Marshallate Reformation Proposal
My name is Bill Colbert. In the SCA, I am William de Montegilt. My first SCA activity was a small tourney in Towson, Maryland, in March of 1975. I was a spectator. My second SCA activity was a fighter practice. I have been a rattan combat fighter for more than 28 years, and a warranted marshal in two kingdoms. I am not a knight, nor have I ever picked up a rapier. I do not participate in period combat studies. I do enjoy fighting, very much. This information is included so that any biases are evident.
Safety in all forms of SCA combat is a particular interest of mine. It may have something to do with my first two fighting seasons both ending early with a broken arm. I don't like to be hurt, and I don't like to see my friends hurt. Also, I believe that a really serious fighting-related injury, or a death on the field (any field) might very well spell the end of combat in the SCA. The financial circumstances of the Society are such that a large judgment exceeding our liability insurance would cripple the organization.
The present structure of the Marshallate within the Society is, I believe, conducive to such a disastrous event. The reason for this is that decision authority for safety, standards, and practices, within the kingdoms and at the Society level, are made almost entirely by people very experienced in rattan combat. That is just fine for rattan combat, but it is not fine for rapier combat, nor equestrian activities, nor siege weapons, nor period combat studies. The Board of Directors agrees, at least in the case of equestrian activities. As of the April 2003 board meeting, the equestrians were made independent of the Marshallate.
Now, I recognize that there are exceptions to the above assertion. But for the most part, the situation is as stated. All, or nearly all, of the kingdom earls marshal and the Society Marshal, presently, and historically, have been experienced rattan fighters. Precious few of them have had any other sort of fighting experience. Look within your own kingdoms, and see if this is not the case.
The main thrust of this proposal is to decentralize decision authority for safety, practical techniques, and equipment standards, for each combat-related activity to the deputy for that activity. The Society Marshal and the kingdom earls marshal would have different responsibilities than at present. They would continue to be responsible for coordinating reporting to their respective crowns and corporate superiors. They would have the added responsibility of encouraging all forms of fighting, and fighting-related activities in their kingdoms, or in the case of the Society Marshal, in the Society as a whole.
What comes next is a synopsis of the evolution of Society combat. This is intended to illustrate how we got to the current situation. The elements of the Proposal will follow that.
On May 1, 1966, the Last Tourney was held. It was a backyard party. A total of ten fighters competed that day. I have spoken to three of The Ten (Flieg Hollander, Henrik Olsgaard, and Dave Thewlis), and they confirm that the weapons used in what became the first tourney of the SCA were modern fencing equipment, broomsticks, and trash can lids. Within two years, rattan combat had become the standard (only) form of combat used in the Society. I mention this to illustrate that the evolution of combat within the SCA has occurred, literally, from the beginning.
In A.S. 6, the Society Marshal published a statement to the effect that all fighters should expect to give and receive full force blows at all times, in order to simulate the reality of medieval combat. This idiocy engendered a variety of amusing ballads, and intervention by the Board of Directors, who appointed a new Society Marshal. I mention this to show that, even very early, the Board was willing to intervene in combat-related situations they found patently unsafe.
When I began fighting in A.S. 9, there were only four kingdoms. Combat archery did not exist. Light weapons were not used. Face thrusts were not used. In the East Kingdom, ladies were allowed to train as fighters, but could not participate in any tournament competition, much less a Crown Tourney. There were a few siege weapons, but they were for demonstration purposes only, and were not used in combat.
There was no organized study of historical fighting techniques from any era of the period, and the development of rattan combat fighting was evolutionary rather than historical. By that I mean that many techniques were tried, and the ones that tended to work were kept.
Today, all these things are part of Society combat activities. We have Lady knights, and even one Lady who was queen, in her own right. Many battles are enhanced by the presence of combat archers, and at Gulf Wars, the sky darkens during the castle battle with the missiles of the siege engines. Rapier combat was introduced in 1979, and has thousands of adherents today. Finally, the translation and study of actual period combat manuals is perhaps the fastest growing combat-related activity. It certainly is the most dynamic.
Fighting and the Society
The first event was a tourney. As we all know, the Society attempts to recreate "the Middle Ages, as they should have been". I have heard this referred to as the "Romantic Arthurian" model.
From the beginning, the tourney has been the centerpoint of most Society events. Throughout its early history, this meant, exclusively, rattan combat. Rattan combat tournaments are held even today at the vast majority of Society events. It tends to capture the imagination of the viewing public more than any of our other activities.
The assignment of responsibility for all combat-related activities to a Marshallate organization composed of rattan fighters made perfect sense..as long as there were only rattan fighters.
There is now a much wider menu of combat-related activities than was imagined when the present structure was set up. The Marshallate has evolved somewhat in response. As presently (September 2003) constituted, each of the combat- related activities has a deputy to oversee it. This deputy has the obligation to make policy recommendations to the kingdom earl marshal or the Society Marshal, as appropriate. However decision authority remains with the kingdom earl marshal or the Society Marshal, regardless of the level of his or her qualifications, actual experience, and interest in the particular activity.
Safety - It simply does not make sense for someone with no direct knowledge or expertise in an activity to be regulating it. In this case we are talking about regulating it at the level of actual fighting techniques, equipment standards, and safety practices. You wouldn't want a fire safety specialist making decisions about airplane safety. Yet that is exactly the situation that non-rattan fighters are faced with. It represents an obvious danger to the participants. Liability - We do not have a Society with a large financial endowment. It is well known that the Society operates on very narrow fiscal margins, with no major reserve funding. The loss of an injury-related lawsuit significantly in excess of our liability insurance would cripple or liquidate the Society. If I were the attorney arguing such a case from the other side, I would be overjoyed to find that at three separate levels (Society Marshal, Crown, and kingdom earl marshal), oversight responsibility was being performed by persons with no direct knowledge of the activity.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that members participating in combat forms other than rattan combat have been subjected to arbitrary rule changes, arbitrary equipment changes, arbitrary technique rulings, and arbitrary activity elimination. These have occurred at the Society Marshal level and the kingdom level, often changing from reign to reign, and demonstrably by people acting on erroneous or inadequate information. They have been done by officers without direct expertise in these other combat forms. The members have also had to endure, on many occasions, these types of actions by officers with active dislike or overt hostility to their activities, even, in some cases, to pursuing an agenda to eliminate them.
Concerning the last point, I wish to make it clear that I am not talking exclusively about rapier combat. Similar problems, although fewer in number, have occurred with combat archery (on again, off again, hit 'em, don't hit 'em), siege weapons (ever had anyone firing onions at you during a battle? It's happened.), and equestrian activities. It is occurring right now with period combat studies. Notice I said "studies", not fighting. In the past few weeks we had the absurd situation of a kingdom earl marshal initially forbidding the showing, at an event, of a videotape illustrating historical combat techniques taken from period fighting manuals. The justification presented was that this might confuse fighters as to what was legal on the field. This decision was even upheld by the Society Marshal. I believe, however, that the earl marshal in question has rethought his position. Still, the incident illustrates that the Marshallate as presently organized is not equipped to deal fairly and appropriately with alternative combat-related activities.
There are, literally, thousands of members who use siege engines, fight with rapiers, and study historical combat techniques. They also hold events, cook feasts, serve their Crowns, and in short, behave like all others members. They deserve better treatment and more respect than they have gotten up to this point. They deserve to be as safe in their activities as we can make them, just like we rattan fighters.
The elements of the Proposal that follows will address each of these issues.
Reorganization of the Marshallate
Discussion and justification for this have been argued above. In summary, the present organizational structure places people with little or no expertise, and occasionally outright hostility, in decision authority over combat-related activities other than rattan combat. This compromises the safety of the participants, our membership. It also significantly increases the legal liability of the Society in case of an injury lawsuit. It also exposes participants to the whimsy of officers not particularly interested in their activities.
Arguments in favor of such a reorganization include:
All three of the major problems discussed above are solved or at least heavily mitigated.
People not interested in a particular activity are no longer required to be in the loop. They can confine their attentions to activities that do interest them.
If done correctly, cross-activity technique sharing is enhanced. I refer here particularly to the efforts of those studying historical combat techniques on both rattan combat and rapier combat.
The positions of Society Marshal and king earl marshal will have a larger pool of candidates as they will no longer be tied to just rattan combat expertise.
Arguments against might include:
It isn't traditional. It dilutes the influence of rattan combat as the primary form of fighting within the Society.
The present Society Marshal and kingdom earls marshal won't like it. It removes much of their authority.
As a strong believer in both tradition and rattan combat, I will address the first argument below, later in the Proposal. As to the second argument, well, yes. That's the idea.
The office of Marshal of the Society, as described in Corpora, VI D., will become a reporting office for activities related to combat and archery. Information coordination activities, working with the Chirurgeon General to promote safety, and working with the Minister of Arts and Sciences will continue as present. Supervision of combat and related activities, supervision of subordinate marshals, and making policy decisions, interpretations and clarifications regarding the Rules of the Lists as they apply to a particular type of combat are now assigned to the deputy society marshals for each activity. In particular, deputies will be appointed for rattan combat, rapier combat, siege weapons, historical combat studies, youth combat, and archery/thrown weapons. Other deputies may be appointed as needed, however these deputies will have decision authority over their particular activities. Warrants for the Marshal of the Society and the Deputies defined below are signed by the Board of Directors.
Enabling legislation - Corpora is changed as follows: the text of VI (Society Officers) D (Marshal of the Society) is deleted in its entirety and replaced with:
"The Marshal of the Society is responsible for reporting on activities related to combat and archery to the Board of Directors. This includes coordinating the reporting from the Deputy Society Marshals for each activity, and from the Earls Marshal of the kingdoms. The Marshal of the Society will also work with the Chirurgeon General to promote safety in the Society's martial arts, and with the Minister of Arts and Sciences to encourage research in armor and weapons. Further, the Marshal of the Society will have the responsibility to encourage and promote participation in combat and archery activities by the membership. The Marshal of the Society may appoint such Assistant Marshals as are necessary to fulfill these responsibilities.
Deputy Society Marshals are created for the following activities:
Armored Combat, Rapier Combat, Siege Engines, Archery, Youth Combat, and Period Combat Studies. The Deputy Society Marshals are responsible for activities in their respective areas. This includes directing the appropriate Deputy Earls Marshal of the kingdoms in matters concerning the supervision of combat and related activities at Society events and the manner and conduct of duties of all marshals of their activities throughout the Society.
The Board specifically authorizes these Deputy Society Marshals to make policy decisions, interpretations, and clarification regarding the Rules of the Lists, for their respective activities only, and with the proviso that such rulings must be reported to the Board at the following meeting. These rulings will stand until and unless overruled by the Board."
Before I discuss the effect on the kingdoms, I want to explain some of the reasoning here.
First, additional deputy Society marshals can easily be created should circumstances dictate. Second, I have included a deputy, rather than an assistant for siege engines. The reason for this is that some of these use sufficient force to be quite dangerous in uneducated hands. They need to be regulated by someone who really understands them.
Third, I feel that having the Archery deputy have responsibility for target activities and combat archery is a Good Thing. The reason is the necessity of having some sort of Society-wide standards, particularly when it comes to arrow construction, so that we can all play safely together.
Fourth, most kingdoms now have some form of youth combat, and others are considering it. This activity is still in its early stages, and there is a real opportunity here for the kingdoms to share best practices, if there is someone to do the coordination. A Society-wide set of minimum standards is probably an important outcome. I believe this level of official attention is appropriate, as I don't think we have any assets more precious than our children.
Finally, although there has always been some level of interest, it is only recently that there has been dramatic growth in the interest level in the translation and study of historical combat techniques. The important word here is "study". This is not a competitive activity. There are no tournaments. There are practices and demonstrations. As some of these use weapons or other physical activity, there is risk to the participants. It isn't purely theoretical. Consequently, it is necessary to have regulations and equipment standards overseen by someone with expertise in the activity.
Placing the sidesword experiment here instead of under the Deputy Society Marshal for Rapier Combat might be worth considering.
I was recently asked why the study of historical combat techniques should be a
Society activity. The justification is simple, and comes from the Articles of
Incorporation, section II, which says:
".The purposes for which this corporation is formed include: (a) Research and education in the field of pre-17th Century Western Culture. (b) Generally, to engage in research; publish material of relevance and interest to the field of pre-17th Century Western Culture; to present activities and events which re-create the environment of said era, such as, but not limited to, tournaments, jousts, fairs, dances, classes, et cetera."
Now that is exactly what the period combat studies folks are doing, and certainly more so than those of us who fight with rattan and rapier. Some of these techniques can probably be transferred to the armored and rapier combat fields, as they were used in period.
Proposed: The earls marshal of the kingdoms become reporting officers with the responsibility to coordinate information flow from the deputy earls marshal in their kingdoms and to report to the Society Marshal. They also have the duties to promote safety by working with their kingdom Chirurgeon and to promote general equipment standards improvement by working with their kingdom Minister of Arts and Sciences.
For a kingdom to participate in a particular activity, it must appoint the appropriate deputy earl marshal for that activity. Warrants for a kingdom earl marshal are signed by the Crown and the Society Marshal. Warrants for a deputy earl marshal are signed by the Crown and the appropriate Deputy Society Marshal. The reasoning here is to make certain that persons with appropriate interest and expertise are overseeing each activity.
Enabling legislation - Corpora is changed as follows: the text of VII
(Kingdom, Principality, and Local Officers) D (The Earl Marshal) is deleted in
its entirety and replaced with:
"The Earl Marshal is responsible for reporting on activities related to combat and archery to the Crown and the Marshal of the Society. This includes coordinating the reporting from the Deputy Earls Marshal for each activity within the kingdom. The Earl Marshal will also work with the Chirurgeon to promote safety in the kingdom's martial arts, and with the Minister of Arts and Sciences to encourage research in armor and weapons. Further, the Earl Marshal will have the responsibility to encourage and promote participation in combat and archery activities by the membership.
Deputy Earls Marshal may be appointed for any of the following
Armored Combat, Rapier Combat, Siege Engines, Archery, Youth Combat, and Period Combat Studies. However, none of these activities may be performed in the kingdom without an appropriate Deputy Earl Marshal being appointed. The Deputy Earls Marshal are responsible for all combat-related activities in their respective areas. This includes overseeing the conduct and safety of all martial arts in their respective areas, including but not limited to tournament lists, wars, practices, and combat demonstrations. The Deputy Earls Marshal are also responsible for appointing and warranting subordinate marshals for their respective areas."
Corpora VII I. (Duties of Other Officers) is changed to read:
"Specific duties of Kingdom Lesser Officers, deputies, Principality Officers, and Local Officers are defined by Royalty and the appropriate superior officer unless otherwise defined in Corpora.
Corpora VII J. (Appointment to office) 1, add after the first sentence:
"Kingdom Deputy Earls Marshal are appointed by the Crown after due consultation with the outgoing officer, the Earl Marshal, and any other appropriate Great Officer."
Corpora VII K (Warranting / Rosters) 1, first sentence is changed from "Kingdom Great Officer's appointments are confirmed by a signature from the Corporate Level and the Crown, on the standard warrant form." to "Appointments of Kingdom Great Officers and Deputy Earls Marshal are confirmed by a signature from the appropriate Deputy Society Marshal, and the Crown, on the standard warrant form."
Again, the purpose here is simply to ensure that people with appropriate interest and expertise are in charge of each activity.
I expect this will actually be the most controversial part of this Proposal. First let me say that I have been a member for more than 28 years and a peer for nearly 25. I have always endeavored to support my Crown and my Kingdom, no matter where I have lived.
When there was only rattan combat, it made sense to have the Sovereign oversee the fighting. One could safely assume that he (it was always a he then) was pretty good at it. Unfortunately, few Sovereigns, are expert in other forms of combat activity, and probably none are in all of them. It makes sense, therefore, to reduce the responsibility of the Crown for these areas. The justification is exactly the same as for the Marshallate.
On the other hand, I'm a firm believer in traditions, and am not trying here to change the way we select our Crowns.
Therefore, what I am proposing is a compromise between the traditional privileges of the Crown and the safety and enjoyment of the membership.
The Sovereign retains final oversight responsibility for rattan combat within the kingdom. Oversight responsibilities for other activities devolve to the appropriate deputy earl marshal.
Access to the fighting field, any fighting field, is granted at the pleasure of the Sovereign. The Sovereign retains the right to remove any fighter, at any time, from any field.
Rattan combat remains the only formal tournament lists for royal ranks and titles, unless a specific exemption is granted by the Board.
Enabling legislation - Corpora is changed as follows: IV (Royalty) A. (Selection) 1. "Royal Lists must be conducted at a tournament announced in the kingdom newsletter as being for that purpose. Crowns or Coronets who wish to conduct a royal list in a manner other than individual armored combat must obtain the prior approval of the Board of Directors."
Corpora IV C (Duties) 9 is changed to read: "The Sovereign supervises armored combat on the field of honor.
Corpora IV C 10 is renumbered as IV C 11.
Corpora IV C (new) 10 is added, as follows:
"The privilege of access to the combat fields, regardless of the type of combat activity being performed, is granted at the pleasure of the Sovereign. The Sovereign may remove any fighter, at any time, from any tourney or melee combat field, for any period of time, up to the duration of the Reign. Such action shall not be construed to indicate a safety violation has occurred; no Marshallate action may be taken as the result of this exercise of Royal prerogative. Safety violations shall be addressed through reports to, and appropriate actions by, the Marshallate."
These are required, mostly for consistency, to complete the proposed implementation.
Corpora IX (Society Combat) A. (Society Combat-Related Activities) 1, first sentence is replaced with: "Society combat-related activities are defined as armored combat, rapier combat, combat archery, marshalling, scouting, banner bearing in combat, youth combat, and period combat studies."
Corpora IX A. 2, first paragraph is replaced with: "A participant in any of the Society combat-related activities as defined above must be authorized by a marshal warranted and designated by the Deputy Earl Marshal of a kingdom for that activity, or his representative, as able to authorize individuals in the appropriate activity."
Corpora IX A. 6, is deleted in its entirety and replaced with: "Prior to the authorization of a minor in any Society combat-related activity, the parent or guardian of the minor must witness the activity, discuss it with a witnessing marshal, and execute a Waiver, indemnity, or other required document for the minor. The witnessing marshal must be explicitly authorized to perform this function by the Deputy Earl Marshal for Youth Combat of that kingdom. The marshal who authorizes a minor person for any form of Society combat-related activity must the Kingdom or Principality Deputy Earl Marshal for Youth Combat, or the Kingdom or Principality Deputy Earl Marshal for that activity. This need not be the same person as the witnessing marshal."
Corpora IX B (The Rules of the Lists) 2, is deleted in its entirety and replaced with: "No person shall participate in Combat-Related activities (including armored combat, rapier combat, combat archery, marshalling, scouting, banner bearing in combat, youth combat, and period combat studies) outside of formal training sessions unless and until he or she shall have been properly authorized under Society and kingdom procedures."
Corpora IX C (Rapier Fighting in the Society) is now superfluous and therefore deleted.
As near as I can determine, no changes to the Articles of Incorporation, By- Laws, or Corporate Policies of the SCA, Inc. are required to implement this proposal.
Should the Board of Directors act favorably on this Proposal, presumably after consultation with the membership, a reasonable amount of time should be given for implementation so that the kingdoms have a chance to adjust their organizations. Six months seems about right, a year is probably too long.
My motivation for this Proposal is simple. I am worried about the Society. We do not seem to be growing. We do seem to be aging, and a significant number of the kids drop out on reaching adulthood. The membership is well aware that the organization has financial difficulties.
We also have too much friction. When I joined, I was given to believe that the Society was inclusive. There were many, many different activities, and people were encouraged and rewarded for excelling in any field of interest. I continue to believe that should be one our ideals; it may be our very greatest strength.
Alas, for reasons that completely elude me, I have witnessed, time and again, one group trying to restrict the activities of another group. And they weren't even interested in participating themselves, they just didn't want anyone else to do it.
But I also believe that we are a Society that puts a high premium on courtesy and on honor. The reason that people stay in the Society for decades is that generally the organization brings out the very best in its members.
This proposal is designed to make fighting in the Society safer and more fun for everybody. The conclusion is simple. If more people are having more fun, then the Society is stronger, interest is up, and everybody gains.
Certainly the Field of Honor is big enough for all of us.
And please believe that I remain in Service to the Society, this XXV Septembris, A.S. XXXVII.
Bill Colbert (William de Montegilt)
Comments may be sent to the SCA Board of Directors at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com