GC graduate student Ryan Brantley has always been a fighter. Now, he has combined his interests in history and the Middle Ages with his love for wielding a sword.
“I’ve been doing things like this my whole life,” Brantley said.
When Brantley was in middle school, he and his friend Marcus Roland would duel with bamboo sticks in the backyard.
Little did the boys know that they would join the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) years later and become squire brothers within the Raefen household of the Meridies kingdom.
The SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe, according to their official website. Their “Known World” consists of 20 kingdoms, with over 30,000 members from countries around the world.
Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which feature tournaments, royal courts, feasts, dancing, various classes, workshops and more.
Brantley has been a part of the SCA for seven years now. He is a squire to knight Ingolf of Clontarf.
“Your knight chooses you, but it is not unheard of for a young fighter to walk up and say ‘I want to be your squire’,” Brantley said. “But it is ultimately the knight’s decision.”
A squire is not an official position within the SCA, but rather a relationship between a knight and a fighter who the knight believes is capable of rising to the peerage of knighthood.
“Your knight is your teacher,” Brantley said. “My knight [Ingolf] is absolutely my role model. He is an incredibly strong human being, intelligent and very polite. He, for me, embodies what a knight should be, and that is chivalry.”
Anyone can form a household within a kingdom, but SCA kingdoms are regional and have very different cultures.
Brantley belongs to Meridies, a regional kingdom which consists of Georgia, Alabama and northeast Florida.
Meridies kingdom squires wear silver chains and red belts, and knights are recognized by gold chains and white belts.
“In my household, we fight as a unit,” Brantley said. “When we fight, we fight as Knights Templar, which is a crusading order of knights founded after the first crusade.”
Brantley fights with rattan weapons because they don’t splinter. Rattan frays, so no serious injuries occur even when it breaks.
“Ryan is a good peer of mine,” said Royce Struble, Brantley’s squire brother. “I feel like we are pretty equal in a lot of ways, iron sharpens iron. We fight with different shield types. He fights with a strap shield which is strapped to his arm, and I have a center grip shield, [so] I can actually use my shield to blind him and throw in his face.”
Royce’s strategy is quite different from Brantley’s style, however. Brantley gets in close, right up against his opponent.
Royce has to keep on his feet, move around more and put a lot of effort into getting away from Brantley’s shots.
“Brantley is a defensive fighter, so when I fight Brantley I usually go in first and try to disorient him by swinging several different shots,” said Roland, Brantley’s childhood friend, squire brother and rival.
To be a medieval fighter, one must pass an authorization test, which is a fight with a veteran fighter, most often a knight and an authorizing martial. The test’s purpose is not to gauge the fighter’s level of skill, but to ensure that they are safe and will not seriously hurt anyone on the battlefield.
Brantley will be going to the Gulf Wars next month in Lumberton, Mississippi, the second largest event Brantley has ever attended. About 1,000 people will fight there.
“Essentially, it’s a free-for-all,” Brantley said. “It can get pretty hectic, and because of that, you need to be safe.”
The Gulf Wars are composed of numerous types of battles that come with varying terrain and other parameters. For example, in a ravine battle, fighters compete over a gulley.
The big-picture competition takes place between kingdoms, however. The crowns meet before the wars and have the opportunity to form alliances with other kingdoms.
SCA fighters each portray a historical figure from any time period before 1599.
Brantley’s persona is an early 12th-century Norman named Lord Dikon De Stoke, who is interested in the Norman conquest of Ireland. The title of “lord” was bestowed upon Brantley by the king, and in the SCA, all titles are earned by merit.
Brantley is on the path to becoming a knight, with hopes of eventually becoming a king. To become king, an armored combat fighter must win the Crown Lyst, a tournament of one-on-one fights.
“Two fighters enter; one fighter leaves,” Brantley explained.
SCA fighters compete in head-to-toe period accurate gear.
“One of the coolest things for me is most of what I’m wearing has been made by friends of mine by hand,” Brantley said.
When in battle, Brantley wears a Norman-style tunic made of linen, leather shoes, winingas (Viking leg wraps), linen pants, an iron hauberk and a steel helmet for protection. He fights with a Norman kite shield and a longsword.
“Growing up, a shield seemed like a waste of time, and that is a hilarious thought to me now because in the SCA, I learned how to use a shield, and the shield changes the game in a lot of ways,” Brantley said.
Anyone can join the SCA. Its members participate in arts, crafts, research and classes in woodworking, calligraphy, brewing and equestrian activities. If any craft was practiced during the medieval period, SCA members will explore it at some point.
Although it is a worldwide organization, its members are most heavily concentrated in the U.S.
“It is a lot of fun,” Brantley said. “There are people in the SCA from all over, and it’s fun to meet new people, beat them to a pulp and have a beer with them later, or maybe I get beaten to a pulp, and they have a beer with me, and it’s cool.”