Recently, a perennial subject has come up on my radar. It comes up every once in a while. It has come up again in a couple conversations with friends that “I HATE MELEE”.
This isn’t entirely true. Far from it, but like all good myths, there is a grain of truth to it. Lord knows I haven’t been silent on the subject in the past, so it is understandable folks would have that opinion of me.
I want to clarify this a bit, if for no other reason, than to go through the subject in my own head.
It is true that I don’t like Melee as much as I do tournament play. The challenges of tournament play that others find intimidating appeal to me personally, but I think most folk have a preference one way or another.
Here’s the thing. I do enjoy melee, but what I HATE about melee is that it fosters certain behaviors. This has nothing to do with the landscape, and everything to do with the approach.
Melee can be an amazing test. It will push you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It has great worth and merit.
We have all heard a thousand stories, and been part of a thousand more where the PERCIEVED anonymity of Melee allows certain individuals to fail the test of Knightly behavior. It happens, I know. At some point we all fail. That’s ok.
The problem is, it is FAR EASIER to THINK you are getting away with your failure when there are 600 other people on the field. So failing the next time is easier.
Whole cultures emerge where groups desperately convince themselves their failures are ok, that “That’s the way this is supposed to be”. “The East REALLY WANTS TO WIN, so of course we have to hit them in an excessive manner!” “The Middle is tired of losing, so of course they are gonna fake numbers and hide their advantage.”
It’s all Bullshit.
And that’s what I hate.. Not Melee…. That’s a blast, and a total challenge. It’s the culture of acceptable behavioral failure that surrounds it that I find repugnant!
It’s not even the failure I hate. Like I have said many times, if you are tested, you will fail at some point. That is not the issue.
This behavioral cancer is created by the fact that the activity of Melee has an identity crisis which has never been resolved. This “flux” creates space for the evil to thrive, or snares for the naive to stumble upon.
What is Melee? Are we trying to “pretend” to be at war, or are we doing “Grande Melee” among noble cousins, as our forefathers did?
This question colors everything.
Recently, Sir Gunther, in an attempt to explain our different approaches to Melee to a new fighter, stated that “Rob is a Hero, and I am a Soldier.”
This was a great compliment in my opinion. However, it is quite poignant. If we are trying to pretend we are at war, than the soldier mentality is the most effective and appropriate. The vast majority of an effective army is grunts, and it would be foolish for anyone to expect the behavior of an officer from a hundred grunts. War is hell, so it should be expected that, if we are trying to simulate war, the majority of the participants will act like peasants, or worse, an English Archer. (wink)
This is a VERY VERY different game than “assuming” we are all Noble combatants, who honor our opponents by striving nobly WITHEN THE CONFINES OF A PRE-DETERMINED LANDSCAPE OF ENGAGEMENT.
This difference of vision is problematic. We are a LONG WAY away from 600 nobles in a chivalric fraternity, sharpening each other’s honor by forging our spirits together.
Consequently, the way things are currently, we are far closer to pretending we are at war. We foster this idea with our language, with our structure, with our social pressures. With our posters, etc etc.
My own personal impact of this is that, if we are in an army, and I am trying to be a “Hero”, than the perception is that I am “not on board”, or “not part of the TRUE Midrealm culture.”
I have been told I am guilty of both of those.
Let’s add a few data points that may shed some light on how I am “not on board”.. (yes, that's a bit sarcastic)
I have not missed a SINGLE Pennsic heavy war point battle in the past nine years. In all of those battles, I have not once stopped until the cannons went off. For the past three years I haven’t missed a rapier war point battle.
I served as Midlands XO for two years, and acting CO for one Pennsic.
When there is Melee, or melee practice, I am always there.
But there is a perception that I am not on board with Melee in the Midrealm. That just isn’t the case.
I am, however NOT on board with certain aspects of the Melee culture. I DO NOT see myself as some kind of enlisted soldier circa 1942. I see myself as a person striving to test himself where the forge is hottest.
I DO NOT see myself donning “Hats and Bats”, I strive to don harness that would not be unrecognizable to my ancestors, and test myself in it, it’s weight and heat creating a greater challenge, thus ennobling my spirit, and the enterprise.
I love to fight. I love the feel of it, the sight of it. I love the charge, the press, the sweat. I love it. I revel in the privilege of soaking in the bath of honor.
But I won’t cheat, and I won’t hide behind generic livery, and I WILL drink the bitterness of my failures publically when I fail, and I will ALWAYS ALWAYS seek out honor before objective.
I am not a soldier of the Midrealm, I am one who strives to be Knightly FOR the Midrealm.
And if that is counter to the “True melee culture”, then so be it.
But it does not mean I hate melee.
The Combat of the Thirty, and the Unbelted Champion’s battle happen to be on the same day this year at Pennsic. I cannot think of a better microcosm of the two approaches.
Both are elitist enterprises, which require a very high degree of effort to participate in.
Both have “augmented” landscapes of engagement. (Published: the CoTT with armor as worn, and three telling blows, or if you feel you have been bested. Unpublished: Unbelt Champions battle reportedly being ‘standard” calibration, but if you believe that, your delusional. In effect it is to submission.)
Both claim to be representative of the SCA cultures from whence they came. (Cott is in effect the current gold standard for effort in appearance and effort on an inter-kingdom level. Unbelt Champion’s battle being a group of champions claiming to demonstrate the honor of their entire respective kingdoms.)
There really are a lot of parallels. Here is my challenge. Go watch both. Pay attention to the faces of the combatants, feel the energy and intent that surrounds these two events. Understand they are fought by people who strive with all their heart in both of them. Understand the participants are doing something that is very dear to their hearts, and what they perceive themselves to be. Understand and respect the level of effort required by the participants. DO NOT be afraid to judge them by their actions.
When you have watched both of them, realizing they are both expressions of two very different approaches, ask yourself which approach best represents the honor of the fighting community.
When a Knight takes his vows, he promises to be “Foremost in battle”. Does this mean he is the most efficient and ruthless killer of men on a melee field? Or does this mean he has a responsibility to demonstrate knightly virtues while being thick in the press?
Ultimately, both perspectives may have merit. Both CAN be noble paths, But don’t for a second think that all Knights must be soldiers, or conversely, soldiers cannot be Knighty. At best though, these two approaches are uneasy bedfellows, and create an environment where the weak of spirit have the leeway to color the entire enterprise with repugnant behavior. Safe in the comforts afforded plausible deniability.
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