As they maneuver into position for their opening attacks, the armor of Lord Owen Arbalista and Baltasar Demetri jingles and clanks. Behind the slits of their helmets, their faces appear grim.
The battle is brief. Following a flurry of quick attacks parried by shields and upraised blades, Lord Arbalista strikes a killing blow to Demetri’s head.
After a short pause to acknowledge the solemnity of the moment, the two remove their helmets and smile.
Mock melees like this are the norm at the Tennessee Riverpark on Sunday afternoons. Members of the Shire of Vulpine, the local branch of the international Society for Creative Anachronism, an organization of historical re-enactors, gather at the Riverpark to practice medieval-style armored combat.
“Every now and then, going into battle, I still get some butterflies,” said Mike White (Demetri), breathing heavily in a 30-pound suit of lamellar scale armor made from leather boiled in beeswax.
Most of the armor is handmade, and the weapons are built from rattan, a material like a solid-core bamboo, and wrapped in foam. Fighters use the honor system to judge the blows they receive, acknowledging the loss of a limb’s usage if a strike is crippling but not fatal.
Thanks to strict safety protocols, the risk of any injury worse than a broken wrist is slim, said Arbalista (Bill Gaines), who has been a member of the Shire since its foundation in 1978. He serves as its armored combat supervisor.
“What we’ve got here is a lot of bruises, and that’s part of the process of learning when you’re out there with a sword and a shield and somebody’s going at you with a stick,” he said. “If you don’t block it or you perform an inappropriate technique, you’re going to get bruised ... and that helps you remember not to do that again.”
This weekend, members of SCA chapters throughout the region will converge at Harrison Bay State Park for the Tourney of the Foxes, an annual series of tournaments that has been held nearly continuously for the last 25 years.
There, competitions will be held for armored combat, fencing, archery and heraldry, said Tobias Morgan (Avery Krouse), a two-year member of the Shire.
The SCA was formed in 1966 by a group of history buffs in Berkeley, Calif., who hosted a tournament at a party. The event’s invitations summoned “all knights to defend in single combat the title of ‘fairest’ for their ladies,” according to the society’s Web site.
The SCA now has 60,000 to 80,000 participants worldwide, arranged into 19 regional divisions called kingdoms throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Chattanooga’s chapter is located within the Kingdom of Meredies, which covers most of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and parts of Kentucky.
When they join the SCA, members create a persona to match their interests. The general region and period from which to develop a character include cultures either in or with a direct connection to Europe between 600 and 1600 A.D., although there are the occasional exceptions, said his Honorable Lord Ursus Grim (aka Charles Dodson), who is an accomplished fencer and 15-year member of the group.
“We have guidelines that say, ‘We’re from about here to here,’ but we have a lot of people who do a lot of different things,” he said. “It’s not unusual to see an Aztec dressed in full battle regalia, as long as he’s found a way to make it meet our weapon safety standards.”
After selecting the context for their personas, members use historical documents to create period-appropriate names. They then participate in a variety of period-appropriate activities, from woodworking and blacksmithing to musical performance and tailoring, Mr. Krouse said.
As the Shire’s herald, Mr. Krouse helps new members build their personas. The goal is to re-create the person the member might have been had they lived in a different time, he said.
“Modern theater really got started from the late 1500s to the early 1600s in England, so that was the culture I really liked, and I really, really liked the clothing of that period,” he said. “Had I lived in the 1600s, this is what I would have done, at least as far as I’m concerned.”
The Shire of Vulpine has about 20 members, Mr. Krouse said, adding that, although participation in the group is free, members can pay an annual fee of $25-$35 to receive additional benefits.
The reasons for joining the SCA are as varied as the personas that are developed, Mr. Krouse said.
Mr. Dodson said he joined to connect with his heritage.
“I traced my family to the English Middlemarsh area, and I’ve become fascinated with that time and place knowing that if I were transported back in time to the place where my ancestors were, that’s where I would be,” he said. “It turns out, I’m studying things they would have done.
Lord Magnus Campbell (aka Mike Cloyd) is the Shire’s seneschal, or president. He said he developed his persona, a 16th-century Scottish lowland warrior wielding a two-handed sword called a flamberge, as a way of satisfying his lifelong love with contact sports and knighthood.
“As an adult looking for something to compete in, I was not happy with darts and bowling and croquet and some of the things people do,” he said. “(This is) something not a lot of people are doing, and in my mind, it’s an extreme sport.
“And where else can you go and wear a kilt in public and not be made fun of?”
Video: Rapier practiceThis weekend, members of Society for Creative Anachronism will meet at Harrison Bay State Park for the Tourney of the Foxes. Competition includes armored combat, fencing, archery and heraldry. Watch as members practice combat with swords in preparation for the event.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...