Why I Fight; My Advice to Female Fighters
Written by Alysha Metcalf for The View from Valehaven
My Realms career began at UConn fight practice in fall 2006. I arrived at college already having located the Society for the Medieval Arts and Combat on the University of Connecticut Student Activities website. It was the "medieval" part of that club name that grabbed my attention, but it was the combat that kept me coming back every week. The idea that I could hit people with a big stick and not get in trouble was immensely appealing.
When I learned more about the Realms, I faced the same decision we have all made at one point: fighter or caster? For me, the choice was easy. I liked the idea that I could use any weapon I wanted, and that I could have two points of armor. To be honest, I was also intimidated by the idea of learning spells. I didn't believe (and still don't believe to this day) that I could remember how many Raises I had left, or what spells I had in which slot.
Ever since I first made that decision, I have remained a fighter. I love fighting, but I'll admit that I wasn't very serious about it in the beginning. I fought at practices and the sporadic events that I attended. I only signed up for single short and hand and a half tournaments. I had no idea how to call my armor.
Then something changed. I started practicing more, and harder, with the goal of improving and learning new styles. I became more competitive at events and tournaments. At first I just wanted to win, but this feeling evolved into the desire to promote not only myself, but women in general, in the realm of combat. Female fighters seemed to be a minority, and I wanted to change that.
The struggle of female fighters is two-fold; like any fighter, you need to work hard to be good at what you do, but you also need to work hard to be taken seriously as a fighter. A man who chooses to be a fighter is more readily accepted into the fighter culture than a woman is. I think the fact that women are not expected to be fighters has been a big part of what has motivated me to keep fighting.
I have attempted to compile some advice for any woman who is, or is thinking of, following the female fighter path. What I have encountered may not hold true for everyone, but I have applied my experiences to a few points that I hope will resonate with the other women out there. I'm not perfect; I'll be the first to admit it. There is a lot of advice here that I myself need to follow more diligently. But I will be happy if at least one woman can take something away from what I've written here.
The only way to get better at fighting is to practice. Improving your combat skills requires time and effort. You will not magically become an expert fighter over night. The top tier fighters you see at events and practices became that good because they have spent countless hours honing their crafts. There are several practices around New England: WPI on Monday nights, Nottingham on Tuesday nights, UConn on Wednesday nights. These are all excellent opportunities to work on a variety of drills and work with a diverse group of fighters. If you can't make it to any of the major practices, grab a friend and spar in your yard or driveway. Seek out chances to practice at events, whether it's sparring off to the side at a tournament event, or lining up against an NPC on a quest. NPCing also provides a great opportunity to practice.
Being a good fighter means being a well-rounded fighter. The key is to be open to learning new styles (even if you think there's no way you can overcome the awkwardness of fighting florentine). I spent almost three years fighting with a hand and a half. I became comfortable, and was afraid to try something new and potentially fail at it. I finally forced myself to put the effort into learning to fight sword and marne. Fighting with a combination taught me a host of new skills, encouraged me to be a more offensive fighter, and even helped improve my hand and a half style. Being competent with multiple styles can only benefit you. A situation might arise on a line, or in a castle, where the team needs another fighter to pick up a pike, or join the shield wall. That ability to adapt successfully to changing combat scenarios and switch weapon styles to suit the situation gives you a huge advantage and makes you an asset to any team.
Even the best fighters have aspects of their craft they need to improve. You should never feel bad or embarrassed if you lack skills in a certain area. Be aware of what you need to improve, and work on it. When it comes to fighting, there is always something new you can learn.
Think of tournaments as just another opportunity to practice. Sign up for every tournament you are eligible for. Not confident in your sword and shield fighting? Me neither. Sign up anyway and use the opportunity to learn something new. I also understand how difficult it can be to overcome that fear of fighting in front of a crowd of people. Do your best to forget the spectators. The only people who matter are yourself and your opponent. Everything else is just a distraction.
There is also a lack of female participation in many combat tournaments. An important step toward being taken more seriously is to increase the female presence on the tourney field. This goes along with stepping outside of your comfort zone. Even if you don't advance through the first round of a tournament, just the fact that you put yourself out there should boost your confidence. Other women will see you and feel encouraged to sign up for more tournaments as well.
While this may not be a universal truth, it is something that you will face in one form or another during the course of your fighting career. Men will use their brute force to try and overpower you. Learn to adapt your fighting style to your strengths. You may not have the same arm strength as a male fighter or be able to fight the same way, but you can learn to work with your own body to create a fighting style that works with your natural strengths.
If you step into the tourney ring against a male competitor, he might be thinking to himself that he has an easy win. Let that motivate you. Defeating an opponent who underestimated you is deeply satisfying. Even if you lose the fight, you can show that you aren't afraid to compete. If you're at practice, make it a point to line up against that guy who seems to keep beating you. Learn his style, and learn what you can do to beat him.
Easier said than done, right? We've all been in that situation. You get called for a tournament. So does Rohde, or Jaha, or Shandar, or any one of those people that causes that gut-dropping feeling of dread. You feel like the pressure is on; everyone is watching and you know you're going to lose. Never go into a fight with that defeated mindset. Even if you are facing a more skilled opponent, that negative attitude will defeat you before you even take a swing.
In general, female fighters are not as naturally aggressive as male fighters. Forcing yourself to be aggressive is possibly one of the most difficult aspects of fighting you will have to learn. Aggression is certainly one of my main obstacles. It takes a lot of practice and pushing yourself to move your feet, to commit to closing on your opponent, to learn to double-tap. If you are woman who is naturally aggressive, learn to focus that energy into controlled and effective combat.
If you see someone at a fight practice or at an event and think to yourself "you know, I would really love to learn a few tips from that person," don't be afraid to approach them and ask if they could take some time to practice with you. Most fighters in the game would be happy to help you. Female fighters especially will open to sharing their knowledge with you. Although approaching someone can be scary, I promise you won't regret the decision. Working with different people is extremely valuable. You will gain different perspectives and learn a variety of techniques that you can take and apply to your own fighting style. You will also find that you have an easier time training with some people rather than others, whether it's their teaching style that works for you, or your styles mesh in an effective way. Even just discussing combat with other fighters can open you up to new ideas or ways of approaching fighting that you may not have thought of.
There will be times where you will get discouraged. Every fighter has moments of self-doubt, and questions if all the hard work is really worth it. Understand that becoming a good fighter is an arduous process that requires time, dedication, and a genuine will to learn. If you truly want to improve and want to compete at the level with the best fighters in the game, then you need to put a lot of energy into the process. In those moments where you feel ready to give up, remember that every amazing fighter had to start from scratch. If you are struggling to decide if you really want to continue down the fighter path, think that your hard work and presence on the battlefield could be an inspiration to another woman out there.
Being a good female fighter is only half the battle. If you only compete against other women, you can't truly integrate yourself into the Realms fighter culture. There is no doubt that I have experienced fierce competition within the One-Woman Tournament, and I am proud to compete against my fellow female fighters. But I know that if I want to be one of the best, I need to compete against the best, and that includes men. Putting yourself up against male competitors can be intimidating, certainly, but the more you do it, and the more you practice, the more confident you will become that you can compete against anyone.