SCA combines martial arts, history
Special to The Union
Upon the realization that both of my young boys were intent to grab any stick in the yard and act out scenes from their favorite swashbuckling action movie, I quickly jumped on the Internet and, to the best of my ability, looked for a safer means for my kids to softly bludgeoning one another.
In my search, I came upon a YouTube video that instantly reopened my eyes to a childhood desire to be a knight. Grown men smashed into one another at bone-crunching speeds in full plate armor in a massive melee of more than 400 men and women clashing in what was quoted in the comments only as the SCA War.
A few clicks and an email later, I was meeting with a bear of a man in Nevada City who called himself “Achilles of Sparta.”
He was surely dressed the part, covered in handmade scale armor and a freshly polished Corinthian helm that was something out of the movie “300.” His birth name is Jedon Thompson, and he would become my guide into one of the most memorable years of my life.
With very little arm twisting, he got me geared up in a makeshift suit of gothic armor and sports pads, then sent me to face off against another combatant. When it was all over, I had been given a few good bruises for dropping my guard, and Thompson praised me for my aggressiveness, giving me a few pointers for our next encounter.
That day started my emergence into the Society for Creative Anachronism.
To the common onlooker, it was grown men play fighting with large sticks, but once I stepped cross the threshold, it was so much more. The SCA is an international movement that embraces any person looking for a fun, athletic and artistic hobby with a twist of history. Fighting, while it is a major component of SCA, is only 20 percent of what could be had in this hobby of arts and science from the middle and dark ages.
Founded in 1966 in Berkeley, the SCA now boasts 30,000 registered members. And while practical application of old world art, science, textiles and cooking is a large part of the organization, its biggest draw would be its six forums of fighting.
Heavy fighting, rapier, target archery, combat archery, mounted combat and jousting are all the physically eye-catching combat forms that are both taught and practiced in their original form.
On the battle field
For every little boy who wanted to be a knight in shining armor, fighting for his king and kingdom, this is the hobby for him.
The wars are a spectacle of brutal battles and romantic investigation as you walk through the rows of multicolored canvas tents set up with impeccable historical detail that conjure childhood fantasies, whisking you to pre-17th century fields of combat along with a few hundred other men and women.
My first occurrence of this was a small regional war in Milpitas between two princes. Our Prince of Cynagua and the Prince of the Mists (Basically a battle between Northern California and the Bay Area).
As each opposing faction squared off, I could not help but feel the butterflies that accompany youthful joy as I stood with a Teutonic knight to one side and an Anglo Saxon to the other. Both held 12-foot spears matching my own, waiting for the call to “lay on” over a makeshift castle wall with the defending “Mistie” rabble looking just as eager for battle as the fighters around me.
Once the day was over, I had been killed four times and had killed twice as many by the blade of my spear. One opponent after another would gracefully call himself out on the honor system from the strike of the end of my blunted weapon, even scoring a killing blow on his grace “Ajax The Mighty” with a hard shot to his infamous “helm of the gods,” a shot that if I was a drinker would have gained me a flagon of homemade mead.
That night, after the long day of fighting, we all sat together for a pot-luck feast. As is tradition, the host provided the meat. In this case, it was six pit-roasted goats and nine slow-cooked ducks, all prepared and made in the fashions they would have been hundreds of years ago.
The weekend was both exiting and romantic and was fun for all of our family.
The culture of the SCA is not what you would expect from any group of historical aficionados. The classic “geek” with a rubber sword has been replaced with the physically fit geek with a large stick that he can and will use to place you on your knees.
A large percentage of participants is crafters, cooks, moms and dads and royal entourage who help mold the society into a well-oiled recreation of historical court and camp life. Each paying member can take a name for their persona. For example, my chosen name is Draco Pantaleon, and Thompson is “Viscount Achilles of Sparta.”
Many of the members also have a persona or roll they choose to focus their research and anachronism toward because educating people on the history of that time period is the number one goal of the SCA.
It seemed to make sense that playing the roll of their chosen culture and time period while researching brings each member a step closer to being able to easily explain that bit of living history.
Selecting a persona for me was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as an adult or big kid. So many influential cultures in my imagination waged war on one another for creative supremacy.
There were the Samurai, the Spartans and the Romans, but I couldn’t be all three. My choice was Spartan or rather Corinthian during the Spartan/Corinthian war of 395 B.C. But with very little money, I was unable to fashion a decent set of gear and actively hit the battlefield.
From the moment, I first put on the painfully unfitting gothic loaner armor I knew I had much more research to do.
Titles and ranks
You may have noticed I used the title “Viscount” earlier. The title refers to a member who has won his title via combat.
In this case, Achilles was Crown Prince of Cynagua after winning a tournament of more than 30 combatants of his peers. The crowned King of the West is also chosen this way though in a much larger tournament with some of the best fighters on the West Coast.
Knights carry themselves much like they would in the middle ages. A fighter will squire for a time, learning from a knight the ins and outs of his or her style of combat and chivalry.
Yes, I did say her. In fact one of the fighters I have feared most while fighting is a Cynagua Knight Mari Alexander who became the crowned princess of the area a short time after Achilles.
After a squire has proved himself worthy in both name and deed of his role, he may be asked to take on the white belt of a knight and be expected to fight at a higher echelon of martial arts prowess and act in a manner that would uphold the chivalrous values of the order.
Each martial art has its competitive safety equipment standards like any style of fighting in the SCA, complete with very specific gear requirements and tolerances that make each fighter much safer from the sticks of rattan flying at their person.
As any young man can tell you, any sport that says it requires an athletic supporter does in fact require one. This sport is no different and full of horror stories of those who skimped on protection in the wrong places. I learned quickly that my long legs sticking out became a very tempting target, and I was punished for my laziness and lack of forethought in my movements.
So if you are thinking in your head that this is “nerds” with foam swords in the park, also known as LARPING or live action role playing, I can assure you there are no “healers” or magic fire balls, just grown people practicing limited-contact martial arts in full armor.
So much so that there are a few housed training schools around the world that teach just like a normal dojo would for both form and function of their martial art, as well as fencing schools that teach classes geared toward SCA combat.
Locally, we are in the Shire of Mount d’Or, a recently reformed branch of the greater Principality of Cynagua.
There are great people here to learn new skills from or just become part of the action.
For information on the SCA visit http://sca.org, and for more on the local branch or to catch a fighter’s training session, email the local Seneschal at MontdOr@ cynagua.westkingdom.org.
Ernie Evans lives in Penn Valley.
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