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Please note: These essays and editorials are firmly based in my own opinions. You may very well be offended by some of my views, or you may nod profusely in agreement and hurt your neck. Either way, read at your own risk. :)

These views are my opinions, and mine alone. You are free to agree or disagree. You have the right to be offended, however you do not have a protected right not to be offended. It's a subtle but important distinction that many people in our society tend to forget. In this day of eroded personal responsibility, we must not forget that the freedom of speech is one of our most vital and precious rights, especially when you disagree with what is being said.

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The Knight
A Knight in Slightly Rusty Armor

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(Last revised: February 20, 2008)

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My CoA
Per bend sinister argent and azure, a dragon couchant to sinister azure, a crux ansata argent, on a bend sinister sable a sword argent.
 
KNIGHTS

Sadly, knights no longer exist, at least in the mythical sense that most of us know from movies and stories. I'm not sure if they ever truly existed in that fashion, but even back in the middle ages, the rules of chivalry, and some of the heroic deeds performed by knights, were inspired by the popular stories of their day, which included the Arthurian legends.

Today, knighthood is an honor that continues to be bestowed. However, many of the more well-known cases can be nothing more than an honorous title given by vestigial royalty (though there are certainly other systems of knighthood still in existence today). It's not meaningless, but it doesn't necessarily speak to the constitution of those who receive it. They may simply be famous or well accomplished people. Success does not equal virtue. Renown does not imply character, spirit, and heart. There are far more unsung heroes than decorated ones, and it's not the official accolade that makes the man.

Having said that, I certainly wouldn't turn down such an honor. :)


MYSELF, BACKGROUND

I've come to think of myself as a modern-day self-proclaimed knight of sorts. I don't think this is a conceit. Actually, at one time any able-bodied young male of noble or gentile heritage was expected to train in arms, and would be called a "knight" (in fact, the word origin simply means "boy", by at least one account I read). During much of the history within which we most fondly remember the knights, one of the most distinguishing traits that separated them from other warriors was simply the wealth to afford a horse, most importantly, but also armor, weapons, and training.

Over the centuries the meaning of the term and the means of conferring the title evolved, as well as the meaning and application of the principles of chivalry. Chivalrous virtues were interpreted differently in various centuries, and were adhered to with varying success. Our modern interpretation of it is largely romanticized and idealistic, but I think that in no way degrades the value of one's desire to seek to uphold such high ideals.

The meaning and interpretation of the word "chivalry" has also undergone an evolution over the centuries. It started out as a warrior ethos, a code of conduct for the elite fighting class that knights were, centered around prowess and honor. As knighthood became more of a noble title and less of a military position, the upper (and middle) classes started to blend it with general nobility and courtliness. This was particularly true during the nineteenth century (Victorian era) interest in all things medieval, during which time many misconceptions and innaccurate interpretations were made. Chivalry began to be seen as general courtesy and politeness. As you'll see below, my personal path takes elements from each.

HOW IT BEGAN

   
My plate armor, 2002,
roughly 50 lbs of steel
 
Many years ago (back in the 80's), I decided to make a promise to myself. A promise to lead a good and virtuous life; to uphold a set of virtues of my own choosing. I even chose to symbolize this choice by wearing an ankh pendant, which has been on me every day since, with very few exceptions, even replacing it within a day on the occasion that it had been lost (a yard-work mishap in the 90's being the most recent case).

I've been asked before whether the ankh was inspired by the movie Logan's Run, or perhaps the Ultima computer games. Truthfully, I hadn't been exposed to either until long after I had started using it. However I did immediately resonate with the Ultima games, simply because of the portrayal of the ankh as symbolizing a system of philosophical virtues in its fictional universe.

The choice came from other exposures in my childhood. I found ancient Egyptian mythology to be interesting. A symbol that simply means "life" is a positive one that I could easily extend. And from what I understand, the ankh predates the use of the modern cross within Christianity itself (crux ansata, or 'cross with a handle', borrowed by early Christians from the Egyptians). They're also cheap and abundant in the form of pendants (though my first one was a piece of plastic from a cheap board game; it wasn't long before I replaced it).

My personal ideals were never laid out in clear writing, like the system in the Ultima franchise. It was more a general philosophy that I chose to follow. However, clearly included at various stages of its evolution were these concepts:

  • honesty (and understanding how truths can also mislead)

  • balance (including fairness, equity, justice, but also finding balance in all things)

  • humility (tempered with balanced self respect and confidence)

  • compassion (including kindness)

  • courage (defined as an ability to face one's fears and demons, not being fearless, as the latter is destructive)

  • respect (including courtesy)

  • loyalty

  • honor (including helpfulness, defense of the weak, facing defeat/failure with grace and dignity)

  • generosity (whether by words, deeds, or material gifts)

The list has evolved over time, and a more current list probably looks more like this: honesty, balance, humility, compassion, courage, respect, loyalty, honor, generosity, unity, wisdom, awareness, nobility, and franchise.

I've also always felt that it's important to develop an understanding for when the greater good is served by breaking or bending these virtues. One must be careful when the "greater good" is also a personal good. Selfless acts are much easier to gauge objectively.

You may also notice that missing from the list are largesse (a form of generosity, not directly a form of charity, particularly since it applies mostly to helping those in a higher station than yourself) and sacrifice. This is intentional. While I consider these to be high and noble virtues, I've also known people who have taken selflessness to such an extreme that it was destructive to not only themselves, but also those around them. I see no harm in focusing on keeping yourself strong and healthy, and giving of yourself in other ways. I think that finding the right balance is a personal and individual task. And while these are ideals that I still hold, I also think that rigid adherence can also lead to being taken advantage of. Much of these concepts fall under general generosity anyway.

   
knights as teachers, VARF 1999
 
How one applies such ideals in his or her daily life is largely an individual choice, and individual challenge. It's interesting to note that the sphere of lifestyles that promoted chivalry "back in the day" were primarily military or combat in nature. Clearly, I have not gone in such a direction in my modern life. I play at being a knight in a renfaire and reenactment setting. I collect and learn to use swords. But what is the modern equivalent of a knight?

It depends a great deal on how you look at it. Knights were elite warriors, but not necessarily military leaders, or even soldiers. They were highly skilled and well equipped (because they could afford training and gear), very important on the battlefield, and yet fairly autonomous. What equates in today's society? Police officers? Special forces? They were also cavalry... Tank drivers? Helicopter pilots? 'Knight' was also a title, a societal rank... Politicians? Chivalry also demanded a certain amount of altruism... Paramedics? Fire Fighters? They were also sometimes landlords, administrators, bankers, monks, and any number of other things. I don't think it can be neatly compared to any modern-day line of work or military position.

Frequently it was the ability to afford horses, equipment, and traning that allowed one to become a knight. Perhaps anyone who owns a car (the modern equivalent?), and is willing to equip and train themselves, can call themselves a knight.

In terms of my own path, being a computer systems engineer and not any sort of officer, soldier, or noble, I look more to the philosophical side of knighthood, and less to the military aspects, despite my interest in weapons. Even though I have never served in the armed forces, I have a renewed respect for those who do. And I consider it a duty and an honor to have at least adequate facility with arms, both modern and historical, should an emergency befall me, my family, or my neighbors.

And at the end of 2007, I finally made a push to get my "coat of arms" decided and settled. I had made some attempts over the years, but nothing ever grabbed me. I finally have one that is tastefully simple and yet has everything I want.

In January of 2008, I also started ModernChivalry.org as a forum and resource for knights of all types. It even has an area called Knight Pages which allows forum members to post information and photos about themselves as sort of an online registry of modern knights. My page is here.


   
WV 1999,
I'm on the left
 
ORDER OF KNIGHTS

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to create my own Order of Knights for a small reenactment group. I stepped up to the plate to fill a void, though I would have ultimately preferred to be one of the members rather than the leader. Less responsibility. I should have done more with it, but none of it matters now, for the reenactment society no longer exists.

However, I did have the opportunity to draw up our charter based on my own philosophy, and here is some of what I came up with. It has a slant towards a code of behavior on the combat field, since we were a combat oriented group in our organization.

Traits that exemplify a knight of the order:

  • Forethought - Action without direction can be dangerous and wasteful, if not misplaced.

  • Restraint - Knowing when not to attack is as important as knowing when to move forward.

  • Awareness - A warrior who cannot maintain awareness of himself, his foe, and his surroundings can find himself easily lost.

  • Respect - A Knight who does not respect himself and those around him, including his enemy, will make grave mistakes and does not embody chivalry.

  • Balance - A strong offense without defense, or vice-versa, can be far weaker than a balanced combination of both, and an understanding of where that balance lies under different circumstances is an important skill.

  • Unity - Unity of body, mind, and weapon is necessary for them all to act as one. A person who is divided will fall.

  • Safety - Personal safety, safety of innocent bystanders, and even the safety of your opponent must be considered at all times.

Duties of a knight of the order:

  • To uphold chivalry

  • To provide a rational and thoughtful presence on the field

  • To serve the kingdom

  • To share knowledge and teach others when able

Our time was so brief that we never got to develop the knighthood into what it could have been. Though to some of us, the act of "being knighted" was meaningful. Confirming in our hearts what we already knew to be true.

However, we did sometimes lose limbs or exhibit gnarly powers. Just kidding.


   
Receiving the Accolade.
 
TODAY AND BEYOND

Before and during my brief involvement with our old reenactment societies, I had obtained armor, and developed a healthy collection of swords and other medieval weapons. I've always been fascinated by knights, weapons, and armor. The sword in particular carries a certain mystique with it, one that has been felt since the eras in which they were used. I've even gained some experience handling modern weapons (firearms), and hope to get back into archery one of these days. I also have experience in riding horses, though I've never attempted any form of jousting. I've even made some of my own armor and accessories.

As of this writing, I'm involved in a medieval swordsmanship class. I'm learning a historical german technique (Liechtenauer), as close to the original as is currently possible with the materials and texts that have survived (Classes at VAF, and one of my classmates has an excellent website of information about it). I continue to attend Renaissance Faires, and hope to get involved in reenactment again one day. As I originally wrote this, I was preparing for my first trip to Pennsic [photos]. I may not be recognized as a knight "formally" in any of these organizations again, but that's OK.

Recently, I've attempted to track down "modern chivalrous orders" or other re-creation groups focused on recreation of knights and chivalry. Besides the obvious organizations such as the SCA, which primarily use knighthood as an elite segment of their combat systems, I've found precious little out there, except for Christian Tobler's Order of Selohaar, and The Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux. My hope was to find an independant knighthood or chivalric recreation society with a slant towards WMA (Western Martial Arts), but there appear to be few like-minded individuals and groups out there. Most are drawn to the SCA or learn in private, it would seem. And most of the Living History groups tend to be too specific or restrictive for my tastes.

(I am however a member of The RenMercs, which exist to demonstrate that responsible armed enthusiasts are beneficial to the renaissance faire atmosphere, promoting safe and responsible use of steel)

In any case, the ankh remains with me, as do my ideals. I believe the constant reminder has helped make me into a better person. And though this may all sound silly and idealistic to those who are reading it, I know there are others out there who will understand and appreciate it. We all draw inspiration from different sources. I wish more people would hold themselves to higher ideals.

-Ed..


P.S. -- If you see me at the RenFest, it's NOT OK to unexpectedly punch my helmet.


Associated Links:

  • Who is a Knight, On Knighthood (from here) - I found these to be interesting reads, though I disagree with a few points, particularly making "renown" a core criterion for knighthood. I feel that the path, the ideals, the struggle for virtue... these things are key. There are serpents who come out looking like angels everyday. Reputation, as good as it can be, isn't always completely reliable. While renown may get you into a position to be knighted, it doesn't, by itself, make you knightly. In fact, he also raises the point of saying that you can't just wake up one morning and decide to be a knight. I only partially agree, in the same sense as above. While you can't decide to be knighted officially, you can wake up one day and decide to be knightly, chivalrous, and virtuous.

    However it should be noted that this is written from the standpoint of defining knights through the eyes of an SCA member, and therefore is naturally influenced by a reenactment and recreation standpoint, where "knight" is a title and standing with meaning within such societies. I don't require a pat on the back and permission to wear a white belt to know in my heart the ideals I strive to achieve every day. (please note, while I'm being curt here, I have an enormous respect for many of the SCA knights and their endeavors).

  • Maryland Renaissance Festival (my "home" faire)

  • Virginia Renaissance Faire (my other "home" faire)

  • The Free Lancers (MDRF's Jousters)

  • Modern Chivalry (My online chivalry resource)

  • Chivalry-Now (Chivalry for the modern man)

  • Chivalry-Now Forum (A great group of people!)


The image that haunts my dreams happened once by accident in Mount & Blade. Standing in my armor, upon a hill in the rain, overlooking victory below.

Real-me and Game-me.



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