Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 30: Crossing Over (without John Edward) Part I

First, I’d like to start today off with a great big “Hi Mom, I love you!” to the woman who named me after the progenitor of the Tudor dynasty and raised me with a great love of history, and who let me read detective novels over her shoulder, thereby teaching me all of the words I am now slightly ashamed to have used in past posts.  Oops.  But never let it be said I learn from my mistakes…

One Army

Also One Love, One Life, One Rapier Boot through the Bar Grill

The phrase “One Army” gets bandied about every now and then.  Too often, it’s used as short-hand for the good old days before fencing, when anybody who wanted to fight had to put on armor; when, in other words, there was only one army.  Sometimes the sentiment is taken a little further to mean the good old days before everything else, too, when the SCA was only Armored Fighting.  If you’re in Calontir, it means “no fucking fencers” (although, recent reports out of the Black Hole of Kansas indicate this may be changing).  In other words, too often the phrase is used to mean “One army: mine, the way I wish it was.”  I have nothing but contempt for those people.

Usually, though, it means “One Army: Atlantians”.  One body of Atlantians doing everything they can to win the war.  If you can fight that armored war point, you do.  If you can fight that rapier war point, you do.  If you can shoot in that archery war point, you do that, too.

Why?  Because it brings glory and renown to our kingdom.  But let’s face it, that’s a stupid reason to spend hundreds of dollars on gear for yet another hobby.

For my first 2-3 years in the SCA, I did not give a fuck for heavy fighting or heavy fighters.  Too many of them view rapier fighters as inferior, and too many of the rest don’t speak up when the Five Minutes Fencing Hate gets going.

This is, though, starting to change: Count Sinclair, King Logan, and Prince Vlad led the fencers across the field at this Pennsic.  Duke Cuan’s pretty often out there with us, too, as well as a number of knights.  But as much as I appreciate their efforts, I don’t put on heavy armor as some sign of quid pro quo gratitude.

I don’t even do it to serve my king.  There have been only two kings who could have said “Wistric, skip the rapier woods, bring your spear to the Great Wall battle”, and would next see me armored up carrying my spear right behind them.  Everybody else, well, I’m a fencer, and therefore a papist; I’m on a mission from BoD.

Why, then, do I bother with heavy fighting?  Because I love stabbing Easties and Middies on the rapier battle field.  I love the way they die, I love the disappointed looks on their masks, I just… I love it.  I love running into them and laying about me with merry abandon until one finally dispatches me.  I love that we run at them as they stand in confused, disordered ranks not knowing how to react.  But with only two rapier war point battles at Pennsic, I never get my fill.

A few years back, I discovered that if I put on armor, I can punk them with my spear.  I can beat them upside the head with my polearm.  Is it quite as wonderful as running them down at swordpoint?  Well, no.  It’s the baking soda-cut crack to the Perla Yi-yo of fencing.  Just don’t waste all your time and money on crack, or else you won’t be able to afford the good stuff.

Armor Up

First, you must recognize a simple fact: just as in stabbing people with swords, when hitting each other with sticks you might, possibly, get bruised.  Will you get broken?  No more likely than when running through the rapier woods battle.  And the better your armor rig, the less you’ll suffer.

Rapier fighters find spear the easiest weapon to start with.  Sword-and-board is a little more difficult, a little less intuitive to a fencer.  I’ll come back to these in a moment, but for now assume you’re fighting with spear.

I’m going to give what would, to any heavy fighter, be bad advice: Your legs are the first priority in assembling your rig, and you should wear minimums.  The armor you first start out in will probably be borrowed, and it will suck.  Loaner legs invariably have articulated knees on plastic or leather cuisses (thigh pieces).  They will invariably be the wrong size and shape for you, the belt won’t hold the legs up, and the articulated knees will be rusted shut.  Miguel got five steps into the woods this past Pennsic and his legs locked up, leaving him useless for the flag run.  So screw that.

You’re a fencer, whatever weapon you’re holding you will instinctively move around with it.  Get some Kydex plastic knee cops, hung from padded cloth cuisses (or maybe even shorts), or get some motocross knees.  Either option is much cheaper than just a set of steel knee cops, much less articulated knees attached to rigid thigh protection.  And in my experience on the melee field so far, I’ve never been hit below the waist, always shoulders and head.  I’m willing to trade the theoretical stripe on my thigh for the ability to run, move, and not be winded.

Gauntlets are just about as important.  You need your hands intact to fence.  Make sure your gauntlets actually cover your hands, and learn my lesson: make sure they won’t pancake your thumb if you catch a blow on it.  It turns out your thumb is important, and when the whole first joint is a bruise you cannot use the space bar on your keyboard the way you’re used to.

Helms are expensive.  Suffer a loaner.  You’re a fencer, you have a gorget, just turn it around and wear it backwards.  Elbows and shoulders can be covered with sports equipment, and kidneys can be covered with a weight belt or another piece of Kydex.  That provides for all the legal requirements for rigid protection.  Padded gambesons (doublet-ish) will provide protection against whooping on the rest.

Fencers as Spearmen

And then, it’s often said, a spear is just a 9-foot rapier.  This is partly true, but over-simplified, so let’s say it’s a 9-foot epee.  All the footwork is the same, and parries, binds, disengages, voids, lunges, and leverage are all the same.  As with all combat, spear work is based on measure, tempo, and judgment, and as a fencer you’ve already got an edge in all of these. [For rapier, at least the way I fight it, I find polearm to be the better analogy.  It offers oblique attacks, more aggressive haft work, and a wider range of guards to work from]

Fencers have an advantage in foot speed.  We’re used to the full-out charge across the field.  For this reason, keep your armor kit light and breathable whenever possible to keep that edge.  The general armored mindset involves steady, walking-pace advances across the field, so a fighter who can process melee fields while at the gallop is already more effective.  The skirmishing and cav tactics that are the standard for fencers are more intermediate to advanced tactics on the heavy field.  The independent-operator mindset that is the default of a rapier fighter is rare on the armored field, where formation-based operation is the default mode.

When a spear duel evolves, it is identical to a rapier line fight, with the same exploitation of cross shots, binding of opponents’ blades spears, and basic maneuvers.  The fencer’s brain is already in spear fighting mode.  Mostly.

One of the walls I ran into with starting up at spear was a presumption of my own weakness.  Afterall, heavies are, you know, heavy.  They take a good whuppin’ and call light.  How could I hit them hard enough with a spear?  I still am not very confident in my ability to deliver a telling blow.  But that doesn’t matter: Your job as a new melee fighter is the same as your job as a new fencer.  You take your place in line, you stand there, and you keep one enemy fighter busy.  With a spear, you put your spear tip in his face and make sure that’s all he sees in the world.  Then you hammer away (with sword-and-board, you put your shield and your sword between you and the enemy, and you push when told to).  And, when the enemy breaks, you run them down like swine because you are a fencer.

What’s in it for You

Rapier fighters, on average, run faster and move more than average heavy fighters.  And we do it in four layers of duck (more than one heavy fighter at the local practice has commented on how little they envy us our armor standards).  But heavy fighters put on 20-50 pounds of armor and fight the same battles we do (because, in general, we fight the same battles they do).  The terrain we fight over in the woods battle is the same terrain they fight over.  The joke made a few weeks ago about putting 20 pounds on Benjamin?  That’s what heavy fighting is.

Heavy fighting necessarily builds up muscular and cardiovascular endurance.  It necessarily builds up leg strength.  And when you take that endurance and that leg strength to the rapier field, you know what happens?  You fight faster and longer than the enemy.  And then beat them down for daring to take the field against you.  To revive a metaphor, the crack cocaine makes the good stuff even better (I have no idea if this is true of actual crack cocaine).

[Next week: Part II, three-ways!]

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