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The Spark Project: What Brings Us Back to SCA Rapier?

Informal Researches and Contemplations by Donna Mora Ottavia Spadera

Recently, I reached out to the Caidan Rapier community to ask everyone a question which is often in my mind. I have so far spoken to about 20 different people, with a good distribution of genders, experience levels, and involvement levels. I asked:

What is it about fighting or swords or partaking in the rapier community that makes you most passionate?

What intrigues and excites you, what puts a sword in your hand, a hat on your head, a smile on your face, on the field or next to it or at practice or on this Facebook group?

What is that ineffable spark for you, or alternatively that warm satisfying glow?

If you’ve never quite found it, what had you hoped it would be?

If you’ve lost it, what was it, once upon a time? Is it elusive? Is it reliable? Is it the fight itself, or something peripheral? Is it a bit weird?

Bonus question, or alternative, if Sparks of Passion ain’t your thing: What is the thing that frustrates you most about your personal fighting experience? What’s the problem you need to fix?

 

Why, Mora??

I had a three-fold intention in asking everyone these questions:

First, I’m a combat teacher for whom a principal focus is to help fighters overcome the mental and emotional blocks which hold them back. I aid combattants in developing  their understanding of who they are on the fighting field, and I teach both physical and nonphysical tools which help fighters bring their full capability to each and every combat encounter. The more I know about others’ Sparks and Passions, the more I’m able to leverage those powerful, passionate energies to open up the learning process and bring out the strongest fights in others. I wanted to know if most fighters experience the same positive feedbacks, or if there were significantly different categories of motivation and positive feeling which affect different people.

Second, I hoped that by asking such questions, fighters who might not otherwise contemplate the matter might do some thinking about what they loved within the experience of fighting. I suspected that simply pondering such things would bring positives to the forefront of our minds, and spur us to seek more of what we like, whatever those things may be for each of us.

Third, I suspected that if I could identify the commonalities in what brings us back to this game, it could guide our community’s focus in building up activities which support the experiences we’re looking for. If there are common frustrations, we should also address those as a community.

You gave me very generous and well-thought-out responses. You all left me intrigued and inspired, and have given me insight into some issues that are affecting our community in deeply personal ways. I don’t have room in this article to cover everything at once, so I will start with my favorite, your Passions! Here is what I have found, in vague hierarchical order:

Top Ten Awesome Things Rapier Fighting Provides:

  1. Competition against others, OR, a consistent Internal Challenge to better oneself.
  2. Chaos, Camaraderie, and Excitement in Melee.
  3. A Unique Zen/Meditative/In-The-Moment Headspace, a specific sense of freedom.
  4. The experience of the Artful or Joyous Fight, whether you win or lose.
  5. An excellent Adrenaline Rush.
  6. A chance to be a hero or Emulate a Heroic Archetype, like the Swashbuckler, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Zorro, etc.
  7. The simple, Satisfying Feeling of a sword in your hand.
  8. Constant Opportunities to Learn new things, and the Pleasure of Success at a physical, mental, or competitive activity.
  9. A Martial Art which is Accessible to those less physically able to do armored fighting, or who don’t wish to risk the injuries heavies entails.
  10. A Martial Art which more Closely Resembles our understanding of Historic Combat than armored SCA fighting does.

Our people keep coming back to the Caidan Rapier Community because they find:

  1. A Welcoming, Fun, and Safe Social Community, and a chance to hang out with friends.
  2. Participants who are Intelligent and supportive of one other’s personal transformations.
  3. Connective Opportunities for both extroverts and introverts, on and off the field.
  4. Greater Acceptance Within the SCA because they are a ‘fighter’
  5. Consistent Opportunities to Teach new things to new people, and take pleasure in the success of those they teach.
  6. That Late Period Fashion is Appealing, as are Late Period Swords.
  7. Pleasure in the Pomp and Circumstance.
  8. Joy and Inspiration in a Consort who emotionally supports them coming out to Fight.

If some of these points resonate with you too….know that you’re not alone.

Each of these could probably be an individual article in itself, and I encourage anyone inspired by this list to consider writing one of those. (Her Ladyship Roisin will be very grateful, and I would be happy to help you, just drop me a line!)

However, I’m going to focus the remainder of this article on the two points which surprised me the most, due to the frequency with which they popped up, and the fact that they weren’t things I expected to hear. Then I’ll conclude with thoughts about where I’m going next.

 

Unexpected Point One: We Like to be Heroes

A statistically significant number of fighters spoke up about how rapier fighting makes them feel like a heroic character. These are folks who rock very different persona types, and yet, many of them love the idea of the swashbuckler, the musketeer or Robin Hood. They relish the feeling that they can ‘save the day’ with a sword in their hand. Some find that their consort is impressed and honored by their fighting, and this makes them feel powerful and more likely to come out and play. Rapier fighting makes a significant chunk of us feel larger than life, part of an exciting story. I enjoy that part of the game too, and I’m glad to know that so many of us are out there for similar reasons. I’d love to discuss ideas for capitalizing on this particular communal passion. So many different heroes, so many possibilities! So much Awesome Epicness possible!

To bring this back to a headspace teaching opportunity, fighters can capitalize on this desire as a way to improve their fight. If you can step into your hero’s mindset, you will fight more like one. Then all that drilling and practice you do will really begin to display itself. (Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility. 😉 )

And if you’re -not- one of those limelight-loving heroes, or maybe even if you are…we have quieter subtler types, too! What about them?

 

Unexpected Point Two: Introverts Feel Safe Here

A notable number of the people I spoke to identified as introverts. Some were folks you might expect, and some weren’t. These people found that the rapier bout, or interaction within the community, gives them a safe space to connect with others in ways that make them feel comfortable and less overwhelmed.  This observation may be true of many sports and organized activities. It’s definitely at play for Caidan Rapier in specific ways:

On the Field: A one on one fight can be a fairly intimate space. Some fighters find that the kind of connection one can have with an opponent on the field is unique and moving, especially when the fight is particularly artful. This mental rapport can be deep and intense, and allow individuals who would not otherwise share something that powerful with others to come together in a mental and physical connection. This feeling uniquely walks the line between the creative (like a partnered dance) and the destructive (there is going to be an end, and a winner). It seems to make for a special kind of alchemy which is compelling to a number of fighters.

If this is where the Joy of the fight is for you, seeking that rapport whenever possible can make your fight stronger and more artful, and often more fun than it might otherwise be.

Off the Field: The prescriptive nature of our tournament routines, and our pomp and circumstance, are helpful for those who have difficulty feeling socially savvy. The court environment has clear expectations for behavior, and the standard format for tournament interaction provides an easy template for  fighters to interact and be a part of something bigger in a way that feels socially safe. Some in this category found that the spotlight of court appearances and group attention was more comfortable because the SCA has known scripts, for receiving awards, for being a tournament winner or champion. Others, however, found that, as more attention was placed on them as their skill and involvement rose, they had a harder time enjoying themselves. Mostly they wanted a safe place to just unassumingly enjoy their friends and their swords.

In either case, whether you enjoy the theatre of court or just want to relax with your friends, consistent rituals built on our common activities can provide another tool to help you hone your fighting ‘zone’ as well as ease and relax you into a familiar and friendly space.

Chat me up if you want to try and leverage any of these suggestions for yourself, or if you know of situations which get in your way when you try to do this.

 

What’s Next, Mora?

This study was fascinating for me. I was already cognizant of the range of ages, genders, shapes, sizes and body types which our art/sport supports. The interpersonal aspects prove to be yet another facet where our appeal crosses boundaries very well. As someone who has grown increasingly aware of the introverts in my life, I’m incredibly grateful and inspired that a sport like SCA Rapier proves itself to be a good environment for so many. Whether people prefer to be quietly active, or explore being larger than life, we have a versatile platform for exercise, competition, growth, connection, and community. When we can support the unique synergies of rapier, it allows a wide and varied range of gentles participate in our activity. We in Caid are the richer for it. (Mmm, synergy…)

There were also several things that people found frustrating about fighting Rapier in Caid and I feel that an exploration of these issues will help enrich our community and personal games as well. I also want to expand on my discussion of what we can do as a community to build up the positives and what we can do to promote activities and forms that will most feed our Passions. Since I cannot ever make anything I write sufficiently short (there’s so much interesting to observe!!) I shall provide a follow-on article with discussion of these matters anon.

I’m very much looking for more conversations on these subjects. Especially if my list misses something that’s a major motivator for you, I’d love to hear about it! And if you want to talk about tournament or event ideas that cater to these drivers, that would be great, since I’m writing an article about that very soon!

Here Endeth Part I. I thank thee for thy attention. ~Donna Mora the Inquisitive

Mo_avatar_testDonna Mora Ottavia Spadera has been living the the Shire of Isles and fighting rapier since 1999. She is particularly passionate about ambiance and headspace in the SCA, working to understand the whys, hows, and history of many courtly arts, including swordplay, performance arts, and the arts of hospitality, as well as the role of the SCA as a welcoming social community. When not on the rapier field, one is likely to find Mora running her Salon at the sign of the Sable Hart, enjoying conversation and company, baubling and philosophical discourse…or you may possibly locate her tailing a passel of village children and reminding them to play honorably with one another.

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