Periodically, we will profile a fighter whom we feel exemplifies the best of the multi-dimensional SCA tournament fighter. This individual possesses skill at arms to be sure, but is also interested in further study, development, creativity and growth, enriching the tournament experience for themselves and for those around them.
Our featured person will come from all ranks, all skill levels, and all kingdoms across the known world. Even still, they will have characteristics that bind them together. To quote Jarl Sir Ulfred Draumfjeld, the man behind the vision that became Sport of Kings, “I would see our warriors as heroes. Not heroes on local terms, but heroes on any terms. Dress well, speak well, serve well, lead well, fight well and in victory or defeat, whatever the challenge, be noble and gracious.”
Recently, SOK caught up with the honorable Justin de Leon, a squire from Stromgard, put on vigil a few days before this interview.
SOK: Justin, tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been in the SCA?
J: Thirty years, my first event was Grand Outlandish in 1983, in the then Principality of the Outlands, Kingdom of Atenveldt. I did have a nearly ten year hiatus, however, following brain surgery in 2000.
SOK: What “hooked” you and what keeps you coming back?
J: So many things “hooked” me when I first encountered the SCA. I recall very clearly watching the demo fighting and seeing the man who I would later learn was the Baron of Caerthe (Denver), Sir Theodric ap Breken Beaken, a Lord Simon, the rest of whose name I can no longer remember. Theodric delivered a blow to Simon’s leg and then he too went to his knees. I asked one of the people around the list field why he had done that, and the answer was simple, “A point of chivalry.” That moment right there probably started it all, the simple act of surrendering an advantage in a fight, provided me with an example of another, better way to live and to play. I continue to participate in the SCA because of the opportunity to continue to live that chivalrous life, with good people and I’ve also developed a deep appreciation for the social historical learning opportunities the SCA provides. Also, if I’m being honest with myself, I enjoy the camaraderie, competition and even the brutality of SCA combat.
SOK: What kingdoms have you lived and fought in?
J: In chronological order, I have lived and fought in the Kingdom of the Outlands, the Kingdom of Meridies, a very brief time in the Kingdom of Caid and the Kingdom of An Tir.
SOK: You are squired to Sir Einar, how did that come about?
J: It was amazing luck on my part. I was at a fight practice in the Barony of Stromgard (Vancouver, WA) visiting a friend, when I met Einar for the first time. His intensity, aggression and assertiveness on the field were palpable. I was impressed by it, especially as I felt those were traits that I lacked. We continued to interact at events and eventually he asked me to be his man-at-arms for a year to see how we got along, it was a shorter period than a year when he took me as his squire. It’s been a good relationship, we are very different, but I’ve gained a great deal from those differences.
SOK: You were just put on vigil at May Crown, what does that make you reflect on?
J: It’s difficult to express what has been going through my mind.
The very first thing that I thought of walking off the field, following King Ulfr’s offer of knighthood was my first event, the people I went with and how they really started me on the path. They took the time to teach a thirteen year old boy they had only known for a couple of weeks the basics of SCA courtesy, they helped me to understand what chivalry and the SCA meant to them, and what they taught me over that Memorial Day weekend in 1983 has continued to resonate with me and effect me daily.
I’ve reflected on all of the friends, mentors and teachers I’ve had over the years, who have taught me more of chivalry and the arts of SCA combat helping me to grow and prosper. I’ve reflected on the individuals that have given to me their time and resources, their wisdom and moral support, especially my beloved, Marian, who so inflames my heart, making all things possible and also my knight, Einar Knuteson, who has spent so much time with me in recent years and assisted me in every way I have asked.
I’ve considered all of the people that have effected me along the way by taking me into their service and inspired me, and of these there are simply too many to name from multiple kingdoms.
I’ve been compelled to reflect on painful times when I’ve stumbled or fallen from the path completely. Occasions when the vicissitudes of fate or simply my own flaws pulled me away from the SCA or off the path of a chivalric and good life. I’ve thought of how I came back, sometimes through simple determination and other times with the help of others who helped to pull me back onto the path.
Only a few days later now have I even begun to consider what being a knight of the SCA means for my present and future. How can I continue to live the path of the knight and a chivalric life? It’s something I’ll continue to contemplate for the rest of my life — this path of chivalry, what it is composed of, how I can walk more perfectly on it. How can I help others to want to join me on this path?
I’ve reflected on how I want to be an even better fighter, a more chivalrous fighter, do more for An Tir ad the Society. I want to grow more and become more than I have been before, to prove myself worthy of the men and women who I join as a member of the Order of the Chivalry, a peer of An Tir and the SCA. I am beginning to have some idea of what is meant when knights that I respect have said that knighthood is just another step on the path.
SOK: What is your fighting kit persona and how did you choose it?
J: Justin de Leon is my second SCA persona, my first was a Rennaissance Spaniard, but I’ve been Justin for nearly twenty years now. My persona is late 12th, early 13th century, Anglo-Norman. I chose it for several reasons, the primary reason is that I’ve always liked that period of English history, the twilight of the Angevin dynasty, the time of William Marshal, the reign of Richard Lionheart, the Third Crusade, the chaos of the reign of John I. It’s an intriguing period of history. This period in history is also the basis for some very entertaining modern stories, many of which are foundational to the SCA’s versions of chivalry such as Ivanhoe and the innumerable versions of Robin Hood. The most trivial reason was that I felt that the Normans (Anglo-Normans) were underrepresented in the area I lived in. There were Saxons, Norse, Celts and even a few Saracens but no Normans or Anglo-Normans that I recall.
SOK: Describe your primary kit?
J: My helm is styled after a stone facade carving on the basilica of Saint Justina of Padua, dating to the first decades of the 13th century. It’s a “transitional” style helmet, which is to say it is from the period between the use of the great helm and the older “cap” style helmets that lacked face, cheek, back of the head and neck protection. Basically, armorers during this period attached a face plate or other forms of face protection to a cap style helmet. On my body, I wear steel lamellar, but that is currently in transition and I hope to seen be in more traditionally Western European maille, in coming seasons.
SOK: How important is period presentation to you? What resources do you use in your to make your presentation more period?
J: I think it’s very important to at least maintain the illusion of period presentation, if not a completely period kit. I think it’s also important that fighters should be able to point out what isn’t period about their kits, and explain what it would have been during their period. When I want to find out how things looked or were made, I spend the time in research. Readily available resources that are invaluable for at least getting the appearance of a kit right are illuminated manuscripts and other forms of art, such as mosaics or frescoes.
SOK: What advice do you have to a fighter that might like to have a persona/kit of the same time and place?
J: Build your persona and kit a piece at a time, don’t switch or adopt something new all at once. Experiment with how you feel in maille, how you like the limited vision of a more close faced helm. Consider how important historical accuracy is to you versus sport considerations.
SOK: How long have you been fighting?
J: I fenced for several years, but first put on heavy armor and fought 23 years ago. That said, a number of issues over time prevented me from actively pursuing fighting, so I suppose I should say that I’ve dedicated myself wholly to fighting for about a total of nine to ten years.
SOK: What is your weapon combination of choice?
J: Sword and shield.
SOK: Why SCA fighting as opposed to any other martial sport?
J: The importance that honor has in our art. Our rules are for safety, not to control the actions of the participants and determine methods of “scoring,” each individual fighter is responsible for acknowledging the blows they receive and delivering blows in a manner consistent with our rules. This creates a special dynamic of trust and respect between combatants that I have never found in other sports, martial or otherwise.
SOK: Who are your greatest fighting training influences?
J: I rebuilt much of my fighting when I came to the Stromgard – Three Mountains area several years ago, so I would have to say my knight Sir Einar Knuteson, Sir Olin Ulfredsson, Viscount Sir Mattheus Bain, Sir Octamasades and the patriarch of a great family of knights Jarl Sir Ulfred Draumfjallr, also Sir Arnsbjorn Tiernanson.
SOK: Do you consider yourself primarily a tourney or war fighter? Do you differentiate?
J: I am definitely a tourney fighter, but I enjoy wars a great deal. Wars and tournaments are materially and emotionally very different experiences, and have different skill sets.
SOK: What do you think about SCA tournaments as a whole? What do you think are the most important or most enjoyable aspects?
J: I have participated in very few tournaments that I didn’t derive some enjoyment from, and the only reason my joy was diminished was usually a technical issue with delays in the fighting or the smooth operation of the lists. I’m a sucker for pageantry, so when the display that the fighters in a tournament put on is heightened, I enjoy that. I really do enjoy almost all tournaments and formats though, there is a beauty in a good fight that can bring tears to my eyes.
SOK: In what ways do you promote the art of SCA fighting?
J: I speak about it often to people that haven’t encountered it, I encourage interested individuals to attend practices and give it a try.
SOK: What advice do you have for new fighters?
J: Don’t give up, keep pushing, keep learning, keep doing.
SOK: Describe your training regimen:
J: I attend fight practices in my area at least twice a week.I do aerobic conditioning (biking or running) three days a week and I also do pilates and some yoga.I work almost daily on the pell throwing single shots, combinations and working on footwork while throwing. I had a vestibular neurectomy in 2000 (I only have one functioning vestibular nerve) and a technique that my knight encouraged me to do that benefitted me immensely was practicing on the pell standing on one foot and maintaining my balance while throwing shots with good form. Last, I do some “shadow boxing” slow work, sword in hand, moving and visualizing a fight – the positioning of my sword and my shield, my openings and where my opponent is likely to strike.
SOK: Can you talk a little bit about your non-fighting related activities in the SCA? What motivates you?
J: Well, for the past several years I have been very focused on the martial aspects of the Society. However, I have a great appreciation for the Bardic Arts and was the regional Bardic Champion in what is now the Principality of Tir Righ. Lately, I have developed an interest in medieval cooking and medicine and I want to further my knowledge in those areas.
SOK: What are you most proud of in an SCA or historical recreation context?
J: Aside from various bardic prizes over the years, I made a woolen tunic by hand this year, using period rectangular construction. I finished all of the seams by hand and with some modest help from my lady embroidered and appliqued the tunic in a period fashion.
SOK: Have you ever been to Sport of Kings?
J: I have attended Sport of Kings twice before and I have enjoyed the classes more than I thought I would. The lessons learned have really stuck with me and provided me with very useful tools that have helped me become a better fighter. I’m looking forward to more classes, both new and old (it never hurts to revisit information once learned). Also, the tournaments are special.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Squire Justin for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing him at this summer’s Sport of Kings event.
Staff Writer & Editor, Sport of Kings