Thoughts on my Elevation

 

Tibbie asked me to discuss my thoughts on my elevation (separate from the thoughts relating to peerage in general). I started writing this in November, when my mind was still very full. I’ve let it simmer for a while to see if things sort themselves out and if I can find better words, because I realize some parts of it sound a little dickish.

From the day the MOD started looking like it might be a thing, when I got my writ, planning my elevation, standing there in front of the crowns being so honored, and now continuing on as a MOD, a few themes have stuck out. The course of history which led to this point, my deep love for fighting and the community formed around it, and my own quest to get here.

 

Our History

First and foremost, this is the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t dare wish to dream. When I joined the SCA eleven years ago in Atlantia there was still a “fencers are second class citizens” attitude, and Atlantia was one of the better kingdoms. My first post to the Merry Rose may have been me telling a heavy fighter to go fuck himself, though slightly bowdlerized. I chafed when other heavy fighters would talk shit about rapier. I felt shame for my kingdom when my student expressed the same pain five years after I joined. Always I knew whatever we did, we would not be peers.

Alejandro explained that the White Scarf served “as close to a peerage as we’re going to get” since it was recognized in most kingdoms. Christian told me the story of how he got made a peer, including Prince Val reminding the White Scarves of the uncomfortable truth that they aren’t a peerage.

Time passed and faster than I’d have guessed princes and kings were consistently taking the field with the rapier army at wars. I heard kings say “If you want a job done, find a provost.” And I started to think that things could change. The census came out in 2010, and in 2011 the results came in – the populace of the SCA was in favor of a rapier peerage. The sad fact that most knights weren’t in favor was disappointing, and seemed like an insurmountable hurdle (knights make the rules). The esteem that the Atlantian White Scarves had earned was not universal.

Also in 2011 I was honored with a White Scarf, and could stand with the Provosts and bear the trust which kings and more and more of the populace placed in them. That was the end of recognition, except for the vague hope of a peerage now being dangled. Then the peerage progressed, and I could hope a little more that all of the effort and time I put into developing as a fencer and a member of the rapier community could be recognized as equal to the efforts of the best in other endeavors. It also meant I couldn’t go focus on art and service as much as I’d planned to. Dammit.

About a year ago ago a sitting king called fencers pussies in a very public setting. As we stood on the brink of having our own peerage, being his equal, he called us pussies. The rage I felt was beyond anything I’ve felt in years. My reaction was unpeerlike in the extreme. It’s never far from my mind (and Master Lorenzo reminds me about it, gently, on a monthly basis). But even now the thought still sparks rage in me. We have a peerage, and yet…

Sunneva mentioned that I’d experience “peer deference,” a very different sort of treatment, and it would be weird. I haven’t experienced yet (only been to a few events, though). I think the idea of the MOD, and how to recognize them in a crowd, has not yet sunk into the collective consciousness.

We have a peerage, but we’re not actually done earning it. There’s always another job.

 

My People

Fencers are my people. I sincerely believe my people are not separate from the Society or their Kingdoms. They are part of their Kingdoms, their efforts are for their Kingdoms, and

if you are a fencer and you mess with my community and the good it does for the Kingdom, I will cut you. Now that I have this collar, the only time I can see bringing down the Peer Hammer is on a fencer who damages rapier. It’s basically the only time I brought down the Scarf Hammer.

If you are not a fencer and you mess with my community and the good it does for the Kingdom, I will not cut you. I will point out, bluntly, the disservice you do to your kingdom. I’ll just try not to use bad words this time. Because PLQs.

I am proud of the Atlantian Academie d’Espee, and organizations like it, because it concentrates the rapier community’s efforts to the benefit of the kingdom – heavy fighters don’t have that, they operate under a much more self-centered system, and I wonder if they and their kingdoms would be improved for developing a community identity beyond themselves.

Without those strong rapier communities and the work they’ve done over the past thirty years, there’d be no peerage. I invited the rapier fighters present at Castle Wars to be part of my ceremony because I would not have a collar without them and the fencers across the Knowne Worlde and its history. If the court space were ever big enough, I would have had them stand (or kneel) with me in front of court. That they were willing, instead, to form a sword arch for me to progress down made me choke up before I even got to the thrones.

 

My Path

I was asked recently “How did you do it?” There is a crucible in northern Atlantia that churns out high-end fighters because of the vast amount of knowledge and opportunity to train concentrated in one area. The number of active WS’s within a two hour drive of anybody living in NoVa is ridiculous – something like 20. The number of active WS’s within a two hour drive of Durham can be counted on one hand, and they all live in the same barony. So the question was how, in relative isolation, did I become what I am?

The answer I came up with was equal parts a shrug of the shoulders and informative but unhelpful.

My favorite commentary about me in the archives of the WS email list is “Wistric throws himself into everything 120%. This is not necessarily a bad thing.”

I think it sums up nicely everything else that can be said about me. If there was a thing I might be able to do I threw myself at it fully (I have five GOA level awards not because I was trying to Pokemon this game but because I made the mistake of starting down multiple paths simultaneously). The “Because it’s there” mindset seems completely natural to me – not as a glib throwaway line but as an expression of the feeling of compulsion to push further. George Mallory had to climb that mountain because it was there – he looked at Everest, and he shrugged to himself and started walking towards it (metaphorically speaking), even though it killed him. Like him, I could not hold back; I invested fully in the doing.

When I’m not “doing anything”, I’m meditating on exactly how far I can go, exactly how far to move the goalposts for myself, figuring out if that mountain is taller than I thought it was, or building it taller myself.  This sounds like a disciplined mind identifying goals and processes and then moving forward in a dedicated manner towards their achievement. It wasn’t.

Here’s where good teachers come in: It’s not like I knew which way to start walking. I definitely didn’t know the easiest path. Dame Roz, and Alejandro, and Percy, Christian, and Walter, and pretty much all the White Scarves and Free Scholars I looked up to and learned from, all kicked me down the right path. Though, with that much input, there were disagreements as to what that path was. This is the reason to have a primary teacher – they can tell you which of those alternate paths are really bad ideas, and which are just different. So Roz kicked, and I walked (teachers can’t do the walking for their student, they can can only do the kicking).

So, I was the dedicated mind pushing myself to keep walking down the path my Dame pointed to? Well, no. I instigate none of this.

Here’s where my advice gets probably useless: I’m not sure what other people’s brains think about while they’re falling to sleep. Much of my friend’s list posts memes about being about to drift off to sleep and their brain doing something that scares them or reminds them of that stupid thing they did when they were twelve. The first part resonates, the second part doesn’t. Those things happen, too, but they aren’t the bulk of it. What I think about as I drift off to sleep is fencing and fencing-related activities. For six weeks before November 21st, almost every night as I drifted off to sleep my brain said “Hey, wake up, I just had a really awesome idea for your elevation. Write this down.” Six yard banner! A collar carrying more symbolic meaning than a Hieronymous Bosch painting! Write faster!

If you haven’t noticed at this point in the article, I do an excessive amount of thinking. For the past eleven years just about every night as I’ve drifted off to sleep my brain has said “Hey, you know that event you’re RMiC’ing in, like, six months? Here’s all the scenarios you should run.” Or, “Hey, you know that guy who fights this way? These are all the different counters you should try.” My limbic jerk is usually the result of a lunge in that thought process.

Jenny has learned that, if I’m not participating in a conversation and my hand is twitching, I’m  fencing. This happens unbidden.

I have an intricately organized and robustly populated Google Drive, most of the contents of which were written by my brain without any prompting, and I just scrambled for the keyboard or a notepad or my phone’s dictation program (which is my favorite feature on my phone). On long drives with no passengers I talk at my phone and it takes dictation.

My brain insists on walking, I just hope it goes the right direction.

This is what a well-managed, well-regulated bipolar mind looks like, and it took a long time to get to this point (34 years so far). It’s not dedication or discipline, it’s riding a lightning bolt and trying to steer it in the right direction. I don’t always succeed. That lightning bolt doesn’t always go in a productive direction. 120% is not always a good thing.

Passion achieves greatness. Dreaming big, pushing hard, you end up where nobody else has yet been. Passion also results in emotional and personal investment in goals beyond the comprehension of those around you. “Why’d he throw his mask?” “Because he couldn’t DFB that line he just wrapped.” That is, no shit, the spark for that incident. I had wrapped a line, I was DFB’ing it, and the marshal told me he hadn’t allowed DFB so it didn’t count. It escalated (there was a significant amount of dickery from both sides, and a feeling of unfair play, which is a special trigger for me), but it started because of that seemingly insignificant issue. But I wanted to kill those people. 120%. It was in the rules (we’d been using DFB all day), it was legit, and they had to die.

That’s how I feel in a tourney fight, too. You have to die, I have to defeat you (and that’s the key thing: if I cheat, if I rhino, I didn’t defeat you. See Ymir 2013. The thought that I might possibly not have defeated my opponent even if I won gnaws at me).

I kind of recognized this early on. It’s why I didn’t fight in a tourney for two years after authorizing – defeat in the only tourney I entered in collegiate fencing had been so discouraging I almost did not return to the sport (it took months to go back to practice). I wanted to enjoy the SCA, so I held off on tourney fighting. I fought in my first tourney on a lark because it was small and low pressure. I finalled. I still don’t fight all that many tourneys (approximately zero in the last three wars I’ve been to).

Everybody has their something to overcome. When everything else is taken care of, Their Something is the reason they haven’t been recognized, and it’s been the focus of almost every discussion of candidates in the White Scarves, MOB, and MOD in which I’ve participated. Mine was controlling a disease and making it productive. That may in some form be developing self-discipline, but it’s not self-motivation. Your thing may be developing that self-motivation instead. I’m not one to be able to speak to that (Dante, though, probably can. Though he may have just been programmed with the discipline and motivation sub-routines out-of-the-box. Maybe Dominyk?).

I’ve had a couple of mottos, some less serious than others. The one I usually go to is “Poena stultus corpore digrediens est” – Pain is stupid leaving the body. It’s a variant on a super macho motto “Pain is weakness leaving the body” that I think is a great way to injure yourself permanently. Being less weak is not all that much of an improvement. You’ll just end up doing the same thing that got you hurt, but worse. Growing knowledge and understanding is far more important.

I bring it out in times of humor (“I’ve got five bruises all on my right nipple from fighting you!” “Poena stultus corpore digrediens est!”). It has an underlying serious message: Our failures and our defeats help us get better. Accept defeat, seek it out even, and learn from it. A win doesn’t teach much, unless you had a second-tier victory condition (e.g. “A hero would win with a passata soto!”). Losing is okay, just learn from it.

In the past year, though, I’ve adopted a new motto. It coincides with taking Toki as a Student. “Strive.”  In all things push yourself to do better. You don’t have to push yourself to do perfect, just better. Not just in fighting, in all things – strive.

The Latin translation I went with, “certo”, means “I strive”. It also means “I struggle” and “I fight”. Every one of those possible translations is accurate. 120%.  Across my shoulders my collar says “Certo”. It is a reminder to always strive, to be aware of my struggles, and to fight. Because fighting is so goddamn fun.

How did I get here? Certo.

 

I am overwhelmed

If you follow my Facebook, you might have seen the number of people who contributed to this awesome awesome day. Who made my garb awesome, who made my banner awesome, who made my hat awesome, who made my procession awesome, who made my prize awesome, who made my vigil awesome. Who made my journey awesome. Who, in a hundred smaller ways, made this day better than I could dream.

A long time ago Alejandro sat me down and explained that I must behave myself, but not for just my own good. Those around me are judged for my behavior as much as I am. My teachers and my friends. Most of all my lady. To have so many friends, to feel their love and support, is overwhelming. It is also terrifying. Those are the people I will disappoint if I stumble. I know their love means their forgiveness is already promised, but the weight is daunting nonetheless.

 

4 comments to Thoughts on my Elevation

  • Dante di Pietro

    Were you there for that long class series we did at University that was basically “how to train?”

    At one point, I think I remarked that we were all unhealthy in a productive way. My particular thing is that I like to be better at things than other people (I am not personally working on improving myself against some abstract, though I advocate that mentality; I am actually working on staying ahead of my competition), and I’m too honest with myself to be willing to create a definition of “better” that happens to match my extant characteristics. “I lost, but only because I was fighting in a period way and my opponent wasn’t!” No, you lost because you don’t know how to fight. If you knew how to fight, doing it in a period way would enhance your record, not detract from it.

    I hate making excuses. I’m not too tired to go to the gym: at that moment, I value TV more than I value exercise. I own it, and it doesn’t make me feel bad about myself. If something made me feel bad about myself, I wouldn’t do it. I prioritize ruthlessly: if I really wanted to have the best cardio out there, I would run 5 miles a day. I must not really want that, because I don’t run 5 miles a day. I did, however, want to be The Guy for historic rapier, and so I read and applied everything I could and did so in a way that was completely focused on successful practical application of theory. Failing to improve is a failure of effort, either in volume or kind (I don’t buy that whole “teacher mode” thing, either: I went into pure teacher mode with nearly 100% drilling for 6 months with no sparring practice, came out of it and finaled at Sapphire Joust because I was drilling a rookie to build an effective skillset).

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Thank you, Wistric. I admire your honesty about yourself, both your strengths and weaknesses. It seems like your biggest challenge as a peer will be controlling your temper.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>