Monday, July 25, 2016

Guest Post: Unbelt Wives

Receiving the tabard...
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno

Here's my first ever guest post. These are all people who were "Unbelt Wives"... those who stood next to us, helped us along, and put up with the craziness on the road to The Fight, and cheered us through victory or comforted us in defeat. Wives, in this case, include spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends. It is meant to be gender neutral.
A couple asked to remain anonymous, and I have respected that.

Mathilde DeCadenet:
Being an Unbelt wife.
It is joy. It is angst and fear. It is immeasurable Pride. It is pushing and cheering on your love to strive for something for King and Kingdom and self. It is picking them up and calming them down. It is the agony in sending them off to a practice to do their best to fight against friends and brothers for a spot on the team. It is the agony of the wait for the damnable list to finally be published. The held breath in court to hear his name. Then the hard part comes. The day of The Fight. The handing out of the tabards that prove he is part of the team. That tangible proof. The singing of Forsaken All Others. The entire morning is your breath held and hands clenched. Sending him off to fight and standing there with our sons watching their father be part of such an important part of the War. Willing him to fight the best he has ever fought while everyone EVERYONE is watching. This event, such an important part of our Kingdom tradition. And then in less than a minute it’s over and you exhale …and it begins anew.

Tadea Isabetta Di Bruno

Not part of the brotherhood we stand just outside. Our souls burn that of a warrior. Never a fighter
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno
wife, an unbelted one. We cease to breathe from the second the battle starts, the agony wraps around our heart and holds tight grip. Powerless, motionless until the moment we realize which victors will celebrate the day. Win or lose we will be here. We stand at the edges of the field beside those who long for their spot. Wishing to reach out and offer words of encouragement. Instead we stand in silence and watch with you. We know that when your time comes we will cheer for you a little harder. We will remember your longing and heartache, your drive. There shall forever be a part of you with us, and we remember. On the field we see both accomplishment and defeats. Not just those we claim as our own, all of you. You are all part of something bigger. You represent the work, the support, the travel, the hours together and apart that have brought us all here. You represent the game we play and reasons we do this over and over again. We expect so much of our team. Honour, chivalry, mercilessness and a burning desire to leave it all on the field. Show them it was right to place you here. Prove that tabard rests on worthy shoulders. Yet none of those expectations are unfair. It is what each signs up for and we understand that sometimes we must remind you of that. When your elevation is announced after the battle our hearts rejoice. Not that we have ever met, but you are one of them, part of our team. You have risen and are recognized and for that we celebrate as if you are one of our own. We will welcome you next year when you stand by our side as the battle rages on. People start to drift away, they head toward camps where they will relive the day over and again. It is only then we feel the grip around our heart start to loosen. We know that win or lose, there were both that day. Honor is what all walk away carrying. Once it is all said and done and with you we prepare to leave the field, already our thoughts turn. The battle is over and from this moment on we prepare …for next year.

Mistress Aneleda Falconbridge
I Fight for You
Originally posted on February 4, 2013 at
The Queen’s Meadhall in Carolingia was where this song was first publicly performed. It was written after a conversation with Aneleda’s noble cousin and friend Gryffyn Dunham, who was on the unbelted team at the time, about what inspires us do do what we do on the field (and elsewhere.) Since I had no song that really fit that theme, I wrote this one.

This song is featured on the CD “I Am of the North” available for purchase online at:

I Fight for You 
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno
I fight for you,
my one, my love, my own
You who give more strength to me
than I would know alone.
While my arms are bound in linen
and my legs are wrapped in steel
nothing brings me to my knees
as the way you make me feel.
I fight for you.

Many are the days and nights
when I have left you behind;
deep within a warrior’s trance
seemed to push you from my mind.
But know that you are all to me
no matter what I show
for I don the armor to protect
what I hold safely below.

I fight for you...etc.

The miles, they leave me lonesome
for the warrior’s road is long.
I miss your laughter ‘round the fire
And your voice raised soft in song.
As I look up to the star’s light
that I know above you shine,
I pray that my thoughts carry
to the love I know is mine.
photo by Tadea Isabette Di Bruno

I fight for you...etc.

Each buckle and each lacing
Marks the rituals of war,
Knowing solidly and firmly
that for you I would do more.
With my life I will protect you
and would keep you from all harm,
each time I step upon the field
I wear that knowledge as a charm.

I fight for you...etc.

When I have the time I watch you
‘neath the shadow of my helm.
But I do not do it often
lest my feelings overwhelm.
With all the honor in my being
I take every day for you
I swear that your belief in me
I shall never make you rue.

I fight for you...etc.

Being an unbelt wife is blood, sweat, and sacrifice. Squeezing every minute out of the day to
spend time with your fighter when they're home, keeping the family stable when they're not.
Wringing every dollar out of the budget, for travel, equipment, and kit­ my car can run rough, as
long as my fighter can get to events. A replacement demi or a set of vambraces takes
precedence over new work clothes. Every vacation is an event. It's worry, over the broken
bones, the contusions, the concussions that come with fighting at this level. Its jealousy, over the
camaraderie with others you dont know, whose company your mate so often seeks. It's dealing
with the manic highs when things go well, the dark, withdrawn bleakness after a bad practice or a
bad fight. It's a subsuming of ego­ we stand behind, to support our fighters when they come back,
having left it all on the field. To tend stress, and injury, contend with bravado and self­doubt. We
bolster them, while carefully staying out of the limelight. But mostly it's pride, at seeing our
fighters beat back everything thrown at them, on the field and off, to achieve their dreams. To join
their Brothers on the field, as one unit, one weapon, one force. Pride in their work, their sacrifice,
their stubborness, pushing past every barrier, over every obstacle, through every foe. For us, as
for them, this team, this battle, is the all­consuming goal­ because we, too, are of the North.

I was really hesitant to say anything, because couldn’t see what good could come from casting the Unbelt Battle in an negative light, but at your insistence I'll share a few thoughts.

I've seen almost entirely bad and very little good come out of the competition. I've watched many of my friends get so filled with stress and performance anxiety over it that they get physically ill. I'm sure they'd say it was worth it. The loss and sense of low self-worth that comes from trying their best and falling short, either in the competition itself or in wanting to achieve the dream and not making the cut. In the discouragement of being on the team one year--or worse many years--and not the next. The deep social ramifications that those perceived failures have for those individuals.
Two things strike me as strange about the cult of the Unbelts. Unlike mainstream sports, there is no season of games, no playoffs to get psyched about, there is only the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl, or whatever the end game is in other sports. There are plenty of practices, but only one game at the end of all the preparation. Also unlike other sports, the Big Game is not hours long with many opportunities to prove oneself, but it is short and brutal. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on the team members and candidates. At the end of a full year of preparation and anxiety, a fighter might only be in the game for 10 seconds. One mistake, and they're done. And then they have a full year to agonize about those 10 seconds and what they could have done differently. As I write this, I realize that the life of a sniper is a better analogy than any modern sports team. They work with a unit, have countless hours of preparation, but it all comes down to split seconds of decision making to determine whether their preparation was adequate. The second thing that strikes me as odd, if you try to use the modern sports analogy, is that there is no long-term recognition. There is no plaque on the wall or silver cup engraved with team members' names. There is no Super Bowl ring to commemorate which year they were Champions. There is nothing beyond the memories of individuals. There are people working to change that now. Again, more apt for the sniper analogy--they know how many kills they have. They know the score, and so do their close associates. There's no ticker tape parade for being, as Olaf said, a killer.

So in conclusion, I'm glad I wrote this. Because now I get it. I've been thinking about the Unbelts as the big game and it just never made sense to me. But if I think about them like snipers, then I get the thrill of selection, the anticipation, the pressure, and how the stress can be a good thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Unbelted Champions: Uncle Olaf's perspective

Four years ago, I knelt at the feet of Queen Avelina Keyes to receive the tabard of an unbelted champion of the East for the first time. This was the only time I have worn the tabard, the only time I have taken to the field as part of the team.
This was also Avelina's first time on the throne.

In a short matter of days, I will once again be called up to take the tabard of a champion. I find it fitting that it will once again come from the hands of Her Majesty Avelina, a woman who has inspired me as a Queen, a Peer, and simply as a wonderful person. It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve her in this capacity again.

It is hard to explain what it is to be called as an unbelted champion in the East, especially to people outside the fighter culture of the Kingdom. It is an honor and a responsibility. You will have to fight The Fight… yes, that should be capitalized… in front of a crowd composed of both of the primary Kingdoms, as well as the rest of the Known World who have come out to watch.
To some (myself included), I have yet to fight The Fight. The one year I fielded as part of the team, it was not against our annual enemy, the Midrealm, but alongside them, fighting the allies of the Known World. That… was a different fight. It was intense and fast and brutal… but it wasn’t The Fight. In that, I have yet to be tested.
There will be those who criticize The Fight as brutal spectacle, even in a sport based on physical violence. They say the calibration is higher, that more people will shrug shots because there is seemingly more at stake. Maybe they’re right. I’d like to think that they are not. We are plainly told in preparing for the fight to strike with speed and ferocity, and to throw blows that will not be questioned as light. We are also told to accept blows, and to not bring shame to our brothers by being questioned.

Someone, one year, described us as “the monsters they keep in the closet, to be let out when needed”. I found that apt. We are all, every one of us, killers. That’s what we bring to the table in this Fight… the ability (and desire) to bring overwhelming violence at point of contact, and a deep seated love of the melee. We oftentimes do not seem to fit in with polite company… we’re the rough and tumble ones who are too loud and coarse. Some of us learn to refine that. Some do not.

There are those who call the team a product of politics and posturing… that only those who are connected and kiss the right asses, only those who are connected with the right Houses and the right knights will get on. It is sometimes true that politics take a hand, I cannot deny. Knights will lobby for their squires, and that may be rightly so. Their squires are their charges, and helping them seek avenues for recognition is part of that job. Have there been times that affected the makeup of the team? Sure. Is it required to be connected? Is it all a political game? No. There are enough of us who are not connected to show that.

For me, it’s humbling. The unbelts were always something a bit larger than life for me. I loved going to Northern Region and fighting against them… the rabble against the (to me) best of the best. It was like setting up against the varsity squad… they might be a bit better, but here was your chance to show them what you had, make them take notice of you so maybe next year you’d have a better shot. Seeing them in their tabards at War, hearing the stories of The Fight… all part of the legend.

I knew that making the team generally required making a lot of commitments for travel, having to hit certain events, to be seen by certain people. I steadfastly refused, for the most part. I felt that if I was worthy, I was worthy, and that was that. I get now that there was more to it than that… seeing how you work together as a team is a big part of it, not just as an individual fighter. The team is not a company of heroes. The opposite, really… there shouldn’t be heroes. There should be those ready to make sacrifices for the team, for The Fight. You may not be the one to get the kills… your job may be to refuse a flank, to kite off some fighters to break up their advance, or to protect the polearms as they do the killing. It. Is. A. Team.

When I put on the tabard Sunday the 7th, I will be putting on more than a brightly colored swath of fabric. I will be putting on the trust of my teammates, and agreeing to do my best to bring honor and glory to them, and all who have worn it before me, and will after.

We will all be stepping on that field to fight The Fight not just for ourselves, but for the East. When we strike, it will be with the fury of every Eastern blade. This is what our enemies, our brothers in red and white deserve and expect, and what they will also be bringing to the field. The. Fight.