It’s continually problematic for many new SCA fighters out there, especially fighters who are women. We’ve become comfortable in the gear, or at least as comfortable as one can get in a gorget and cup. We understand the basics of hit or be hit. And we feel confident that all of the time and practice put into fighting is going to pay off once it matters.
But we face our opponent and the fire just isn’t there. We’re throwing shots to just throw shots and without realizing it, hoping the fight ends quickly with either a lucky shot from us a or killing blow from them.
Let me explain to you my reaction and let me know if it’s similar to yours. You might not even realize it – and that is part of the problem.
My First Fight
I had been fighting for a few months, practicing multiple times during the week with some of the best fighters in the entire world. I had put together my own armor so I was feeling comfortable and confident. I wasn’t afraid to get hit and I sure as heck was feeling like I could throw a shot.
Flat snap, offside, up and down, make your opponent move their shield. I knew what I had to do. I had already even participated in a tournament! Granted I didn’t win a single fight but I was up against experienced fighters and that’s a crucial part of the learning process. So I didn’t think twice when entering the local novice tournament.
I was excited to see everyone participating in the novice tournament. Not only did that mean more new fighters for the SCA, but the participants included many of the guys I’ve fought before at practice. Obviously if I’ve fought them before than I should feel comfortable fighting them now. But I set my goals realistically and told myself to win one fight.
My first opponent is someone I know and have fought many times. Yay! I know exactly what to do! I’m feeling good, my knight is watching me and I can picture it in my head how I’d like the fight to go. 3, 2, 1, lay on!
The fight is over quickly and my sword never moved an inch. What the hell was that?! My brain literally turned off and my arm turned to lead. I felt my throat close and my eyes get wide. Even my knight exclaimed I wouldn’t win any fights with my sword on my shoulder. He was right… what the heck.
This wasn’t me.
Next fight, I go in chanting to myself ‘swing the sword, swing the sword.’ YES! It worked. I don’t remember the fight at all but I had won. My goal had been met. I was obviously cured!
Third fight I was still uneasy at my body’s reaction during the first fight but feeling a bit more confident after the second. I just needed to do the same thing, block oncoming shots and make sure to throw my own. He throws a shot… blocked. I throw a shot… blocked. He throws a shot to my legs… ehhh, light but I’ll take it.
I try and defend myself but he moves in with a shot to my side… light once again, but I take it and graciously walk off the field. It was brought to my attention by a few fighters, even the man I was fighting, that they felt the shots were light. But they consoled me saying it was better to take the light shots than ignore hard shots especially as a very new fighter.
I was so angry. And embarrassed and disappointed. That wasn’t like me. At least I didn’t think it was. I chalked it up to new fighter nerves and walked it off.
I continued to practice. And as I continued to fight and become better, my opponents would increase their fighting to match mine while always remaining respectful. Keep in mind these are men that have been fighting and some of them knighted longer than I’ve been alive. They always worked at my pace and although a step above to help me learn they never felt the need to get aggressive.
There was one fight that still really stands out to me and was the first crumbling pebble to the avalanche thought process of my current thinking.
I was fighting my knight, who I find is extremely good at scaling his level of fighting to the fighter he’s up against. Just enough to push you but able to give you the chance to build your confidence in your movements.
Then for some reason we decided he would fight me how he ‘normally’ fights. Everything changed. His stance, his grip on his sword and shield, even the look in his eye went from training to a serious fight. It took my breath away and not in a good way. Thankfully I didn’t completely turn into a pell for him but he made quick work of me.
The Extra Hurdle: Fighting Societal Conditioning
Could just the overall attitude of an opponent completely change how I react?
Of course it can, but stay with me. As a woman I have time and time again downplayed my actions to control the reactions I get. I’ve brushed things off, laughed them off and blatantly ignored them all to prevent a nasty confrontation. My mind and body are so trained to defuse a situation that I do it constantly without even realizing it.
Why is it so much easier for me to throw an extremely powerful shot into a shield but something holds me back when offered an arm or a leg, even one covered in armor? What makes me hesitate to get in close and throw shots I feel are cheating but perfectly legal? Why do I take light shots even though I shouldn’t?
It’s as if I’m fighting myself with every. Single. Motion.
You’ll hear women fighters say ‘we think too much’ and that is what delays our fighting progression as opposed to men who just do it without thinking. We DO think too much, but not how you think you’re thinking or what other people tell you. You’re thinking of the outcome, the repercussions. What if I hurt this guy? What if I don’t take his shot? What if I tell him no?
Once I realized this, I began to push myself out of my comfort level. And it all started with small everyday things. When the guys hang out during armor shop or at practice there is a lot of teasing and joking that goes on. Usually I would allow myself to be the butt of so many jokes because I was so hesitant to speak up. Everyone loves the straight man and it honestly didn’t bother me… but it didn’t benefit me. I was just so scared to upset these new friends. So, we hung out and the joking started.
I stuck up for myself once. I got a few laughs AND THE WORLD KEPT TURNING. They didn’t hate me or take offense. It happened again and again, even with my knight who I especially didn’t want to upset. He made a small comment during one shop night after I stopped midway through a retort, he told me it’s funnier if I join in. So I did. And wouldn’t you know it… they still like me.
Ever so slowly my confidence in people’s reactions increased. I was able to get confrontational without it going badly. Without even realizing it, those guys were helping me find my confidence to stand tall in other things. Including fighting.
I didn’t even realize it as it was a slow change but when confronted with an aggressive fighter, no longer did I feel the need to cower within myself but I also didn’t find the need to match them in aggression.
95% of the people I fight are men and I will never be able to comfortably match them in their level of forwardness. It’s just not in my nature yet. But I can learn a way around it by trusting myself to give it my all and knowing that I will survive whatever gets thrown at me after the fight.
Looking back I realize that is what tripped me up during the novice tournament. My opponent, even though equally skilled as I, went in with an inborn confidence and an air of aggressiveness that triggered my flight instinct instead of fight.
At the following novice tournament at Pennsic I decided to stop thinking about what my opponent might think or how he might react and instead spent those seconds looking for openings. I went 4 wins and 4 losses. Much better than I ever thought possible!
I’m still learning every single day and working on finding my inner voice and fire. I still have a hard time hitting people because I feel bad. But being able to recognize when I’m disengaging from a situation and instead stand my ground is making a noticeable improvement on my fighting and overall happiness in life.
This might not resonate with all women fighters and that’s okay. With others this might afford you the chance to look at things from a different perspective. See if it can help you with fighting or help someone you’re trying to teach. I would love to hear about other fighter’s experiences when it comes to overcoming the hesitation to hit someone and welcome any discussion it brings. Let me know what has helped you find your inner fire!
Featured Image Photo Credit: Marissa Wheatley Williams