Air Force Master Sgt. Bryan Hailey, center, addresses members of the Society for Creative Anachronism during a heavy fighting tournament called the Coronet Tourney held in the Eagle River Campground, Eagle River, Alaska, July 21. Within the SCA, Hailey has the title of Prince, making him ruler of the Principality of Oertha, the society name for Alaska. The Tourney, conducted by the Society for Creative Anachronism, takes place every six months. The SCA, a non-profit educational group dedicated to exploring medieval and renaissance civilizations and culture. The SCA is based on the idea of the landed nobility of the Middle Ages, and includes period dressing, food, combat, arts and sciences. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
Sean Holland blocks an attack during a heavy fighting tournament called the Coronet Tourney held at the Eagle River Campground, Eagle River, Alaska, July 21. The Tourney, conducted by the Society for Creative Anachronism, takes place every six months. The SCA, a non-profit educational group dedicated to exploring medieval and renaissance civilizations and culture. The SCA is based on the idea of the landed nobility of the Middle Ages, and includes period dressing, food, combat, arts and sciences. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
Leon Ayers, left, and Tom Chivers, right, attack each other during heavy fighting practice at Centennial Park, Anchorage, Alaska, July 17. The practices, taking place on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., are held by the Society for Creative Anachronism, a non-profit educational group dedicated to exploring medieval and renaissance civilizations and culture. The SCA is based on the idea of the landed nobility of the Middle Ages, and includes period dressing, food, combat, arts and sciences. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
Commentary by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs
8/9/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- When I was invited to join the Society for Creative Anachronism, I'd heard that it might be nerdy.
A friend and I met with the SCA and with their gear, and guidance, began putting on the armor.
It had never occurred to me how many individual pieces there could be, or how heavy it would become. I was amazed at how easily I could move in all this armor. Later, bruises would tell me I need to get armor that fit me properly.
I struggled into a helmet, by far the heaviest thing there.
This was loaner gear, so not everything fit properly and I struggled to get the helmet past my nose, and then the strap inside it onto my chin.
The thing attracted mosquitoes to my face.
I was then handed a metal shield that was heavy by itself, but with all the other gear felt like it had gained a good 10 pounds.
Then I was handed a sword.
I love swords, though this was a bit different. It weighed less, and instead of a blade it was covered in layers of tape and had a rubber cap at the end.
I was told that this allowed full-force strikes and stabs to be legal.
Sparring has always been my favorite sport. Whether with a weapon or without, whether grappling or wrestling or simply hand- to-hand. It teaches discipline and develops confidence.
Medieval combat was a first for me. This felt real.
We began and I was struck hard in the helmet by a guy more than twice my size, forcing me to stumble sideways and making me wish I had ear plugs to muffle the loud echo within my helmet.
I hadn't even seen the blow coming.
This wasn't nerdy...under the wrong circumstances, this could easily be deadly.
Later, I would experience rapier fencing and take a sword stab to the face, stopped an inch short by the mask.
At the end of the match, sweaty and exhausted, I was invited to watch, or even participate in, a tournament. I asked how many other military members were involved in this, and I was introduced to the prince of Oertha, their pseudo-name for Alaska.
Outside the SCA, his name is Air Force Master Sergeant Brian Hailey, an active Alaska Air National Guard contracting officer representative for the 213th Space Warning Squadron.
"People in the military have gotten involved because it promotes many of the same concepts that are important to us," he explained. "Honor, courtesy, chivalry, martial prowess, competition and family activities; local groups can be found all over the world and the whole family can enjoy it."
The values the SCA strives for carry meaning similar to certain other core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.
"I got involved with the SCA when I arrived in Alaska," he said. "That was in February 1987. I was active-duty Army and met some people that were members. I was invited to an event and enjoyed it. This is home for me.
"I enjoy the feeling of family and fun most," he said. "I was also drawn to the focus of chivalry and honor that is a core part of the SCA. A strong interest in medieval history is part of it as well."
He has clearly come a long way. He had to build his SCA title through combat.
"I became prince by winning the heavy fighting tournament," he said. "The tournament was called the Coronet Tourney. Its goal and ultimate prize is to choose the next prince and princess. These are held every six months. There are numerous other tournaments and non-fighting activities in each local group throughout the year."
Being prince isn't just a title - it carries a lot of responsibility.
"As prince I am the ruler of the Principality of Oertha, or Alaska, within the Kingdom of the West."
What does that mean?
"In practical terms, the princess and I are the ceremonial focus of events and we can make or change local laws of our group. We are the arbiters of disputes, if necessary, and we report to the King and Queen of the West."
Hailey said he helps everyone dig into their historical interests.
"I also look on it as a responsibility to ensure that everyone has as much fun as possible and has the opportunity to live out their particular view of medieval life within the framework of our system," he said.
It's based on the feudal system in that the smaller groups answer to the larger and follow the rules set forth in them, he said.
"Each of the groups has a set of officers that help run the organization and provide continuity," he said. "The king, queen, prince and princess are always chosen by right of arms. The fighter that is victorious on the field steps up to replace the previous ruler every six months.
"You cannot succeed yourself on the thrones, but you can compete in every other tournament and be ruler more than once. Every position is voluntary and non-paid except for the Board of Directors that oversees the Society as a whole."
He also explained how ranks work within the fighters.
"In the fighting area there are really only two ranks: the regular fighters and the knights," he said.
"The knights are the elite fighters chosen for their fighting skill and other attributes like chivalry and honor. They wear a white belt, a chain of fealty and spurs to signify their status. Some fighters wear a red belt and that indicates that they are squires to a knight that is teaching them how to become a knight."
I've met a couple of knights. They are very nice people, extremely skilled and amazing to watch in action.
"We also have 'light' fighters that use minimal armor and use rapiers," Hailey said, describing the fencing I'd seen. "Besides the knights there are three other orders of peers in the SCA. Their focus is not fighting. The Pelicans are recognized for outstanding service, and the Laurels are recognized for excellence in the arts and sciences. Royal peers are previous rulers."
I was impressed at just how big and complex this society is.
"The SCA is a worldwide organization divided into 19 Kingdoms," he said. "These are further divided into Principalities, then Baronies or similar, smaller branches."
One-on-one combat isn't all fighters can participate in.
"Fighters can also become a part of a war unit and fight in full battles with hundreds of warriors over a week on various terrain and obstacles," Hailey said.
For the less combat-inclined, Hailey said the SCA offers more options.
"History lovers can research any number of topics and have access to resources and experts hard to find anywhere else," he said.
"Artisans can create wonderful works of arts and craftsmen produce an incredible variety of items.
"Most people are eager to share and teach what they know to anyone interested in learning," he said. "Everyone can find a great deal of fun, no matter what their interests."
Finally, Hailey extended his invitation to anyone interested in having fun and learning.
"It is a fun activity that you can spend as much or as little of your time doing as you like," he said. "Come out and have a fun weekend with friends or delve deep into historical research, create works of art, learn ancient dances, eat fabulous foods. It isn't expensive to be a part of the fun either."