By Don Todde MacDonnell
If this is your first encounter to the Counter-Disengage Forum, please read the Introductory post kindly provided for your convenience.
The SCA doesn’t officially give us a context for rapier tournaments. Are we supposed to consider each fight a duel, which mortal results? This rapidly leads to paradoxes, but it’s the context assumed by Crown Tourney fighter poems (in which the loser is often eulogized), and the custom of falling over dead. It also means winning (or yielding alive) is pretty darn close to everything, the word-fame of dying at in the third round of Tawanyour Anniversary being somewhat limited. Given how many of us accept Don Laertes’ offer to yield and seek the aid of a surgeon, or arrange for seconds to carry their body off the field, I doubt many of us approach fights with that mindset, but if you do, I’d love to read your perspective in the comments.
At the other extreme, we’re just here to have fun (and/or competition), fence with our friends, see who wins, then go get dinner. The tourney context (and by extension, SCA feudal society) is pasted-on chrome. I do see some newbies and sport fencers who start with this mindset, but many of them either develop an interest in the society culture, or lose interest in the SCA and wander off, leaving few SCA veterans with this philosophy. Or so I think… again, tell me about it below!
For me, and for most of the people I’ve conversed with, tourneys are a public demonstration of prowess (and other virtues), with bated blades, for the entertainment of the assembled nobles and populace, and a formality that exceeds a practice mentality. My goal is to show myself skilled, courageous, and gracious in victory or defeat; the audience are the observers of that effort, and in many ways, the reason for the tourney.
I imagine our motivation would have been a similar thing in period, when the crowd was more likely to be armed with rotten fruit, or seeded with nobles whose patronage you hoped to attract. In both those cases, it matters that you please the crowd one way or another…by winning often if you are able, but also by charming them with wit, impressing them with courage, exciting them with action, or granting the opponent a triumph by collapsing or bowing low in defeat. One need not win the bout to gain admiration, but you must do something appealing.
So, gentle reader, assuming you hold this last philosophy, or are persuaded that it might be worth trying, I ask a three favors on behalf of the gallery:
First, keep your fights lively. In a renaissance tournament, it would have been nearly inexcusable for two fighters to stand back and wait for the other to do something for more than a couple minutes (fewer if the tomatoes were ripe). Even if no one seems to be watching, the marshals are standing in the sun, the next fighters are wandering off, the listmistress is waiting for you to finish, and the knight in the corner is reminiscing about that hourlong rapier final at Starkhafn Anniversary.
Second, die obviously. As a blunt rule of thumb, a deaf newbie 40 feet away should be able to tell that you lost. Fall over, bow deeply, collapse on the eric post, or drop your sword and mime blood bursting from your chest. Saying “good” to your opponent and shaking his hand doesn’t cut it. Even if he’s not deaf, the newbie can’t hear your call of “good”, and if she can, probably can’t tell who said what. Likely, neither can the baroness trying to watch her semifinals. Cut them some slack and bow deeply.
Finally, remember the audience, and see what happens. Take note of them when you salute. Imagine their interest as you try an assault. Amuse them if the fight is dragging. Maybe you’ll discover a bit more panache or courage in yourself trying to get out. Maybe someone in the audience will notice your efforts, and something will come of it. It’s worth a try.