Respect in SCA Combat

What is it about SCA Combat that draws people into the lists? Whence comes the passion that drives us to array ourselves in stifling armor despite summer’s heat? Why do we repeatedly ask some of our best friends, and complete strangers alike, to pick up a club and try to hit us? The answers are as varied and numerous as the combatants themselves.

For many it is the spirit of competition, pitting one’s skill and strength against another’s. Facing your weaknesses and overcoming them in an intensely physical confrontation. For others, the shared camaraderie with other armored combatants is familiar from military service or other fraternal organizations. For still others it can be a source of self-esteem and advancement within the organization. The list goes on, and I do not pretend to know the reasons other people keep in their deepest hearts.

For me, it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy to say that none of the above applied. I have always been competitive, and looking back on three decades of fighting, I can say that early on it was an easy path to acceptance and even prestige amongst what was clearly becoming my entire social circle.  I was always too selfish when playing team sports to want to share my victories, and too proud (some might say prideful) to give up responsibility to teammates. I admit that the ghosts of those attitudes linger when it comes to the melee field. But in Single Combat I found a form of competition that was viscerally and unequivocally singular. It was me against my opponent. A face-to-face comparison of the skills we had gained, without excuses or the ability to blame bad refereeing.

Over the years I have come to appreciate that last bit, more and more. What we do as combatants in the Society is virtually unique in competitive sports. We have made the concept of Honour a living and integral part of our competition. We do not allow “judges” or “referees” to intrude on the tests we hold between ourselves. We value fair-play and generosity over mere victory. We are required to adhere to an Honour System whenever we compete. Furthermore, because we are in fact a Society, the renown or infamy one gains on the field reverberates in their social standing outside the list.

There is another thing we learn in the List that is made more valuable by its rarity in modern society. That thing is Respect. “Smack-talk” has become an accepted pre-cursor to competition. And it is nearly required to despise a rival team for no other reason than that they stand between “our” team and victory. American sports fans seem to have lost sight of the fact that without a worthy opponent, victory is meaningless. The tougher the opponent, the greater the victory. The other side of that coin is that defeat by a worthy opponent, after giving one’s all, is equally worthy of respect. Unfortunately, I see us raising a generation of “gankers” and “tea-baggers.” (If you don’t know what those terms mean ask any teenager that plays on-line video games)

When you face an opponent in SCA combat, you are not just testing their skill. You are also testing their integrity. Likewise, yours is being tested. In any fight, there is a currency exchanged. Prowess is weighed against Honour. Skill is measured alongside Honesty. We are taught to be generous with our judgements. This is fitting, because we would not wish to be judged too harshly ourselves. However, the truth is that at the end of each fight, both opponents deploy their mental scales to measure the fore-going fights and see if their opponent has shown Honesty along with their Skill. If the scales balance for both parties, then Respect is given and received. This exchange cannot be escaped or excused. It can be ignored, but only at even greater cost.

This culture of respect is what sets us apart from most other sports. Personal responsibility for following the rules and playing fairly rests firmly in the hands of the competitors. Thankfully, there is but a thin membrane between this and care for an opponent’s safety and well-being. Make no mistake, it is this, not our armor standards that allows us to practice our sport (without age or weight classes or gender segregation mind you) with so few serious injuries.

This is the thing that holds me in the List year after year. This is what inspires me to teach new people who are entering the Society and the Listfield from the great “Out There.” This is what has helped make me a better person, (though that assertion may be argued by some) and led me to find friends and comrades that I will cherish all my life.

I close with a final admonishment. Beware of a creeping attitude that allows you to ignore the safety of your opponent simply because they didn’t accept a blow here or there. Their obtuseness does not relieve you of your responsibility. Despise the tendency toward machismo that requires you to stay silent when your opponent is striking dangerously hard. Your silence may lead to a smaller, slighter person’s injury at this person’s hands. Lastly, be willing to communicate. Communication leads to understanding. Understanding is the bridge to respect.

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