Seeing Past the Sword

Written by Count Angelo Paolo Cavilli. Originally appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 9, 2003

Given the chivalric ideals that we work towards and the times that we try to recreate, some would say that the SCA as a whole has the sword at its center. Many of us then, place our focus on the sword.

This focus has the practical purpose of honing our skill at arms. It also brings fun, honor, and renown. So why look past the sword? The answer is, “For the very same reasons.”

To improve my fighting, I began asking questions. How can I add to my skills? How can I improve my technique? How can I help me? I found very few answers to these questions. My focus on self didn’t  leave any room for others. It locked me into a line of reasoning where only I mattered, and only I could have the answers. To grow and improve, I had to first look outside of myself. Only when I started looking to others, and really listening to what they had to say, did I start to grow and improve. The answers that I found caused me to stop and think. No example showed someone focusing only on (themselves, or even solely on fighting. Most often I found individuals focusing on how their actions affected others.


My search not only helped me reach my original goal of improving my fighting, is also improved my enjoyment of the SCA. The questions we ask ourselves have a direct effect on how we see the world and on how much we learn from it. Here are some of the questions (I’ve) asked myself and the answers that I’ve found by listening and watching others.


How can marshal skill be improved? 


In a very straightforward way, our fighting can be improved by looking outside of ourselves. When self-focus is the only focus of our fighting,  we miss much of what is being taught on the field. By focusing on others, we can learn and improve in a much accelerated way, building on the knowledge of the Known World rather than working overly hard to recreate that knowledge on our own. I can learn something of value from anyone on the field. This knowledge can come from watching, listening, or doing, but most often a combination of them all. Another way we learn to fight is through teaching. Teaching others to fight directly improves our own skill at arms. To teach we must first understand our own skills in a way that can be passed on, and doing so will usually bring new insight to both teacher and student. This continual process of teaching and learning will bring more worthy opponents up to and beyond our own skill level. It will create new challengers who will drive us beyond our current limits.


How can enjoyment of the SCA be improved?


 Fun can be made for yourself by making the SCA fun for others. Realize that small improvements by you make for large improvements in the overall game. Improving your armor, covering your shield, displaying your arms, or learning about chivalric virtues not only affects you, but affects all those you come in contact with. By emulating those things you find worthy in others be it improvement in kit, outlook, or attitude and making those traits your own, you are becoming an example for others to follow.  (It’s) these things that compound and make the “magic moments” that we all feel at different times. The propagation effect of looking past the sword takes hold and the SCA continues to improve.(


How can I improve?


The SCA can be a weekend vacation. A place we meet friends, and do the things we love to do. It’s where many of us get away for a day or two from our lives challenges to rest and relax. But the SCA can also be so much more. It can be an example of chivalry, honor, respect, and courtesy. It can be a playground to exercise the mind as well as the body. At it’s best, the SCA presents us each with a challenge. 

That challenge is to be a better person. 

To better our skills (prowess). 

To make choices based on what is the right thing to do, not on what others do (courage). 

To keep our word to ourselves as well as others (honesty). 

To be true to our beliefs (loyalty). 

To give others the benefit of doubt both on and off the field (generosity). 

To accept and expect the best of others (faith).

To act in ways that show both self respect and respect of those around us (franchise). 

To look past ourselves and see how our actions effect others. 


At the center of the SCA is the sword. The way we chose our kings and the focus of activity at most events reveal this. However, the true center of the sword is the people we fight for: 

  • our consorts, 
  • the crowds,
  •  those who support us at war, 
  • and the people who make up the SCA


I started on this path with a focus on improving my marshal skills. It seems that even an intense focus on the sword will eventually lead us to look beyond ourselves to others. Service, interaction at ever-increasing levels, kit improvement, etc. are all paths outside of ourselves that improve who we are and the game we play.