Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Progress of a Student of Arms III

I was just thinking about the worst mistake I ever made in armor.

It was in 1996, and I had fought at the Red Dragon Tournament in Tirnewydd the day before. I was fighting more than I had in years, and having a wonderful time. I got a little beaten up, mostly the result of an unexpected encounter with a couple of fighting styles I hadn't seen before, having mostly fought in Pentamere. In particular, I got hit several times in my left bicep, where I had no armor (I fought almost exclusively in the so-called Florentine style for about a decade, with reasonable success, and my usual sparring partners either didn't hunt for that opening out of habit, or they knew my style and used other methods to get me). I never got hit there, so I was pretty sore.

In Stormvale the next evening, I probably would not have armored up for the practice, but we had a new young man in armor for the first time, and I was the only one handy, so I got in harness to spar with him. I was making several kinds of mistake without realizing it.

First, I was tired and bruised, more so than I realized. Second, it was dark, and we were fighting under a floodlight. I have always had difficulty fighting in anything other than natural daylight or very well-lit halls, and I wear contact lenses. The only time I had ever fought without them (at that time) was a disaster, and I had sworn never to do that again. But I didn't realize how much trouble I was going to be in.

The young man turned out to be an athlete. He was strong and fast, and he grasped the essentials immediately. I literally could not stop him from hitting my left leg. I mean, literally. I had been fighting for 12 years by then and was no slouch, but this kid could hit my leg at will with perfectly timed blows and excellent force. I could not shift my shield fast enough to stop him. (And I probably had not picked up a shield in months.)

Now, here's the thing. Damn near everybody is faster than me. I'm not that athletic, have no more than ordinary upper body strength, if that. So why don't I always have this problem? Well, because in a normal fight with someone with experience, I can manuever, I can time my blows to take advantage of relative inexperience (that was the only way I could ever lay rattan on Aileran O Faelain, years later), I can charge and keep my opponent too busy to hit me back, I can feint, I can play head games (yeah, look at my nice armor and smooth body language - are you sure you know what you're getting into? God, I've won dozens of fights with that.) I'm pretty good at manipulating range, especially with two weapons, and if I'm not the best fighter around, I actually have rather a lot of "helmet time" and can almost always adjust if I have time and opportunity. Hell, I've adopted styles I've never used before but merely heard described out of desperation to cope with sparring partners who were giving me trouble.

But a newby? It wasn't fair to pull out the bag of tricks just to salve my ego, or even spare me a bruise or two. Our iron rule in Stormvale, and I am the one who literally wrote it down, is "don't break the newby!" So he was faster than me. Good! We would make him a really good fighter in short order. If he surpassed us all, then we would be proud!

No, we wouldn't. Because I couldn't adjust, and I couldn't see, and really ought not to have been in armor that night at all, I stood there and let him beat the hell out of me. And afterwards, he had beat up one the local pros, so to speak, and his head swelled a bit. At the next week's practice, full of himself, the other fighters in the shire had little choice but to do what I had chosen not to do that night: they showed him that there was a whole universe of things to do to him that did not involve standing in his range and suffering his admittedly great speed and strength. And he was surprised and discouraged and never came back.

I assign this as my fault. The moment I realized he could hit me at will, I should have started manuevering and ramped up the pressure on him, even if it was breaking my own rule. I could then have stopped and told him that he was doing great, and kept everything in its proper perspective. Instead, I stubbornly stuck to our usual plan, which was of course designed to help ordinary beginners by not throwing the kitchen sink at them, not a stud like this guy. And then he had a week to have the wrong impression instead of minutes, and had to have it beaten out of him.

That wasn't all. Within a day, my overdoing it that weekend had resulted in a dreadful case of tendonitis that kept me out of armor for over six months and pretty much ended my serious fighting career. It took codeine to keep me upright before long, and I never recovered that enthusiasm I had the day before in Tirnewydd.

I don't know what happened to the kid. Maybe he rediscovered the SCA and is a knight in some other kingdom. Or maybe he has forgotten all about a brief flirtation with our hobby. But I haven't forgotten him, or how badly I messed us both up.


Anonymous said...

Yes you made me be the bad guy.


balian said...

But you're so good at it! And, well, I couldn't have hit the poor guy to save my life at the time.

The Cat Bastet said...

If he gave up that easily, it's probably not your fault. Maybe he only joined in sports that were easy for him. Some people are like that.