Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 15: Courtesy   1 comment

One of the big things that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough at practice is the exercise of courtesy.  While the armored fighter’s goal is chivalry, our goal as fencers is to embody courtesy in all our deeds. 

Remember the Beer Rule: If you’re not courteous, it doesn’t matter how good you are.  When candidates are considered for advancement in fencing, three things usually come up as criteria: skill with a blade, service to the community, and comportment.  Comportment is a combination of appearance and behavior.  Is your behavior a credit to the fencing community?  Should others come and learn from you how to behave?  (The same two questions apply to the other categories when being considered for recognition)

And just like skill with a blade, you can, and should, practice courtesy as often as possible.  As you do, your ability will improve and your reputation will grow.


Barriers to Courtesy

There are two big’uns, Pride and Sloth (hey, two out of three of my favorites!  Okay, four, I must confess to gluttony.  Oh, and wrath.  And… 2 out of 7 of my favorites!)

We’re fighters, we by necessity take the field believing we are the best (Girard compares it to jet fighter pilots), that we can overcome our opponent and finish the bout with a bit of Riverdance.  We are fueled by pride.  That makes it real hard when, all of a sudden, you have to debase yourself by letting your opponent believe, even momentarily, that you think he’s better, or that you at least don’t intend to humiliate him and take pleasure in it afterward.  Courtesy can almost be defined as swallowing your pride to make others’ lives easier and better.

The other hobble on courtesy is sloth.  It used to be de rigeur that all men would stand when a lady entered a room, that they would hold doors and surrender their seats.  This requires a whole lot of effort, and when we’re fresh off the fighting field and tapped out, we tend not to have it in us.  Of course, in this modern age such gender-related niceties are not part of the social mores.  But no offense should be expected if anybody, male or female, held the door for anybody else, or surrendered their seat for anybody else.  If there is offense taken, that’s not your problem.  Courtesy always requires effort, if only the mental effort to bite back our tongues and not speak our minds. 

At this point, we might as well define courtesy as swallowing your pride and expending extra effort to improve life for others.


Beyond Wistric’s Rule

The Beer Rule has all sorts of implications.  First, of course, is be courteous on the field.  Follow the traditions of courteous combat: Don’t hit too hard; if you’re not sure a shot was good call it; no “point stalking”; no attacking without engagement.  It is better to lose and keep your honor intact.  Sacrificing courtesy for victory is remembered negatively, sacrificing victory for courtesy is remembered positively.

I had a proud moment recently: At Defending the Gate, after a long day of eating humans and then running around in the 3-man tourneys, Miguel (mka Tony) and I were both tapped out.  We ended up fighting one melee too many.  He threw a stiff shot on a fellow fencer, his control lost to his exhaustion, and left a good bruise on his opponent.  Miguel immediately removed himself from the fight to go apologize, and (with some prompting) sought out his opponent for further instruction afterward.  For him, being able to apologize overrode his desire to stay in the fight.

Courtesy towards your opponent extends beyond the field.  Introducing yourself before the fight, congratulating your opponent (win or lose) after the fight, and speaking well of them to others all fall into the bucket of “courtesy”.


Beyond the Fight with Honor

Your courtesy should, of course, extend beyond fencing and your opponent.  Thank the marshals, the water bearers, the MoLs, the heralds, and all others who have made your fencing possible.  Thank the Queen for inspiring the fencers.

When out of fencing mode, you should still be courteous, everywhere and always.  Be grateful towards those who help you (and everyone does), polite to those around you, and helpful whenever help is needed.


Reasons for Courtesy

Courtesy, ultimately, is a reason unto itself.  Be courteous to be courteous.

Courtesy that has to be justified is not real courtesy.  It’s bartering your effort and your pride for a perceived reward.

Which is not to say courtesy doesn’t have rewards:

Courtesy is good PR, for you, for your unit, your barony, your kingdom, and fencers in general.  One of the few things fencers have going for us is our claim to being an army of courteous bastards.  Whatever voices may grumble about chivalry and The Chivalry, fencers fall back on a drive to be really damn courteous.  Don’t think we need a peerage?  We’ll courteously acknowledge your right to feel that way, and may or may not courteously engage in a discussion (too often, the people arguing for a Fencing Peerage are not fencers, and we shudder to see them post on the Merry Rose).

Courtesy is better than being discourteous.  Again, you will be remembered for your transgressions long after they would pass from the minds of normal folk.  The SCA has a long memory, and holds grudges the way only geeks can.


Sucking up is not Courtesy

I repeat, if you expect something for your courtesy, it’s not courtesy.  It’s sucking up or groveling.  Be courteous to all persons, whether they’re your best friend, the king or queen, or your worst enemy.  The people who I hold in the lowest regard are those who are craven before royalty, and right bastards to anybody lower down the ladder from them. 

In the SCA you will make enemies.  People will hate you just for breathing their air, or pissing on their dream.  Even these people deserve your efforts to be courteous, whether they appreciate or return it or not.  “People” (read “Every other fencer”) know who doesn’t get along with whom, it’s like a soap opera in the Academie.  And “people” notice the way they interact with each other.  Being friends with both sides of some pretty deep personal rifts, I always get amused all to shit by watching how unimpeachably polite the two sides are to each other.


When is it okay to be an asshole?

Never.  Ever.

That said, you will hear the phrase “Bubble Talk”, which means what is about to be said does not leave that bubble.  Sometimes people just need to vent.  Of course, even when talking about somebody in the bubble, you should still speak of them in a manner that does not reflect poorly on you.  I use the phrase “learning experience” to substitute for so many other words I’d like to use, because really, I do learn so much from other people, especially “what not to do if I want to be perceived as courteous”.

Courtesy does not require absolute agreement with people, or never speaking ill of them to their face or behind their back.  But it does require courteously disagreeing, and courteously speaking of their wrong deeds.  The phrases “I’m not rude, I’m just honest”, “I’m an equal opportunity offender”, “Not to be rude, but…” and “I don’t mean to offend anybody, but…” are all great big red flags for “I’m an asshole”.  Try “I politely disagree,” and then be polite as you disagree.  Argue the merits, not the person.  And remember that winning, either an argument or a tourney bout, is not worth losing face.  You can always put down the keyboard, or bow, and back away, but don’t be sanctimonious or self-righteous (“I can see some of us can’t handle a polite discussion…”).  Bonus points if you save your opponent from making an ass of themselves.



Me writing this?  Yeah, probably.  But somebody should learn from my mistakes.

Posted April 9, 2009 by wistric in Melee, Wistric's Weekly Warfare

One response to Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 15: Courtesy

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Rosalind

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *