As I write this article in December 2018, there is a fair bit of soul searching going on within the Atlantian fencing community about where we came from, where we are, and where we want to be. This has been going on in public on Facebook and in private at order meetings and on order mailing lists.
I thought I'd express my thoughts in a public blog post on my website so that I can include pictures, links, and headings. I expect it may become lengthy, so please feel free to use the headers to find what you're interested in.
Article Table of Contents
- My SCA Rapier Experience
- My general thoughts on polling orders
- My thoughts on what standards should be for each Academie rank
I expect that other peoples' experiences will vary greatly with my own depending on their location in the Kingdom and the years that they were active. That's fine. This is what happened to me and what shaped my opinions. My experiences are no more and no less important than anyone else's.
Early Atlantian Fencing 1990-1993
I joined the SCA in about 1990 while working on my Ph.D at Virginia Tech (Barony of Black Diamond). At one of my first events (Kings Assessment 1990 or 1991), Pat Goldammer had some fencing foils that she brought to try to get people interested in this new SCA fencing thing. This was right up my alley and I dove in head first.
Pat and Michael authorized outside of Black Diamond, but I think I was the first to authorize at an event in the Barony. I authorized in February 1992 at Ice Castles. Master Geoffrey Gamble was the authorizing marshal and Lady Adelicia of Cumbria was the MoL.
Black Diamond was fairly remote; we had little contact with the rest of the fencers in the Kingdom (pre-Facebook and mostly pre-email). And I was working on an Engineering Doctorate. But I still made it to Kings Assessments, Diamond Jousts, and probably the first Night on the Town, which I remember being near Charlottesville rather than Baltimore as it is now. The site had cabins and the event had a story with a good side and bad side of town, rival families, a corrupt city guard (my role was to be the Captain of the Guard), etc.
This was all well before the Academie and the first gold scarf award (Order of l'Academie d'Espee) in April 1993 or the Order of the White Scarf in Atlantia in 1996. Of the Black Diamond fencers at the time, I think Sir Roland (who was Baronial Knight Marshal and got his first fencing lesson from me with 3 months or so of experience under my belt) and I are the ones still around in Atlantia now.
Distant Travels 1993-1999
I finished my Ph.D. in early 1993 and accepted a post-Doc in Dayton Ohio. As I arrived in the Barony of Flaming Gryphon, the Middle Kingdom was finishing up its first fencing rule set. I attended the first marshal training session and became one of the first marshals in the Kingdom. I received my AoA, was the premier of the Barony's fencing order, and received the Kingdom AoA Fencing Award in May, 1996. Note that the Atlantian OWS was also an AoA level award at the time and the first had been awarded a month earlier. I was one of the seven initial marshals to get schlagger authorized in order to boot-strap the heavier blades into the Kingdom. Due to their seven fencing forms that each required an authorization, I marshalled several hundred authorizations during my three years there. I attended my first Pennsic (#23) and served as member of the Kingdom champions team.
In 1996 I moved to the San Francisco area to take a job at NASA, Ames Research Center. As I got there, the Queen banned fencing saying it was like "witch burning and bear bating" - period practices that we didn't want to emulate. I wrote a proposed set of rules that would have made the West Kingdom a schlagger-only Kingdom. Parts of my proposal were used in the final approved rule set. I briefly served as Principality Rapier Marshal for the Mists. I also represented the West on a Pennsic fencing champion team.
Return to Atlantia 1999-Present
Scholar and Free Scholar
Another job change took me to the Barony of Tir-y-Don back in Atlantia. A lot had changed during the 6 years I was away. I thought it would be nice not to have to help build a Kingdom fencing program for the third time. Tir-y-Don had a few fencers, but Jean-Claude and I ended up as the teachers and leaders of the squad. We both were invited to become Free Scholars in 2003 at my investiture as Baron. About that time I also became a regional deputy KRM which I did for two different KRMs.
During my 4 years as a Free Scholar (2003-2007), something odd happened: the White Scarves of Atlantia took a long vacation all at the same time. It was very unusual to have any OWS fighting in even the largest tournaments and there were never more than two. They were seen from time to time running events or activities, but they in large part took a long break from fencing. And I looked. I was driving to get my own scarf so I traveled and fought a lot at Kingdom Crusades, Highland River Melees, Sapphire Jousts, Ymirs, Coronations, and Kings Assessments. I knew all of the Provosts that were around, but they almost never fenced.
So, the Free Scholars stepped up. They ran events, hosted tournaments, taught at University, served as Baronage and other major offices. You can even see this absence reflected in the OP entry for the OWS. Count the number of new OWS made each year. Note the 19 month gap that resulted in no new awards in 2006.
It is my experience as a Free Scholar that has colored what I expect from current Free Scholars. I expect them to step up and lead. I hold the rank to high standards and won't sponsor people who I don't feel can reach those standards.
Many of those FS who had stepped up were recognized and continued their leadership as OWS. JC and I were both in the OWS class of 2007. Most of the class of 2007 are now Peers and all are still around and very active. A new wave of high quality OWS followed. The order revitalized and this new life even got some long missing OWS to return. At this point, the OWS gradually regained its role as leaders of the rapier community. I served as KRM starting in 2009 and received a Pelican in 2010.
For the next 8 years after my 2007 elevation, the OWS was the top rapier award in the society. We were told by others, told by each other, and acted as is it was a Peerage in all but a technicality. A very large portion of Atlantia's OWS also received one of the three bestowed Peerages (a Pelican in my case). Then, the true rapier Peerage was created. Not every Kingdom had White Scarves, but most had an arguably equivalent order. There was much gnashing of teeth and a wide variety of responses across the society including closing of some orders to new members.
Atlantia, correctly in my humble opinion, chose to keep its OWS open and continue to award it. The award had long been held to be the goal for people who wanted to be recognized for excellence in rapier. Closing it would have cut many people off from a long term goal they had set for themselves.
Master of Defense
In 2015, the Order of Defense was created as a Peerage for excellence in Rapier and/or Cut & Thrust combat. The first eight Atlantian Masters of Defense were all from north of Richmond. This was not, in my opinion, representative of the actual distribution of skill in the Kingdom. It created an artificial structural advantage/disadvantage to becoming known to the Order based on where you lived. As of this writing 3 years later, I think 5 of the 16 Atlantian made MoDs live south of Richmond and our two transplants change that to 5 south of Richmond of 18 total MoDs. The two most recent additions are the first, and only, from southern Virginia. Many of the northern MoDs do try to travel, but seeing people at a few events is very different from practicing with them regularly. And it is imperfect. In the last 3 years we have had one outside MoD fight at a practice or event in Tir-y-Don one time.
As of this writing, I am the newest Master of Defense in Atlantia. I was recognized at Pennsic last August primarily for my skill in Cut & Thrust.
Both the OWS and the MoD are polling orders. That means the current membership of the Order is consulted by way of a polling before the Crown chooses who to recognize. The Crown has the option of disregarding the input of the Order if they choose to do so. Sometimes this is justified and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it works out. The process is inherently imperfect and slow. When one reaches the appropriate level it will take at least 6-12 months to get noticed, through the polling process, and awarded - and that's the ideal situation. Often it can take much longer.
Protip #1: It is never appropriate to ask a person why they haven't received an award. It makes them feel bad and there's no good answer. Save that thought and write a recommendation for them to receive it instead.
Protip #2: It is natural to become frustrated with the pace of recognition for your friends and yourself. Griping about it is ok - in private. Griping publicly may slow your progress further. Griping on Facebook is probably a bad idea. Be aware of your audience.
The rank of Free Scholar in the Academie d'Espee is different. It is not an award. It takes three Provosts (a self-chosen subset of the OWS) to sponsor a person to become a Free Scholar. The sponsors then seek "the goodwill of the Order". The details of the process can cause some strife within the OWS. I wrote an article that attempts to capture the different points of view and a common approach to proceed. It is a little too frank for me to want it to be publicly available; instead it is stored in the file section of the Order's Yahoo mailing list for private access by the OWS. I frequently will send it directly to new Order members, but I've fallen behind in that task.
These processes depend on the subjective evaluation of 18 or more people. Each person has their own process and scale that they follow when choosing to support or not support a candidate. People generally work hard to be informed and fair with their evaluations. But multiple people combining their evaluations can be very inconsistent. Different goal posts can be used for different people depending on who has current information and how motivated they are to share their point of view.
There are several different approaches to defining the bar that a candidate must reach:
- The median of the Order now
- The median of the Order using each person's skill at the time of their elevation
- The median of the Order minus those who have received the next higher award
- The median of the most recent few additions to the Order
To complicate things, none of the three ranks are based solely on combat prowess. We also try to factor in service and comportment. You may occasionally see "Peer Like Qualities" or "PLQs" to capture the non-skill portions of the desirable candidate. (I've also heard the initials "DLQs" to describe the undesirable behaviors of a candidate.) The relative importance of each of these factors vary with the person doing the evaluation, sometimes wildly.
To me service is doing something to help the SCA and rapier run. This can include marshalling, teaching, serving as an officer, autocratting events, etc. Comportment includes how you dress, how you behave, and how much you participate in the SCA outside of fighting in the day's tournament. Do you help set up or tear down? Do you go to court? Do you help your local group with demos and attending business meetings and work days?
Finally, for each Academie level I have a minimum level that expect in each category, but I also expect a candidate to exceed the minimum in one or more areas. To make an imperfect analogy, you need to reach a total score of 50 points with a minimum of 10 points in each of the three categories. 50 points in one and zero in the other two doesn't cut it. For some members of an order, they may expect 15 points in each or a minimum of 20/10/10, etc. The details vary from person to person. (We don't really count points like this - it is just an analogy!)
With all that in mind, we finally reach...
Many of these descriptions are very similar to what my peers in each order have posted. That's not accidental; we mostly agree on terminology. Application to a particular candidate is what varies significantly based on our personal experience with that person. As far as I know, many of the details in the "other" bullet in each description are unique to me.
I subscribe to the "equal/exceed the median of the recent additions to the order" for setting of the bar. (As the current most recent MoD, I invite you to come demonstrate where your prowess lines up.) If the bar isn't moving then "equal/exceed the median of the entire order at the time when each was recognized" should be equivalent. But I prefer the first since our collective knowledge and skill is improving over time and the bar should slowly move up to reflect that.
Sea Dragon (Not an Academie Rank, but added 1/14/19 for completeness)
- (I'm not a Sea Dragon and it is not a polling order. I have only made a few SD recommendations, ever. I think people are ready for a SD generally before they are ready for a FS.)
- Prowess - Making an impact on the rapier field. An up and coming fighter with potential.
- Service/Comportment - Participating in the SCA off the field somehow.
- Role - Keep learning and growing.
- Prowess - Generally wins against other scholars. Has a consistent, logical, if basic, theory of a rapier fight. Can explain it.
- Service - Helps somehow: marshalling, autocratting, group officer
- Comportment - No obviously modern clothing when in garb. Frequently attends court. Generally polite; I'm not embarrassed to be seen with you or admit I know you.
- Other - For me to sponsor you I must think you have a good chance of becoming a White Scarf.
- Roles - Provide energy and enthusiasm. Learn.
- Prowess - A threat to any opponent regardless of rank. Has multiple approaches to choose from for a fight and generally selects an appropriate one. Competent teacher.
- Service - Warranted marshal plus other service to the SCA as an officer, autocrat, teacher, etc.
- Comportment - A positive member of the Kingdom. Can be depended upon to do a requested task.
- Other - Have they contributed something notable? When you're trying to describe the person to someone else do you have something good to say "You know, the person who did/made/researched/taught X" about?
- Roles - Plan, organize, lead, teach.
Master of Defense:
- Prowess - A serious threat in any situation. Practical understanding of a wide variety of fight styles and approaches. Can teach and adapt lessons to the needs of a variety of students. Expert on at least one rapier related topic/technique. Can teach at least the basics of any other rapier topic.
- Service - Long term contributions to the SCA.
- Comportment - A role model. Someone you can look up to and emulate. Active as a leader/creator in the Society. Well rounded.
- Other - Society standards for a Peer. See section VIII-A at https://www.sca.org/docs/pdf/govdocs.pdf
- Roles - Inspire, motivate, teach.
Because the OWS was the terminal (top) award for so long, its standards were very high. Now that is no longer the top, the feedback has been provided that its standards are too high. On the other hand, feedback from both post-MoD OWS recipients and our FS (potential new OWS) is that they don't want their accomplishment/goal to be lessened. I understand both points of view. So far, I have not intentionally lowered my standards. But, I am listening to the discussion and will change if that is the conclusion we eventually reach.
Evaluation of Llwyd's C&T Gear with 2018 Hand Protection Rules Revisions
Most of my many years worth of C&T hand and arm gear
Darkwood buckler, hardened leather vambraces, hardened leather demi-gauntlets, stainless elbows sewn to elbow pads
Allbeststuff Gauntlet, Egg Gauntlet w/street hockey gloves, Darkwood leather gloves, HMA kevlar/padded gloves
Darkwood Reaver dagger, Darkwood Two-handed sword, Darkwood Swept-hilt rapier
On April 26, 2018 a revision was made to the SCA Cut and Thrust rules for hand protection:
For cut and thrust rapier, hands and wrists require additional protection from being struck by percussive blows:
a. Areas of the backs of gloved hands, fingers and thumbs, to one inch above the wrist of both arms not protected by a hilt, parrying device, or rigid armor must, at a minimum, be protected by an additional layer of 1/4" open cell foam or equivalent resilient padding.
b. If any combatant is using a two-handed weapon, all combatants in the bout must have rigid protection for areas listed in 2.D.v.a.
Examples of acceptable protection include (but not limited to):
i. Gauntlets or demi-gauntlets made of rigid material covering areas not protected by the weapon's guard.
ii. Commercial products such as Koning gloves, SPES Heavy gloves or hockey gloves which satisfy these requirements. (Note: Blatantly modern gloves are discouraged at official events and practices without attempting to cover logos and modern materials.)
Master Brian de Moray, Atlantia's Kingdom Rapier Marshal, provided his guidance on implementing these rules in a post at https://marshal.atlantia.sca.org/rapier/rules-update-2018/.
As a very early Atlantian C&T practitioner, I have a lot of C&T related gear that I have a accumulated. I wanted to go through it all and try to evaluate what I think will meet the new rules and what will not.
Important note: You must meet the higher rigid protection requirement if either you OR your opponent are using a two-handed weapon. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is the intended result.
Prior to the rules change, I typically wore the HMA gauntlets, hardened leather demi-gauntlets, and hardened leather vambraces as shown in this picture from last month's C&T Championship:
I have skateboarding elbows on under my shirt since the stainless set in the first picture needs to have the elbow pads replaced due to worn out elastic. This combination may actually meet the new rules, but that determination will require a little more evaluation.
My son shot a lot of pictures of me wearing my gear. Some are below. All of the pictures are available in this google photos album if you want to see more angles.
It's clear to me that unpadded leather gloves do not meet either the padded or rigid versions of the required protection unless one has a fully enveloping guard of some kind. However, padding can be added to meet the standard.
There are a lot of similar padded/Kevlar insert gloves out there. I collectively call them "HMA Gauntlets". My pair came from Revival in 2013. The built up sections seem to easily meet the padding requirements and arguably may meet the rigid requirements.
But, there is the problem of the un-built-up sections. I chose to wear my demi-gauntlets to protect the unpadded wrist area.
These seem to meet the spirit but not, perhaps, the letter of the new rules. During a discussion on Facebook, the Society Rapier Marshal clarified that, to her, these seem sufficient and the leather only sections are ok.
If all those raised areas were just padding, all of the above gloves look like they would indeed meet the requirement where padding is necessary (i.e. C&T that doesn't involve a two-handed weapon) and if they have rigid plates over the padding, then they would meet the requirements for two-handed weapons as well. As was aptly pointed out above, the requirement is to create reasonable coverage against a percussive cut. While it is possible that a weapon can strike perfectly between the padded sections of those gloves, they are designed specifically for this type of protection, so even that one-in-high-number chance blow will meet some resistance with the seams and material of these gloves.
HMA Gauntlets with Hardened Leather Demi-Gauntlets
My regular set up adds demi-gauntlets (and vambraces) that I had from my time as an armored fighter. They're hardened (boiled, I think) leather and very rigid. These cover most of the non-built-up areas on the HMA gauntlets and, I think, meet both the padded and rigid requirements with both the swept hilt and dagger guards shown.
When used with my two-handed sword, I am a little less comfortable. I have used this configuration for my hands quite a bit against opponents that I am comfortable with. I have not been injured. But, I have been concerned about my finger protection and have been planning to get rigid finger gauntlets for use with two-handed swords.
I purchased these gauntlets for armored spear use. They are designed to either have gloves sewn directly to the plastic edges or have thick leather plates sewn across the fingers and thumb. I use street hockey gloves to pad my hands a little against the rigid plastic. These meet all of the padded or rigid rules. They don't fit into either my swept rapier or my reaver dagger guards but can be used with my buckler and two-handed sword. I have fought with them using my two-handed but I don't really like them as I have very little control of the sword since I cannot move my fingers separately.
New Inexpensive Finger Gauntlets
During the discussion of the new rules, someone linked to these finger gauntlets that were $55 a pair! They looked good and the price was amazing, so I decided to be a guinea pig for the Kingdom and give them a try. The company appears to be in India, but the package shipped from New York and took about a week to arrive. Shipping was almost $30. The company describes them as "Made from 16 Gauge Blackened steel covering hand and wrist area, the fingers are made from 18 gauge steel a fully functional Steel gauntlet." Each gauntlet weighs just under 2 pounds (1 lb 14.5 oz) according to my postal scale.
Store page: Allbest 14th Century Gauntlets
I have large but not huge hands (the unpadded leather gloves I wear are XL from Darkwood). These fit me almost perfectly. The narrow point on the right wrist is a little tight for me to get my right hand through, but I can do it. Once on, they feel great and I feel like I have lots of protection and control of my weapon. I can fit these into my swept rapier and buckler but not my dagger.
I have some concerns about an exposed area between the thumb and index finger and on the sides of the fingers. The glove included with the gauntlets is unpadded.
How exposed those areas are really depends on how the sword and other hand is positioned.
I am currently briefly sidelined due to some minor surgery, but I took the gauntlets to practice and had Master Charimmos hit them while I was wearing them as in the above picture. He used both a rapier and a katana and hit with a variety of energy levels. They worked great and only show the smallest of scratches in the finish on a couple of the knuckles. I also had a minor stinger on the upper knuckle of my middle finger from metal on bone. So far, so good.
More pictures are available in this google photos album if you want to see more angles.
Modifying the Finger Gauntlets
Baron Aiden also purchased a set of these and had some ideas on how to improve them. Basically, we wanted to add padding between the metal on the fingers and the gloves, replace the gloves, and stitch the new gloves in further along the fingers than the originals were.
For padding, we chose to cut up a simple neoprene mouse pad. We bought this large mouse pad on Amazon for $10 so that we had lots of material to work with.
The first step was to remove the original gloves. These are attached to the metal with a few stitches at each of the fingertips. It didn't take long to remove them:
Once the gloves were removed, Aiden spotted some rivets near the finger tips that hadn't been peened over enough and could cause pain if driven into a finger. We fixed that. We did end up damaging and replacing one of the rivets during this process, so you may want to have spare rivets at hand before doing this stage.
The next step was to cut padding from the mouse pad. We cut separate pieces for each finger and thumb and used one layer. We attached the mouse pad to the leather that the gauntlets' metal pieces were riveted to using Barge cement. Important: Apply Barge cement only in extremely well ventilated spaces. Apply a coat to each surface and allow it to dry slightly. Both surfaces absorbed nearly all of the first coat so we applied a second coat. After it had become very tacky, we carefully applied the padding to the inside of the fingers.
Allow at least 24 hours for the cement to set (more if you intend to do the next, sewing, step inside.) Here are the gauntlets with the new padding completely attached. Some trimming will be done, then new gloves will be sewn to the fingers.
The new gloves we chose were Darkwood Armory's Fighting Weight Leather Gloves.
We found that with the padding, sewing the gloves to just half of the first knuckle on the gauntlet worked best. Any more than that made it difficult to push the fingers into the glove. We used a saddle stitch for extra strength of the joint.
I have now practiced twice with the gauntlets and my two-handed sword. I love the mobility and protection but am still getting used to the weight. My upper arms and shoulders get tired fairly quickly. I guess there's just nothing to be done other than practicing more!
The metal parts of the gauntlet are starting to show a hint of rust in a few spots. We intend to apply some artistic painting and then a clear coat of some sort.
Update: I have worn these for several full speed practices and the C&T Longsword tournament at Pennsic 47. They did great and I'm very happy with them for the price and effort. But they're heavy (HRM Dietrich's titanium finger gauntlets are amazingly light but probably two orders of magnitude more expensive) and I need help to get completely strapped into them and then to remove them. So, I wore them for the full tournament.
Note: Our base shirt has been discontinued by the vendor, so these are not currently available to order.
Many years ago, there was a gentleman who started making football jerseys for the White Scarves (and Bronze Rings, etc.) of the known world. Jean Claude and I thought they were cool and filed the concept away as "someday, when I'm a White Scarf, I'll get one of those."
JC and I become White Scarves. We remember the jersey concept and look back into it. The gentleman has moved onto other projects. So, I looked around and found a place that did custom jerseys with a minimum order of one. We ordered shirts, showed them off, and many others ordered them as well.
The discontinued Mk I Provost Jersey.
Years pass and the company discontinues our base shirt. So, I put together about 10 new designs including baseball, hockey, lacross, soccer, and football. The members of the Order voted and selected a new design. An initial order of 20 was made.
The initial order spread out across my living room.
The new shirts have stitched twill text and numbers rather than ironed on details.
How to get your own
Step 1: Become an Atlantian White Scarf.
Step 3: Research and organize a new shirt design.
Nearly all of the scarves worn by the Atlantian Provosts are unique. They are individually made by a friend or loved one for the original recipient. From time to time they may be passed from a long term Provost to a new one. Here are pictures of my current scarves.
My wife hand embroidered this one on linen. I use it for formal occasions:
Her Majesty Arielle gave me this scarf following my prize. It has her badge, a gazelle, and the badge of the Order:
After I expressed concern about damaging either of these special scarves, my wife made me a quick and easy scarf with emboidery machine sea horses and a sewn in blue stripe. I use this one when I'm fighting. It's easy to clean and easy to replace if needed. This particular field scarf has been handed down several times; I now wear a very similar copy.
Kaleeb also made this shoulder scarf for me:
When I was given a writ to join the Order of Defense, I did a lot of looking at what other people had done for their collar of state regalia. I decided I wanted something that would lie flat on my shoulders rather than across the back of my neck. That required a few darts be made in the otherwise straight piece of white leather. Baron Aiden of Kingswood did all of the leatherwork and other assembly of the collar. The "A" is for Atlantia. The 4 Pelicans combine my other Peerage onto the regalia, and the lynx at the back is from Fiore's manual and personalizes the collar by adding that interest of mine.
I am aware of a few other people working on constructing a machine in order to confirm/dispute my results or because they have different questions that they would like data for. This page provides links to the projects that I know about. Email me to get added to this page.
- Don Tivar's Original Machine
- Atenveldt's new machine
- Lots of fun at Sparky's Sword Science!
- Lord Yehuda ben Moshe's digital force device
- Professor Pieter van Doorn did some similar testing for armored blows.
There is a new beefier version of the machine in Meridies that is intended for testing armored combat strikes:
And another clone has been built in Lochac for rapier testing: