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A little less than a happy high
SCA Fencers Make Very Good Stew
For yhlee and everyone else who might appreciate a fencing yarn.

Back when I was still fencing, the Boston Fencing Club began to share their space with the local SCAdian wireboys fencers. This arrangement worked reasonably well, though there was always an undercurrent of competition between the two groups, fed largely by the SCAdians’ constant chatter about how sport fencers weren’t learning any "real" skills and how SCAdians would have the advantage in duels because they were never conditioned to the linear confines of the strip. This went on for a couple of months before a friendly challenge was issued – a series of round-robin bouts using SCA fencing rules, the losing team forced to prepare a feast for the winners.

My opponent for sword and cloak made a point to identify himself as "Maestro –" when he shook my hand. I had to know how he had come to such an esteemed rank, and when I asked he told me, "In order to become a maestro, you must win tournaments at SCA events in each of the four main dueling styles."1 I congratulated him and explained that I had been fencing for about two years and hadn’t competed outside of the bouts we had in class after drills. I might have imagined it, but I could have sworn he looked even more cocksure as he donned his helmet.

We saluted and I dropped into an Italian-style fencing stance – left foot forward, sword in my right hand at a mid-guard with my arm bent so as not to give any sense of my full reach. I held the cloak in front of me loosely, with the intent of using it as a parry or, if the opportunity presented itself, to fling it to distract my opponent. The Maestro stood nearly straight up, with his blade slung casually to the side and began to twirl his cloak in a figure eight in front of him.2 This surprised me a little since the rhythm3 he established not only afforded a limited window in which to launch his attacks, but, more importantly, also caused the cloak to cover his vision completely at two points in its arc.

He began to circle around me and I adjusted my stance to face him, answering his probing attacks with easy parries as I got a feel for his pattern. Then, at a particularly opportune moment, I thrust at his face with a cross-step and a lean. He couldn’t react to the attack because he just didn't see it coming. I was satisfied that I would have driven the blade through the back of his skull.

The next point was a replay of the first, though here, he advanced behind a swing of the cloak, and so was unable to react when I sidestepped left and tagged his bib just below his jaw.

For the final point, he had given up swinging the cloak around and adopted a stance similar to mine. In response, I changed my tactics as well. Rather than wait to counterattack, I went instantly on the offensive. I faked forward and left just as I flicked my cloak at his face and his reaction was so extreme that I was able to do the chevron-shaped belly cut that Andy4 had taught in saber practice.

The Maestro was beaten. As he shook my hand he mumbled something about letting his guard down. He wouldn’t admit that he had been utterly out-fenced by a novice.

This bout was largely representative of how the matches ran all day.

1These are: 1) Single Sword, 2) Sword and Dagger, 3) Sword and Cloak, and 4) Case (Two Sword).
2I learned on a recent retelling of this story that the figure eight is a standard technique that's taught to SCA fencers for sword and cloak. The intent is (supposedly) to confuse your opponent.
3Repetitive movement in melees is almost always a liability. In some few cases this can be overcome, but only if the maneuvers that spawn from the movement are so unexpected as to be improbable (as is the case in high-level capoeira, for instance.)
4One of the BFC instructors who had studied at the Salle d’Armes de Paris, amongst other places.
21 comments or Leave a comment
(Deleted comment)
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
That would be beef stew. I was kind of hoping for mutton.
From: uruz Date: June 21st, 2004 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
[i]"The Maestro was beaten. As he shook my hand he mumbled something about letting his guard down. He wouldn’t admit that he had been utterly out-fenced by a novice."[/i]

pwnt by novice, noob!

heh. great story.
From: uruz Date: June 21st, 2004 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
er, I meant italics. really I did.
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've got to do something to keep you folks entertained. ^_^
kiad From: kiad Date: June 21st, 2004 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
This made me smirk. Nothing like serving the worthy a little bit of humble pie, eh?
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some pie is more delicious than others.

Incidentally, I've really been enjoying your culinary forays. Thanks for sharing.
wisdom_seeker From: wisdom_seeker Date: June 21st, 2004 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
It amazes me that after all this time, you still manage to come up with stories I haven't heard. That was a great one :-)
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's all about having adventures.
cinemama From: cinemama Date: June 21st, 2004 04:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nicely done, sir! (or as the children on the streets would say, nicely served)

Oh, you know I enjoyed this story!!
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
You can't really recreate period fencing without learning grapples and binds. Theirs was just sport fencing of a different ilk, and for a community that prides itself on authenticity, precious few had done any homework. My other sword and cloak match had the SCAdians looking askance at me when I wrapped the cloak around my hand and forearm as a parry. Standard practice back in the day, but they couldn't wrap their minds around it.

Now The Association for Renaisance Martial Arts and The Martinez Academy of Arms... that's the real stuff.
From: pipibluestockin Date: June 22nd, 2004 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for an interesting yarn and a double thank you for the websites.

I added them to my reference collection.
komos From: komos Date: June 22nd, 2004 04:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad I could help.
From: pipibluestockin Date: June 22nd, 2004 04:41 am (UTC) (Link)
You bake your own bread, brew your own beer and throw pots.

And now I discover you fence.

What other interesting skills do you have up your sleeve?
komos From: komos Date: June 22nd, 2004 08:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I know kung fu. I'm fun in bed. I can't give away all my secrets at once... that'd ruin the surprise!

More seriously, I'm at the beginner stages for all of it. I'm just learning how to bake and how to throw, and I haven't fenced in nearly ten years. I think I've managed a certain proficiency with brewing, but that seemed to flow fairly naturally from cooking and a fascination with burbly things. I'm also being hard on myself today.
khep From: khep Date: June 21st, 2004 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ahaha, I love it!
komos From: komos Date: June 21st, 2004 07:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, and welcome back. ^_^
mudguts From: mudguts Date: June 22nd, 2004 05:01 am (UTC) (Link)
he should have used magic missiles.
komos From: komos Date: June 22nd, 2004 08:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Stop the weenies!
From: couplingchaos Date: June 22nd, 2004 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the story :)

I miss fencing.
From: couplingchaos Date: June 22nd, 2004 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I meant to ask if you have your own equipment, and if so, do you have an epee, and if so, would you be interested in making an afternoon of it with a few folks?
komos From: komos Date: June 22nd, 2004 08:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Really, I' m not very good...

I have mask, jacket, and glove, but the only blades I have in the house are some well-worn sabers. I didn't spend a lot of time with epee, sadly. I could well be convinced, but I'm guessing I'll be a speed bump for y'all.
21 comments or Leave a comment