Friday, June 6, 2008

Ad Somniare Gladiarum et Loricae: A.D. VIII ID. IVN.

Ad Somniare Gladiarum et Loricae: To Dream of Swords and Armour

I was having an email conversation with a friend last night and it really got me thinking about some of my hobbies, and why I have them. It kind of dawned on me, a little, about how I think I have unwittingly fulfilled something of a childhood dream.

I've been collecting medieval, renaissance, and ancient weapons for the last nine years. I started actively participating in swordplay almost eight years ago, and in that time I started both collecting and making my own armour. Between what I have bought and created, I have many pieces of medieval and ancient armour, and then in my weapons collection I have over 30 pieces. I actively use these things, too.

I think it all started with a little movie I loved as a child. Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It's an endearing little tale about some English children who end up under the care of something of a foster parent who ends up being a witch. (What is it with English stories always having orphaned or abandoned groups of children having to deal with strange adults??). Anyway, this movie takes place during World War II. If you've seen it, you might remember the scene where the witch uses her Substitutiary Locomotion spell to make all of the suits of armour in a museum come to life, and fight off a small Nazi incursion. There was something ominous and scary about dozens of empty walking suits of knights' armour marching like zombies towards a group of confused Nazis. The loud clanging of the steel, the empty stare, and the repetitive deep chanting of, "Traguna Macoides Tracorum Sadis Dee."

This is what started it for me; the fascination with armour, anyway. From that point on, as a child, I would draw countless pictures of plate armour. I had my toy swords and my plastic shields, and I wanted to know how it felt to wear and fight in real armour. Armour never really failed to capture my imagination, but it always seemed a forgone conclusion that knight's armour was not something realistic to expect to have in the modern real world. I kind of left that all behind by the time I was a teenager.

But then I started collecting medieval weaponry when I was 18. It was kind of a random thing, really. At that point I was collecting interesting Celtic artifacts and musical instruments, and was trying to get ahold of all kinds of interesting "old world" things. The weaponry collection began with a single nicely made hand forged bastard sword (second from the right in the photograph). Before I knew it, I had a small collection, and was involved with performing in Renaissance Faires, and involved in a Medieval Reenactment group. Here I was, a young adult, wearing armour and swinging swords at people . . . and getting injured fairly often in the process. You've never had your ribs broken, until you've had them broken at sword point!
(Left: My first four swords, resting on one of my unfolded kilts).

It was a quite exciting time, really. I was living out a childhood dream, but never really consciously thought about that. It is odd that I never really associated my childhood fantasies with this new hobby. It was, after all, a serious and expensive adult hobby. Friends in the group trained me to fight, and others trained me to make armour. I was making my own chainmail, soon thereafter, as well as leather armor and splintmail. I never quite had the time, skill, or equipment to make the full steel suits or anything terribly advanced. No, those pieces had to be bought from people who really knew what they were doing!

Now, I'm 27. Between what I have bought and what I have made, I have an arsenal consisting of an array of Medieval, Greek, and Roman armour, including a full suit that would have been right at home fighting those Nazi soldiers. On top of that, I have over 30 pieces of weaponry. With these I have trained, and I have fought. By no means am I a master, but I now informally teach combat in various styles of swordplay. Having a minor in ancient history, whereby my crowning research project was an in-depth analysis of hoplite combat in relation to their armor, this stuff has become a very real, and very serious, adult pursuit; so much to the point that it is easy to forget the childhood dream. It is too easy at this point to view this stuff as a terribly mundane part of everyday life for me. After all, when going for walks in dangerous areas at night, it is not uncommon for me to throw on a chainmail shirt under my coat, or when walking in the woods where cougars have been known to pass through, I near instinctively grab either the chainmail, or something else. And you know that it has just become a part everyday life when you are sitting in a bar trapped in 100 lbs. of steel trying to figure out a way to comfortably drink your Heineken.

It has become habit, I think, to take it all too seriously. Not that it shouldn't, be taken seriously, mind you. I simply mean that it has been to easy to forget the childhood dream. I have spent almost a decade defending these hobbies to people as a serious hobby that I have forgotten the child inside, I think. A child can dream of gleefully riding horses, and then grow up to be a serious and devoted equestrian, and then forget the child who just wanted the joy of riding a pretty horsey. I fear that this may be what I have done with my armor.

I turn around in my chair and look around this room, and what do I see? Swords leaning up against walls -- real ones. I see the stand with that full suit of armor, and another improvised stand where I hang my homemade chainmail and a Roman breastplate. I see a helmet stood between to figurines of knights on horseback, and I see my old splintmail tucked away under the desk. I have been sitting in my childhood dream, and gods help me, but I didn't even realize it.

When I was a child, running around playing knight, I wonder what I would have thought if somebody would have come up and told me, "Someday." I think I would have laughed at them. "Someday, kid, you will have a suit like that. Oh, and swords. And you'll make some of your own armor too. And you'll teach people how to fight with it." The little child that was me, would look at this room and be completely amazed.

I think I need to revive that part of me. I can still be a practical and serious swordsman, and I can still teach. I can keep my adult hobby, but maybe let that child inside come out and play now and then. Maybe next time, instead of getting the sword down and practicing, maybe I will get the sword down and just play. About twenty years ago I had a dream, and now I live in the midst of it. It's not just a hobby, and it's not just a life. I've been involved with this for almost a decade. It's time to appreciate it for what it is. It's a dream.

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