Last weekend, I went to the SCA’s annual Fencing Fest, now in its seventh year, to see what they’re up to and to cross blades with as many people as my cold allowed. I ate their food, drank their coffee and managed something more than half a dozen bouts with various people. On top of all of this, I even managed a couple of realisations which may change the way I apporach this hobby. And there’s photos.
The fencing component of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) are the group which closest approaches the philosphy of the Australian College of Arms (ACA) in that they emphasise the competitive nature of swordplay. I still have some problems with their rule structure and the sharp delineation between the different styles of swordplay (rapier, cut-and-thrust, heavy, etc) but that’s another story.
From my point of view, SCA rapier fencing is in general characterised by a couple of key points:
- light weapons;
- a concentration on later Spanish or Italian geometry (Spanish destreza? Maybe. Not sure.);
- a very defensive attitude.
The weapons I saw in play were generally the lighter Darkwood practical rapiers. These swords are very manouveurable and agile. Only a couple of people that I saw used the much heavier Hanwei SH1098 ambiguous rapier that I use. Those who did tended to be the more experienced fencers in the group, judging by the coloured sashes with which they designate rank and expertise. Light swords are brilliant within their own context but, from experience, tend to have trouble outside it, say, when facing a much heavier sidesword or backsword.
The SCA fencing style, as is only fitting for rapiers, is very point-on-line – that is maintaining the tip of the sword pointing at the opponent and moving the hilt around the point in a cone-like manner to defend against attacks. The emphasis in on blade angulation and always attacking to the outside line. While the ACA train to these principles as well, it is dead interesting to experience people who train outside your own paradigm using your techniques against you.
One criticism I have of the SCA style is that in pratcise it tends to be very defensive. There are few who want to take the fight to their opponent. Most stand and wait for the other guy to act, take advantage of his mistakes. While this may be a valid strategy, I find it can get a little dull.
Which brings me to a couple of revelations:
1. Swordplay styles evolve into their rule systems.
Take, for instance, the idea of scoring points for hitting the opponent’s hands. In a real fight with sharp weapons, this means pretty much the end for one opponent. You can’t do much if you can’t hold a weapon. However, incorposting this idea into a sport fencing rule system leads to the practice of each fencer sniping at the other’s hands – they are the targets you can hit most easily while remaining at a safe distance. It puts paid to the entire body of swordplay principles which have been laid down since the earliest fencing treatise, Manuscript I.33 written around AD 1295. And it’s dull to watch. But while a rules system which does not award points for hits of the hands may encourage a style more in keeping with the historical manuals, is it any more realistic? The real issue here is that, despite having access to several hundred years of fencing treatises, we have little real idea of what a sword fight actually looked like.
2. The rapier only works against another rapier.
The rapier is a brilliant weapon system. I love it more than is socially appropriate. However, I’ve come to the realisation that it is only competitive against another rapier. It’s simply too easy to knock a rapier’s point off-line. If, say, a shorter sidesword sweeps off-line the point of a much longer rapier, in the time taken to withdraw and bring the point back on-line, the guy with the sidesword has done something very nasty to the guy with the rapier because he’s acting in Silver‘s “time of the hand.” The rapier is a subtle weapon which relies on blade angulation and geometry. If I fighting in a corridor, the rapier is the perfect weapon. If fighting on an open field, a more maneuveurable weapon is required.
Here’s a bunch of photos from Fencing Fest VII.