thoughts about the middle ages don't bring formalized martial arts to mind.
Popular images from modern movies and Victorian literature cast medieval
warriors more as barbarous crazed maniacs than the trained soldiers they are
known to have been. Combatants in some movies, for instance, are often seen
swinging their shield arm as much as their sword with constantly off balance
and exaggerated motions. These images are usually the result of
stereotypical concepts and poorly planned choreography. It rarely looks very
intentional and shouldn't appear seriously threatening.
In SCA combat, participants
in what is referred to as "hard suit" or "heavy fighting" wear armor that is regulated by fairly strict
standards and use weapons made of rattan with other rigid materials such as
leather, plastic or foam to create the basic look, balance, weight and
handling-but not the lethal effect-of the originals.
Rapier combatants use metal blades and lighter
armor to simulate the styles of renaissance masters.
Participants fight in
combat, melees, and wars using a variety of hand and missile weapons. The sight of a dozen
or up to several hundred armed and armored people can be pretty dramatic.
The combatants fight on foot, following a system of rules which permit
realistic conditions while promoting a very high safety record (there
usually are few injuries worse than bruises).
Each fighter is honor-bound to report when a blow is "good", or has
sufficient force to have killed or injured had the sword and armor been
real. Even thought we have taken liberties with the type of material we use
for swords and armor, we don't announce or choreograph blows during a fight.
We don't intend to hurt each other but the intent of hitting is very real.
All SCA combat charges the fighter to maintain a sense of honor to fight
fairly and to have regard for the safety of the opponent. Just tapping
someone will not count as a good blow, but excessive force is against SCA
and kingdom regulations. Hands may not be used on an opponent's body and a
whole variety of nasty things, like kicking, grappling or attacking a single
opponent with more than four people at once, are not legal.
Understandably, an activity that involves hitting each other with sticks
tends to draw a large number of questions. Just like other activities such
as the contact sports of rugby, football or hockey, it is possible to become
injured. It is important to follow safety precautions.
Participation and Safety
Forms of Combat
If you are interested in learning more about fighting in the SCA or
would like to participate in SCA Combat, you should check in with a
local marshal. Be sure to get a copy of the Rules of the List,
Conventions of Combat, and a copy of the Armor and Weapons
standards. These all are usually found on the
Marshal's Web Site.
Then sit down and read them. Reading rules is usually not much fun,
but it will save you hassles and can prevent possible injuries. You
must meet safety requirements including armor standards, weapons
standards, and authorizations for each weapon system you use. SCA
combat is restricted to adults who have completed the appropriate
paperwork and signed a waiver. In certain cases minors can
participate. Contact your local marshal for explanation for these
SCA combat grew out of a desire to recreate the medieval tournament.
Eventually there were enough fighters to have wars. In the middle
ages it was necessary to maintain a well armed and trained force for
defence and to influence other kingdoms through threat or outright
force. In times of peace, knights and other noble warriors needed to
practice to maintain their training and to show their prowess,
essentially in order to get a job. Tournaments apparently grew out
of the need to maintain skills without actually killing the local
people. Many activities took place during the time the combatants
and spectators gathered. Tournaments involved several types of
single and multiple combatant scenarios, some on horses some not.
Two basic types of tournament style foot combat and a several foot
combat war scenarios are recreated at our modern events.
Forms of Combat
Single combat is the traditional fight between two armed opponents.
Although most single combat in the SCA takes place as part of a
competitive tournament, there are other, more authentic styles of
single combat as well. In any case, the fight against a single
opponent is considered a public show of honor and chivalry, as well
as individual fighting prowess.
Each combatant picks a weapon system and enters the list. The
marshal will ask if either carries any real weapons, and then ask
the Herald to conduct the acknowledgement of certain honors to be
performed before the fight. These generally include a bow or salute
of some form to the Crown or presiding royalty, and to the opponent.
If you have read popular literature about the middle ages such as
Ivanhoe or Le Morte d'Arthur, you are probably familiar with the
concept of a favor. In the SCA a favor is an item that a
fighter wears to show whom she or he honors by competing
chivalrously. It can be an outward symbol of a friendship, a sign of
fealty and loyalty, and can be used as a sign of love and romance.
The word melee or mêlée [pronounced may-lay] is derived from an Old
French word that meant to mix. While it may be difficult enough for
some to concentrate on one opponent, the idea is that multiple
opponents would be even more difficult. Often, though, the reverse
can be true. A group of several fighters might organize and fight
better than any one fighter. The skills of an individual can still
be seen in small groups, but the odds are on the group rather than
the individual. A basic level of tactics can be used to try to make
your opponent fight more than one person at a time. Still, for many
a melee is the most confusing, and also the most fun type of SCA
Despite any negative connotations that this term may hold, wars when
lives are not at stake are mostly a large scale experiment in the
skills of observation and estimates, communications and
organization; the application of strategy and tactics to direct your
group to out manoeuvre another group. The rules of a war are
essentially the same as for a melee. For some, a war is not much
different than a very large melee, and others see large differences
between the two.
The key to winning SCA wars depends on the ability to observe,
organize and plan; to quickly change plans on a moment's notice; to
communicate, listen, and put plans and changes into action. All
this, while under the threat of the opposing army who is moving,
observing and adapting as well. Subtle features such as the slope of
the ground, the angle of the sun, the direction of the wind can work
for or against everything you do. A very good fighter may be able to
kill several opponents one at a time, or even in quick succession in
a melee but when faced with an organized line, a single combatant is
much less likely to be lethal. An experienced and organized war host
can outmanoeuvre and outfight larger units but only if the members
of the host work together.
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