Category Archives: SCA

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

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

EDIT:  I just saw that the practice site is closed, so I get to make the long, arduous trek to my warm abode.  My point still stands, though, so I’m going to keep this post up.

It’s currently snowing in Denver.  It’s about time for me to leave for heavy practice, and I don’t know how many people are going to be there.  I could struggle through traffic for an hour just to find myself the only one there.  Or I could call it a day, head home, and prevent the people who do show up having enough bodies there to make armoring up worth it.

I really hate days like this.

It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  And there’s no way to know if it’s going to be worth it before I get there.  I’d love to not have to drive on snowy highways surrounded by other travelers who have forgotten how to drive since our last snow.  But I also want to hit my friends with sticks.  To make matters worse, the weather isn’t the only reason practice is sure to be thin: Estrella is this week, which means a bunch of people have gone down to Arizona (myself not included, obviously).

*sighs*  Let’s be honest, I’m most likely still going to make the drive out to practice.  I’m hoping I won’t be disappointed, but I have my doubts.

Opponents Are People, Too

I noticed something about my SCA fighting recently: I don’t seem to take into account the person I’m fighting.

During a pause in our bouts, my knight said something to the effect of me “knowing what shots he has,” which I interpreted in two ways. First, I should know what shots he’s able to throw from his usual guard position. Second, that I should know what kind of shots he personally uses. And that’s when I realized: I don’t really keep track of what other people do during their fights.

Maybe it’s because I don’t tend to think much when I’m fighting, but I don’t really tend to account for my opponent’s abilities or habits. I go out there, do my thing, and hopefully come out ahead. But I’ve been fighting long enough you’d think I’d have started making a mental Rolodex of the various people I fight, because I’m pretty sure they’re doing it for me.

And maybe I do do that to a certain extent. After all, I’m at least aware of someone’s relative skill level, or how hard they tend to hit, or if they’re left handed. But the idiosyncrasies of their personal styles? I don’t really think about that much. At least, not consciously.

So I found myself with an interesting proposition: maybe in my quest to not think too much while fighting I’ve become too mentally disengaged. Maybe if I take the time to do a bit of research and planning I can get over some of those last few hurdles. After all, I’ve been fighting long enough that I’m sure I do some of this on an unconscious level. Maybe it’s time to start thinking a bit more while I fight.

Holes In The Offense

After watching me fight at a recent heavy practice, my knight asked me a question: why wasn’t I throwing shots to the front leg? Was I just not seeing them? Was my helmet obstructing my vision and creating a blind spot?

This got me thinking. Now, I really like my helmet. It’s a flat-topped, closed-face helmet, which I think really looks the part for my persona. The caveat to this, of course, is that I’m looking through a 1-inch slit, and visibility is thus impaired (at least compared to an open-face bar grill). I’ve gotten used to it, and it sits close enough to my face that the visibility isn’t as limited as one might think, but that hasn’t stopped people from giving me grief about it.

Continue reading


Well, another year of Battlemoor is complete, and I had an awesome time. I’ll admit that I did have misgiving going into things, but those were mostly of the “I’m tired and there’s not enough time to prepare” variety. You’d think that as often as it happens, I’d remember that I tend to have fun once I get to these things. Oh well.

It was a great event. I got to see friends I don’t get to talk to that often. I got to enjoy the beautiful starry night sky, tucked up against the mountains of southern Colorado. There was much fighting to be had, and while I didn’t do as well as I would have liked in some of the tournaments, I think I made up for it in others and on the melee field.

Unfortunately, for what was ostensibly a vacation, I didn’t get much relaxing done. Tents were tightly packed, walls were thin, and some members of our camp were louder than others. To say nothing of the widely varied weather we had (everything from pouring rain to wind and dust storms). I almost need a vacation after my vacation. Luckily my recently-improved employment situation has allowed me do do so. Yesterday was pretty much a day of lounging around at my computer, reading and playing various video games in a valiant effort to build up an adequate number of spoons for the work week ahead.

I definitely want to write more about the event. That may have to wait until later in the week, once I’ve had a few days to sleep in my own bed and mull over things in my own head. We’ll see, but right now my brain is enjoyably fried, so I’m gonna sign off until later. For those of you who didn’t make it to the event, you were missed. For those of you who were there, It was great to see you, and I hope your recovery continues apace.

Black vs. White

Hopefully, yesterday I managed to communicate some of what’s going through my head in regards to knighthood and the SCA. It’s a complicated ball of thoughts, one which for some reason I reflexively shy away from looking at too closely. After all, one could (and I’m not saying I do) take the uncharitable view that knighthood is “just” a fighting award, reserved for those combatants who achieve a certain level of prowess. After all, isn’t that kind of what a black belt in martial arts is? This train of thought then begs a question:

Why don’t I get hung up about black belts?

After all, that’s another rank that is often idolized in popular culture. For better or worse, being a black belt carries an aura of mystique with it, as if at any moment the black belt could, with the twitch of a finger, flip out and kill everyone. So why don’t I get all flustered at the thought of being a black belt?

Maybe it’s because I am a black belt, and became one at such a young age. I first achieved the rank when I was 11, and was a 3rd degree black belt by the time I stopped practicing Taekwondo. In other words, I’ve been a black belt for most of my life. Now if you want to discuss whether or not a child of that age can “truly understand what it means to be a black belt,” I’ll grant you that that is an important discussion. And while I’m not sure where I fall on that issue (I’d like to think I grew into the position), that’s not the conversation I want to have right now. What interests me now is the differences I perceive between being a black belt and being a knight.

Intellectually, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference. Both ranks can be seen as a level of mastery, or at least mastery of the basics. But culturally, I’ve come to view them as different. Perhaps it’s their position in the rank structure. I came from a fairly westernized martial arts background. My dad’s instructor was Korean, but our school had a fairly typical ranks structure. You started out as a white belt, and then every few months tested for the next rank until you were ready to test for your black belt. As such, you could easily measure your progress. Orange belt? Then you’re just about done with the first tier. Blue? You’re about halfway. Red? Best start preparing hard for that black belt test in your near future.

The SCA, on the other hand, doesn’t have that rigorous structure. You fight, you get better. You play the game, you progress. Eventually, someone notices you and decides you’re ready. You get offered knighthood. At least, that’s what the process looks like while you’re in it. As such, it’s hard to know exactly where you are on the path, which for me means that path can look long right up until the moment it isn’t. Without any clear-cut goals or markers, it lends a certain amount of mystery to the final achievement.

Maybe this is intentional; I don’t know. Much like I don’t know why being a black belt and knighthood hold such different places in my mind. But they do, and maybe this difference is part of the reason. Maybe I just got exposed to being a black belt early enough, I didn’t have time to see it as a Big Thing™. Either way, thinking and writing about it like this does seem to be helping. If nothing else, it helps me clear my mind enough that I (hopefully) won’t be brooding too obviously while at work.

Knight Musings

I’ve been thinking on the nature of knighthood in the SCA a lot recently. Not only along the lines of “What does it take to be a knight?” but also “What does it mean to be a knight?” What experiences I do have of knighthood are from the outside (obviously), and while I’m sure there are many people out there who would be happy to talk with me on the subject, I am at this moment limited to the echo chamber of my own thoughts, as well as the small amount that makes it out and onto this page.

My understanding of knighthood has changed during my time in the SCA, as is inevitable. When I first started playing, I looked to them as masters and instructors, much like the black belts from my days with eastern martial arts. They were the gurus, the keepers of knowledge and experience. And in a way, they represented a goal to be achieved: one day you, too, may achieve this. One day you too may be a knight.

But what I didn’t realize at the time is I was only seeing the end result of a long journey that took place before my time. That these people weren’t always knights; they became them (or were recognized as such, but that’s a different discussion). First impressions are a big thing, after all. If you meet someone who is a knight (or black belt), it can be hard to think of them as anything else, even if they just received the accolade/achieved that rank a little bit before your time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for a long time, when I saw the white belt of knighthood I didn’t necessarily see the time and effort it took to get there. I only saw the master, not the master of the basics.

And I still do, to a certain extent. But I’ve been forced to reevaluate my mental shorthand, if for no other reason than I’ve seen people get knighted, often people who started fighting around the same time (or even after) I did. Some of them even my friends. I knew these people before they got knighted, and familiarity can go a long way to breaking the spell of idolization (not to take anything away from my friends that have been knighted). It can be hard to think of someone as a symbol when you already know them as a person, after all.

And yet, for all the humanizing of the position that seeing friends knighted has forced me to do, I can’t quite make the connection that this is a thing that could happen to me. On some level, I still see knighthood as something off in the future. Something I would love to attain, and will hopefully do so when the time is right. Not as an… I don’t know. A goal? Something I might be close to achieving?

See, even writing about this is hard for me. Even though I’ve been ostensibly working towards this goal, I still can’t see myself as a knight. Not yet. I know I have so much more to learn, and what I have learned has just reiterated that time and again. After all, if I have so much left to learn, why do I get the feeling I’m on someone’s radar?

I probably need to talk to someone about this; spending all this time in my mental echo chamber isn’t doing me much good.

Crossroads Recap

So Crossroads was this past weekend, and I ended up having a really good time. Having a full weekend off work was a nice change of pace; I even managed to sleep in! Sure, it was only until 7am or so, but it’s all relative. And even if we didn’t end up staying on site, it was fun to hang out with my friends.

I even ended up fighting this weekend. I was slightly surprised, given how exhausted I was going into things. But oddly enough, it was my knight saying I didn’t have to that gave me the energy to gear up and hit my friends with sticks. It’s as if I was able to remember that fighting was something I wanted to do, once I was reminded that it wasn’t something I needed to do.

And as often happens, I’m glad I did fight, because I ended up fighting really well. There was one tournament each day for Heavy and Fencing, and I fought in them all. Saturday I ended up making it to more or less the quarterfinals in each, and Sunday I made it to the semifinals in both. Sometimes you have off days, and sometimes everything just clicks; this weekend was one of the latter, and I haven’t had one of those in a while. I don’t like to brag about myself (and I’m not just using that as some sort of false modesty excuse), but I felt pretty good.

I also got several compliments on my fighting, from several knights I highly respect. Which was great; it was quite encouraging. But it also is kind of intimidating. It means people are noticing me. That I’m no longer just some faceless drone in the fighting ranks. That I might actually be good at this fighting thing.

It made me thing about what I talked about a month ago, on the nature of “mastery” versus “mastery of the basics.” Since I joined the SCA, I’ve dreamed of being a knight. It’s why I started heavy fighting, and although my interests have branched out, it’s still a goal I hold. This weekend, for better or worse, made me realize that (and this is a weird thought) I might be closer to knighthood than I thought.

Maybe that’s just the ego boost from placing well in some tournaments talking. But on the other hand, maybe it’s something I really do have to consider. I’ve often said I’m too nice for my own good. Part of that may be excess humility, a blindness to my own achievements. In fact, you can probably see it in my writing right now: notice how I keep on throwing out qualifiers, coming up with other explanations? It’s an interesting reflex, and one that feels weird to be working through in semi-public on a blog. But writing seems to be the easiest way for me to do so: it gets my ideas out of my head, into the open where they can no longer clog up my musings. It also lets me document my progress, so I can tell whether or not I’m just re-treading worn paths or if I’m actually moving forward.

And really, I’ve been fighting for about ten years. Even in the unstructured training environment that is the SCA, that much time has to get you somewhere, right?

This will require more pondering.

Inspired Again

So here in our corner of the SCA, we recently crowned our new king and queen. And given that my knight was asked to be captain of the Queen’s Guard, I found myself volunteering as well. I’ve been affectionately referring to it as “being thrown under a bus that my knight is driving,” since I and my squire brothers all ended up on Guard.

Despite what several of my friends seem to think, this is the first time I’ve been on royal retinue. I’ve been on baronial guards, and have been known to tag along with people I know while they were on guard (a practice I refer to as “Rent-A-Guard”). And to be honest, I’m pretty excited.

Their reign just started, but our new king and queen seem like neat people. They’re energetic and clearly passionate about our game. I enjoy being helpful; it seems to be in my nature, and at least this way I can do so somewhat officially. And the fact that being on Guard is a good way to get out and meet people hasn’t been lost on me either.

But what I find really interesting is that I find myself invigorated and excited about the SCA in a way I haven’t been for quite a while. I’m considering going to events that I overlooked previously, hosted by nearby groups or even other kingdoms. Of course, the fact that I have to request time off work for weekends is kind of a buzzkill, but I’m trying to not let that get me down too much. I’m enjoying having motivation to get out and do things.

I’ve been in the SCA for 12(!) years or so now, and I suppose some level of disillusionment is inevitable. But I’m starting to remember that spark, that special something that drew me into this game in the first place. Even the coronation was fun; sure, court was long and boring in places. But when the newly-crowned king took a moment to survey the room, he truly did look for all intents and purposes like a king.

And that’s a Dream I can get behind.

On Belts and Teachers

Even though I’ve been a martial artist since I was seven years old, I don’t take much time these days to think about the philosophy of martial arts. But a recent article by Syr Gemini called “The Black Belt Myth” got me thinking again. It’s a very interesting read, and while some of the concepts were ones I had come across before, it did help put things back into perspective.

In the article, Syr Gemini addresses the popular culture myth that a black belt is some exalted master worthy of a place amongst the greatest mountaintop sages. But rather, a black belt is someone who has achieved a “basic level of competence.” In my own martial arts experience, we were taught that a black belt is not necessarily a “master,” just a “master of the basics.”

I also appreciated the fact that he addressed the perception as black belts (or knights, or dons, or other “master”-level practitioners) as teachers. While a high rank implies a certain level of competence, it does not in and of itself instill an ability to teach or be understood. Not everyone can teach; some people just can’t break things down into easily-digestible chunks, or be critical in a productive manner while still being encouraging. I do disagree, however, with his sentiment that non-black belts (or squires, or cadets, etc.) should not be teaching. When I was practicing taekwondo, it was common for more advanced students to assist in teaching lower-ranked ones. While a black belt instructor still led the class, this was viewed as a good way to develop leadership skills, as well as gain a better understanding of the curriculum. After all, if you ever want to really make sure you understand something, try teaching it to someone else. I also think that, while not everyone is a natural teacher, most people can bring a unique perspective to things that may make more sense to some students than others.

Like I said, this article really made me think about being a black belt for the first time in a while. I was only 11 years old(!) when I tested for my first degree black belt, and I don’t think I truly understood what that meant. I continued training, and I’d like to think I gained a better understanding of that as time went on. But one thing I haven’t really done is think of knighthood (the SCA’s closest equivalent to a black belt for heavy fighting) in that context.

Knighthood, at least from my perspective from the outside, is an interesting hybrid. Of course you have the martial aspects, which correlate strongly to the black belt’s “mastery of the basics.” But there is also a cultural prestige associated with the award. Knights are viewed as leaders and teachers, upholding the ideals of chivalry and the Society itself.

I guess one thing I’ve struggled with is thinking of knighthood like I do being a black belt, especially as a “master of the basics.” I often feel I’m not “good enough” to be a knight, since there are much better fighters out there than me. After all, if it’s a martial award, shouldn’t a candidate display the proper level of marital prowess? I’ve slipped into the trap of thinking of knighthood (or being a black belt, or don, etc.) as being a “master,” rather than a “master of the basics.” And those are two very different things. Mastery implies that the journey is done, that the accomplishment has been achieved. Mastery of the basics, however, implies that the journey, rather than ending, can finally begin. And that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.