The Kitsap Medieval Faire and the people behind it are gearing up for the 35th faire. The faire is presented by the Kingdom of An Tir, part of the global nonprofit, the Society for Creative Anachronism. This story is the third in a series about the Kingdom of An Tir.
BREMERTON — When an outsider thinks about the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, perhaps the first thing that will come to mind is the fighting.
The flashiest, most in-your-face aspect deserves a lot of attention, too, because it’s not just people in costume swinging foam weapons about. No, in the SCA, the fights are real. A fighter’s life may not literally be on the line, but you’d be lucky to leave the battlefield without at least a few bruises.
“It’s not choreographed,” said David Clough, known in the SCA as Baron Conchobar Mac Eoin. “It is a full-contact sport, real-time activity.”
In fact, Clough said that over the years, the SCA has developed its own martial arts style. And before anyone is allowed to join in the battles, they have to be authorized as smart enough, skilled enough and understand enough about what you’re getting into to be able to safely fight.
“We usually encourage the new fighters to fight a couple times in loaner armor … and see if they like it,” Clough said, “because some people don’t like the intensity of it. It’s kind of dumb to allow yourself to get hit by a stick by somebody who’s trained; sometimes the human brain goes, ‘Nope, don’t want to do that.’ Other times, some people don’t like the pain involved init. The shots do hurt. We usually advise people to try it out a couple times first.”
And anyone who wants to can participate.
“We tend to have mostly males fighting, but there are female knights and females who fight,” Clough said. “It’s not a strictly male-dominated thing. We try to encourage anybody who’s interested to fight, whether they’re male or female. that’s probably one of the coolest things about this as well. It’s not a strictly gender-oriented competition.”
The age limit of the SCA fighting varies depending on what aspect they’re participating in. Children can start learning archery at 5, rapier at 14 and heavy combat fighting at 16, all with parental consent. And each aspect of fighting is very unique. In the Kitsap Barony of Dragon’s Laire, part of the Kingdom of An Tir, six aspects really stand out: rapier fighting; archery; thrown weapons; heavy fighting; siege weapons; and war, during which all aspects join together for one common purpose.
Jacob Snow, known in the Kingdom of An Tir as Magnifico Talentus del Albero, has been learning and practicing rapier fighting for 20 years. In the SCA, he’s earned the rank of master.
Snow first started in this field when he was 16. He’d joined the SCA at 12 years old, and the first combat thing he could participate in was rapier, which at the time required people to be 16 with parental consent (now it’s 14).
“I wanted to start doing something as soon as I could,” Snow said. “You can start at a much younger age because there’s much less impact in general than in heavy fighting, and you’re not required to throw a super heavy blow like you are in heavy.
“I’ve been fighting rapier for 20 years now, and it’s an incredible sport, incredible athletic endeavor to do, especially at a high level.”
Snow said that unlike other aspects of SCA fighting, rapier is minimum contact.
“We fight to what we call the lightest touch,” he said. “If you can feel a blow as it comes in, then it’s a valid blow. Our armor standards are considerably lighter than heavy weapons.”
Rapier fighters must wear rigid face masks and rigid throat protection, as well as an athletic cup for the men. Other than that, their garb must be made from an abrasion resistant material, so it won’t snag from a burr in the sword, and puncture resistant clothing for the torso.
Rapier is also a “much faster activity” than heavy fighting, Snow said. It’s not a full-contact sport, but it is a “full-speed unchoreographed” sport.
The biggest appeal, Snow said, is the fact that unlike in heavy fighting, where they use rattan weapons, rapier fighting uses real, steel swords — though they’re unsharpened and tipped with a protective cap so as not to seriously injure anyone.
“We fight with real swords, and to me, that’s a real difference. The heavy fighters are fighting with rattan. That’s the biggest appeal to me, is the fact that I’m fighting with a real sword.”
Another appeal? The fact that rapier fighting came much later in history than many other fighting styles the SCA replicates, which means it’s easier to truly fight in historically accurate styles because there’s more written instructions available.
“I can learn a technique that would have been done back then, and I can fight in a manner that someone would have done,” Snow said. “With this activity, with the SCA, we’re looking to try and create an experience that can kind of mimic history, as well as the interpersonal relationships you can get with the SCA, which is amazing.”
And just like every other aspect of the SCA, anyone can participate if they want to.
“We really want to foster and engender the idea that anybody can do this activity,” Snow said. “You don’t have to be super athletic, super strong … you have to have a desire to come out and learn a new skill and participate with some people.”
When Amanda Zeitler, known in the SCA as Ladyship Kloe of Thira, started getting involved in archery, it wasn’t for her own participation.
She said she went to June Faire and saw the demonstrations and was invited to go to practice with them. She did, because she wanted her daughter, then 6, to participate.
“We took her out to a practice and she was in love immediately,” Zeitler said. “They had a whole line of little kids. She absolutely loved it. I showed up to let her learn, and I started to learn how to run the range. I hadn’t even picked up a bow yet.”
But eventually, she did, and now has a lot of fun shooting.
“There’s a lot in the archery world,” she said. “We have your traditional target archery, which breaks down into modernish archery using regular bows, plastic knocks, to your more traditional archery, all period equipment … no plastic anywhere on them.
“It’s pretty much what you want to make of it,” Zeitler added. “We start teaching them at 5. If you want to be absolutely terrified: 5-year-olds with arrows.”
For Zeitler, the real appeal of archery in the SCA isn’t the competition and scoring more than your peers in target archery, but the sense of camaraderie.
“It’s the fun of hanging out with the group and shooting for hours on end,” she said. “We’ll put up targets and have just as much fun as possible.
“The archery community is a lot like a smaller family within the larger one,” Zeitler added. “We’re always there for each other.”
But they don’t just shoot at targets. For added fun, they also shoot at each other.
“We put on armor just like heavy fighters and shoot at them,” Zeitler said.
In war, especially, archers help thin the herd of the enemy. But as with every other aspect of the SCA, whether you’re ally or opponent, the true joy is in sharing a common interest with others.
“Everyone will want to tell you everything they know,” Zeitler said. “We really like talking about our bows and our arrows and why we pick certain things. We always welcome people out to the range. Even if it turns out it’s not for them, they’re always welcome.”
As in archery, there are two aspects to thrown weapons: target and combat.
His Lordship Marcel Boutet (known in the mundane world as Mark Roland Marcel Boutet) actually got involved in thrown weapons before he joined the SCA (www.antir.sca.org). He was involved in the Black Powder Rendezvous, which is sort of a mountain man-style cousin of the SCA.
“When I joined the SCA, I was like, ‘Oh, I know this part,’ so I got into it,” Boutet said.
Boutet said thrown weapons skills fall under “missile skills,” which includes archery and siege weapons.
“Thrown weapons is axes, knives and spears,” he said. “There are some people that do darts and atlatl as well.”
(Atlatl is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in throwing, which Boutet said is like an arm extension.)
In competition, people throw their weapon of choice at target from standard distances, scoring based on where they hit the target. At the end, they average three scores and turn them in for their ranking.
“The whole competition is to basically get a good average and to up your score, get as high as you can get,” Boutet said.
And just like in rapier, throwers use real steel weapons.
“They’re not mock weapons, they’re sharp,” Boutet said. “They have to be made from stuff that will stand up to throwing. They’re the closest we get to having an actual, recreated item from the Middle Ages.
“For actually holding a live steel weapon, thrown weapons is where it’s at.”
However, for combat thrown weapons, they leave the sharp, deadly weapons at home and pick up rattan versions with padding or tennis balls so no one gets hurt.
“The combat thrown weapons that we do, we’re out on the war field just like all the other heavy fighters,” Boutet said. “We’ll all be up in our full armor doing that. We have either axes, maces, things like that … we’re actually throwing at other people in armor. It’s a little bit different, less in your face (than heavy fighting), more running around throwing objects at people.”
One thing Boutet said he really enjoys about thrown weapons is that it’s a “hands-on skill” that he has a lot of fun doing.
“It’s something that, as a member of the SCA and having the whole array of skills available, the thrown weapons, to me, is kind of a zen thing,” he said. “For me, it’s very relaxing. I can go out, have fun with my friends, get better at the skill, improve myself as I go.
“It’s really fun, and it’s cool to practice a skill that has been around since people have been around. Realistically, it hasn’t changed a lot. Throwing spears way back in the day to nowadays, still throwing spears. Being recognized for having skill in it is very cool to me.”
Boutet added that they’re always welcome to more people joining in on the fun of throwing weapons at their friends.
“The thrown weapon community is only as strong as the community,” he said. “We want to show people there’s something they can get involved [in], a skill they can learn that dates back to the earliest of human history that is just a blast to go out and do. More people getting involved means we can spread the word about this cool thing. We just want more people to be there.”
Heavy fighting in the Kingdom of An Tir usually involves sword-and-shield battles. Fighters use swords made of rattan, a dense bamboo wood that won’t splinter if it breaks, as well as shields and armor that are as period-appropriate as possible while still conforming with the safety regulations of the SCA.
“The standard of armor is what you might see in the Norman Invasion of 1066,” Clough said. “We try to emulate the armor of our (persona’s) culture. I’m a Roman persona, and we did not wear arm or leg or knee armor. But because of the requirements of our particular martial art, (I do). We try to be as safe as possible, so you’ll see a lot of people out there with armor that wouldn’t have existed for our persona.”
The rules of battle rely heavily on the chivalrous values of the SCA, Clough said. It’s up to the person receiving the blow to determine if it was a “good” hit.
“Any shot that would penetrate or do damage through chain mail is deemed a killing blow,” Clough said. “Any shot that would have done damage through a normal helmet … is deemed a good blow.”
He said that getting hit in the arm or leg, if the receiver deems it a good shot, means losing the use of that limb in battle. It might not have literally been cut off, but is otherwise disabled. So a good hit to the leg means dropping down and fighting from your knees. Losing the use of your sword arm means switching your weapon to the other arm, which Clough said the opponent usually allows time for.
“The society is based on the higher values of chivalry and honesty and treating people with respect,” he said. “It is up to the person who receives the blow, and it is on their honor as to whether it was a killing or disabling blow.”
There is a real chance of getting hurt during these battles, though not permanently. But for the people who take part, it’s worth it.
“I think for everyone it’s different,” he said. “Some people fight because it has a spiritual component to it. Some people fight because of the adrenaline rush of it. Some people fight because of the skill that’s required and they’re constantly building their skill. Some people fight for exercise. It’s different for everyone, and sometimes it’s a combination of those things and many other different things.
“For me, it’s a source of well being,” Clough said. “I get confidence from it. I figure, if I can put on a suit of armor and go combat some guy or gal who’s more skilled than I am or is bigger than I am, if I can do that and do well, then I can do anything. it gives me courage and confidence for other things in the rest of my life.”
Clough said that in the heat of battle, the experience is kind of “transcendent.”
“When you’re in that moment and you beat an opponent that you’ve always tried to beat in your whole life (or) when you try something new and you’re successful, it’s an indescribable feeling. The elation, the confidence, the feeling that you gain is amazing.”
“(Siege weapons) is probably one of the more difficult things to get started with, which is why there are so few of us in An Tir,” said His Lordship Arkhai Ne’khurin.
Arkhai, a member of the Barony of Dragon’s Laire, part of the Kingdom of An Tir, said using siege weapons in the SCA is very different from heavy fighting.
Currently only used in war, siege weapons are perfect for bridge battles or castle battles, because they can clear a bridge or bring down a wall or gate.
“If you and I are engaged in a sword fight and I hit you in the head with my sword, you have to say whether or not it was good,” Arkhai said. “Let the slain man evaluate his own blow. It’s an honor system. Siege, on the other hand — if you get hit with a siege weapon, you are dead. Period.”
In the SCA, the three most common types of siege weapons are trebuchets, which are counterweight-operated catapults; onagers, portion or spring-loaded catapults; and ballista, which are spear throwers.
“Dragon’s Laire, our barony, has two ballistas and work is being done on a third and work is being done on an onager,” Arkhai said. “We do not have a trebuchet, sadly.”
Arkhai said when people think about siege weapons, trebuchets are generally what comes to mind “when it comes to fancy, glorious siege weapons.”
“They’re devastating,” he said. “Everybody loves trebuchets. The trouble is, they are indirect fire. They throw in an arc. That doesn’t lend itself well to SCA-type play.
“Ballistas … throw javelins and are relatively flat. Trebuchets and onagers are good against static targets, (but) if you need to hit somebody that’s moving, you need a ballista.”
Arkhai said that in war scenarios, often the two sides will be separated by a wall of shields on both front lines.
“The shield walls themselves would line up against each other and hammer at each other and nothing ever moves,” he said. “A siege engine can break that up by penetrating through the shields.”
But as he said, getting involved in siege weapons is difficult, because you need to have access to a siege engine.
“You have to get one from somebody, you have to make your own,” Arkhai said.
However, it’s not difficult to pique the interest of others.
“Other people get started by seeing it,” Arkhai said. “They say, ‘Oh my goodness, that is so cool.’ We often will get people interested just by showing up at wars with siege engines.”
There are whole separate qualifications for using siege weapons to ensure the safety of everyone. In Dragon’s Laire, too, anyone who works with the siege engines has to be willing to be hit by them at 30 yards — and they do.
Dragon’s Laire has two complete ballistas. Arkhai is building a third one himself.
“The siege engines that we use in Dragon’s Laire are effectively giant crossbows,” he said. “Historically, these engines did exist in a similar fashion, but the engines we use are modern engineered. The engine I’m currently building, it’s based on an actual period engine in China … I’m trying to make the engine I’m building to be at least close to what I’m seeing in the historical Chinese documents.”
For Arkhai, getting involved in the siege weapons aspect of the SCA was natural.
“I am mechanically inclined,” he said. “I like machines. Anything related to machines, historically, gets my attention. I have sat and watched people weaving on a loom for hours just to see how the machine works. I think that that is a big component in wanting to get involved in siege. Just the idea of throwing big, heavy things and making them fly. It’s very dramatic, it’s very dynamic, it puts on a good show.”
But with siege weapons, there are very exact specifications to make them legal for combat use in the SCA. They have to consistently shoot between 40 and 80 yards and use missiles that meet very specific requirements.
“For us to play in combat, we use a specifically engineered ammunition that is harmless,” Arkhai said. “It packs a whollop, but it’s not going to hurt you permanently.”
But not every SCA event is a war event, which means the siege engines aren’t always brought out, which is why Arkhai said they’re trying to expand siege weapons to target throwing as well.
“If we do target archery at a demo, we would be able to do target siege at the demo as well,” Arkhai said. “We’re looking into expanding into that area.”
There will be siege demonstrations at the Kitsap Medieval Fair June 3. Arkhai encourages people to come check it out because “you really need to see it to understand it.”
“Once people see it, they’re going to want to get involved.”
Finally, encompassing all fighting styles of the SCA, are the wars.
“Wars are kind of started with some theater, some schtick,” Clough said. “ ‘You betrayed us in this way,’ ‘That kingdom is invading this kingdom.’ They’re started on pretend actual reasons. But really the motivation is … to get a chance to play our game. It’s not just about the fighting, but also competitions for the arts and sciences, opportunities to learn new skills. There’s almost always, in addition to the war, there’s a tournament.”
In order to win a war, a kingdom has to receive the most war points, which can be won from the battles, in the arts and sciences competitions, the most people donating money to the chosen charity (usually Toys for Tots or cancer research), the most people volunteering from a certain area and more.
But the battles can be epic.
“Probably the most people I personally have been on a field with was about 1,500 total people,” Clough said. “You get hit on the head, you’re dead. If you get hit in the body, you’re dead. The cool part about war though is you get to fight and you die, and then you get to go out and fight again, and in the evening, you get to talk about your stories of glory.”
Clough said that the battles are very safety conscious.
“If somebody is hurt, we stop. If somebody’s armor falls off, we stop. If somebody is in danger, we stop,” Clough said. “And at the end of it … almost after every battle, everyone from the other side will go up and shake hands, say, ‘Hey, that was great. Come on over to my camp for a beer.’ We never lose our heads. We’re almost always very friendly and very calm about it, which I thought was kind of weird (at first), considering the level of outward violence you see.
“Inwardly, it’s about camaraderie and supporting each other and building each other up and about having fun, and that’s what really kind of surprised me when I got involved with it.”
Learn more about the Kingdom of An Tir at www.antir.sca.org. Learn more about the Kitsap Medieval Faire, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 3 at 8707 SW Sentinel Peak Way, Bremerton, at www.kitsapmedievalfaire.org.
— Michelle Beahm is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.