SCA armoured combat
SCA armoured combat, or informally 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 slang term "heavy" is used to distinguish this from "light" combat, now almost exclusively referred to as rapier combat.
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 armour. 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 melees of up to 2000 participants.
While SCA heavy combat is relatively new compared to other more established martial activities, with the first tournaments held in 1966, 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, Japan 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. Rattan is used, because unlike wood, it doesn't form into dangerous sharp splinters when it breaks.
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. Generally, armour covers the fighter from head to toe. Safety standards are high and generally well enforced, with few serious injuries in comparison to other sports. 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, while some participants may import armour from overseas. Armour is generally encouraged to look like its historical counterpart, though differences are often necessary to comply with safety requirements, and sometimes modern sport armour may be used 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. Minimal armour may cost as little as $200, and up to $10,000 USD, and may weigh as much as 70 pounds.
In heavy combat within the SCA, the validity of a blow works on 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 armour set, not the armour they are actually wearing. This "imaginary" armour set consists of mail hauberk, an open-faced helmet with a nasal (nose protection), and boiled leather armour about the arms and legs. Blows with sufficient force are considered to have defeated or penetrated this armour, or struck an "unprotected" area of the body. Cheating is normally frowned upon, and fighters are expected to be honorable in their behaviour, and acceptance of defeat.
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.
Grades, in the form of Knighthoods, are awarded to those of suffecient prowess. Women are awarded knighthoods as well, and there are currently around 40 female knighthoods in the society.
SCA tournaments are held regularly in which two combatants fight each other, 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. Sometimes, novelty combat may occur, where for instance, the fighters take the form of chess pieces.
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.
Unlike many other martial arts, there is no general formal style or codified system 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.
The acknowledgement of valid hits is one of the most controversial aspects of armored combat. The first issue is that the judgment of a hit is entirety subjective. A fighter's perception of a hit is affected by armor type and location, the normal variation in human perception to pressure and pain, fatigue, battle focus, hits taught as acceptable during training and warm-up ("calibration"), and personal opinion. The result is an identical blow thrown with identical force will be taken as valid by one fighter, but not another. While some regions develop noticeable patterns on the amount of force required for a blow to be considered valid, there is still considerable variance between fighters. The typical solution within the society is to have fighters warm up before a formal bout by mutually exchanging hits and providing feedback, called "calibrating". However, this still does not establish a meaningful standard, and there are still great variations between fighters.
The second issue with acknowledgement of blows is that a given fighter is always trusted to give an honest appraisal of the hit received. Because of this, it is possible within the SCA's rules to cheat by refusing to acknowledge a valid hit in order to win a bout. While bouts are overseen by "marshals" who act as referees, they are prohibited from judging if a blow was valid, though they can and on rare occasions have stopped bouts to provide descriptive information of past hits to the combatants and reaffirm the concepts of the honour system before the bout is resumed. However, there is currently no remedy under the rules for refusing to accept a valid hit. If an individual demonstrates a blatant hit judgment problem then the offending individual acquires a reputation for being a dishonourable combatant, with the attendant social stigma. The slang term "rhinohide" was coined to refer to such fighters who have an obvious problem judging valid hits.
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