I told this story during the last game night, and it received enough laughs that I thought it would be worth sharing to a wider audience.
I have some experience wielding polearms, both as a hobbyist and professionally. I learned to fight with medieval weaponry as a kid growing up, and I had a chance to use my skills one day during Basic Training after I joined the US Army Reserves. This is the story of how that all played out.
While growing up in the 80’s, my friends and I discovered D&D, the Renaissance Festival, and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) at about the same time. This triumvirate of awesome led us to spend a summer building weapons out of dowel rods, foam pipe insulation and duct tape. We primarily built swords with increasingly complicated hilts, but we experimented in other weaponry as well, including various pole arms built using long curtain rods with paper towel rolls duct taped to the end, and other embellishments.
For one full summer we battled it out in the yards of our neighborhood, suffering minor scrapes and cuts. No bones were broken but there were a few concussions, and once my friend Billy got knocked out by a savage blow to the temple. These were serious fights that took place at full strength. We had rules about fair fighting, which saved us from the worst injuries, but we were a tough group of kids not afraid to hit hard enough to make the other cry.
The amazing thing about this summer of melee is that we actually began to develop fighting skills. There were times when a bout would last for more than a few seconds, as we learned to position, feint, deflect, and wait for openings. I enjoyed dueling with long and short sword, but my specialty was the pole arm.
Life went on, and we grew up and out of our combat phase. A decade later, at 26 years old, I found myself newly married, about to be father, and I joined the Army Reserves. (The exact reasons for this are still obscure.) One fall day I set out for Basic Training, and spent eight weeks training with a great group of young men and women, most of them straight out of high school. One of these fine folks was a fellow named Richard Faith. He came from central Kansas, and he had to get a special waiver to join the army. His only available career path was as a boiler-operator. He was also my battle buddy, meaning we did everything together, and had to look out for one another. This big old corn-fed galoot was as big hearted as he was big boned, but he struggled mightily to pass all the requirements of Basic Training that would allow him to serve in the Army.
Faith had to stay after every night at the shooting range to try and get the required “Sharpshooter” badge. He had to run two miles every single day until he could get his time below the maximum. Both of these things he only passed on the day of graduation by the narrowest of margins. While we were getting our dress uniforms on, Faith was out shooting and running his two miles through the snow. When a drill sergeant entered our dressing room to tell us Faith finally earned his badges, a cheer went up. His graduation was truly an achievement, and though I never saw him again afterwards, I am sure he went on to become a success. I have rarely met another with as much grit as he had.
Faith had problems. He was slow, both physically and mentally, and had a hard time in stressful conditions. When it was our day to throw live hand grenades, he had to go around with a big white ‘X’ chalked on his helmet to let everyone know he was NOT ALLOWED to touch a grenade, god save us all.
One day during Basic Training, the drill sergeants led us out onto a playing field, and we all gathered around in a ring. The boxes we brought along were opened to reveal protective equipment as well as big double-ended padded pole-arm like training weapons. Here we go! I thought this would be a chance to really show off some of my skills. The fights were fun, with people cheering and calling out, and finally it was my turn to go.
I stepped out into the circle carrying my pole arm easily, doing a few tricks, spinning it, and moving in different attack and defense poses to the delight of the recruits. Faith eventually got his helmet secured and grabbed his pole arm. I was smiling, having a good time, and I moved into a position with the pole arm held out and up with both hands, ready to deflect and defend against whatever Faith could throw at me.
Little was I prepared for the mad attack Richard Faith unleashed. He held his pole arm like a giant club above his head and charged straight toward me at top speed with a guttural howl. I was surprised but moved into a position to easily deflect his crude blow, only I did not account for the superhuman strength of an enraged Faith who battered my weapon aside with a mighty sweep and them began to beat me into the earth. It was all over in a matter of seconds.
I stood up shaky, and as the sergeant held up Faith’s arm in victory, I shambled back to my place in the circle, bruised in more ways than one. Everyone around me clapped me on the back and said how great it was that I let Faith win. I just nodded, still stunned, and still trying to make sense of what happened. I still think about the episode from time to time, and there are many lessons I have taken from it. One lesson I learned is that getting cocky and underestimating your foe is a huge mistake. Another thing I learned is that victory will go to the person who wants it more, and Richard Faith, though he may have been lacking in skill and ability, made up for all his short-comings with a surplus of drive.