The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is rich in opportunity to learn something new, expand your knowledge or to hone skills that you already have. You have enjoyed the events, taken classes in everything from inkle weaving to English country dance, shot some rounds of archery and watched the martial combat on the field – maybe even gone to a war! One day, while watching a rapier tournament you say to yourself, “That looks like fun! How do I begin?” So you want to fight Rapier . . .
There are two ways to answer the question “How do I begin?” There are formal rules and they can be found on the SCA Rapier Combat page (https://www.sca.org/resources/document-library/#rapier-combat) as well as Kingdom specific rules, but this missive is not about that. This is about how to personally get started in rapier.
Whether you feel shy or are extraverted the first step in beginning rapier is to talk to someone – anyone — who fights rapier. Once started most folk will talk your ear of about how and why they began. They will point you to others with more experience to help you – Marshals, Masters of Defense, Grant level rapierists and the grey-beards of rapier.
At this point you are probably thinking, ‘I have never picked up a sword, this is going to be HARD.’ So what do you already bring to the field? Have you danced or played football, soccer, basketball, etc. – then you have some understanding of body movement and footwork. Ever play softball/baseball, shoot pool, throw darts, juggle, etc. – then you have hand-eye coordination. Ever play chess, risk, monopoly – then you have an idea of strategy. ALL of these things are important on the field.
Where you will begin is NOT by buying all the equipment. This can and should wait. Your early practices will consist of footwork – no equipment necessary and blade work (point work and parries) – with a borrowed blade. Much of this will be slow work until you are comfortable with and have some proficiency with the basics. This is important for your safety and the safety of others on the field. SAFETY FIRST! SAFETY LAST! SAFETY ALWAYS!!!
As you gain confidence and proficiency it is time to start getting your own equipment. Unless you find a sword that feels like a part of you the first time you pick it up and is in your price range do not buy a blade until you have handled many other people’s rapiers. All rapiers have their own ‘personality’ and all people are built differently – height, build, strength. Weight, balance & length are the factors in what you need to consider. By borrowing blades, you can see what works and what does not. A rapier that sings on one person’s hand may be an epic fail for someone else. When you enter the field of combat you need to fight your opponent not your blade.
So, if you do not purchase the rapier first what do you start with? For men, an athletic cup. For women, chest protection is optional so this is a personal decision. Beyond these, the mask and gorget are also personal items that needs to fit you well. The body armor – leather cloth or chain – does not need a good fit so these can often be borrowed until you decide which direction you want to go.
Rapier, as practiced in the SCA is an Historical European Martial Art but the SCA is NOT a “HEMA” organization. We do much more than study martial arts. Should you decide to join the ranks of rapierists, I hope to meet you one day on the field of honor and cross blades with you.
Yours in Service,
Shaul ben Yisrael of Poznan’ called Shoiel
Order of the Queen’s Silver Blades of Gleann Abhann
Order of the Argent Rapier of Meridies