When I started in the SCA, lo those many years ago, things were great. We had what felt like a unified approach to dealing with how to acknowledge hits from rapiers, and it had been tested out over time and found to be good.

The context was first blood duel, assumed light shirts/clothing worn, and a sword pointed and sharp on both edges. You call the shot landed on you if you felt it, regardless if you thought it was good or not, and the other guy would tell you if it was actually good or not. Honourable and adult conduct was to be assumed at all times.


The idea behind this is that you can’t always tell how you’ve been hit, especially with a sharp. People who have been stabbed for real can back this up, as they mostly think they’ve been hit with a very light punch or two. You can see lots of video where someone gets stabbed, wanders around for a bit all confused, and then collapses. The person attacking you in the SCA context should have, if anything, a better idea of how their shot landed than you will. They know their own edge alignment and intent.

If we assume honourable conduct, this works pretty well. There was a strong social structure in place to indoctrinate people into this habit, and scold/correct bad behaviour.


About the time I started, a lot of other people did as well. SCA rapier was growing by leaps and bounds, and the prevalence of actual steel rapiers, as opposed to fiberglass simulators or modern epee’s helped tremendously. With growth came inevitable problems.

Down South, they had problems with people flailing about. The problem folk were happy to land any kind of slop, and reluctant to call it back.

Up North, we had problems with people ignoring shots. Problem folk seemed happy to ignore any shot they could get away with ignoring.

In time, North and South dealt with the problem folk. As a consequence of how they dealt with the issue, South developed a habit of ignoring sloppy shots, or actively calling out anything they received that they thought was sloppy. North got into a habit of calling absolutely anything, even things they thought may have touched, but didn’t feel. All worked fine and well.

Until North met South. North was very proud of it’s skill in cutting attacks, and had made them a core of it’s fighting style. South was wary after their run in with problem folk. So…South started to ignore cuts from North, and questioned every blow. North saw this as the South being just another one of it’s problems, and responded by throwing more cuts to make the attacks clearer.

Tempers flared. At one point, I swore to never cross the border south and fence ever again. I had too many run ins with rhino-skinned fighters, some who would take injuries and still tell you your blow was invalid. North complained about South never taking shots, and South complained about North hitting to hard…and both sides accused the other of not following the rules, nor understanding there intent.


To be clear here, the good and the exceptional fighters in both North and South had no problem with fighting with each other. We understood the context and had experience with each other, and our bouts with each other were fought with mutual understanding. But when we fought the new or problem fighters, problems occured. Serious problems. When we got together to discuss and change rules and how to implement them, fighters that were in agreement in bouts got in heated arguments about interpretation, each side defending it’s unspoken worry about it’s own problem children. Each side started to see the other side as promoting the worst of bad behaviour, and couldn’t understand why the other side was being so dense about it.

The problem between North and South was caused by issues within their own sides, and each side’s effort to correct it’s own problems caused a clash when the two sides met. Instead of explaining their reasoning, and the issues that had caused them to come up with the solutions they did, each side dug in it’s heels about being right. Without context, there was pointless conflict.

When you move to defend your own position, it’s very easy to see the other side as being the worst example. Two good fighters from either camp can fight and see no difference in how each interprets blows, but once the spoken positions are out in the open, might find themselves in violent opposition, and accusing the other of making a farce out of their noble game.

I’m pretty sure I could fence any rapier fighter in the world (who isn’t a jackass, and yes I know there are some) for an afternoon, and we’d have a good time and have no issues disagreeing about who killed each other with what shot. Weapons dictate use, and in many ways dictate the social habits we incarnate as we bout. I’ve fought martial artists from all over the world, armed and unarmed, many style and weapons, and disagreement is rare. Not extremely rare, but rare. The more in common our weapons are, the rarer disagreement.

But online? I fear we aren’t too far away in the HEMA/WMA rapier world from calling one side thugs with shit control and no sense of how to use a real sword, and the other side a bunch of pansies afraid of getting hit and having no idea of how to attack with commitment. Which is complete and utter bullshit. And if we don’t stomp on it now, we are going to breed disdain and hatred between groups. Most especially when those groups are thousands of kilometers apart, and will only rarely get the chance to cross blades and really understand each other.

So you can make assumptions about what other people do, and have one side see you as an unredeemable ass while your side might cheer you on, or you can try to understand that even though someone else might do something that seems different from what you do, it might have a very sound reasoning for being that way…and if you had the chance to meet and bout, you might find those differences insignificant in reality.