The title of today’s blog post kind of says it all really. When competing to be a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) Arts and Science (A&S) champion earlier this year, I was asked what I would do if I won. My answer was that I wanted to promote Martial A&S. That sounds like a great idea, but I have spent much of my time so far as the East Kingdom Queen’s champion trying to determine what that actually means. My goal now is to introduce the idea that Martial A&S is a much broader topic than you first might think and by understanding its depth as well as breadth we can encourage a greater number of people to study these arts and categorize what they are studying as being Martial A&S.
Arts and Science in the SCA is a very large topic that permits a great deal of creative flexibility on the part of its members. It can encompass weaving, embroidery, costuming, scribal arts, woodworking, cooking, dance, brewing, glass making, blacksmithing, research, and so much more. My own study and paper on Spanish fencing falls into the category of “research”, but due to the topic being on a period style of fencing it also falls into the category of Martial A&S.
Each of the other topics listed above can have many subcategories that fit within their group. If you look at blacksmithing are you referring to armor smiths, jewelry makers, or sword makers? If you say someone is a woodworker are they making chairs, tables, boats, or spoons? Is a glassmaker creating beads, cups, or stained glass? Don’t even get me started on the category of “Fiber Arts”.
Through conversations with other people in the field as well as by running a Martial A&S panel at Pennsic, I realized that the topic of Martial A&S was similar to the other arts mentioned above. If I want to encourage people to study Martial A&S I believe I should start by spreading the message that Martial A&S is open to many areas of study and only restricted by the creativity of the individual doing the research.
I will admit that when I first heard of Martial A&S I thought that it had to be a recreation of a period manual or martial art. This was how I started my A&S journey, by entering a competition where I acted out a passage from a fencing manual. Also included in what people usually consider Marital A&S is the research and practice of fighting styles that the SCA might think non-typical or experimental such as grappling or fighting with a weapon like a sickle or scythe.
Martial recreation ideas are what first hooked me on research. The recreation and mastering of techniques from period manuals is very much Martial Arts and Science, but the topic can have more depth and should not be limited to martial movements. I know of one member of the order of the Maunche (an SCA A&S grant level award) that has looked at dueling practices within period and has also researched what it took to make a living as a fencing instructor. It is easy to see how A&S projects revolving around not just martial techniques themselves, but the historical context in which they were performed falls under the Martial A&S umbrella. For example, if someone researched battlefield tactics of period conflicts there is a direct connection to the Martial arts and sciences.
We can look at the Arte De Athletica, a combat manual by Paulus Hector Mair, as an example of how a person can delve deeper into the field of Martial A&S. This manual has a series of plates that explore typical martial weapons like pikes, halberds, and swords. He also details fighting techniques for what are sometimes called peasant weapons, like the scythe, sickle, or flail. An artist could focus solely on the mechanics of these peasant weapons to recreate their techniques. That same artist or another could write a paper on the societal context of these weapons and how a book like this was possibly written due to the German peasant wars and revolts that occurred in the early 16th century. Both the recreation as well as the research into the historical context of the material can fall into the category of Martial A&S.
I believe that not just the topic, but the intent of the researcher can make a piece Martial in nature. If an artist is recreating a pair of breeches from period, it is evident how that can fall into costuming or fiber arts. Let us say the same artist is recreating those breeches because they saw them in a fencing manual. Perhaps they are now looking to document how those specific pants influenced the movement of the fighter or style. Does the style of pants allow for greater flexibility of movement than other period examples? Does the fit make one hypothesized movement more or less functional when recreated while in garb? If that were the case, I would argue that the intent of the research could also fall within the framework of Martial A&S.
A similar argument about intent can be made for woodworking a shield. Is the artist looking at how the straps for the arm were functional on the battlefield? Are they looking at the effectiveness of the material against various types of weapon blows it might have taken? The Martial context of the art and the intent of the project is only limited by the creativity and research of the artist.
The word “Martial” indicates something that is suited for war or a warrior. Without a doubt, the techniques and recreation of martial actions fall into this category. I would also say that that if you are studying martial philosophy, armor smithing, fiber arts, the historical context of weapons, as well as a much wider variety of ideas than I can list here, it is possible you are also practicing Martial A&S. Within the SCA and the very broad and deep field of Martial Arts and Science we should welcome all of these well researched ideas under our umbrella and encourage the continued exploration of our passions.