The Unbelt’s Battle

14 Jul 2015 by gebhard, 2 Comments »

1085037_10100683013362924_571700300_oBeing part of the Unbelted Champions team has been meant many things to me: from being the worst I ever felt in armor, to the point that I even considered giving up the SCA altogether and also the most proud moments of my SCA career. It’s something that has shaped me and the way I look at fighting.

Each year a small number of the fighters who try out for the team are selected to fight a single small melee battle at Pennsic where our opponents (typically the East) have selected their best unbelts to meet us.

It’s a competitive fight and the hardest I’ve been in to date.

Several years ago I made the team for the first time. I tried for five-ish years before, never making the team. (Recall I lack all forms of natural talent.)  When my name was called in Court at Simple Day, my heart swelled with pride. Since the previous year, I had gotten tired of being overlooked. I decided to change that, so I went back to the gym, and started doing something I hated…running. All of the training and practice had finally paid off. I was a Unbelted Champion.

A few short weeks later, I was standing on the field at Pennsic with all the other champions preparing for the battle.  We drank from the cup, we sang our songs, we gave praise, advice, and prayed.

After what seemed like an eternity, we moved out together to meet our opponents. We broke into our units. A last minute change to the units, moved me to fighting with South Oaken. Roland and Bran where my triad. They being shieldman and myself polearm. Our unit’s assignment was to break their line.

Lay “On!”

We charged in, and lines broke like flying glass on the impact of a test car into a brick wall. We hit another triad head on.  The opposing polearmsman swung for me. I blocked the shot, but the expression on his face and the force of the shot was like something I had never experienced before. Was really trying to hurt me? Fight or flight kicked in; I swelled with adrenaline. Time seemed to stand still, the sound deafening, colors blurred around me. A polearmsman ran up on me.  Out of instinct to get him off me, I pivoted to the side and pushed him as hard as I could, knocking him back several feet. Then, in a 180 degree arc and force enough to split the sky, I threw a shot over Roland’s head to hit the shieldman he was engaged with, and without time to see if the shot connected, I knew the polearmsman would be returning for me.

I flipped around in time to block another driving shot. I was pushed backward from the force of the blow. Once again he drove into me.

I don’t know where Bran had been. He came out of nowhere and blasted the guy. From my perspective, it looked like a high speed freight train hitting a watermelon. I turned around to find Roland and saw that our area of the list was more less empty.  We called out and regrouped, but the battle was over before we found any more action.

We won, after high fives, hugs and the shaking of hands, I carried my stuff to the side lines and off to the Midrealm’s pavilion in what was the worst I had ever felt in armor. I didn’t like the feeling of what I’d gone through. I’m not doing this to hurt people nor to be hurt. If that is the mindset that this games takes, then I need not be part of it. I don’t really need to do any of this. I think I’ve made a mistake.


As sat on the ground in the Midrealm’s pavilion on the side of the list lost in thought. I looked up and saw Baron Ulfr was sitting next to me.  He was talking to others about his feelings and the battle. He was saying the same things I was feeling. This made me feel a little better. At least I wasn’t broken or alone. I was still very shaken up. I listened for awhile, and I saw some people doing pickups.

Pickups are my favorite parts of events. I thought that before giving up on SCA combat altogether, I should at least do some pickups. I had a great time, some of the most fun with pickups I ever had. Maybe giving up all this was a bit of an overreaction. I didn’t know until the Historic Champions was called, and the pick up list became a list of me, that I had been fighting all the Dukes who were warming up. At the highest level of the society the fighters where fun, happy and can still rejoice in a blow well thrown. They reminded me of what fighting should be about.

After a few months, I decided to do Unbelts again. Now that I knew what the fight was like, I needed to fight it again. Only this time in my head space. I need to prove I could meet high levels of aggression cool and collected.

Being a thug is an inward choice based how you respond to a situation.  I needed to prove to myself, I could stand against overwhelming force, cool, collected and with a smile. That I could stand against the tide by being me.

In the years since, I’ve had very good battles with the East (and/or allies). I have left the list proud of my team and proud to be part of it. The baggage that comes off the field is often the same baggage that went on to it. When I went into the battle, calm and collected, I could see the fight very differently, and my opponents were like us, good fighters looking for a good fight.

We need situations like this that will show us our innerworkings and allow us to overcome them.  Fighting is the forge that reveals to us our failings, and allows us reshape ourselves into something greater.

The Unbelted Champions Battle is the hardest battle I’ve been in, and it’s one I think every unbelt should strive to part of.


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  1. Ray Strobel says:

    Great article! As squire to Sir Aengus MacBain in AEthelmearc, I can identify with your experience, though I’ve not yet earned a champion spot. Thank you for sharing this, it inspires me as I continue my journey.

    Kieran MacRae

  2. I was blessed to also fight in the Unbelts and win. I agree there is no better feeling than enjoying months and months of hard work. It is this passion that brings me back to the Frey!

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