On Fighter Authorizations

by Hector of the Black Height

As the weather gets nicer and more and more people decide that they really want to fight at War this summer, you'll see a lot of new fighters trying for their basic authorizations as fighters. This is a time-consuming process, often held at the beginning of a tourney or day of fighting, and it seems to mystify many people (including some fighters, for no good reason). This article is meant to explain what's going on when the heralds announce that somebody is trying to authorize as a fighter.

First and foremost, you have to be able to recognize the players in this little drama. The easy one is the authorizing fighter; he or she is the nervous one in new-looking armour, standing alone. There are several other people involved. At least one other person is in armour, though two is considered better. These are the people who will actually fight with the novice fighter; they do not have to be marshals. The opponent is the one who has to judge if the novice is hitting hard enough or too hard or is hitting the targets that should be hit. It's best if two different fighters are involved; that way the novice has a more well-rounded test of his or her abilities. One fighter should spar with the novice, the other should fight the "Crown" bout.

As well at the fighters in armour, there will be a panel of warranted marshals. There must be at least two warranted marshals at an authorization; three is better. These are the people who make the decision as to whether the novice is safe and proficient enough to be an authorized fighter in the SCA. They may ask the novice fighter to do certain things and demonstrate a variety of skills. They will ask the opponent to do certain things, as tests for the novice.

Before entering the list for an authorization, the novice will, of course, have been attending local fight practices. He or she will have read the rules of the List of the SCA and the Conventions of Combat for the Middle Kingdom. The novice should be in his or her own armour, as one's own armour will fit and thus protect adequately. The novice must have practiced in the armour he or she wears into the authorization list. The novice's armour will have been inspected before the authorization begins, and the novice will have shown the presiding marshal his or her blue membership card and photo ID proving age.

The first test in an authorization is a sparring bout. The fighters will "call all blows but acknowledge none"; they will say whether the blow was good, light, glancing or whatever, but will not act out the effect of the blow (fall "dead", lose the use of a leg or an arm). This is the basic test of skill-at-arms. If the marshals are content that the novice has displayed both control of his or her sword and the ability to judge blows, the authorization can continue.

The marshals will usually ask the opponent to do two things in the opening sparring. At some stage the opponent will hang back. This allows the novice to go on the offensive and display his or her best moves. If the novice also hangs back, nothing happens and the marshals have to wonder if the novice lacks the self-confidence necessary to attack an opponent. The opponent will also switch to the offensive, deliberately pressing the novice and closing in. How does the novice react to an opponent six inches away and swinging hard and fast?

The next two tests make sure the novice is prepared for what can happen in a tourney bout. There are two permutations. First, a fighter can lose the use of a leg and have to fight kneeling. The second likely possibility is that a fighter will be struck on the sword arm. In this case a tournament will stop and the fighter will remove his or her shield, take up the sword in the shield (weak) hand and continue. In both these tests the novice's opponent will be unimpaired.

These tests are really safety tests. Will a fighter on his knees panic when an opponent looms overhead and bend forward, exposing the cervical spine to danger? Will a fighter fighting with only one arm reach out for a shot with the "impaired" hand? When fighting off-hand or on one's knees the marshals are very interested in seeing the novice defend, though some offense is important (especially when fighting off-hand, when there is very little defence possible). If the fighter can pass both these tests, the authorization continues with one more test.

The final test is a tourney bout "fought as if for the Crown". In this bout the novice will acknowledge any good blow. While the novice would like to win this authorization bout, it's not essential. The marshals are ensuring that the novice is familiar with tournament conventions and customs.

What are the marshals looking for in an authorization? First and foremost, is the novice safe? The novice must display some defence and must not make patently unsafe moves such as exposing the throat or spine to blows. The novice must be able to control his or her sword; the novice cannot merely flail with a stick. Shots must be aimed at SCA legal target areas (no shots on the knees or below, on the hands or the wrists). Groin shots are legal, but they are discouraged strongly as unchivalrous where I come from. The novice must not strike his or her opponent with the shield, which is not a weapon. Shield on shield contact is permissible, however.

The novice must display some kind of consistent form. There are several styles of fighting, and the marshals aren't necessarily looking for one over another. They do want to see that the novice is getting some power behind his or her blows but isn't over-extending or straining in the process. The power for shots should come from the major muscle groups (especially the hips and legs). Snapping shots with the wrist and elbow alone is a recipe for tennis elbow or a sprain. Wrist snaps also deliver limited power.

The marshals want to see some offence as well as defence. Does the novice have the self-confidence to take the offensive? Can the novice throw more than one shot? How about a two-shot combination? Does the novice move around or are both feet rooted to the ground? If the novice is moving around, how's his or her footwork and balance? The marshals don't need to see brilliant shots or lightning speed. They do need to see a willingness to strike an opponent in appropriate target areas, because if the novice won't throw a shot he or she is merely a target. That's not any fun for novice or opponent, and it probably means the novice will get hit too often and thus get hurt.

Sometimes a novice doesn't pass his or her authorization. This merely means he or she needs to do more work before entering an uncontrolled fighting environment. This may require more work on hitting a target, half an hour reading over the rules again or adjusting armour so it fits; sometimes the problem with a novice fighter boils down to a badly-padded helm he or she can't see out of. Once the novice has worked on the area needing improvement, he or she is welcome to enter an authorization list again, perhaps the same day.

When most novices attempt to authorize, it's the culmination of a process stretching back many weeks or months. Authorization is the transition from practice hall and pell to the tourney list and the shieldwall. If successful, it's the first day of the new fighter's tourney or melee career. It's also the debut of a new face in the lists which attract public attention, entertain spectators at events and, ultimately, select our Kings and Queens. When the heralds announce an authorization bout, take the time to watch it and learn more about both fighting and fighters.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.