Is Armored Combat Dying Out?

25 Mar 2015 by gebhard, 6 Comments »

dead1There is a question that seems to come up fairly frequently. Are we dying out? Are the number of Armored combatants decreasing? Is there anything we can do about it?

These are all very good questions to ask. This is complicated chain of questions so we must clear up a few things before I can get into answering them.

I must assume that when asking “Is armored fighting dying?” that we are talking about “veteran” fighters no longer participating. Membership is part recruitment and part retention; I’ll leave the recruitment for later.

What is a veteran fighter? This is someone who has acquired a suit of armor, has gone through the authorization process, who has been active for about a year and has likely attended their first war. This is normally the point when we believe a fighter has become engaged enough that he or she will be around for awhile.

How long is awhile? According the SCA census, the majority of people who play have been active participants between 3 and 10 years. The SCA is a hobby. It’s normal for people to find new hobbies. It seems that about 10 years is all most of us participate in the SCA. We are going to lose people over time; there is no avoiding it.

Does that mean our overall numbers are decreasing? It’s hard to tell, our personal viewpoint may get in the way. For example, the people I can remember from when I started are slowly ceasing to participate. When I started in 2006, four other local guys started within a month or so of me: Luca, Patrick, Dema and Kyle. All five of us fit my veteran definition by Pennsic of that Year (XXXV)


Out of the five of us, only myself and Luca are still active. Does this mean we are losing 60% of our new fighters? Maybe. Life changes, sometimes the SCA can no longer fit in. Dema got married and had children, so did Patrick, and Kyle moved out of the city.

I still see all of them from time to time. They left a pretty big gap in my mind of people I no longer see and wish I could. This makes the problem seem like an epidemic, even though we have more new fighters now, than the year I started fighting.

According to the SCA 2010 Census. In terms of SCA participation, folks in 0-4 years are equal in size (4%). Participation decreases very slowly for folks 5-9 years (3.6% per year), 10-15 years (3.4% per year), and 15-19 years (3.2% per year). Given reasonable estimates of attrition, this suggests that we’ve recruited far fewer recently compared to 10-19 years ago. On the other hand, the fact that the numbers from 0-4 years are very similar suggests that either attrition is lower than one might expect or that recruitment continues to steadily decline.

Are the number of armored fighters dropping? It’s been surprisingly challenging to find hard numbers to present on this topic. All indications point to yes, there is a decline: not a “Why am I the only fighter at this event?” type of decline, but a small one.

What can we do about it? That answer much like the problem isn’t simple. The solution is broken up into many facets: How to get long time inactive members back?, How to keeping people coming back? and, How to get people in the door for the first time?

How do get people long gone to come back? When asked what would get you to return the SCA, most cited an invitation from their local group. Maybe we only need to ask?

How do we get new people in the door? Sir Kyppyn has a very good video series on the topic. Companies pay a lot of money to get the same advice he gives for free. I highly recommend everyone listen/watch these short videos.

If new fighters are needed to keep things going, how do we get them to keep coming back?

Sir Boris, (at the time Captain Boris) of Flaming Gryphon put together a great presentation:

The super short version: get them fighting on day one. Name them “no cup” for the day. This allows them to be in armor and learn basic shots.  “I got to put on armor and learn to swing a sword” is a awesome next day conversation.

Have regular armor workshops… so new fighters can make plastic armor. Cheap, quick to make, effective and gets them on the field.

It’s important for them to have some skin in the game. My first suit of armor was ugly, but I have never been prouder of anything I’ve made in my life. Fight practice is an excuse to use what I had made.

Vito has created an interesting program to get people involved. He permakes the armor, assigns them a number. When a new fighter shows up, they get a numbered kit, until they make their own and become minion until such time as they make way out into the SCA world. Linkage

The Brotherhood is another example of an outreach to get new members engaged.

You don’t need anything fancy to get people involved. What keeps people coming, or forces them away, is the interactions they have with others they come across. Each of has some control over making the SCA a good experience for all that participate.

The friendships that are forged are a critical part of the longevity of the SCA. We are a mechanism for creating shared experiences to build friendships, and an avenue for self improvement. However, that isn’t nearly as marketable as “Swords are awesome!”

Each one of us can do something to help. Share what you enjoy. Be positive, laugh and smile. At the end of the day, you and all those around you will have had a good time. Isn’t the core of what it is we do? Why focus on what we can not change (like overall fighter attendance) when we can focus on area’s we can effect. Such as getting the most out of each day in armor and striving to become the best teacher of our art. What we have is preserved when share it with someone new.

My Sources:

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  1. Yahia Hegazy says:

    Correction – Vito’s Minions is very much part of the SCA world. We have fighters who are in the business of making armor for Minions and some who made armor for themselves. However, they are all still considered as a Minion until they freely wish to leave the group ( To become a Minion, Vito has to name you (and he thinks that you are useful to him).

  2. George Lancaster says:

    I’ve been in since 87, and the numbers are way down in the So Cal area for both war and tourney. Among the various reasons for our lower population, I thing market share is the biggest culprit.

    Live steel, video games and fandom has thinned the new and old crowd.

  3. Justin Ross says:

    I am wondering how many other groups will do the “no cup” for the day? Is there rules on allowing this for an offical practice?

  4. Glen Lewis (Galen the Mad) says:

    The biggest problem I see is the economy. Many more people lack the disposable income to support a high-end hobby like the SCA.

    Armor, road trips, site fees, membership, etc. all adds up. Ideally, we recruit young people. Unfortunately, young people are even more unlikely to have disposable cash than we were thirty or more years ago.

    I’ve been hearing this lament from other groups than the SCA – many LARP groups are dying out, here in Michigan, for instance.

  5. Aaron Miedema says:

    If you are looking for hard numbers of participation of the larger sweep of time, the numbers might be drawn from the Ministers of the Lists. It would give a fairly accurate census year by year. If it has names attached it would give you a good sense of retention of combatants.

    Now, I don’t get out of Ealdormere all that much. But, in the 25 years I’ve been in, I have seen a considerable cultural change with in the SCA. Back when I started there were weekly armouring practices, dance practices, A and S nights, etc… This has for the most part collapsed across the board. Primarily I think it is because of the increasing costs of space. Before 9/11 most SCA cantons were typically associated with a university campuses which provided the spaces for these things. It also provided a big influx of new blood. After 9/11 the fairly radical university security policies broke most of these associations.

    Economics may have something to do with a decline. But, it also may be changing cultural tastes. In spite of the economic downturn, the practice of Historical European Martial Arts (which is not insignificant monetary over head and pay to play (up to $1000 a year is not unusual)) is expanding fairly steadily.

    Its a complex issue, if it is an issue, the gathering of hard data would help get a better sense of the demographics of the Armoured list. The numbers might also drive home the point that as we get older we have a nostalgia, and how it is human nature to think the past was golden. =)

  6. Marsha (Madinia) says:

    I’ve been in since ’86, playing in 4 groups in 2 kingdoms. Looking at my first group, the core members when I joined are still active. I fought back then, but no longer do. Several factors: my initial fighting experiences were back in the day when women weren’t really welcome on the field and had to go above and beyond to just get authorized. My second group pretty much wouldn’t train anyone who wasn’t a squire. By the third group I was just tired of the hassle, and then becoming a parent changed everything.
    We need to be more visible. Back in the day we held fight practice in parks and public places. I first discovered the SCA at a demo at a Science Fiction Convention. How many con demos do we do today? How many demos at all? Demos aren’t just done as favors to someone’s third grade class, they’re a key method of recruiting. How many older members were hooked when Sir Auld Pharte popped a helmet on their heads and bopped them gently? Then took the helm back and allowed Eager Newby to bop them?

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