Feeling bruised, sore, and joyous…

I have mentioned here before that one of my odd hobbies is the practice of medieval combat. Last night, I was invited to a demonstration of our fighting skills for a large group of Cub Scouts, as the culmination of a week-long camp with a theme of knights and chivalry. It was a long demo; I was in clad in 85 pounds of steel and leather and chain for just over three hours total. By the end, I was roasting hot. Imagine, if you will the number of layers I had on. An under shirt, a padded gambeson (basically a medium weight winter coat), a layer of chainmaille, a layer of thick, saddle strength leather, and then a layer of steel atop it all. Then, imagine that you are wearing this in the summer time. In Georgia. That said, I am still, even now, many hours later, riding the high of yesterday’s fighting.

 There is a deep, indescribable joy at the feeling of being hit during a good fight. I know that sounds ridiculous, especially to someone who has never tried it, but it’s true. Not that the stuff leading up to it isn’t thrilling on its own; wearing armour, on its own, has a unique ability to make one feel utterly invincible, even when you are very aware you aren’t. Still, when you are standing there, clad in steel and/or leather, cloth, even plastic, you somehow feel stronger. Better. Capable. And the combat itself is, in a word, astounding. To be able to swing a weapon, be it a sword made of steel or a glorified piece of grass pretending to be one, with force of arm and strength of purpose, is indeed a glorious thing. And it is also a glorious thing to see one’s opponent fall beneath the blow, to feel it strike hard and true and watch them tumble in acknowledgement of the skill of your shot. Winning is definitely fun.

 But there is also a strange joy in losing combat as well. There is so much tension on the field; not a bad tension, but tension all the same. A complex, intricate dance of emotions, thoughts, instincts. Flinches, dodges, feints, blocks. All of these building to a sharp anticipation of what will happen next, who will falter, how will they fall? And then, bam! You are struck. Hard. In a moment, all that tension and anticipation is relieved, and you are free to fall, to relax the muscles you had tensed before that fatal moment and to let yourself crash, protected, to the waiting earth below. It is, at the risk of making it sound more awkward than it actually is, almost orgasmic. Every bit of you that was moments before straining is released, relaxed, and done. And sure, you lost that fight…but you lost it to someone you like. We only ever fight as friends, and it is joyous when a friend succeeds, even when it is a success against you.

 Sure, there is sometimes a sting to that loss. Perhaps you realize, as you crash in a thunder of steel and chain, that you could have blocked that shot if you had turned this way or that. And sometimes that sting is more literal; a pretty little bruise where your friend’s clean blow landed unhindered in a spot you didn’t have armour. But it is a good sting in either case, like the good ache of a loose tooth you cannot help but wiggle. And the wincing gasp a day later when you find that spot again? Perhaps it is different for you, but for me, once the momentary sting is gone…it too, is joyous.

 A reminder of a fight that was honorably fought, joyful to participate in, and lost with dignity.

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19 comments

    1. My pleasure, dear lady! My hobby is strange and alien to a lot of people. At first, their instinct is to chuckle and think “nerd!” And then they see us fight. How hard we hit. How fast we move. I cannot count the number of people who have seen that and gone from mild derision to instant respect. Even last night, we had a few parents come up to us and say, “we were expecting a silly show for the kids. Instead, we’re the ones who are amazed!”

      1. I didn’t think “nerd” at all!!! But I’m curious — is this similar to the fighting scenes one might see at the Renaissance Fairs or is it even more realistic, like one might find at the Civil War Re-enactments? From the way you wrote about it, I would love to watch a battle myself!! :)

        1. It’s related, sort of. The difference is in the competition. The scenes you see at a renn fair, and even the stuff at a Civil War event, are all scripted. They are carefully choreographed, and everyone knows what the outcome will be. In our group, the fighting is fully competitive, unscripted, full force, full speed. It’s almost as if you crossed reenactment with a martial art. If someone falls down dead in our battles, its because they were fairly, honorably beaten, not because they were told to do so by a script or a historical account. :) Definitely more intense this way.

            1. All over the place! The group I am in is worldwide, 30,000+ members, though most of our stuff is stateside. Go to http://www.sca.org, look up your home turf, and I’ll bet you can find a group of like-minded lunatics playing near you. ;) We do a lot more than combat, too – feasting, dancing, music, crafting, drinking…it’s a lot of fun!

  1. Aha! I have attended a few of these demonstrations. My sons – ex Cub/Boy Scouts had some events where we had the pleasure of watching grown ups reenact these events. Plus there is a place not far from where I live that is called the Renaissance Faire right over the border in WI. A lot fun to watch – and then of course, I would have to play guard of the castle when we got home. Two boys – swords (plastic, of course) and light sabers and sticks and…….well you get the idea.

    1. Thank you! :) Our weapons are made of rattan, which is a solid relative of bamboo…so I figured a glorified piece of grass was as apt a description as any. :) It was a lot of fun, and the best part is, tomorrow, I’ll hopefully get a chance to fight again against some of the best warriors in my area. It’ll hurt, but it will be damned fun. ;)

  2. Interesting thoughts about the joy of battle fairly met and bought, the honor of it (might you be half-Klingon?), the dignity even in defeat. I liked this – a lot.

  3. I train historical fencing, and even though we don’t do much combat (nor do we wear the same type of armor, we just wear protective training gear), I understand what you’re saying. It’s fun. It’s great. There’s constant learning. If you win, great. If not, it means someone you like won, so that’s great too. Bruises don’t matter.
    The heat is killing me, though. But it’s still fun.

    1. I have an extraordinary amount of respect for historical fencers – are you ARMA? HACA? Regardless, it takes a true dedication to the art to study the likes of Ringeck or Talhoffer. My salute to you!

      1. Fencing school “St. George” in Belgrade, Serbia. My group is training with smallsword right now, we’ll move to rapier, and then rapier and dagger, in a couple of years (darn, it takes time to learn). We slowly move back in time, to heavier swords.
        Err, I could go on and on, but it wouldn’t be nice to steal your blog. :)

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