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What Me Think

By Lord Mudgeon McGrumpypants

"Rapier Mâché"

Like many people in the SCA, my imagination as a child was captured by the great cinematic swashbucklers—Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and their contemporaries—so when I first joined the SCA, I was terribly excited about getting into Rapier Combat (or "fencing", as it was called back then).

Then I actually saw some SCA fencing. And I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed, because something was missing.

Stairs, for one thing. A really good movie swordfight had to involve stairs at some point, preferably a circular staircase. And tables to jump on, and chandeliers to swing from, and of course the de rigeur candelabrum for one of the participants to swing at and cleave all the candles in twain without knocking any of them over, like a magician whisking away a tablecloth to leave the expensive china dishes undisturbed. Which never works either, I've discovered.

Okay, so none of that is terribly historical, but it's no less historical than the injection-molded plastic sword-case-on-wheels that an increasing number of SCA fencers are using. Get a grip, guys; period fencers didn't cart around their entire armories with them. They carried a sword, or possibly two if they wanted to impress the ladies with a little "double deuce" action. If somebody came at them, they didn't say "Oh, hold on there, my good fellow, let me make sure we're using the same sort of weapon, eh what?" They used what they had at hand.

En garde! Part of the problem is that SCA fencing is derived from modern Olympic fencing, which follows closely behind golf and curling in the competition for Stupidest Sport Ever Invented—not only are you required to wear an outfit that makes you look like a crash test dummy, you have to move only forwards or backwards, like a Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robot; if the other guy starts to attack, you have to parry his attack instead of striking first to win; you can't use your off hand; and if you don't lunge with deep-knee bends that would put a Cossack dancer to shame, you're considered to have poor form.

To the SCA's credit, though, they did get rid of the stupidest rules. You can wear actual clothing, you can move two-dimensionally, you don't have to give your opponent "right of way", you can use your off hand for some things, and "form" in SCA fencing is what you fill out to get an authorization card.

Dodge! Spin! Turn! Parry! Thrust! Still, read some period fencing manuals and you'll realize how much of their instruction runs contrary to the SCA rapier combat rules. For example, diGrassi mentions delivering blows with the edge of the weapon. Whoops, that's forbidden in the SCA ("Chopping or hacking blows are never permitted"). Silver writes of wrestling one's opponent to gain the advantage, but the SCA rules state that while "the gloved hand may be used to parry, it shall not be used to push, grasp or strike an opponent", which pretty much rules out wrestling. I can't read Fiore dei Liberi's Italian poetry in Flos Duellatorum, but the pictures make it pretty clear that some of his moves are designed to wrest the opponent's sword out of his grasp, which, again, is verboten in the SCA (and he seems to be fairly fond of that good old WWF action himself). And so on, and so forth.

It's apparent that these fencing luminaries, upon seeing the grotesquely watered- down corruption of their art as practiced in the Society, would join our heavy weapons fighters in their ridicule of SCA rapier combatants.

Why such scorn from the fighters? Well, to begin with, there's the whole "macho" thing, in that putting on fifty pounds of armor and beating on each other with sticks is macho, while swishing around with car antennas isn't. But probably the biggest strike against SCA fencers can be summed up in three words:

Rubber Band Guns.

As long as you guys are using those, you're not going to get any respect. Face it, they're children's toys sold at Ren Faires. But let's take a look at what else is wrong with them, shall we?

First, take single combat. Fortunately, the rules forbid firing a rubber band gun in single combat (at least in Trimaris). It is, after all, rapier combat, not pistol combat. But if you have a pistol, and somebody comes at you with a sword, you would have to be an absolute moron to use your pistol as a parrying device, since a good solid blow from a real sword could break off the lock, shatter the barrel bands or dent the barrel itself, turning your deadly firearm into an expensive paperweight.

They can be fired in melée, unfortunately, because somebody apparently didn't grasp the concept that "rapier combat" should involve rapiers (which class of weapons generally doesn't include firearms). Be that as it may, when you have certain fencers who apparently lack the neural responsiveness to feel someone pressing a piece of steel against them until it bends, getting them to notice a mere rubber band in the heat of battle seems a Sisyphean task indeed.

I am not left-handed either! The Trimarian Rubber Band Gun rules acknowledge this problem, and suggest that the victim be informed that he has been shot, which reduces the whole thing to an elementary-school "Bang bang! I shot you, you're dead!" level.

Now, this particular problem could easily be solved. Instead of using a children's toy invented in the mid-1800s, why not get some enterprising craftsman to manufacture paintball guns designed to duplicate the look of real flintlock pistols? The impact of a paintball is certainly more noticeable than a rubber band—and it leaves incontrovertible evidence of the shot's accuracy, which cannot be denied by even the thickest-skinned individuals (unless they also suffer from colorblindness so severe that it would impede their ability to dress themselves).

But since paintball guns would be just as stupid, perhaps they should just work on manufacturing portable staircases instead.

The Quarter - Now with fewer txypographical errrors!