Fencing (the Art of Defence, Rapier Combat, Period Fencing, Light Combat - the term used varies a great deal from place to place) is a form of sword-fighting that became popular in late period. With the rise of the musket, heavy plate armour became almost useless and was shed by some in exchange for light armour and light weaponry such as the rapier - which were quick and effective (in civilian situations).
Fencing in the SCA
In 1979 the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) introduced rapier rules, allowing fencing within the organization. Since that time, fencing has gained a significant following in the SCA and tournaments with over one hundred competitors are not uncommon at larger events. The ultimate goal of SCA fencing as stated by the rules is to safely simulate fencing "with a real blade, extremely sharp on point and edge." Fencing is an active part of every kingdom in the SCA except for the Kingdom of Calontir. In February 2015, the Order of Defence was approved by the SCA Board of Directors to be added as a new SCA peerage.
SCA fencing usually entails bouts between a pair of combatants but the rules also allow competition between groups of fencers. "Battles" with over one hundred fencers on each side are common at large gatherings.
As fencing in the SCA is intended to be first and foremost fun, safety is the primary concern. All fencing practices and tournaments in the SCA are run by fencing marshals who are warranted to watch for unsafe behavior, inspect equipment, and authorize others to fence. The authorization process includes a test of knowledge of fencing rules and bouts fought with previously authorized fencers under the marshal's supervision; the goal is to not to prove the fencer's ability to win bouts, but his or her ability to participate safely and courteously in both tournaments and casual sparring. No fencer may compete in an SCA tournament until he or she has passed authorization.
The Fencing List Field
SCA fencing is conducted "in-the-round," rather than back and forth on a linear strip as in conventional sport fencing. The fencers may move freely within a designated fighting space called the "list field". These fields may be any size and are often outdoors.
As in sport épée, the entire body is considered a valid target, and priority (right-of-way) plays no part in the rules.
Both the point and edge of the blade may score touches.
The point is used primarily for thrusts, naturally. However, in some Kingdoms, tip-cuts are valid. Tip-cuts are made by dragging the tip across the target area without the forward pressure required for a thrust.
The edge is used for draw-cuts (placing the blade and pulling it on the opponent's body), push-cuts (the same, only pushing rather than pulling), and percussive blows with the edge of the blade. Percussive blows are only legal under the "cut and thrust rapier" rules.
The rules defining a valid blow vary from kingdom (region) to kingdom, and are set by the kingdom's marshalate. Before competing against fencers from other kingdoms, rules and attack calibrations must be discussed and the rules of the encounter chosen in order to ensure a fair and courteous contest. The SCA provides a common set of rules governing all fencing within the SCA and these are often used as the standard in multi-kingdom gatherings. Kingdoms are allowed to make their own rules more restrictive but may not relax any restrictions outlined in the SCA's rapier combat rules.
Within the SCA, it is the responsibility of the fencer being hit to acknowledge a valid attack from the opponent. The SCA does not use fencing directors or judges. The fighting is overseen by a marshal who monitors the bout for safety and who can provide an "extra pair of eyes," if so requested by the fencers. The marshal has the ability to warn or remove a fighter from the bout for safety or other rules violations and may stop the bout at any time.
Bouts usually continue until one fighter strikes a "fatal" blow. A fighter may also yield (concede victory to the opponent) at any time during the bout. A "fatal" blow is defined as a valid attack to the head, torso, or major artery.
Attacks to the legs or arms are considered "disabling". A disabled fencer loses the use of the disabled limb. If a fencer loses both hands or arms, they must yield the bout.
Participants generally cannot wear the protective gear of conventional sport fencing as it often does not pass the SCA safety requirements. This is because conventional sport protective gear is designed to protect the front of the body and uses lighter material on the back whereas SCA safety standards require equal protection on the front and back of the torso.
Masks, Helmets, and Rigid Protection
SCA fencers wear a mask that will withstand a 12 kilo punch test or the equivalent. Steel recreations of late period helmets have also been used. Gaps that might permit a blade are filled with perforated steel plates.
A male fencer is required to wear a protective cup (UK: box). Rigid breast protection is encouraged for female fencers.
When using heavy rapiers fencers are required to protect the throat with a gorget (protective collar) of either steel or thick leather.
An SCA fencer is not allowed to show any bare skin when entering the list field. The torso, head, neck, and groin must be covered by "puncture-resistant" material (4 oz or 110 g leather, four layers of trigger cloth, or the equivalent). To protect the back of the head a fencer must wear a fencing coif or hood of "puncture-resistant" material covering all of the head not covered by the fencing mask itself. "Puncture-resistant" material must pass either a commercial 550 newton garment punch test devices or a standardized SCA test device designed to deliver 1.5 joules of energy to a 4 mm circle.
The extremities are protected by "abrasion-resistant" (one layer of trigger cloth or the equivalent thereof) material.
The hands are protected by gloves of at least "abrasion-resistant" material.
Feet shall be protected by boots, shoes, or sandals, comprised of at least "abrasion-resistant" material. In many kingdoms, footwear must completely enclose the foot; in some, such as the Midrealm, boots above the ankle are required.
The SCA allows a wide variety of different blades. Each kingdom sets its own rules regarding which types of blades are or are not legal. The length of a blade is not regulated, but "heavy rapiers" may not be used in the same bouts as epees and foils.
The Society as a whole is moving towards the use of "heavy rapiers" (originally with schlagers but now more commonly with reproduction practice rapiers), usually tipped with an archery blunt. Everything from French foil and epée grips with theatrical ambidextrous bells to period swept-hilts and early post-period cup rapier hilts are seen. The more period hilts are greatly preferred and there is a general movement towards more accurate weapon simulators. Foils and épées, being too light (less than 1.5 pounds, as opposed to the approximately 2.5 to 5 pounds of period rapiers and cut-and-thrust swords) and too easily broken for even semi-period technique, are gradually being abandoned.
Although common in period, rapier hilts that are likely to catch, break or damage an opponent's blade are forbidden.
Some of the most common blade types are listed below:
Light Rapier Blades
- Fiberglass blades
Heavy Rapier Blades
- Del Tin Rapier
- Hanwei Rapier
- Darkwood Rapier
In SCA fencing, the dagger may be employed for offensive, as well as defensive, purposes.
Daggers may both thrust and cut. Although the dagger is most commonly carried in the off-hand and employed primarily as a parrying implement, bouts between dagger-armed fencers are far from unknown.
Case of Rapiers
The SCA also allows fencers the option of fighting with a case (pair) of rapiers (often shortened to "case"). The off-hand rapier may be employed for both offensive and defensive purposes. Although a powerful combination in the hands of a skilled fencer, case of rapiers is perhaps the most difficult style of SCA fencing to master. This style is also called Florentine.
Parrying devices are items used to block or deflect the opponent's weapon or parrying device. In some kingdoms they are categorised as either "rigid parry" or "non-rigid parry" devices, and require two separate authorisations.
As with weapons and protective gear, parrying devices must also be inspected and approved by marshals before they may be used.
The use of a shield, buckler, or target in the off hand is allowed by SCA rapier rules. Some groups restrict the size of the shield. The period use of the shield or buckler as an offensive weapon is forbidden.
Sometimes informally called "floppy parry".
The cloak or cape is often used in the off-hand to parry or beat away blades. Other common non-rigid devices include hats, coiled whips, and "quick-release" skirts. Items that may consistently cause entanglement with an opponent or their gear (such as fishing nets, scourges) are not allowed.
Unsafe period techniques such as throwing the cloak in the opponent's face are forbidden.
If a cloak blocks a rubberband shot, it is still not proof against "bullets". The shot is deemed to have passed unimpeded through the cloak, and into any part of the targeted fencer that happens to be in the projected path of the shot.
Fencers have been known to take the field carrying large tankards (usually plastic), rubber "bread loaves", candelabra, "joints of beef", and numerous other "silly parrying devices". At inspection time they must (depending on the Kingdom-level rules) be determined to be either rigid or non-rigid devices, particularly if a fencer is authorised in one form but not in the other. Some Kingdoms, like Lochac, do not make the distinction. The SCA and the rules provide the marshallate with a great deal of flexibility. Although it is not usually stated specifically in the rules, parrying devices must at least simulate the appearance of a period object.
Pistol simulators may also be used as off-hand rigid parrying devices once their single rubberband projectile has been fired.
As in the case of the buckler, all defensive offhand items are prohibited from striking any part of the opponent's body.
Competitions and Format
SCA tournaments are usually conducted in rounds with winners of each round advancing towards the finals.
Some common tournament formats are:
- Single or Double elimination
- Swiss five
- Passe de Armes
- Scenarios (including group combat, terrain, obstacles, and more)
Mêlées between groups of fencers often take place at SCA events; these can be merely mock-brawls between disorganized "factions," but sophisticated small unit tactics are often seen. At Pennsic or the Gulf War it is not unknown for more than two hundred fencers to take the field for a "battle".
The SCA also allows simulations of period firearms to be used under certain conditions in fencing mêlées.
These simulations fire large "rubber bands" made of surgical tubing looped around and securely joined. "Wheellock" pistols are most common, but muskets are not unknown.
This ammunition has enough mass to allow the target to feel its impact through fencing armor, but is light enough to prevent injury. Some SCA fencers have even built light cannon firing as many as fourteen rubber bands at a single shot, thus simulating the effects of grape shot.
The first set of SCA fencing rules was published in the Kingdom of Ansteorra by Tivar Moondragon. Tivar is the premier member of the Order of the White Scarf of Ansteorra which was created in March of 1979, and therefore the first White Scarf in the Known World. Please note, that not every Kingdom has signed the White Scarf Treaty - nevertheless there's fencing in all SCA Kingdoms except Calontir.
SCA Fencing Timeline
- May 1, 1966 - The SCA is founded in Berkeley, California.
- March 1979 - The Kingdom of Ansteorra creates the Order of the White Scarf.
- October 1987 - The Kingdom of the Outlands signs a treaty to create an Order of the White Scarf.
- June 1992 - The Kingdom of the Trimaris signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- Spring 1994 - Atenveldt and An Tir Sign the White Scarf Treaty.
- January 1996 - Atlantia signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- November 1996 - Caid signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- October 1997 - Æthelmearc signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- January 1998 - Artemisia signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- July 2002 - Lochac signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- October 2004 - Northshield signs the White Scarf Treaty.
- January 21, 2006 - The SCA Board of Directors approves new rapier rules including percussive cuts for "cut and thrust" rapier.
- March 25, 2007 - The West Kingdom hosts its first kingdom rapier championship and creates an Order of the White Scarf.
Fencing Titles and Awards
There are many different awards for fencing within the Society.
- The Order of the Laurel - Some fencers have been elevated to the Order of the Laurel for research into historical fencing technique.
- The Order of the White Scarf - The White Scarf is an interkingdom award recognizing excellence in SCA fencing. It is recognized by treaty in 12 of the 19 kingdoms within the SCA.
Not all Kingdoms have signed the White Scarf Treaty. However, many Kingdoms have awards for fencing which are independent orders, just as any other Kingdom award.
Orders that carry a Grant of Arms
- The Bronze Ring in the Middle Kingdom
- The Dragons Steel in Drachenwald
- The Royal Company of Courtiers in the West Kingdom (CLOSED)
- The Order of Thorbjorn's Hammer in Ealdormere (Awarded for Excellence, etc., in ANY Ealdormerean martial discipline)
- The Order of the Queen's Blade in Gleann Abhann
Orders that carry an Award of Arms
- The Order of the Golden Rapier (OGR) in the East Kingdom (note that the East has no Grant Level Awards)
- The Meridian Order of the Blade in Meridies
Cut and Thrust Swordplay
Not long ago, an experimental project began with the goal of legalizing percussive cutting actions in some forms of SCA rapier combat. Percussive cuts allow fencers to accurately recreate a broader range of the techniques discussed in late period (1500-1600) manuals. This experiment was halted pending review by the SCA's Board of Directors and was approved for permanent addition to the rules in January of 2006.
Historical Fencing and the SCA
Along with their practice of fencing, many SCA fencers also study period fencing manuals such as those by Capo Ferro, di Grassi, Camillo Agrippa, and Carranza. However, the safety rules and weapon simulators used by SCA fencers prevent many of the concepts in period manuals being implemented. This is not necessarily a criticism; the need to maintain a fun atmosphere, minimize the cost of equipment, and encourage fencers to continue participating in the SCA makes it impossible to demand the level of training needed to safely practice true period technique, as done by stricter historical fencing groups.
Adjudication of Wounds
Fencers in other groups have argued that the SCA's system for wounding and disabling legs is an unrealistic portrayal of combat.
It is possible within the SCA's rules to refuse to acknowledge a valid hit in order to win a bout. This occurs often enough that the slang term "Rhinohide" is used to describe an SCA combatant who fails to accept a valid attack. In extreme or obvious cases, a marshal can warn the offending fighter or remove him or her from the tournament. In some rare cases, repeat offenders have had their fighting privileges temporarily or even permanently revoked.
SCA fencing has been criticized for not accurately recreating the art of fence as practised during the stated pre-1600 period.
Some fencers argue that draw cuts are not martially sound techniques and make cutting a due tempi ("double time") action, whereas a percussive cutting action would be in stesso tempo ("single time").