Chivalry for Beginners

A practical guide to the forms of chivalry for the newcomer to SCA combat.
Vitus, this is your fault.

Before the Fight

First things first. Before the fight even starts, you must know where to be when with what. Know where your next fight is. Pay attention. This insures you don't miss a combat. Be armed and ready well in advance, so you don't keep your opponent and the officials waiting. Your consideration for them is only good courtesy. You should have a basket hilt or extra gauntlet to shift to if you lose a limb. Don't expect to be granted a point of honor (your weapon hand) automatically. If your opponent gives you the POH, ok, but don't EXPECT it. Be prepared to fight out your disadvantage.

The salute is a sign of your respect for those you give it to. The formal salutes first recognize the Crown, then the one who inspires you, then your opponent. These salutes recognize the duty you owe each of these elements of our society and our commitment to that responsibility. Although the specific form of the salute can vary greatly, one way to do it which is acceptable is simply to hold the hilt of your sword before your chin with the sword vertical, and then point it in the direction of the one honored.

Our motivation for fighting should never be simple self-glorification. In tournament, we fight for the one whose favor we bear into battle. It may be that you have no person who has granted you a favor and you wish to find someone to fight for. There are many more ladies with no lord fighting for them than there are ladies who have a champion. Don't be too shy to ask for a lady's favor, but be very clear what you want that favor to mean. For some, the favor is a day's affiliation, with no expectations. For others it is a lifelong bond. If in doubt, ask only if you may bear the favor of the lady "for this day" and if it works out, continue.

We demonstrate the inspiration a lady's favor gives us by fighting at our best, even if we are but new fighters, and especially by fighting honorably. We also honor the lady's favor by treating it with reverence, as the great boon it is. When we fight in melee with our fellows, we have a further duty to do our best, not just for our lady, but for our groups and leaders. They, too, deserve the best you can give, first in honor, then in prowess.

Your opponent is a very special person-one who will let you attempt to strike him/her with a honkin' big club of wood, and still be your friend when you are done. Protect their safety before your own. Treat them courteously. Not just in formal and flowery phrases, but in consideration of their point of veiw. Honor them properly in victory or defeat, recognizing and saluting the shared valor that lets us face each other in combat.

Chivalry in Combat

Combat has certain situations where chivalry and it's practice have immediate practical considerations. One of the most notable is blow acceptance, or it's absence, rhinohiding. The most important consideration about blow acceptance is this: It's HIS honor when HE'S being hit, it's YOUR honor when YOU get hit. When in doubt, ask the marshall, talk it out. Never assume ill-intent where adrenaline and/or a differing interpretation of the sequence of events can explain matters. It's much better to communicate than to get angry, and it is NOT your job to correct what you perceive as bad behaviour in others. Leave that to your opponent's own honor and the impartiality of the marshalls. It IS their job. Leave it to them. If anger is guiding your actions, then YOU should leave the field. It is much better to lose a fight or a tournament or even Crown, than to let your own honor fail. Winning is fine, but knowing you yourself have retained your honor in your own mind is much more important.

Points of Honor are an example of chivalry creating equity in human affairs. It is given to make a fight equitable after it has become seriously unbalanced. Examples might be taking your own arm after your opponent loses his, or taking your own leg when your opponent is legged, making the fight even again. For those who are weak, this is stupid, as you are giving up an advantage you have earned. For the strong, however, it is more desirable to ever fight on a level playing field, and accept the increased risk as the neccesary price. Most new people will not be so much better than their opponents that this is a good idea, especially if you are up against an experienced fighter. He may look to be at a disadvantage with that lost leg, but that knight has reserves of experience, strength and spirit that will leave him still ahead at the end of the combat.

If you do give a point of honor, such as taking an arm, don't take it back if you lose your weapon hand, but submit to defeat. That's the risk we praise the fighter for taking when he gives a point of honor. If your point of honor is to fight one-handed, and you are not actually giving up a limb, say so WHEN you give that point of honor, not after he takes your weapon hand. This avoids the perception that you are giving up the limb as a Point of Honor and then taking it back. Prior communication will prevent many later problems.

The appearance of helplessness on the part of any fighter is not cause to assume the fight is in hold or over. Until you hear HOLD or your opponent is down, or you are defeated, you are still in a fight. If you fear your opponent may have been unbalanced, tripped, or you do not wish to take advantage of him for some other reason, CALL HOLD, and BACK OUT in a GUARD. Your assumption of his helplessness does not end the fight. Only HOLD, your defeat, or his defeat does that.

Against an opponent on his knees, chivalry demands a couple of actions. Walk around your opponent until you are standing on his shadow. This insures the sun is not in his eyes. It is possible to "screw him into the ground" and thus win a fight against a legged opponent by rendering him helpless. Some believe that this sort of move is perfectly all right, since it is within the rules to fight in this manner, but in my opinion, taking advantage in this way is an attempt to maximize your chances of winning at your opponent's expense. Equity in dealings with others is the ideal that is violated. Practice against this to learn how to handle it, but avoid doing it. It's a tactic for the fearful to use. The strong seek an equitable fight, sometimes going to the extent of giving points of honor to attain it.

Concluding the action

Dying in tournament is the visible sign to your opponent that he is victorious. It also lets the Marshalls, List personnel, and people watching know who has won the combat. Most dying simply consists of falling to the ground, with more or less grace and decorum. One nice touch I've seen is to drum your heels a few times after lying still for about 3 seconds. The crowd seems to like this. Others routinely fall under their shields as they are taught for dying safely in melee battles, and keeping in practice at this by always dying in this manner is not a bad idea. If you have injury or some other physical reason for not simply falling, a salute followed by allowing your sword tip to fall upon the ground before your opponent indicates the winner well enough. In melee, a fighter holding his sword over his head cross-wise is the accepted manner for him to indicate his demise though he remains vertical.

If you should be so fortunate as to attain victory in a tournament, a salute to the fallen foe without dropping your sword tip recognizes his valor. A kind word afterwards, such as "nice fight" or "well fought" helps your foes feelings a bit.

The final action in a tourney fight is to report to the Marshall and List Person who the victor was so that they can update their list trees accurately. Not only is this courteous, but if you are the victor, it ensures that they know it! If you are vanquished, it ensures your opponent gets the station he deserves.

Charric Van der Vliet

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