Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Tournament of Valor

As you might recall, a friend of mine traveled down from the Barony of Vatavia, out of Calontir, to go to Grand Assembly of Archers a few weeks back. Well, this was done, more or less, as part of a trade off. She came down to our event, and we would go up to her's. So about three weeks ago my wife, son and I packed up the car and headed out Friday afternoon for a relatively short drive (about 3 hours, if I recall correctly) drive across the border.

We got there after sunset, but setting up wasn't too much of a problem. We were traveling with a smaller tent that we usually use, and relatively speaking, had packed lighter. As soon as we checked in at Troll it became clear how many friends we already knew, and how many more were honestly eager to know us. It was hand shakes and hugs all around for some time as friends introduced friends, who introduced friends... and so on. I hadn't had that type of welcome since I was a newcomer thirteen years ago, not an unwelcome thing, I assure you.

Since I don't fight or do A&S, I know before I showed up that there were really only three things that I had on my plate for the extended weekend. The first was site heraldry (go figure), the second was bardic, and the third was the sumo competition (More on that later on).

So, Friday night, our host introduced us to Johann Steinarsson, the coordinating site herald (and the current Kingdom Bard of Calontir, as I would later learn). I walked up, and introduced myself...

"Hello, I understand you are looking for people who take sadistic glee in waking other up as ungodly hours of the morning."

Johann gave me worried look for a second. "I guess you could say that."

"Excellent! I'm just the man you're looking for."

When he realized I was volunteering to help, a smile came to his face. "Ah, well then, Glad to have you."

So, that was Friday night, lets move on to Saturday morning.  All of the site heralds doing morning wakeups were told to meet at the main hall at eight, and then we would all go out and start rousing the sleeping masses by eight thirty. When I got there, Johann was just sitting down with the other volunteers.

I really should point out that, after better than a decade of heralding for Ansteorra, Calontir makes us look like a bunch of amateurs when it comes to site heraldry. Each site herald had a carbon copy of the list of announcements, and we all sat down and talked about what each one said, meant, and what order they needed to go in before we ever set foot out the door.

And I need to point out, this conversation was had while sitting down, with most of us drinking either coffee or tea. It was a slow, methodical, and cordial chat, with everyone making sure they were on the same page. There were five of us, and the site was broken down relatively evenly between us.

After having far, far too many ad hoc site heraldry meeting where I had to get my instructions on the run, with no warning, and little time to write them down... This was about as close to heraldic Nirvana as I had ever gotten.

Now, with a lot of the normal stresses of site heralding not hanging over my shoulders, its fairly safe to say that I went out feeling rather... empowered.

"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye... The sun is shining, the morning is bright, the air is cool and the day is calm. This last part must be remedied! Where is the revelry and rawkus energy of the famed Calontiri? Rise up! Rise up and give me tales to tell of my brethren in Ansteorra. Rise up, and embrace the morning! Give to Revelry what would normally be given to sleep, and enjoy this, the first day of Valor!"

The day itself was a lot like my early event in the SCA, with countless new faces, and a million new things to do.

I did meet up with  a local blacksmith, "Lenny the squid" (if memory serves me). After a quick lesson on how not to get myself killed or maimed, he more or less let me go to town on a piece of rebar. That was Saturday, and by Sunday I must say I was rather impressed with what I had managed to turn out. I made a self-handled knife, with a sharp, if irregular edge to it. A file and a lot of wire-brushwork will clean it up, but still, for what I put into it in the time I had, I was not disappointed in the outcome in the least.

I also managed to talk to one of our hosts, Lady Diedra and her camp. She was the one making food available for a number of us during the weekend. And a fabulous job she did at it. I can not say enough good things about her effort, or her cooking. She actually on cooked two meals, but smartly stocked her kitchen with food for the remaining breakfasts and lunches. A good balance, and a the two dinners were outstanding.

I think Diedra, my wife and myself hit it off well while we were there. we're all sort of type-A personalities in our own ways, but in that particular situation, we seemed to compliment each other well, and no one threatened to kill anyone else, always a good sign, right.

I didn't watch any of the heavy weapons tormenting, though that was more  a function of fatigue than any slight on the fighting. Between blacksmithing and watching my son, I was spent by early afternoon.

Skipping to Sunday morning for a bit, there was a second round of site heralding to be done as it was a three day event.
During the first morning, it was learned that Lady Ameline and I both had enough projection between us to clash rather harshly when we got within 50 yards of each other. Sunday, however, we decided to team up on the heralds, and work together. The results were actually pretty awesome. With the workload divided, and a script to work with, I got to "preform" and we both got a bit of a rest as we alternated down the very long list of announcements.

On a funny side note, during one wakeup cry, a trio of people dove into their tent and emerged with clubs slung over their shoulders. They advanced on Ameline and myself as we heralded. I turned to her between breaths and said "Back up!", but then kept announcing. She followed suit, crying as she walked backwards, but the trio was closing, so it I threw out "Walk faster!" Then, I added to my next announcement "If you kill the herald, you have to take over!" That one is an old line in Ansteorra, but evidently they don't use it as much in Calontir, because that brought the 'attack' to a dead halt as the three of them bent over laughing. The whole thing was done in good humor, and we all walked away laughing.

But I must say, being a ten-year veteran voice herald, I have a lot of respect for people who know how to project above and beyond the average, and Ameline is just such a person. Her low, solid alto carried wonderfully and clearly. It was easily on a par with my "mid-range" volume, which I was using regularly in the thickly forested site. It was a lot of fun working with her, and I hope to work with her again in the future.

I could talk for hours about Valor, and the people and sites of southern Calontir, and trust me, I want to. But Really, I think I should keep this post manageable and just cut to the highlight of the event for me.

Sunday night was "Mongol Mike's Casino", a huge fund raiser for the Kingdom travel fund, and the main event was none other than a Sumo tournament. Gambling was done with "ponies", "camels" and "elephants" (all ceramic tokens purchased ahead of time with cash). Some of the competitors were terrifying to behold, "Halftroll" was so tall that that looking straight out, my eyes were level with his collar bone. More than a few men out there looks like steel wrapped fireplugs. One young man named Yama ("山", literally the Japenese work for "mountain") looked every bit the part of a sumo wrestler in build, and said he weighed in just under my own weight, despite being several inches shorter than me. I spent most of the hour before the actual tournament psyching myself out so that I didn't lock up when the rounds actually started.

I do want to point out that the actual ring itself was an ornate reproduction of an actual sumo ring, in about 2/3rds scale, complete with the classic "ying/yang" simple drawn across the circle in light and dark dirt. Three women in Japanese garb even did a complete shinto (I think) blessing of the field before the tournament. The master of cerimonies even explained the foot stomps and hand claps that real sumo wrestlers did before each round. By the time we started the pairings, a lot of us were really into the spirit of the thing, and were going the extra mile to do it right.

For my first round, I was matched up against someone who looked formidable, but not quite as solid and heavy as me. Having never actually sumo wrestled before, I had no idea how to evaluate him, and was totally psyched out by the time we came up to the field.

First, we both stood there, dressed only in sweatpants, while the herald (none other than HL Adalya) hyped up the crowd and got the betting going. She introduced me as "a fellow Ansteorran" and invoked our kingdom's habit of dogged determination in combat, Finally reminding the crowd that I came from the same lands as the previous year's champion, none other than (then) Prince Owen Ap Aden.

Ponies traded hands as the crowd shouted and cheered, and then the Samuri MC closed the bets and ordered us to take our positions. Each of us took a wide step up, gave two wide stomps to "drive away any spirits", and then clapped our hands twice. With the ceremony done, each of us clenched our fists and pressed our knuckles into the ground as we hunched over like crouching predators ready to strike.

The samuri then shouted "Hajima!" (Or however it's spelled).

We both came off out marks with split second timing, and I have to say the hit I received when we connected was very solid. But his legs and arms never got purchase, and for all the impact, my body never stopped moving forward. Three seconds after I came off the starting line, I had shoved my opponent clean out of the ring, with the crowd roaring in the background the entire time.

By now, I was running on about 90% adrenalin, and was totally worked up over the win. The format for the event was single elimination, so the number of wrestlers was cut by half in the first round alone.

The next round, I was paired off against Yama, who had made even shorter work of his previous opponent.

As the competitors went through their matches, the fights actually got shorter. Mass and power made for quick, decisive fights, and the crowd was soaking up every minute of it.

Then came my turn again.  The energy in the air was almost tangible as Yama and I walked out to the outside of the ring. Once again, Adalya did the introductions, and with past fights behind each of us, I saw ponies trade by the handfull. I raised my hands into the air and let out an animalistic roar, like a caged lion demanding its freedom. I then turned to Yama, and across the distance I shouted a sincear "good luck" to him. The gesture was returned in kind.

The Samuri called up to the ring and closed the bets. We both did the ceremonial stomps and claps, and then took our positions, feet and clenches fists pressed into the ground, eyes locked on each other, faces intense.


We both came forward and connected with our shoulders, and to my shock, we both stopped dead in our tracks. I think there was an instant realization for both of us that brute force alone wasn't going to decide this one. We both exploded into a fury of shoves, grips and twists as we tried to get superior position on each other. It was a fast, furious and inelegant process of blind turns, hard shoves and frantic footwork. We wound up largely locking in rib breaking hugs as each of us turned to get to the other one's side and topple them.

Then, suddenly, I felt my center of gravity move out from over my feet.

The Landing wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been married to an additional 300 pounds of mass at the time of impact. Yama had gotten the angle and completely toppled me to the ground, but had held on at the same time, meaning that we went over as one unit of mass. I landed hard on my back, and thought my eyes were going to come out of my sockets from the explosive pressure on my chest.

Yama jumped up, and the first thing he asked was "Are you okay?"

Unfortunately, all I could do was look at the stars and gasp for air.

After a moment, I managed to get my breath back, and a few people helped get me to my feet. Once I was seated, I had people left and right telling me how much they loved that match. According to several people, we took between 17 and 21 seconds to decide the round, and the whole time people were on their feet cheering us both on. Almost everyone, even Yama and I, agreed that that was the favorite fight of the night, and the undisputed crowd pleaser.

I didn't win, and I didn't even make it to the semi-finals, but in terms of fun, we all walked away from that one first rate winners.

When I showed up to Valor, I think I knew maybe a dozen people there, and counted perhaps three or four of them as friends. By the time I walked away Monday afternoon, those numbers had better than quadrupled. You can bet that I am going back next year!

Friday, September 17, 2010

You should be eventing!

Okay, if you're reading this between Friday afternoon (September 17th) and Sunday evening (September 19th) than you should be out enjoying an SCA event somewhere (personally, I recommend Mooneschadowe's Triumph of the Eclipse).

Anyway, the past few weeks have been interesting, both in terms of the SCA and for my mundane life.  I am heading up heraldry at Triumph, and am experimenting with a new idea for Herald's Point, so you can expect to see a post on that fairly soon.

Two weeks ago, I went up to Valor, in Calontir, and had a blast. You can count on a post about that at.

There is now some talk in the kingdom about registering new names for each of the regions, and as that conversation got going I posted some thoughts on the subject. To my surprise, I got a lot of good feedback, so I think that is going to get some coverage, too.

And lastly, my personal life had some hiccups in it, but things got smoothed out, and I am probably going to post a bit on that as well.

Anyway, the van is now completely loaded down with camping supplies, and we are all packed up. Its time to hit the road.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Northern Regional Herald
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Grand Assembly of Archers

Last year, I more or less acted on an impulse and went out to the Wiesenfeuer / Namron joint archery event just to see who was there and how it turned out. While not an archer myself, I like to think of myself as friendly to the archery community and supportive of their efforts where I can be. As most of you know, last year's grand assembly of archers was a runaway success, and a great number of targets were turned into pin cushions as the archers let fly with enough shafts to make the ghost of Henry V proud. 

This year, things were a little different. The weather over the past year has done a number on the sight, and almost all of the bridges that connected the two halves of the camp were damaged beyond safe use. Both baronies got together before the event and raised a small foot bridge as a stopgap measure. To their credit, the little wooden pathway was extremely well built, and took the brunt of the day's travels without a hint of protest from what I saw.

As for the archery itself, if you didn't get enough shooting in at the event, that it was your own fool fault. I arrived just in time to see the Pig shoot, where a mockup pig was pulled towards the archers as they fired. The scenario was meant to simulate a charging bore, illustrating how little time you really have to aim, shoot and reload. Most archers that I saw only got off two or three shots, thought there was one who I think managed to get four into the thing.

Their excellencies of Wiesenfeuer hosted a "don't shoot the bunnies" round. As per its name, the targets were various colored disks of differing sizes, but each one was supported by an illustration of a rabbit. Hitting the disks got you point, hitting the rabbits didn't... go figure.

I didn't get to see too much of the "heroes" shoot. But I did hear a summary of type of shots being set up. One was the "noose shoot" where a maniquine head was put in a noose, and the archer has to cut the noose with his arrow. Another was the "William Tell" shoot, where an apple has to be shot off the top of the mannequin's head. I know there was at least one more, but I can't remimber it right now. In any event, all of the people I spoke with who took part said they loved it, so it too was a success.

The Long shoot (I have no idea what they really called it) was impressive. All of the competing archers lined up on one side of the event grounds, and a target was set up on the other side, and everything in between was cleared out. In total, the marshal said the distance from the firing line to the target was about 120 yards. This type of shooting calls on the skills used in war, from what I understand, asking the archer to pull out every ounce of range that they can get from their weapon in an effort to soften up enemy troop concentrations before they close range. To my knowledge, only one person hit the target, and that was relatively close to the center. But this type of shooting really shed some light on what historical archers was likely capable of. Knowing that some of the longbows from medieval England were well in excess of a hundred pounds pull,  the 120 yards accomplished by 30 and 45 pound bows must be a pale comparison to the reach that combat archers were capable of. That and, if the enemy formation is composed of untrained troops, the sound alone of 70 or 80 arrows peppering the ground around them could well prove to be enough to make them break and run.

There was also a combat shoot, where armored combatants ultimately lost a game of dodge-ball against archers armed with combat blunts.

I myself, did not go to the event to shoot. For a lot of reasons, this was just a social event for me, a chance to hang out, talk and catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. I watched most of the shoots from the comfort of shade, and listened in amusement as the archer's heckled each other over their shots. I did get to meet new people, and talk with old friends. Its always good to just trade hand shakes with people like Ulf, Anghous, Anabelle, and Lucaus, let alone talk with them. I didn't get to talk with Vanessa as much as I would have liked, but she was still as pleasant and practical as usual. Lorenzo and Antonia were there, and we got to say hi a few times, but fortune didn't let me cross paths with them as much as I would have liked. Castilliana (SP?) was there with an amusing agenda. She said that she came there specifically to get some official type paper work signed, and true to her word, when Their excellencies of Wiesenfeuer walked by, she spun away from her conversation with me and proclaimed "There you are! I have paperwork for you two to sign!"  and before either of them could even open their mouths to respond, she was holding a binder opened to the indicated page, with a pen in hand. I mentioned it here because it was so amusing, and everyone did walk away from the scene grinning good-naturedly.

On the new friends Front, I got to spend some time talking with Don Crowley and his Lady Alexandria. I first met Crowley back at 30th year, where I was first exposed to his intense, focused attitude on the rapier field. Here, however, I saw a much more laid back, relaxed man who was truly there to just kick back and enjoy himself. We had a chance to talk about all sorts of things, and he was just a blast to listen to, and trade stories with. One of the funnier things that came out of the whole talk was his statement of loyalty to the two queens he has been Champion for. He routinely summarized his sentiment by saying "If either of those women told me to kill you" (he was pointing as me as he said that) "I would feel horribly conflicted about it... but I'd still kill you." We all laughed at the statement, but I actually found it rather amusing. Lady Alexandria was every bit the wonderful company her lord was. I think my favorite moment was when I shared a humerus story with them at the expense of Master Modius (who was not there that day). The shocked grin I got from Alexandria was priceless.

All told the event was an amazing thing, much as I expected it to be. There were good people doing good world, and friends all around. I don't recall the final gate count, but I know it beat the break-even number, so there was much rejoicing on that front as well. I think the archers lived have a day for themselves, a chance to go out and shoot, and not have to run between other activities, or skip out on fighting in order to shoot.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Nordsteorra Herald
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"