The loud crack of a rattan sword hitting a shield and the dull thud of a shot hitting its mark. The sharp yell of ‘good’ or a shake of a head followed by ‘light.’ The acidic smell of a hot rubber ax head or the recognizable scent of sweaty fighters. The thrill of winning a fight and the adrenaline high of a well fought practice.
To go from being the center of the action and pushing your limits as a human being to well… not, is hard.
It’s hard mentally, physically and even chemically to grant yourself an outlet, a fun place to express yourself in a way that not many people understand, only to be forced into a necessary break in progress and practice due to an injury, lack of time, lack of funds, burnout or any other reason.
In the hobby of SCA fighting, this happens to most fighters at some point in their career and sometimes more than once. It can be frustrating, but we find other things to do to keep us busy until we can return to the battle field.
But once we get the chance to return to the battle field, we sometimes hold ourselves back. We’re not at the same fighting level that we were right before we had to sit out and that tends to scare us. It’s not fun to put on armor and it fits differently. It’s not a good feeling when you pick up the sword and shield and they’re heavier than you remember. And it sure as hell isn’t fun when you finally motivate yourself to fight and you feel like you have two left feet and a flat snap is all you can think of.
My Experiences With Fighter Regression
My first taste of the ‘regression fears’ occurred right after Pennsic 2015. For the months leading up to Pennsic, I fought my heart out. I was attending 2-3 practices a week. Everything I did even in day to day living was to become a better and stronger fighter.
I was working out consistently and I was on a solid diet of clean eating. I had a goal to be able to fight in every single fight and be able to hold my own. This was my first big war and I wanted to be confident that I would be able to not only survive but thrive.
Pennsic came and went and I was proud of my showing. I fought in every battle and even had the energy to do pickups on Wednesday. I was the strongest and fastest I’ve ever been in my entire life. The following week I even traveled with The Voyage North to Canada to participate in Bicolline, a week long LARP where heavy fighting was the norm. Not only was I able to keep up but ended up doing really well. I felt like a beast!
Once home I decided to give myself a break. I was feeling close to a burnout and my body needed a rest. One week turned into two that then turned into three that then turned into two months. I ate whatever I wanted, cancelled my gym membership and stopped fighting. I went from having a sword in my hand every day for two weeks to not even knowing where my sword was. But I had had the honor of becoming my knight’s man at arms at Pennsic and I wanted to get back into the action and make him proud.
I’ll never forget the feeling of this practice. I was armoring up and the nerves started kicking in. Fears started creeping in, not fears of getting hit but fears of I don’t want to look bad. Sure, I felt I did really well at Pennsic but that just set the bar even higher in my mind. How can I fight in front of these guys at my best and then at my worst? This is embarrassing…
I sat on the bench biting the inside of my lip and watching everyone else fight. I had wanted this so badly a few moments ago, why do I want to run the other way right now? Why do I want to pat myself on the back for doing well at Pennsic and quit while I’m ahead? I proved to myself I could already accomplish something why do I have to test myself again? I know I’m going to suck…
These arguments went on and on until my knight sat next to me, nudged me and simply said ‘go fight.’
So I did.
I fought the worst fight I’ve ever fought. Probably even worse than when I first put on armor. It was not pretty. My arms felt like they were spaghetti wiggling all over the place and I couldn’t keep my shield up. I tripped over my feet not once but twice and couldn’t see a single opening. On top of that my brain kept replaying my strong fights at Pennsic and how far I’ve fallen: a cruel kick to my ego while I was already down.
I sat back down next to him, completely out of breath, ready to cry and so embarrassed I couldn’t look at him.
Maybe Pennsic was a fluke? Maybe I lost the level of skill that I will never be able to achieve again. This sucks.
He took one look at me and knew right away what my problem was. He explained that taking time after Pennsic was a normal thing for fighters to do. That everyone pushes hard and then relaxes as winter approaches and events become sparse. And not only was it normal for me to have taken a break but it was even more normal to feel like I backslid. But while I was beating myself up, I admitted I felt like I was worse off. He explained that it’s impossible. That I started out at point A, had reached point C at Pennsic and I’m just now at point B. Sure, my physical game isn’t there, but everything I’ve learned will always be there.
Not only did that explanation give me the comfort my brain needed but it also made me think back to my first practices of where my arm WAS spaghetti and how I COULDN’T hold up my shield for more than a few minutes. Instead of letting it drag me down it motivated me to push a little harder next time. For this ‘restart’ I would do the same thing… start out slow, concentrate on basics and give my body a chance to get strong again, but this time around I was already ahead of the game. I KNEW it was possible. I KNEW what level I could achieve if I worked towards it in a constant and positive manner.
Once I accepted that I was sitting at point B and that it was okay, it gave me a feeling of calm where I reached a new level of clarity. While my body was catching up to my brain it gave me a chance to develop and work on things all over again. Starting over and being okay with it gave me another layer of confidence and patience that I would have never thought possible. Granted I was still not in the great shape I was during Pennsic – I’m still not – but I felt more dangerous in a good way.
After the Restart: Back On My Feet
A month later from my restart I went to an event in Canada and I was really excited. I know a lot of the guys and girls from that area and we don’t get to see each other often due to the distance. One of the fighters is a good friend of mine, Camil. We fought each other in pickups at Pennsic and he destroyed me. Each fight lasted seconds and he wasn’t even winded when we were done. I was slightly embarrassed and felt like I had just run a marathon. I was looking forward to a rematch with him to see if this restart in fighting had benefited me in any way. Instead of the prefight nerves I was able to walk into my fight with him calm and focused.
We fought and fought and fought… standing up, then both taking each other’s legs and finally he got me with a wrap to my head. We just knelt there both out of breath with huge grins on our faces. That ONE fight had lasted longer than our multiple fights at Pennsic combined and I had actually felt like I held my own!
That event was some of the best fighting I’ve ever put forward. I was recognizing openings in slow motion and my sword was actually making contact on those places. My mind wasn’t going black and I was able to make a conscious plan of action. Sure, I probably still lost more than I won but I was able to confidently walk tall and know I had reached a new level of fighting.
Eager to Fight Once More
As I sit here and type this I’m going on my fourth week of not fighting due to a surgery. Thankfully not from an injury but it still sidelined me for at least six weeks. Every day is hard to see my friends participating in things that my heart and mind misses. I want to be next to them, swapping bruises and sharing those feelings of accomplishment. Even chemically I feel like my emotions need the release that only fighting can provide.
Whenever it gets to be too much, I talk to my knight and he assures me we just have to knock a little rust off. It always reminds me of that conversation. I don’t know what point I’m at currently; I just know it’s possible. And not only is it possible, but I’ve done it before and can do it again.
Don’t allow the ‘regression fear’ to sink in and get a hold on you. Don’t allow excuses to become legitimate reasons. Take your time to get where you feel comfortable to push yourself again and start from step one. It may seem like you’re starting at point A but you can take what you’ve learned from the first time through and expand on that. You’re starting out a step ahead than you did before: point B. Let the idea of how good you were before motivate you, not intimidate you. And if you can’t accomplish what you did before for some other reason, take strength in knowing that you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to. That knowledge can give you confidence to try and accomplish something else.
Have you ever experienced regression in SCA fighting and other aspects of your life? Let me know how you got through it in the comments!