A Knight in Slightly Rusty Armor
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(Last revised: February 20, 2008)
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Per bend sinister argent and azure, a dragon couchant to sinister azure, a
crux ansata argent, on a bend sinister sable
a sword argent.
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
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. :)
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
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
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)
- 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.
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?
knights as teachers, VARF 1999
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.
ORDER OF KNIGHTS
I'm on the left
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
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.
TODAY AND BEYOND
Receiving the Accolade.
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
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.
P.S. -- If you see me at the RenFest, it's NOT OK to unexpectedly punch my helmet.
- Who is a Knight,
- 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,
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.