on this a while back which caused a little bit of discussion in other forums.

 There has been a trend in many SCA groups to simply ignore or to be unaware of the need to treat our tournament sticks as though they were a weapon with an edge.

 Indeed there are some combatants were this ignorance forms a part of their technique (or lack thereof).

 I have even read some members of the Chivalry claim that striking with edge and in the plane of the blade is not necessary.

 The rules here are clear, to quote-

6.4 Effects of Blows

1. Blows must be delivered with effective technique for the particular type of weapon used, and must strike properly oriented and with sufficient force, to be considered an effective, or good, blow.

Lets think for a moment what “must strike properly oriented” means, simply that you must strike in the plane of the blade. It does not mean that you have to strike on the taped edge.

Pretend for a moment that you are holding a real bladed sword. Perform your cut as you would with a rattan weapon. Are you striking with the edge? Did you cut come in along that same line? It is this last bit that is critical, not only for delivering a cut with good power but also for making the weapon work in the manner it has been designed to do.

 Let us look at an example of this, difficult as it is to talk about this without pictures. Someone attacks with a wrap to the back of their opponent’s helm. The sword comes high dropping almost vertically down hitting the back of the helm directly on the strip of tape marking the swords edge. This cut would be considered flat as the arc of the cut was at right angles to the plane of the blade. For this cut to be legal the sword would need to come in horizontally or for the sword to strike on a very different part of the stick.

 Such flat/with tape cuts happen a lot on the fast wraps many combatant use. Indeed I am absolutely guilty of doing this until (to my shame) I saw video of me taking someone’s leg with just such an illegal cut.

 Another common place was combatants throw a flat cut is in attacks to the offside. As they try to reach around the defence the sword will strike with the flat of the blade. Just like the wraps, some of these strikes come in at an angle that would never work with a real weapon.

 Remember that it is the way the sword moves to the target that is the best determinate of it a cut was properly oriented, not the tape making the edge.

 It is true that by ignoring the rule some folk are able to make hits that would have been impossible or slower if they had made a correct cut. To be blunt these people are scoring victories that they have in no way earned. At best they are either poorly trained or ignorant of the rules by which we play. At worst they are simply cheating. There is no honour to be gained by false victories.

 How do we ensure that we always cut properly? I think we need to do several things. Having a proper grip on your sword is a good start. Do some pell work with a real sword is an excellent thing to do. Making sure you are delivering your cuts properly is also a fundamental part of this. Retape your sword and see if there are any marks on the flat of the blade. Use this to correct your technique. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Are you really using your weapon as it is intended or are you cheating yourself as much as anyone else?

 Have the people you train with look out for any errant strikes. If anyone calls a strike flat, refight the bout. Remember, victory must be by skill not by doing things incorrectly.

 I will be the first to put up there hand and say that I am not perfect in this matter. I have had to drop a very effective attack because I simply have been unable to perform this cut correctly.  

 Unfortunately there are some combatants that are unaware of the requirement to strike properly. This is sometimes the fault of their environment. If you are from a group that does not pick up on these bad habits then it is difficult to correct them. Make them aware of what good swordsmanship is gently. In the end it is only yourself that you have control over.

 I am sure to annoy some people my comments here. That is probably partly my intention. While we all sometimes make mistakes, I have witnessed many examples of combatants who are simply ignoring the rules and this is cheating.

 In the end we all must be honest with ourselves and what we do. In some way this is a true lesson of swordsmanship.

Somewhere between a student and a master

There has been a little bit of discussion in other forums about the standards and role of peerages in the SCA. As these conversations happen with a certain level of inevitability and attract a wide variety of opinions. I have mentioned this topic previously and thought I would offer my own opinions on at least the martial side of things.

So what is the level of skill and knowledge required of a knight?

The simple answer for a good many people is that the person in question can compete head to head with the majority of active knights. Even this definition has its problems. How does one define what that level is? Do we compare an aspirant to knighthood against those with 20 years of experience and training? While a rough guide, I feel that this is a poor measure to use as it focus’ primarily on raw win to loss ratio and does not bring into the equation all the other things required of a skilled martial artist.

I look for someone who firstly understands the use of weapons. Do they know how to move and cut effectively, can they execute their attacks with clean and crisp technique? More importantly can they explain what they do and why? Saying ‘this works for me’ is not enough. Nor is it enough to do things just because that was the way they were taught. A knight understands their technique and when it will work and when it does not. They can identify the strengths and weaknesses of every weapon, shield and style to be found on the tournament field. They have made a study of the science of arms.

Allied to this is they are able to impart this understanding to others. Yes, teaching is a separate set of skills, but a knight is able to pass on their knowledge and sense of excitement to others.

Increasingly I think that it is appropriate for us all to have some familiarity with the historical combat manuals, even if it is to understand what is and is not useful from them. A knight is able to speak with authority on this subject.

Their performance on the tournament field must be considered and precise. It is not knightly to flail madly in the hope of scoring a winning strike. This is the difference between piñata good and knightly good. The knightly combatant uses line, distance and timing to out-position their opponent, just as they have timing and natural power to what they do. There should be deadly efficiency of purpose.

A knight is able to exploit deficiencies in the defence and technique of their opponents. They are able to quickly adapt regardless of their opponent.

A knight is also humble in their prowess. A knight does not talk their oppenent to death. To quote Count Gemini, “in the art of Chivalric combat, one can never take or even demand victory. It must be always be given by your opponent to achieve honour…”

The knight also takes care of their appearance and gear. They add to the spectacle of our events. Their armour is well maintained and in good condition.

They are an advanced student of the tournament arts. They have an understanding of all the things mentioned already and are now ready to continue on the path.

So this has not been a list for any of us to tick off as we go. There are many of these criteria very open to interpretation. There is also all the other aspects that is required of Knights, but that is a much longer conversation.

There is no spoon

The next time you are at a tournament I invite you to watch the various participants. Ignore for the moment what they are doing, but look instead at how they walk into the field. Can you pick the winner of a match by their presence alone? How do the more experienced carry themselves compared to the novice?

This is not an idle musing on deportment but rather thinking about our purpose and focus on the execution of the armed encounter.

It has been often said that you can win something by being confident in your training and abilities. I think this is often true. A person who is sure they have done the training hours, given enough sweat and effort takes this confidence into the match they now will face. This also represents a calm of mind and allows the individual to focus on the task at hand.

This is not the bravado of someone who tells you that they are awesome, despite never having been at practice. But certainty and clarity that they can do what they need to do to be victorious.

If having the right mindset is vital, how then do we arrive at that point? There are a great many books and websites devoted to what we now will call sports-physiology. If you want to read this sort of thing (and I suggest you do) then In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick is a good place to start.

One of the interesting things Orlick points out is that success does require a high level of enjoyment in the given activity. So it is essential that we enjoy what we do. We do need to seek a ‘rush’ of excitement and fun in our tournaments and wars; we cannot be all focus and intensity. Now having said that, it is important to have some level of focus or we will not succeed at all.

You often hear people speaking of being ‘in the moment’. That moment were time slows down and you do everything right. This is that critical time that we all try to replicate every time the lay-on is called. How do we get to that point? I am still not sure, and if I was I would be earning a great deal more than I am…8-)

There are some things I do to try to get myself in the right head space. Not all of this works for everyone.

Preparation

As I mentioned earlier, you must be sure you have done everything you can do in training and preparation before you walk onto the field. Sometimes this needs to be measured in months if not years. Do not be put of by this, but rather understand what you can do and make sure you can do it well. This may mean blocking that attack by His Grace until you see an opportunity to counter.

Gear

I like to ensure that all my harness is in excellent working order. Everything works and I have confidence that nothing is going to break or fail on the day. Do any repairs well before that day of the event, running around trying to fix something with borrowed tools is not the best way to keep calm. Make sure you are comfortable with your harness and that it gives you the protection you require. I make sure that my gear helps me set the right example on the field, retouch the paint on your shield, re-tape your sword and wash your arming doublet.

Walk the Field

This is something I do before any big tournament. As early as I can, I have a wander around the field. I make it mine. This is all about getting into the right frame of mind. It is the beginning of drawing in my thoughts so I can focus on the competition to come.

Consort

I mentioned the role of the consort some time ago. Something I have seen that is excellent is the couples who work out where they will stand before every bout. Knowing where to look helps in staying focused.

Be ready

Listen for the calls to arm and stand ready. I often try to be ready and waiting for my opponent to arrive at the entrance to the lists. This also extends to making sure all your gear is packed the night before. You alone are responsible your own gear.

You are a Noble

In the SCA at least everyone is considered a member of the noble class. Be one! In The Book of the Courtier, Castigilone describes the courtier is described as having a cool mind, a good voice (with elegant and brave words) along with proper bearing and gestures in addition to having a warrior spirit, to be athletic, and have good knowledge of the humanities. Everything you do must be with a certain level of ease and grace. Step confidently onto the field and perform your salutes with confidence, and poise. Look like you know what you are doing. Those watching have come to see knights performing great deeds of arms, be that knight.