Martial Activities in the SCA

Heavy Armored Fighting

Sometimes called chivalric fighting, heavy weapons, or hardsuit fighting, this fighting style seeks to emulate the arms and armor of the high middle ages. Heavy fighters wear protective armor and wield rattan weapons, all designed to follow historical armor and weapons as closely as possible.

Armor conventions are fairly detailed. For example, helms are required to be constricted of heavy steel, usually 12 or 16 gauge, with a grill or plate with any openings only allowed up to a certain maximum size in order to protect the face. The neck is protected by the gorget, a piece of armor that prevents neck or throat shots from landing with any force capable of injuring a person. Knees and elbows are also covered by armor of various types. Shots to these joints, while potentially crippling to an unarmored person, are taken without even so much as a bruise more often than not. Forearms are commonly covered as well, and are likewise capable of taking far more punishment without lasting injury than an unarmored person. The floating ribs, kidneys and lower abdominal region in general are protected by a kidney belt at the absolute minimum, which allows even full power shots to be received with only a slight jarring. These armor conventions allow combatants to fight by providing a dead minimum of protection and allowing them to customize their armor from there. Some fighters arrive on the field in full metal plate armor, with only the whites of their eyes visible through a heavy grill. Others deliberately choose to wear the absolute minimum that the armor and fighting conventions allow, choosing to exploit the speed and increased movement that it gives them.

Weapons are made of rattan, a bamboo like plant that allows use in the creation of combat-safe swords, spears, axes and so on. Every weapon in the medieval arsenal from the earliest sword to the grandest fighting axe has been recreated for combat, and many have been employed with surprising successes stemming from their unique abilities. The conventions of combat and weapons-craft of the SCA allows the combatant, new or veteran, to choose almost any hand weapon in history and study it, its uses, its abilities, and then create it with his or her own two hands and use it in a fashion like that of centuries ago. The rules of combat allow for normally fatal mistakes to be little more than another practice match, and for each lesson learned to be used again on the field of combat.

Blow-calling in the SCA is entirely on the honor system. Fighters are taught how to recognize receiving a valid strike, and how to acknowledge it. Marshals inspect armor and weapons for safety, and watch the combattants closely to ensure no one is injured on the field.

Sometimes fights are in single combat, such as tournaments, and other times in large groups, such as melees or wars. In tournaments, a single person fights against a single person. It is the ultimate test of personal abilities, and each match, whether won or lost, will serve as a valuable lesson for both people. The wars are the “Grand Melees”, where forces take the field and face each other in a massive coordinated team-work oriented fight. In wars, the traditions of combat epitomized by units like the Roman army are the rule. Teamwork, coordination and communication allow a handful of fair tournament fighters to become one unit and to excel on the battle field.

Rapier Fighting

The use of the rapier, particularly in regards to its use under the “code duello,” has fascinated many from the time of its actual peak of popular use in the days of the English Tudors and Stuarts. Whether the idea is the troublesome swashbuckler or the adventuresome musketeer, the rapier is associated with style, zest for living, honor and romance. It is for these reasons, as much as martial competition, that many in the SCA choose to take up the blade and learn its art.

SCA rapier, sometimes called light weapons, uses live steel, and as such the concern for safety is paramount. Blades are blunted and tipped, and there are armory standards for body covering that leave nothing exposed in the unlikely event of a blade break. Rapier fighting should not be confused with the rigid sport of collegiate fencing; there are no right-of-way rules and there is no fighting on a strip. Likewise, foils are not allowed; epees are largely reserved for youth fighters, and most adult fighters use heavy rapier blades such as schlagers. As with heavy weapons fighting, we endeavor to replicate as closely as reasonable the period art without sacrificing the continued well-being of participants.

It is fair to say that SCA rapier is focused on the duel, and so tournaments of single combat are the greatest part of our historical tradition, although rapier melees are certainly not unknown! As with heavy weapons fighting, combatants are on their honor to declare wounds they have received; there are no referees to do so for them. Marshals are always present, but their purpose is to ensure safety only.

Archery, Thrown Weapons, & Siege Weapons

Archery largely falls into two camps: combat archery and target archery. The former uses regular bows and crossbows with specially-designed arrows and bolts that will not harm those they strike. As combat archers are involved in combat, they must also adhere to the heavy fighting armor conventions. Target archers, on the other hand, use regular bows and crossbows with regular arrows.

Similarly, thrown weapons involves throwing knives, axes, and spears at a defined target at a safely marked-off range.

Siege weapons involves building replicas of period siege weapons of all types, most typically ballistas and catapults. They’re primarily used at Wars, where specially-designed payloads of “rocks” and such can be safely pelted onto the heads of the enemy!