"The Passo Honroso De Calafia"
By Sir Guillaume de la Belgique

This was originally printed in the November 1996 (A.S. XXXI) issue of Calafia's newsletter, "The Serpent's Tongue"


Throughout the Middle Ages, tournaments were more then mere weekend entertainment. Many English kings hosted tournaments for profit, celebration and preparation for war. Most people know that Richard the Lionheart amassed a great fortune participating in tournaments throughout England and France. After the Black Prince captured the French king Louis V at the battle of Poitiers, Edward III held a great tournament in London to celebrate his delivery to England, then proceeded on a preogress across the land with a celebratory tournament in every town and city they visited. (Ironically, the two became great friends in spite of the fact that their countries were at war.) And, for a year prior to his departure to France in 1415, Henry V mandated that the chivalry of England participate in as many tournaments as possible to hone their combative skills.

One popular type of tournament was the pas d'armes, which was conducted on a small field with spectators all around the outside, much like our SCA tournaments. At the pas d'armes, knights would choose from a variety of styles of combat, such as tilting on horseback with blunt lances, combat over a barrier with pole axes, or an assault on a mock castle.

No matter what the style or objective of the combat, the pas d'armes would strive to display both their martial skill and their chivalric spirit. This meant, of course, that they would never strike an opponent unawares or from behind, they would never seek to gain an advantage by employing stealth or tactics, nor would they ever press an opponent who had become helpless or defenseless.

In fact, in the pas d'armes, it was a mark of chivalry to give your opponent a weapon which was identical to your own in order to eliminate any material advantage which might decide the outcome of the combat. This may sound strabge to anyone considering combat with a 20th century sense of strategy, but in fact medieval warfare was conducted in much the same spirit. Battlefeilds were often chosen to give neither army an advantage so the Will of God might decide the outcome. (You didn't think they actually chose to fight in open fields for some tactical reason, did you?)

The Passo Honroso

Calafia's pas d'armes, called a passo honroso, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 17 (1996) at El Monte Park and is sponsored by the Tournament Company of the Purple Shield on the second day of the Calafian XXVI Anniversary festival. This tournament will be conducted in much the same manner as the pas d'armes of the Middle Ages. Participants will choose between "tournaye-style" combat (standard SCA rules), and combat of counted blows. Counted blow battles may be either "blows received" or "blows thrown".

In a blows received battle, the marshals keep track of how many good blows land on each fighter, but the fighters don't act out the blows as in SCA combat. When the appointed number of blows have been received by one of the combatants, the combat is concluded.

In a battle of blows thrown, each fighter will be limited to an appointed number of blows, and the combat will be stopped when both fighters have used up their blows

Fighters may opt to conduct their combat over a barricade which will be available. In barricade combat, only blows to the body, head and arms are counted.

Fighters may also choose from "arms of courtesy" which are the mace, battleaxe and broadsword, or "arms of war", which are the greatword, polearm or spear. As in the medieval pas d'armes, we encourage fighters at the passo honroso to challenge their opponents with unusual weapons, and to offer combat with identical (or similar) weapons in order to best display skill at arms. (For instance, the Company of the Purple Shield will have a matched pair of 5' spears, and a pair of short maces on hand and we strongly encourage all fighters to bring their battle axes, polearms, greatswords and those other weapons which have been gathering dust in the corner of the garage.)

Another way of varying the combat at the passo honroso is to challenge your opponent to a combat with single sword, or, in a battle of counted blows, to offer a portion of the blows with one weapon, and the remainder with another. (For example, four blows with mace and shield followed by three blows with the single sword.)

In medieval pas d'armes, the winner of the day was chosen by the ladies of the gallery (audience) as the knight who has most pleased them with his chivalry and honor. At the passo honroso the members of the gallery are encouraged to voice their opinion of the combats by cheering for chivalrous acts or styles of fighting which they find entertaining, or by "booing" (in a good-natured way) for unscrupulous acts, such as stabbing with a thrusting sword or striking the barricade.

Fighters should remember that part of their job at the passo honroso is to please the gallery, and a prize will be given for "best presence/performance on the field".

Tabards, Pennants & Other Scary Heraldic Stuff

There seems to be some confusion amoungst the fighters of Calafia as to what is "required" for participation in the passo Honroso. In past issues we have stated that fighters must have a heraldic tabard or surcoat, a spear with a heraldic pennant, and a shield bearing their coat of arms. Before anyone begins to panic, here are the details on these issues:

A shield painted with your coat of arms -- No, this doesn't mean you have to fight with a shield in order to participate; polearms, spears, greatswords, etc. are most welcome. We would, however, like to see each fighter come to the field in a splendid manner, perhaps accompanied by his or her consort, retainers or squires who might carry a heraldic shield. A heraldic banner would work perfectly well for this too. (Of course, if you do fight with a shield and haven't painted your coat of arms on it, now's the time to do so...)

A spear with a pennant -- At the passo honroso, the spears will be displayed beside the field you will fight on, and when it's your turn to fight, your spear will be moved to a position of honor. If you don't have a spear, a staff will do nicely. If you don't have a pennant, some ribbons or a tassel in your colors will be fine as long as you can identify it from a distance.

A heraldic tabard -- The passo honroso will be a public demo for the County Parks Department, so we want everyone to look their best. If your armor is authentic without a tabard, there's no reason to cover it up. If, however, your armor is in need of a bit of maintanance, or does little to conceal the t-shirt beneath, or is constructed from blatantly modern materials (plastic, aluminum, etc.) we would encourage (make that strongly encourage) you to make a tabard (either plain or heraldically decorated) before the event to help us maintain the authentic flavor of the day.

Similarly, if your armor is rusty, dented, made up of old moto-cross pads and held together with duct-tape, perhaps you might consider working as a marshal at the passo honroso instead of fighting. Marshalling at such a tournament is almost as much fun as fighting in one, and in this way we can all do our part to make a great impression on the viewing public.



Return to the Calafia Homepage - Return to the Calafian Library


Last updated on 5/02/00 (P) ...webmaster@calafia.org