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The Swashbuckling Quaker

If one plans to become a middle-aged female teacher of high school English, there is no better preparation than the study of the sword. Seriously.

Yesterday, as I was packing up my materials to leave school for the weekend--an enterprise which, since my back problems flared up, has required a lot of student assistance--one of the small tribe of students who had been staying after in my room, playing online games and discussing zombies with one another, asked me a question.

"Ms. Bishop," Randy asked. "Is it true you hurt your back sword-fighting?" He looked at Josh and Jake, his friends and (presumably) the source of this rumor which Randy hardly dared to credit.

"Yep," I was able to answer. "Yep, it's true."

Although this recent flare-up (worse than the original injury, by far) seems to have been due to nothing more exotic than the H1N1 flu, it is true that I got my original injury sparring, kendo-style, with boff swords: foam-rubber padded swords often used in LARP games, because they allow for realistic athleticism, without realistic injuries.

I have never been in any LARP societies, nor have I ever, like the friends who taught me to wield a sword, ever been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Indeed, the only SCA event I ever attended struck me as monumentally boring--other than the clothes, which were, I'll admit, drop-dead gorgeous. But I was fascinated with the grace and (I might as well admit it) romanticism of learning how to use a sword, and in my thirties, back in the days when I had time for such things, I loved sparring with a boffer. I was never very good, but I did get to the point where I was good enough to injure myself: a little too much energy and enthusiasm in an explosive, twisting action, combined with a little to little grace and flexibility, and the result has been that I'll never fence again--or take up golf, I suppose.

But I did hurt myself originally while swinging a sword, and I do know people who have earned a living making suits of armor (plate armor, in fragile-but-comfortable aluminum, available enameled in your choice of fashion colors).

And I think zombies, orcs, and medieval weaponry are all kind of neat.

In a wholly fictional sort of way, mind you.

I admitted all this.

"Cool!" said Randy.

And then he, Josh, Jake, and I proceeded to discuss medieval armor and weaponry--the original arms race--all the way out to my car.

I stopped halfway across the parking lot, midway through an earnest discussion of the effects of a crossbow bolt on a suit of plate armor.

"You know, this is an odd sort of a conversation for a Quaker English teacher to have with her students on a Friday afternoon," I remarked.

We all grinned.

And, you know, it's really much, much easier to teach students who think you're the last word in cool than students who think otherwise.

I owe a lot to my dueling scars.


Hystery said…
There are lovely people who wish to assimilate me into the world of Renaissance make-believe and I am tempted. I already spend plenty of time in Victorian costume so why not? The clothes are mighty tempting and it seems like it would be a good experience for my children. However, the whole Quaker thing does get in my way. I'm not even happy with pretend violence and fear that it might undermine my boys' ability to profess themselves as truly pacifist. What do you think? I value your perspective.
Brittany said…
The reenactment versus simplicity/equality issue comes to my mind often. I don't like the idea of recreating and glorifying historical inequality (lords and ladies in the SCA, gender divisions in professional living history recreations). Nor am I sure how I feel about the material consumption involved in creating clothes that are essentially toys, beautiful and artistic and scholarly though they may be. I keep thinking about a 12th century gown I want to make for SCA involvement...but I hold off and wear my peasant garb for the time being. If I stay involved, I plan to bring my concerns to the research and projects I create and to refuse titles (Lady, Mistress) should I ever "earn" them.

Hystery, the problem I see with pretend violence as the SCA has it is that it makes war into something wholly positive--no one ever dies, and the society leaves sites in better shape than they found them! No laying waste here! I think the SCA can be great for character-building and more, but I don't see people acknowledging the moral ambiguities of the real past.

Of course, they share that flaw with numerous and often respectable company here in the US.
Yewtree said…
Well, I'm a rampant pacifist but I don't think that re-enactment glorifies war - actually it makes one realise what an awful and bloody business it really was back then. My experience of re-enactment was with the Sealed Knot in the UK, though, not with the SCA. It didn't take much imagination to work out how maimed or dead you would get in a real battle. Also, regarding the gender divisions - lots of women dressed as men if they wanted to fight in the battles.

I was uncomfortable with the way some regiments actually had hierarchies and officers and stuff, but the one I was in didn't.

I stopped doing re-enactment when I discovered Paganism though - mainly because Paganism was what I was really looking for at the time.
Unknown said…
I am a competitive fencer (have never done SCA though). While fencing clearly has origins in bloody battle training, the modern sport is one of grace, respect, honor, athleticism, and sportsmanship. I do not find myself at odds with the peace testimony even though I play with "swords" on a regular basis. :D

Anonymous said…
I'm not a convinced pacifist, so I can't speak to Hystery's question from the inside, but...

As far as I know, play-fighting and particularly the impulse to whack things with sticks are natural to human children (perhaps especially boys). That doesn't mean it should be given free rein, of course, but is it a good idea to entirely repudiate it?

In pagan terms, I'd relate this question to the idea of the Shadow — the anti-self made from the parts of ourselves we don't dare to own. I've read many accounts of how banishing sexuality to the shadow realm can backfire (and has, in our society, at a large scale), and wonder if banishing all "violence" (construed broadly so as to include play-violence) is likely to work any better.

Knowing what antlers are for, I'd imagine the Horned One as a patron of play-violence — and of the clear distinction between it and the real violence of the hunt. So I'm also very interested in hearing more of Cat's perspective on the intersection of paganism, Quakerism, and playing with swords...

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