Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Wolfhaven Hirð at Pennsic

This year, I went to Pennsic with the highest number of my hirð armoured up and fighting ever. It's not a high number... there were five of us all together... but I was pretty pleased.
I was also pretty pleased that we were a solid enough force that Tribune Tiberius used us as a small unit within Third Division, and my guys did me proud.

The hirð before our first battle this Pennsic.
One of my prouder moments came in the woods. I was on a ridge line watching for a push. I told Alasdair to get the rest of the unit up there (we were with some of Sir Stephen's crew at the time as well). While he was away, there was a push on our King's position in the gully below, and I dropped down to assist if I could. A few minutes later, during a hold, I looked up and saw my guys looking down from the ridgeline, trying to figure out how to get here from there.

The "Lay On" was called, and as we started to push out of the gully, I looked up to see them come flying down the embankment like mountain goats, heading for me. They gathered themselves at the bottom, and started stacking bodies on their way to reenforce me. The push ended up being an all out drive knocking the allies back several hundred yards. But my folk heading down the hill to rescue me... that sight will stay in my heart forever.

During the bridge battles, Tiberius had Wolfhaven lead the series of pulse charges to knock the allies back to the end of our bridge. The Queen called us over by name to give us her favor. All in all... we had a pretty great time, and guys, in case I didn't tell you... I am proud of you all.

Entire hirð (those who could attend) including archer.

making an axe


The axe design I currently use is based around the axe heads produced by By My Hand Designs. They have a variety of designs, from simple axes like the one I use here, to Maciejowski bible choppers. 
 Step one is the haft. Figure out what length is right for you. My primary axe I use for singles is between 4 and 5 feet long, my war axe is just over 6' long. Use thicker rattan... 1.5" minimum. You will need thicker so that you can shave the sides flat. Axe requres you to have MUCH better edge control, and a round stave can result in it rolling in your hands. You will also need to make a flat spot where the axe head will be glued to the rattan with the adhesive.
For adhesive, I use E6000. It is a very strong adhesive brought to us by the same folks who make the GOOP family of adhesives. It holds fast, and cures relatively quickly (about 24 hours). It lasts well in high and low temperatures, and is somewhat flexible. I have literally had a weapon head rip before the adhesive gave way, and then used the adhesive to repair the rip. It is available at many craft or hardware stores, and through Amazon.
If you are going to use a rattan clacker on the edge of your axe, you must first curve the rattan to match the curve of the axe.
Actually, no... you must first check with your Kingdom Earl Marshal to make sure it's legal where you are. Sir Stephen approved it here in the East, and I used it at Pennsic with no issue. I have made a second one with a leather striking edge... mainly to provide protection for the edge of the head itself.
So... there are a couple of ways to curve the rattan. It is easiest with a long piece... simply curve it between two stationary points... heavy spikes, posts, or the like. Emphasis on the large... this will generate A LOT of torque. Bend past the point you think you will need... it will snap back. For smaller pieces, you can try bending it around a tree or stump with a HEAVY duty ratchet strap. This is NOT the optimal method... but can work.
Next, glue the head to the haft, and the rattan (or leather) to the face of the axe. You can do these steps separately if your rattan is not perfectly fitted to the face. Once it's glued, secure it snugly with a few strips of strapping tape. Now WALK THE F^CK AWAY! Seriously. You will be tempted to touch it, poke it, fiddle with and test it. Walk away for 24 hours. After that... we can continue. You have been warned.
Cat is there because... well, it's his house, innit?
I use another piece of the By My Hand architectural foam to the poll (back side) of my axe. I heartily recommend this... it is nice to have that backswing, and you can't strike with the back unless it's padded somehow. This will make it meet the letter of the law. Attatch with just a drop of glue... this won't have much stress on it... and tape it down.
Next, I add a strip of nylon webbing from the tip of the haft, over the head, and down to the haft right below the head. Tape down one end, then add tape as you go around the head. This helps keep the head from getting torn off if you get hooked on something, or it get's torqued when you strike. This doesn't mean you should take your axe out and get in a tug of war match with a dreadnought class shieldman. You shouldn't. It's an axe... it's meant to hit people.
Next, tape the head around the poll and haft with strapping tape. Get QUALITY tape. It makes a difference... higher number of threads in the tape equals more strength.
Then... tape it some more. No really. This is part of how I make my axe heads so strong. I have been fighting with axes for a decent number of years, and making them just as long... trust me on this.
Next, tape your axe with duct tape. Use many strips of tape, overlapping each. Don't try and spiral wrap it around like a sword or pole... use shorter strips, and have patience. Make sure they lay cleanly and are smoothed down. This is not just for esthetics, it is the last step in assuring a strong axe. Add edge tape, and cover over the strapping tape above and below the head.

The last step before taking your axe out and dealing wholesale violence with it is, in my opinion, the most important. Put on your gear, and have somebody who knows how to throw a shot hit you with it. If you are not willing to get hit by a weapon you have made... you should not be swinging it at another human.
After this, go forth and fight your axe. I do recommend that before you do, you lay hands on an actual version of the weapon you're using. I tried out a steel Dane axe, and it changed how I fought mine completely.
But that... is another blog post. :)

First video blog: Leg Wraps, the Uncle Olaf way.

So... leg wraps. Winengas. Puttees. There's as many different ways to put them on as there are names for them.
I do mine thusly: Lay them out flat, face up, the your hook tabs toward you. Roll the hook tabs inside, then follow these simple directions...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Uncle Olaf on wealth

Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.- The Story of Burnt Njáll

Bare is the back of a brotherless man. This phrase came to mind during the pregnancy of my wife and I. When told that we were not planning an baby shower, some people responded "What, are they independently wealthy?" My first response was anger, but the reality is, the answer is yes. Not in money... neither my wife or I make much. The arrival of our son has been made easier in large part do to the fact that we are wealthy in one of the few things that matter... friendship. All of our baby clothing, crib, car seat, etc... all from friends. Help with child care. Help during the labor, and after when we came home. Friends.

I have AMAZING friends. I am blessed with a great SCA Household, and with a myriad of other friends that absolutely humble me.

I have friends that I trust, very literally, with my life. I have had, on occasion, the need to ask a variety of things from my friends... and they have ever amazed me with their support.

My friends make my SCA life what it is.... giving me a group of people who are dynamic and outgoing, not only helping me, but making the game a positive experience for other by pitching in and making events happen and things run smoothly. They fight by my side, and help me improve. They constantly help to make me strive to be a better person.

My friends have been there in difficult times in mundane life. I have had friends help me move, help me clean and organize my shop and house, and help me repair my vehicles. I have had to call on friends to help when sick or injured. I have been in the rare position of calling on a friend to arm himself and stand by to defend others from possible violence. They have not let me down. Humbled.

So am I wealthy? You are damn right... in one of the only things that matters. Friends. I hope I prove myself, in time, worthy of their friendship.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Market Day at Birka is an annual event in the East that draws a very large crowd. It is held in the Center of New Hampshire at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester. I refer to it as SCA-con. It has a huge convention center filled with the most merchants I have seen in one place aside from Pennsic, it has a slate of classes and meetings throughout the day, and it also has the Birka Bearpit Tournament.

I... really don't like fighting Birka. I do it every few years, just because, but I generally go to marshal. Inspections start at nine, and the tournament ends at 2... it makes a full day. Generally I then hit the merchants briefly before meetings, but I didn't actually get a chance to do that this year.

Had two meetings... marshal's meeting and Unbelts. The marshal's meeting was important this year, as we have a new Kingdom Earl Marshal, Sir Jibril al-Dakhil. It was his first day on the job, and he used the meeting to pass down some guidelines to the marshals present, outlining our roles in marshaling fights, and a new system for censuring and sanctioning problem fighters in the future. Some concerns about the concept of "active marshaling" were addressed... namely, we as marshals will NOT be calling people dead, rather pointing out when something seems off. He also named some new deputies.... Sir Osgkar was named Earl Marshal Emeritus and will serve Jibril in an advisory role, Ryouko'jin Ironskies will be Deputy for Experimental Weapons, and I will be serving as Deputy for Rules & Clarifications.

The Unbelts meeting was interesting because as of right now, we don't technically have a team, captains,  a Chivalric advisor, or even an official fight at Pennsic, as negotiations are not fully underway. We discussed ideas for training, and drank some whiskey... it was kind of an awesome time. :)

After all this, I tried to go to the merchants quickly before Court... but I ran into so many friends that I didn't actually get to browse any merchants. I like talking to the friends better than spending money anyway...

I really wanted to be in Court for several reasons... first of all because Dalla was being made a part of Order of the Maunche. This is a pretty big deal, and I was very excited for her. I escorted her up when she was called in, and stepped back to wait till she was done... and it was a good thing I waited.
Part of the ceremony involves the presentation of a medallion with the badge of the order. One was being made for her... but had not arrived at Birka! Fortunately, I had one that I made for her as a separate gift in my pouch, and gave it to Their Majesties to present to her instead. It was carved stone, and had both the Maunche badge as well as the Silver Crescent, which she had been awarded previously.

A new member was added to the King's Order of Excellence as well, Lord Alexander Clarke from the Shire of Hadchester. Alexander does wonderful 14th century stuff, and has really gone out of his way to portray his persona in a period manner, including organizing period style deeds of arms. I was very excited to welcome him to the Order.

Icing on the cake for the evening was when two men who I greatly respect were inducted into the Order of the Pelican. Tiberius Iulius Rufus and his knight Sir Gareth were both made Peers of that order, and both well deserved. Tiberius has served as a shining example to me for many years in doing things in a period manner, and Sir Gareth has inspired me to try new crafts... it was due to an interaction with him at Pennsic a couple years ago that I started to embroider (though I'm not all that good at it).

All in all... it was an awesome day.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jousting: In which Uncle Olaf gets banned from go-karts.

So I promised the esteemed Mr. Ringo a story... a story about go-karts. Stop me if you've heard this one. Actually don't... siddown and shut up. You know you like the story... unfortunately, this version is missing missing wild hand gestures, sound effects, and suffers from an excess of sobriety. Apologies. Drink some whiskey and pretend.

The following story is true to the best of my recollection. Any mistakes are purely mine, but I will probably blame you anyway. Names have not been changed to protect the innocent, because I have met them all, and they're really not all that innocent...

So years ago, early in my SCA days, Dwarf had a birthday party at his place in Vermont. This was not an SCA event, though most of us there were in the SCA, including our Princess (at the time) Marieke. During the day we had some fighting and other assorted games, including "kaber tossing" with 4x4 posts.

The fighting had would down and the bunch of us from Outpost had packed to leave when someone got a brilliant idea... let's joust! On go-karts!!! For the record... everyone involved was sober (at the time).

"We need to go." I said. "Now".
"No, let's stay, I want to watch!!!"
"If we stay, I WILL end up on one of the karts."
"It will be fine!!!"

So the rules were decided on... the small karts would hold (barely) one driver and one "jouster". The jouster had to balance precariously on the side of the kart with a spear in one hand while the driver played the part of the horse... making them go and aiming them in the (more or less) right direction. They decided that only the jouster needed to be armoured (helm and body armour) as the driver was off limits. Seemed reasonable... All this worked out, they armed and armoured themselves, and got ready to joust.

As far as I recall, the teams were Dwarf & Wulfhere on one kart, and Egil & Cenwulf on the other. As Egil walked by the spectators getting his helmet ready, one of the bystanders said "I have a bad feeling about this."
"Me too!" said Egil... then he put on his helmet and hopped on the kart. Now anyone wo has EVER met Egil knows, when he says something is a bad idea, you really should very quickly reach minimum safe distance... if there is one.

They made several passes around the yard, and it seemed Egil's kart wasn't really maneuvering well or getting up speed. It came to a halt in front of me, Cenwulf tumbling out of the driver's seat.

"I need a lighter driver... get on!!!" said Egil.

What was I to do? No choice, really... I got on.

At the point we switched, Dwarf was on the other side of the house. All he knew was that we were suddenly tearing by at a much higher rate of speed. I quickly realized that I could only really turn right... if I turned the other way, it dumped Egil off the side, possibly getting him run over.
We made a few passes, with the jousters landing some good hits on each other. At one point when a spear grazed my ear, I thought to myself "Huh... maybe a helmet would have been a good idea..."

Shortly after this, after turning around at the top of the yard, things went sideways. I realized that my trajectory was such that I was faced with a choice. I wasn't going to clear the other kart... I could either hit them head on, hit the crowd of spectators (which included the Princess), or crank the wheel left, hope Egil survived the fall from the kart, and hope I could spike the brakes in time to not slam into the trees that were there.

I chose the last option, as it seemed to endanger the fewest people.... I cranked left hard, and lo and behold Egil didn't fly off! Yay! Except... Egil was leaning down hard on my gas pedal foot... and we went full speed into the trees.

When we hit, Egil went flying off, ripping his helmet off and cutting his chin when he landed. My death grip on the steering wheel snapped it off in my hands, and the shattered remains of the steering column cut my leg... making a near perfect flyflot, the mark of Thor's hammer.

Everyone came running to check me out. Only one person went to look at Egil... and she happened to be young, pretty, and wearing a skirt. Everyone decided I was fine when I told them to move because they were blocking my view. (I really am a terrible person, fundamentally...)

After getting the bleeding from my leg stopped, and apologizing to Dwarf for breaking his go-kart (sorry again Dwarf...) I went to apologize to Egil. Told him "Sorry dude... I tried to stop, but you were leaning on my gas pedal leg..."

"That was awesome driving man!" he replied. "Of course I was leaning on your leg, I didn't want you to STOP!!!"

My wife banned me from go-karts for years after that....

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Snorri Olafsson: How Uncle Olaf has a son

So the posts referring to Snorri as my son has caused several people ask "But Uncle Olaf... you and Dalla are expecting your first child... how do you already have a son? And how is he a grown adult when you're so young?"

The answer to that question is simple: he's my son because we say so.
I was raised with a very clear understanding that family is more than blood. Raised by my aunt and uncle, I grew up calling them Ma and Dad... because that's what they were. I knew my blood mother and father. I called (and still call) them mom and dad. But I recognized and valued the connection that I had with the ones who raised and cared for me. I had other aunts, uncles, grandparents... who were no biological relation. They took on surrogate roles for me, and they considered themselves family because that is what I considered them.

When I got involved in the SCA, I was adopted into the family of Harald Ulfsson. He called me son, and his family... both SCA and mundane... became mine. When I first started forming our own SCA House, I very much considered all of those members family. I still do.

Snorri got involved with our local group in college. He began hanging out with a member of my House, and then with us. He worked in my shop, and spent many a project night doing his homework for college seated at the bar while I worked on projects. Eventually he got more involved with the SCA, and went from being Nate to Snorri... and we decided he needed a last name. Norse naming practices would have his name followed generally by a descriptor or a patronymic (or both). There were exceptions, but put simplistically, this is how it went.

After several suggestions and discussions, Snorri asked if it was OK if he used the patronymic "Olafsson", as I had been something of a surrogate father to him. I was humbled. To be told that meant alot, and I agreed. I also made sure to impress upon him how seriously I took that. I consider him my son... for real. When our baby is born, it will know Snorri as its brother... because that's what he is. I have had people say "Well, he's not REALLY your son"... well, bullshit. Being adopted doesn't make a family less of a family.

Snorri now has a daughter, and I consider her my grandchild. They are my family because Snorri wished it so, and I was proud to have him.
Dalla and our grand bebe Haley 

Ni kar'tayl gai sa'ad - "I know your name as my child"- Mandalorian adoption vow
It seemed appropriate....

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Object Lessons, or: Snorri's Reliquary

Object lessons are very important tools at Uncle Olaf's School of Hard Knocks. You can tell people things over and over, and they will smile and nod.... and sometimes even do what they are told... but there will, occasionally, be that moment when something happens to bring them sudden and clear understanding. And sometimes first aid.

My son Snorri had one of these moments a couple of years ago at Pennsic. We were down in the woods battle when I noticed that Snorri wasn't wearing what I would consider adequate hand protection behind his shield. I pointed out this folly... I felt that he could easily have his hand injured with the light street hockey glove he was wearing. He responded "But hand protection isn't required behind my shield...".
He was, of course, correct. The rules do indeed state that "A shield alone may be considered an equivalent to full hand protection only if no part of the gloved hand or wrist is within 4 inches (10.2 cm) of the edge of the shield while the shield is in use."
But... there's the rules, and there's good sense... and I knew people that had their hands injured recently. I told him to ask Sir Rhys about wearing adequate hand protection, as he had recently had one such injury.

Sometimes life does not wait long to deliver object lessons. This was one such time.

The next day in the field battles, I had to sit out due to equipment failure, so I was up at camp packing up. A breathless runner came into camp looking for me, informing me that Snorri was at chirurgeon's point injured. Dalla and I flew down there with all the speed we could muster. I entered the tent to see Snorri on the bed... with a hand wrapped in bloody bandages. I didn't have to say a word... he looked at me and said "I DIDN'T TALK TO SIR RHYS YET!!!"


His thumbnail had been ripped mostly off, and was hanging on by just a small corner. It would have to be removed, and the nail bed covered up. This would require local anesthetic. Turns out the reason they sent for me was that Snorri has a real problem with needles, and wasn't going to allow them to stick him. I sat beside him and took his other hand, and the doc took the injured hand. I then palmed Snorri's face and held it down, and told the doc to do his thing. The anesthetic was only sorta working... but I pointed out to the doc that sorta was probably good enough, and to keep going.

He ripped the remnant of the nail off, and stitched a small aluminum cover to the nailbed. It was nice work...

Snorri, who we mentioned was still feeling much of this, began to cuss. Alot. Repeating "fuckfuckfuck" like a mantra. As there were people present... many, by this point... I tried to distract him and get him saying something else. The "something else" ended up being the refrain to "Sophia" by the Cruxshadows. We repeated it together over and over while they stitched the metal thumbnail on. Dalla tells me it got quiet, and everyone watched in awe through this. It was apparently a pretty solemn moment....

Do not injustice to another
Defend the weak and innocent
Let truth and honor always guide you
Let courage find a life within

Stand up when no one else is willing
Act not in hatred or in spite
Be to this world as a perfect knight
Even if it means your life

The Reliquary on the wall of Wolf's Den Pub
During all this, one of the nurses... a former combat medic... was standing by. He asked if he could take pictures of the injury. I said sure, as long as he sent me copies. We also took the ripped off nail.
When they asked me why, I told them... it was going in a reliquary on the pub wall. When we got home, it did just that, and remains there to this day... a reminder, if you ask Snorri... to ask Rhys.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Time to refocus: Uncle Olaf and his axe.

At our annual Outpost event Fall Frolic in September, we have our Shire Championship tournament. This is a tournament held to determine the rattan champion for the Shire for the coming year. Not really making a conscious decision, I fought the tournament solely with my axe. I used it in all my fights till the finals against Rhys, and then basically decided to "dance with the one that brought me"... and finished the tournament with it.

This event, and a look back at the last few months of fighting prompted a decision to refocus my energies on my axe fighting. I built a new axe, as close as possible to my steel dane axe, and have fought with only axes since then. I did fight sword and shield at one Coldwood practice, against Aiden.

It has been good for me, I think. I had become a bit complacent in throwing shots I knew worked much of the time, and stopped exploring what the axe could really do. Fighting the axes every practice (both my shorter dane axe and longer war axe) against whatever weapons forms my opponents were fighting really made me step back and evaluate what the axe is capable of doing, and figure out how to make myself capable of letting it do that. I have also been watching some axe tutorials on Youtube...  ones I have watched before, but going over them again and picking up stuff, or remembering things I forgot. Duke Eikbrandr's video and Duke Tomuki's videos are some of my favorites.

I have focused keeping the tempo up and firing multiple shots... not just combos, but  shots to displace shields and then strike, or shots to set my opponents stance or move them where I want them. This, combined with the faster tempo, can create gaps in or completely overwhelm a defense. It requires more stamina... I am moving an axe quickly and alot... so I have tried to work on that.

One of the ways I have been working on stamina, tempo, and targeting is by using an axe. Not my SCA rattan axe, but a steel one. In a blog by Christian Cameron he discusses what he believes to be
an important training tool in period... chopping wood. I agree with most of his points, and during Closing of the Inne this year, when I could not fight due to an injury, I chopped wood. ALOT of wood.... all weekend. Wood really is the fuel source that warms you twice... once when you chop it, once when you burn it. It also, as Mr. Cameron discusses, really requires technique and precision to chop wood well. You need to place multiple strikes with a small blade at precise angles in a very small target area... say half an inch or so. Repeatedly. This is exactly the kind of thing that trains you to strike at small openings in a defense, or to MAKE those holes and capitalize on them.

So here I sit, three months later, looking at what this focus has bought me. I definitely feel more competent with the axe most of the time. I still have those derp moments where the brain just stutters... that happens.

But generally, I feel pretty good about it. I have been able to make Sir Rhys have to respond to my attacks and change his defense instead of feeling like I am playing his game all the time, and that's definitely an improvement. I have been told to focus on movement and speed, working on controlling range, and that's valid. I do tend to get sucked into brawls, which isn't always good.

I definitely need to travel more... occasionally I get to Coldwood and Harrowgate Heath, but I would love to do more. Time and money limit me there... and will probably continue to do so.

If you see me at an event... pick a fight. I need to work against a variety of different forms, so don't feel like you need to match weapons (though I am always happy to discuss axe).