Category Archives: SCA
This past weekend was the 30th anniversary of Darkwood. Lots of big deal. I had decided a while back that I intended to fight in the tourney. I’m not anywhere near to being a threat to anyone as a heavy fighter but that was not the point. I had made a promise a long time back when I was Baron that I would get into heavy armor and fight for and with Darkwood. I didn’t quite manage it during my time, but was on the field shortly thereafter. And while I am enjoying myself I don’t have a burning desire to be a Knight just yet. My goals are elsewhere and I’m totally comfortable with that.
But I knew that being on the field for 30th year would be a thing to enjoy and would make me feel even better about keeping my promise though I’ve already done this many times over. I think the most fun I’ve had as a heavy fighter has been when I’ve had the opportunity to stand with our current Baron on a war field and that’s pretty damn cool for me.
Let me tell you though, what the hardest thing has been for me since stepping down. The hardest thing has been to let go enough that my successors can do the job their way without me interfering. And I knew it was going to be like that so I made a really concerted effort to restrain myself.
They have done a fabulous job under some very trying circumstances by the way. I’ve still been close enough and in the know enough to be aware of many of the trials and tribulations they have had to deal with. They have done well.
When Rose and I stepped down we both made ourselves available and said “use us” but they said they wanted to give us a break after all the hard work we had done. Reasonable, rational, compassionate, pretty much exactly what we said to our predecessors when we took over from them ….. AND TOTALLY UTTERLY FRUSTRATING. Because anyone who steps up to do a job, especially a long term job like Baron and Baroness of a Barony already needs to have the “helium hand gene” to be successful. But we were forced to admit that they were right in that “I don’t wanna” kind of way.
Unfortunately that sort of made us feel a bit “outsider-ish” as we watched other people doing stuff we wanted to do and be involved in. Separation anxiety and all that. You just want to feel wanted sometimes, and in a game where appreciation is the coin of self-worth you start to notice when you aren’t involved as much as you want to be.
You’ll understand in a bit why I digressed that way.
You see I was reminded that I have a greater worth than I have felt this past weekend. I was reminded by a couple of very simple things but they meant the world to me.
For those of you know how SCA Tourneys go this is going to be a bit of exposition but not all my readers are SCA so I need to cover some of this.
When we have a big tourney we line up with all the Knights on one side and all the not-Knights (unbelts) on the other side. There are always more not-Knights than Knights. So in order to make things balance out for the format of fighting we do we must move some people over from the not-Knights to the Knights. This is an honor generally reserved as an acknowledgement of various fighters who are “up and coming”, people who have gotten good enough to be noticed and might be formally raised up in rank to join the Knights. It is a powerful sign of recognition, a gift that the royals in charge of that tourney can give to those they see as worthy.
I was invited to join the Knights.
Even now, as I type that I am getting a bit teary-eyed and choked up.
I was confused. I was shocked. I’m sure that the look on my face was priceless and if anyone managed to get a picture of that I hope to see it. My mask rarely breaks but I know it was shattered in pieces at my feet in that moment.
We walked up to say our piece and I had been rehearsing in my head (like any good entertainer) the things I wanted to say. I’m rarely caught speechless but for the first few moments I struggled to find my way in to the words that I had in my head that I wanted to say.
I spoke of the desire Rose and I have to show that we are still there, still proud to be Darkwood, still ready to bring our art, our service, and our courage to Darkwood. That to reaffirm that on the 30 year field seemed no better time or place. I’m sure I said it with something approaching a form of eloquence but for the life of me I can’t recall now.
And for the next several minutes I stood with the Knights of the Kingdom and I asked myself over and over and over again why I was there. I literally was weak kneed and had to have Rose help me stand. After a few moments I began to realize that instead of deciding who I was going to challenge for my first fight (which the not-Knights do), I was going to be someone’s first challenge. I had to stand and wait and let someone come to me. A very different perspective.
Eventually I was challenged, and not as someone’s last pick (a left over fear from childhood I’m sure many people can relate to), by a fighter whose name I knew but whom I’ve never fought or even had seen fight before. And it was a good fight. A fight I felt I had fun with, that I comported myself well in, and that I was able to make it a worthwhile time. He took that fight, and well deserved, but I was as happy as I could have possibly been even if I had won it.
Later I was told by a Knight who has been a very long time friend and whom I respect that I had done well in that fight from his perspective too. A little acknowledgement that I am getting better even if I don’t practice as much as I should.
A little later on His Excellency Jared and I were talking and he made it clear that the reason he and Her Excellency Brid invited me over to the Knight side of the line was because of the promise I made and have kept, and that in doing so along with so much else that I was an inspiration as well.
Still later at the feast that evening he and I talked some more and he made it clear that the kind of Baron I had been helped him to decide on the kind of Baron he has chosen to be, and that we are “family”.
I do not use the f-word lightly. Well, one of them I do, but I’m talking about “family”.
If I tell you that you are family, if you tell me that I am family, well that means something. I know that many people say that the SCA is one big family and to a certain extant that’s true, but in this context, even in this space, my chosen family is special and unique and not easily joined.
Their Excellencies Jared and Brid have been a part of my chosen family for years now. Their blood family has become a part of my chosen family. And maybe I’ve felt a little “outsider-ish” from time to time, but I’ve never not known that this family of mine hasn’t been there or been around.
My apprentice asked me what it was like being on the Knights side of the line and I couldn’t explain it at the time. It’s taken a couple of days of contemplation for me to really put these words together and make some form of sense out of them, but maybe, after having read all of this I can sum it up in a way that makes it all come together.
Standing there was an acknowledgement. It was a gesture of affection that could only come from the way we have our “families” in the SCA. It was a reminder that my family is still out there even when I’m not always the best me that I can be.
And I don’t know anything better than that.
Relax. It’s not that bad. Not at all.
First I want to talk about Crapaud. If you aren’t from The West Kingdom then here is a quick description. Crapaud is a once a month tourney that has been running for a long time now. Last night was actually #237, but for me it was #1 as it was the first time I had fought in it. It’s geared towards being run in a tourney format when there are enough fighters on hand, and it’s meant to build a fellowship between fighters that goes a bit beyond the usual. It’s attractive in the sense that there is no real “prize” at the end other than the honor of having won. No job responsibility and every month there is a chance that there will be a new “Crapaud” (the previous winner is still fighting so can ‘defend’ the title).
Also, there is an acknowledgement that comes not from winning but just from being recognized for being in possession of qualities that make you stand out; honorable on the field, some behavior that catches the eye, some gesture of chivalry, things of this nature. And so someone is given that acknowledgement in the form of the title of “le fleur” – the flower of chivalry.
So, all the pomp and circumstance of a full on Crown or Coronet tourney without the responsibility of ruling. A great training ground for fighters, an opportunity to challenge a number of high level fighters, and receive training and feedback from them.
On to procedure. In a regular tourney you line up all the “belts” on one side and all the “unbelts” on the other. At Crapaud the “belts” line up on one side and the “unbelts” line up on the other but they set a precedence by arranging them first by the rank as a members of the Order of the Ash Leaf (and award based on fighting), then by squiring date, and finally by years fighting.
The procedure for ‘balancing the lines’ is to simply skim the top of the unbelts side for as many fighters as necessary and bring them over. Last night it was necessary to take the top three.
I didn’t know any of this last night when I entered the list. The only thing I knew was to line up by years fighting, and although I’ve been fighting for a long time as a rapier fighter, I’ve only got just under two years as a heavy fighter (and really less than half a dozen tournies under my belt). So based on that I put myself towards the end of the line. Seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I was perfectly happy there.
But here’s where things get complicated and this is where we get in to the whole idea about ‘fighting titles.’ The concept of ‘fighting titles’ bothers me on a certain level, but makes perfect sense on another.
You see, I have an Ash Leaf. Technically at Crapaud last night I should have been at the very head of the line as I outranked the person who was there, and as such I would have been immediately crossed over. But as my Ash Leaf was given to me as a rapier fighter I can certainly understand that where I was in line was probably much more correct.
I absolutely agree and support the idea that ‘fighting is fighting’ in the sense that fighters should treat each other as equals regardless of the forms of fighting they engage in. The heavy and rapier communities have been to separated from each other for to long and that has caused gaps in the way they treat each other. Even as I was gearing up to fight last night one person gave me a bit of an obnoxious comment (entirely unaware of how they sounded) that came from their attitude that one form of fighting is ‘superior’ to another.
But by the same token I am not going to insist that my years of experience as a rapier fighter make me ‘worthy’ of being at the head of that line either. Of course I defer to these fighters because they have the experience in these forms of fighting. If they came to me to learn to fight rapier then I would expect them to defer to me because I have the experience over them in that arena. It’s just practical that way.
However, there is a title issue on the field that I do have some problems with and it’s this – just because I pick up a sword (rattan or rapier), I haven’t stopped being a Baron, or a Laurel, or a Pelican. Having titles doesn’t come with a lot of benefits, mostly just responsibilities. But one of the few benefits is that I have a right to be called by the appropriate term – IF I CHOOSE.
On the rapier field I am a GuildMaster, a somewhat fading title these days but is treated as roughly equal to a Whitescarf but focused on the teaching of rapier more than the prowess of it. (And of course now with the Master of Defense peerage that changes things again as well.)
Most of the time on the heavy fighting field I really don’t care. I get that there is a certain inherent ‘ranking’ on the fighting field and that many of our awards are ‘fighting’ awards. As a person who holds an Ash Leaf my “heavy fighting title” is Lord. I haven’t been called that for 16 years.
The danger here is in letting a certain ‘minimization’ mess with your head while you’re fighting. Fighters talk about ‘the head game’ as a very important part of the fight, which is totally understandable. The amount of work I’ve done to earn my titles is not something I want to have dismissed. Understanding that it isn’t being dismissed simply because it isn’t being used in a specific context is key to that idea.
Nevertheless we do invest so much of our identities in what we have achieved in the SCA that sometimes we can be sensitive to the way things are done even when done so unintentionally. And more to the point, determining where in the line I might fit due to a ranking system that doesn’t treat our respective fighting styles equally is a confusing paradox.
For the moment I intend to return to Crapaud. I had a good time and I liked being in a situation where I could experience the tourney format without being concerned for the potential end responsibilities (even someone like my could have a good day and win). There is a lot to be learned here.
And just to round out everything, I want to say that fighting Sir Myric and Enoch Baily was great. I felt like my fights were good. I learned things. I watched the rest of the fights that evening and I think there was a lot of wonderful things to see and learn from that as well. (And as I am currently on The Mists Guard with a challenge to fight as many new people as I can I get to add Myric and Enoch to my list!)
But I’m going to have to come to a decision about where in that lineup I really deserve to be. I’m proud of my Ash Leaf. I was one of the very first people to get it for rapier. But I don’t know how I feel about putting myself in a position where I could be crossed over merely on precedence when there are far more experienced fighters than I.
So, first off, for my new readers in other Kingdoms, some of what I’m going to talk about here is probably not entirely clear. However, if you live in an SCA Kingdom that has a thriving rapier community I would very much appreciate hearing your ideas.
Backstory for Non-Westerners
Rapier in The West Kingdom has been through a whole lot of trouble. The very very short version is that when it first started we had people who played but didn’t really make a very good impression on “people in authority” so some of those people decided to ban rapier.
Eventually it came back, and over the course of roughly 15 years it has become a thriving community in The West until about the last three or so years. These last few years the community has started to lose itself and lose participation.
As a person who has been a pretty active part of the community over these last 15 or so years it is an issue that concerns me as well as many others. So now we want to address the issues and see what we need to do to bring it back up to speed.
Causes of Burn Out
So the reality of the situation is that many of the people who were most active in the community (myself included) have hit a significant level of burn out with the community. We’ve hit that for a variety of reasons, both SCA and mundane. But regardless we’re burned out. We’ve given our all and we got Whitescarves. And then we gave even more and eventually we got Masters of Defense.
But here we are now with some Whitescarve’s and some MoD’s, but a community that is worn out and tired.
Some areas have been identified as being sources of the problem. I am not sure I agree with them entirely as “sources” but I do consider them to be contributing factors. So I’m going to address them individually and see where that leads me.
I’m not really sure I agree with this one.
I understand some of the complaints, but from my perspective it isn’t just the rapier community that has suffered from snooty “garb” people (not using the term garb-Nazi, so please don’t use it in a reply, it’s offensive and non-productive).
We just have some people who are unfortunately unable to restrain themselves when it comes to being judgmental about garb.
We also have people who are to overly sensitive when it comes to having their garb critiqued. My experience tells me that more often than not the person who is saying something isn’t trying to be rude, they are trying to be helpful. They just suck at people skills. Like a lot of us.
By all means, we can and we should address the garb issues, and I’ve seen plenty of “garb as armor” type classes taught by a wide variety of people over the years. Teaching these is going to be a good thing in the long run no matter if it is an actual “source” of the problem or not.
The SCA at large is experiencing attendance issues. There is no one cause of this. If events in general are experiencing less attendance then rapier is going to suffer from that as well.
However I think that there is a valuable observation to be made, and I’ve already seen it made by others. If there just aren’t that many rapier activities being offered up then the cost/benefit ratio of going to an event pretty much sucks. We need more opportunities for there to be rapier that is worth doing.
Most of the rapier fighting done at events right now is fighting for roses at Crown and Coronet level events. There are a couple of other places where rapier is a much more integral part of the event, but roses is the main stay of rapier in this Kingdom right now.
This needs to change. The question is how. There are a couple of other things that are sitting there and waiting to be more actively used but at the moment they aren’t. I’ll touch on those in just a little bit.
I see this as a big one.
Right now in my estimation there are only really four “big” rapier activities that are happening in this Kingdom; West Kingdom Championship (which has a really big problem in my opinion), Mists Rapier Champion, Cynagua Rapier Champion, and Falcon’s Treaty.
Falcon’s can be taken off the list in terms of cross supporting because it is an event entirely devoted to rapier and there isn’t much else going on with regards to other SCA activities for a reason. I will touch on this event more shortly.
The Mists and Cynaguan Rapier Champion tourney’s happen at regular SCA events and in those cases get turnouts according to the location of the event (how far do I have to drive to go to the event) as well as a somewhat better turnout because there are already enough other activities going on that the cost/benefit ratio to go is high enough.
West Kingdom Championship is the one that I think is suffering the most and is also, in part, a source of the problem. There are three different communities having their respective Kingdom level championship here, but the event draws little attention from anyone outside of those communities (Eq, Archery, Rapier). I have never gone (I’ll explain why shortly when I address all my other explanations together) but from everything I hear over and over again it sounds like even these three communities don’t really cross support each other. The Equestrians aren’t watching the Rapier fighters. The Rapier fighters aren’t supporting the Archers. The Archers don’t care about the Equestrians.
And please, that isn’t a judgment statement. It’s an observation from the outside.
What I think Is Going On Here
First a little history here.
Let’s start with Falcon’s Treaty. I am one of the people who founded the event and over the years it has pretty much been considered my event because I have been the one to run it for almost every year it has existed.
It’s purpose when we started it was to create a “rapier only” fighting event. There are a shit-ton of heavy fighting events and more seem to be happening all the time. There is only one rapier only event.
There used to be two. When Falcon’s came in to existence one of it’s goals was to be a Mist’s rapier event to stand with a sister Cynaguan rapier event called Della Spada. That event was run almost exclusively by my good friend Ximon. But when he ended up having to move out of Kingdom no one took up the mantle to run Della Spada. That’s unfortunate, but it is one of the early steps that lead to the decline of the Kingdom rapier community.
But there was still a lot of rapier that was happening regularly at Crown and Coronet events that had a greater purpose than roses. And before someone gets their knickers in a twist about the importance of fighting roses to honor your consort, etc etc etc, all I mean is that the “greater” purpose is something like Kingdom or Principality champion lists.
The heavy fighters go to Crown and Coronet because they are fighting to make their consort Queen or Princess. Which begs the question for the rapier community (a question I have been asking for * YEARS *) – What are we fighting for?
Somewhere in there we finally started getting Whitescarves in this Kingdom. And that created a goal for people to try and achieve, so there was a motivation to fight and push yourself and learn and grow.
Unfortunately due to geography and a few other factors we ended up with a disparity of Whitescarves in The Mists and a bulk of them in Cynagua. Geography being what is in The West it makes regular training and access to these upper level fighters difficult at best.
The general attendance problem is a problem of many fronts, but one of the most compelling of these problems is that of finance. Yes, even though we are a 501(c)(3) organization we still have to be concerned with money and events that don’t draw enough attendance eventually get canceled.
Equestrian runs in to a lot of danger in the financial area. After all a site that supports all the necessary infrastructure of an Equestrian event is often pretty expensive.
So we get the West Kingdom Championship. Not a bad idea on it’s face; combine Eq, Archery, and Rapier championships and you build a whole event with enough attendance to make it financially more workable. Unfortunately in my opinion this was also not a great idea.
Okay, so first off I did mention that I have never been and I would explain why – for me the cost/benefit ratio sucks. The event is always held in Lodi. It never moves. This is because of the available Eq facilities.
I have precisely zero interest in SCA Eq activities. For those of you who love doing Eq that’s great, but it’s not for me. My protogee does Eq stuff and it makes her deliriously happy. But as far as I know even she doesn’t go to West Kingdom Championship. I’ve ridden horses on a couple of occasions and it’s a reasonably fun past time, but SCA Eq is just not for me.
Archery is a more fun past time, but my interest in SCA archery is generally completely satisfied on a yearly basis by attending one event that happens practically in my backyard. So, again, West Kingdom Championship has a very low cost/benefit ratio for me.
The only thing that happens at the event that I might be interested in is the Kingdom Rapier Champion. So the question becomes “is it worth it to me to drive ~3.5 hours out, hang around all day, fight for maybe 2 hours, and then drive ~3.5 hours home?”
The answer for me is “no.” And sadly I know that is the same answer for a number of other people, and so rapier attendance drops.
When the Kingdom Rapier Championship occurred at other regular events I would enter or at the very least I would marshal. I was there and I would be supporting it. And having one more person to support meant that some other person would be able to fight or relax and not suffer as much burn out.
One of the other things that I am hearing from people with regards to West Kingdom Championship is that the fighting is taking place on an out of the way field. This statement rang bells with me.
One of the things that raised the general awareness of the rapier community to the rest of the Kingdom was it’s visibility at Crown and Coronet level events. We fought hard to have the right to have our tourney’s on the same fighting field as the heavy fighters. That still happens at the Coronet level events, but it’s not happening at Crown any more. That is a three-times a year loss of visibility.
Yes, the Kingdom Rapier Champion is a year long office, but before West Kingdom Championship the rapier community was constantly making sure we had Eric space and time at Kingdom level events specifically for our use, not just a corner of the field for roses.
What Can We Do?
I see a couple of really big opportunities here, but both of them are going to take some serious work.
First, Della Spada. Someone in Cynagua needs to take up the mantle and get that event back on it’s feet and back on the calendar. Falcon’s Treaty can not continue to be the only “rapier only” event on the calendar. We need another one. Falcon’s in The Mists. Della Spada in Cynagua. This worked in the past. It can work again. These two events are able to do all kinds of things because there is no hard fast rule about what has to take place.
With Falcon’s I always try to make sure that there is ample opportunity for anyone in the Guild to play a prize if they want to. I always want there to be The Ladies Tourney, because when we started that it proved to be a lot of fun. But we’ve done all kinds of things over the years.
Rapier games at Falcon’s are a good thing in general. Nytshaede’s Town Battle was a blast. The year I ran a Quest event was amazingly fun. Yes, even games of Blood of Hero’s would be worthwhile. (I’m not a fan but I know a lot of people enjoy it, so go for it!)
Della Spada had it’s own flavor and style, but also it was just as flexible and had many games and tourney’s that made it a destination event.
Second, either disengage Kingdom Rapier Championship and get it back on Crown Tourney fields, or find/create some other “high level” Championship that gets held on Crown Tourney fields so that we start being visible to the Kingdom at large.
The Queen’s Ring jumps immediately to mind.
Currently The Queen’s Ring can be fought for anywhere. Instead of that, make it an “official” tourney to be held at Crown, and start arranging with autocrats and Royals that The Queen’s Ring becomes something that regularly happens at Crown. That makes it possible to advertise and make more noise about rapier activities. It makes it possible to put meaningful rapier activities at Crown, and it puts rapier back in the public eye at Kingdom Level events that everyone is at.
That is what raises awareness. That is what raises attendance. That is what gets support growing again.
In my opinion anyway.
If other people have ideas I would dearly love to hear them.
Well, it seems I hit a nerve.
My blog was really never intended to be much more than my occasional ruminations and rants and wanderings with regards to my two main hobbies; performance magic and the SCA. I thought I was doing really well when I posted something that got 250 views that were mostly not me. On average I think I get about 20 views because my closest friends like to keep tabs on me.
As I sit and write this I have had just under 8000 unique visitors and just under 10500 views. I’ve heard both publicly and privately from people all over the country.
I am shocked, stunned, and truly humbled.
That being said, when I woke up this morning I had a few things I was thinking about that I wanted to further elaborate on with regards to this topic. But with all the comments I’ve received I think there are a few more things I’d like to address as well.
When To Use Your Titles
Now these are not, in any way, a hard and fast set of rules. Far from it. This is just my guiding principles.
I only use my most immediate titles (Baron and Master) when I am doing something official but not necessarily specific in nature. In most courts I am one or the other.
When I am fighting as a heavy fighter I use no title at all because I have no title that relates. I’m not a knight, viscount, count, duke, etc.
When I am fighting as a rapier fighter I use my Guildmaster title if it’s appropriate for me to do so.
I apply this to my regalia as well. I can always wear my baronial coronet and my Laurel/Pelican medallion. But I only wear my Golden Branch when I am operating as a former Bard of The Mists. Otherwise there is no point for me to do so really.
As you can see its really a process of careful selection based on circumstance. And certainly there are variations again. For example my apprentice, although she is a Peer in her own right as a Pelican, chooses instead to use her honorific of Madam from a lower ranked award as opposed to Mistress. And the Baroness of my local Barony chooses to use the title “hlaefdige” rather than Baroness, a term I am given to understand is closer to “lady of the household”.
And still they choose to use these titles only when acting in some official capacity.
There is a difference between using a title when it is appropriate and using a title to gain something over someone else. It seems an obvious point but clearly enough people have experienced problems that my words from my previous post resounded with more than 8000 people.
Peers Have Asses And You Have Feet
One of the things that seems to come up frequently is that people of “lesser rank” aren’t allowed to call out someone of “greater rank.” I’ve heard the complaints and occasionally I’ve actually heard that this is a “rule” in the SCA, a misconception I have gone out of my way to correct every time I’ve heard it. I’ve tried to encourage people to speak up no matter who they are and no matter who they have to speak up about, but the fear is understandable.
I recognize that it’s relatively easy for me to say the things that I am saying. After all, I am a Peer, and High Muckety Muck, and I have a bowl full of alphabet soup. But that hasn’t always been the case and I might even argue that one of the reasons why I have all these titles and awards is because I was willing to call out the bullshit around me when it needed to be called out.
We are trained to give respect automatically to people of high rank, and of course “The King’s Word is Law”™. But I can tell you, as an example, that at an event I was at when it got back to my lady that the King himself was saying something untrue about her and I she did not hesitate one moment to go and speak to him about it. She is even more formidable than I when it comes to such things.
As I said in my previous post, no one is beyond being held accountable, no one is beyond noble behavior. Not even the King.
Some people needed to have their asses kicked. And it does seem that people need to be reminded on occasion that ass kicking can go both ways. Peers have asses and you have feet. Don’t be afraid to use them.
Sometimes “Being Nice” Translates To Not Saying What Needs To Be Said And That’s A Problem
There are many people who are willing to say that they are blunt and don’t have a problem getting in people’s faces. Most of the time that’s just talk unfortunately. The number of people who will actually follow through is great deal smaller.
That isn’t a dig on any of us though really. I mean let’s face the facts here; we as an organization are largely made up of the school kids who weren’t always the most popular, the people who were often bullied because they were in to Dungeons & Dragons, or were more interested in science and history then they were in sports. We are as a group very non-confrontational.
It is hard to confront anyone. It is even harder to confront someone who “out ranks” you. We spend so much time playing this game and being invested in the identity that we create, that we forget sometimes that it is a game.
But it can be, and often is, one of the greatest games there is to play.
In the years I have been in the SCA it has impacted how I operate in the “mundane” world. I get strange looks from people for holding open doors; I’ve lost a job because my integrity didn’t allow me to do something my employer wanted me to do; I’ve been complimented on my manners.
Amusingly enough I have even been asked if I was gay because I was “so polite.” No joke! But imagine what must be going on for the person who asked me this question, that they associate polite with gay, and that in their world a straight male is expected to be less polite in general.
Frankly I consider all of these things to be good things. That the person I have become over the years because of the SCA is really the kind of person I want to be. I have often said that the point of this game is to discover how to be the best possible version of ourselves that we want to be.
However, in order to achieve that we have to be willing to protect and defend the environment that allows us to do these things. We have to be willing to step up and challenge the people with “ranks” and “titles” and remind them that just because they are Duke Sir Master IveDoneItAll, it doesn’t mean that they get to backslide into being jerks about it.
We don’t want to be confrontational. It’s against our nature for the most part. We want everyone to just get along and we certainly talk about how the SCA is one big happy family. But in a lot of ways we aren’t. In a lot of ways this family sometimes has a crazy aunt or uncle that needs to be reminded that they aren’t the be all, end all of all things SCA related.
We don’t want to be confrontational but sometimes we have to be willing to step up and be the ones who say “hey, this BS isn’t cool. It isn’t noble, it isn’t honorable, and you are being a jackass.”
That’s the price.
So What Do We Do? What Do Our Titles Actually Mean?
I want to make sure that I head off a potential misunderstanding.
I am not against awards, ranks, and titles. I mean, obviously I’m not. I have a nice tidy collection of them. More than a lot of people even realize. In fact I was told this morning by a friend that they had no idea how many awards I actually had until I wrote my previous post and shared my alphabet soup in it, which was to me a compliment.
First we have to remember that we are a meritocracy. Our awards and titles are not something to confer new respect or value to who you are. They are there an acknowledgement of what we have already achieved. Not every award is a Peerage, but a line from the Peerage ceremonies is a good one to remember regardless of the award; that you will “continue to do as you have done.”
Second, we have to remember that as we climb further up the award ladder, such as it is, that what we are doing is making ourselves more visible and thus more of a target, both of admiration and potential derision. We climb up and we become the model others might use to emulate. Or the example others might use to learn what not to be.
Somewhere I picked up a bit of wisdom that was directed at Peers specifically, but I think should apply to everyone –
“Remember that you are the first person(Peer) someone new to the SCA is going to meet.”
This is probably the last article I’m going to write on this topic for some time. I feel like I’ve pretty much said it all and my readers (all several thousand of you now apparently – * gulp *) are obviously pretty damn smart. You’ve listened to what I’ve had to say and you’ve been kind and generous in your response.
Thank you. I hope that I can continue to provide other words of interest in the future.
Yours in Service,
Baron Master Master Jua…. Ah screw it,
In the SCA we are all supposed to behave like nobles, whether we have a “title” or not. We earn our titles in a system that is basically a meritocracy; a system of reward via your efforts. We also, as a natural consequence of that, assume that people with “more” titles, or “more” awards are somehow “more” worthy of respect.
The math is simple; they clearly must be consistently doing good things to be rewarded for their efforts, and therefor we must be obligated to show them respect.
The problem with this is simple; if you’re acting like an ass then it doesn’t matter how many awards and titles you have, you’re still an ass.
Lately I’ve been running into this a lot more than I would have thought. It usually comes in two forms:
1 – I just got my first award and I need everyone to know it.
2 – I am a high muckety muck and therefor can act like an ass and no one can gainsay me.
There are variations on these themes, but fundamentally these are the ways it seems to break out.
And I know that different SCA Kingdoms handle their “title culture” differently than we do in The West. That’s cool. I’m still sure that these kinds of problems occur simply because people are still people and are therefor fully capable of being, well, stupid.
I Just Got My First Award
Virtually everyones first award is the “Award of Arms.” This comes along with ones first “title”; Lord or Lady. And let’s face it, this is generally a very cool recognition. It’s the first time that you get called up in court, and everyone cheers for you and applauds your efforts.
But if you aren’t thinking it through it can happen that you let it go to your head. You start putting emphasis on the “Lord” or “Lady” when you introduce yourself. You correct others when they forget it as they introduce you to someone else.
Or you try to browbeat people with your title even when you are making a simple request of them. “Hi, I’m LORD Vexorg, Destroyer of A Thousand Shields, and I need you to do this idiot simple thing for me because I am LORD Vexorg, Destroyer of A Thousand Shields.”
Sound stupid to you? Well, it certainly is, and yet I still hear people do this kind of thing.
An offshoot of this is also what I call “alphabet soup”. We shorthand Award of Arms as “AoA”. Well, you can do that with pretty much every award, and when you do that you get some pretty stupid looking stuff as your signature on the end of a letter or email.
For example here is mine –
Baron Master Master Juan Santiago, OL, OP, GMoD, PoG, ORL, OLM, OAL, CA, CV, CM, AoA
Is it any wonder that when I sign things I just write “Santiago”?
And believe me, it can and does get worse.
But here is reality; if I browbeat someone with all my titles and awards and whatever else I am only achieving one thing; telling them I’m a jackass. (And yes, I can hear my various detractors saying “you are a jackass.” If that’s you then I invite you to think about why you are so busy reading anything I have to say at all.)
If you want to give people the worst possible impression of you as quickly as possible then please, by all means, spend as much time as you possibly can dropping your “title” every chance you get.
I Am A High Muckety Muck
This one usually happens to two sets of people; either a “well established person” or an “Officer”.
“Hi, I’m the Kingdom Boot Licker, so I have to have my pavilion on the List Field.”
“I am the Lord High Privy Marshal and I have to meet with this person and that person and the other person. I’m very important.”
“I am the King of Anvilania so you have to do this illegal thing or else.”
Yes, I am aware of real world examples of all of these.
But what I find is the most egregious abuse of this category is the “well established person” (for example any long standing Peer or someone who has been a Royal) who tries to bully someone less established as they are into doing something they don’t want to do, or to “shut them up”, or to try and get away with making “outrageous statements” or even outright lies.
“I’m a Knight so I can say this terrible thing and no one can call me out on my honor for doing so.”
Bullshit. Yet I literally just ran in to this.
Does any of this sound like the behavior of a society of people who are supposed to try to live like nobles?
No one, no matter how many titles and awards they have in the SCA is above basic courtesy and noble behavior. No one, no matter how many titles and awards they have in the SCA can get away with behaving like a jackass without there being some kind of fallout; at the very least without doing damage to their own reputation.
So, who do you want to be? Do you want to be someone “important” or someone “respected”?
Awards and Titles in the SCA do not confer additional importance or respect. They are acknowledgements of the importance and respect you have already achieved. But if you use those titles and awards to browbeat people, mistreat people, or otherwise impose unreasonable requirements or restrictions on people then you undermine the importance and respect you had.
Do you know what your awards and titles are worth?
Take them to Starbucks and see if you can get a cup of coffee with them and you’ll find out.
I am not a nice man. Not really.
I strive to be an honorable one. I work hard to be a responsible one. I do my best to be kind and courteous. I try to maintain not just my own dignity but also the dignity of others. I own my mistakes. I do my best to make right whatever I have made wrong.
I am far from perfect in any of these things and I am self aware enough to know that.
None of these things are inherently nice. They do tend to make people think that I’m nice. People do tend to look at me as someone who is worth being around and they tend to equate that with nice.
But I have a bad side and I generally don’t waste a lot of time or energy trying to hide it. I get angry at stupid. And I am angry a lot because there is a lot of stupid out there to be angry at. I will even admit that I get angry at myself when I’ve been stupid because I expect better of me.
So why am I telling you that I am not a nice man?
Because I am about to be very “not nice.”
Over the years I have developed an odd habit which I have labeled “Warning The Universe.” I remember that I decided to call it that because I read somewhere (I can’t remember where now) a dialog between a couple of characters where one was offering up a warning to his enemy that he was coming and the other said “you know they can’t hear you” and the first replied that as long as the universe could hear that was good enough for him.
With the advent of social media it became very easy for me to start “warning the universe” and in this version it becomes possible that the people who need to hear the warning actually might.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about then you need not worry.
If you think you might be in the line of fire then you need to either remove yourself or verify that you’re in trouble.
And those of you know what I’m talking about – this is your warning.
You’ve messed with me and mine. You’ve lied. You’ve cheated. You’ve hurt people I care about and your lies and bullshit are tearing apart a community that I love and cherish and swore to defend. You’ve hurt them all badly enough that I feel a need to scream my warning to the universe.
One way or another I am going to see you punished. I’ll do everything I can to make sure everyone works through the proper channels and procedures and everything else that needs to be done. I don’t care how long it takes. I will take the time to make sure that those who need to will cross every “t” and dot every “i” because when the time comes to formally and officially “deal with you” it’s going to be done in such a way that not a single person can possibly complain that it was unfair or unjust.
I am confident in the rightness of this course. I am confident because there are those with more level heads than mine, whose willingness to argue with me is well known, that have agreed with me that you and your bullshit needs to end. Now.
No, I’m not a nice man.
I am, however, someone who gets very angry at stupid. And you’ve been very stupid. Stupid enough that the universe needs to hear my warning even though I doubt you ever will or would even care if I told you to your face how badly you’ve fucked up and pissed me and everyone else off. You haven’t listened to anyone else try to reason with you, warn you, or guide you to fixing the problems you have caused. You certainly aren’t going to listen to me.
What happens next? I’ll stand right behind the people who are dealing with your bullshit. I’ll offer every insight, every word of advice, every effort I can to help them do what needs to be done. And I know they’ll accept that help. They already have.
When you’re gone, we’ll heal. The life and energy that you have sucked out of everyone around you will be restored. Because while it is true that I am not a nice man, it’s possible that there is a part of me that wants to be. Certainly I try to be better than this. I try to be better than this anger because anger is poison. It brings us all down from being the best people we can be.
That is what you’ve brought me to. That is why I am this angry with you. I want to be my better self but you have forced me to deal with your bullshit because you’ve hurt the people and things that I love and done so without remorse.
If you showed remorse, if you attempted to fix what you have done, you would have my sympathy. But you have demonstrated that those things are not in you. And so I have nothing for you but anger and contempt.
So you will pay, you will be removed, you will be gone……
And no one will miss you.
You know when you have one of those “A-HA” moments?
I mean when you suddenly realize something about yourself that should have been obvious but turned out to be eluding you for a really long time.
I am an introvert. That is not a particular revelation to me though it often comes as a surprise to other people given that they know that I am a magician and an actor. It’s hard for a lot of people to reconcile those things together; how can I be an introvert if I like being on stage? If you’re curious about it go read my article on The Performing Introvert.
The truth is that I often forget that I am an introvert. How is that possible? Because my life routine is such that I don’t often find myself in situations that I am unprepared for.
Basically all introverts can manage any social situation if they are given enough opportunity to prepare themselves for it. All the rehearsing I do for a play or a magic show is not just to be able to do the show but to prepare myself for the level of stress that I will be facing just because it’s a social situation and to some lesser or greater degree I will be the focus of attention.
In the SCA my social circle is pretty wide and there aren’t a lot of situations I might find myself in where I will experience social anxiety. And even if I do, it’s extremely easy for me to extricate myself from those situations and move to another situation that is more comfortable.
When I first took up rapier fighting I had already been in a pretty stressful set of circumstances and taking it up was a way to move myself from one set of social anxiety to a different place that I thought would be more welcoming. Because my life was full of stress at the time it never dawned on me that the anxiety I was feeling when I first stepped on to the rapier field was anything other than that.
After a while the rapier community became my own and my social anxiety on the field dissipated, though that anxiety was still masked by the other stresses that were current in my life.
The regular stress of my life was white noise against which the specific social anxiety of fighting was masked.
Eventually those regular stresses subsided, but by then I was well enough integrated in to the rapier community that I experienced virtually no anxiety anymore facing any of the fighters I would normally see.
So now all these years later when I decided to finally take up heavy fighting it never once dawned on me that fighting would bring on social anxiety. Not only that, but the level of social anxiety is mysteriously high and I was still blind to it because I had no frame of reference to make me think “hey, this is my introversion that’s causing this.”
So I’ve been struggling with this problem. Why is it that some people I can face on the heavy field and not be upset or anxious, and others just freak me the fuck out?
I mean I am not a threat to anyone on the heavy field. Not yet. Eventually, but not yet. I have a lot to learn, and I have to train my body, and these are all things that I am excited about for my own personal growth. So I’m not particularly afraid or anxious about being beat up. It’s going to happen. That’s just part of the process.
In the short time I’ve been fighting I have squared off with fighters from my level all the way up to Dukes. I’ve experienced fights with people who are my friends and people I only barely know.
At first I noticed that if I didn’t particularly know the person I was about to engage my anxiety level would pick up. Which made sense so I didn’t attribute anything to that.
Though I will say that on a small handful of occasions I have already found myself in unexplainable tears dealing with an overwhelming amount of anxiety and emotion. And I should say that this is not a thing that I am afraid of. I know that I can be emotional at times. I know that I can shed tears publicly even and it is no threat to my masculinity or my self image. The only thing that I ever worry about is whether or not I understand why it’s happening at the moment. So when the tears come for unexplainable reasons that’s when I get concerned. (I’ve also been known to revel in tears because something moves me that much so this isn’t an entirely unusual place for me.)
After all of that I started to focus on a pattern that I thought I detected which was that I thought I was feeling a certain amount of anxiety when I faced off with someone I had reason to believe had no respect for rapier fighters or the rapier community at large. Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, and especially with the establishment of the Order of Defense, I still see people who are disdainful of that part of the larger fighting community. It is a problem that is gradually diminishing, but it is still there.
Let me be clear though. I don’t, in any way, think that any of these fighters that I have faced have meant to “put me in my place” or otherwise “beat me down” because I am a rapier fighter. Not at all. What I am expressing here is an outgrowth of one of the social anxieties that introverts experience.
Introverts can’t help but look for patterns and problems in social situations. We do it because we are planning how to protect our fragility. Introverts can also be amazingly insightful when it comes to social situations because we are so good at seeing all the patterns and possibilities. The difficult part of it is that we can and often do find problems where none actually exist.
So here I am thinking that the problem is this more complicated assessment of my opponent as someone who doesn’t like me or doesn’t like the community I come from and I played with that idea in my head for a little while, but I soon realized that it was to complicated, not to mention hugely unfair and disrespectful. None of the fighters I have met or fought deserve any such suspicion from me. General social anxiety issues and social issues resulting from being an introvert are usually not that complicated.
No, like most things the answer is a great deal more simplistic. Plain and simple the anxiety I feel when I am on the heavy field is because I don’t yet feel like I am fully a part of the community.
To a certain extent I have done it to myself too. After all, I have made a big deal out of the fact that I want to be an example as a “cross-trained” fighter. As someone who engages in Rapier, C&T, and Heavy pretty much equally. This is my path. It is a path I believe in. It is a path that I hope to encourage others to explore.
But the thought that these are not yet “my people” appears to be the true source of my heavy fighting anxiety. Not because I haven’t been welcomed but because I haven’t yet found where I fit in to the community at large. I have been welcomed. I have a great set of friends who are my cheerleaders and my teachers who want to see me succeed.
However like anything else the only way you get better is by doing it more. All of my friends and supporters have been doing all they can to encourage me to do more, and it’s wonderful. The struggle for me is the thing about introverts; we don’t do anything until we’re ready to.
No matter how much support, no matter how much encouragement, how much training, practice, rehearsal, whatever, we simply don’t do anything until we’re ready to.
So in a way, here is my plea and my apology to all my supporters.
Please continue to be my supporters and my cheerleaders. It’s the cumulative effect of support that gives me the “social momentum” I need to be able to get out on the field in the first place. And every time I manage it the amount of “social momentum” I need will get smaller. It’s the same thing that happened when I was first rapier fighting though I didn’t really recognize it as such.
And my apology is this – there simply are going to be times when I can’t do it. When the social pressure is more than I have the energy or strength to deal with. I don’t want to let down my teachers and my supporters and cheerleaders. You all put a ton of energy in to me. Sometimes I can’t cross the finish line but it should never be seen as a failure on your part. The trick will be that I need to remember that it isn’t a failure on mine either.
As I get over myself and get over my feelings of being outside the community I will become a more active and more engaged fighter. I’ll be able to get to that threshold of just picking up my sword and shield and letting whatever happens happen.
All martial arts that I have ever participated in have stressed on some level or another the idea of “Know thyself.” Becoming a better fighter is not about how many people you have defeated in combat but by how often you have beaten your own limitations. You can’t beat those limitations until you know where they are coming from.
I have mentioned in the past that I have dragons to fight. I think I may have just uncovered the sneakiest of them all.
When I first joined the SCA nearly 30 years ago one of the first things I was taught is that someones camp is their home and that you don’t just walk in to their camp uninvited any more than you would walk in to their mundane home without knocking at the door and being acknowledged.
Although it hasn’t been reported in a number of years, there have been incidents of people’s camps being stolen from; as in money being taken from inside peoples personal tents. And I happen to know of one recent incident where a person was caught just before entering a persons RV when no one was present.
So there are reasons to be concerned over being aware of who is in your space.
But this problem is more basic than that. For the past three years I have paid particular attention to this issue and I have been more than a little dismayed to realize that there hasn’t been a single camping event that I have been set up at in that time when my camp hasn’t been tromped through by people with no clue whatsoever that they are invading someones space.
And I am not just talking about children running around playing, although that certainly happens. I’m more than willing to give the benefit of a doubt to children who are just being children. We don’t like it when they are running through, but usually a simple request is enough to move them to some place acceptable for their activities.
But I have had adults leave their children in my camp. Children who weren’t even playing with any of the children who are a part of my camp! They just leave their children because they seem to think I’m willing to be a babysitter. Sorry, but West Kingdom Youth Activities rules apply in my camp; if there isn’t an adult who belongs to that child right there then that child doesn’t get to be there.
Oh, and while I am diverging slightly about children, if you are unkind or intolerant to the children who are a part of my household then you will be summarily dismissed from my camp. I don’t care if you are kid friendly or not. Those kids are a part of my family and they have more right to be there then you do. If you disrespect them then you are disrespecting me.
No, I am talking about adults, people who have been in the SCA for years, people who have rank and title and Peerage, who just walk in without so much as a “by your leave” or come tromping through the backfield, LITERALLY TRIPPING OVER CRISSCROSSED ROPES and seem to have no clue that they are walking in to a space that is clearly not meant to be accessible!
Over the past three years I have made a particular effort to make my camp layouts in a manner that should clearly indicate to anyone paying attention where the space is private and where it is public. It doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Now I get that sometimes the issue is “well my friend is there and I need to talk to them” but let me address that. My friends in my camp are my household. There can be a few additional people who come in as “friends of friends” and that’s fine. Members of My Household (and you aren’t members of My Household unless I have told you so) can basically say to anyone they deem appropriate “yes, come in.”
But they can only say that when they are asked in the first place!!!
Just because you recognize someone in my camp doesn’t mean you can automatically walk in. It’s still a courtesy to ask permission to enter if it is anyone’s camp other than your own. It can be the camp of my very best friend and I am still going to ask to enter first or at least stand at the door and wait to be acknowledged. (No, I’m not a Vampire, but now that I’m thinking about it, Vampire rules regarding thresholds do seem to apply. *smile*)
Far to frequently over the past three years I have found myself literally surrounded by people who I DON’T KNOW because a friend of a friend of a friend (ad nauseum) just decided they could walk in because they recognized someone. I have had people argue with me about getting out of MY chair when I come back to MY camp. I have had people helping themselves to my households food and water WITHOUT asking. I have had so many people I didn’t know in my camp that I FELT UNWELCOME IN MY OWN HOME!!!!
I also get that when you are camping on the list field that you have a certain obligation to be at least somewhat open to people because the days get hot and people need a bit of shade from time to time. And I am perfectly fine with that. I am happy to offer shade and water to someone as they are passing by and in need of stopping for a bit to gather themselves. But when there are so many people who just help themselves that my own household doesn’t have room to be in their own house then there is a problem. Yes, I ask people to move on. I get treated like the bad guy for it. I have been asked to move away from a private conversation between strangers in my house because they thought I didn’t belong there. You can imagine how well that went over.
And I am greatly in awe and appreciation for places like The Public House that go out of their way to be space and shade for anyone and everyone who need it. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it. The constant traffic and the need to bring so much infrastructure to be able to set up such a space is enormous. Being able to manage it with good grace and humor is something that is well beyond my personal resources.
Now there are still people who remember these kinds of courtesies. I have had a few instances over the past three years when people have asked if they could come in or if they could pass through on their way to where they are trying to get to. When that happens I am very willing to let them in or let them pass. This is totally acceptable. But these people are more and more the exception and not the rule.
And I know that I am not the only person who appreciates this courtesy. This past weekend I found myself walking in a direction that put me on a path through a camp and so I asked if it was okay to pass and was not only given permission but thanked for my courtesy. There are people who do remember this courtesy in our organization.
“Oh but the SCA is just one big happy family!” No, not really. Sure, most of the people I know are cool people and I don’t mind having them around. I like visiting with them. But there are people who, even if they are my “SCA family” are still a part of the family I would rather not interact with. We all have the Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bob we’d really rather not invite to the family reunion. The SCA has its share and nothing makes me more unhappy than finding myself suddenly forced to extend the hospitality of my home to someone who I would rather not be there for any number of reasons.
So this is my request: ask. Just ask. Take a moment to stand at the threshold and ask “may I come in?” Doesn’t matter if your best friend in the world is sitting there, you’ll know it’s not their camp so ask someone whose camp it is if you can enter. If you are in someone else’s camp and someone asks you if they can enter don’t assume you have the right to say yes. Direct the request to someone whose camp it is. All we really want to know is that the people who are there are there for a reason and to be able to acknowledge them.
And this is my request: pay attention. If you have even the slightest doubt then go around instead of through. If you are tripping over ropes to get where you are going that should be a clear indication that where you are going isn’t a path. Even if you see other people using it! Why would you make the same mistake others are obviously making?
And finally this is my request: just remember that people’s camps are their homes. Yeah, we’re all great friends at a great big party but that doesn’t give you license to trample over everything and wreck the place. We’re supposed to be more courteous than that.
Thus ends the rant.
This time we played the day a little differently. The last time all we did was shows through out the day, basically every hour on the hour. This time, because it was A&S, we reserved the morning for classes and the afternoon for games and entertainment. My apprentice Ghislaine taught two classes, I taught one. I believe she will be posting about her classes relatively soon on her blog; Prognosticating Cow. Be sure to wander over there and check it out. She taught on the history of Necromancy and on the psychology of Divination presentations. Both classes were very interesting.
I taught my Theatrical Skills for Bards class again, but this time I had probably the best turn out I have ever had with that class. The students were very responsive and I know that at least a couple of them really saw something valuable in what I taught when they showed up for the show later on in the day. More about that later.
After the classes and through the middle of the afternoon we had our Carnival games out, as well as all the juggling gear. Several people came by to play and learn to juggle so we did that for about two hours. Again, a great deal of fun was had.
A slight digression though; it looks like I need to put out the same kind of general rule/announcement about the Carnival just like Page School. Kids are certainly welcome, but there needs to be a certain amount of parental involvement as well. The Carnival isn’t supposed to be a baby-sitting service. A few of the kids had their parents there for a bit but there were far more children then there were adults to watch them and we got close to having the game broken a time or two because the kids weren’t being properly managed. So I’ll need to do something about that.
But the games went over well. It is time to build one or two more though I think. I’d like to have a few more.
That afternoon, after the games were done we were graced by an opportunity to host a toast to one of our friends, Maestra Vittoria, who has recently finished a long journey in academia and emerged with her doctorate; a great achievement. I’ve been friends with her for a number of years now and I have had the pleasure of watching her on her journey every now and again. She is an amazing person and I am very happy for her.
From there we went almost immediately in to our evening show.
We started with The West Kingdom Choir. They performed approximately 20 minutes of material and it was really wonderful. We had a nice shady spot under the trees and the sun was setting so we had the makings of one of those magical SCA moments we so often look forward to. The Choir was in fine voice and everyone really enjoyed their performance.
From there a few of the cast from the last Golden Stag Players show performed a scene from “12th Night” which we performed at this past 12th Night. The jail scene which is one of the most iconic Shakespeare scenes and was very well performed. Although I must admit that I missed an opportunity when I introduced them. I should have said “Cope” like we usually do but I was distracted thinking about how to introduce the next performance and about my performance following that.
And then Maestra Vittoria performed her translation of a 16th Century Italian story about Narcissus. It was a piece we’ve seen before but it was fabulous. She had been working on it and this performance was amazingly funny. It is a great humorous piece and it was wonderful to have it given that it’s hard to say we’ll have another performance from her again. Now that she has finished her schooling she is on the job hunt and it seems likely that it will take her away from us. I wish her well of course, but I and the Carnival will miss her.
Finally I got to do my show.
The Carnival provides me with the kind of “stage” that I truly appreciate. A medium sized group, close enough to appreciate the slight of hand when I perform it, but just separated enough that I can have the formal stage I have grown up with all my life.
I performed three story pieces, the first a bare handed production of a rainbow ribbon, the second a new piece where I link three borrowed finger rings from the audience, and the final piece a routine written around a bottle that was a gift to the Caliph from Sinbad the Sailor. The first and the third are pieces I have had at my command for some time but the second piece was a new and this was it’s first outing.
I was truly amazed at the power of the piece actually. It is a recreation of a routine done by a professional that I have a great deal of respect for but done with my own words and presentation. His performance of it stuck with me but his words and rhythm would never have worked for me. My recreation focused on the idea of the universal nature of music and its ability to create harmony in anyone. The story was a strong one and it clearly moved my audience. I was very happy.
But what was perhaps the best part of my day, as much as I amazed my audience, was the fact that after the show I was approached by two of my students (at different times) from my “bardic skills” class, both of whom said that having seen my performance it crystallized their understanding of the material I taught earlier and they were looking forward to putting my lessons in to action in their own performances.
That is success.
So A&S was a lot of fun, the Carnival was a success, the classes were a success, and for about three days after I was totally exhausted. But I’m back on my game now and very happy for it.
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
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