A peer by any other name?

Peerage for archery in the SCA, or incorporated into existing Peerages?

Photo by the talented Tullus Herborgsson

When we introduce a new member to the society and they ask what it is that we do, the answer is framed by those we hold as examples of the Dream – that is by the peerage paths.  I’ve actually witnessed a description to a newcomer for the activities of the event as “fighting, arts done in the middle ages, and service to keep everything running.  And, oh yea, light fighting, too.”  It’s hard for those of us that have been playing for a long time to adapt to the new recognized peerage for light fighting and I believe there is still a significant portion of members underrepresented in our game.

Live weapons, including primarily archery, is a quiet community, but it is getting louder.  Due to safety restrictions, ranges are out of the public eye at events, but this community, as a whole, has more participants than many kingdoms have heavy fighters.  I’ve talked to a few members that remember Live Weapons being one of their first activities in the SCA.  Live weapons is one of the easiest activities for new members to get involved in, as material costs are relatively low compared to other activities.  I believe we can grow the SCA with this activity, especially in light of archery related interest in the world today (The Hunger Games and Brave), if we only made it a point to focus attention on the community.

In my previous post about peerage, I said that the common thread of Peers is the mastery of their path (activity) and that level of skill only comes with passion.  Within this community, there are those that are masters of their skills in Live Weapons, and their Peer Like Qualities are undeniable.  However, they have limited options to be recognized as Peers in our society.  There is a current proposal to the Board of Directors to create another peerage, which will be reviewed at the October meeting.  Discussion are circulating through social media, and I find my opinions are like that of a high viscosity material (in that they appear solid until they are heated).  The discussion revolves around if another peerage is needed, or if our existing peerages fill the need presented.

The most common path Live Weapons leaders are currently recognized is through the Pelicans, which recognizes the service done for the community, but not the skill in mastery of Live Weapons itself.  Most Pelicans are recognized for service to many different areas, as these peers are those that are energized by doing and being helpful.  This means that the standards for Pelicans is demonstrated mastery of service in multiple areas.  Those Live Weapons peers that are made are generally performing service in other capacities, as well.  Many leaders in the Live Weapons community have mastered multiple weapons styles, and taken on the training of new members, but only get credit for singular service to their community.

A more unusual path through the Laurels is getting attention due to the Omnibus proposal.  The proposal states that all non-rattan martial activities can fall under one peerage, similar to the way all arts and sciences fall under the Laurels.  Outside of a static entry into various A&S competitions of weapons and ammo, there are few other options for Live Weapons leaders as members of the Laurel.  There is at least one that I have heard of, admitted for archery as a performing art or demonstration of a period activity.  This would seem a good answer on the surface, but demonstrating a period activity is seldom a category allowed in A&S competitions.  Also, Live Weapons focuses on sustained skill averages for judging skill, not just one shoot (with many variables for a good or bad day).

Neither path above mentions the expectations of peerage to continue service in their peerage paths.  This could and often does take a Live Weapons leader away from the community, which weakens its growth.  Laurels are expected to be judges in A&S and Pelicans are expected to keep the wheels of the SCA train moving.  These responsibilities leave little time for mentor-ship and growth of Live Weapons.  I often see highly skilled members of the Live Weapons community – those that could potentially be leaders – fade away into other paths.

As a society, we tend to base the standards of every peerage with Knights as the bar, and for good or for ill, all peerages have to exceed this standard.  Knights are expected to be masters of at least one rattan weapon style, adequate in others, knowledgeable in upkeep and repair of their equipment, dedicated to training new individuals and generally helpful in terms of service.  That is the bar; while exceptional Knights may know the history of their persona and others, know how to craft armor, and hold offices outside of martial service, among other things.

If we compare the dedication of a leader in the Live Weapons community to that of a Knight, the bar should be set similarly to the above.  I see a similar amount of time dedicated to being a master in Live Weapons as a heavy fighter puts into becoming excellent in rattan fighting:  weekly practicing at the range, building personal ranges and practicing at home, spending the time to set up and tear down ranges for events, encouraging and teaching new members and learning how to repair and make weapons and ammo.  The paths for Pelican and Laurel have higher expectations placed on them, since more would be required in order to meet the service or arts and sciences bar in addition to mastery of Live Weapons.  If there was a peerage dedicated to Live Weapons, the leaders recognized as peers would not feel torn away from their community.  They would be able to build that community and see growth which could promote growth within the SCA as a whole.

While I may not agree with let’s throw everyone together approach of the Omnibus proposal, there is a demonstrated resistance to creating new peerages, so it’s obvious something needs to be done.  According to the census data from 2010, a majority of members support both an Archery peerage and an Equestrian peerage, separately.  Sadly, existing peers and royal peers do not support additional peerages.  The question I am still struggling with is does it make sense to leave the peerage open, or should the other non-martial activities forge their own way?  Or even, if there were a Live Weapons peerage, should the peers recognized be the ones to decide on the viscosity of their bar?


Disclaimer:  I am not a peer, and I’m not sure I want the responsibility of being a peer.  My assumptions and assertions in this post about the peerage circles are based solely on conversations with peers from a few different kingdoms.

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