SCA heavy combat

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Fighters practicing at Pennsic XXXVIII (2009). Note the use of rattan swords and edge padding on the shields

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.[1][2] It is variously considered a combat sport, contact sport, or a form of martial art.[citation needed]

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,[3] full-contact competition between two or more combatants,[1] 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,[4][5] 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.[6]


Fighters practising at Pennsic XXXVIII (2009)

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.[7] 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.[8]

Different weapon choices require different skills and strategies. Most SCA fighters use a one-handed weapon in combination with a shield of some kind.[1] 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.[9] 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.[1] Steel is generally used for armour (though plastic, leather and even carpet may be used).[9] There are a number of armourers that supply the SCA and other living history groups, but many make their own armour.[10] Armour is generally encouraged to look like its historical counterpart,[11] though may not always, in practice.


Fighters practising at Gulf Wars XIII (2004)

Heavy combat within the SCA uses a body part target location system. If a limb is hit with what the recipient determines to be a blow with significant force, it cannot be used thereafter. If the torso or head 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 knee thereafter. 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).

Several of the rules make it clearly abstracted from real historical combat. 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. The winning shot of the bout is acknowledged by the defeated participant, who will generally declare the hit valid (or die a dramatic death for good showmanship).[1]

For the purposes of calling blows, all combatants are considered to be armoured in a mail hauberk, wearing an open-faced helmet with a nasal (nose protection) even if they are, in reality, wearing more or less armour than that listed. For that reason, a draw cut or glancing blow would have no effect, while a solid blow is considered to have defeated or penetrated the armour. Good strikes to the torso and head are treated as a 'killing blow'.[8]

There are slight variations between regional SCA branches (known as Kingdoms) concerning combat rules.[12]


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".[13]

Melee tournaments can include a number of combatants taking to the field.[1] 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.[14] 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.

Fighting styles[edit]

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,[15] while others publish and sell theirs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "SCA Fighting-What is it?". 1996-09-15. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  2. ^ "re-creational combat article renaissance magazine". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  3. ^ "Striking an opponent with excessive force is forbidden", SCA "Armored Combat" manual, first rule of "Behaviour on the field"
  4. ^ The Known World Handboke, p 5
  5. ^ "Cariadoc's Miscellany: Closed Form Heater: A Voice from A.S. IV". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  6. ^ "People and Groups in the SCA". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  7. ^ The New SCA Fighters Handboke, p 24
  8. ^ a b "Armored Combat". Society Marshal. SCA, Inc. 2009-01-01. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  9. ^ a b The New SCA Fighters Handboke, p 16
  10. ^ Gay, Gerald M. (2009-01-25). "Return now to yesteryear". Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on 2010-02-17. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  11. ^ "Society for Creative Anachronism Marshal's Handbook". Section VI.A, final sentence. Society for Creative Anachronism. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  12. ^ The Known World Handboke, p 159
  13. ^ The By-Laws and Corporate Policies of the SCA, Inc (PDF). Milpitas, CA: Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. 2007. 
  14. ^ "Forward into the Past, an Introductory Guide to the SCA | Kingdom of Trimaris". 1966-05-01. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  15. ^ "Bellatrix Fighting School". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 


  • The Known World Handbook (Second edition ed.). Milpitas California: Society for Creative Anachronism. 
  • The New SCA Fighters Handbook. Milpitas California: Society for Creative Anachronism. 1993. 

External links[edit]