This past weekend, I had a chance to take a class given at my local SCA training gym. It was taught by Syr Gemini and Sir Mari, the founders of Oplomachia, a western martial art based on Medieval manuscripts. It was a great class, and I really appreciated the structured, disciplined approach to SCA combat, and some of the things Syr Gemini said really resonated with me. It definitely got me thinking, not just about my training, but about my goals in the SCA.
I come from a martial arts background. I started practicing Taekwondo at the age of seven, and while my experience was definitely a Westernized one, there was still a high level of discipline and practice. Even as a black belt, every class started with the practicing of basic techniques (after group stretching, which I loved). Every twice-weekly class had a structure, which included line drills, partner drills, forms, as well as free sparring. Practice made perfect, and you got plenty of practice.
SCA heavy combat, by contrast, is wildly unstructured. Most fighter practices are just an extended free sparring session, where a more experienced fighter or knight may take a newer one aside to give a few pointers. The problem, as Syr Gemini pointed out, is that it’s very difficult to put new concepts into practice without training them repeatedly, to say nothing of doing so when someone else is swinging back. Retention is low, and discouragement can reach very high levels. And that’s if everyone is telling you the same thing (spoiler alert: usually they’re not)! This hasn’t been as much of an issue for me, given my previous martial arts experience (I can fill in a lot of the blanks, as well as separate the signal from the noise), but a lot of my friends are not so lucky.
SCA heavy training is still based heavily on the “Whack/Thump” method: you get in armor, maybe get a few pointers, and then commence with the hitting/not getting hit. You improve over time, but it is often by intuitive leaps, as there’s no structured discipline, a codification of what works and what doesn’t. There’s plenty of fighting, but not much training.
On the fencing side things are a little better, but that may just be my local group. When I started fencing, it was like going to a martial arts studio: every practice started off with drills, basic parries and attacks; there would be a seminar, teaching new concepts or practicing older techniques; then the night would end with free sparring, a chance to implement what had been introduced. But even this structure has fallen away in recent years; fencing practice is now a series of pickup fights, and the training has moved to another night that not everyone can make.
So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me dissatisfied, but also motivated. Part of me craves the structure and rigorous discipline that comes with martial arts. I am willing to admit that the SCA is a different environment than a Taekwondo studio, what with being a volunteer organization and all, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be improved.
And I’d like to be part of that solution.