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Starting with the Wrong Ideas

I had the chance to attend most of Duchess Elina's formal class at Pennsic in 2003. One of the most crucial things that I noticed in this class is that generally, the generic examples of "the way men fight" were correct in one primary and unfortunate way: they showed an example of bad style, bad technique, bad form that is all too typical in the SCA.  The generic style used by almost everyone (though that "almost everyone" may be 60% or so) is an example of bad technique all the way around, and is quite exactly the sort of style you need to be physically talented with in order to have success. No wonder that most women who start fighting have problems, when they probably get shown a terrible stance if they get shown one at all.

What was that style? Much to my shock, a duke demonstrated it as if it were his own. (He was a duke from an earlier era, and I didn't catch his name. It was not Duke Stephen of Beckenham--more on his style later.) Mystery duke stood with his feet not quite square, his shield almost flat, his shoulders almost square to his opponent and his sword foot's heel completely off the ground. It didn't look terribly different from the stance any person off the street would take if you asked them to put on a shield, hold a sword and look like they wanted to hit someone. Terrible.

No wonder that anyone attempting this would have a problem, not just the women. Here comes the chorus:

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The Way Crowns Run

The way we choose Crowns is the worst possible way of doing so. Except for all the others.

Imagine how much worse politics would be in the SCA if we voted on who gets to be king and queen.

Imagine how much worse politics would be in the SCA if contenders for the throne had to recruit armies to fight a field battle for the crown.

Imagine the political infighting involved in the judging of Arts & Sciences entries if the winner of the A&S contest got to be the next Crown.

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Teaching Someone May Not be Helping

Many people who teach heavy fighting have no idea what they're doing. Some of those people have awards for that teaching, which is unfortunate. Don't confuse enthusiasm or volume of teaching for actual success at it. If none of your students have ever gained a reasonable level of success, maybe it's time for you to shut up on the practice field.
Take the time to actually look at "your" student's face while you're talking. If they look bored or like they want to get away, let them go.
Practice time is precious. Don't stick your nose into someone else's instruction, especially if the instructor is better or more experienced than you, or is regularly capable of kicking your ass.
Good fighters can be bad teachers. Those with more talent than skill often have no idea how they do things, nor any idea how to show the talent-challenged how to make something work when that something only works for them because they are gigantic, strong, or fast as a cat.
Bad fighters cannot be good teachers, though a non-competitive fighter can be a good teacher. But he better have been good once. New fighters: be very careful about putting stock in advice from people you never see fight.

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Thoughts on Squires and Squiring

Taking or becoming a squire should not be entered into lightly. Act in haste, repent at leisure.

When considering squirehood, make sure both parties understand the whole deal. Talk about every facet of the job and the relationship as each of you see it, so there are no surprises.

I was lucky in my squiring, that Sir TJ was a very easy-going knight who never had any surprises for me. Lucky because we did not discuss things as we should have, and there were several times I had to go to him and ask "Hey, is this the right idea? Is this OK?"

Well, my squires know exactly what I expect of them in every way I can think of before I ever take them. And the process of explaining all that ahead of time helps them get over any reluctance they may have to bring something to me after they've squired.

Here are actual examples of the things I cover with my potential squires:

  • belts - which, how many
  • other symbols of squiring - allowed?
  • the difference between a request and an order
  • when they must fight
  • Pennsic camp arrangements
  • heraldry, specifically household surcoats
  • men at arms
  • what I mean by "household"

Do you know your pontenial/current knight's/squire's answers to all those topics? If you're already in a household (or heading one!) then get them straight. If you're thinking of joining one or asking someone to join one, then get these clear. And of course, there are other topics just as important to cover.

All that said, it mostly doesn't matter what kind of household a peer builds. Only that everyone joining the household knew what they were in for before they joined. Do you want to be part of a group that runs with military discipline and organization? Fine. Prefer to find some guys who just want to wear matching surcoats and drink beer together? Okay. But imagine the problems that occur of someone expecting the latter joins the former.

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The Armored Rose Disassembled

There's quite a following in the female heavy fighting community for the style called the Armored Rose. Even some male fighters recommend it to women, and as I'll mention in more detail later, I know of a few men who, to my eye, seem to fight the style.

I'll use this web book to discuss why I think it is a bad idea to teach Armored Rose to women. I'm not going to address issues of psychology (though I am not alone in thinking that there are problems in that part of the Armored Rose book) nor will I address the depths of the medical physiology described in the book. I'm not a psychologist, nor a doctor.

But I have been fighting since 1986, I've been a knight since 1995, and I've trained an awful lot of people, including women. I also come from a kingdom where analysis of fighting technique is a well defined science. I mention this because I've seen very large differences in method, methodolgy, technique and terminology across the Known World. Some places don't seem to have any agreed-upon terminology for things like range, blows, or shield position. And unfortunately, some places where fighting happens don't seem to have any plan, method or style for training fighters. But more on that in another book.

This is a work in progress. Sections below may be nothing more than a sentence or two, serving to spur me to further elaboration.

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Thing One: Charge

Number 1: Charge

The simplest thing. You and your unit head directly for the enemy. The only trick is arriving together, and perhaps having to avoid being flanked on the way. This is easiest to teach, easiest to understand, hardest to mess up. It is the best choice when your unit has an advantage in shields or their unit has an advantage in long weapons like polearms and spears. If you have more big people than they do, it is also worthwhile to consider a charge.
The common errors in the charge are breaking up on the way, hitting the opponents in small groups rather than as a unit, and failing to charge hard enough to actually penetrate the opposing unit's front line. Practice a bit on having the front line guide to the first rank guy on the far right, who should be an experienced sword and shield fighter.
Typically, it is a good idea to set a direction for the unit once they've broken into the other unit. "Break through and turn left/right." is typical.
It is better to have a deep column penetrating the opposing unit than a wide column hitting the entire unit's forward face. Your unit needs to move through the opposing unit fast enough that the unengaged fighters on their front cannot step in to flank the sides and back of your column.

The following illustrations show units of the same size, with weapon mixes making a charge good for blue. Long arrows are spears, short arrows are polearms or greatswords. Each unit has 20 members.

Blue approaches red in a deep column, guiding on shieldman 5. The fighters on shieldman 5's side have a more difficult job staying alive as they contact, since their shields are to the inside of the column. Don't put your leftie shieldmen on 5's side though, as they prefer to be able to swing. They go on the blue shieldman 1's side.

Note that at contact, unless red has excellent command and control, Red A, B, I, J, and the second ranks behind them have no targets. Of course, the two back ranks of blue have no targets either, but they are about to get them and Red A, B, I J etc. are not.

Immediately after contact, both sides have lost some people. They are either dead, as is likely for the front line blues, or knocked down, as is likely for the front line reds.

Keep in mind that the natural reaction of all the reds is to step back. Well trained units may countercharge, but these are an exception. Almost everyone steps (or falls or bounces) back when charged. That's why charging works on almost every unit.

Once the reds step back while the blues continue forward, the momentum of the situation is all in the favor of the blues. Since all reds on both sides step back, the blues have the chance to turn (left or right-left is easier) with a very good chance of "getting away" on the outside of the turn.

In other words, as the column turns (let's say left) the right side of the blues have to run faster and try to avoid sticky engagement with the reds along the right side. The idea is to leave them alone! The direction of turn after the initial hit must be set beforehand and alll the blues need to know it. After the intital contact, the idea is to ignore all the reds on the outside of the turn, so that the majority of the blues can attack a minority of the the reds. This is the whole point of tactics in the first place! Get many of your unit to attack a few of their unit, and you win!

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