Present:  We had 40 total at practice, but not all sat in on the moot. Among those participating actively in the discussion were: Aethelwulf, Dietrich, Tearlach, Marieke, Dafydd, Findabhair and Eric, Rosie and Thomas, Katherine, Eleanor, David Poirier, Cat, Lily, Leo, Lisabetta, Hakon, Archer and Smitty – there were more, and two by Zoom; I apologize for not noting everyone’s name.

This Shire Moot (held outdoors on a fine autumn afternoon at our usual Practice site in Underhill) was called to explore ideas about how we can better support and encourage heavy-list fighting in the Freehold, since numbers have been dwindling alarmingly of late. Leo led the discussion.

Tearlach gave an account of fighting in the Freehold’s early days, starting in 1978, when the armor consisted of Freon helms and carpet armor, and people didn’t hit each other as hard as they do now. Aelfwine (in what was to become Stonemarche) trained the first fighters in the Freehold, including Tearlach, and Aekir of Stalacia. In the following years and decades, a number of Freehold fighters went on to win fame and honor on the list field: Sir Cenwulf Godfyrth, Duke Randal, Duke Gryffith, Viscountess Gwenllian, Master Revlin, Jarl Thorson, and Sir Ishido, as well as many others in the Order of the Tygers Combattant. Tearlach also commented that the Freehold fighting force, while never numerous at the best of times, was seen as well-trained and cohesive, and was valued in battle scenarios.

Aethelwulf explained that, starting about ten years ago, we lost a number of experienced fighters, as they moved out of the shire, or left the SCA for other reasons. We’ve never really recovered from that. The Sunday practices are very lightly attended, if at all, by heavy-listers. Some of our authorized fighters travel for training and practice in neighboring groups, or to attend more distant events (which, of course, is not a bad thing!) or are just not available on Sundays. We also, until recently, had a lack of marshals. Aethelwulf has been encountering some bureaucratic delays in getting his Marshal’s warrant, but this is being corrected. It also turns out that our current Chivalry, Tearlach and Hakon, can serve as Marshals too, and are willing to do so when they are available. Making another point, Aethelwulf explained that for heavy-list practice, it’s helpful to have a “critical mass” of fighters at any one practice, and that lately we are not getting that many. Pre-Covid, we were starting to get some newer fighters trained up, but they haven’t all come back, and we need to reach out to them.

At this point we thanked Aethelwulf with three rousing “Vivats” for his extremely consistent presence at the fighting practices, for many years, lugging multiple bags of armor and weapons each time in the hope he’d have somebody to hit. Often, sadly, that was not the case.

Dietrich asked, “So, why do fighters want to fight SCA-style?” LARPs seem like more fun, and the barriers to entry are lower. We do have an active LARP community in this area, but most LARPers who have tried our fighting haven’t “stuck” – (though Leo has, and a few others). Hakon pointed out that SCA fighting has a long and steep learning curve – it takes lots of patience and persistence to get good. That means it’s all the more important to be kind and encouraging to new fighters, and make their path as smooth and pleasant as possible. Armor that fits and looks nice is one obstacle we can help with. We’re doing pretty well with loaner armor – but maybe that could be improved. The shire has purchased two sets of loaner armor (with adjustable-size parts) from Dark Victory Armory – Dietrich says these will be ready soon. Meanwhile, Dietrich’s workshop in St. Albans is open for helping new combatants get their own armor made. We want the new fighters to keep returning to practices. We discussed how to make new fighters feel like part of the group. A feeling of belonging will aid retention and morale.  And how about visible signs of belonging, such as tabards and/or favors? 

So what about boffer fighting? It’s less intimidating to new fighters and might be an entry point. Eleanor is in the process of getting her Youth Combat Marshal warrant, so that we might someday be able to offer boffer combat for kids. But there are lots of rules and regulations for that. Meanwhile, for adults, the SCA doesn’t really support boffer fighting as an official activity. That’s one way the LARPS have an edge – LARPers have said that our armor and weapons requirements for heavy list are indeed a barrier to their participation.

Eric said, getting the armor is the easy part – our problem is getting bodies to wear it. So how do we find new fighters? What’s our target demographic? College kids are by nature mostly transient. Focusing on more location-stable and employment-stable people in their 20’s and 30’s (and their families) will be more successful. Hakon said that having demos in public parks can be fruitful, especially if it’s not just fighters – these demos need lots of support with shirefolk making contact with the people who come to view the demo, and having handouts and business cards to give out. David Poirier pointed out that our shire consists of more than the Burlington area, and we should be doing demos in all corners of our territory. Katherine thought we should arrange a big public demo, with advance notice in Seven Days, and press coverage, and all the bells and whistles. Featuring youth fencing will attract other families with younger fencers. Marieke said that some parks are strict about terms of usage, and perhaps during the winter we could research which parks would be open to this sort of demo with fighting. Cat volunteered to start looking into this. Smitty has an “in” with the Essex Park system and is willing to help.

We may have missed a good opportunity to do a demo at the Fantasy and Sci Fi Convention last weekend – but there are “reasons” we didn’t do that. Katherine also mentioned that at the end of the month there’s an opportunity to do a demo at “Spooky Saturday” in St. Albans – but it’s probably too short notice to pull that together. Lisabetta will be attending Carnage Con in November, and as a solo effort she is willing to sit at a table and do her beautiful illumination work, and see if she can catch some interest.

We discussed the role of Chatelaine – and how big and hard it is. Chatelaines are responsible for welcoming new people, but also for arranging opportunities to *find* new people, such as demos, as well as marketing our hobby to non-SCAdians. We feel it might be helpful if Odd had some deputies to help him with the various aspects of his office. Smitty suggested we might benefit from a Demo Committee, or a Marketing Committee.

At that point, our hour was up. Thomas reminded us that there’s a Shire Business Meeting in two weeks, and we can continue discussions there. We thanked Leo for pulling together this very productive discussion, and we disbanded the moot in order to get on with fencing, heavy list, and general chatting.

Thanks to everyone who attended and shared their thoughts and ideas!

Notes by Marieke