This weekend was K&Q Fencing champions in Panther Vale (White River Junction, VT). The executive summary is that many of us from the local area headed up to the tournament and it was ultimately won by Lord Griffith, our new King’s Champion. The Queen’s Champion was announced as Don Collin Monro. That means that both the King’s and Queen’s Champion are part of our household, the Tadcaster Militia. Way to go us!
I’m sure others will astound you with tales of our travels and other events and fighting throughout the day. Instead, I’m going to write about a personal decision I made, how it affected my fencing career and why I made it. Saturday, after going 10-1, and having an opportunity to fight in the finals, I withdrew from the tournament.
When I started getting really serious about SCA fencing in college, I added K&Q fencing champions to my list of ‘must attend events’. I don’t have very many of those, because you have to be fluid with your SCA event scheduling and conflicts. The fencing championship, however, was set apart as something I always wanted to attend. It was a culmination of the previous years’ hard work. It was a way to test my skills and training against others from around the kingdom. It was the premiere fencing event of the kingdom, and if you were serious about progressing as a fencer, it is the kind of event that you shouldn’t miss.
Even if I had no hope of actually winning, I continued to enter. My first years I didn’t even make it out of my early elimination rounds. As I got better, my records started shifting into the positive win percentages and I started advancing further and further. Then I started making the top 16 fairly consistently, and a few times even further than that. As I became a teacher and an OGR, I always encouraged all the fencers in my area to attend K&Q if at all possible. I felt that they experience they gained was very important to them.
Consequently, I don’t remember the last time I missed a K&Q fencing championship. When the event is announced each year, there isn’t a question of “am I going to go”, but “what plans do we need to make to get there”. Sometimes its local and easy, sometimes its far away (a la Canada) and harder to deal with. But come hell or high water, it’s very important to me to enter.
I had the single best day of fencing so far in 18 years on Saturday. I was spot on, going 6-1 in my round robin and then winning my next four bouts in the single elimination portion of the day. I entered the tournament for the same reason I had entered every year in the past. There was always the desire to see yourself go as far as possible, and however small the hope, the desire to actually win the tournament. Yet, as every K&Q tournament in the past had proven, I hadn’t actually been able to win. The competition was always better than me. They always capitalized on my mistakes or I didn’t do enough to take advantage of theirs.
I certainly didn’t expect to win, yet I entered and gave it the same 110% I always gave it. Things fell in line for me, and next thing I knew I had made it into the top three. The tournament was designed as a single elimination until the finals, but because of the distribution of bouts, we ended up with an odd number at the end, and were going to have to fight in a round robin style.
Reality was staring me in the face. Here I was, within arms reach of obtaining a goal I had set for myself years and years ago. It was what I wanted.
Or was it?
It’s 2008. Alot has changed in the years since I first set that goal. Most important to me is that I am now a father and I have 2.5 year old twins. I’ve made a commitment to my family that I want to be there for them and to help raise them. My wife has also taken on the responsibility of being the Kingdom Exchequer. This is a huge responsibility and directs impacts the ability of others to enjoy and play this game. It always requires alot of time and huge commitment from her. So much so, that when she first took the position, we had a long discussion about how it would impact our lives. We talked it over Baron Larry and Baroness Katherine. Having both been in the position of being a kingdom officer and parent, they had insight into the possibility of conflicts. Ultimately, we decided that we could make things work if we agreed to adjust our schedules accordingly.
Over the last two years, I’ve made many sacrifices to my fencing/sca career because of being a father and husband to a kingdom officer. I’ve skipped events I might normally have attended, I’ve not entered tournaments I may normally have entered, I’ve left events early. Yet, I made those choices willingly and I do not regret them. We’ve done our best to try and juggle everything. Would I have liked to enter more tournaments at Pennsic? Absolutely! Am I happy that I was only able to enter the more important war points? Yes. The flipside would have been not to be able to play at all. I’m happy taking ‘some’ rather than ‘none’. This won’t always be the case. My children won’t always need as much attention. My wife won’t always be a Kingdom Officer (or so help me…). Time will pass.
Now, here I was, with the chance to actually become a King’s Champion, and took a look at the commitments I had already made in my life. Did I really need to add another one? How would the new commitments being a King’s Champion impact those already made? I would want to be the best Champion possible and I didn’t feel that I could be.
So, I decided that I would withdraw from the tournament, rather than risk the chance that I might succeed at my goal. This had the side benefit of allowing the other two combatants to fight in the format originally intended. I let a few people know that I had made that decision, and then went ahead with it. They each knew how tough it was for me, yet they each knew why I was making the choice. Once again, Baroness Katherine was one of those who knew of my decision and supported it, as she had done with Molly and I over a year ago when Molly started his new office.
What’s funny is that while the decision to follow through had to be made in a moment, it was one that I had actually made several weeks before. Remember that I said there was always the “small hope that I might actually win” each time I entered? Well, even with a small hope, you should prepare for the “what if”. I knew that if I actually got into this position, that I wouldn’t be able to complete it — I just never thought I would actually get there. It mulled around in my subconscious. I even dreamed about it (funny thing, that..). I told Collin about the dream on the way up to the event. Though in the dream it was me and Don Caine in the finals, and I bowed out because he had beaten in my our pre-Iron Teapot challenge this past year. Collin told me I’d be crazy to give up like that when I was so close – especially against Caine. It really didn’t matter.. I wouldn’t actually *get* to that position to have to worry about it.
I went before Queen, pledging my sword in service to the Crown, while explaining that prior commitments would prevent me from being the Champion that I wanted to be. She accepted my pledge and my resignation, and (as a parent) said that she understood.
Don Alexandre, who was making all the tournament announcements, asked if he should say why I withdrew. I had no problem with that. It wasn’t something I was ashamed of, and others had a right to know. So, he let the crowd know that we would be proceeding with only two fighters and that I had withdrawn for “familial commitments”.
I was content. I had no stress. All the adrenaline was gone and I relaxed. I took off my armor and watched the rest of the finals. Several people came up and asked me what happened and I explained. Each of them seemed to understand why I made the choice that I did.
Then, a bit later. Something strange happened. It was brought to my attention that what I did could be considered tacky. Why would I even enter the tournament in the first place, if I didn’t want to win it. How about the possibility that I offended the crown with my actions. This wasn’t a single sentiment, but one shared by several people. What about all the people who didn’t have the chance to advance because of the impact I had on the tournament?
My world turned upside down. I started questioning the choices that I had made and got very upset that I had, in fact, offended people. I stood firm on the reasons why I did what I did, but inside… down deep… for the first time… I began to feel that I was wrong.
I ran the scenarios through my head and tracked down others that were in the semi and quarter finals with me to discuss my decisions. I went to talk to the Queen, to get confirmation that I didn’t offend her, and that it was never my intent. She’s a strong woman, and very confidently told me that if I offended her, she would let me know.
It’s not easy meeting your friends in competition. One of the best fights I had all day was with one of my best friends Steve. We’ve trained together, laughed together, cried together. He was the best man at my wedding. Yet, because of my actions, when we met in the semi finals, I won and eliminated him. Later, in the quarterfinals, I eliminated another friend, fierce competitor, and former King’s Champion JP. We’ve always had great bouts over the years and regularly take turns killing each other.
As I fought them, though, it never bothered me that they were eliminated. We shook hands before the fight. We shook hands after the fight. I had set the same goals that they had. I had the same obstacles set before me. Yet, for this day, I had overcome those obstacles while they had not. That’s the nature of competition.
Now, though, I needed to go to each of them and discuss my withdraw and how it affected them. I had never thought I would have needed to. But, if I offended some people, then I could certainly have offended them and it needed to be reconciled.
For the rest of the day, I found my justifying my choices to those around me. I sought out those I needed to have discussions with. I reached out for support and understanding among those who I knew I would find it in. I talked at the event, in the car, at dinner, the next day. It continued to haunt me.
Here’s what I came up with as a result of those discussions:
I did the right thing.
Don Ian was instrumental in helping me express in words some of the feelings I was having. He’s been there. He knows what it was like. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, but he entered several K&Q tournaments knowing his own commitments would keep him from winning. He had “the speech” prepared, but never had the need to actually say it. Once, he was one fight away from being in that position, and then lost. He told me that he didn’t know how he would done it, but knew that he needed to — and that he knew how hard it was for me.
I didn’t enter the tournament for the purpose of eliminating others. While that has certainly been a practice in such big heavy weapons tournaments such as Crown. That wasn’t my intent. I entered for my own goals, not to stop the goals of others.
He also let me know that my presence in the tournament made it a better one. I agree. Being the King’s Champion means that you beat the best. Sure, people can play the “what if” game all day long. What if I wasn’t there? What if so-n-so beat so-n-so? What if someone got hurt, or showed up and entered when they weren’t expected? What if that person didn’t have the face the destructive bye, or if the tree of pairings aligned differently?
I may not have been there in the end, but at each point in the journey, I was there. I was an obstacle to overcome. If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. Would you have won? Maybe. Would you have lost? Maybe. You can’t predict the possible future, though it’s often easier to play the what if game after you see the outcome.
Jean later quoted our guilty pleasure movie Bring it On to me and said that “If you want to be the best you have to have the best”. The cheerleaders had the opportunity to win the National championships, but they knew that their best competition couldn’t be there and that they wouldn’t have to face them. Does that really make them the best? Did they really rise to the occasion and prove it? They went so far as to try and get the other team there just so that they would have to face them. Ultimately they did. And they lost. But they were all the better for it.
Baroness Katherine told me, “It doesn’t have be all or none”. I don’t have to give up everything in order to be a family man with SCA commitments. I can take what I get, and portions there of. I shouldn’t prevent myself from enjoying what’s made available to me. I should enter a tournament if I can, rather than avoiding it altogether because of a small chance of a conflict.
Will I have the opportunity to fight in K&Q again? Absolutely. Will all my stars be in alignment and give me the opportunity to reach my goal sometime in the future? Who knows. I certainly want to believe that while I get older I can still compete competitively. Even if it never does. Even if I get injured. Even if I just happened to be at the pinnacle of my skills this year.
It doesn’t matter. You need to live for the here and now. You have to live with the choices you make. You need to be happy with those choices and stop second guessing yourself or you’re going to be be very unhappy. Doubts are ok, but ultimately you need to support your own decision and stand firm with it.
I had my doubts, but I’ve also reached my decision and I stand by it.
I’m glad I entered.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to test my skills against others, including close friends.
I’m glad I got as far as I did.
I’m glad I’m a father.
I’m glad I’m a husband.
I’m glad I withdrew.
I’m glad I’m going to enter again next year.