If AEthelmearc ever becomes a kingdom, a number of changes will occur. Some will be by necessity, others by choice. This article will discuss the martial activities within AEthelmearc.
First of all. I do not claim to be any kind of expert or authority in SCA
martial arts. This column only expresses my personal opinions and experiences.
For the record, I am: an authorized fighter, an authorized but inactive fencer,
a warrented marshall-at-large, a list herald, a former chirurgeon-at-large, a
sometime water-bearer, scout, former baronial scout commander, former
AEthelmearc scout commander and sometime archer. I am not a combat archer
(yet), and my fighting skills rank me in the top 99% of the kingdom. ;-)
Imagine if you will, William the Marshall, one of the greatest knights in Europe, as a young man just starting his career. Imagine William travelling over 200 miles to attend a tournament, losing the first two bouts of the morning, and then packing up his armor and calling it a day. Difficult to imagine? Then, why do we do it to ourselves?
Medieval jousters didn't travel all those miles to sit back and watch the knights who beat them battle someone else. They wanted to compete, to test their own prowess, impress the ladies, perhaps get the king to notice them, and in more than a few cases, increase their personal wealth by betting on their own bouts.
Over ninety percent of the tournaments fought in AEthelmearc are either single or double elimination, a very non-medieval style format. I realize that the average American mindset has a strong need for a single definitive winner of a competition and a double-elimination style tournament fulfills this requirement relatively quickly and easily. But shouldn't recreating a more medieval mindset be a part of our game as well? Other than Crown or Coronet Tournaments, do we _need_ a definitive winner? Shouldn't the purpose of our tournaments be to allow our fighters to fight as much as they want? I want to see more Iron Man Tournaments, more Bear Pits, more "Bop 'til you Drop" tourneys. A number of people, Master Arval Benicouer among them, have done extensive research into medieval style tournaments. Let's use some of that research and run more authentic style tournaments at principality-level events. Local groups will follow the example set by the principality and the kingdom.
In addition to being inauthentic, double elimination tournaments create class barriers. Poorly skilled fighters only get to play twice, while better fighters get to play longer. The ones who need the practice the most, get the least. Are there any fighters who object to being allowed to fight more often? The argument that "They can fight as much as they want at their local fight practices." is a straw-horse. Fighters travel to fight someone other than the same people they face every week in practice.
I've also noticed that as kingdoms get older, the minimum armor requirements gradually increase with no significant change in injury rates. I've heard the argument, "The more armor we add, the harder we have to hit for the blow to be felt; the harder we hit, the more armor we add for protection." I also know this circular reasoning has been around since A.S.II. I don't agree with it. Tuchux don't get hurt at Pennsic any more than we do. I think the vast majority of fighters gauge their blows to what their opponent is wearing. However, when AEthelmearc does become a kingdom, I would like to see armor standards roll back, possibly all the way to Society minimums; head and neck, hands and wrists, knees and elbows, groin and kidneys. I have two reasons for this. One is expense. The more armor you need to meet the minimum, the more it will cost to meet the minimum, the longer it will take before you can begin fighting. If you decide that fighting doesn't interest you, it's that much more expense wasted. The other reason is authenticity. The more restrictions there are, the less leeway for creativity exists. Armor becomes more "SCAdian" and less authentic.
On the other hand, while I'm all for more authentic armor and chivalry in the list, I think it's better to encourage it rather than regulate it. Leave the official rules to the Society minimums of "an attempt at pre-17th century garb" and "conduct themselves in an honorable manner" and sponsor more Most Authentic Armor, Best Use of Heraldry in the List, and Most Chivalrous Fighter prizes instead. Of course, the latter need not be announced beforehand. After all, we're chivalrous because we want to be, not because there might be a scroll in it.
I would like someone to explain the following Society regulation to me;
"When titles are used on the field, the full title should be announced in cases where possible confusion may result. eg. Master of the Pelican as opposed to Master of Arms."
I notice that the example used is non-fighting peer vs. fighting peer which are
supposed to be considered equal in precedence, rather than perhaps, court baron
vs. landed baron, which may not necessaarily be equal. Does the opponent's
exact title matter to anyone? Do you hold your guard differently against a
knight than against an unranked fighter? I could understand "Joe is a sucker
for a deep wrap shot." but, "Only the chivalry can use 'The Plantagenet Strike'
(tm)."? I think this regulation is the sort of micro-management that the
Board of Directors is notorious for and the Grand Council should have it
struck from the books.
I like this idea! It adds to the authenticity of our field battles. In fact, I'd like to see even more along these lines. I want to see pavices, javelins, throwing axes, archer's shields, and impaling stakes (safety cones). I want to see trebuchets and catapults and ballistas all throwing duct-taped blankets labelled "SCA ROCK" into the fray. Chaotic? Of course! Wars are supposed to be chaotic! I think combat archery should be encouraged. Physical disabilities prevent some people from "armoring up" who could otherwise participate as combat archers. Let them participate, the more the merrier!
On a more serious note, I have a question. As I originally understood the premise, there were to be two types of combat archers, a "light" archer who dies like a scout, and a fully-armored "heavy" archer who can use a sword to defend himself. Yet, at the two battles I've seen that included combat archery, I saw fully armored archers dying like scouts! Why? As one fighter said afterward, "If we're not supposed to hit it, why make it look so much like a fighter?" In my opinion, it's a legitimate question. Light archers should NOT look like fighters. If it looks like a fighter, fighters will hit it. I think that the helmet is the key factor here. If it's wearing armor, but not a helmet, it's either "dead" or a marshall and should not be hit. If it's wearing armor AND a helmet, it's a legitimate target. If archers wear fighting helmets, they're going to get mistaken for fighters in the heat of battle and struck. Society regulations state that marshalls only need groin and kidney protection for battles and eye protection for battles with missle weapons. If that's all the marshalls need, why can't that be all the light archers need?
The people planning combat archery at Pennsic are currently discussing whether golf tubes or Markland blunts should be used. I'm personally in favor of Markland blunts. Golf tubes fly like wounded turkeys. A Markland blunt can hit a target at a respectable distance. I realize the golf tube arrows can be gleaned from the battlefield while blunts have to be re-inspected before use, but I don't think that's a real consideration. A real war arrow that killed a fighter or struck an obstacle would probably not have been re-usable either.
Again, to quote Society law, "In addition, the definition of 'fully armored' is sometimes modified to make plate proof against missles." The regulations also state that plate is defined as 'steel of not less than 18 ga.' and that helmets must be a minimum of 16 ga. Does this mean that head shots don't count? Fighters are supposed to calibrate their blows as if everyone was wearing a chainmail hauberk and an open faced helm. Are the standards different for archers? Perhaps AEthelmearc law should clarify these regulations.
Finally, there's a rule [Section V, paragraph 5, page 11] that states:
"If a fighter intentionally comes within 10 feet of an archer while calling him dead, the archer may call the fighter dead by pointing at him/her and saying loudly 'Fighter you're dead!' If this occurs both fighter and archer are dead."
In my opinion, this rule needs to be eliminated. The previous rule states that
a swordsman must be within fifteen feet to kill an archer. Less than fifteen
feet but more than ten feet under battlefield conditions? How many fighters
carry yardsticks? In the first place, this rule tells the archers, "If you
can't run away, charge!" That kind of recklessness can lead to injuries. In
the second place, the rule states that the archer can kill a fighter AFTER he
had been killed, a vengence from the grave if you will. I don't think many
fighters would consider that a legitimate kill. In the third place, a species
of fighter, Scout Hunters, pride themselves on how close they can get to a
scout before being noticed. A number of them, myself included, can get within
contact range fairly often. This skill allows a hunter to kill multiple scouts
in the same area by whispering "You're dead!" to one scout without tipping off
the other scouts to his presence. The dead scout is honor-bound not to alert
his fellow scouts after he has "died". A combat archer on the other hand, is
SPECIFICALLY told that he can call out "loudly" and alert his fellow archers to
the enemy. What is dis-honorable behavior for one, is mandated by law for
To me, fencing is what rattan combat should be; the garb is not glaringly modern in appearance, re-creation of battles or "scenarios" are common, and about the only time a non-medieval double elimination tournament appears is when a champion is being determined. The emphasis seems to be more on having fun and period style than simply winning. The cord rankings strike me more as "merit badge syndrome" than "guild rankings" primarily because I have trouble with the idea of medieval fencers forming a guild, but I also think that the rankings are a major contribution to the de-emphasis on winning.
If I had full access to the MoL database, and enought time to write a moderately complex computer program, there's an experiment I would love to try; giving every fencer in AEthelmearc a rating, similar to the way the United States Chess Federation rates their chess players. It could be done with the rattan fighters as well, but fencers would provide a smaller database for experimentation. It would involve no additional work for any fencer or local MoL. Each fencer would receive a provisional rating to start with:
|Don||Gold Cord||2000 points|
|Provost||Blue Cord||1500 points|
|Scholar||Green Cord||1000 points|
|Novice||Black Cord||500 points|
I realize the whole thing is non-period, but I think it would be interesting
enough to try for a brief time. If a low ranked fencer were to wind up with a
rating amidst the dons, then maybe it was about time that that fencer was
considered for a gold cord.
Recently, the armor regulations for scouts were upgraded. Scouts are now required to wear helmets suitable for rattan fighters. I think this is a really BAD idea! As I stated previously about combat archery, if it looks like a fighter, fighters will hit it. When AEthelmearc becomes a kingdom, I think we should FORBID scouts from wearing helmets of any kind.
Consider what's been previously hammered into all of the fighters' heads until
it's a conditioned reflex:
"If it's black   baldricked and helmetless, it's a marshall           - Don't hit it!"
"If it's red     baldricked and helmetless, it's a chirurgeon       - Don't hit it!"
"If it's blue     baldricked and helmetless, it's a water bearer   - Don't hit it!"
"If it's green   baldricked and helmetless, it's a herald             - Don't hit it!"
"If it's white   baldricked and helmetless, it's a dead Master   - Don't hit it!"
Would it be that difficult to add one more conditioned reflex?
"If it's brown baldricked and helmetless, it's a scout           - Don't hit it!"
I realize that brown is not one of the heraldic tinctures, but then nothing says that a baldric has to be a heraldic tincture. Scouts prefer wearing greens, blacks, and browns in the woods, but green and black baldrics are already in use. The remaining heraldic tinctures of purple and yellow are too brightly colored for a scout to want to wear in the woods.
When the Golden Alce was created, it was meant to honor ALL martial activities. Over the years, it has been awarded to fighters, fencers, archers, and even armies. I can understand that combat archery is too new for anyone to have earned the honor that way, but in half a decade only ONE scout has shown himself worthy of recognition? Methinks the scouts have been unappreciated for too long!
Finally, one nitpick. AEthelmearc rules state that scouts must wear four-inch
diamonds. The Marshall's Handbook states the diamonds must be six
inches. Also, nothing is mentioned about whether the diamonds have to be solid
white areas, or simply an outline defined by four white lines. I can
visualize a marshall rejecting the latter because he prefers the former. Hey,
I said it was a nitpick!
First of all, why is everybody concerned about what category we place Pennsic in? Pennsic War, Pennsic Fair, Pennsic Grand Tournament, Pennsic This, Pennsic That. Mark Twain put it best in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, "There were very few THE's, and I was one of them. If you spoke of the duke, or the earl, or the bishop, how could anybody tell which one you meant? But if you spoke of The King or The Queen or The Boss, it was different." It's Pennsic, THE Pennsic. Period. Everyone will know what you mean.
The Pennsic is too big to be affected by mere royal politics. If all the monarchs of the Known World were to announce that The Pennsic wouldn't be held that year, you'd still have several thousand people converging on Cooper's Lake in mid-August just to camp. The vast majority of people coming to The Pennsic have no interest in the armored combat. Over the last couple of years, more than eight thousand people came through the gate while about two thousand fighters got their armor inspected. That means three people out of four at The Pennsic aren't there for the fighting. They're there to spend their vacation, enjoy their hobby, and see friends that they haven't seen since last year.
I keep hearing the phrase, "Annual Enemies, Eternal Friends", implying that The Pennsic is just one big pick-up melee among friends. It should be "Rivals", by the way, not "Enemies". But in either case, why is everyone getting stuck in an "East vs. Middle" rut? When AEthelmearc becomes a kingdom, it will simply become "AEthelmearc vs. EAldormere, Pennsic: The Next Generation"! I can think of two objections to this idea. 1.) "But, it won't be 'East vs. Middle' anymore!" Having AEthelmearc and the East split up won't stop Easterners from coming to The Pennsic anymore than having the East and Atlantia split up stopped Atlantians from coming. 2.) "But, EAldormere's not a kingdom!" Yeah, so? What's your point? Kingdoms are like Peerages, the powers-that-be can't create them, they can only recognize them after the fact! If EAldormere can handle the responsibilities of The Pennsic just as if they were a kingdom, that will be that much more reason for the BoD to promote them to a kingdom, if only to prove that the Directors aren't asleep at the switch. If the Kingdom of AEthelmearc treats EAldormere as a kingdom in it's own right, that can only add to the pressure on the Board.
But admittedly, that's not the only possible scenario. We're all 'just friends' out there, right? Then it doesn't matter who plays on what side, right? Fine! How about AEthelmearc AND EAldormere vs. East and Middle? The theme for Masked Ball that year can be "Titans and Gods" just to continue the analogy. What's wrong with "AEthelmearc and the Middle vs. EAldormere and the East"? No, that's not a typo! That's taking the two traditional teams, ripping them just about exactly in half and swapping halves. I'm certain that the historians among us can find more unusual alliances that existed in real wars. Anyone who doesn't want to fight because they can't handle that combination probably SHOULD sit out and think about it again.
This discussion has occured on The Rialto computer network as well. Toirrdelbach ua Mael Doraid writes;
"We have to provide for nearly even odds in the battles. I believe many of the problems we encounter in the battles stem from having one side grievously outnumbered. The smaller side gets angry because they are losing and because they have one fighter against four opponents. The bigger side gets frustrated because they have to wait in reserve for an hour only to swing their swords once during the battle. Even odds would help eliminate some of the battlefield problems.
The [other] thing I would like to see is rotating alliances for the battles. If the person you fought against in the field battle is now at your side for the bridge battle, it is a lot tougher to think of that person as your enemy. If people do not want to alter the sides during the war, maybe we could have some new way of dividing the sides every year, a la War of the Lillies, which has had royal peers vs. barons, English vs. French, Saxons vs. Vikings, etc. I know this flies in the face of the Middle vs. East tradition, but some traditions are not worth preserving."
Well said!! Other divisions the War of the Lillies has had include, late period personas vs. early period personas and Laurels vs. Pelicans. If neither side is relevant to your persona, flip a coin. If both sides are, ditto. The key point, I believe, is that some fighters should have a reason, however minor, to favor one side over another. Unfortunately, I don't think that something completely neutral like "Greeen Team vs. Gold Team" (the Society livery colors) would work. Once the Eastern King picks his side, the Midrealm King will pick the other side to balance the sides and we're back to "East vs. Middle" again. The important thing is we have to get out of the "I'm fighting for the side I always fight for" rut.
Ever since a scout mistook a royal tabard for a banner, there's been a rule at
The Pennsic, "No false banners in the woods." I would have interpreted that as
"No other copies of the royal banner in the woods", but apparently this is
enforced as "No banners of any kind in the woods except the royal banner." I
think this is wrong. I think units should march proudly into battle, their
standards soaring in the breeze, identifying them to all and sundry. I feel
that a bureacratic regulation that attempts to limit misinformation at the cost
of authentic pagentry is counterproductive to the aims of the Society.
Mis-information in the midst of battle was a legitimate obstacle to our
ancestors and it should exist for us as well. Unfurl those banners! Raise
your flags! Any army whose scouts aren't clear on their objectives deserves to
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