Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Letter to The Board of Directors

The discussion continues on.  The decisions continue to be difficult.  My thoughts continue to evolve.

Here is where they are today.  Tomorrow we’ll see.


 

To: The Board of Directors
Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc

From: Tim Converse aka
Baron Master Juan Santiago, OL, OP
West Kingdom, SCA

Re: Rapier Peerage in The SCA

Greetings;

This letter is to outline my thoughts with regards to the Orders of Peerage as they currently stand and the future of recognition for the Rapier fighters within the Society. I recognize that this issue is one fraught with high emotion and strikes to the very heart of who we are. I can promise that I will speak with restraint in the hope that my words be taken as they are offered – with the hope that they might provide some insights or ideas on how we might proceed.

I thank the Board for their efforts no matter the outcome.

First, as to who I am and why I feel I have something to offer. My name is Tim Converse, but in the Society I am known as Juan Santiago. I am a member of the Orders of the Laurel and Pelican. I have served as a Landed Baron to The Barony of Darkwood in The West Kingdom. I am a member of The West Kingdom Guild of Defense as a Guildmaster, a rank which we recognize as equivalent to the more well known Whitescarf.

I have been an authorized Rapier Fighter for over a decade. I have been an authorized Cut & Thrust Fighter for almost as long. I have been an authorized Heavy Fighter for just about a year.

As with all of us, I have been immersed in our Heavy Fighting Culture from the beginning of my days in the Society some 28 years ago.

The nature of the issue at hand is that we are seeking an appropriate way to reward the hard work and diligent study of the Rapier community at large. The ranks attainable by this community currently are without limits save one, the rank of Peerage.

I have been involved in this issue from the moment I picked up a rapier and in the past decade I have seen the attitudes of many people within my own Kingdom change; some for the better, some for worse. I have also, sadly, seen individuals who have entrenched themselves in older opinions of this community, its character, and what it may or may not be worthy of.

Nevertheless we have, in recent years, achieved a level of understanding overall which as brought us to our current cross-roads; the creation of a Fourth Peerage or the inclusion of Rapier in to an existing Peerage.

It is my contention that both of these options have advantages and disadvantages, and as such I must state clearly at the beginning that even I am not decided entirely on which course might best serve a community I am a part of and the overall Society which is my family and home. It is fair to say that I am more of a proponent of seeing Rapier (and other Martial Activities) be included under the umbrella of Chivalry.

I must also state at the beginning that regardless of what the Board of Directors decides, it may have very little impact upon my path overall and this will color much of what I have to say. The reason for this is, as you may have noted, the fact that I consider myself a cross-training fighter, interested in all of the styles of fighting we currently practice. My road to Chivalry (should I decide to pursue such a path) will not be dictated so much by the style of fighting I choose, but upon the course of my personal development within the Society.

The Board may decide that Rapier is to remain outside the realm of Chivalry or it may include it. It may choose to create Rapier as a Peerage separate from all the others. Regardless of any of these choices I will continue my studies and whatever standards prevail I may someday meet them to a level sufficient that I will achieve a “Prowess-based” Peerage just as I have done so for The Arts&Sciences, and for Service.

“The strength and stability of the Kingdom lie in these virtues of its people: creativity, service and chivalry – for if any of these are lacking, the Kingdom fails.”

That is a telling statement and reflects well the “three peerage” structure we are built upon. The idea of adding a fourth does not seem so much to add stability as to present an opportunity for things to become more unstable. If we add a “Rapier Peerage” then what happens when we develop a sufficient culture in some other area? Do we add another Peerage for this area?

There is an argument to made that instead of it being a “Rapier” Peerage it might be a collective Peerage for a variety of martial skills that do not fall within the specific and limited definition currently used by the Order of Chivalry. The value of such a construct is that it allows an Order to create for itself an identity and set of traditions all it’s own. The problem is that it creates a very clear “second class citizen” Peerage order, a problem that can only end badly.

When I first became active in the Society there were a great many cultural problems that stemmed from a prevalent attitude that “some Peers were better than others.” This attitude was demonstrated by the idea that supposedly a Knight was more important because he/she was willing to “lay down their lives” for their King, and therefore their fealty, their place, made them more important than Peers of a different Order.

This idea, while largely now passed, still raises its head from time to time and I find it a disheartening and even antithetical position to the image I hold of what it means to be a Peer of The Realm. If I may be allowed to digress for a moment, this argument is easily refuted by simply asking if in the mundane world a criminal was holding a gun to the head of a the man who is the current King, would a Knight truly step in and take that bullet for him. I have asked this question and the general response I get is something along the lines of “this is just a game” thus invalidating the argument.

I, as a Rapier fighter, am just as willing as these Knights to “lay down my life” for the King. Why? Because “this is just a game” and in the end we are all getting the opportunity to die “best two out of three.”

This does not detract from any Knight who really believes that they would take a bullet for another human being, but I do not believe that it is a quality of being made a Knight. Rather it is a quality of what kind of human being you are. I can easily imagine a scenario in which I would place myself in harms way knowing it might cost me my life in order to save others. I am sure we all are capable of doing so. In other words that same quality of sacrifice is potentially present in anyone no matter who you are and if it is to be used as a bar of judgment to the Order of Chivalry than I would have to say that it has not been applied equally.

So then, what makes anyone a worthy candidate for Peerage?

I submit that while our definitions of the Orders of Laurel and Pelican are sufficiently broadly defined to allow the flexibility to recognize a wide range of people and skills, the Order of Chivalry currently bares to narrow a definition, and therein lay the problem.

I believe that it is fair to say that we all have our influences from youth as to what constitutes a Knight. Those influences are literary, or cinematic, or even game based. Those influences often reflect codes of honor and conduct. But they come from far and wide, and they are not universal in nature. One literary source might portray a Knight as a barely restrained killer whose only rein is his word of honor to another man. One cinematic source might portray a Knight as a cultured and elegant gentleman, capable of supreme acts of violence but only in the cause of justice or righteousness. And almost any game based source you care to think of will offer a view of a Knight that bares nothing but it’s name as a similarity to anything else.

I do, in fact, believe that one can achieve a Laurel or a Pelican by virtue of their efforts and studies with the Rapier. In the case of a Pelican I have, in fact, already seen it take place; that an individual was given their Pelican because of years of effort on behalf of the Rapier community they supported. In the case of a Laurel, there are many sources of material that can (and do!) require diligent study and recreation of a caliber that is easily worthy of the Order of the Laurel.

But in neither of these cases are we talking about Prowess, and that is key to the nature of why I believe that Rapier can and should be a valid (and valuable!) part of the Order of Chivalry.

I have many years of experience in a variety of martial arts. I will not lay claim to mastery of any of them, but I have learned a hell of a lot from all of them and there is one lesson in particular that I think stands serious scrutiny here –

No martial artist I have ever talked to or dealt with who is worth his salt has ever tried to claim that there is one “superior” martial form. They all acknowledge that different arts have different strengths and weaknesses, different advantages and disadvantage.

They all have their reasons for why they selected their art of choice and stayed with it. But when they are being honest they recognize that there is no such thing as “The One True Way(tm)”.

So in my opinion measuring one form of prowess against the bar of another is ridiculous. It is a fools errand to suggest that because someone knows something about German Longsword they will be able to judge expertly someone who knows Spanish Rapier. They can only offer their knowledge around the edges and must give way to others who know.

We do ask people in the various Orders of Peerage to do their best to judge things they don’t always know about, but the smartest of the lot recognize that they can’t accurately judge everything, they can only approximate.

It has been suggested in some circles that the Rapier Community wants in to the Order of Chivalry without meeting the expectations of that Order. I find that somewhat difficult to understand because when I ask what the expectations of the Order are I tend to get a list of nebulous qualities which I can argue already exist in the Rapier Community at least as much as they do in the Chivalric one.

“A Knight wants to be in Fealty.” Yes, and? That doesn’t seem to be at question. Peerage and Fealty are things that go hand in hand, and the question of swearing fealty is one that must be answered by every candidate individually regardless of the Order to which they are being admitted. Whether the Order of Chivalry were expanded or a whole new Order were to be created, this question would not change.

“A Knight wants to test their strength at arms against all comers.” Yes, and? That doesn’t seem to be at question either. I am happy to fight rapier against pretty much anyone. That joy in the fight exists no matter if one is holding a rattan sword or a steel one.

“A Knight wants to accept all his/her brethren in faith.” Yes, and? Again, where is the difference? I have certainly felt an amazing sense of camaraderie on the rapier field and it seems no different to me than what I have begun to feel upon the heavy field. I can turn to any rapier fighter and know that they have my back. I can turn to the rapier community at large and know that they will support me if I ask. I can not see any single thing that a Knight would ask of their community that I could not ask of mine and not expect that very same level of support.

The reason for that is simple – we are all members of the SCA. We all have built in to our organization and our participation in it a sense of community and family. Our households, our lineages, our oaths bind us to each other all with the same levels of strength regardless of whether one wears a White belt or a Whitescarf. And any Knight who questions my loyalty to my brothers and sisters in arms is insulting me as much as they themselves would be insulted if I did the same to them.

The only concrete argument I have seen has to do with the wearing of armor. Well, yeah, a Knight wears armor, but if that’s the only difference then its not a very convincing one. Not that I am required to wear armor as a rapier fighter (other than the stuff required for safety purposes), but that this really has only to do with the nature of the tools of combat. No one is arguing that fighting Rapier and fighting Rattan are two different sets of tools with different requirements.

One wears armor because the form of combat in question requires it. One wears no armor for the same reasons. As I have explained on many an occasion the easiest way to understand the difference is that heavy fighting is a simulation of soldiers and rapier fighting is a simulation of nobles and civilians.

Prowess is prowess. By its very nature and definition we are looking for people who can be expected to have mastered their form of combat, and who can be considered dangerous in others. Rapier offers it’s varieties of form in the same way as Heavy fighting does. We have individuals who master specific forms and styles. We have individuals who are dangerous still when they pick up other forms and styles. In the broad strokes the examples of prowess are there for anyone to see.

But here is where my path begins to diverge from many other paths. I believe strongly in the idea of a cross-trained fighter. Not just multiple forms within their discipline (rapier or heavy), but across disciplines. My ideal of Knighthood, coming from those childhood games, books, and movies, as well as my years in the SCA, is someone who recognizes that there is value in everything they can learn. That is it perfectly acceptable to be a master of one discipline, but still be dangerous in others. I would very much like to see a fighting culture that supports the idea that fighting is fighting and it’s only a choice of what tools you are playing with today.

Today you might get your heavy gear together and go storm the castle. Tomorrow you might pick up your rapier and challenge all comers to duels.

The Order of Chivalry is no different from the Orders of The Laurel and The Pelican when it comes to those collective qualities we call “Peer like.” My Fealty as a Laurel and a Pelican is no different, no more or less valuable, than the Fealty of a Knight.

My Laurel is because I have excelled above others in the realms of Art and Science. My Pelican is because I have excelled above others in the realms of Service to the Kingdom.

Why can not the Order of Chivalry be for those who have excelled above others in skill at arms regardless of which arms they have taken up?

I believe that a well rounded Knight is one who is equally comfortable with a broadsword as he is with a pike. Equally capable with a great sword as he is with an axe. I can see no reason not to expand that base of knowledge to encompass a rapier or a sidesword.

I recognize that in order to make such a change it will be necessary to find a path that is comfortable and acceptable to a long established and deeply entrenched culture. This will not be an easy path and I certainly do not envy you the decisions you must make.

I hope that my words have helped in some small fashion and I wish you all well as you tackle this most difficult challenge.

Yours in Service,

Baron Master Juan Santiago, OL, OP
Kingdom of The West

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