This was my first Birka as a fighter. I’ve heard quite a lot about it being a brutal meat grinder of a tournament, so there was definitely a bit of trepidation and anxiety about it. Since I’ve done a bear pit before (though not on this scale), I figured prep work was my friend. I made pieces of armor to protect the areas of my legs that normally get blasted, and they made a huge difference for me. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Going in, I was definitely nervous. I didn’t really know how brutal it would be to survive this to the end. For those who don’t know, the heavy list at Birka is a bear pit tourney. 10 pits, 10 foot square each. Each pit has two fighters engaged in singles combat. Winner stays, and loser reports the results to scorekeepers. Once the loser exits, a new fighter from the line steps in and fights. If you step one leg out of the ring, you are now legged and fight on your knees. Two legs out, and you’re dead. It’s always moving, and it’s a timed event set for 3 hours of non-stop fighting. I had a few goals going in, and they varied in likelihood. The usual goals were there, such as having fun, fighting with honor, and being positive with everyone I encountered. Then I had others such as putting up a tough fight with everyone, not stepping out, and not making foolish mistakes. Finally, I had my two ambitious goals. These were to last until the end (be on line or fighting in a pit when the tourney ended), and make it to the top half of fighters in the points rankings at the end. The last one was kind of a dream one, since I seriously did not think it would ever happen. To my surprise and amazement, I achieved every goal I had, though some with limited success.
I started out rough. Took me a bunch of fights just to get my head in the game, and that killed a lot of time. Those first 5 or so fights I didn’t put up much of a fight at all, and made some stupid mistakes. I really should have done a few pickups beforehand just to get the nerves out and settle in. The new armor worked great, and helped me last until the end. I only really took three shots that hurt. First was a wrap behind my right knee, second was a thrust I took in the noodle, and third was a shot to my shoulder. None of them were day enders. I had a few runs of two wins in a row, which left me both elated and exhausted. I’m pleased to say that I did NOT step out of the pit at any point during the day. I remained aware of it at all times, and didn’t let anyone bully me out. I believe I fought with honor and integrity. I called my shots honestly, regardless of my frustration with my own defense at times letting them in. I was also very positive with everyone I encountered. Finally, I not only lasted until the end, but I managed to rank 61st place out of 152 fighters! Keep in mind that this has a lot to do with people either gassing out, having equipment issues, getting hurt, or just wanting to have a few fights and gear down. Regardless, though, I’m proud of how I did. I ended with 10 wins, 25 losses, and 1 double kill. Fighters are awarded 2 points per win, 1 point per loss, and one point for a double kill. To me, for someone who’s been in armor 9 months now, I’m super happy with these results. I also walked away with loads of stuff to work on, so it was a great learning experience as well.
There were a few other things of note that happened which bear mentioning. Foremost to me was an act of kindness from His Highness Duke Brennan. The setting goes like this. I was on break from fighting, so I could sit for a few and have some water. I saw my buddy Arne’s lady, Anna, working on his shield. She had been water bearing for me when I was on line throughout the day, as the Lish was showing someone around who was at their first event. I went over to see what was up. The handle of Arne’s shield broke, and she couldn’t get the zip tie through to repair it. I worked with her on it for a few minutes, but couldn’t figure it out. I geared back up and got back in line. Sure enough, halfway through the line it hit me. I knew how to fix it. I got through the line, got destroyed by a knight, and went back over. As we were working on it, Duke Brennan walked by while on line. When he saw me, he immediately came over and said “If I give you my shield, will you go back out there and fight?”. He assumed I was working on my own shield. When I told him what was happening, he was like “Oh, ok cool” and walked away. I got back in line a minute or so later, leaving the shield fixed and ready to go. The fact that he was willing to give his own shield away just to get me back out there meant a great deal to me. Moments like this are what shows other fighters, new or not, what chivalry and honor are all about. He didn’t care if he did well, he cared that I was able to get back out there and keep having fun. That’s what it’s all about, and it left me grinning like an idiot. Little moments like this make all the difference, because it’s a true sign of who someone is. This wasn’t a calculated thing, this was a reflex. We should all have such reflexes.
After the fighting was over, Arne saw me and called me over. He thanked me for helping out his lady, and congratulated me on staying in the whole time. Because of this, he gave me a gift: a medieval rosary, which he likely made himself. I was honored by the gift, and didn’t really know what to say. I hopefully didn’t come off like an ass about it, but who knows. I’m humbled he chose to do that for me, and it’s something I’ll keep with me when at events.
I must also say, I’m pleased that I only had one fight with questionable calibration. A few other fighters mentioned calling light on a few of my shots, and those I 100% agree with. One fighter I know I landed blows on, and they were as solid as I can make them, but nothing was taken. He waiting until I threw a bunch of shots, then figured I was tired and unloaded on me. Took him awhile to get in, but eventually he did, and his shot was solid so I took it. Can’t say I was thrilled with his calibration, but that’s on his honor, not mine. Thankfully, that was the only issue I had all day as far as calibration goes.
Finally, my self analysis. I started out weak, and my defense was sloppy early on. A few fights I didn’t even throw a shot, just got blasted quick. My head just wasn’t in it. I saw some videos from later on, and while they weren’t of my fight specifically, I could see that my stance was better and my footwork was better. My shots were ok, but my accuracy and speed weren’t as good as I’d have liked them to be. Hard to tell for sure if that’s just where I am, skill-wise, or not simply because I was just so amped up and it was far more intense than my usual practices. My biggest weak area is being able to deliver a killing shot against a legged opponent. I really need much more work on this, as I had a ton of difficulty with legged fighters in the lists at Birka. This wasn’t at all a calibration thing, either. I couldn’t land a light shot, let alone a good one. I also didn’t control their sword arm with my shield as much as I should have. This is just another instance of having my head in the game. Focus is something I’m really gonna have to work on, as well as my overall skills.
Still, I’m pleased with where I am from a skill standpoint. I don’t personally feel I’m where I should be given my time in armor and how many practices I go to, but I’m getting out there and working on it. I still feel that I’m slowly moving forward, which is all I can hope for right now. I attended the unbelts meeting after the fighting, which discussed making the Unbelted Champions melee team for Pennsic, which will be the best we have to offer. Do I plan on trying out for it? No, I’m nowhere near even consideration. Again, not a low self esteem thing, just facts. In the meantime, I’m gonna work at practice and events to learn stuff and get better. I know I’ll hit a plateau at some point where I just can’t get past something, so I’m just trying to push as hard as I can to get there sooner. The sooner I get there, the sooner I can work on getting past it. Hopefully my body keeps pace with me, or it’ll be one helluva short trip!
I traveled down to Wantagh for some fighty goodness. I was lucky that I didn’t get too beat up at Nutley the night before, so I could try out some of the tips I learned. Tonight it was me, Dante, Caitlin, and Conrad. Conrad had to bail early, but we got in some good passes.
I spent the majority of the practice focusing on keeping my right leg back and not bringing it too far forward while advancing. I was also focusing on keeping my shield held at the correct angle and position as shown to me by Sir Horic the week before. I had some fairly decent success on both counts. I did end up getting tagged a bunch of times, but much less often in the areas I was getting hit before, and my opponents seemed to have to work much harder instead of being able to one shot me. I still need work on closing the deal when someone is legged, but I’m sure that’ll come in time.
Now, onto Birka prep. I didn’t attend practice the week of the 21st because I didn’t want to risk getting really damaged right before Birka. As you may recall, I made that mistake prior to my first bear pit tourney, and I paid the price. For Birka, I wanted to be able to go the distance, but that would mean making some armor changes. First, I re-edged my shield. The old edging was coming apart and chewing up rattan. Second, I made two new swords, as the ones I was using were both pulpy and cracked at the tip. I also made a cut off sword to use if I get armed in a fight at practice. Third, I had to mount the upper arm protection I made to the shoulder on my chest piece so it didn’t roll around so much. I just punched some holes and laced it together with some paracord. Finally, I had to address my two biggest injury spots. My hips and the spot on my left leg just above the side of my knee. These are the spots that have taken me out of fighting for the day (or week) before, so I can’t let that happen. For my left leg, I took a knee pad and riveted some hardened plastic to it. While not pretty, it should protect me enough to not cripple my leg. For my hips, I still need to make something. I was thinking of throwing together some tassets made of leather and plastic to take some of the stink off the shots. I know I’m gonna get a lot of shit for it from other fighters, mainly because the mantra they preach is “don’t add armor, practice and get better”, or more simply and sarcastically “learn to block”. Well, here I am, 9 months into this, and I’m still getting blasted. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, as I still get hit in the helm a lot as well, however getting tagged in these areas of virtually no armor will take me out of commission. Hard to get better when I can’t fight, or even walk properly. Besides, the repeated trauma to these areas can’t be good, physiologically speaking.
So, I’m armoring up, and to be bluntly honest, the snarky commenters can go scratch. While I’d love to be a natural at this, and pick it up seemingly overnight, the fact of the matter is that I’m not, and I won’t. I’m starting this late in the game for me, and I’ve never been adept at anything physical. I’m ok with this taking me awhile to grasp and get good at. Also, let’s face some facts here. I’m in this for the fun of it, the camaraderie, the affirmation I get when I do well, and because I get to be encouraging and helpful to others on occasion. Have I considered the path to peerage? Of course I have. I overanalyze the shit out of everything, and sure it’d be great to earn awards for fighting, if for no other reason than for the simple affirmation from my fellows who would be saying I’m actually worth a damn on the field. For the peerage, of course I’d enjoy being a mentor and helping other fighters move up and have fun. Now, the facts. On the average, a new fighter goes from AoA to OTC is 8 years. I got my AoA in 2015, before I started fighting. There is also newer amerigous award for fighting, the Silver Tyger, however this is not the “participation award” that the AoA is. So, from now to OTC would be 8ish, maybe more since that’s just an average. OTC to Chiv is, on the average, another 5. That’s 13 years total. I’d be 52, unless I have a setback which would pad that out. So, in my opinion, while it’d be cool, it’s just not realistic. I’m not being self deprecating or having a case of the “poor me’s”, these are the facts as they stand. As such, I’m fine with the pace at which I’m learning. I think maybe in a year or two I’ll be an asset on the field, someone people would want fighting at their side not just because we’re friendly with one another, but because I can truly help deliver the win. If I can get there, and stay there until my body tells me it’s time to throw in the towel, I’ll be overjoyed. Sure, it’s a bummer that I started so late in the game, but such is life. I’ll make the best of it while I can do it, and enjoy the friendships I build along the way. If nothing else, I’ll have a bunch of stories about the dumb shit I’ve done in armor to tell people while we drink and laugh together for years to come.
Another two in one post because I’m lazy as hell. First, some backstory. In the SCA right now, there is a Chiv Hunt happening. The rules are basically like this. An unbelted fighter will fight as many different members of the chivalry as they can during the course of the year. 3 passes minimum, get them to sign a book. The people with the most win a prize. For those who just participate, they get a custom coin. I push to work with as many belted fighters as possible already, so for me this just gets me a sweet coin! Anyways, I’ll be keeping my tally updated here as well so I can have better documentation.
Thursday of last week got me my first name, and it was someone I’ve been trying to work with for months but it just never worked out. Earl Horic. He came down and worked with Caitlin and I, and it was great. We spoke about suppression, rotation (rotating wrist to throw combos instead of moving the arm), how my shield is strapped, and how to improve my guard. Overall it was a good practice, though my left leg just above the knee on the outside got punished yet again. I’m gonna make something special to protect that area until I get better at defense, since I was limping by the end of practice.
Last night at Nutley, we did some Birka style bear pit in the beginning, since Birka is only a week away. I went to practice with Ulf, and because of the bear pit I actually got to fight him again. We haven’t fought since maybe October. The bear pit was exhausting, and a great learning experience. One tip I got was to meet my opponent in the middle when they step in, and not let them come to me like I normally do. I fought three belted fighters last night. I fought Sir Douglas Henry, who gave me tips on inside fighting. Definitely something to work on. I didn’t give up my left leg as much overall this night, which was good. I fought Sir Beatrix, who furthered my education in inside fighting. She’s very fast and aggressive when inside, and has a pretty devastating leg wrap. The last belted fighter I fought was Sir Stefan, who helped me with throwing shots while legged and not letting my opponent just close in and do what they want. Arne was there blowing up my right leg, and he told me that when I get ready to do something I square up, which is making my right leg vulnerable. Something else added to the list. Finally, I fought another guy who I’ve fought a bunch of times, and still can’t remember his damn SCA name. His real name is Jay. He was a good fight, no doubt. I’m hoping soon to be able to go 50/50 with him. right now we’re like 70//30 at best, so I really need to up my game.
My focus for Birka right now is just to make it through to the end without having to bail due to injury. The last bear pit tourney I did was only two hours, and I had to bail after 80 minutes due to my right leg getting blown up. I’d like to be able to make it through to the end for Birka. I’m well aware there’s a good chance I’ll be at the bottom of the list, and that’s fine. I have no delusions of ending up in the top 50% for the day, though it’d be super cool for that to happen. Another silver lining is that even if I need to bow out, I’ll be able to spend more time with the Lish, getting loaded and being silly. I’ll be attending practice tonight in Wantagh, and then will take next week off so I don’t risk being injured for Birka.
Finally, the tally.
Total chiv = 4
Total kingdoms = 2
Royal peers = 1
Knights = 4
Masters = 0