The Call to Adventure, and Preparations

Back on November 1st 2011 I got a PM from a guy I know on the Armour Archive named Jonathan Baird encouraging me to join the Battle of the Nations team.  Stef asked me what was going on with all the PMs, and I told her incredulously, "Some guy wants me to go to Poland."  It seemed completely ridiculous.

Then I watched the videos, and it got my blood pumping.  They were insane.  Steel weapons were arcing through the air.  Guys were getting literally beaten to the ground, kicked in the neck, bent over the list rails, overwhelmed and pummeled, and punched with gauntlets.  And the pictures of the aftermath were disturbing.  It seemed like every guy on the Russian and Ukrainian teams had a broken nose and river of blood running off their chin.  And the biggest grins on their faces I'd ever seen.

Daniel Stool, who I've known from my first serious fight practice in New Jersey back in 1993, sent me a quick note, "You should join this group and come to Poland in April and kick foreigner ass with me, Jade, Cuan, Greggor, Uther and Lucan."  Now Daniel, (who goes by Nissan Maxima in the SCA) is the sort of lovable psychopath you want to get into trouble with.  He hits like Mack truck, and does it with style, and he's always smiling like he's up to no good, because he usually is.

I remember thinking, "This is such a stupid idea.  It's going to cost so much money.  I could get maimed, blinded or paralyzed."  But it was too late, and I was hooked.

I suspect pretty much everyone who's ever fought in the SCA, or a LARP, or even played Dungeons and Dragons has seriously wondered how they'd fare in a real fight with steel weapons.  What would it be like if every strike could end life as you know it?  How would I do against a real medieval knight?  What does it feel like to really unleash all your force on someone.  I suppose that last bit sounds like the sort of unhinged inner whisperings of a murderer, but honestly we all have them.  And as much as we play at martial arts, I really don't want to kill anyone.  Really these guys, even guys I've never met before, guys I may never see again, who I don't share a language, a time zone, or a common circle of friends with, are folks I have a lot in common with.  They're intensely passionate about medieval history, the history of European martial arts, and testing their mettle against the best opponents they can find.  Killing them would be like killing myself, and I sure as hell don't want to do that.  But I do want to see what they can do, and what my skills let me do to them.

So how to get rolling on all this?  A lot of it was spent digging through posts on Facebook, reading the rules, trying to understand the poor translations we had of them, watching a lot of videos and talking with the other guys gearing up for this.  I was the only one in Texas (dumb enough?) who wanted to do this, so I had to carve out some of my own path. I knew I wanted to have better eye protection than my regular helm provided, so I started working on a new faceplate.
 I built it out of 14 gauge 4130, which allowed me to gas weld the little eyeball protecting vertical tabs in place.  I worked a lot of the muzzle and occular hot, drilling the holes after.  The image above is during the final firing.  The polished and mounted version is seen below (I'm the guy with the lighter blue long sleeves and the axe).
You can also see the cased greaves I've been yammering about.  Those are 18 gauge 410.
  The first few months of this phase involved a lot of playing around with what would be required for the protection I really needed.  Folks on facebook emphasized the thick gambesons the European teams were wearing, so I took it as a given.  I have had one of Revival's early designs for years, and while it has a propensity to shed buttons, it's stout and in good condition.  I fought with maile over that because I believed steel weapons behaved much like light sabers.  Maybe sharp ones do a bit more than the blades we used in BotN, but with a 2mm edge, a gambeson is enough to keep them from shredding your skin.  You might get a cracked rib or a ruptured spleen underneath, so steel armour is still recommended.  I eventually shed the maile in favor of a tonlet I built to protect my torso.  Here's the back in progress, with the bottom of the back part of the fauld below it, and the rib plates.  The shape of the back is based on a few finds in Chalcis.   To the right you can see the jig I made to help keep the front fauld lames from deforming while getting fired.  The full stack is sandwiched between those angled posts.  The next one I do will probably have a more complete brace, since I didn't get quite the angle I wanted in the front.  The sides were fine because of the jig.  Note that the fauld lames are upside down in the picture on the right- the shape it gives you is a wasp waist, tucking in at the base of the ribs and flaring out over your hips.
Since my team surcoat covered the final body harness, this is the best picture I have of it at the moment.  Franklin was helping me buckle in.  The spaulders were a cheap concession to a little shoulder protection.  They're just some 4130 bits I had laying around the shop.
There was a lot of new technique to practice, and all of us in this region are new to the game.  John (below left) had some ideas based on his police training that were helpful, and he's a good wrestling opponent.  This also shows the rig I was playing with before I built my new body harness.

 Maelgwyn gave the style a whirl a few times and did pretty well.  It's challenging to wrestle against heavier opponents, so he relied on his agility some.

 I don't have any pictures of the work I did with Kein, Hoegaarden, or the various brave souls who lined up to face me at practice.  It was extremely helpful to have more bouts under my belt and a better feel for what I'd have to face.  I joined Randy Palmer's South Austin Gym, where my instructors increased the intensity of my work outs, helped me with grappling, kicking and punching.  It was fun, and eye opening, and I'm very grateful for their help.
  One challenge I had still was with weapons.  I got a wonderful axe from Brion of Bellatrix, but as it was untested I wanted to be sure I had some alternatives in case it broke or just didn't work like I expected.  Early on it sounded like a bardiche would be ideal for this.  It has good reach, and a nice hand hold for a hard right cross.  So I cut this design out with my torch, fired up the forge and did some bending:
  I ended up sending the picture to a better maker, and the final result he came up with was superior.  I made a couple of hand axes in case I dropped the weapon.  Below you can see one rough cut with the torch on the right, and the one of the left is smoothed off.  The second shot shows how thick the edge is- 1/4 inch, which is much thicker than the 2mm minimum.  It allows more mass, makes hitting with the edge pretty easy, and still focuses the energy a lot like a mace would.  Unless you hit an unarmoured spot a 2mm edge and a 6mm edge behave about the same.

There were lots of other less exciting details, like getting my passport renewed and getting proper baggage, a power converter, and more of the soft kit.  At this point I was ready, at the top of the roller coaster, and buckled in for the adventure in Europe.


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