Category Archives: SCA

Posts about my main hobby: medieval re-creation with the Society for Creative Anachronism

Well Don’t I Feel Like A Right Twit

Something came up after last week’s fencing practice that is still bothering me. I’m going to try and talk about this as politely as possible, without mentioning names and such. Everyone involved had valid points, but I’m going to try to give my perspective.

Apparently someone was in town visiting for the week, and was able to make it out to fencing practice. While there, they were apparently largely ignored by the other fencers there, and thus made to feel unwelcome. And the sad part is, I can see where they were coming from with their complaints, and don’t really have anything to say to make it better. I too have been in a situation where I felt like an outsider, and it can be terrifying to stay there, let alone approach and attempt to integrate into what may already seem like a well-knit group.


While it won’t erase past events, I’d like to try to give some perspective from the other side, that of the “hardcore regular” crowd. A lot of us are ourselves painfully shy; we have issues approaching unfamiliar people at the best of times, and that practice night was not the best of times. I know I myself wasn’t feeling that excited to be there, as were a few others. It was the first practice after a whirlwind week of war after event after war for a lot of people, so attendance was low, and the people there were likely already exhausted. As such, I imagine a lot of us (at least myself) just wanted a relatively low-key night to see and catch up with friends. I had had a busy and tiring day at work, which only exacerbated my malaise. I ended up only fighting one person that night, but otherwise had a good time talking with people.

It also really bothered me that people who weren’t even there commented on how there was “no excuse” for lack of courtesy. To me it felt dismissive of one side, not even considering that there might have been extrenuating circumstances. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m am NOT trying to imply in any way that the original person’s comments or feelings were not valid. I guess what bothers me most is they very well might be right on the money.

The group of people I hang out with have in the past had a reputation for being standoffish, so issues like this are a bit sensitive. Could we have been more welcoming? Yes, probably. But as a group of largely introverts, that can be tough for us on the best of days. And last practice was defintely not that. It makes me sad that I might have in any way contributed to someone feeling left out; being something of a social outcast myself, I know that pain all too well.

I know (or at least hope) the comments about that practice weren’t directed at me personally. But I can’t help but take them slightly personally, as I’m sure there was something I could have done at the time to make it better. And if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s beating myself up over “I should have…” But it sounds like it ended up a perfect storm of neglect, awkwardness, and not feeling social.

Oh well.

EDIT: I just realized I went through all that without apologizing about my role in the incident.  Anyway, I’m sorry.  I truly am.


Over the past few days I’ve seen more and more of my SCA friends post and talk about getting ready to leave for Estrella War, and for the first time in a while, I’m kinda wishing I could go.

Estrella was my first big event in the SCA, a little over ten years ago. Until then, I had not done much outside of the weekly fighter practice. True, I had done some local events, like the Toys for Tots fundraiser, but that had been mostly as a bystander. I hadn’t fought in any tournaments, and my only melee experience was via small unit skirmishes in the horse barn where we held practice.

Nothing could have prepared me for my first war experience. Until then, I had considered a practice with 20 or more fighters a “large” one. But at Estrella, there were closer to 600 fighters. On each side. The sheer scale was overwhelming. There were times when the line of our shields stretched as far as I could see (in the admittedly dusty desert air) in either direction, to say nothing of the hordes of “enemies” massed across from us. There’s some indescribable feeling when you see a sight like that, an awareness of the like-minded fighters around you. It doesn’t make it any less intimidating, but it sublimates a not insignificant portion of your fear into exhilaration.

My first war was a magical experience, to say the least. Fighting all day (did you know there’s actually oxygen at lower altitudes?) gave way to a wonderful world of campfires and storytelling (and parties, but that’s never really been my thing) with the setting of the sun. I also learned several things. One: a mummy bag and thin Thermarest pad are not significant protection against the February desert cold when placed inside a large six-person dome tent. Two: taking along a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of Nutella (carbs, protein, and sugar!) as your only source of food will cause others to take pity on you and feed you whether you like it or not.

But like all things, these intense feelings couldn’t last. I’ve been to Estrella several more times and had fun, but the experience was just that: fun, not magical. This, combined with a growing undercurrent of discontent about how the hosts of the war treated their guests amongst my circle of friends, eventually leached most of the enthusiasm for war I had left. As such, it’s been several years since I’ve been back. Admittedly, my decision to go to grad school (and all the time and money constraints that entailed) had something to do with my decision, but it also seemed to be part of a larger malaise.

And yet…

For the first time in a while, I’m feeling a distant cousin of that first war’s excitement. I’ve heard that a lot of past complaints about how things were run have been addressed. People I know and respect are getting excited, and that can’t help but be infectious. I’m still not going to make it this year, but on the eve of my first war ten years ago, I’m starting to wish I could.


It’s been a while since I talked about my efforts to restart a fencing drill regiment at my local practice. Unfortunately, there’s a reason for that: things have kind of stalled out.

Things seemed to be going well before the winter holidays. General practice attendance was up, I was motivated, and people seemed interested in hearing what I had to say. But then the holidays came around, and people started having other commitments. Attendance dropped, down past what I felt was a critical mass for drills. And then, as attendance started coming back up, it was time to start doing melee drills for those people going to war. Long story short, we haven’t really done drills in several months.

I could keep coming up with excuses. But the reality is, I’ve dropped the ball. I got out of the habit of leading drills, and let my nervousness get the best of me. Say what you like, but it’s tough for me to waltz into a room and take control of the training environment. Especially when there may be people who seem more qualified than me there (read: white scarves). After all, how do I know what I’m talking about, or if what I have to say is of any use to anyone else? Maybe I’m just wasting my time…

These thoughts, of course, are not rational. But they’ve been gnawing away at my confidence, making it that much easier to push drills of until “next time.” Heck, it’s been so long that even I’m getting rusty on the curriculum I wrote. If I’m having to re-learn things each time, how can I expect to be able to teach it to others?

I’ve been trying to think of ways out of this slump. Writing about it is helping; once it’s down on the page, I can see how ridiculous it sounds. In fact, the voices of my friends start crowding my mind, trying to slap some modicum of sense into me. In fact, I’m already feeling more motivated to lead drills.

But that’s not the reason I started this post. My main concern (after self-confidence) is familiarity with the material. So here’s what I’m proposing: I’d like to use my next few blog entries to detail the curriculum my friend and I have developed. Right now, it doesn’t exist much beyond a few bullet points and diagrams in a notebook. It needs to be fleshed out, and I’ve been meaning to do so. Doing it here, in a more or less public environment, would mean that I can’t shirk my duty, that I would need to actually follow through with my intentions.

(This is what I do, see? I trick myself into productivity and gainful activity!)

So for those of you who read this blog and come to fencing practice: if you’ve been expecting drills, I’m sorry. I’ve dropped the ball, but I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m going to try to make it up to you, and hopefully end up with a better product for us all at the same time. As always, your feedback is welcome.

I Might Be Good

An odd thing has been happening recently, and I’m not sure what to do about it. People have been coming up to me and commenting on how much they admire my fighting skill, both in heavy fighting and fencing. In fact, one of my friends even said he was surprised that neither my belt nor my scarf were white.*

I haven’t been sure what to do about this. In fact, it’s even taken me several weeks to work up the courage to even write about this.

It’s hard for me to take a compliment at the best of times. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable. I can’t do much more than stand there and stammer out a “thank you” that starts to sound ridiculous to my ears after a few repetitions. Whether I’m uncomfortable because I don’t like being the center of attention or because my internal view of myself is slightly biased, I don’t know.

Okay, that’s a lie. I do know: I tend to be much harder on myself than anyone else would dare to be. As such, it’s hard for me to objectively value my own accomplishments, as I always see things I could have done just a bit better, or taken just slightly more time to complete. I also tend to dislike my work once I complete it, especially in creative endeavors. I can’t stand to re-read my own writing, and almost all of my design projects in grad school ended with me being disgusted by them, but with due dates looming that required me to present something.

I also think of myself as quite humble, maybe to a fault. I’ve said before that I’m too nice for my own good. I also think that the things I do are not really anything that special. If I help someone, it’s because it was the decent thing to do. I don’t set out to accomplish things for the recognition; I do them because they need to get done. Apparently that’s a noteworthy trait. Who knew?

So I guess I’m not exactly the most unbiased critic when it comes to my skills. As such, I’m trying (hard) to accept the fact that my friends might know what they’re talking about. I’ve been fighting for about 10 years, fencing for a little less, and one couldn’t help but develop some level of skill in that time. I also have a black belt in Taekwondo. I’m not exactly a slouch. But it’s hard for me to see that. A part of me will always be the shy, nerdy kid.

That’s not to say I’m the best fighter out there. I’m not. I’m just trying to come to grips with the fact that I might be a good one.

So if you’ve given me a compliment lately, I say again: thank you. I’m trying hard to see what you see in me. If nothing else, I’ll try to take it on faith until I can.

* In the SCA, white belts signify knighthood, which is more or less equivalent to a black belt in eastern martial arts. A white scarf is the equivalent on the fencing field

What’s Old Is New

As I’ve talked about previously, I have been working on developing a new curriculum and training regiment for our local SCA fencing practice. In the past, our group would routinely do drills and practice basics, but we’ve moved away from that. I hope to take some steps back in that direction, not just because there seems to be a huge interest in doing so, but because that’s one of the things that first attracted me to this fencing group, and I miss it.

For most of October, my friend and I prototyped drills, distilling our past two (or so) years of training in a new, more period/Italian style. Since many of our fellow fencers did not have an extensive martial arts background, we tried to streamline the new style, reducing it down to its key components using language that was clear and concise (earlier attempts borrowed language from our older, French-based style, which seemed to just add confusion). Small-group beta testing showed that we were on the right track, and with a few tweaks to terminology, I think we’re ready to start drills again.

I imagine drills are going to take some time to get used to again. It’s been a while since our core group has done them regularly, and we’ve added people that have little to no experience with them (positive or negative). So we’ll have to ease people back into them. I plan to start with the very basics, as everything else will be more easily built on a strong foundation. Doing so will get people used to doing drill, as well as give me more time to iron out a few of the remaining bugs in the curriculum.

My friend made a good point: by the time most of us started fencing, the old style was fairly formalized in its teaching methodology. Prototyping had been done, and what remained worked. Our effort, on the other hand, is still very much in the early stages. I hope people won’t be put off by that, but the best way to figure out what does and doesn’t work is to try it and see.

So am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Of course. But I have faith that if I can set aside my nervous ego long enough for my teaching experience to come forward, things will go well. After all, there’s definitely a demand, and early responses have been encouraging. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone finally “get” a concept that they’ve been struggling with thanks to your teaching. It’s an ego boost, of course, but I’m more excited by the ego boost it gives them.

So wish me luck. If you’re at practice tonight, come join us. While I may not know everything, I may have some nugget that can help.

SCA Fighting: Some Progress (Fencing)

At fencing practice (which I arrived at later than I would have liked), things were in a different place. It was very much a sparring night, with a more experienced fencer working with a few newbies in the corner. I ended up only fighting one person, but it was fun.

We got to talking afterward, about our feelings re: lack of training. One of my other friends wandered over during our conversation, one I was hoping to pick the brain of in regards to drills and training. He had led drills back when we were still doing them, and I thought he would have a better insight into what kind of drills were effective for fencing. I wasn’t wrong.

As we brainstormed, the main problem we ran into was that our fighting style had shifted since we had last been rigorous about drills and training. We used to practice a more French style (using lighter, faster blades with French grips), where speed and agility were the name of the game. Parries were fast, and so were the strikes. For the past year or so, however, we’ve shifted to a more Italian style (longer, heavier swords with a cross-hilted grip). This has been more based on power and angles, wedging the opponent’s sword out of the way rather than beating it. It is also a more committed style: rather than picking from range, it relies more on one strong attack to do the job.

This shift in style has not been easy for a lot of people. As such, my friend and I started trying to distill the basic tenets of the new Italian style into a series of drills, ones that could be repeated easily and make sense to a wide variety of people, especially those without previous martial arts experience.

I had fun brainstorming: it scratched my itch to analyze and codify, and I think we may have managed to streamline things quite well. One thing we noticed is that terminology could be confusing, especially if it shared words with techniques from the old style. I think we’re starting to get the rough outlines of a framework we can use. We outlined a few basic drills, as well as ways of describing the fundamental techniques. It’s not ready for prime time yet, of course, but we’ll be working on it some more Friday night (tonight, as of this writing; five days ago as of your reading. Wibbley-wobbly!). I’m bringing a notebook this time, so we can write things down.

I’m getting really excited about this. Anecdotal evidence points to other interested parties as well, so hopefully this can take off and be something really neat. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

SCA Fighting: Some Progress (Heavy)

Well, I’ve had the chance to attend both a fencing and heavy practice since I wrote my “State of SCA fighting” posts (working with a buffer can do some weird, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey things; those posts were written last Wednesday, before heavy practice. This one is being written the following Friday), and I am hopeful. I’d like to talk about both heavy and fencing, but since my efforts in each are starting from different places, I’m going to break my thoughts up into two posts.

At heavy practice, I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one feeling the itch to drill. Although it was a small practice (four fighters, including me), we started the night off with some of the Oplomachia drills from the previous weekend. My knight had had a chance to go through the corresponding DVD, and while I intend to as well, ran out of time before practice. In fact, it would be safe to say that what we did was based on Oplomachia, or at least what we could cobble together into something resembling coherence.

We started off the night with a basic sequence, going through the Warm-Up Motion (the arm motion used as the base of all shots) and three basic stances (Bladed, Box, and Square). We did this with both right and left hands (another tenant of Oplomachia). From there, we moved to pell work, then some basic targeting and combination practice with partners. Most of the rest of the night was spent fighting, generally around ¾ speed, and attempting to implement some of the new techniques. Again, we all fought both right- and left-handed.

I think it was a great start, and was extremely pleased that I wasn’t the only one wanting more training. There was some light structure to the night, which will likely be a good way to ease people into the concept. It was still largely self-led, but this is likely due to the fact that all of us were struggling to understand the new concepts. After all, one can’t teach effectively if one doesn’t understand the material.

One point I would like to improve on (aside from getting more comfortable with the material) is that we ran out of time for free sparring. While I love to learn, sometimes I just want to hit something, or have a good bout with someone more (or less) experienced than me. So that part of the night left me a little unfulfilled. I think that if the training was more focused, that could free up time for the sparring we all expect at practice. Maybe an hour or so of training (including basics, drills, and slow work), leaving at least an hour for sparring. For instance: the gym opens at 6h30. If training started by 7h, and wrapped up by 8h, that would leave at least an hour for fighting (minus breaks, of course) before I would have to leave.

So all in all, a great first go at things. And I’m glad that there might not be as much resistance as I feared.

SCA Fighting: Some Solutions

I like teaching. I even like to think I’m pretty good at it. While I was in grad school, I was a teaching assistant, helping art majors understand math. When I still did Taekwondo, I woked at my dad’s studio, teaching classes of all ages and experience levels. I am able to break a concept down into easily-digestible chunks, and am willing to take the time to find an explanation that makes sense to each student. I would like to bring some of that skill to bear in the SCA realm, and Syr Gemini’s class has me especially motivated.

One of the things that I think would be really neat to do in the SCA (and one I’ve mentioned to hardly anyone), is to establish a training structure, or a local school. It would bring some of the discipline I feel is lacking in SCA training, and would definitely force me to become a better fighter. Plus, it would allow me to use my skills to give back to a hobby that, without overstating things, changed my life for the better.

I am already planning to restart the fencing training program. I hope to confer with my friends, some of who led drills during the old program, so I can find out where to start; once I have a curriculum, I feel I can move forward quite comfortably. I just need to know what to teach. I know this already has support in my household, and I hope it could grow to encompass anyone who shows up at practice.

On the armored combat side, things are a little less clear. As far as I know, there has not been a strong drive towards this type of structure (at least, not while I have been practicing locally). As such, things will likely have to start from scratch (or closer to it). There is no existing curriculum, and there are a variety of local styles (the result of “let’s see what works for you” training, probably). And where would the curriculum come from? Existing local styles? Period manuscripts? Obviously, there is research to be done.

Some have also told me that there has been resistance to similar efforts in the past. Without a culture of training to build on, this may be an uphill battle. But I know that a lot of the less-experienced fighters are feeling discouraged with the existing structure. Plus, practice attendance has been dwindling. Maybe having a structure in place, both as a training and bonding mechanism, can motivate people to come back?

I will admit there are some self-confidence issues for me to face. I am by no means the most experienced fighter on either field; I am neither a knight nor a don. In other words, what do I know? But I feel the role of a knight or a don is to teach. I may not be the best fighter there is (although I am pretty good), but I feel I can teach. And I am not saying that the existing knights and dons don’t teach. They do! I would just like to try having a bit more formality and rigor.

I will emphasize that these ideas are still in a very rough stage of planning. After all, what do you teach? How do you get people to want to train? How do you make sure people still get the sparring in they’ve become used to? What kind of drills are even applicable to these martial arts?

If this sounds interesting to you, let me know: I am open to suggestions. My goal for fencing is to start drills back up some time by the end of October. The same may be possible for heavy, but there is more work to be done. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see? If you see me starting to slack off, or let this fall by the wayside, feel free to give me a kick in the butt. I’d like this to be something people can look forward to. I may even use this blog to share some of the development!

SCA Fighting: Some Problems

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.

Advice vs. Programming

While I was at fighter practice last night, I had the interesting opportunity to talk with and give advice to another fighter. Now, part of me was thinking: “What authority do I have to give advice? I’m not a knight.” But I also had a feeling that that part was being more humble than necessary, and the more I thought about it, the more confident I felt. Not to toot my own horn (no sarcasm there; I really don’t like bragging about myself), but I do have quite a bit of martial arts experience. I’ve been doing some sort of martial arts for at least twenty years: Taekwondo for ten, and SCA for about the same. I’ve also taught martial arts professionally; teaching definitely takes a different skill set than practicing, and I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at it.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly about the mental game (à la The Axesperiment), and I may expound upon certain points at length later (how to “unthink” being one of them). But one thing came up towards the end that I thought was important, and that’s about the dangers of well-intentioned advice.

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