October 23, 2013

Hey Man, Nice Shot

Before you watch the video below, you should probably know a few things.

1: The Society for Creative Anachronism is a group dedicated to recreating pre 17th-century skills and activities. Practitioners wear clothes inspired by time periods from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, research historical personas, and do things that may have been done “in period.”

One of those activities is armored combat.

Fighters wear armor meant to be reminiscent of tournament armor or battle dress of the middle ages, and battle each other with wooden weapons. There are referees (“marshals”) on the field to insure rules are followed, and everyone plays safe.

Once a year, over 10,000 people gather in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania for the Pennsic War. People participate in singing, storytelling, displays of arts and sciences of the middle ages, and other cultural activities that accentuate the feeling of living in a romanticized Renaissance or Middle Ages. There are also martial activities, like archery contest, fencing tournaments, and large contests of armored combat, where hundreds of people fight side-by-side.

postcard from Pennsic

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a member of the SCA. I’ve been to the Pennsic War a few times. I’ve earned awards for both martial skill and for service to the organization. As a matter of fact, here’s a recent picture of me from a local demonstration.

Me, at a demonstration in Philadelphia.

Me, at an SCA demonstration in Philadelphia.

2: The ballista is a siege weapon that dates back to ancient times. It was a giant crossbow that launched immense iron-tipped bolts at castle walls.

The Ballista. Courtesy of wikipedia.org

In the SCA, we don’t attack castle walls. That’s just silly. First of all, there aren’t that many castles in the US. Also, castles are big and valuable, and are expensive to maintain. Our insurance would not likely cover castle damage.

So we shoot them at each other.

How Not to Charge a Ballista

Now, go back and watch that again. Listen to these guys. Most importantly, listen to the guy who got hit, the one with blue tape on his helm. Watch again what he does after taking a ballista bolt to the face.

He gets up, walks over to his opponents, the guys manning the ballista, high-fives them, and yells, “beautiful!”

That…that right there. That’s why I’m a member. The joy expressed by the guy who had just been shot…its infectious. Find me a sport where someone can take a hit like that, get up, and then go high-five the guy who hit him. I guarantee that sometime that night, every participant in that exchange, from the guy firing the ballista to his teammates, to the guy who got hit, were all sitting around campfires, telling stories of that shot, of the guy who high-fived the shooter right afterward.

Then they went home and went back to their daily lives, back to their day jobs pushing paper, or fixing cars, or designing buildings, or whatever careers have a hold on them. And they probably try to tell the stories there, too. The stories might fall flat, might not be appreciated by people who don’t understand the need to dress in medieval clothes or armor, and join a thousand people on a Pennsylvania battlefield in August heat.

This guy had it right, though. Thanks to a $200 camera strapped to his helmet, he can let everyone know about that joy. He can share the same story that he told around the campfire that night with his coworkers, with his family, and with people like me, who missed that year’s Pennsic War. Then I can take it and show you, and give you an idea of that magical moment we get when fellowship, chivalry, honor, sportsmanship all coalesce into one moment. And you see that smile on the opponent’s face when he gives you a high-five after a great shot, or a congratulations for helping make a great moment.

In 2008, Michael Wesch talked about the celebratory culture building among users of YouTube. “Its a celebration of new forms of community,” he says, talking over people from all walks of life, doing the “Numa Numa” dance. If I may be so bold, may I give you another example, with the fighters above.

When you feel like there’s something missing in life, like its a constant carousel of labor-paycheck-bills,or if every step forward feels like its impeded by the most mundane weights, come back and watch the video again. Listen to these guys laugh and celebrate that short moment.

Written with StackEdit.

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About mikewgoodman

I am a renaissance-swordfighting enthusiast and I enjoy historical reenactments (where I focus my attention on Elizabethan culture, historical swordfighting, and the London Masters of Defense). I'm an avid roleplaying gamer, have done some game design, and I write. I share my home with a son who loves games, a wife who loves her garden, and a pack of mercenary cats.

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