SCA Fighting Lessons: Feeling Stupid Isn’t So Stupid After All


We all start out at the same place when venturing into a new hobby. We’re uneducated and clumsy, yet excited and willing to learn as many lessons as we can. We all want to become better. (Some more so than others but improvement is a natural tendency for a human.) We experience joyous breakthroughs, aggravating plateaus and devastating let downs. And although every one of those moments is unique to us at that time, these are common stepping stones that others have followed before us.

I’m pretty sure that at every SCA practice and event thereafter, I’ve been nervous: not nervous to be hit or to hit someone else, not nervous to wear the armor or push my mind and body.

No, I was nervous that I’d embarrass myself and look stupid.

Before you roll your eyes too hard or sigh too loudly, I do realize that this is both a common and silly thought to have while fighting. But it doesn’t make it any less of a big deal to me.

For a few months I did everything I could think of and everything that any experienced fighter would suggest to me. Pep talks. Getting pumped up with music. Breathing. Being told a million times that I don’t look stupid and explained in clear and logical explanations that all make brilliant and clear sense… but my brain refused to actually digest any of it. Yes, I know I’m a new fighter and this is how I’m supposed to be fighting. Yes, I realize no one is really watching me and these are all silly expectations I’m putting on myself. YES, I understand that even the best of the best fighters have their insecurities but none of this is helping me calm down.

sca fighting lessons
When I started fighting my anxiety would hold me back from feeling confident enough to be aggressive. I’m on the left.

Knightly Adventures

My knight, Sir Brennan, and my uncle knight, Sir Culann, enjoy traveling as much as they can when practicing. This gives everyone a chance to fight new people and keep things fresh. One adventure had myself, Sir Culann and his squire, Anton, driving three hours to a practice. This is not uncommon in my training and I knew most of the fighters that would be at this practice. For some reason, though, my brain decided to go into overdrive. For three hours I had an anxiety attack: I couldn’t breathe, I was feeling sick, I broke out in a cold sweat and must have uttered the mantra ‘what am I doing’ a million times. Sir Culann and Anton did everything they could to talk me through it. They made me breathe, laugh and recite silly stories. Nothing helped.

When we arrived, I suited up, fought the worst fights I’ve ever fought, ripped my armor off and just sat there. This was stupid. Wasn’t I supposed to be enjoying this? My knight constantly says this is something I should love and at that moment I hated everything about it. I thought maybe this isn’t for me after all… but deep down, I wanted it so bad. Bad enough that I decided to try and look at it from a different angle.

Sadly, I couldn’t figure it out. It went on for weeks, breathing exercises while I pushed myself to practice, going through the motions of suiting up and praying for the anxiety to stop nagging at me. I thought for sure I would have to make a decision to either stop fighting or learn to struggle through these anxiety attacks every time I knew I was going to fight.

I tend to have a carefree attitude out of armor, just had to figure it out once I had a helmet on. Photo credit: Kyle Pryce
I tend to have a carefree attitude out of armor, just had to figure it out once I had a helmet on. Photo credit: Kyle Pryce

Smallest Moments Lead to the Biggest Changes

Then, Sir Brennan casually says to me after an event one day, “I want you to fight in the Crown Tournament this upcoming fall.” I did a double take and looked at him like he had uttered the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard and asked him to repeat himself. “I want you to fight in the Crown Tournament this fall.” Now, one of the reasons I chose Sir Brennan as my knight was because I knew he would push me and I wouldn’t have the guts to ever say no. But I was strongly feeling the no and instead blurted out ‘why?!’ He easily explained that it’s good experience and people enjoy watching progress. Although we both understood I’d never come close to winning as a new fighter against some of the best fighters the East Kingdom has to offer, it would be a good way to measure my comfort level in the lists through the years.

People enjoy watching progress.

Holy. Crap. At that moment it all clicked…. I have no idea what he went on to say after that but it all made sense. People love to watch feel good movies, not just for the ending when the protagonist succeeds against all odds and comes out the hero. They love watching the journey, the struggle and finding chances to relate and turn it into a positive experience for everyone involved. They feel connected and like part of the team. Everyone supporting each other through the ups AND downs.

With my fighting I had been so worried that people would expect me to be better than I was. That they would scoff at me and judge me for not meeting their expectations. Not only do I realize that no one would actually think like that (and if they did they are not people I want to associate with anyway) but no one had any expectations of my fighting besides me and maybe my knight who was being much more realistic than me. I was pushing my own unachievable goals into other people’s heads and believing that’s what they thought. No matter how much reassurance I got or praise I received, and I realize that these are my own insecurities, but I’m FINALLY breathing easier!

Fighting lessons at Adult Swim Practice
Finally not worrying about a million things I felt strong enough to step in and actually fight. Photo credit: Ellesbeth Donofrey

Relating and Understanding these Lessons

I enjoy watching new fighters’ progress. But I enjoy it just the same when they are struggling and finding their strength through this hobby of ours. Because I can relate, I know exactly how they are feeling. I’m not judging them or holding them to some ridiculous standard no matter what their background is. I’m proud that they are pushing through it and keep coming back to practice. Even if they never figure out how to land an off-side shot or constantly have difficulty lifting their shields… I understand. And we’re in this together. Through the ups AND downs.

Realizing that people might instead be enjoying my journey and laughing along with me on my mishaps gave my brain a chance to breath and feel comfortable to feel ‘stupid.’ I no longer stress about how fast or far I’m progressing. I no longer focus on what I think other people are thinking of me. I no longer suffer through the anxiety of letting people down. I just fight. And I’ve never been happier.

What are some moments that you struggled with when learning to fight? How did you learn to overcome it? I’m still learning every day and would love to hear what you have discovered along the way!

Featured Image Photo Credit: Angel Ortiz, Bifrost Studios


4 thoughts on “SCA Fighting Lessons: Feeling Stupid Isn’t So Stupid After All

  1. Oh gods can I relate to this. I do this with fencing. Thank you so much for writing this.

    Elizabeth LaChatte
    Kingdom of Lochac

  2. “I want you to fight in the Crown Tournament this upcoming fall.”
    Oh. My. God.
    If I heard that, right now?
    Yeah, I can imagine how you felt. Easily.

    Hi. :) I’ve been reading and vastly enjoying your blog since my knight sent me a link a few months back. I really relate to many of your struggles. I’m a female heavy fighter in the Kingdom of Northshield.

    I remember when I first started, (which was back in late August, both fighting and for the SCA period), struggling with packing my stuff and complaining to my son; “The equipment is awkward, the physical movement is awkward, the emotions are awkward, why does everything to do with this have to be awkward!!! ARGH!”

    I have *never* been a sports person you see, ever, and having to use my body in this way, control it so precisely, is very new to me. Not to use my age as an excuse, but I’ve been this way for awhile. I’m in my 50’s. 😉 I’m a writer and an artist. I sat a lot. Fortunately, I started going to the gym a few years before I started this, and lost a modest amount of weight, as well as getting fit.

    I have reached a point where my times between feeling the performance anxiety/I feel stupid/What the hell am I thinking! have grown longer, but yes, it’s still there. And I’ll still work on it, and push through it with the help of my amazing group of fighter-friends, and amazing knight, and from reading this. :) Thanks!

  3. Thank you for sharing this,
    even for someone like me who has traveled the whole way on this journey it contains a lot of good stuff. You see – even when one does reach the loftier goals in our Society some of these emotions and concerns are still with us. Especially ones you start teaching and training others.

    As teacher/mentor you want your students to succeed, but just as much you want them to enjoy the journey. And at least in my case one is at times concerned that one may fail them in this. Reading about your journey given insights into ways to approach teaching and guidance so it becomes and remains a fascinating journey for them too.

    With deepest respect I sign

    In Service to Society et Kingdom
    Morgan de Grey//
    A.k.a Ol’ Uncle Wolf…

  4. Thank you for sharing your story and advice. This has helped me immensely because I have the same experience of not wanting to look stupid.

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