So my lovely wife and the proprietor of this webpage asked me to write for the page, about my experiences and helpful hints from reflections on my time in the medieval recreation hobby. Before I start and just jump right into it, I’ll introduce myself and explain where this advice is coming from. I’m known mostly as Conrad vom Schwarzwald, both in and out of the hobby group(s), more so than by my modern/real name, actually. I first started playing at the medieval lifestyle in 1995 in rural Kentucky. I was fresh out of high school and had absolutely zero direction in life when I first encountered the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).
Admittedly, I was enthralled by the pageantry and the hospitality of it all, but more so by the armored combatants wailing on one another as I approached. Kid, meet candy store. The next week I went back and tried it out myself with gear borrowed from the various fine folk there. And then the next week, and the week after that. I wanted it to be all the time but had to settle for once a week. I slowly got my own gear put together with help from my new friends and away I went. Now let me clarify, I was not a natural talent, I lost a LOT the first few years, but I loved it anyway. I played around with it for several years, and I mean pretty literally, played, I wasn’t getting a lot better, but there was a little improvement just from doing it. Well into my sixth year, I accepted the help that would eventually take me to levels I never knew existed.
I became a squire to a knight of the SCA, think “student to a teacher”. I started learning the right ways, better ways, and adapting instruction to work for my style. Then, in 2017, I was elevated to the Knighthood within the SCA. Twenty two years of learning, on and off the field, how to be better, and how to help others be better. I’m a slow learner, as you can tell, but when I learn, I learn thoroughly. Now, as a Knight myself, I hope my writings here can help others with perspectives, insights, and advice they might not otherwise get, especially amidst this pandemic. So now you know why people will sometimes say “Hey Conrad, let’s talk about fighting!” which I have named my column to reflect. I’ll cover things that I had to figure out, and observations from my time in the hobby. I hope you enjoy it!
“Hey Conrad, let’s talk about fighting!” – Episode 1
We’ll call this one “Getting Over Yourself”
The first time I put on SCA legal armor for a fighter practice, back in June of 1995, I was, for lack of better terms, scared to death. Not scared of getting hurt, scared I was going to hurt someone else. I was afraid of myself and it caused me to all but freeze up in the first few fights. For some people, this takes a LONG time to get over, luckily, I am not one of those people. Shortly after those first few emotionally tense fights I shifted that nervous energy into excitement. I got hit a few times, and delivered a few back, and nobody got hurt, it was game time.
Many of us who have been around a while have witnessed the full spectrum of reactions to heavy combat through the years, from nervous and timid to aggressively violent. I have also seen people shift completely from one to the other as well, for a variety of reasons, sometimes injury, sometimes simply coming out of their shell (metaphorically). We all carry this idea in our heads of what it would be like to put on medieval armor and go slay the dragon, or rival tyrant baron, or woodland bandits, or vice versa in some cases (see also: Robin Hood). It’s not what you expected, not at all. Understanding that people react differently to violence and violent activity is part of it as well. Our reactions to other people’s emotional ride when encountering fighting is important and can shape the way they choose to proceed, or not proceed. There have been times when someone trying fighting for the first time come away teary eyed or full on sobbing crying. Hold on, news, it is not automatically a negative. It is the release of an emotional barrier after having gone crashing through it at 90 mph on roller skates. Let it ride, be supportive, or maybe even join in, let it out, it feels good. The understanding we gain from accepting our emotional responses to new things will take us far into breaking down walls that have held us back for ages.
The first opponent we must conquer is our own brain.
The point of armor is to keep us from getting hurt, it is there for that reason specifically. Swing away. We get bruises, sure, but so do players in any contact sport and some that are not intended to be contact sports, so let go of the fear and enjoy the ride. Congratulations, you have completed step one of becoming part of the heavy fighting community.
The next part of getting over our self is accepting a loss.
So many times it is difficult to admit defeat, even when we are brand new to the activity. That is natural and is part of being competitive as a species. We want to win, bottom line. It is a hard pill to swallow, but nobody comes out of the box a champion, it takes work, dedication, and time. Relax, learn from the mistakes that bring a loss, and go on to the next pass. Eventually, you will get better and win more, work toward that goal in an honorable and fair way. You will gain a lot more respect by being an honorable combatant than you will by refusing to admit when you have been bested.
Aside from admitting a loss, we also have to harness our pride and be gracious winners.
Everyone gets better at their own pace and sometimes you will outpace those around you. That is awesome, and should be expressed by helping bring those around you up as best you can, not to gloat and make others feel bad about not progressing as quickly. After all, that will drive people away and you will have to search harder for people to play with in your area. The proverbial “it” is not about me, but about how I play into the Dream with everyone else and make it better than I found it.
One of the hardest things to conquer is the urge to let our emotional reactions get ahead of our rational thoughts. This must be harnessed for the good of all. There will come a time, more than once, where you feel you have won the contest, yet the opponent fails to acknowledge your blow. Keep it calm, ask rational and friendly questions to resolve the difference. Remember, we are not in the other person’s helmet and we cannot say for them how the blow felt. Sometimes it takes a moment or two to register in our brain that we have been struck, and that is okay as long as we own it when it comes through. Getting angry is a natural reaction, how we use that is our choice. Choose to be better, friends are worth more than a W in the list. There have been many, many, times I have stopped a fight to ask about a delayed feeling from a hit that happened well before it was felt. Nobody will fault that in a person, it happens. What we fault people for is blatantly shrugging blows for the sake of advancing in a tournament. There will always be another tournament, keep a cool head and maintain your honor.
The last part I would like to touch on for this introductory episode, is getting over the stage fright. Yes, stage fright. It is indeed a thing we deal with on the field. Everyone is watching, just like you watched the others when they fought before. The performance you are giving is not for them, it is only for you and your opponent. Focus, tune everyone else out, live in that moment as though you are the only two people on the planet.
I hope this is helpful, the goal is to give one person’s insight (mine, of course) to those with an interest in competitive martial combat that could add to the experience if possible.
In service as always,
Syr Conrad vom Schwarzwald
Knight of the SCA
“Fight with passion,
Serve with gladness,
Live the Dream”