When I was in college the first time, I played in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a Medieval and Renaissance historical re-creation group. It’s an assorted can of mixed nuts. People play for various reasons: doing historical research, drinking parties in costume, making historical crafts, or getting to whack the tar out of people with rattan sticks and poking ‘em with foils, or some combination of all of the above. Ideally, it’s meant to be a group that deals with the history and culture of the time, so H is for SCA.
When I played, I started in a Medieval time frame of an indeterminate year. I ended up gravitating toward the group that played Celtic, so I picked a name that fit and made costumes that would go with the time frame. I attended various events, helped out here and there, and generally stayed buried behind the scenes. I learned about Medieval heraldry, food, and other crafts like embroidery, sewing, and blackwork. (I’d show you some of it, but what I have left is all packed in boxes).
Then, I took a college class on fencing and had fun with it. Wouldn’t you know it? There were SCA folks who were doing Renaissance fencing. That could be fun. I met with them and started playing. Suddenly, a Medieval persona didn’t make sense anymore, so I engaged a little time travel and zipped ahead to the late 16th century. I changed my name and my country of origin and even developed a guy persona because women didn’t typically go around with rapiers. Right about then, I finished college and moved away. I joined a new group there and met other interesting characters. I learned a couple other distinct forms of fencing, one Italian and one Spanish, and had grand fun.
(No, none of those guys in the picture are me… I don’t have any pics from my SCA adventures).
I learned a lot and I generally improved, but I was never exactly a hazard on the tournament field. When I participated in tournaments, I was usually out by the end of the second round because double-elimination was the usual way tourneys were run, and the list master typically paired highly skilled fighters with relative newbies to whittle the list down faster.
Actually I did make it to Round 3 in one tournament. It was a fluke, but it worked. As was typical, I lost the first round when I was paired up with one of the higher-ranking fellows in the list. That was hardly a contest. The next round, though, went better. We agreed to fight cloak and sword, which usually gave me the jitters. I had a cloak, but I didn’t know much about using it. I preferred a blade in each hand.
As soon as the marshal – sort of a referee – cleared us to start, my opponent started swinging his cloak in a figure-eight pattern a few times. It looked pretty, but one of the guys I practiced with every week had done the same thing for a while until he was defeated several times and someone told him why that’s a bad idea. See, of you take a big piece of cloth and swing it in a figure-eight, you effectively blind yourself with the cloth in front of your face twice in each circuit. All I had to do was wait for the cloth to be in front of his face and stick him with the pointy end of my foil.
My opponent would swing his cloak in a figure 8 a few times, circle a few steps away then face me and try an attack, which I either parried or dodged, then repeat the pattern. The third time, I waited for the cloth to cross in front of his face then aimed a thrust at his head. I hit, and head shots were considered “fatal” in the game, so that was the only tournament win I had the whole time I played.
A few years into my new hobby as a Renaissance fencer, I did major damage to my wrists at work by answering up to 125 technical support emails a day (not an exaggeration). That put the end to my fencing adventures. Not long after that, teaching sucked up all my time, and I could no longer play at all.
Working real hard on 20 years later, I still do some of the crafts I learned. Although I no longer poke people with foils, I still remember a lot of the details of those two rapier styles and I use them in my writing.
Now that my time is lightening up, will I play again? I don’t know. Maybe… Might depend on where I land next and whether the local group is more into the history and culture part or into the getting smashed while wearing costumes part. If it’s history? Count me in.
The next article? I is for Cold.