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Fight night in Hancock looks a little different on Tuesdays

Photo courtesy of Hancock-Houghton Regional Rattan Armored Combat This photo from 2019 shows a winter indoor practice at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock.

HANCOCK — On Tuesday evenings, an usual scene unfolds; people in armor train and do battle with each other. They are not filming for a Tolkienesque fantasy movie, but it is the weekly practice for the local Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Long-time practitioner and instructor for the group, Andrew Tomlinson, also known to the SCA as “Sir Yorleif,” is a knight of the international SCA organization.

“What I like about the SCA combat system is that it is at the height of both contact and safety,” Tomlinson explained. “And so you have the opportunity to meet with your friends, week after week after week, but have this really high contact experience, you know that you don’t normally get to have” with other contact fighting sports.”

The SCA has armor safety requirements to ensure the safety of the participants, and uses marshalls, or SCA officials who ensure that safety requirements are met.

Tomlinson said that a perk of the safety regulations is the amount of time safe sparring can take place.

“With a lot of full contact fighting sports, you might go to like a one hour or two hour practice, and you’ll do all these drills and all this other stuff and maybe you’ll spar at the end for one three minute round,” he said. “They do that because the risk of damage is too high. It’s the same thing with a lot of MMA-type sports. The actual time you spend in a ring with somebody actually engaging in your skill is not very high because the danger level is high, and this is also the case in steel (weapon) fighting.”

SCA fighters have a training advantage that allows for elongated full contact training.

“With the SCA, the weapons are made out of wood. You still have a really high contact, and people get hurt, but they don’t get injured, and that’s a big difference. You’re going to get bruises, but you’re not going to get broken limbs,” Tomlinson said.

It can take a while for practitioners from other contact sports to get used to not having to pull punches.

“There aren’t a lot of fighting sports where you are encouraged to fight at full calibration for the whole practice, because you’re not wearing any armor,” said Tomlinson.

While the SCA is unique in many ways, it is not a difficult organization to join.

“When I moved to Marquette, I was actually with my wife in our apartment, and I looked out the window. There were these two dudes in armor fighting each other, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is going on?’ I dropped what I was doing and I ran outside. They had loaner armor and I started that day. I’ve been doing it ever since,” Tomlinson recounted.

Having spare armor at an SCA practice is commonplace, but Tomlinson makes it a point to have a well-stocked armory for newcomers.

“We have far more loaner gear at our practice than most practices do,” he said. “We have roughly eight loaner helmets. Most practices have one.

“Part of that is because I like to make helmets, and part of that is because I had it in my mind that I wanted to put together a community of people who like to fight. It’s hard to do that if you’re like, ‘Hey man, you seem like you’re really interested in this. Would you like to wait four months while I build a helmet?'”

Proper SCA gear can be expensive if purchased online, but for Tomlinson, it is more economical to produce his own equipment, as well as being half the fun for him.

“It’s really fun to engage in, but the hurdle to get involved can be high. If you go to an event, you have to have medieval clothes. If you want to fight you have to have hardware; you have to have a helmet, you have to have a shield, you have to have a sword. Depending on how much you want to spend, it’s probably $500 to $2,000 for the gear to participate. It’s not a cheap hobby,” Tomlinson explained.

For getting new members and having them able to participate, loaner, self-produced gear is nearly a must.

The armor follows high quality protection standards, and because the weapons are rattan (a kind of wood), the gear has incredible longevity. “Because the weapons are rattan, you can easily fight in the same helmet for 10 to 15 years,” Tomlinson pointed out.

While there is some debate around whether SCA combat is a legitimate martial art, Tomlin argues that it is.

“The SCA has been going on now since 1966. Has existed as long as Boxing? No, but it has definitely existed longer than many formal MMA types,” said Tomlinson. “Over the course of that time, you’ve had generations of fighters who matriculate through, and are able to pass technique.

“Again, kind of going back to the contact and safety standpoint, the really cool thing about the SCA is we get more active fight time than pretty much any other sport.”

Tomlinson’s practices, particularly, are far more involved than strapping on a helmet and blindly swinging.

“If you go to a practice, our practice actually is kind of an outlier in that we actually spend a fair amount of time doing drills and conceptual work,” he said. “Most practices, you show up in a helmet and fight five people, and the whole experience. And so because of that, I feel as though we’ve developed, you know, within the rule set, all kinds of different skills, the reason I think is why it’s become more of a martial art is, people like my previous and my current coach, guys like Duke Bronos, have devoted very long periods of their lives to watching tape from other sports,like boxing and karate tournaments and figuring out, ‘okay, here’s how that hip movement works, here’s a lateral footstep, here’s what I see this MMA or boxing champion doing when he won this title, so I wonder if we can crack that and turn it into like a technique for this.’ So yeah, I would definitely consider it a real martial art.”

Despite the relatively isolated location, Tomlinson had little trouble forming the tight-knit group.

“I have this strong belief that what we do is really unique. I always tell people this is a 1% hobby. What I mean by that is there is 1% of the population that is interested in meeting other people and beating them with weapons for fun as an activity. And so, as long as those people can find you, you will put together a group, because those people are out there, you just have to get to them,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson’s recruitment theory fits with the founding of the SCA.

“We started, actually, as a party in a bunch of grad students’ backyard in California in 1966. It was a protest against the modern age, and so what all the party attendees did is, they all wore medieval clothes. We’re going to try and relive the Middle Ages, as we wish they would have been, not as they were, because the real Middle Ages were absolutely terrible and brutal and not a place you want to be,” Tomlinson explained. “They had a feast, a parade, and a tournament. Everyone had so much fun that they decided to do it next weekend. It slowly grew, but it really blew up when they did demonstrations at some of the first ComicCons, and it really took off from there.”

The SCA encompasses far more than medieval combat.

“What I really like about it, outside of the fighting system is, it’s kind of an opportunity for somebody who didn’t go to art school, or even if you did, you can learn how to do pretty much any kind of art. There’s people in the Society who will teach you how to do casting, how to do blacksmithing, how to make armor, how to weave baskets, how to weave your own textiles and make them into clothing,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, hang out, fight, and make cool stuff.”

To learn more about the SCA, you can visit northshield.org for this region, or visit sca.org to learn about the organization as a whole. Local open practices are Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the Quincy Green in Hancock.

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