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.