Living the Lessons of the SCA (After the First Cup of Coffee)

By Sir Guillaume de la Belgique
(©2002 Scott Farrell)

One of the most difficult parts of being in the SCA comes on Monday morning, when it’s time to put the cloaks and bodices back in the closet, clear the armor out of the car (although some fighters don’t bother to do that; they just drive around with their wet gamebesons fermenting in the trunk like some kind of portable gourmet mushroom farm) and return to the working world of the 20th century – for at least long enough to pay off that $98 piece of trim you “just couldn’t afford to pass up” at Lady Rouge’s booth at the tourney on Saturday.

Beyond all the various physical accouterments of the Society, however, it’s also a challenge to put away the mannerisms and social conventions we assume on the weekends. For example, I’ve often found myself greeting my co-workers on Monday morning in this eloquent manner: “Good day m’lor … ugh, duhh … I mean, howzzit going, guys?” The first time I did this they all thought I was delusional, possibly bordering on insane; now they just realize I haven’t had enough coffee to know what century it is.
This kind of thing is not just confusing, it can be downright dangerous. Several years ago when I was employed at a hardware store, I returned to work after a weekend at an SCA event. I’d worked at the store for several years, so everyone understood that on Monday morning, when they were chatting about football games and birthday parties, they shouldn’t ask me, “So what did you do this weekend?” unless they wanted a 15-minute history lecture.

On this occasion, however, one of the 18-year-old, skateboarding, juvenile delinquents in the stock room felt the need to prove that he was much tougher than some old guy who spent the weekends wearing a dress. He came up to me holding two lengths of plastic pipe and said, “Hey mister Conan warrior, are you ready for a real fight?” He threw one of the pieces of pipe to me and promptly started to hit at it with the one he was still holding.

“I don’t think this is such a good idea, Pete,” I said as a crowd of the other stock clerks started to gather around us.

“Come on,” he said, spinning his piece of pipe around as he had undoubtedly seen on the Spastic Mutant Mongol Turtles® Saturday morning cartoon. “You’re not afraid, are you?”

“Trust me, this isn’t a smart thing to do.”

“Don’t worry dude!” he said, “I won’t hurt you too bad.”

As he said this, he jabbed his piece of pipe forward like a spear, forcing me to push it aside with my own pipe to keep from getting hit in the face. This also caused him to lean forward with his face down and his arm fully extended in a manner not unlike a graceful Olympic fencer executing the final lunge in a gold medal match with only the slight disadvantage of having a live salmon down his shorts and a flaming paper bag over his head.

Then, two things happened simultaneously. First, my mouth – which was primarily interested in not having to explain to the store manager why there was a pipe fight in the warehouse at 6:30 on Monday morning – said, “Pete, this is stupid. Knock it off…” At the same moment, however, my brain – which for the past two days had been primarily interested in preventing Duke Ivan from using his great sword to send my helm into a low-earth orbit – decided, without any prior approval from me, to smash my pipe down on the back of Pete’s neck with enough force to plant him face-first on the concrete floor.

“… before someone gets hurt,” I concluded as his pipe bonked around loose on the floor behind me.

Fortunately, due to the fact that Pete had survived numerous skateboard accidents without any sort of head protection, he had already suffered fairly significant brain damage, so being hit on the head with a piece of pipe wasn’t particularly harmful. It was, incidentally, the only time I’ve ever received a standing ovation at work.

Chivalry & Rocket Launchers

Not long ago I discovered another contrast between the weekend world of the SCA and the reality of the working environment. One morning as I strolling down the office hallway, I noticed something odd. Typically, the noise which emanates from the computer department in my office sounds like this: … (nothing), and is only periodically disturbed by the “crack” of a can of Diet Sprite being opened.

On this particular day, however, coming out of the usually sedate computer department were the distinctive sounds of screams, explosions and machine gun fire, all interspersed with the members of the programming team shouting things like, “Here’s some (mildly bad word) for ya!” and “Yo (moderately bad word) momma!” and “Oh (extremely bad word)!”

I peeked in and found that the programmers had channeled a video war game through the company’s computer network, thus allowing them to shoot at digitized versions of one another instead of the game’s usual array of monsters and space aliens. I watched them for a while, and when they were done, I asked if I could join in. They set me up on one of their spare computers, showed me the controls, and in just a few minutes I was in the fray, blazing away with the rest of them.

Although I’m not much of a computer game fan, the combination of teamwork and realistic tactics made this one much more appealing than typical “blast and slash” games. I found this “realism” both educational and entertaining, and I had so much fun that I returned to join the computer crew’s games on a regular basis.

At first, of course, I wasn’t much of a challenge to the gang of cyber-veterans who played computer games with due regularity, but after a few sessions I began to do more than just hold down the trigger button and run through the game’s virtual hallways. I started putting to use all those painful lessons taught to me in the past 17 years by innumerable skilled pikemen, shield walls and archers in the SCA. I began using cover, angles, weapons and movement just as I’d learned to do in SCA warfare – and before long, the computer hacker crowd was wondering what sort of advanced, computer-enhanced, high-tech gimmicks I was using to defeat them so easily. I happily described to them the history and use of tactics, from Marathon to Agincourt, and encouraged them to use them as well.

One of the unspoken conventions on the tournament field is that there are no secrets among fighters. I’ve never met any warrior in the Society who wouldn’t share his or her techniques if asked, but the computer crew seemed astonished that I would actually coach them to improve their abilities at the possible expense of my own glory. One in particular – the head of the programming staff, who had enough skill with the joystick to win each day’s game with ease – seemed fiendishly delighted whenever I offered tactical advice. “You’re a dead (moderately bad word) now. I got all your secrets!”

But, as we know, learning a tactic and being able to employ it in battle are two completely different things. This fellow watched with growing frustration as the skill level of the rest of the players steadily increased until finally the daily games became not just a race for second place, but truly exciting and spirited competitions which anyone had a chance of winning; he was no longer the undisputed master of the game. One of the programmers was so proud of their progress that he constructed a makeshift trophy out of office supplies and discarded computer parts which the whole crew presented, in an elaborate ceremony, to each day’s winner.

Unfortunately, this is where the “Monday morning world” intrudes on an otherwise entertaining story. Not long after the head of the computer department began coming in second place, he announced there would be no more computer games in the office – period. He made it clear that if he couldn’t dominate the game, there would be no game at all. He erased the game off the computer network, and the programming department was once again filled with only the sound of cracking Diet Sprite cans.
In the SCA, we believe that with experience, expertise and knowledge comes the responsibility to pass those things along to the new members of the group. We hope that the things we discover today – from costuming to calligraphy to combat – will continue to grow and flourish as the next generation builds upon what we’ve started. As students of the Middle Ages, we know that knowledge secluded is knowledge lost.

Although we may set aside our medieval manners and costumes (and the desire to whack someone upside the head in single combat) during our nine-to-five work weeks, the desire to teach and encourage others to do their best should stay with us day in and day out. In this way, the graciousness and generosity which has enriched all our lives in the Society can make our 20th century world a better place to live as well.

Read more in “We Are Not Amused, Sir Guillaume!”

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