Created on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 06:00
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 February 2013 19:42
Written by Brian R. Price
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Within the Schola Saint George, we use a form of tournament popular in Western Europe during the late fourteenth and into the fifteenth centuries called the Pas d'Armes.Â
The pas d'armes is essentially a challenge tournament. Traditionally, the sponsors of the tournament were the defenders, who would set up and hold a place, acting as a kind of martial host to those who wished to come against them and issue a challenge. These combats might take place as jousting passes, or combats on foot, and could use any weapon in the chivalric spectrum which was agreeable to both combatants. For many years the Company of Saint George articulated and sponsored many such tournaments, some within the auspices of the SCA and many outside of it, blending re-enactment with a real feat of arms.Â
In a traditional tournament, four to five "passes" are made where each of the "visitors" begins by issuing a challenge to a defender. Every combatant fights every pass, but there is no limit on the number of challenges a combatant may have during any given challenge. For example, it is perfectly possible for one combatant to have five or six fights in a single pass. Traditionally, those who were not challenged are generally afforded the opportunity to make a challenge of their own. The challenges are made first, then the fights are conducted in the order the challenges were made. Then, a new round of challenges is made. Sometimes, demonstration fights precede the tournament or a pass, and sometimes group encounters are fought between them, if the pace of fighting has not been sufficiently brisk. Â No one is ever eliminated--except by equipment failure, exhaustion or injury--so in all but the last pass, there are more opportunities to fight and to do well.Â COMBATANTS CALL THEIR OWN BLOWS:
No judge calls out blows; the marshal only halts a fight if there is a clear danger or if the fight has gone on too long. The combats are made without a judging system. We have tested many such systems, and they always lead to "gaming the system," as opposed to the medieval method, which was to simply demonstrate prowess, courtesy and the other chivalric virtues upon the field. This can be an odd experience for those with a classical fencing or tournament martial arts background, but it is perfectly normal within the context of medieval history and best suits a friendly but hard-fought exchange of arms between companions.Â
The fights themselves are generally resolved one of several ways. First, combatants traditionally fight to a declared number of blows--usually an odd number from one to seven. Fights may also be conducted "as armoured," where the defensive qualities of plate armour are generally considered to be proof against all but a very stout blow. On a more sophisticated level, advanced combatants may choose to fight "to satisfaction," Here, they fight until one (or more usually, both) are satisfied that they have "done enough" to enjoy the fight. In all cases, a marshal may throw the baton and Â declare a halt or an end to the fight should go on too long.Â
At the end of the day, it is generally clear who "won" the tournament. In a medieval sense, however, victory is not limited to a single victor (although it can and often is). We generally recognize one overall victor but also feats of arms done by individuals throughout the course of the day. This is how renown is built, and whether the Company / Schola recognizes it, it is the fundamental building block of chivalric society--what I have called the "coin of the tourneyer."Â
Within the Schola Saint George, we execute the pas d'armes somewhat differently. Â We generally divide the combatants up into to groups, one for each side of the lists, and then these sides alternate in the roles of challenger and defender, so that all have both the opportunity to challenge and the honor of being challenged.Â
Medieval equipment Â is highly recommended, and in some tournaments, required, depending upon the Scolaro's level of achievement within the Schola. Medieval shoes, gambesons, gauntlets, helmets and the like strongly evoke the medieval atmosphere that is supposed to encourage chivalric opportunities--not only for prowess, the most celebrated virtue of the day, but also the spectrum of knightly virtues that comprise the philosophy underlying the martial arts of the Middle Ages.
On the day, expect to arrive early and to have all of your gear prepared. The published kind of simulators and armour requirements should be published in advance. All combatants must have a waiver on file, so expect to sign a new one for the day's activities and any entrance fee is collected at the same table. It is good to bring a medieval-style chair, if you have one, but we generally have benches and such available as well. Make sure your gear is in good repair. If there is a particular kind of weapon / simulator you like, a good tradition is to acquire and bring a matched pair.Â
The sides will be broken into two, and the combatants will then take to the field one by one to introduce themselves and to make a few very brief comments about their motives/inspirations/hopes for the day. When all have finished, there will be an oath that asks if all combatants have read and understand the rules for the day, and if not, these will be clarified. Based on the quality of the introductions, the defenders (usually the senior combatants, but we could randomize the results) will select three of the challenges for the honor of the first, second and third challenge. This is a highly sought honor, and it represents a blend of your presentation, including the effort expended on your gear and your preparation (banners, shields, and the like are often but not always prepared).Â
Finally, the fighting will be prepared. Â Sometimes, we open with a "first blood" melee within the list where each combatant, all similarly armed, is able to take three good blows before they are eliminated. The tradition is to fight with a series of opponents in quick succession until one or the other has scored a strike upon the other, after which both move to a new opponent (if any "lives" are remaining).Â
There could well be a demonstration bout or two between instructors "to set the tone" and an example for what is expected.Then, the challenges will take place rapidly, one after the other, in the order they were made. IMPORTANT - As a matter of courtesy, both combatants who are "on deck" should hold themselves beside the field immediately ready following the current fight. This is critical for keeping the day organized and the tempo moving.Â
Once the first pass has been completed, the instructors will generally gather briefly once again to select the honors for the first through third challenges of the second pass. This one is based on performance and presentation in the first pass (performance first, presentation a distant but still important second). And so on from pass to pass. Whether we get four or five passes depends upon the number of combatants, the remaining energy, and time.Â
In brief, here's what you should do to prepare:
- Make sure you are in practice and in sufficient physical shape to endure the rigors of the tourney
- Reading up on medieval tournaments in romances or texts is a very good idea, so you understand the tone of what is expected
- Prepare your armour and weapons in advance, selecting the appropriate gear and making sure that it is in good repair.
- Acquire any weapons you'd like to fight with (ideally in pairs), which can include daggers, swords, spears, batons or poleaxes (for armoured).
- Arrive to the tournament early (I cannot emphasize this enough)
- Bring food, drink, a chair, medieval clothing, and any tools you'll need for repairs.
- Preparation of pennants and gifts for your opponents is very appropriate.
- Think about what you might say during the introduction
- Bearing a consort's Â favor onto the field is appropriate and a nice touch
- Read the tournament rules and be sure you're in compliance
During the Tournament
- RESPECT THE OPPONENT
- ARRIVE EARLY - Don't keep others waiting. This is rude in the extreme.
- Pitch in and help out if needed
- Keep yourself hydrated and fed
- Stand ready for your fight, armed, helmed and gauntleted, during the bout that preceeds yours.
- Check your gear in between bouts. Visually give your opponent a quick scan to be sure they have all their gear on just before the salute.
- Before a bout, give your opponent a sincere salute (which means you're ready, too)
- Acknowledge blows fairly and generously; be truthful and sincere
- Do not exceed the grappling limitations for a given fight
- Do not strike with excessive force, but land strong, good blows
- Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt over yourself
- Recognize the feats of others and give them your attention when they're on the field. Give some sort of token or gift when you're impressed
- HAVE FUN and fight to the best of your ability. Bring the best fight out of your opponent, and give it your best.
Sources to read
Barker, Richard & Juliet R. V. Barker. Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry, and Pageants in the Middle Ages. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.
Eshenbach, Wolfram von. Parzifal (any edition)
de Troyes, Chretien. Erec & Evain, Yvain, etc.Â
Malory, Morte d'Artur (any edition)
Price, Brian R.The Book of the Tournament, Union City, CA: Â Chivalry Bookshelf, 1996.