The Hagakure is a book written by a Japanese samurai very late in Japan's feudal history. Hagakure means falling leaves, or it can mean that which fallen leaves hide. The author is pretty bitter and despairing about the young generation. They are not following the ways he was taught as a youth. Ah well, kids are always punks. The last chapter is a miscellany of thoughts called in Japanese (I am assured by a competent source) "late night loose talk." I am neither bitter nor despairing, but I am opinionated.

I have purposely not dealt at all in this slim volume with the bureaucratic mechanics of our combat. Nor have I talked about its culture and morals. Here I offer some ideas about the milieu of fighting and fighters.

My Lady's honor is my honor. My honor is my Lady's honor. My honor is more important than titles, degrees, or men's good regard. I fight to bring her glory by fighting as well as I can, by fighting as honorably as I can, and by behaving with grace, generosity, and charity on the field.

Knighthood is an honor; Kingship is a prize. A bad knight dishonors knighthood. A bad King cheapens himself and his reign.

Your death in a tourney lasts an instant; your honor's death in a tourney can last a lifetime.

No prize is worth the loss of honor.

Prize Tourneys, including Crown Tourney, are a necessary evil which must be carefully policed.

Bitterness, hatred, envy, and spite are very poor companions in the lists. I fought the final bouts of my first Crown Tourney against the noble Sir Aelfwine. Aelfwine and I were good friends who fought against each other every week at practice in the fair Barony of Carolingia. I have always thanked God for the finals of that Crown Tourney for I entered into those fights Aelfwine's friend and left them Aelfwine's friend.

Beware of the fighter with really, really fancy armor. He has an awful lot invested in his appearance and his self-image.

Awards are good things. Goals are good things. But neither awards nor goals are the substance. They proceed from the process; they do not generate it.

Squirehood is neither a title nor a rank. It's a dirty job with an admirable goal.

Never dissuade any squire from doing anything worthy, like washing dishes, working at events, etc. Do dissuade him from imitating those who believe titles exempt one from the unpleasant.

There are several kinds of squire-knight relationships. My squire theories are vastly influenced by the model of the noble House Haqqim. Duke Akbar's squires were never released. When I ask someone if they'd like to be my squire I tell them that I can release them, but they can never resign. The result is, since I've never annoyed a squire sufficiently for one of them to pack it in, I am surrounded by people who possess wide-ranging knowledge, astonishing talent, and a multitude of enviable skills which keep me and a couple score other people constantly engaged in the best parts version of the SCA.

What do I as a knight do for my squires? We're all in a dark cave. I have the only torch. I illuminate that which the squire should emulate and leave in darkness that which he should not. I personally have large areas where I know nothing and I try not to make believe that I do. I require nothing of my squires except the occasional audience. I present them with my opinions and ideas and they are free to accept them or not. By requiring nothing of them, I have gained more from my squires than I could possibly have ever imagined.

Sometimes a knight is alone in a large area and finds himself with twenty or thirty squires because he is the only available knight. These relationships tend to devolve to the point where the knight is more like the seneschal of a barony than a teacher.

Then there are knights who look upon squirehood as a form of indentured servitude. I'm not sure where this sort of hard knocks attitude comes from. Nor do I understand why anyone would wish to undergo it.

All peerages are equal. The sad de facto second class status of the Pelicans and the Laurels results from several causes. One is the panoply of knightings. Another is that no one ever grew up dreaming about Laurels in shining late Italian Renaissance garb or Pelicans in shining seneschal keys.

All knights are not created equal. There are a wide variety of skills, talents, and behaviors which the Chivalry desires in new candidates. I wish a knight-candidate to be skilled at arms, know about the SCA (Uh, what's a persona? does not make it.), know about the middle ages (particularly his own period), and have contributed substantially in some non-martial way to his Kingdom. A candidate can be really strong in some area and borderline in another and still have my support. He cannot fail any area, however. This is why I think establishing an objective measurement would be a mistake. People are hard to quantify. The peerages all make mistakes, both of omission and commission, but the present system works remarkably well for all our human imperfection.

A lot of tournaments give prizes to the most courteous fighter. Courtesy is a noble virtue which all knights should possess. But courtesy has little to do with chopping up people. This is like giving a prize to the best-armored lady-in-waiting. Courtesy is that behavior most appropriate to attendance at court. Chivalry is that behavior most appropriate to killing my noble chivalrous peers in tournaments.

If you take an opponent's leg or arm, in some places, it is applauded if you stop using one of your own limbs. Why? It seems to me there are only two reasons people ever do this. One reason is to show off, "I'm so good I can beat you with one shield tied behind my back." The other reason is to show off, "Aren't I a wonderful guy? Even though I've lopped off this schmoo's arm on purpose, I'll make a grandstand play of giving up an arm too." (It's usually not the same arm they've taken.)

I'm often asked about my "tricks." I have no tricks. I have no secret blow. Everything proceeds from fundamentals. Tricks are for circus animals, or kids.

If someone asks me anything about fighting, I give them the best answer I can.

Two-weapon fighters have to block with both hands, strike with both hands, move, and acknowledge blows. Far too often they cannot do all these things adequately at the same time.

It is the King's duty to make sure everyone else has a good time, not everyone's job to make sure the King has a good time.

Kingship (and Queendom, of course) is a crucible: what goes in cracked comes out broken and what goes in whole comes out strong. This includes everything, particularly personal relationships, reputations, and finances.

If you ever have the good fortune to be King or Queen, remember two things:

  1. At events you have to be at, be prepared to have a miserable time.
  2. At small, out-of-the-way events, you'll have a good time.
Great monarchs are rare. In my time I have known only one set of monarchs (and it certainly was not Melisande and me) who were without fault. I think that Kings and Queens have to master the following variety of skills to be reckoned great:
All blows can be divided in three parts. One third of blows are clearly good. One third are clearly not good. And one third fall in-between. And these categories can be best perceived by the fighter who was struck, then half as well by the fighter who struck the blow, then the marshalls who see half as well again, and then the spectators who see things that aren't there quite often.

I try not to concern myself with the other fellow's acknowledgement. If it seems to me particularly wretched, it is hard not to get upset. If annoyed, I try to discuss it with him. Also, if I have doubts in my own mind about my acknowledgement, I try to ask the other fighter what he thought. Some people have in their heads an absolute level of acknowledgement which they have defined for themselves consciously or unconsciously. This creates the problem. Acknowledgement is defined by others for us.

Acknowledgement is a product of the fighting community's attitude toward each fight, each fighter, and fighting itself. Acknowledgement is a form of communication. By our acknowledgement we tell ourselves and others a great deal about us. By and large, the only acknowledgement I have any control over is my own and I have always found acknowledgement to be an aspect of fighting which demands constant and conscious practice.

I dislike it when fighters do a running color commentary on their bouts. Also, blows are either light or low -- not short, or of insufficient torque, or tippish. They are only light, low, or both.

Continue to The Ten Commandments According to Gyrth