|Also known as|
|The Order of Chivalry|
Armored combat, or informally heavy combat, is a combat sport developed by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in which participants in body armor act out mock combats loosely inspired by forms of historical combat practiced in medieval Europe. It is variously considered a combat sport, contact sport, or a form of martial art.
The slang term heavy is used to distinguish this from "light" combat, now almost exclusively referred to as Rapier combat.
Participants use armor and weapons specified by SCA standards and rules. Weapons are made from rattan rather than steel for added safety. All major vital points of the body must be covered by armor. The fighting is a full-speed, near full-force, full-contact competition between two or more combatants, and it is designed to resemble medieval combat dueling or melees of up to 2000 participants.
While heavy combat is relatively new compared to other more established martial activities, with the first tournaments held nearly 50 years ago in the mid 1960s, it has now evolved into a large worldwide combat form with thousands of active participants in Canada, the United States, Germany, Austria, Finland, Netherlands, France, Ireland, Japan Spain, Sweden, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Participants may choose a wide range of weapons, the striking surfaces of which are made of rattan and may use leather, foam, and duct tape in their construction. Non-striking surfaces (such as quillons and basket hilts) may be made of other material. Rattan is used because unlike wood, it doesn't form into dangerous sharp splinters when it breaks.
All armor standards are codified, with slight variations between the different regional groups within the SCA. All vital points are covered by some hard rigid protection. Generally, armor covers the fighter from head to toe. Safety standards are high and generally well enforced, with few serious injuries in comparison to other sports. Steel is generally used for armor (though aluminum, leather and even plastic or carpet may be used if they are covered over). There are a number of armorers that supply the SCA and other living history groups, but many make their own armor, while some participants may import armor from overseas. Armor is generally encouraged to look like its historical counterpart, though differences are often necessary to comply with safety requirements, and sometimes modern sport armor may be used One of the most common examples is the face of a helmet: While many types of historical helm had no face protection, safety rules require full coverage of the head. As a result, there are many variations of helm used in the SCA that are otherwise historically accurate but have a steel grill added to cover the face. Minimal armor may cost as little as $200, and up to $10,000 USD, and may weigh as much as 70 pounds.
In heavy combat within the SCA, the validity of a blow works on a type of honor system. The combatant on the receiving end of a blow from a weapon must judge if it would have injured or killed them had it been a real weapon and if they were wearing a specific, defined armor set, not the armor they are actually wearing. This "imaginary" armor set consists of mail hauberk, an open-faced helmet with a nasal (nose protection), and boiled leather armor about the arms and legs. Blows with sufficient force are considered to have defeated or penetrated this armor, or struck an "unprotected" area of the body. Cheating is frowned upon, and fighters are expected to be honorable in their behavior and acceptance of defeat.
The effect a blow has on a combatant uses a body part target location system. If the head, neck or torso are hit with significant force, the combatant is deemed dead. If a leg is hit with significant force to disable it, the combatant must fight on his or her knees thereafter. If an arm is hit, the combatant can no longer use it to hold a weapon or shield. Different weapons can have different effects, simulating the effect of the period weapon (e.g. a mace hit upon the shoulder has a more severe effect than a sword, to simulate the effect of the mace as a heavier weapon). The struck combatant either verbally acknowledges the validity of a blow or acts it out, depending on the type of bout. Some bouts request a defeated combatant die a dramatic death for good showmanship.
Certain behaviors are prohibited for safety reasons; even if they would have occurred in real historical combat, they present major safety issue for modern practitioners.
Grades, in the form of knighthoods, are awarded to those of sufficient prowess.
Tournaments are held regularly in which two combatants fight each other, using a number of advancement systems so that a single winning fighter is decided. A special case of this is the regular Crown Tournament in each kingdom held to choose the king and queen who will rule.
Melee tournaments can include a number of combatants taking to the field. Especially at large events such as Pennsic War, combats may include wars, where large number of participants can take the field at once, and these may include archers, artillery, and fortifications. Sometimes, novelty combat may occur where, for instance, the fighters take the form of chess pieces.
Most local SCA groups hold "fighter practices" where individual and group combat is practiced and informal instruction occurs, but in some regions there may be more formalized and structured training in a local style. Typically several years of direct experience in heavy combat are needed to excel in tournaments. Experienced fighters often train less-experienced fighters in a knight/squire relationship.
Unlike many other martial arts, there is no general formal style or codified system within SCA heavy combat, and individuals may fight whatever style and type of weapon that are permissible within the rules. Styles and strategies are often passed on within local groups based on either the individual style of a local trainer, who is normally an experienced knight, the style of the local group as a whole, or the style of a particular household.
Since hits are acknowledge on an honor system where fighters self judge an opponent's hit during combat as a valid hit, it is possible within the SCA's rules to greatly misjudge valid hits during the heat of combat or potentially cheat by refusing to acknowledge a valid hit in order to win a bout. While bouts are overseen by marshals who act as referees, they are prohibited from judging if a blow was valid due to several unknowable factors from their perspective, though they can and on rare occasions have stopped bouts to provide descriptive information of past hits to the combatants and reaffirm the concepts of the honor system before the bout is resumed. This quick reminder is normally sufficient to calm and restore the combatant's judgement, but due to the complexities of self judging a valid blow during a bout, there is currently no remedy under the rules for such behavior.
If an individual demonstrates a blatant hit judgement problem then the offending individual acquires a reputation for being a dishonorable combatant, with the attendant social stigma. The slang term "rhinohide" was coined to refer to such fighters who have an obvious problem judging valid hits.
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