ANST - Honor and silence

dennis grace amazing at
Sat Aug 23 09:33:00 PDT 1997

Centurion Talen responds to C. Scipio's:

>> I'm from An Tir.  I have *never* seen a marshall call *anyone* dead. Much
to >> my chagrin, as both a heavy and a light.  I had always thought it was up
>> to the fighter.
>> Having marshalls tell heavies they're dead could make for much better
>> wars.


>I would like to respond to this comment with a lengthier comment on 
>Marshaling and Blow Calling in general.

All right!  Finally an interesting topic.  I love this topic--probably
because it makes so many fighters bristle. Topics that make people bristle
usually involve some sort of problematic logic in their applications, and
this one appears to be no exception.

>Marshals in Ansteorra don't call the blows.  Nor do they offer their 
>opinion on the force of the blow, only on where it landed if asked. 
> This is the "Witness" section of the SCA Marshal's Handbook (the 
>*minimum* requirements for the entire SCA).  I give here the first 
>sentence of the section:
>"You are expected to be an impartial witness to exactly what you saw 
>happen during the fight...and to keep your mouth shut about it unless a 
>safety hazard occurs or you are asked by the fighters."

The good Centurion is correct in here citing this example of one philosophy
of SCA marshalling.  Such rules are, however, the constructs of the members.
Such constructs are subject to change.  I think it interesting to note, in
this case, the strong wording of this particular rule:  "keep your mouth
shut about it."  Rather harsh, don't you think?  My guess--and it's just a
guess--would be that this wording was provided by a fighter who was
particularly touchy about the concept of participatory marshalling. 

>Having marshals "call" the blows may seem to be an easy solution to a 
>perceived problem, but it creates other problems as well.  One in 
>particular is that it places a "judge" over your honor, someone who 
>must call the shot based on experience (little or much), yet truly has 
>no idea what the shot felt like.  Only the person hit knows for certain 
>how it felt, and even though this allows for errors, I think having 
>someone else call the force of the blow allows for more errors.

Sorry, Centurion, but this last paragraph makes a number of unwarranted

First, a marshall who questions a fighter's call on a blow isn't judging the
fighter's honor, he's questioning her *judgment*.  Even the most experienced
fighters make errors in judgment.  In the height of battle, it's often
difficult to tell the press of knees and shields from spear
points--especially in Kingdoms that prefer thicker, softer stabbing points.
Furthermore, in a combat or tourney situation, our own bodies work against
our judgment, producing endorphins, encephalins, and epinephrine that all
cloud our abilities to judge the force of a received blow.  I've received
blows I felt certain were inadequate at the moment of impact only to have
them register seconds or even minutes later.  At the first Artemisian
Coronation, an acquaintance of mine, Sir Decker, was initially deemed
victorious in the King's Champion Tourney.  Immediately following the final
bout, however, he insisted the last round be refought, as he felt he had
failed to take an adequate blow to the hip in the penultimate fight.

Second, the rule Centurion Talen cites disallows even *questioning* a
fighter about the adequacy of a blow, which is a ways from "calling" the
blow.  Perhaps some of our tournaments and wars could be fought more cleanly
if marshalls were occasionally allowed to at least ask, "Are you sure about
that last blow?"  Centurion Talen says, "even though [fighters calling their
own blows] allows for errors, I think having someone else call the force of
the blow allows for more errors."  This statement addresses the issue as a
false dilemma:  *either* the fighter calls the blow *or* the marshall calls
the blow.  Why not allow the fighter to call the blow, and occasionally
allow *experienced* marshalls (I prefer to see white belts or baldrics
beghind the stave) to question the fighter's judgment?

Third, the good Centurion says the marshall "truly has no idea what the shot
felt like," and he cites a good deal of experiential evidence to note
circumstances where he only "thought" he knew that a blow had struck with
adequate force.  While I agree that such is occasionally the case, I would
contend that the opposite is more frequently true.  I have, on a number of
occasions, convinced myself that I must have been mistaken in my assumption
that a blow I (or another fighter) delivered was adequate, that the fighter
in question would not so dishonor himself (or herself) as to refuse to
accept a fair blow, only to later discover a large, deep bruise where my
blow struck.  (I remember one gentleman who went out of his way to show me
the bruise that covered half of his thigh--I'd struck him four times with no
ensuing response.  He apologized, explaining that he hadn't felt the blows
at the time.)

It isn't always about honor.  It's about judgment.

(Okay, *sometimes* it's about honor.  Nothing irritates me quite as much as
hearing a fighter say, "Ow! Light."  Of course, in such a situation, the
question of honor has already passed.)

Fourth--and this is a side issue--in a melee with golf-tube arrows, ballista
bolts, or catapult rocks, you really need the marshalls there to tell you
when you've been hit.  A catapult rock or ballista bolt striking your shield
won't register kinetically as a killing blow, and a direct hit with a
golf-tube arrow always lacks authority.  You need an outside observer on
hand to call the deaths in such cases.

>To be honorable is not always to be right, but neither is being right 
>always honorable.  

Sorry, Centurion, but you lost me here.  What's your point with respect to
deaths in an SCA scenario?  I hope you're not suggesting we're better off
allowing a cheat to win a crown tourney.

>The SCA says "Let the slain man say if he be slain". 

I agree with this idea in theory, but I don't see what's wrong with
occasionally asking a fighter to re-evalute her initial judgment of a blow.
This is a fast-paced game.  We often have inadequate opportunity to judge
one blow before the next one is on its way.  

>If your opponent is honorable, this will work more often than not.

Yes, but how much more often then not?  Fifty-one percent of the time is
"more often than not," and those are still not very good odds.  I'd rather
see fighters and experienced marshalls willing to say, "Begging your pardon,
Sir, but are you sure about that last blow to the thigh?"

>If he or she is not honorable, all will eventually know.

Perhaps, but I think this outlook a bit more idealistic than realistic.

Let's take the example of a knight who wins Crown despite a series of what
onlookers perceive as three consecutive stout blows to the head.  If, as
Centurion Talen's experiences suggest, those three blows came from a mushed
stick, then the fight was fairly won. The onlookers won't know this,
however, and the next sovereign will reign under a shroud of suspicion.  If,
on the other hand, the blows were stout, we're stuck with a cheat on the
throne.  I don't like either of these options.  What's worse, if this cheat
wins a second Crown, he becomes a Duke (or she becomes a Duchess).  Then we
can never get rid of his (or her) influence.

Before I close, I want to make it clear that I don't like the idea of
marshalls "calling" blows for fighters (except, as I've noted, in the case
of catapult rocks, ballista bolts, and golf-tube arrows--and even there, I
leave the field fuming and grumbling). I had a marshall in an East Kingdom
tournament several years ago call me dead:  "Hey!  You with the angel!
You're dead!"  What an *ssh*le.  He was wrong--white baldric
notwithstanding--the sword tip struck my basket hilt, not my ribs.  Still, I
wouldn't have objected to his asking me about the blow.

Don't get me wrong.  I've seldom (and never in a tournament) asked an
opponent about the adequacy of a blow I delivered; I was raised on the same
ideas Centurion Talen expressed in his post:  questioning an opponent
impugn's her honor.  But does it?  I don't believe it should.

lo vostre por vos servir

Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace
Dennis Grace
University of Texas at Austin
English Department
Recovering Medievalist
amazing at

Micel yfel deth se unwritere.
                           AElfric of York


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