Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven Wonders: what a badass looks like

Back when I was a boy in school, we got a cat. We had barn cats when I was growing up, but this cat was dropped off down at the woodlot we had recently purchased as a kitten. This was miles down a dirt road, out in the woods. Foxes and other predators around, no shelter aside from what was in nature. The cat survived. My dad started calling her Seven Wonders... because, he said, it's a wonder she survived. And man, did she survive. She hunted mice, chipmunks, squirrels and even rabbits. Yes, rabbits. I watched her take them down, fully grown, at a dead run. They were close to the same size as her. That cat turned into a full fledged badass. Not a strutting around cock of the walk badass. The calm, quiet type who is totally chill as they kill every fucking body in the room. Case in point:

One of our family friends had a dog. Now... Seven Wonders actually had no problem with dogs. Coexisted peacefully... would play with dogs, lie down with them, groom them. Totally chill. As long as they were.

This dog... wasn't. Prince was a German Shepherd dog, who used to (we were told) be a police dog. He hated you. He didn't know you... but he hated you. He loved his owner Don... but everyone else could pretty much fuck right off. He wasn't generally openly aggressive... he just made it clear that you were perfectly fine right over there, thank you very much. Except that day.

Don drove up and got out of the truck, then walked onto the back porch with my dad and I. Prince looked from the truck bed and saw Seven Wonders sitting there next to the barn grooming her paw. He then said "Well... I think I'm gonna go kill that". He came tearing out of the back of the truck, and angry streak of fur, fangs and growling, heading straight for the cat. I had no time to react... nor was I stepping in front of the dog. All I could do was watch as he killed my cat.

Except... Seven Wonders didn't feel like dying that day. Was feeling pretty chill... kinda lazy. Nice and sunny, perfect day to groom her paw and sit there. The dog coming toward her obviously wanted a fight, but she had no desire to fight. So what she did was simply fuck him right up, no fighting involved.

As Prince lunged for her, you can probably imagine her puffing up and hissing, a flurry of claws. Nah... that shit is for amateurs. All she moved was one paw... the one she was grooming... and hooked her (very clean) claws right in the soft spot between his nose and the fur of his muzzle. Not scratched or swiped... hooked. And held....

Prince froze. He went from pissed off vehicle of death and anguish to submissive puppy in the blink of an eye. Not quite satisfied, Seven Wonders decided to not just end this fight, but every fight to come... she turned her paw over, still hooked in his nose, and lay him on his back. She held him there a moment till he whimpered a bit... then let him go. And went back to grooming her paw like he wasn't even there.

Prince got up, turned around, tail between his legs, and got in the back of the pickup. He never bothered the cat again.

That, kids, is what a true badass looks like.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's been a while... a general Uncle Olaf update.

We have established before that I suck at regular blog updates. Never could keep a journal or calendar updated either. One more of my failings...
So, a blog post to update is in order. I did a couple after I came back from Pennsic, but I am going to run through my year real quick. A lot has happened in the last twelve months. Yes, I know this is basically one of those bullshit year in review blog posts. Cope.

  • Dalla and I became land owners. We have purchased just shy of 40 acres about 30 miles from where we currently live. The property belonged to my SCA father and Pelican, Harald. It's a mix of woodland and fields, and is a pretty awesome place. We are not moving immediately... there are still other family members living there, and if we do move, it won't be till 2016. We are using the property though, cutting some wood, hiking, etc. We actually are doing a "Winter Medieval Fun Day"... an in-garb day of snowshoeing, skiing, etc. What I would REALLY love to do is start my commune (see this post) with members of my House... but the logistics are daunting.

    • Dalla and I are also expecting a baby in early February. We made the decision last August to try, and after a couple of setbacks, we are happily on our way. We have had a massive outpouring of generous hand me downs and hand made stuff from friends, and things are looking great. Our friends and House members have been procreating as well, and it's possible we will have 5 or so infant to toddler age children in camp at Pennsic.
    • Both our jobs are changing. Dalla took over as director of the arts council where she works mundanely, and I am getting a sort of promotion... more of a re-tasking and clarification of duties. 
    • I have begun doing archery in the SCA. I am now a ranked archer in the Kingdom, and have purchased my first bow, a hickory longbow. The bow draws at 55#, and is finished with linseed oil and beeswax. I am also getting involved with a group called St. Hubert's Rangers, a group who does medieval hunts. I will begin hunting with my medieval gear this year, starting with small game. I have had a custom set of small game blunts made, and will be ordering arrows for those and some broadheads. 

    Photo by Alex Hostetter
    • My House became land holders at Coldwood. We have an agreement with Baron Stephen Grandchamp; in exchange for labor in maintaining the site and a military alliance, we have a holding at Coldwood that we can clear, improve, and have a campsite. It is, quite frankly, pretty friggin awesome. We have cleared a good section and added a fire pit, and camped there for Opening and Closing.

    All in all, it's been a good year. Ups and downs, of course... but good. The next year is going to be more big changes, with the baby arriving in February, and we're looking forward to it. My House continues to make me proud, and I can't wait to share the adventure with them.

    Monday, October 6, 2014

    Making a sword thrusting tip, the Uncle Olaf way

    OK, so you’ve bought your stick of rattan, and are ready to make a “sword” for SCA combat. Yes, I know it’s not a real sword. Duh. However, for our purpose, it’s a sword simulator… and you will want it to last as long as possible.
    First, the bad news… swords are a consumable in our game. Actual lifespan will vary. Mine last me, on average, about a month. This is the method I have come up with (borrowing from several other ways of doing it) that works best for me.
    • rattan stave
    • hilt or basket
    • foam for thrusting tip
    • nylon webbing
    • strapping tape
    • duct tape
    • cutting implement (scissor or knife)
    • (optional) vice

    First… cut the stick to length and shape it to your guard. Might be a basket hilt… in which case, pretty much all you’ll have to do is shape the handle the way you like it. I use By My Hand creations “Big Boy” hilt. This is a one piece hilt.handle/pommel that sockets your stick down into it. The “Big Boys” are the version with a slightly larger opening, so you don’t have to taper your stick down at quite so extreme an angle. I actually shim mine with a bit of rattan so the socket doesn’t provide direct pressure on the blade portion.

    I start the blade taping with the thrusting tip. You will need the tip itself… either a pre-cut, from someone like Baron Erik, or make your own with whatever foam you prefer. In my Kingdom, we require ¾” of foam with ⅜” of give across the face of the tip. I use two layers of ½” foam that when taped are just a hair under an inch. I cut two circles the same diameter as my stick and tape them together with strapping tape.

    Take your first length of nylon webbing and cut it so that it will go 8-10” down both sides of your sword over the thrusting tip. Now cut another identical piece. The purpose of these strips (and all the strapping tape we will be using) is threefold… one, it keeps the weapon “wrapped in a manner that allows no rattan splinters to protrude” (straight from the Rules of the List) and two, it helps keep the rattan from brooming out, and three, it keeps your thrusting tip in place.
    Over time, with the repeated impact from smiting your foe in a righteous manner, the structure of the rattan breaks down. With the linear, fibrous nature of rattan, this results in “brooming”.... the rattan splintering apart at the tip, but remaining together further down… like a broom. A sword that has done this will not hit as solidly as when it was undamaged, obviously. The webbing helps keep the rattan undamaged longer, and holds it together when it is beginning to break down.

    I put two strips on… one goes side to side, the other straight over the edge portion of the sword. I only go down 8-10”, covering the foible, or weak portion of the sword. This is where you will (or should) be landing most of your blows, so it will be the part of the sword that breaks down fastest. I put the side strip on, and fasten it in place with strapping tape. I then pot the edge portion on. This order provides the most support to your thrusting tip. The way this is done... it is next to impossible to lose a tip.
    After both are tacked in place with the strapping tape, use of said tape begins in earnest. As I discussed in my making an axe blog, judicious use of high quality strapping tape is important. The tape gives added protection to your blade, and added strength. I wrap a spiral of strapping tape up the full distance of the section I covered in nylon webbing. Wrap it as tight as you can, and try to keep it as smooth as possible. Continue all the way up to the very end of the tip, tight around the thrusting tip but not crushing it. It has to stay the same diameter as your weapon. 

    Now use strips of strapping tape and tape your sword lengthwise along the blade. Cover the whole blade… if you are using narrow tape, this may require several strips, if wider, two may do it. Once again… make it as smooth as possible. Every wrinkle is going to show through your final tape.

    Next, duct tape. Once again, tape lengthwise along the blade as smoothly as possible. I tape along each side first, then a narrow piece on each “edge” if needed.
    Lastly, add your edge tape and tip marking. I use either a narrow strip of duct tape, or, if I have it, black athletic tape. I then add red tape to the tip, because Ealdormere (where I sometimes play) requires a third color for thrusting tips.

     Lastly… bask in the glory of your finished sword, and tip back a nice stout (or porter).
     Lastly… bask in the glory of your finished sword, and tip back a nice stout (or porter).

    Remember to add a lanyard or trigger, as required by the rules.
    My swords weigh in about the same (a few ounces heavier, actually) as the real steel swords they are based on. They balance 4-5” out from the hilt. They ain’t steel swords… but they are about as good as I am going to get within the constraints of our game.

    -All photos by David Monahan

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    The importance of teaching

    Working with Evan at Pennsic.
    Photo by Jen Hostetter
    I strongly believe that an important part of any journey of learning is teaching. Passing on what you have learned to others is not just a good service... I have found it really helps me learn better.
    This became clear to me when people would say "Wow! That was cool... how do you do it?", and I would go ".....ummm..."
    I had no idea. How DID that shot work? I just... threw it. That's just what the axe DOES.
    Teaching people... breaking shots, or combos, or just the basic technique of something... down so you can explain it to someone else gives you a better understanding of the mechanics of it, the physics behind WHY it works.
    I have not always felt comfortable teaching. I am not a top tier fighter...  I lose as many fights as I win.... so what gives me the right to say "Hey, I know how this works, let me show you."?
    I got over that. I am not showing people the way to do something... I am showing them A WAY to do something. I am saying "This is what works for me.", not "This is how it works, period.".
    When I break down a technique with the axe, I tell people what I am doing, and where I picked it up. Sometimes, I am reinventing the wheel. I find out that Sir Smacksalot or Duke Flyingwrapshot was doing it that way well before me... and that's fine. Because until I figured out how to explain to my own body how it worked, I just wasn't going to get it.
    So my two cents.... if you want to improve, you need to understand not just what others are doing... but what you are doing. The best way I have found... is to teach. Show others, because to do so, you need to break whatever you are doing down to it's component parts... and that will help you grok what it is you actually do. It can be enlightening.
    I am hoping to have a video blog out soon with a couple of specific things I do, and why.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Bridge of Bards... or at least one bard.

    The bridge battles this year were each 15 minutes long. At 15 minutes they were "capped"... whoever was on the bridge fought it out to the last man. At 15, they called a hold, then had each bridge fight. During one such, while we were waiting to fight, I got bored. To keep myself from my default activity when I am bored (breaking things) I began to sing. I had "Song of the Shield Wall" going through my head, and so I just let go and starting to sing.
    I finished the first verse, and started the second. As I finished "Hasten oh fyrdmen, down to the river", I hear someone else kick in... "Dragon ships come on the in flowing tide".
    I look around, and see it is one of my opponents, also singing. I loved it. Big grin on his face, and mine too. The hold was still on, so I walked across, and we sang the song together. A couple of others joined in, and it was just a perfect moment.
    I heard in the background the marshals, calling for people to get ready. I took my place in the wall, axe upraised, and right after we sang "We'll grant him six feet - - plus as much as he's taller, Of land that the sons of the Saxons will hold!", the lay on was called, and the axe went back to work.
    After the fight was over (we won), I went over to where my opponents were resting. One of them, a knight in a Trimaran tabard, saw me coming, and pointed to a man resting on the ground. I walked up to him, and he smiled, introducing himself as (IIRC) Corwin the Bard. I thanked him for helping that moment on the bridge be a great one... one of those memories that would last forever. He returned the thanks, and I told him wait... we're not done. He looked at me strangely, and I pointed out... we still had one more verse. He smiled... and we sang...
    Make haste, son of Godwin, southward from Stamford,
    Victory's sweet and your men have fought hard,
    But William the Bastard has landed at Pevensey,
    Burning the land you have promised to guard.
    Draw up the spears on the hill-top at Hastings,
    Fight till the sun drops and evening grows cold,
    And die with the last of your Saxons around you,
    Holding the land you were given to hold!

    Amazing moments that make Pennsic, and our Society, so friggin great.

    I want to thank Aneleda Falconbridge, our Battle Bard. Your song... you know the one... and your singing has inspired me to sing in the Society... not as a performer, but when I feel the urge, be it in battle or by a campfire.
    All the poor bastards who have to listen to me may not thank you... but I do. :)

    Monday, August 11, 2014

    Unbelted Champions Alternates, Pennsic 43

    Made the unbelted champion's team for Pennsic this year. For those of you who don't know, it is a battle at Pennsic where a set number of Eastern champions (30 for this year) who are not members of the Order of Chivalry compete in a mass battle against an equal number of champions from the Midrealm. It counts for one war point.
    I have made the team in the past, but this year (as last year) I was an alternate... part of the team, but not one of the "starting lineup". Last year, as I didn't get to fight the battle, I picked a fight with one of the Heroic Champions. This year, Sterling de la Rosa got us a fight with the Midrealm alternates. It went very well.... we fought it a couple of times, and did very well against them. We had a simple plan, and executed it well (and they cooperated with us executing it... :) )

    I am disappointed that I didn't make the starting team... but there's next year. I have a couple of things to work on, so we'll see. There were a couple of "AhHa!" moments, so that, I think, will sort itself out. (more on those in another post)

    I wouldn't have done anything really different this year... I am limited in the events I can make, travel distance being a big factor. I also do this for fun... so I am unwilling to let the chase become a stressful job. I like smacking folks with my axe. Those folks MAY be the midrealm unbelted champions... or, some other poor bastard.

    Here's a link to one of the alternates fights from Youtube...
    Pennsic 43 - Unbelted Champions Alternate Battle

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    Back from Pennsic

    We are back from our two weeks at Pennsic. Went for land grab, stayed till Friday. Came home a day early... more about that later. Expect some new blog posts about Pennsic in the coming weeks. For now... real life sucks.
    I miss the sound of the wind in the trees over our camp, the drumming, the voices from neighboring camps. I miss looking out and seeing my family here, ready to face the day together. Eating breakfast just Dalla and I... it seems so weird. It's amazing how quickly we get used to that way of life. The camaraderie, the closeness... makes me really appreciate what life on a steading would actually be like. You grow to rely on those people, not just for shared labor, but support... emotional, mental... knowing that they are right there.
    The view from our sitting spot...
    I miss getting up to muster for battle. Putting on the gear, putting on the game face, that feeling in your stomach before the cannon goes off. I always have the words from the beginning of "Starship Troopers" going through my mind... I always get the shakes before a drop.
    The pure joy of the fray... working the axe, the press of bodies, the adrenaline. those moments when Olaf is actually as big as he is in my head... it is amazing. A much more simple, purpose driven portion of my life. Clear objectives, clear purpose. To paraphrase Jethro Tull... give me my Dane axe and clear understanding....

    I miss it. I love all my mundane family. I love my job, I love my life. But I wanna go back.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    On Single Combat

    Let me preface this by saying that, as always, the opinions expressed here are my own, and reflect how I play the game.
    On Single Combat.

    It is a tradition amongst a large part of the SCA that during a melee combat, when one side has only one person left alive, they can ask, or may BE asked, for the honor of single combat. The contest then generally proceeds with them fighting individual challengers from the other side until they are slain, or until they work their way through the entirety of the opposing fighters, killing them all.

    I… don’t play this game. Last time I was asked for single combat was at Pennsic a couple years ago. During the rapier plateau battle (I think) we swept across the field, just absolutely dominating. One lone guy was left, and he called “SINGLE COMBAT!”
    I looked at him and said “Milord, I will grant you the honor… of the four of us killing you.” (four on one being the maximum allowed, technically)
    He grinned a grin I cold see through his fencing mask, and attacked. We killed him.
    The King of the Midrealm awarded him a Dragon’s Tooth for his heroic stand.
    I did him an honor. I acknowledged that he was a threat, and responded accordingly.
    If you offer me single combat… I will tell you to pick three friends. I will not be offended… I get that you are playing the game your way, and that’s OK. But going out in a blaze of glory buried in enemy dead is a much more attractive option to me than eventually getting killed, exhausted after fighting a bunch of singles fights. If I wanted singles combat, I would go to the pickup field. I will usually not let it come to that… I will attack first, to keep the question from being asked.
    My attack will probably go something like this...

    This weekend at Panteria, our side got rolled up. Sir Rhys was the last of our side left alive, on his knees. The other side gave him single combat…. And he proceeded to kill all of them (seven, I think).
    After it was over, I gave one of them Uncle Olaf’s words of wisdom…
    Next time, you grab three of your buddies and you skull f^ck him to death… J

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    Daily Life in the Dark Ages

    This weekend we had an event here in Northern Outpost called Daily Life in the Dark Ages. It was a schola event... all classes, no fighting. We have not had an event like this here in Outpost in about a decade, and were not sure how it would go. Ended up with almost forty people in attendance... not a bad turnout, and hopefully a good start for similar events in the future. Ariana and Dalla ran the event, and had a good lineup of dark ages classes. Erland did an amazing job with dark ages food, doing dried meets, soup, cheeses, and flatbread that was just great. Christophe, as ever, put out the signs to guide people in, though nature seemed intent on knocking them back down.
    I found myself in the odd position of having no responsibility for anything at the event. I was not marshaling, not event steward, not doing dayboard... it was weird. Generally even in out of Shire events, I am promised for some duty, even if it's just marshaling for inspections or doing authorization fights. This was a big switch for me.
    I had a lot of fun. Having no responsibilities, I set up my trunk in a corner, and laid out some things to work on throughout the day. I had a wood carving project to putter at, and some maille that needed mending. People came by and sat, talked about what I was working on. Kadlin and I had a great time talking about wood carving... she is an excellent chip carver, and we discussed tools, and the sharpening of said tools.
    I attended a class taught by Asgar, and had a good time role playing Anglo-Saxon law scenarios.
    Mending maille with Gwendolyn.
    Photo by Dalla
    Later on, as I was sitting with Gwendolyn mending maille, and teaching her to do so, I had a thought that I would teach an impromptu class on how I wrap my winingas... the woolen leg wraps I wear with my viking gear. I know many people have problems getting them wrapped so that they stay up, so I took mine off and did a brief tutorial between other classes. It seemed to be well received, and one person suggested I do a blog post detailing my process, which I will do in the near future. Maybe a video blog...
    All in all, it was a great weekend. Got to hang out in a relaxed medieval atmosphere with friends. Got to hang with my granddaughter Haley and son Snorri. It was a refreshing weekend, and I needed it.
    Hoping to be at Balfar's Challenge in a couple weeks... THAT will be a completely different kind of event. :)