Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Duke Henrik on Armor

A common complaint about the use of plastic and aluminum is that it does not accurately replicate the weight of armor in period. This complaint has become especially loud with regards to alluminum shields, which have become common and are much heavier than the shields used in the early days of the SCA (my knight used a shield that weight eighteen pounds, and I have used one that weighed more than 20 pounds). Aluminum, because it allows you to use a large shield without significantly greater weight, is seen as "cheating."

In a conversation on the Western Chivalry List Duke Henrik of Havn wrote the following. Henrik is the first first crowned king of the SCA and the person credited with having worn the first "real" suit of armor in SCA fighting (a mail haubrek and a norman helm with a nasal that he had fitted out with a catcher's mask). He is also a serious reenactor, who takes part on occasion in the Battle of Hastings reenactments in England:


Now to clarify what I was trying to say about the weight of armor. Over the years I have learned that period armor was usually not as heavy as many immagine it to have been. As Alfred commented, early SCA armor was heavy. This often was due to over engineering and/or limited access to materials to make it from. My first mail hauberk ( made of wire I got free, from coat hangers - about 13 gage steel wound on a half inch diameter mandril) weighed 40 pounds. Others used 14 gage bailing wire wound onto 3/8 inch mandrils. Modern 18 gage, 9mm Indian or Pakistani mail replicates early period round wire mail much more accurately and is rivited to boot. The later period flat ring mail is also well represented by Indian and Pakistani rivited mail replicas, now available. I have a section of Turkish mail of the 14th century that is nearly a duplicate of the modern replicas, both in ring size and thickness. Wet=ight si also duplicateed. Such mail hauberks weigh in the 20 to 25 pound rang e, giving the same coverage.

Old freon tank helms weighed much more than some modern period duplicates, and were much larger and ungainly, making defending blows harder. some people wore little or no limb armor since mandates were less or non existant, depending on time and place. Period plate made of light gage spring tempered steel is now availabe to those who can afford the extra cost, but protect and weigh about the same as plastic body armor. Cuirboile and rawhide armors are also lightweight, when properly fashioned and they too offer as much protection as plastic at similar or even less weight.

My point here was simply that the difference between the weight of a period material armor and a modern plastic or titanium or aluminum armor is negligable, if done well. To chastize someone for using one over the other because of the weight advantage that was formerly presumed to exist, can now generally be shown to be based on misinfirmation of what period armors weighed compared to modern replicas using well engineered period materials.

In other words, if thin gage hardened spring steel armor of equivalent strength and protection to 14 gage mild steel can be made, and it weighs the same or less than Aluminum, Titanium or Plastic armor of identical size and protection, then why are the latter armors not just as acceptable to wear and fight in? Equally, if hardened leather or rawhide armors or those made of other forms of period materials , can be nmade to weigh much less than 14 gage mild steel, but still offer the same protection as 14 gage mild steel armor, why can't Aluminum , Titanium or Plastic armors that weigh AND PROTECT the same, not be just as acceptable?

Although I don't care for the asthetics of using modern materials that are significantly removed from period materials, I have to admit using them is no less an advantage than using the well engineered period armors. And as such, no stigma should attach to anyone doing so.

It may have been that the belief that people using aluminum ( titanium, plastic, etc.) shields or armor were in effect cheating, by not having to carry the weight of the steel standard. But now we know that standard was set at a time where access to a more period one was not inexpensively available to the great majority of fighters. Equally unknown then, was the lack of information about the properties of the other materials available and used in period, that we now have access to. Coupled with a desire to not only be overly cautious regarding individual safety, but also concerned about making changes to rules that have maintained that safety for decades, change to the requirements are unlikely to occurr any time soon, at the Corporate level.

So to address the White Elephant of "Cheating by using modern plastic or light weight metals for armor and shields" is really not the issue of great magnitude we used to think it was. Really it's a misunderstanding of just how light weight armor and shields sometimes really were. The simple example I gave was that a period Viking Round shield made of 8 mm thick linden wood and 28 inches in diameter, could weigh as little as 4 pounds or so ( I have a 13 mm thick by 28 inch diameter plywood disc that weighs 3 and 3/4 pounds, add a 5 and 1/2 inch diamerer hemispherical, 14 gage steel boss at 16 ounces and the shield made from these articles would excede the strength of the linden and yet weigh only 4 and 3/4 pounds) and yet offer the same protection as a 4 pound aluminum shield of the same diameter. The only effective difference between the two is the greater longevity the alluminum 's strength would provide. To say using one over the other is cheating, is rediculous, because it weighs the same as period materials.

I have linden wood boards to make an 8 mm thick shield 32 inches in diameter and they weigh about 6 pounds. Add the boss and the total is 7 pounds. The most recent find of a Viking shield was in Denmark in September 2008. Reports of analysis on it show it was 6 to 8mm thick and 32 inches in diameter. Likely, when assembled with it's boss, it weighed around 7 to 8 pounds, when new.

We usually select materials to make shields and armor last longer while being beaten uppon , Tourney after Tourney. They are mandated to offer extra protection, for safety reasons, not because period ones did. The Coppergate helmet was made of much thinner iron than 14 gage. I'd estimate it was closer to 18 to 20 gage. It is very small, offering very little clearance between the head and the metal. Hardly room for a thin leather liner, much less 1/2 inch closed cell foam. It's total weight is likely arround 5 pounds.

It is well known that in period, metals were valued much higher than today. Protective equipment was engineered, not to last through many Tornament seasons (consisting of being pounded upon in both practice and competition - as we use it today) but to last only long enough to preserve the wearer, much as today's plastic automobile bumpers are designed to absorb a single collision (or attack). If we permitted armor of that nature to be used, instead of the 14 gage standard , it would doubtless weigh no more that modern materials weigh - which do provide the equivalent protection and longivity of the heavier standards.

So, to sum up. Holding plastic and light weight metals or materials as forms of cheating, is an errer we should finally dispense with. There is no cheating where advantage is gained in this fashion, unless it is specifically legislated against.

The only remaining issue is, who can afford one material over another and is spending large sums to gain access that others can't afford, another issue we wish to address?


Thursday, April 22, 2010

I made it to Nutley

...and it was awesome. It was, in fact, so awesome I couldn't actually partake of all the awesomeness. I only got to fight half the knights there. Counting myself there were eight knights in armor including two dukes: me, Gregor, Kelson, Stephan, Max, Wilhelm, Douglas, and Manfred. There were probably more knights than unbelts.

I started the night in the deep end fighting Douglas. He is on fire right now, having won both Mudthaw and Birka. We traded about even. When I beat him it was with a planned attack that worked, and when he beat me it was often because I planned an attack that didn't work. I got him with a couple of good thrusts, including the foot-stomp thrust. He plowed me once in the ribs.

My second set of fights was against an unbelted fighter named Mike. I think he killed me twice and I killed him several times. I don't think he knew who I was, which was good. i wasn't wearing a white belt (I don't usually do so at practice) and he was jumping in my face as though he wanted to show the new guy that Nutley is a tough place--in a nice and chivalrous way, of course. And he seemed annoyed that I was beating him as much as I was at first. I got him with the hook/thrust twice.

My third set of fights was against Stephen. No, I didn't lay stick on him once. I almost got him with a thrust, close enough that he commented on it later, but that was as close as i got. However, my defense was very tight. I had a lot of patience, and it paid off. But I was also getting tired, and against Stephen I lose patience and attack simply because I want to try *something*, so that I was able to be as careful and as patient as i was was an accomplishment.

A brief digression. When I practice i usually go into my first one or two fights as though I'm in a tournament. I concentrate on defense, I use a careful and simple offense, i try to be patient, and I try to counter punch. After that I start experimenting. I work on new shots or combinations, I try different attacks and defenses, different footwork, and I pull out old stuff that I haven't used in awhile. I noticed last night that after my first two fights of any set, which I mostly won, I was easing from the tight, slightly crouched closed form with my sword leg forward--a variation on the techniques used by the VDKs--into the way I enjoy fighting most, a western high form with the sword back and standing up straight like Radnor (strive for height, as Musashi says).

Against Stephen there was none of that. I was in my tightest defense the whole time. He clobbered me (once really hard, *g*) but it took him awhile to do it, and I worked his defense hard the whole time. He said that my biggest problem was that sometimes I would stop moving and lean back, blocking high with my sword and shield together, and that when i did that he was able to kill me with a high snap. I thought my biggest problem was that i was holding my breath.

After that I fought.... I think it was Lucan's squire Cullen. He's a polearm fighter. I started out with the tip forward fencing style and killed him with a saber cut. then I moved in slowly and controlled his pole by jamming my boss above his hand and killed him with wraps. I changed things up a lot--open form, closed form, high guard, low guard, sword leg forward, shield leg forward, etc. A lot of the time we just stared at each other and tried to wait the other out. The time he got me best was when i tried to just charge his right shoulder and ran right into his cross shot attack. Look. Pretty pretty stars.

Then I fought Max. I always love fighting Max. Max is a lot of fun. I'm taller than him, he's faster than me. I tried something different at first. After my first bout with him i switched to closed form but with my shield foot forward. I have less offense out of that but tighter defense. It kept me alive for a time. I managed to kill him with thrusts a couple of times and with a wrap/snap combo a couple of times, but that was it. He probably was beating me three to one, though most of those were after I switched to the Western high form. Afterward he said what people often say, that my attacks develop slowly. I've been trying to avoid that, and it bothered me. It was then that i realized that with the exception of fighting Stephen I had been transitioning into high form during my sets all night. Hmmmm.

Finally, after a long rest, i fought Heinrich Brauer. What i didn't realize was that he would be using a buckler. As it happened I had brought mine, not because I intended to use it but because when I stick it in the bottom of my duffel bag it forms a nice stable surface for packing and makes it easier to strap to my little collapsible dolly. So I ran and got it. Yay! I used the Hauoc high closed form technique, the I:33 technique, and (mostly) old school Bellatrix. Oh, I had a blast. He killed me with a thrust and I think a body shot, but i killed him with old-school combos, a wavy/rising snap, hidden snaps (wow! remember hidden snaps?), dropping wraps and I think even a figure 8 attack. My foot work was really on.

But man, I was slow! I mean, I know I've put on a few pounds since Crown, but all year endurance has been my big thing. Max was right about my attacks being slow, especially out of the open high form. When using Hauoc's closed form, I couldn't even throw the downward molinee that is the bread and butter of that style fast enough to kill with it. All my blows were a half a beat behind. I was feeling pretty terrible, then Oscad reminded me that I was tired when the night started. I had done my kettle bell work out the day before, I gotten up at six am that morning, and I'd worked all day on my feet at the store. I was exhausted! No wonder I was doing odd things. I was distracted, I was slow, I was falling back on old habits (mostly old good habits). That's ok. I like practicing tired. It's good practice for long fights and late rounds. With that in mind it was a really good practice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ah, it's BAT again

My workouts this week were, well, not so good. I did dance at the wedding, and I did work out hard on Friday (20 minutes on the eliptical, 20 minutes yoga, 20 minutes on the kettle bells). Plus I've been on my feet A LOT. But between weddings, allergies, sickens (which could have been allergies combined with exhaustion) I was not as diligent as I would have liked.

But I did fight at BAT today.

Today was the Beau Geste, so I didn't get to do too much fighting (I was running the tournament). But I did get to go a few rounds with Johnathan, Oscad, and Jabril.

Johnathan kept me on my toes because he has such a fast hard counter punch. I won most of our fights, but I had to be super careful doing it.

Jabril and I had a really really long fight in which he eventually killed me. I wasn't using a thrusting tip, so I didn't have all my offense, and we both had good defenses and strong attacks. We worked it very hard.

Oscad was great. I beat him twice, he beat me twice. His fighting has gotten so much better, and it's mostly mental. He is simply more fierce than he used to be. His attacks are strong and measured. He is conserving energy and picking his shots. He is patient. He is doing all the things I am trying to do, and it's working really well for him. I killed him once with an interesting little thrust to the outside of his guard, and once with a simple cut that slipped into his timing pattern. Great fights.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Workout and fighting musings

A thought occurred to me while thinking about my fight with Gregor and some of the things that happened at Mudthaw. Word at Mudthaw was that I had "really picked up my game". Terik said that the thrust has really expanded my attack, which may be but I don't like to think of it that way. My fight with Gregor impressed a lot of people, but (a) I lost, and (b) I *always* fight Gregor well. It was my fight with Grifith that really felt good.

And that got me thinking.

Grifith said that my defense was a lot better, and it's not--according to him--because i went to a longer shield (he doesn't consider 38" to be long). He says my defense has gotten much tighter. Now that's probably true, but what i really did was start concentrating on defense instead of offense. Wanting to be Radnor, I've always concentrated on offense, and I've got a pretty good one. I was bothered by Terik's statement because it implied that my blade work was not so hot, and I've always been proud of my blade work. But I've always been an aggressive fighter. Now I stress patience. Griffith and I spent a lot of time staring at each other. So did Gregor and I. But against Grifith, patience was a good tactic.

The thing I came to realize today is that my past fights with Grifith (who, interestingly, was Gregor's squire) I've always had trouble with what to *do*. I had no real offense for a shield as big as his. It wasn't just that the shield was large it was a mental thing: my inability to fight his style was disproportionate to the size of his shield. I think I've killed him once, and that was in a pickup fight using an old-school molinee/onside cut. Gregor, on the other hand, the Duke in the occasion, I have no problem whatsoever fighting. I just go for it, sometimes I kill him, usually he kills me, but I *know what to do*. Gregor trained with Ron and he fights with what would be a standard sized Western heater. Against him i just go out and fight my usual fight, and I do well. The same is true when I fight Duke Tim, or Horic, or Ron: I know how to fight against that style because I've been doing it for thirty years. Up until recently I've looked at those big shields and something in my head has been psyched out. I've been flummoxed. Now it's different. Now, concentrating on fighting more like an Easterner, defensively motivated, and as Terik points out using the thrust effectively (which isn't hampered by the length of the shield) I have ways to attack the Eastern style.

And that's why my fight with Griffith meant more to me than my fight with Gregor. It meant that I've gotten rid of whatever mental block was hampering me when fighting one of those big kite shields.

Oh, the workout:

I didn't workout much over Spring Break last week. I did a dumbbell workout one day and then Indian clubs but I pulled a muscle in my scapula. It wasn't really painful, but I stopped working out for a couple of days. Of course, I picked up extra shifts at the store, which meant standing, walking,a nd climbing ladders all day long. That store has kept me in pretty good shape. And the two days i didn't work at the store I was doing the tourist thing in DC, walking my feet off. So i was not being a slug.

This week however has started well: yoga yesterday, 30 minutes on the treadmill and a kettle bell workout today (shoulders feel great in that tired post workout sort of way). Tomorrow hopefully I'll make it to Nutley.