What is that fighting with all the swords and shields and heavy armor?
Quick Answer: Heavy weapons.
There are three main “arena” of SCA participation: the Fighting arts, the Arts and Sciences, and the Service arts. In the Fighting, or Martial, arts there are two forms: Heavy Weapons and Rapier fencing, and several forms of archery and equestrian activities.
Heavy weapons is a full-contact, non-choreographed, martial art that uses solid rattan weapons (swords), shields, assorted other weapons, and heavy armor. Rattan is a type of bamboo, and rattan weapons are usually 2″-thick ‘sticks’ of rattan, usually wrapped in strapping tape and duct tape.
Among other things, we do:
Archery, Armoring, Astronomy, Basketry, Beadwork, Belly dancing, Brewing, Calligraphy, Camping, Chain mail, Chess, Cooking, Costuming, Dancing, Dollmaking, Drumming, Dyeing, Embroidery, Equestrian Arts, Feasting, Felting, Fencing, Glassblowing, Hawking, Heraldry, Herbalism, Illumination, Knife making, Knitting, Lace making, Leatherworking, Linguistics, Merchanting, Newsletters, Painting, Research, Serving, Sewing, Shopping, Singing, Soap making, Spinning, Tent making, Theatre, Volunteering, Weaving, Woodworking.
Are they really hitting each other?
Quick Answer: Yes.
In the above description of heavy weapons, I mentioned it is a “full-contact” art. They really are hitting each other, and with considerable force. There is a standard for “calibrating” blows so they are forceful enough to have caused damage with an edged sword against chain mail but are not so forceful as to cause actual injury.
Heavies fighting is also a “non-choreographed” art. The fighters have not planned out in advance who will hit when and where, unlike stage or movie combat. Fighters do practice typical strikes and blocks, learning the building blocks for fighting with swords (and shields) however each fight is new and pits skill and stamina and wit against one another.
Does it hurt?
Quick Answer: Sometimes.
Heavy armor is designed to protect the fighter against most blows, however, since force is being used, bruises are not uncommon. If fighters are being bruised regularly, they may need to increase their armor in that area, repair any damage to the armor, or attend practice to learn new techniques to lessen the chance of being hit in that area.
It is rare that anyone is hurt beyond bumps and bruises. Serious injuries are most commonly caused by armor failures, however occasional sprains, muscle pulls, hurt fingers, etc. do happen. The common rule of thumb is that SCA heavy weapons is safer than football but the fitness level of the fighter has something to do with their injury rate. If you are just an occasional fighter, without an ongoing fitness program, you are more likely to get hurt.
How much does it cost to get all that armor?
Quick Answer: As much or as little as you’d like to spend.
Most new heavy weapons fighters start off spending as little as $100-$150, maybe $200-$500, or the extreme can range from $700 to more than $1000.
How to Spend Nothing: To start off, most local groups have some loaner armor availabl-old armor, armor that no longer fits someone, armor from someone who no longer fights; there are many ways to find armor to give fighting a try without spending a cent.
After You’ve Tried it Out a Little Bit: When you’re ready to start investing time, energy, training, and money into fighting, there are many options available to you. You might buy and/or barter with local fighters to acquire used, but still usable, armor pieces. You might want to build your own armor. Or you might decide to patronize one of our armor makers. The best advice is to find fighters to let you try different types of armor before you invest money in armor that disappoints you.
Anyone Can Participate: Please remember this is a hobby, and that starving college students can play alongside the highest paid computer consultant. You can do this on a budget, or you can save up and spend lots of money on custom made armor. It’s your personal choice.
Can I learn to do that?
Quick Answer: Yes.
The key, again, is find a local group of fighters. Attend some fighter practices, watch a few tournaments, go to a war and watch the unit fighting. Look a different styles of armor, weapons, and fighting techniques. Talk to everyone, listen to everything. Then get in and try a little. Find folks willing and able to arm you up. Take a few hits against a pell (a practice pole or form against which you can hit a sword and learn different types of blows). With time, patience, and determination, anyone can learn whether heavy weapons is the type of sport they want to participate in. It’s not for everyone, but everyone is welcome to give it a try.
NOTE: There are age requirements! You must be 18 or older to participate in SCA Heavy Weapons. You must be 14 or older to participate in SCA Rapier Fencing.
Altavia hosts weekly Heavy Weapons and Rapier fighter practices. See our Meetings page for more information. Altavia also has Youth Combat practices, that provide an age approprate combat game activity for our younger members.
Can women fight?
Quick Answer: YES! ABSOLUTELY!
You may hear some SCA members say “This is the Middle Ages as it should have been.” Or “we recreate the middle ages without the plague, burnings, or discrimination.” These are helpful clichés for getting a beginning feel for the SCA, but they are not the whole picture.
You may have heard someone suggest that “women didn’t fight in period.” It turns out that is not always true, and there are dozens of examples of women fighting throughout history—and not just by cutting their hair and pretending to be boys. In SCA Heavy weapons (and all other forms of SCA fighting, for that matter), women are encouraged to take up the sword just as any of the men. You are not required to “pretend to be a boy,” although there are occasionally some female fighters who do adopt a “male persona” in armor. Most do not. There are women knights in the SCA, women commanders, women squires, women who have won Crown or Coronet tournaments and become Queen or Princess by their own right of arms.