Associations in the SCA   4 comments

I’ve always found the teacher-student relationship(s) to be one of the more singular things about the SCA.  Like any “official” relationship, it should probably be given time to develop organically, with a lot of thought and consideration, before any real commitment is made.  While I am by no means an expert on the matter – and am writing from a student’s perspective (i.e. I am not a Peer, a White Scarf, etc.; I am not in a position to be an “official” teacher in the Society in any of its Peerages) –  I recently found some questions I asked myself before I approached anyone regarding the possibility of a “cadetship”, and thought I’d share them in hopes of helping anybody in a similar situation. These were all things that I considered and reflected upon when I realized that I wanted to pursue the terminal Rapier award in the SCA – which was, at the time, the Order of the White Scarf in Trimaris, my kingdom of residence.  Here are the questions that were hastily scribbled in my journal, with some additions and inclusions of the new Order of Defense terminology:

1. What is a White Scarf/Master of Defense/equivalent, as has been described by others to you?

1a. Do you know what your Kingdom Law says about them? If not, do you care to find out?  Why/why not?

1b. What is a White Scarf/etc. in your own words?  What qualities and requirements do you, personally, associate with someone carrying the title of (insert Order here)?

These questions got me  thinking about what my end goal actually was, and what it meant to me.  To me, there is a lot more to being a White Scarf than being able to wear a literal white scarf:  a White Scarf is the embodiment of personal achievement in prowess upon the field, as well as leadership and knowledge within the rapier community, kingdom, and society.

2. What is a cadet/formal student/variant/equivalent, as described by others to you?

2a. Does your Kingdom Law say anything about them?  

2b. What is a cadet to you/in your own words?

This set of questions was intended to give me an idea of how well my personal definition lined up with those of Kingdom Law and the populace and/or rapier community, at large.

Around the time I was searching for a teacher, I had heard many definitions of what a cadet actually is, and what wearing a red scarf symbolized.  To this very day, whenever I ask other people what they think a cadet is, I hear different answers (sometimes from the same people, who are either evolving in their personal stance on the matter, or are adapting the definition to better suit what they feel is the best answer for them at the time.  It’s actually a fascinating topic to me, as far as the culture and history is concerned)
For example, my takeaway based on the majority of opinions gathered was that you did not have to be a high-end fighter in order to receive a red scarf.  The red scarf is more a symbol of a student-teacher relationship, founded upon a shared love of rapier, and a desire to become the best fighter one possibly could while choosing to train mostly (but not necessarily exclusively) with the teacher.  Having a Don/Dona/White Scarf/equivalent meant that you also had representation within the Order at meetings;  someone to speak on your behalf whenever the Order begins to take notice of you.  It also had other components attached to it, which were not as unified in responses, such as households/camping, general camaraderie, etc.; basically, it was like becoming SCA family.  Other answers I received had an emphasis on fighting prowess, with some going so far as to say they thought a physical “test” should be established into kingdom law which the student had to pass before even being considered for a red scarf.  This approach seems far less personal.

I’ve heard so many different interpretations, I could easily write up another article about them all.  In the interest of being fair, I will not go into too many personal opinions on the matter, as it’s something I tend to get a little heated up about.  I will say that my opinion of the red scarf and those who wear it is more in line with the first description (I am, however, absolutely willing to discuss any questions with people in the comments section, and would love to hear of any ways the cadet/student/equivalent has been explained to you).

3.  Why do you want to be a cadet?  

3a. A White Scarf, etc.?

It probably isn’t a bad idea to figure out why you want to be a red/White Scarf in the first place.

My answers were relatively simple:  I wanted to be a cadet because I knew that, without at least a little bit of undivided attention, I wasn’t going to progress very far on my own.  I did not have any sports background, and physical giftedness was not a chip I got when I was on the assembly line. I also knew that I would get massively discouraged along the way, so I knew I needed to have a teacher who wasn’t going to allow me to quit without giving me all kinds of hell for it.  (It worked out pretty well, because now I have double the heapings of hell whenever I get down about things!)

My answer, I’m finding, changes and adapts as I grow.  Overall, though, the one element that generally stays the same is that I want to be a damn good fighter; a fighter who inspires both dread and excitement in her opponents when her name is pulled in a tournament.

4.  Is it essential to become a cadet in order to get the terminal award you seek?

4a.  Why?  Why not?

Meaning, are you personally able to attain the level of prowess you deem worthy of recognition without the focused assistance and training of one or two individuals/teachers?  Some people are capable of this, while others need or prefer to have someone to go to with questions.  Furthermore, do you personally feel that the Order will not take you into consideration without having a White Scarf/Master of Defense to represent you during meetings?  Why?  Why not?

5. What motivated you to pick up a rapier in the first place?

5a. What motivates you to continue to pick up that rapier now?

5b.  What do you think will motivate you to continue picking up the blade when/if you’re recognized as a member of the Order of which you seek?

These questions were meant to make me call into question whether or not I’d have anything left to “strive for” if I ever received the terminal rapier award.  My thought processes were that, if I did not feel I would have anything motivating me after receiving the honor, perhaps my goal should be changed to a more casual one.  If I did see myself striving to better my game, even after being honored with the award(s), I personally felt my goal was okay staying where it was.

My answers:
5. I genuinely do not know – As hokey as it sounds, something simply called out to me about it, and it seemed like something I would enjoy.  I also liked that it was a bit of a weird way to exercise, and that it was so much fun, I often forgot that I was exercising.
5a. A few things:
– Time (“I’ve invested this much time and effort into it, and look how far I’ve come; If I give up now, all of it will have been for nothing.”)
– Competitive streak (“It’d be really nice to get good enough to stab Don What’s-His-Face in the left eye during a tournament… Better go drill.”)
– To prove to myself that I can do it, and do it well
5b. This is where it gets tricky.  I assume that, if I’m ever elevated to WS/etc., it’ll be because I’ve achieved a high level of prowess.  I also assume that, once one has achieved this high level and renown, there are pressures to maintain it.  I imagine this will still motivate me (though I am aware it could become easy to sit back and stop proving myself for a while, which would breed anxiety whenever I wanted to play again, which would – perhaps – make me want to avoid picking up the blade again).  I also know that the transition from thinking of myself as a student/cadet to thinking of myself as “my own person” within the SCA will take some time.  One thing I do know for sure is that, even at this early stage of my fencing career, I get really excited and happy when I see someone hold a rapier blade for the first time and their eyes light up;  I recognize that light, and I’d like to see it continue to spread.

6.  What are the duties of (Order) as explained to you by others?  By Kingdom Law?

6a. What do you personally feel should be considered the duties of (Order)?  Are these additions/subtractions beneficial to the Kingdom and to the rapier community as a whole?  To self/smaller pool of individuals only?  If so, why?

This one was meant to explore the territory of what I felt I could potentially bring to the table by being included in the Order – both good and bad.  It made me consider the future of rapier combat and the community, and what qualities I would want to exhibit within myself in a leadership position, as well as qualities I would look for in other leaders; further, how the community would be shaped based on those qualities of leadership.
I decided the qualities I could bring to the Order would be a willingness to lead, a willingness to share and teach whatever I know with whoever is willing to listen and learn, and a love and passion for what we do.  The bad that I could potentially bring to the table would be something that I believe anyone in an Order is capable of harboring: favoritism.  I worry less about this trait, as I’m a firm believer that people should only get in if they’re worthy, not because you like them. I worry about letting people in who are not quite there on prowess (or insert other important quality to do with rapier) levels, but close enough, and do  a lot of service (or insert other complementary quality here) . Worst of all I worry about letting people in because it would be politically favorable to do so.  Not standing firm is a problem I see in myself which I hope to curb – if not eradicate – over time.

Since I think Dons should be leaders, teachers, and good fighters, I sought out some of the first Dons who’d taught me, who I knew to be both well-respected leaders and well-respected fighters.

7.  What pros and cons would there be to you taking a cadet/student/etc. scarf from a White Scarf/Master of Defense/etc., in general?  

7a.  If you have a teacher in mind, what are the pros and cons of potentially being associated with them?  Have you ever heard rumblings of unpleasant behavior/handling of situations in which they did not conduct themselves in a Peer-like manner?  How long ago was this?  Does it still happen?

7b.  Would the teacher have to consider the pros and cons of your past behavior, given the assumption that you have been in the Society long enough to develop any kind of reputation?  If so, see the questions above.

7c.  Would you be willing to address these issues with your teacher in a respectful manner?
7d. Is there something specific you wish to learn?  If so, what?

In my experience and understanding of the Society, the behavior of the teacher is an immediate reflection of the student.  If a teacher has a particularly good reputation, that reputation attaches to the student, whether the student has earned it or not.  Likewise, if the teacher has disputes with others in the Kingdom, the students may receive some of that backlash, regardless of whether or not they were involved, or even around.  I have not personally witnessed any negative backlash or consequences to teachers taking on students with any problematic social/personality traits, but I would imagine it’s a two-way street.  (I also personally feel it is the student’s responsibility to reflect well upon their teacher via their work and behavior since the teacher is also going to – or should, in my opinion – work to insure that their behavior reflects well upon the student.  Of course, that all depends heavily upon the people involved and the relationship between those people.)

This way of thinking seems very self-serving, and goes against the very idea of having a natural rapport with your teacher/student.  However, I feel these are still things to take into consideration before making any commitment, so that the student and teacher know of the faults of the person they are taking on, and can decide for themselves if the pros of the friendship outweigh any cons.

For example, my Don-folk can sometimes be a little more brash than I am.

Did I say a little?  I meant a lot.  They can be a lot more brash than I usually am.

That can make me feel a little (read: a lot) uncomfortable and worried, because my give-a-damn-ometer is on overdrive (and being in another kingdom means I sometimes have to completely fend for myself, which doesn’t help).  In the end, though, I’m aware of these tendencies, and I usually end up realizing I’m stressing out over something which is ultimately trivial; which is helping me to be more selective of the things I allow to bother me.

See?  There are tons of benefits to being a cadet/student to people with differing personality traits!  (And, if ever they do do something which crosses a line and causes me unnecessary trouble, I’ll know that that’s a great time to be selective, and to unleash the Wrath of Toki.)

Regarding 7d., if you want to learn German longsword, you’d probably do well not to seek out guidance from someone who practices Destreza.  Asking yourself what area(s) you wish to learn can help you focus on finding the right teachers for you; further, if you have no idea what your area of interest is, it could be a great excuse to work with as many Scarves as possible to figure it out.

8.  Think of the Teacher(s) you are interested in approaching about a formal relationship.  Why do you want to be their cadet/etc.?  

As is a common theme in this article, these questions were meant to generate some contemplation on my part, whenever I found a teacher I’d be interested in taking a scarf from. Out of everyone you could go to, why do you want to go to them in particular?

My answer is simple:  My Don-folk’s teaching styles made the most sense to me, and I liked their personalities. I felt they would be good at balancing me out a bit (and, hopefully, I would be able to help balance them when needed, as well)

9.  What could you bring to the table to benefit your teacher?  

Since most potential cadets don’t have a very established presence/reputation in the kingdom the teachers usually bring the most to the relationship.  That revelation bothered me, so I wanted to make sure that I could also bring something to the table that would be of benefit to them.  This question was meant to get myself thinking about my good qualities, both in general and in relation to fencing/the SCA.

Negative self-talk was (and continues to be) a problem for me here; please believe me when I say it’s counterproductive. You may not have prowess or much promise yet, but can you make things?  Do you have a strong desire to learn, and to apply what you learn in practice?  Do you have strengths in an area your teacher does not, which your teacher may learn from you?

Thank you for reading this.  If you are at peace with your answers, wonderful.  If not, what can you do to make peace with them?  If there’s nothing that can be done that is within your personal control and integrity, or if you discover that maybe you’re in it for the wrong reason – meaning your reason, not the populace’s, not the popular opinions of the group(s) you wish to enter, yours alone – then maybe it’s best to leave the subject be. Being honest with yourself is necessary to find out what’s really motivating you, and what’s really attracting you to this path. Is it just for the competition and exhilaration that comes along with achieving things?  Do you have a desire to truly master a discipline?  Do you wish to teach, to lead, and to serve the next generation, as the current generation has done for you?  Do you simply want to dabble, and have good rapport with a teacher who isn’t stringent with expectations?  Or, perhaps, would a teacher with rigid requirements who doles out assignments work better for your learning style? Do you want the pretties that come with winning tournaments and garnering recognition from your peers? Some of your answers may unpleasantly surprise you;  this is okay. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if you’re willing to change the things you do not like about your answers, or if you can live with them.

If you choose to broach the subject with your potential teacher, perhaps it would be helpful to ask them similar questions.  Ask them about what they expect from their students, and what their teachers expected of them.  Even though the purpose of this questionnaire isn’t to share your answers with the world, if you’re comfortable sharing your answers with the teacher, do so, and see how they feel about what they read/hear/etc.  It’s a scary topic to launch, but sometimes having direction can help.

Unfortunately, rejection is a fact of life.  It will inevitably happen to all of us in this lifetime, and probably within the SCA at some point, too.  The fear of rejection gives way to hesitation, or even refusal to broach the subject with the teacher(s).  My personal suggestion is to do it anyway.  You can approach your teacher of choice and ask about what they look for in a student, and ask if you can perhaps start a trial with them.  Many people in the SCA prefer to take small periods of time to see how the dynamics of the relationship work before making any real commitment to it.  This allows the two involved to see if there are any problem areas, and if those areas can be reasonably fixed.  Even in the unlikely situation of being flat-out rejected,  I urge you to continue to look for the right teacher;  they’re out there, and you’ll likely know immediately when you’ve found the right one.
Everyone’s Dream is different; if yours doesn’t match up to the majority’s, it is – again – yours to live out.  The Dream is about our ideals, but those can take on different meanings.  The purpose of this list was to get me thinking about what they mean to me; I hope that it may help you in discovering what they mean for you, too.

Posted July 28, 2015 by Toki Ima in Musings

4 responses to Associations in the SCA

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Tibbie Crosier

  2. Pingback: Toki Ima

  3. Pingback: Tibbie Crosier

  4. Pingback: Toki Ima

Leave a Reply

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