“Simply put, We are banning fencing throughout the Kingdom of the West. This is a carefully considered decision on Our part, and We understand that some may feel slighted or offended. Understand in return that, while We apologize for any hurt feelings, We do not apologize for this action. Fencing has never been an integral part of how the West Kingdom plays S.C.A., and after many years of inconsistent handling of this issue, it is time to resolve it. We have heard the argument that there was some fencing in Europe prior to 1600. Even so We feel most strongly that emulating the practices of street thugs of that era is not appropriate in a chivalric, medieval society of ladies and gentlemen.”
It was that last sentence that really got me.
“Even so We feel most strongly that emulating the practices of street thugs of that era is not appropriate in a chivalric, medieval society of ladies and gentlemen.”
I posted “Ban the Fencers” to rec.org.sca on Sept. 17th, 1996.
There’s a long tradition of political satire in SCA bardic music. “Weapons at the Door” by Ioseph of Locksley is perhaps most widely known, but there are a host of others. The best of them all have one thing in common, and the best summary I’ve ever heard for this common trait comes from my friend (and my laurel) Owen Alun.
Treason must be true.
Treason must be obvious.
Treason must be preferable.
“Ban the Fencers” was written with a very strict set of criteria. Everything had to have happened in front of me, or to me directly. Nothing could be second hand. No proper names, and no uniquely individual practices could be included. I wrote it over the course of an afternoon and showed it to Angelina when she got home. She was amused, but also worried about the consequences. In truth I was concerned about losing friends, and justifiably so, because to some people from the West, “Ban the Fencers” was treason.
In the end I did lose one friend, a knight and a writer whom I’d known and respected for several years was staying with us while on vacation. I told her that I’d written a piece of political satire about the West’s fencing ban, and I played it for her in my living room. She called it a “vicious hit piece” that I should be ashamed of. Her companion called it “an unfair attack on an entire kingdom.” Neither of them ever spoke to me again, and that makes me sad.
But I stand by what I wrote.“Ban the Fencers” did was it was designed to do. It showed the absurdity of the ban and the attitudes it was based in, and I think it forced a change in the conversation about fencing in the West.
Almost 23 years later everything about fencing has changed. We have Masters of Defence (I still think they should be knights, but that’s a whole different argument) and a lot of people who were vocally opposed to fencing in the SCA in 1996 are authorized and fighting rapier throughout the Known Word.
The West has changed too. Like the rest of society, both in the modern world and the Current Middle Ages, some things that were ignored are no longer tolerated. We’ve all grown older, with any luck wiser. We are still learning to be more inclusive, and we need to do a much better job supporting women and non-men in our activities.