College. The greenhouse wherein young minds sprout in the light of knowledge and stretch toward new ideas. This was the environment in which the computer programming students in my class made their way every morning to the Electronics Building to further their mastery of technology by exchanging on-line pornography and discussing how to reach level 22 of "Star Empire Nemo-Galaxia," and where burly, tattooed men in faded blue jeans gathered at the Industrial Arts Quad to learn how to spit and charge me $97.35 per hour to inform me that the particular model of fan belt used in my car is no longer being manufactured and must be shipped in from an automotive parts "collector" in upstate New York...
Fortunately, as an English Literature major, I was spared the necessity of learning any skills which might be applied to a career in the real world. I did, however, spend a great deal of time learning about the Renaissance. During this portion of my education, I was introduced to the concept of the "Renaissance Man" - a person who is knowledgeable in the fields of science, philosophy, art and physical fitness. In one particular essay - written by da Vinci or Moliére or Clousseau or some other immortal writer of the time period whose name totally escapes me - we were given a list of the qualities of a Renaissance Man, one of which I remember very specifically: "He must play well at tennis and other games with the ladies." Since I wanted to be a well-rounded Renaissance man, I was excited when, at one of the first tournaments I ever attended - back when I thought fighting was a violent and brutal ritual I never wanted to participate in - the herald announced there would be games held on the lawn after the fighting was done. When the lists were finished, Master Tryggvi met with a group of young SCA members - most of whom, like me, were too young to fight - and explained the rules to a game he called Knattlikker (or some silly Scandinavian spelling like that). For those of you who are unfamiliar with this game, allow me to recount the history Master Tryggvi taught us that day.
To Play Or Knatt
To Play The Vikings, it seems, lacked the particular technology required to master the difficult construction of a "ball." One day, however, young Olav Kürtennrod and his father Svvennsi Smorgasboardson were walking through the woods when a sharp, heavy knot of wood broke loose from a tree branch high above. The knot plummeted toward earth where it struck Svvennsi in the head, killing him instantly. "Hey, that vas pretty kül," said Olav (in Norwegian, or course) as he picked up the burl of wood and wiped away the blood and brains. "Ve kould make a game out ov this!" So Olav set out to create a sport utilizing an irregularly shaped hunk of hardwood as a projectile. He quickly discovered that with his bare hand he was unable to throw this knot of wood hard enough to obtain lethal velocities, so Olav devised a stick (or, in Norse, "stickk") which he could use to fling the knot with enough force and accuracy to kill or maim his friends. Olav also designed a playing field covered with broken glass and razor blades, and two goal posts pierced with long, rusty spikes and surrounded by a 10-foot zone of slippery whale blubber, but these game features never really caught on. Instead, the Norwegians played Knattlikker on a rectangular field with a four-foot goal post at either end. Each team of 10 players would carry the knot with their sticks and attempt to strike the goal post with it. This could be accomplished either through a masterful strategy of moving players down the field utilizing a calculated balance of offensive and defensive tactics, or by using the knot to injure enough of the opponents that one man could walk to the other goal uncontested.
Knatt In My Back Yard
Master Tryggvi's re-creation of Knattlikker contained all the fun and excitement of the original Viking sport, with the added benefit of being only slightly less dangerous. Our SCA "knot" was an oblong hunk of duct-taped foam about the same weight, size and softness of an under-ripe cantaloupe. The sticks were racquetball racquets from which the original strings were removed and replaced with loosely woven heavy cord, creating more of a scoop than a paddle and increasing the chance of dislocating another player's finger should they have the poor judgment to place their hand too close to the stick. The rules were simple and similar to SCA combat: If the knot hit a player's arm or leg, they lost that limb. If the knot struck a player's head or torso, the player was dead until the next point was scored. This created a very interesting competition which was unlike anything in modern sports except maybe professional hockey - after only a few seconds one team had a wide numeric advantage due to casualties (one of the most successful strategies to take control of the game was to kill the "center" with the knot as soon as it was put into play), and many of the surviving players were hopping around the field on one foot. In order to prevent real injuries due to players' personal bodies colliding with sticks moving at high rates of speed, Tryggvi thoughtfully covered the edge of the racquets with garden hose. Unfortunately, this hose had all the protective resilience of reinforced concrete, as I learned in my first game of Knattlikker when, as I was diving for the knot, Lady Aurelia attempted to insert her stick into my nose in a successful attempt to keep me from scoring. Ouch! (Or, in Norse, "Öuch!") In those days nearly every Calafian event concluded with a game of Knattlikker. Our teams had names like "Odin's Raiders," and "Battle Trolls," and we had no hesitations about playing for several hours, running the equivalent of six or seven miles, only to be put out of the game permanently by a stick across the jaw. (Or worse - we weren't smart enough to wear our cups, you see.) For some reason - perhaps complaints by the local trauma unit - the game of Knattlikker faded away, but it has always been a fond memory of mine.
I am reminded of all this because, at the most recent Potrero War, Master Tryggvi resurrected Knattlikker following closing court on Sunday. As one of the few surviving members of the barony who had actually participated in a game of Knattlikker as a youth (or, in Norse, "Jute"), Master Tryggvi called me out to the field to be one of the line judges. I was amazed to see how young the players were. Most of them weren't even old enough to fight for cryin' out loud. They didn't quite get the overall perspective of the game at first - they seemed to be fixated on actually scoring points. Then one of the line judges called a player on a leg shot and little light bulbs flashed above their young heads all across the field. "Hey, we can use this thing offensively!" Before long they were out in the thick of the game, hobbling around with wounded limbs, littering the field with opponents' bodies, sacrificing themselves to defend their goal, and hurling the knot like the great Viking heroes of old. We finally put a halt to the game about an hour later when everyone (line judges included) was exhausted and one of the young men took a stick across the face in a furious rush for the goal. (Öuch!) Final score: Deathbringers 5, Bloodletters 2. There was something special about those games of Knattlikker in my early days in the Society. Maybe it was the camaraderie and competition of the game, maybe it was the excitement and physical exertion, or maybe it was just brain damage caused by repeated head blows, but Knattlikker kept bringing me back to the SCA, giving a clumsy, inartistic young man a chance to be a part of the Current Middle Ages.
Copyright Reserved to Scott Farrell
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