Thoughts on the Unarmored Rules in the SCA

After seven years Caid, the Southern California branch of the SCA, has finally updated their rules for the use of unarmored combat. These are my thoughts…

§1.2 – The list of main manuals used for their inspiration seem notable. Not complete, but enough to show a wide interest and justify other texts.

  • MS I.33
  • Talhoffer
  • Fiore
  • Marozzo
  • Silver

§1.6.10 – The rule against grappling precludes any body-to-body contact. So even the safe disarms from MS I.33 such as enveloping the arms are disallowed.

§2 – No glow in the dark swords. (Ok, but did that really need to be said?)

§2.1 – Only Rawlings are allowed at this time, but permission for comparable weapons can be obtained. Presumably this doesn’t include the use of Pentti.

No visible steel may be used in any part of the construction of a weapon. Which means you can’t use the upgraded pommels and cross-guards for the Rawlings.

§2.3 – Messers and curved blades are not allowed, even though they show a messer right on the cover of their rulebook. So no Talhoffer, Wallerstien, or Lecküchner for you.

§2.3.1 – Longswords are limited to 42” of blade, which means if you could find a sword long enough for Meyer/Vadi you still couldn’t use it.

Though not explicit, I’ve been told this rule also means that you can’t use the longsword one-handed. That eliminates much of Fiore and a bit of Ringeck to boot.

§2.3.2 – Only simple guards are allowed in the “arming sword” category. Not even finger rings as seen in Silver, Marozzo and Agrippa are permitted.

§2.3.3 – Basket hilted swords are permitted if they have a straight blade. Finger and side rings don’t qualify for this category either.

§3 – Bucklers are allowed up to 14”. This barely fits the large buckler of Marozzo, which is said to be roughly 12 to 14” based on illustrations and relics. It doesn’t allow for the Rotella of Marozzo or the dueling buckler from Talhoffer.

§4.1 – Minimum back of the head protection is “heavy denim”. Why not require “nothing”, as it would offer just as much protection. I was really expecting them to require at least 1/4” padding if not a ridged material.

§4.1.1 – Steel helms are allowed as long as the blade doesn’t penetrate more than 1/2” into an opening? This rule is insane. At 0.50” from the tip a Rawling is 0.80 wide. At 2.25” from the tip it is only 0.83 wide. A powerful thrust can easily shave off 0.03” of nylon.

Later they have a more sensible rule that says the openings must be not larger than 0.25 if round-punched or .020 if square punched.

§4.2 – The “points of the collar bone”, the windpipe, and the T1 vertebrae must be protected by a gorget. Seems reasonable.

§4.3 – Bare skin is discouraged, but allowed in areas up to 2” wide. Rawlings and bucklers can develop burrs so I can see why they have this rule, but then why allow the exception?

Padded gambesons are not required, but recommended for those concerned about bruising. They then immediately start talking about blow recognition in a matter that would discourage the use of padding. You can tell a committee wrote this section.

§4.4 – Elbow pads are required, but they don’t have to be ridged. Ok, but what’s the difference between a non-ridged elbow bad and the sleeve of a padded gambison?

No meaningful hand protection is required. Padded gloves are recommended, but simple leather is enough to qualify. This will cause problems down the road, especially since hand strikes are allowed.

Forearm protection is recommended but not required. (Not necessary in my opinion, never had a problem with Rawlings hitting too hard there.)

§4.5 – Kidney protection is recommended, not required. Probably not an issue, though I’m surprised that a lightly padded gambison is considered “protection” in their book. Any blow hard enough to damage the kidneys is probably not going to be slowed down by light padding.

§4.7 – Knee pads are recommended, not required. I agree, I only wear my knee pads for curved blades like the messer and sabre.

§4.8 – Basically it says no combat/construction boots.

§ – Blows must have “percussive force” with the edge, but basically anything above the lightest tab is considered good for this rule. Bruising is allowed, but should be rare.

§ – Thrusts are to “positive pressure”, which is fair given how much force a thrust really needs.

§5.1.2 – Strikes with the flat are not counted. In general I would agree, but Meyer’s flat strike to the ear can be painful and can upset ones sense of balance. (In my demo on Sunday one person noticed a bit of pain just by lightly tapping his ear with the flat of his sword.)

Grazing cuts are not counted. (Tip cuts are, see below.) This would preclude the blinding cuts used by Meyer, but I’m ok with that. They should be used as a prelude to a more serious attack anyways.

§5.1.3 – One-handed swings such as the one shown below are not are considered to have enough “commitment”.


If this was a safety concern I might concede the point, but they are arguing that one cannot generate “realistic power” using this technique. If that was the case, why is Talhoffer showing it in his 1467 manuscript?

Likewise thrusts with only the hand on the pommel are not allowed.

§ – Both edges are valid (duh). Slicing cuts are allowed, it doesn’t have to be a hacking motion.

The SCA heavies attack where you stand in front of someone and strike his back is disallowed. Stylistically that makes sense, but we also have to contend with the problem of no grappling. So if you get in close you can only stare at each other unless a pommel strike becomes available.

§ – Tip cuts need to be at least 5” or the width of the limb. No real objections here.

§ – Slices have to be at least one third the blade, which seems reasonable.

§ – Incidental or unintentional thrusts can be counted. This actually makes sense to me as there are examples of an unintentional thrust in the historic records. Though to be fair the incident I was thinking of involved a broken blade.

§ – Pommel strikes are allowed, but only with arming swords.

Pommel strikes are not allowed with basket hilted swords because there is too good of a chance that you’ll hit with the basket. The basket of course being made of soft, flexible plastic is far more “dangerous” than the plastic-wrapped steel pommel.

Merely showing the pommel isn’t enough, you have to actually make contact with the mask. This seems odd to me given that we’re shoving a couple pounds of inflexible steel and plastic into a mask not designed to take that kind of impact.

§ – Strikes with the other parts of the weapon, such as the incredibly flexible cross guards, is not allowed.

§5.1.5 – Blows are either “mortal” or “wounding”. Mortal blows are basically the head, body to the hip bone and point of the shoulder, and arteries at the base of the arms and legs. Other targets are considered to be wounding blows.

§ – Again, hands are legal targets despite not requiring meaningful hand protection.

§ – Striking the groin is allowed and counts as a mortal blow, but only if you do it unintentionally.

§5.2.2 – If you hit someone’s scabbard then it counts as hitting them. There goes realism out of the window. If you don’t want people using scabbards as armor, don’t allow them on the field.

§5.2.3 – Fencers may acknowledge blows that are, by the rules, considered to be invalid. While I understand the spirit of the rule, inevitably it will either be completely ignored or be the basis of some unwritten rule about other blow types being always acknowledged.

Examples include flat strikes to the head and pommel strikes to the chest. (Thus implying that I can hit someone in the chest with my pommel.)

Oh, but wait. The next paragraph says that we shouldn’t intentionally use invalid strikes such as flat strikes to the head and pommel strikes to the chest. They aren’t illegal, just dishonorable. (Though elsewhere is says dishonorable actions can get you kicked off the field.)

So yea. We can’t can’t use Meyer’s flat strike to the head on purpose, but if we do it accidentally it may, or may not, count.

§5.3.1 – Double-hits count as a point for both participants. Finally, someone gets it right. No more “That point in my gut doesn’t hurt because I cleaved open your head” bullshit.

No points for after blows. Sigh, so defending yourself after an attack still isn’t important. Guess we’re using light sabres after all.

§ – So if I hit your sword hard enough to blast right through it and hit you the point doesn’t count. Unless, that is, I argue that I wasn’t throwing a hard shot and you just suck at blocking.

§ – Levered blows, say a zwerch that cuts around an opponent’s sword, doesn’t count. Or maybe it does. Ask the judges to toss a coin.

§5.3.3 – If your equipment fails because of maintenance issues, you forfeit. If it was just bad luck or a hard blow you can repair it and continue.

§5.3.4 – If you drop your weapon you can’t be hit. But if you drop it too many times you might forfeit.

§5.3.6 – Open hand displacements of the sword or shield are allowed, just as long as they are not too forceful. So no hard slapping of someone’s flat when they leave the point in your face too long. Grabbing the blade or buckler is not allowed.

§5.3.7 – Trapping the sword in the crook of the arm or between the arm and torso is not allowed. So much for MS I.33 techniques.

§ – No striking with the shield. There goes more more I.33 techniques.

§ – “Charging, diving, leaping, or lunging into the opponent is not allowed”. No lunging? Seriously? Do they mean no lunges as in long thrusts? Or do they imagine someone power-walking into the opponent for no apparent reason?

§5.4 – Optional Rules that no one is ever going to use because asking permission is a pain in the ass.

§5.4.1 – Blade grasping is allowed optionally, as long as you don’t unrealistically flex someone’s blade. Ok, I didn’t realize that was a problem.

If someone tugs on the blade you are holding then you are considered to have lost the hand, even if the blade doesn’t move. Apparently the author of this manual hasn’t actually read any manual that talks about disarm techniques. Or modern medical records about the same.

If you are grasping the opponent’s blade and pull, that is likewise counted against you. So yea, no disarming techniques.

§5.4.2 – Half-swording is allowed under the optional rules. But you cannot use percussive blows when half-swording. Why? It doesn’t say.

It does warn about excessive force when thrusting with the half-sword. So why not allow the safer percussive blows? Sigh, I don’t even care anymore.

§ – Disarming techniques based on blade grasping is allowed. Huh? Didn’t they just say it wasn’t allowed?

§ – Disarms based on beating someone’s sword out of their hand isn’t allowed.

§ – Disarms based on joint locks are not allowed. No duh, I can’t do a joint lock on someone I can’t touch.

§ – Disarms that cause the weapon to be “thrown or launched” are not allowed. Yea, I don’t know how that could happen.

§ – Disarms count as a mortal blow.

§6.1 – Standard tournament rules are to three blows, at least one being mortal. No acting out injuries is required.

Concluding thoughts:

I’m not interested. The rules disallow far too many of the historic techniques and weapon combinations that I’m wish to learn, even the relatively safe ones. At the same time the safety standards are too haphazard for tournament fencing with unknown participants. It feels more like safety theater than real safety to me.

If this was a new form I would be more understanding and patient. But like I said, this is the first update in seven years. By the time they legalize the rest of the basic techniques I’ll probably have long discarded the Rawlings and be too busy learning the advanced stuff.

So for now I’m going to stick to close-nit groups for exploratory topics and HEMA/Adrian Empire events for tournaments.

This entry was posted in Tournaments. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thoughts on the Unarmored Rules in the SCA

  1. Pingback: Safety | The Hema Podcast

  2. Daniel says:

    This is so very discouraging, basically it looks like we’re all going to be relegated to lightly shaking foam water noodles at each other in the ball pit at the McD’s Playplace. When I first got into SCA-type events in the year 2000 I was 12 years old, and the group we worked with allowed for very minimal safety rules. (Just the necessary basics to prevent death and maiming) I was with that group for 6 years and we never once had to send anyone to hospital or even had a serious injury beyond bruises and a very occasional jammed finger. I understand that being safe is important and nobody wants to suffer major injuries and medical bills because of their hobby, but these new additions to the rules are mostly asinine and restrictive to the point of eliminating a lot of the realism. This makes me sad

  3. Jason says:

    This is rediculous. Unfortunately the only way for me to do anything even remotely close to historical fencing more than once a month is the SCA, as the closest HEMA group to me is over 200 miles away. I saw a glimmer of hope when I spoke with the local SCA guys about this and cut and thrust, but after reading the (millions of) rules I wonder if it’s even worth bothering with them.

    • Grauenwolf says:

      Each SCA division makes its own rules. So the group near you may not have the same problems as mine did.

      In general I find that the “cut and thrust” groups to be a bit more reasonable than the “unarmored” groups.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s