by Hector of the Black Height
As the melee season opens once again, I'd like to take a few minutes and just say a few things about what I understand are the whys of heavy-weapons fighting. Many of these things are assumed to be understood, but so many people, so many generations of fighters, come and go through the lists that not everyone may have seen or heard these ideas stated explicitly. Also, as we rush to authorize newbie fighters before Pennsic, we get so wrapped up in the hows of fighting the whys can fall by the wayside. We must not let that happen.
So, why do we fight? Primarily for fun. This is a game, a contact sport. Nobody is supposed to get killed for real (and as far as I know, nobody has been, ever, in the Society's lists). Nobody is supposed to be injured, through the hazards of the ground or through an opponent's blows. We should be laughing about the outcome of our fighting afterwards, not growling or cursing. We should be co-operating to make the playing field as safe as it can be.
We are fighting our friends. In some cases they may be friends we haven't met yet, but they are fellow SCAdians, playing the same game we are. They may play as part of another Kingdom, but we're all SCAdians. We don't want jingoism or chauvinism to turn the game ugly.
We fight for honour. We fight for the honour of our consorts. We fight for the honour of our homeland and our liege-lord or -lady. We fight for our own honour.
We fight for the joy of the sport and the beauty of the martial art. There are people on the field who make the game graceful and lovely to watch. There are people who you just want to sit back and applaud for their mastery of the sword. This is more than just armorial display; this is personal skill and talent combining in a hard, exciting dance. It's fun to play a hard, fair game. It can be fun to win. It can be fun to lose. It is almost always fun to improve your game.
We fight because, once in a while, there is a moment of surpassing glory that makes all the bruises and long drives to fight practice and pell-work pale in comparison. There are lone fighters in the face of overwhelming odds whose courage inspires. There are gestures of chivalry that make you want to cheer or weep. There is the pride of seeing your banner waving over your friends. Fighting can provide an emotional rush, an adrenaline pump.
The list field and the melee field are where we display the attributes we aspire to. In simpler terms, all the rest is talking the talk; on the field we walk the walk. I'm not talking about the wanna-be fighter carrying three swords and an attitude through the feast hall but never picking up a stick of rattan (though that's reflected in our culture, too). I'm talking about the warrior who professes loyalty to his Crown and has the chance to take up arms against an opposing Kingdom. I'm talking about the chivalrous fighter who gives his opponent time to wipe his eyes or recover a weapon in single combat. I'm talking about fighters from opposing Kingdoms who meet on the battlefield and turn away from each other, in tribute to debts owed or friendship acknowledged. Within the lists and on the melee field are the arenas in which feudal ties, chivalrous duties and bonds of kinship become as real as we can make them. Within the lists, a vital part of our medieval culture happens.
There never is an excuse for cheating. There never is a need for anger on the field. The only person you truly harm is yourself; your reputation, your fun, your honour are what suffers. Anyone can shine on the field; anyone can make a mistake. Fighters are human and the coin flips both ways. A coloured belt or shiny hat doesn't guarantee peripheral vision or perfect understanding of the rules of the list. If you think a coloured belt means it takes a harder blow to knock you down, you should reconsider what the belt and the sword really represent in your life.
Here's an important idea: on the melee field, especially at an inter-Kingdom event like Pennsic, use the holds. I'm not talking about tactical planning. When the helmets come off and the water-bearers come out, drop your helmet (so you can return to your place; never seek an unfair advantage!) and then walk over to the other guys. Introduce yourself. Tell 'em you're from Ealdormere and ask where they're from. My experience is that it's easy to lose your temper with a stranger; it's harder to crank up the calibration on somebody you just met. Shake hands in the holds and cross swords afterwards. You'll meet the nicest people that way.
Mistakes happen; admit your mistakes. There's always another battle. Listen to the marshals; without them you couldn't play. It's always nice to thank the marshals for their efforts on your behalf. In the same vein, remember it isn't a fight without an opponent. Respect your opponent's skill; honour his or her chivalry; celebrate the glory of the great game.
This has been an exercise in restating what I believe to be the obvious. However, if you've never been exposed to these concepts, or if you've never heard them set forth in quite these terms, this is the game I try to play. If I have the honour of crossing swords with you, I shall try to do you and your consort honour by giving you a hard, clean, challenging fight. I shall strive to do my consort honour, not with victory or defeat, but with the best effort I can. I shall strive to do the great game honour, by acting on the field as I would hope others would act. And I will try to have fun. If I can honour my opponent, my consort and the great game itself with deeds of arms, in my experience the fun follows naturally.
A Response to "Why We Fight" by Lord Grimwulf the Hairy (ODH APF),
first Lord Mayor of the Royal City of Eoforwic. Reproduced with permission.
Personally, I always found the large battles to be the great leveler of the SCA. Although a good part of the attractiveness of the game itself is its hierarchical structure, what with its knights, pelicans, hobgoblins and such, I think that the wars always presented the opportunity for the individual to literally meet all others on the same ground.
Where else could one end up fighting back-to-back with some ancient peer who hand a hand in creating the SCA? Where else is chivalry most likely to look at any fighter as a potential equal? The field investitures used to take place whenever a large number of fellows with pretty belts watched one hell of a fight from a previously unknown person, who didn't have to be squired to the right person, or do all the politically correct things to "get-along". He just had to have the ability to cause his opponents to drop on the field and to cause the jaws of the spectators to simply drop that day.
As far as new fighters go, this is the one opportunity they have to belong, to join their experience to those of all those on both sides, not only on that field, but all the other fields where pitched mob fights have taken place from the beginning. As the unit leaders get taken out of the game, it becomes the time of decision, in a very real sense, as to who is willing to follow and who is willing to lead. Who is willing to take the initiative and perhaps give up their own chance to stay in the game a little longer so their companions can get out of a tight spot.
This is where nobility of the spirit is exercised, like some atrophied muscle long laid dormant. Where modern society demands and encourages conformity and passivity, the battlefields offer a chance, just a chance, to demonstrate some example of self-sacrifice, responsibility and yes, even compassion without the fear of scorn or ridicule. It is there for those who will see it, for those that will feel it, for those who will live it, but only if they truly wish to find it. It will be there.
Grimwulf the Hairy, along with Aeden o Kincora, is considered by many to be one of the finest field commanders in the history of the Barony of Septentria, with good cause.
Copyright 1998 Arthur McLean and L. Green. All rights reserved. Material copyright L. Green used with permission.