• Tristouroborous

    March 27, 2018

    A Question of Honor

    Recently a question was posed by a brother-knight about honor on the battlefield, and it got me thinking about what that meant in a broader scope. The question posed was, ”Do you feel that melee eats away from the courtesy and politeness that should be displayed when in harness?” Or, in more mundane terms, ”Does fighting group-combat allow one to compromise the integrity of his/her comportment?”

    Are honor and chivalry things you do outwardly and for the spectacle/attention/publicity of the act? Or is it an internal thing that governs one’s actions regardless of the stage? It is an interesting question, and a wide variety of viewpoints were expressed on the matter. Some were surprising, coming from fellow knights, some were to be expected coming from the person who expressed the opinion, and, yet others, aligned directly with my own moral philosophy.

    For me, and this is not at all meant to be prescriptive, honor and chivalry are a part of my being. They are not a thing that I am even capable of turning on or off, but rather a subconscious, governing force in every action I take. Now, that said, this is not to say that I am perfectly honorable or chivalrous, for we all falter, make poor decisions and succumb to passions or pressures in the heat of the moment. I fall down on this occasionally, and I know I do, sometimes aware in the moment, but usually in retrospect. This is what I have discovered in some of my investigations of my own behavior, especially where I have not lived up to the ideals I hold paramount.

    Since the original question is specific to the rarified form of combat that we engage in, I want to look at things through that lens, and let the reader make his or her own parallels to daily life. In essence, our engagements take three forms. First, there is single-combat, where two fighters engage each other for the glory of the fight and the entertainment of the spectators. Next we have melee-combat, where small groups of fighters will meet other, similarly-sized groups, as an exercise in teamwork and leadership, as well as preparation for war. Finally, there is war-fighting, where hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of combatants will meet on an enormous field of battle to experience the adrenaline-fueled rush of mass-combat, and to get a sense of how famous medieval conflicts must have felt, all for the glory of sovereign and kingdom.

    I realized, in dissecting these combat forms, that at the core, relative to the question, lies a factor of anonymity. If we were to rephrase the question as, ”Given some modicum of anonymity, does your honor and chivalry change?” then we get at the heart of the issue. For in single-combat, 1v1, there is a spotlight on the actions of each individual as the battle is fought, namely, those bearing witness to the battle, reinforcing the individual’s sense of right and wrong. This forces most of us to be on our best behavior, each combatant expected to comport hisself or herself with a requisite amount of honor and chivalry per the rules and expectations of engagement. It is in the revealing light of this scrutiny that one’s comportment is, typically, at its best.

    With melee combat (typically 3 or more to a side), the individual’s actions are subsumed into those of the group as a whole. There tends to be a bit more slack in both expectation and behavior, for the most part. This is not to say that everyone will take advantage of the modicum of anonymity for his or her own benefit, but that one may not feel as constrained by it as on the tournament field, where single-combat is found. It is far easier to get caught up in the outcome, and team-spirit, in order to win the engagement, compromising one’s honor and chivalry for an advantage or outright win.

    Finally, we have the field of war, where anonymity can range from negligible (intra-kingdom events, or in the case of a particularly high-profile fighter such as a king, queen, captain of a guard or order, or upcoming candidate for knighthood) to almost complete, as when a fighter ventures to distant and unknown kingdoms to support the war-effort. In my experience, it is under these circumstances that the comportment of the individual tends to deviate most from expectation or precedent. As an example, I have witnessed fighters whom I understood to be quite honorable and chivalrous engage in activities such as striking another combatant from behind, using far too much power in blows, ignoring multiple killing-blows, and all manner of known-rule breaking, just because “no one was looking.”

    Some may see these actions as part of the game, especially in war, where the honor of one’s group (war-unit, canton, barony, kingdom, etc.) is at stake, and relax their own ideals of comportment accordingly. I, personally, am not capable of that. My honor, my sense of chivalry, is constant, regardless of circumstance, with any deviation owing to my own fallibility and flaws, rather than a conscious effort to push the limits in order to win.

    For me, honor and chivalry are woven into the very fabric of my being, a part of my DNA if you will. While I could change them, with great effort, much like changing your hair color, they will always return to a state of constancy and an innate baseline, just as my dyed-hair will eventually grow out to its natural shade. The setting, circumstance, or lack of observers are not part of the equation, and therefore, have no influence on the result. I behave as I behave, always striving to be a better version of myself, regardless. I expect nothing less of myself, or my charges, be they children, squires or students.

    This is, of course, during our particular flavor of combat, where death is regulated, and life is but a resurrection point away, as we play a consensual game. Needless to say, none of this holds up under real life-or-death circumstances, where survival-at-any-cost governs all actions. But, barring that unthinkable possibility, I firmly believe that one’s life and actions should be governed by a well-defined, and resolute sense of both ideals.

    - In Honor and Chivalry

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  • Whatsinabook

    October 3, 2014

    What's in a Book?

    I am often asked what makes Fight Like a Knight (FLaK) different from other organizations that teach swordfighting. My answer is always “authenticity.” If we disregard fencing (as it is well-documented has been studied for centuries and is a wholly different art-form) and focus solely on FLaK’s core curriculum of medieval-style combat using period weapons such as broadswords, longswords, axes and various polearms, the differences become quite apparent. FLaK training is based on the reality of a to-the-death swordfight between two similarly-armored combatants. The battles are full-speed, full-contact and unchoreographed engagements where a small set of rules exist solely for the safety of the modern-day fighters, much like where in a martial-arts sparring match, strikes to the eyes or throat are not allowed even though in a real encounter they would be among the primary targets.

    So what is this “authenticity?” Before we can get into that we need to look at a few things. Most modern-day swordfighting is taught from the few historical books that exist on the subject (the most widely used being the Talhoffer manuscripts – more on this in another post), which is, in and of itself, dubious. During the middle ages, the training and techniques used by an army or even an individual would have been highly guarded secrets. Imagine if Duke William II of Normandy ordered the publishing of a book on how the French-Norman army trained and the tactics it deployed on the battlefield. The English would have decimated them and the Battle of Hastings would not be as we know it today. So, we have to question WHO published these works. Surely not an actual active swordsman, knight, or military leader, for his very life would depend on any advantage he could gain, and his training methods would be at the fore. Thus, it seems far more likely that these earlier treatises were scribed by a witness, or someone who had a passing familiarity with actual combat.

    This brings us to the next point, which is that techniques described in these books in the context of two similarly armored and armed opponents, being some sort of leather and metal armor, a broadsword and a shield, are highly ineffective. I say this for two reasons, first and foremost of which is the fact that most of the techniques described and illustrated in the documents pertain to judicial engagements to settle some legal matter, where the combatants are unarmored and the fight is not mortal. These are very posed, choreographed, specific maneuvers that, in the course of a real swordfight, for which the opportunity would rarely present itself.

    The second, and more profound reason for the ineffectiveness of the techniques described in these book and taught by other swordfighting schools is simply that there is little to no attention placed on what it would take to kill your opponent. This is the core of FLaK’s teachings, and it starts with the simple philosophy that if you cease to throw killing blows, you have lost the fight, and are, for all intent and purpose, fertilizer for the lilies that will surely grow over your corpse. The kinesthetics required to consistently deliver lethal blows to an armored opponent are not addressed or taught, and for the most part, the instruction places the fighter in highly undesirable positions that would result in the almost immediate death when pitted against a skilled combatant.

    FLaK is authentic swordfighting at its core, cased in a minor set of rules for safety, where, ultimately, participants learn the skills that they would have required to survive day-to-day life in the middle-ages. For actors, these skills translate into powerful, dynamic and exciting physical performances that set them apart from their peers and cast-mates. Anyone training with FLaK will garner composure, balance, core-strength, kinesthetic-awareness, and the “I know how to handle myself” stride comes with being a seasoned swordfighter equipped with the tools take on the mightiest of foes.

    - In Honor and Chivalry.

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  • Tristouroborous

    March 9, 2018

    A FLaK Definition of Honor and Chivalry

    I think honor and chivalry are wonderful words, conjuring all manner of imagery of knights and kings, lords and ladies in waiting, towers and tresses, swords and sorcery. But what do these words actually mean? According to the illustrious Daniel Webster,

    honor / ä’-nər /
    a keen sense of ethical conduct; integrity


    chivalry / shi’-vəl-rē /
    the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms.

    While I appreciate these formal definitions, they have never seemed practical to me as a philosophy or a guide to my own comportment. Over the years, I have managed to come to a set of definitions that fills this need, and sits well with me on a visceral level. I offer these up for review, but, should they not speak to you on a similar level, I encourage you to formulate your own, meaningful and functional definition to help guide you on your journey.

    In FLaK terms, honor is the way you treat yourself. Your personal integrity, and the respect you give to yourself by living up to your own personal standard, holding yourself to a higher ideal, and always striving to be a little better than before. It is keeping your word, and not giving it if you believe you cannot. It is always doing the right thing, even if that means less for you. It is consistent kindness and compassion to all, regardless of differences in race, culture, or creed.

    Chivalry is the way you treat others. Your comportment or outward behavior, and the respect you give those around you, often by adhering to your honor regardless of setting or circumstance. It is empathy and understanding of the human condition, and recognizing that we are all experiencing the same pains, fears and difficulties. And then, being willing to help one's fellow human on their journey.

    In essence, honor and chivalry come together in my mind as the idealized Arthurian knight. Lancelot, Galahad, Arthur himself, steadfast in one's adherence to the code, always seeking to do better at each turn, and that is what we should all strive for in our daily lives.

    - In Honor and Chivalry

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