Ushering a Prize

Unto the Duellists of Atlantia, and especially her noble Rapier Marshalls, an open letter from Baron Alan Gravesend and Master Geoffrey Gamble.

During the list and feast of Transylvania Travesty, we held some sober divers discussions on the proper way to fight an individual who is playing for his/her prize as a scholar (authorized rapier fighter), and we felt it of value to share these thoughts with our fellow duellists. We divide our discourse in three parts: safety, technique and general thoughts. We seek to remind all those who fill the role of authorizing fighter that they stand in that moment for all the duellists of the kingdom, to test whether the contestant after his/her prize is safe and worthy of advancement in rank; to this end we suggest some ideas and tools which might be used in an authorization bout. These are not techniques that should all be used in any one bout, but rather an assortment of tricks to be used as appropriate.

Excerpt from “ye Olde Guilde of Duellists and Mayhem Hatcherie” bylaws… c. 1593 5/8

“That hee be notte a wylde fightter, like to injur or maim hys opponent; a rude brawler who doth enter nobl combatte as it were an affray of the gutter or who cannot so control himself, hys temper or his weapons thatte they wyl not be an hazard in the fite. For such cannot be allowed into the ranks of the Scholers.”

We think it of value that the usher will, during the course of the bout, attempt to encourage or even provoke unsafe behavior. It is unsafe for a fighter to make wild blade movements of a striking nature, as this may lead to whipping or slapping. In order to test this, we suggest that the usher make a point of provoking wide parries and slaps by using various outside attacks, and by broad prise de fer movements. If there is a tendency to whip, these techniques may bring it out. The scholar candidate must not show any tendency to grab his/her opponent, to grapple, wrestle, punch, or in the end, just freak out (which might also mean freezing as well as becoming violent). To test this, the usher should press very hard, and very fast, with powerful attacks, even attacks which are on the border of being unsafe themselves. Such an attack should show if the scholar can handle being pressed, whether he/she can keep themself under control, and show also whether any blows thrown at close range are of a safe force (i.e. if he’s still throwing to full extension when you are 18 inches away, this is a problem). Finally, we would suggest that two (or more) holds be called under the following circumstances: the first, a hold out of the blue, just to see the response; the second, a hold carefully timed to fall in the middle of a hard action, to see how quickly it registers, and how the scholar responds.

We believe that the scholar who fails any of the above challenges is probably (well, in some cases certainly) not ready to authorize. In many cases it will not be necessary to be so provocative in the course of playing the prize – the scholar’s faults will be evident: but if they are not so clear, by all means, it is the duty of the usher to bring them out.

Excerpt from “ye Olde Guilde of Duellists and Mayhem Hatcherie” bylaws… c. 1593

Ye shall make shor that the scholer be a capable fighter withal, and bee not like to bring the hoots & guffaws of the populess uppon this noble Guild, being a great clumsy booby who cuts down trees with his blade in going from prime to second, or one whose every thrust would peen a rivit at a singl shotte, nor yett a diffident, languorous fighter who careth not if hee win nor loose, so long as he looketh well…”

At a minimum, the free scholar should try a variety of attacks, coming from all lines, to see that the scholar has a defense for each line. Through the course of the prize, the scholar should be faced with an increasing challenge, beginning exclusively with simple attacks, and then adding feints, double disengages, and the like. On the other hand, this should not be carried too far; playing games with range and timing is probably more than a scholar should have to deal with when playing his/her prize. It is important for the free scholar to match his/her fight to the skill of the contestant; there is, after all, no honor in winning an authorization bout, only in conducting it fairly and thoroughly. Another technique that should be evaluated it that of blow calling. A very scrupulous calibration should be conducted, of course, and then the free scholar should make an effort to land some borderline shots in order to see how they are called. Examples would include tip cuts, short draw cuts or cuts without movement of the blade, and “laying on of the tip” such as sometimes happens when a fighter is off target and brings the blade in sideways and lays it over. The scholar’s reaction should show not only that they are sensible of blows (sound or not), but should also give some idea of their attitude towards “iffy” shots. The free scholar should also make an effort to vary his/her style during the fight, using different guards and stances, and the scholar should be encouraged to fight in something more period than modern strip fencing style.

These are a few ideas and tools that can be used in fighting authorization bouts, and we hope you find them helpful. It should be clear that the above techniques are not ones that every authorized duellist in the kingdom can be expected to employ effectively (or even safely!). Thus it behooves the marshalls to choose the free scholar who will play the prize with great care. One possible route to take would be to require the free scholar to be a rapier marshall. The objection that there are too few rapier marshalls around for it to be realistic to require three marshalls to authorize a fighter might be met through the appointment of field marshalls for this purpose, as outlined in the Atlantian Marshalls Handbook. We hope that it will not be necessary to do this. On the other hand, fighters too often use an authorization bout as a warm up before a tourney or melee. This is a disservice to the scholar, and to the other duellists of the kingdom.

We have all heard of kingdoms who reject scholars on the basis of vaguely stated “lack of style,” and we have all seen authorizations that were purely pro forma; let us give Atlantian Duello something in between – a true test, on rational grounds, of a scholar’s safety and skill. There is a great difference between adding another name to the list of authorized duellists and making a free scholar. It is the responsibility of every free scholar playing the prize to see that the new free scholar he/she makes will be a joy to watch and a true challenge to fight.