SCA heavy combat
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (March 2012)|
Heavy combat is a combat sport developed by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in which participants in body armour act out mock combats loosely inspired by forms of historical combat practiced in medieval Europe. It is variously considered a combat sport, contact sport, or a form of martial art.
The term heavy is used to distinguish this from other combat disciplines in the SCA: Rapier fencing, Archery (combat and target), Thrown Weapons, and Equestrian.
Participants use armour and weapons specified by SCA standards and rules. Weapons are made from rattan rather than steel for added safety. All major vital points of the body must be covered by armor. The fighting is a full-speed, near full-force, full-contact competition between two or more combatants, and it is designed to resemble medieval combat dueling or melee.
While SCA heavy combat is relatively new compared to other more established martial activities, with the first tournaments held just over 40 years ago in the mid 1960s, it has now evolved into a large worldwide combat form with thousands of active participants in Canada, The United States, Germany, Austria, Finland, Netherlands, France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Participants may choose a wide range of weapons, the striking surfaces of which are made of rattan, and may use leather, foam, and duct tape in their construction. Non-striking surfaces (such as quillons and basket hilts) may be made of other material. Some commonly used weapons are swords, maces, spears, greatswords, glaives, pollaxes, mauls and axes.
Different weapon choices require different skills and strategies. Most SCA fighters use a one-handed weapon in combination with a shield of some kind. With centuries of historical examples to draw upon, shields may range from large rectangular Roman-style scuta to small bucklers, with common styles including the kite, center-grip (round or oval), and heater. Other fighters use a weapon in each hand, a two-handed weapon (such as a great sword), a polearm or a spear.
All armour standards are codified, with slight variations between the different regional groups within the SCA. All vital points are covered by some hard rigid protection. Helmets must be made of steel, 2mm thick. Safety standards are high and generally well enforced, with few serious injuries in comparison to other sports. There have been no deaths in SCA armoured combat. Steel is generally used for armour (though aluminum, leather and even plastic or carpet may be used if they are covered over). There are a number of armourers that supply the SCA and other living history groups, but many make their own armour. Armour is generally encouraged to look like its historical counterpart, though differences are often necessary to comply with safety requirements. One of the most common examples is the face of a helmet: While many types of historical helm had no face protection, safety rules require full coverage of the head. As a result, there are many variations of helm used in the SCA that are otherwise historically accurate but have a steel grill added to cover the face.
In heavy combat within the SCA, the validity of a blow works on an a type of honor system. The combatant on the receiving end of a blow from a weapon must judge if it would have injured or killed them had it been a real weapon and if they were wearing a specific, defined armor set, not the armor they are actually wearing. This "imaginary" armor set consists of mail hauberk, an open-faced helmet with a nasal (nose protection), and boiled leather armor about the arms and legs. Blows with sufficient force are considered to have defeated or penetrated this armor, or struck an "unprotected" area of the body.
The effect a blow has on a combatant uses a body part target location system. If the head, neck or torso are hit with significant force, the combatant is deemed dead. If a leg is hit with significant force to disable it, the combatant must fight on his or her knees thereafter. If an arm is hit, the combatant can no longer use it to hold a weapon or shield. Different weapons can have different effects, simulating the effect of the period weapon (e.g. a mace hit upon the shoulder has a more severe effect than a sword, to simulate the effect of the mace as a heavier weapon). The struck combatant either verbally acknowledges the validity of a blow or acts it out, depending on the type of bout. Some bouts request a defeated combatant die a dramatic death for good showmanship.
Certain behaviors are prohibited for safety reasons; even if they would have occurred in real historical combat, they present major safety issue for modern practitioners. For instance, one must not strike an opponent from behind, tripping and wrestling are not allowed, and one must not strike from one inch before the wrist to the end of the hand nor from one inch above the knee to the end of the leg.
SCA tournaments are held regularly in which two combatants fight at a time, using a number of advancement systems so that a single winning fighter is decided. A special case of this is the regular Crown Tournament in each SCA kingdom held to choose the king and queen who will "rule".
Melee tournaments can include a number of combatants taking to the field. Especially at large events such as Pennsic War, combats may include wars, where large number of participants can take the field at once, and these may include archers, artillery and fortifications.
Most local SCA groups hold "fighter practices" where individual and group combat is practiced and informal instruction occurs, but in some regions there may be more formalized and structured training in a local style. Typically several years of direct experience in heavy combat are needed to excel in tournaments. Experienced fighters often train less-experienced fighters in a Knight / squire relationship.
There is no general formal style or codified system (like in martial arts) within SCA heavy combat, and individuals may fight whatever style and type of weapon that are permissible within the rules. Styles and strategies are often passed on within local groups based on either the individual style of a local trainer, who is normally an experienced fighter known as a "Knight" or a "Peer", the style of the local group as a whole, or the style of a particular household. Some fighting groups produce written manuals that codify styles and training techniques, while others rely on direct interpersonal transfer of knowledge. Some SCA Heavy combatants publish their training manuals on the internet, while others publish and sell theirs.
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