Swordsman & Geek

A Midsummer Night’s Blog

An Open Letter to the SCA’s Board of Directors…

My name is R. E. “Puck” Curtis III and I have been participating in the SCA for over 20 years as a fencer.  Inside the SCA I am known as don Pachomius Oneshoe (or Puck).

Puck Oneshoe

Puck Oneshoe, Order of the White Scarf

Outside of the SCA I was the first White Scarf to certify as a classical Italian fencing master under the program founded by Maestro William Gaugler.

Fencing Master's Examination

Fencing Master’s Examination

As such, I find myself in a strange position.  My mundane self outranks my SCA persona.

I am a board certified Master at Arms entrusted with preserving an Italian martial art with a teacher-to-student lineage which dates back to the mid-1600s through the Scuola Magistrale Militare di Roma.  I have taught fencing both within and without the SCA.  In addition, I travel both inside and outside the United States to train and to teach European sword arts specializing in the historical Iberian traditions.

A pretty girl with a sword and a fencing book... Yep... I'm lucky!

Dr. Mary Curtis

My wife and partner in these efforts is Dr. Mary Curtis.  She is a Fulbright scholar and holds a PhD in Golden Age Spanish literature with a focus on the historical sword arts of the period.  Dr. Curtis is also a White Scarf of the Kingdom of the West and she lived in Spain for a year combing through archives to research historical fencing.

Mary is her Spanish dress

Gabriela de Avila, Order of the White Scarf

It is with some reluctance that I admit I may be an SCA fencer of some note, but I also assert that were it not for the SCA I never would have achieved these things.  In that sense, my accomplishments are a reflection of the Society itself and what is possible when a young man or woman is given a good start in the world.

Perhaps it seems obvious what events have led us to this crisis of leadership in the Society.  You will be receiving a slew of angry letters.  I am not interested in assigning blame but instead in finding solutions.  I shall suggest a different cause for our troubles and in so doing perhaps bring some hope and light into the conversation.

The problem is fidelity.

It is fellowship.

It is our love for those who excel and do wondrous things.

 There is a lack of equity in the awards structure but the love that people hold for each other remains the same.  When a king or a queen sees a subject shine like a beacon their need to serve the subject stumbles because their hands are tied.  This has put the SCA under increasing social pressure as it tries to balance an outstanding (but diminishing) prejudice against fencing with a desire to recognize people of value in a fair way.  That pressure has erupted in different ways.

Consider two different solutions to the building social pressure:

  •  Ansteorra’s White Scarves are peers in all but name.  Their order mirrors the Cult of Elizabeth and it is deeply embedded in the kingdom’s psyche.  The relationship between their White Scarves and the queen is a cherished part of the national identity.
  •  Other kingdoms like An Tir have resolved the problem by making rapier Laurels.  These Laurels have to meet a Laurel’s requirements for period fencing research and practice to join their order.

The board’s recently proposed solution was to steer the fencers into the Chivalry based primarily on fighting prowess.  By stumbling out of the gate with a surprise decision the board has created a conflict between the Chivalry and the rapier community.  That conflict has fanned old fiery tensions which had largely cooled into bonds of fellowship.  Now, tempers are rising on both sides.

And what of our knights?

The Chivalry represents a pool of potential governance sworn into fealty.  From the Chivalry typically arise the kings and queens of the Society.  The responsibilities of rulership are not insignificant and are completely beyond the scope of the fencing community.  I can see value in protecting a private space which allows the Chivalry to hash out difficult subjects and provide a unified presence.  (I say this as an outsider having never participated in a chivalric circle.)

As a fencer, I should also confess that I never dreamed of the title of “Sir.”  Nor did I imagine that someday I might take squires.  These are not fencers’ dreams.  A fencer’s dream is to be a Maestro d’Armi (Master at Arms).  When the SCA could not help me realize this goal, I went out into the mundane world and did the work required to make that dream a reality.

Therein lies your solution.  My understanding is that the order of the Master at Arms was created to solve a similar problem.  The SCA had created some bright shining stars of martial prowess and grace on the rattan field.  There was a social pressure to recognize these peers for what they were but, for religious reasons, these fighters could not swear oaths of fealty.  These individuals had qualities so great that a solution was proposed and the Masters at Arms were created.

This peerage can again resolve the social pressure to recognize gifted people if we but accept that a Master at Arms can be skilled with a variety of weapons.  Their order is a natural fit for martial arts beyond the scope of romantic chivalry.  That might be rattan, fencing, mounted combat, archery, or thrown weapons.  All of these things are obviously martial arts worthy of recognition and the Masters at Arms will be the least impacted peerage in the Society.

I urge you to preserve the Chivalry’s space in which they govern.  Knights must swear their oaths and the burden they carry is unique.  Respect that.  Instead, open the peerage of the Masters at Arms to those who wield diverse arms and the problem is solved in a lasting and meaningful way.  By creating a firewall between the Master at Arms and the Chivalry the unsworn peerage is allowed greater function without sacrificing historical correctness.  If the Chivalry wish to retain the currently existing Masters at Arms in their circle they have only to extend an invitation.  (Inviting others into their space for counsel is their privilege.)

What of the White Scarves then?

Estrella 2008

Estrella 2008 – Cut and Thrust

The original White Scarf iconography was inspired by a white sash worn as a baldric indicating military command.  (Cyrano de Bergerac contains a notable example when he recovers De Guiche’s sash of command from the battlefield at great personal risk.)  Since wearing a white scarf as a baldric conflicted with the white baldric worn by the Masters at Arms, White Scarves instead wore a scarf as a lady’s favor, and this emblem of rank has become the queen’s favor.

Imagine reuniting the White Scarf with its origin as the baldric of command in a peerage ceremony. I ask you to cast your eye forward to see this moment realized.

A member of the Order of the White Scarf is brought before the king and queen.  At her arm is tied the white scarf indicating the queen’s favor but on this evening she wears two scarves; one long and one short.

 “Will you become our master and teach your art to the people of this kingdom?”

 “I will,” she replies.

 In the torchlight the longer scarf is then tied crosswise across her body to form a master’s baldric and a Maestra d’Armi is created.

 To open a school of fencing.  To be a master.  To serve the kingdom.  These are the dreams of a fencer and now more than any time in our Society’s history this dream is possible.

I say this to you as a classical fencing master myself.  I say it to you as a White Scarf of the Society.  I say this to you as a person who understands the love and fidelity of our Society.  Allow the Master at Arms to again be the solution which binds us closer together in love, fellowship, and fidelity.

In brief summary,

  1. We arrived at this place because of our fidelity.
  2. Create a firewall between the Order of the Chivalry and the Masters at Arms.
  3. Open the order of the Master at Arms to diverse arts.
  4. Assert that the Chivalry can invite a Master at Arms into council as they see fit.

With respect and gratitude for your service,

R. E. “Puck” Curtis III

Master at Arms, San Jose Fencing Master’s Program

Known in the Society as
Don Pachomius Oneshoe

Member of the Order of the White Scarf of Ansteorra

Demographic Changes – The Rise of a Progressive Titan

Are you angry that the Democrats were beaten in the midterms?  If you are, the number you need to repeat every day is “3,600”.  I will explain.

The recent elections are a generational struggle between the Silent or “Lucky Few” generation and the Millennial generation.  It isn’t unusual to place the blame squarely at the feet of the massive Baby Boomer generation but that cohort has been reliably split between the two parties.  The Boomers display a slight Democratic preference offset by a larger degree of racial intolerance than the younger generations.  By contrast, the older Silent generation is staunchly Republican and much more racially intolerant than any other generational group still capable of forming a voting bloc.  They are even more Republican than their predecessors, the Greatest generation.

“The demographics race we’re losing badly,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Washington Post. “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

Boomers and Xers

The Boomers are so split that they largely negate themselves.  When the Boomers agree they make a big difference but they often don’t.  The Gen-Xers skew slightly in favor of the Democrats but not enough to outweigh the conservative half of the Boomer cohort married to the monolithic conservatism of the Silents.

 The Young Challengers

Millennials are the largest generation numbering at  95 million, compared to 78 million for the Baby Boomers.

Millennials are the largest generation numbering at 95 million compared to 78 million for the Baby Boomers.

The Millennials are the largest generation in history, the most racially diverse and tolerant, and also the most liberal.  They have been very unlucky economically and are taking repeated punches as they try to establish themselves in the world.  They have enormous student loans, no acquired capital, delay marriage, delay children, and cannot afford a house.  The youngest Millennials are about 14 years old in 2014 and by 2018 they will all be eligible to vote.

 The Reigning Champions

The Silent Generation are the swing voters that pull the Boomers one direction or another.

The Silent Generation are the swing voters that pull the Boomers one direction or another.

On the other side, the Silent generation has earned the moniker “The Lucky Few”.  They have enjoyed a series of wonderful advantages in their lifetimes which ensured they were largely debt free, owned a home, and could comfortably retire.  As a cohort it makes some sense that this generation feels like you should be able to work your way out of poverty because their unique economic environment made this almost universally possible.  The Silents range in age from about 70 years old to about 86 with a median age of about 80.

This lays out an interesting struggle between the very liberal Millennials and the very conservative Silent generation.  What it also tells us is that the struggle between Silents and Millennials has an expiration date measured by the life expectancy of the Silents.  Using birth rates and mortality tables we can begin to lay out the pattern that will guide the next major shift in American politics.

 I did some math…

I created a model of the US population consisting of approximately 300,000,000 people.  I divided that group up into birth-year groups and applied percentages from the following source using 2012 data to find the size of the population for each year:

To these single-year groups I then used demographic information from the 2012 presidential election to assign age-based voting patterns.

Once I had the groups, I applied 2009 CDC mortality statistics to each year-group to find projected numbers for new voters and the deceased voters.  (By using only male mortality numbers, I skew the results towards the GOP by assuming women die at the same rate.  This is untrue but it provides the GOP a bit of an edge in the final calculation.)

 What did I find?

Using the 2012 presidential election results combined with the CDC data we can predict which voters will be born and which will die.

New_Voters

Click for Details

  4,503,489 New Voters / 365 days = 12,338 new voters per day

On any given day about 12,000 young people turn 18 years of age and are eligible to vote.  (By rounding down to 12,000, I skew the results towards the GOP.  In reality, the number of new voters will likely be higher.)

New Voters Turning 18:

  • D – The Millennials will add about 7,200 Democratic voters per day. (60%)
  • R – The Millennials will add about 4,300 Republican voters per day. (36%)

On the other side of the equation when considering only the population over 65 about 6,000 people die every day.

Removed_Voters

Click for Details

The circled value of 2,308,289 deaths is calculated by applying the yearly mortality rate provided from the CDC to project a smaller group of 2015 survivors.  By subtracting column H from column E we attain the number of deceased votes in the 65 or older group.

2,308,289 deaths / 365 days = 6,324 deaths per day

 By rounding this number down to 6,000 deaths per day in the over 65 group we again provide conservative voters a slight advantage in the final calculation.  The actual number of deaths each day will probably be higher.

Deaths:

  • D – This results in 2,600 Democratic voters removed from the voting population per day. (44%)
  • R – This results in 3,300 Republican voters removed from the voting population per day. (56%)

Net Gains:

New – Removed = Net Gain

D: 7,200 – 2,600 = 4,600

R: 4,300 – 3,300 = 1,000

  • D – 4,600 added Democrats per day (net gain)
  • R – 1,000 added Republicans per day (net gain)

Democrats are out-pacing Republican growth by a margin of almost 5-to-1.

Each and every day the Democrats gain a net advantage of 3,600 voters.  It will take some time for the trend to become dominant but it amounts to 1,314,000 new net Democratic votes each year.  Presidential elections will likely be dominated by the growing power of the Millennial vote but midterms will still skew older.  That will result in a pendular effect from election to election.  By the time the youngest of the Silent voters reach 77 in 2020, well over half of the Silent generation will be deceased.  By 2024 about 66% of the youngest Silents will be deceased.

If we held these trends artificially steady from 2015 until 2020 we would see:

Voter Gains by Year

Voter Gains by Year

 Final Thoughts

  • The country is creating new Democratic voters much faster than new Republican ones. (Almost 2-to-1.)
  • The concentration of Republicans in the Silent Generation mean the GOP loses voters much faster than Democrats. (About 2-to-3.)
  • The rate of increase in Democratic voters is almost 5-to-1.
  • In 2012 Obama won the popular election by less than 5,000,000 votes.
  • In 3 years the Millennials will add over 5,000,000 new Democratic leaning voters to the population.
  • In 4 years the Millennials will create a more than 5,000,000 vote advantage over the GOP.

The finding is that the Republican party is being eaten away from both sides by the demographic changes.  My estimations are actually a best case for the GOP and these trends should accelerate rather than progress linearly as I show above.

As an example, if the average age of a Fox News viewer is 68, about half of those viewers will pass away in the next 14 years and their likelihood of dying increases each year along an exponential curve.  Other considerations are that red states typically have life expectancies 1-3 years lower than blue states and men are more likely to be conservative than women but have life expectancies 2-3 years shorter.

At a glance the 2016 presidential election should draw wide turnout across all generations and it seems like the Democrat’s election to lose.  The more interesting election may be the 2018 midterm because it provides us a metric to measure the decline of the Silent generation’s voting bloc just as the Millennials begin to realize their generation’s political power.

Consider the difference in the behavior of the Senate when one party holds a super-majority over the other.  As an analogy that has been the racial reality in the United States for its entire history thus far.  The racially white super-majority population in the United States is vanishing and it will also change how America governs.  Whites will no longer be able to dictate governance to a nearly powerless collection of minorities.  This terrifies many older Americans but for the Millennials this is already their demographic experience.

To paraphrase Fox’s Megyn Kelly, this number-crunching is clearly math that liberals will do to make themselves feel better after a bad midterm.  Even so, the math appears to be sound.  That new liberal power-house is measurable at 3,600 more liberal votes per day and growing.

More details about the gaps between the current generations can be found here:

An Examination in Sacramento

In July 2014 the Sacramento Sword School held its second student examination.  The exam consisted solely of Scholar candidates, it was open to the public, and it was judged by a board of fencing masters with Dr. Mary Curtis acting as a special advisor to the board.  In addition, this was the first time the Scholar’s examination was offered to a candidate from an external school and our we extend our fellowship and congratulations to the Elite Fencing Club in Mexico City for their candidate’s attendance and excellent performance.

To provide some context the Sacramento Sword School Scholar’s test is a La Verdadera Destreza examination derived from both the classical fencing examinations and material outlined in Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez’s “Easy Method for examining Masters…” published in 1625.  At the Scholar level the test is intended to qualify that a student has competence reflecting six months to one year of training and study.  The process includes preparing and receiving feedback on a example lesson, an oral examination, the candidate receiving a lesson, and the candidate teaching a lesson.  In addition, the board may ask to observe free fencing or for the candidate to teach specific fencing actions if time permits.

The Board of Examiners:

  • Kevin Murakoshi (Master at Arms)
  • Eric Myers (Master at Arms)
  • R. E. “Puck” Curtis III (Master at Arms)
  • Mary Dill Curtis (PhD – Golden Age Spanish Literature acting as an advisor)

Scholar candidates in alphabetical order:

  • Evans, John
  • Kalleen, John IV
  • Pacheco Ancheyta, Jorge Luis
  • Smith, Eric
  • Smith, Olivia
  • Welsch, Michael
  • Minor (name withheld)

Each of these candidates passed the examination in good order with some performance occasionally reaching beyond Scholar level towards Freescholar level.  The Sacramento Sword School is pleased to extend our endorsement of each of these candidates based on their performance during the examination.

A complete list of Scholars examined by the Sacramento Sword School alphabetically by year:

  • Murphy, Dan (2013)
  • Wright, Tyson (2013)
  • Evans, John (2014)
  • Kalleen, John IV (2014)
  • Pacheco Ancheyta, Jorge Luis (2014)
  • Smith, Eric (2014)
  • Smith, Olivia (2014)
  • Welsch, Michael (2014)
  • Minor (name withheld) (2014)

 

Destreza Spirals Made Easy

The General Tretas

The General Techniques (or Tretas) carry or capture the opposing weapon by creating a spiral with your own weapon.

 

Inside Line

(Spiral Counterclockwise)

Outside Line

(Spiral Clockwise)

Half Circle Spiral

General Technique of Narrowing

(Thrust by Glide)

General Technique of Weak Under
Strong

(Thrust by Detachment)

Full Circle Spiral

General Technique of Weak Over
Strong

(Thrust by Detachment)

General Technique of Line in Cross

(Thrust by Glide)

 

NOTE: All the descriptions below assume the opposing weapon is carried by the spiral instead of captured.

General Technique of Narrowing:
From an atajo on the inside line at MdP*, carry the opposing steel in a half
circle counterclockwise to the outside low line and terminate by stepping to
the right to deliver a gliding thrust to the chest.

General Technique of Weak under Strong:
From an atajo on the outside line at MdP*, carry the opposing steel in a half
circle clockwise to the inside low line and terminate by stepping to the right to
deliver a thrust by detachment to the chest.

General Technique of Weak over Strong:
From an atajo on the inside line at MdP*, carry the opposing steel in a complete
circle counterclockwise to the inside high line and terminate by stepping to
the right to deliver a thrust by detachment to the chest.

General Technique of Line in Cross:
From an atajo on the outside line at MdP*, carry the opposing steel in a
complete circle clockwise to the outside high line and terminate by stepping to
the right to deliver a gliding thrust to the chest.

Addition: The Generals can be combined together in such a way that the end of one may form the beginning of another without breaking the spiraling motion.

*MdP = Medio de Proporción or the Defensive Medio\Place.

 

A Defense of Pacheco

Don Luis Pacheco de Narváez

Don Luis Pacheco de Narváez

He is acerbic, often dogmatic, and difficult to like.  Pacheco’s work at first glance would not seem to be an ideal metric by which to unify a tradition.  Many people reading Pacheco for the first time have a strong negative reaction to the trollish way he jibes at the works of others.  He does not resist the urge to throw punches in his prose and perhaps it makes him an early species of today’s internet troll who pokes and annoys others for his own amusement.  Reacting to his tone, we might quickly dismiss him but the problem is that Pacheco is also an incredibly gifted technical writer and theoretician who is perhaps the most prolific fencing author in history.  Most of the technical information we currently have about La Verdadera Destreza is a direct or indirect result of Pacheco’s work.

 

Carranza’s work does not contain enough technical material to describe a complete system.  Thibault’s work is both extensive and technical but appears to be out of sync with the other authors.  Most of the other La Verdadera Destreza authors available are derivative of Pacheco’s core system which means they are in some sense accountable to his examination standards.  For this reason I often find myself presenting or defending Pacheco’s position as a common point of verifiable evidence even while I acknowledge that the tradition is broader than a single author.

 

The classical tradition that trained me enforces a core standard of practice with meticulous care.  As an example, the hand in the invitation of second shall be held at a certain height and angle; to do otherwise is incorrect.  However, if we examine the historical record, we see a multitude of different examples of the invitation in second and it might seem that this insistence on uniformity would be a compulsion which also borders on trollish antagonism towards the students.  Why?  What purpose does it serve?

 

By reducing scope in the school and during the examinations it creates right and wrong answers.  That brief state of artificial purity allows students to develop their core skills and to carefully climb within a demanding system from ignorance into technical competence.  As the students develop understanding and ability their own questions naturally arise which challenge the purity of the right and wrong answers.

 

An Instructor candidate should be able to recite the answers in the textbook and teach most of the actions described.  The Provost candidates teach at a higher level and might qualify their answers, delve into difficult and broader theory, and occasionally explore concepts outside the textbook.  The Master candidate is expected to not only be able to teach the textbook in its entirety but to also know when to leave it aside and justify the reasoning.  The mastery of the lesson and execution becomes a personal expression which realizes the tradition as an act of creative art.  An answer outside the scope of the book can become correct when good reason and judgment are applied.

 

William Gaugler’s fencing master’s program was not cloning human versions of his textbook but rather creating a common language and understanding by which a community could work outward to achieve nuanced understanding which could be both broad and deep.  This might best describe the position from which Figueiredo wrote his Oplosophia; he has enough knowledge and expertise to master a tradition and yet uses his ability to provide critical expertise on the elements involved which challenges the canon of the tradition itself.

 

It is within this textbook form that Pacheco’s work shines.  We have his proposed testing criteria and a large body of work which we can use to create a uniform standard for examination.  A student citing Pacheco in his examination works from a defensible place of canonicity which provides a textbook of right and wrong answers.  It forms a common core of theory and practice from which the students may safely learn in an elegant simplicity and ultimately transcend into multi-hued complexity.

 

Pacheco is not the only voice in our tradition but he is one of the great LVD authors and just as the textbooks in the classical program provide a beginning, mastery involves internalizing the work and seeing beyond the rules into the deeper and changing causes from which they are derived.  Studying Pacheco diligently can become a Carrancine exercise in the search for verifiable science which can be taught and demonstrated.

 

For a Carrancine teacher Pacheco serves as a brilliant starting point, as a tool for teaching and examination, as an exercise in application, and as a historically uniform standard for evaluating knowledge and practice.  Pacheco is a ready-made roadway from ignorance, through competence, into mastery.  When that path is paired with Carranza’s instructions about teaching, science, art, and ethics we move from creating builders into creating architects.