Prowess and various topics (was: Re: Prowess- Is that a

Lenny Zimmermann zarlor at
Fri Dec 13 14:50:27 PST 1996

On Fri, 13 Dec 1996 10:42:48 +0000, Antoine wrote:

>As a sport, SCA fighting is fine.  We get out there and learn and 
>have a good time.  You get hit in one place over and over and you 
>eventually learn to fix it.
>But people of period NEVER saw their sword work as a game.  They 
>built games around it, because it gave them a way to keep in practice 
>without having to have a battle and kill people.  (Killing people for 
>sport was a sin, you know.)

Who says we see our sword work as a game? If I got mugged on the
street and were in danger of my life, I would sure hope the things I
have learned on the field here would help me to save my life, even if
it is only with a knife or some stick that was handy.

And I don't agree that my persona would not have seen tournaments and
sparring as a sport/game/enjoyable-form-of-entertainment or that
people of the time "NEVER" saw it as such. We certainly see flight
simulators as games, as we do hunting, target shooting, archery
shooting, karate, kickboxing, etc. All of these people often practice
with the idea that their skills may have to be used against another
person for defense. Does that make us see them as any less of a game?
Not for me, it doesn't and these sound similar to what people were
doing in period for the same reasons.

>We don't tend to have a good respect for that side of things.  We 
>tend to be focused on the sport part.  That may be healthier for us 
>as 20th century folk, but I think we miss something.  We don't fear 
>the sword.  I've seen men fighting with rapiers run at each other and 
>play a "close game" where the blades are slashing and dashing while 
>their hands are flailing trying to get a good grip.  I've seen people 
>feel that the entire length of a blade is a suitable minimum draw 

I will admit to having known folks who would not readily accept the
reality of what a sharpened weapon would do to them when all they wear
is a shirt and pants/hose. (Any of you ever cut yourself with a
kitchen knife? Just how much draw and how little pressure did you
need? Now think about that in context of what Antoine mentioned and
think how much deeper a cut with 3 feet, or more, of steel would be.
Now you see why I would agree with his statement that a full blade
draw cut is ludicrous. Even 10 inches would be far longer than needed
to discourage me from continuing the fight if you ask me!) To get back
on topic... I would say, however, that ancient man had no real
problems with tournaments as sport, not combat.

Most professional football players put themselves at great risk of
being hurt in their sport and they KNOW it, but it's still a game.
Same for us if an epee were to break with a very sharp point on a
strong lunge or any number of other accidents. Same for any martial
art. There are risks, but if I were in a martial arts tournament the
foremost thing in my mind is not that the other guy can kill me or
that I have to kill him, it's that we are there to score points based
on what could have been killing or maiming blows. Humankind has done
that for as long as we've been around and I doubt people of our
studied time were that much different from us in this respect.
Tournament was still a sport.

I personally feel that sparring and tournaments were seen as just that
and if a renaissance man knew he would not be "hurt" by a bated-blade
or some other foil he would not face that weapon with the same fear
and adrenal rush he would face a real weapon with. Part of the
training would be to constantly confront the fears so they are not
novel and to more easily deal with them should you face the reality of
a real combat situation. Tell me the first time you picked up a sword
that you didn't have some of that fear of it. How about in heavy
weapons (they are all just weapons if you ask me, just slightly
different rules and armor to wear) where you think "My God that is a
BIG stick and I really don't have a lot of protection on my.... THAT'S
gotta HURT!!!" Get my drift? Some of the fear is there, but we
acclimate to it, just as I think our ancestors did.

>I believe that Knights and other men who faced a sword in period 
>feared the sword.  But they ate their fear and faced them anyway. 
>They didn't have long drawn out discussions about how they could do 
>this in a way that no one could get hurt.  I think tournaments were 
>pretty damned scary to them as well.  (Although I'm sure the 
>masters called that exhileration.)

Indeed, the same fears that many who are heavily into modern day
sports face, despite safety measures.

>If you allow yourself to accept that you are exercising death when 
>you pick up a sword, you pass into another dimension of how they 
>looked at life.  When you stop to think that every strike that you've 
>ever received and said "good" could have been stone cold death for 
>you if the circumstances were different, you begin to see more from 
>their eyes.

And that IS where I'm coming from, at least as far as calling blows.
The difference is that I simply cannot believe that Lionardo would
have seen the world so differently in facing a period foil/stick then
Lenny does. (Other things we certainly would have seen differently,
but this one I just can't see.) 

Remember that a cork and a blunt blade WAS, to their way of thinking,
as "safe" as a modern Epee is for us. It was a practice weapon that
wouldn't "hurt" you. If you got bruised or sprained or broken... well
I think most of us, certainly most men, know quite well about having
to "suck it up". I see it as though fighting with any of our baited
weapons is pretty much just how Lionardo would have felt facing the
same baited weapons of his time. We talk about our Heavy Rapiers being
stiffer and having the chance to cause a few more bruises, after I
started getting used to it I couldn't fear the weapon the way I did
the first time. Their definition of "safe" and "hurt" was just a
little different then ours. I'm sure a 22nd century person in a VR
environment for combat would think that what we do is pretty darn
scary too. We just don't think anything of it because we DON'T have
that kind of technology.

It seems human nature to me to never REALLY have a sense of our own
mortality. We just always assume we have a good chance of getting out
alive. "It won't happen to me." It's like not understanding why some
cultures live in what we would consider slavery, when they just don't
know anything different. 

>We do have a sport, but it's based on some stark realities for people 
>we are trying to understand.  I think you might enjoy what you learn 
>about yourself if you accept death as a part of the equation.  Those 
>who only know the sport, are missing a lot.

Indeed, and I will gladly miss having to walk on the field with a live
blade against as equal an opponent. If my life depended on it, then
yes, I would feel that way (and I know what it is like to feel death
close by and I am sure many here have as well). My persona, if he had
existed, would have had far more opportunity to face death if honor
demanded it, but more often he would have faced scarring, more so than
death if it came to a duel. (I can't speak for the French on this one,
they never did figure out that duels didn't have to end with someone
dead at their feet! ;-)) That was assuming he could not find a
diplomatic solution to the disagreement, and Italians were known far
and wide for their diplomatic abilities. 

I guess that is where I feel a closer companionship to my persona,
compared to Antoine, for example. His persona probably would have had
to face death more so than mine would have. But I WANT to be closer to
the persona I have chosen in the ability to attempt to work problems
through. It's just that for an Italian of my time there was always the
threat of pain and POSSIBLY death, should an agreement not be met.

Methinks I am beginning to ramble and many may have no interest in my
viewpoint on this. I do want to reiterate, however, that I cannot say
for certain how ancient man thought, only how I conceive they thought,
colored by my own experience and beliefs. This also means that anyone
else's paradigm, as far as I am concerned, can be just as valid as my
own as long as it has value for them.

And either way I still think I can get on the field and show honor and
chivalry despite the fact that I think of what we do as a sport.

Honos Servio,
Leonardo Acquistapace, Bjornsborg
(mka Lenny Zimmermann, San Antonio)
zarlor at

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