Chivalry, knighthood aren’t dead
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — At the end of a long week teaching at Zama American High School, Cindy Peterson throws on armor, assumes the persona Fiona Wiggins, and knocks around some stick-wielding knights.
Peterson is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of 30,000 medieval-history buffs worldwide who re-create the Middle Ages to extol the virtues of chivalry and knighthood.
The society invites members to step back in history, learn about the era and participate in the adrenaline rush of medieval battle.
Peterson was drawn to the group for its refined elements — studying the arts and sciences of the Middle Ages. But the battles were a quick attraction.
“It’s very fun to just get out and slug away,” she said. “Especially being a teacher. It’s very therapeutic.”
The society spawned from a medieval-themed party held in Berkeley, Calif., in 1966 and has since exploded in popularity. Members say it’s appealing to Americans stationed abroad for the instant camaraderie it offers and the underlying principals of honor and virtue.
Members gather weekly to practice fighting or work on projects such as embroidery or leatherwork. They make all their own armor from scraps of metal and convene with other groups for competitions that can last one day to two weeks.
It’s part game, part hobby and part history lesson.
“It’s like being a non-professional anthropologist,” said member Kathryn Iacampo. “It’s a way to put together the pieces to see how things were.”
As historians learn about the customs and technology of the times, society members put them into practice, she said.
“We all share a love of history,” said her husband, Mark Iacampo. “In Europe it’s not considered weird to be interested in history.”
Mark, a knight, goes by the name Sir Codogan Map Cado. He met Kathryn, known as Maestra Eufemia Serafina da Bergamo, through the group in Arizona. Both are civilians at Camp Zama.
Members use medieval names and often concentrate on a special period in history, such as the War of the Roses in England. The group’s official era stretches from the end of the Roman Empire until the 1600s and the dawn of the Renaissance.
The society has two thrusts — learning the arts and sciences of the period, and perfecting the dress, technique and prowess of fighters and knights.
Fights involve large sticks and use the honor system — individuals decide their own injuries based on blows. Most go home with real bruises.
But groups also do embroidery, calligraphy, dancing, poetry and costuming. Each member brings different abilities to share.
Peterson helps others with costumes and embroidery. Her interest in costumes drew Peterson to the group seven years ago while working for DODDS in Europe.
“I was talking to a friend and she said ‘have I got a group for you,’ ” Peterson recalled. “The first time I went I was actually in a medieval castle. I was in a fairy tale. I thought this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
When a male friend in the group asked for guinea pigs to try out female armor he was making, she began her fighting career. She now fences and fights in heavy armor.
Fighting especially attracts military personnel, members say. There are active or dormant groups near most military bases in the Pacific.
The group is broken into a hierarchy much like the military. People start off at the bottom with no title. As they advance, by winning fights or arts and science competitions, they become lords and ladies, knights and masters and finally, royalty. In Japan, rulers are barons and baronesses, who hold their title for six months, until the next competition.
Peterson was a recent baroness, after winning a competition for her handmade period dresses.
Everyone is welcome in the group. Zama American High School senior Suzanne Beach, who goes by Rhiannon Cuillrheainn, said being a member helped her with school. “It’s so easy to get an A in European history because of this.”
Members in the Kanto Plain also join a Japanese sister group in Tokyo for battles and events.
“I get to experience the world of movies,” said Yoshimitsu Gotoh, called Vail in the group. “To fight with shield and sword is a style that does not exist in Japan.”
Members admit theirs may be a more romantic view of the Middle Ages, when in real life plagues were rampant. But there was more enlightenment to the period than some might realize, Mark Iacampo said, and that is what attracts members.
“It allows a wide range of options for people to do the things that interest them,” he said.
“Just about anything you’re interested in from the medieval ages is OK.”
— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.
Society for Creative Anachronism groups exist near military bases around the world. In Asia, groups are found in the Kanto Plain, Guam, Okinawa and South Korea.
Two dormant groups, in Misawa and Iwakuni, are looking for members to restart the group.
Information about the locations can be found at the following Web sites:
• The Palatine Barony of the Far West(Pacific Rim)www.geocities.com/baronyofarwest
• The Stronghold of Vale De Draco(Tokyo and the Kanto Plain, Japan)E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org/dragon2/vale_de_draco/index.html
• Avalon (Vale De Draco’s sister organization in Tokyo): http://avalonjp.org
• The Stronghold of Warriors Gate(South Korea)email@example.com/warriorsgate
• The Canton of Battle Rock(Okinawa, Japan)E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org://battlerock.homestead.com/index.html
• The Stronghold of the World’s Edge(Guam)For information, contact: email@example.com
• To revive either The Stronghold of Eternal Winds (Misawa, Japan) or The Incipient Stronghold of the Argent Serpent (Iwakuni, Japan), contact:firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
— Juliana Gittler