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About Re-enacting
Re-enacting with Knights In Battle
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About Re-enacting

Q: Why do you do it?

A: There are probably as many answers to that as there are re-enactors. But their answer always includes the social aspect. Re-enactors are a group of people who do something ‘odd’ together, and anyone can fit in. There is no particular social class involved: manual labourers perform alongside people in ‘professional’ occupations.

Any group usually includes quiet geeks who are fascinated by the technical aspects, and hearty warriors in it for the fighting and drinking. There are shy, supportive characters who like to feel they are part of a team, and outgoing poseurs who love to stand up and be the centre of attention. In a good society, the need for all these types is appreciated, and they all fit together and share the fun.

Q:Do you need to know the history?

A:Hardly anyone comes with a full-blown knowledge of the historical period before they start re-enacting. They decide that what they see looks like fun, and they come along to try fighting, or medieval cookery, or whatever sparks their interest. They stay at the back at first, listening as others talk to the public, learning as they go along. Most gradually become more interactive as they learn, at first just talking to one or two people about what they are doing, and then to small groups, sometimes progressing to full-fledged narrators at the centre of attention for some part of the display.

Q: How much does it cost to be a re-enactor?

A: The best armour costs about £7,500 a suit, and you could easily use another £2,500 worth of weapons, costumes, camping kit etc. But very few people spend that much. Most societies have some kit for beginners to borrow till they see if they enjoy the hobby. Once they decide to invest, people usually start small: basic costume (apart from boots) can be bought for around £100, or made for £25 by anyone competent at sewing. Boots are the most difficult part of costumes to borrow, but you can buy them for £75 or make your own with £15 worth of leather and some instruction from other members of your society. You’ll need £30 worth of dining equipment (bowl, knife, spoon & mug). Of course, you don’t need any of these until you start going to shows. This outlay is a one-off: your kit should last for several years if you take care of it.
Medieval or earlier combatants also need a helmet (£150), gauntlets (£50), gambeson (£100+) and weapons – KIB members can use the Society’s weapons. Higher-tech (Napoleonic, etc.) re-enactors don’t need the armour, but will need shotgun licences before they can buy their weapons or ammunition.
Your annual membership fee usually covers the use of practice facilities, and all instruction provided by the society, although some groups charge a fee for each practice you attend to keep their membership subs low. KIB membership fees are discounted for shows attended in the previous year. We even pay travel expenses to shows, and provide food to those taking part in most of our events. Not all groups do this, or even have regular practices.

Q: Is it dangerous?

A: No. Obviously, there are some dangers involved in any pastime, but any reputable society will train you to make sure that although the fighting looks dangerous, it is as safe as possible. Because most medieval groups are members of at least one ‘umbrella’ organisation (Knights In Battle are in the Early Medieval Alliance and the Wars of the Roses Federation), combat techniques are agreed so that fighters can meet other groups on the battlefield and fight to the same safety standards.
Combatants will take the occasional bruise or small cut, but the average combatant is damaged much less often than players of sports like football or hockey, and big injuries (like broken bones) are extremely rare.

Q: So it’s a sport, then?

A: We usually describe our combat as an English martial art. Think of it like judo or karate - except that it’s not a contact sport, so you’re less likely to be hurt. It’s good for upper-body strength and mobility, balance, and hand-eye coordination. Once you’ve developed enough technique and arm-strength to fight at full speed for a reasonable length of time, it becomes good for cardiovascular development too. It also develops both physical and mental self-confidence: standing up in character in front of a crowd helps you in the real world!

Q: Standing up in character? Do I have to learn lines and follow a script?

A: Most societies’ re-enactment shows don’t use set lines, except for narrators, who can read from a script. You play in character, to an outline script. We may tell you to argue with Master Black, but you only have to remember what you are supposed to be arguing about. What words you use are up to you.

Re-enacting with Knights In Battle

Q: What part will I play?

A: Whatever you want, as long as you can play it well, and it fits in with our insurance requirements (see the next two questions). Your character must be historically correct for the medieval era - no witches or gladiators. Some years ago, some of our members decided to bring their interest in medieval cookery to the fore, and now much of the show rotates around them. We are even building shows entirely on a medieval cookery basis.

The rule is that as long as you have suitable kit and can play the character convincingly, you can be whoever you like, as long as they would be found with a small group of household troops. Unlike some societies, there’s no requirement to serve a set amount of time in supporting roles before you move up to a named position, or wait till one of the designated ‘knights’ retires.

Q: Can I joust?

A: No. KIB is a foot-combat group. We don’t have any horses, and have no intention of becoming a jousting group because of the costs involved.

Q: Do you use guns?

A: No. Although there were guns (both cannon and handguns) around in the 15th Century, KIB has no members with firearms, and our insurance excludes them.

Q: Do you do archery?

A: Yes. As an archer, you will be target-shooting in our own shows, but you can shoot at live moving targets in battle re-enactments! As long as you use ‘blunts’, of course: arrows fitted with rubber blunt tips and oversized flights to slow them down.
Bows are restricted in draw-weight to 55lb if you want to use them in battle re-enactments. Most of our archers prefer draw weights of about 40lb. There is no limit to the draw weight for target shooting, but if you can draw them, authentic 120lb+ longbows may push the arrows into the targets further than you can pull them out! You can shoot short-, long-, or cross-bows, as long as they are authentically made.

Q: Can my kids come?

A: We welcome all ages of participants, and have a good family atmosphere. There are children at most of our events. We have one family where three generations attend regularly. Following the medieval system of training nobility, KIB grades people by their age:

Under 8: Camp-followers. They will stick with their ‘mother’: arrangements must be made for young children to be supervised at all times.
8-11: Page. Can start learning to fight under close supervision, but at combat events they will stay clear of the action and must be supervised by an adult.
12-15: Squire. Learning to fight, and may fight in public under supervision, but not on a battlefield or tournament. (This is due to insurance requirements as well as historical accuracy.)
16+: Knight. Once they have passed their fighting test, they may fight at any event (unless the organising society’s insurance states otherwise).

Any member under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, both at practice evenings and at events.

Q: How much time do I need to commit myself for?

A: Combatants will be expected to attend weekly training sessions more often than not, and will not be allowed to fight in public if they have been neglecting their practice. Unlike many groups, we have training sessions every week at an indoor facility: two and a half hours on Wednesday nights. Non-combatants need only keep in touch and attend practices as they feel the need, but we do recommend you come as often as possible to get to know people and what’s going on.
There are also between ten and twenty shows and battles in the average year, almost all of them at weekends in the ‘season’. Our season generally stretches from the late May bank holiday to mid-September. You will be asked to attend as many of them as you can, but attendance at shows is not compulsory. Some people do come along just for the fun and exercise of training.

Q: How do I learn to fight?

A: Fight training is the main function of our weekly practices. You will be instructed by the Swordmaster and other experienced fighters. We start with the broadsword: it’s a good general-purpose weapon which builds up your arm and reflexes, and the training teaches you to ‘read’ your opponent’s intentions from their body language. The fight safety test is taken with the broadsword: if you pass KIB’s test, you’ll be safe against any opponent, even those from other groups. The test proves not only that you can defend yourself, but that you can control your weapon well enough not to hurt anyone else.

Once you’ve learned to use the broadsword to a satisfactory standard, weapons like the axe and mace follow easily as the style we use is broadly similar to the broadsword. The bill is an easy weapon to learn to use at a basic level, but more difficult to master. Shield and buckler are essential additions to broadsword skill. Other weapons are also used: the quarterstaff is much more complex than you might expect. All these are taught as a regular part of our practices.

Q: Can women fight?

A: Yes. However, if they want to fight in public, we require that they be as convincingly disguised as possible: we don’t allow anyone dressed as a woman to fight because it is not historically accurate. But our battle-line regularly includes a couple of ‘Bobs’.

Q: What about the people with disabilities

A: That depends on the disability. Our practice hall is fully accessible to the disabled, but you must be aware that most of the events we attend take place on open fields or in historic sites where no consideration was made for disabled access. The limitations of authentic equipment must also be taken into account: there were no medieval wheelchairs or guide dogs! However, if your disability does not stop you portraying a medieval character convincingly, you will be welcomed.

Q: How important is authenticity?

A: Very important.

The Society’s general approach is that if it looks wrong to an intelligent member of the public, it is wrong for the show, even if you can produce historical precedents. You can’t tell everyone who sees you the full story of your authenticity. Hundreds of people will see something which looks wrong, say nothing, and go away to tell their friends “their show isn’t realistic because…”

To some extent, this conflicts with our aim to educate the public. But simply knowing that something is right and then re-enacting it without explanation doesn’t educate anyone. The Society looks bad because the public don’t have the knowledge to appreciate what they are seeing. The only way in which something which looks wrong can be justified is if it is part of a planned event which gives the full story – like a School Day, when our members literally have the chance to explain to every single person who sees them why what they are seeing isn’t as wrong as they think it is.

An example is women fighters. There are examples of women who took part in combat in medieval times: mostly on the receiving end of sieges. The desperate need for fighting strength overcame the expectation that women would stay in their traditional roles. Some groups say that since it did happen, women should be allowed to fight dressed as women. But since the public don’t know about those few examples, people believe that they are historically inaccurate, so women fighters would make the Society look bad.

Because of this, the Society’s policy is that all women who want to fight in our shows or under our banner in battles must dress as men. All we ask is that they disguise themselves as convincingly as they can. This, of course, is historically accurate. It is best-documented during the Napoleonic era, but it also happened earlier. If Anne Bonney could get away with it aboard a pirate ship, it should be no trouble in the field with a medieval army.

As far as costume and equipment goes, we are pretty strict. It doesn’t take an expert to recognise galvanised armour or polyester fabric and know it’s not right. Bad costume always stands out, and it isn’t that difficult to get it right. It’s just as easy to make or buy stuff to the right pattern in the right materials as it is in the wrong material or pattern. Advice is always available from more experienced members of KIB.

Q: Where do you sleep?

A: When we stay overnight at a show, most people sleep in the medieval tents. Those who have their own tents use them, the others share the communal tents. (There’s usually plenty of room.) Others choose to bring modern tents, but they have to be cleared away before the audience arrives. Camper vans, caravans and B&B are other options, but may not be close to the camp. For those who like an early and quiet night, this could be an advantage: the campfire is the core of KIB’s social life in the summer, and may go on late into the night.

Q: Do I need my own transport?

A: Obviously, your own vehicle would be an advantage. But it’s easy to get to our practices by public transport, and we can arrange lifts to events, so not having it wouldn’t be a serious problem.

Hiring Us

Q: How much does it cost?

A: You won’t get an answer to that question from any reputable re-enactment group without giving more details of your requirements. What do you want us to do? (This will affect the amount of equipment we need to bring, which may change the number of vans we need to hire to transport it.) Where is the show? (Affects the fuel cost to get there.) What time do you need us to start and finish performing? (We may have to budget for an extra day’s van hire and plan for an overnight stay.) Do you need us on a weekday? (This costs more as we have to compensate people for missing work.)
However much we answer, be assured that we are very good value for money. KIB are not professional entertainers, in the sense that the re-enactors aren’t paid for most events. (We do have a very professional attitude.) All you are paying is our expenses. If you hire jugglers, clowns, fire-eaters, etc. they rely on that work for their income: you will have to pay their wages as well as expenses. The whole show therefore costs as little as two or three individual entertainers.

Q: What will you do?

A: KIB are very flexible. As you can see elsewhere on this website, we will perform a short and very entertaining 13th-century tournament, or an extensive 15th-century Living History camp. We’ll do comic plays for weddings or street theatre, whodunnits for an intensely involving experience, or lectures for schools or social groups (Local History societies, Women’s Institute, Rotary groups…).

We can, if the site is appropriate, tailor the show to the history of the venue. This most often happens when we are performing Murder Mysteries at castles and similar historic sites: the plot involves the actual history of the site.

If you hire us for TV or film projects, we will not only save you money on your wardrobe budget by bringing our own costumes and equipment, but we will save you time because we are used to working to direction. We are organised and have a very professional attitude. We know how to direct ourselves, and any other extras assigned to work with us, to fulfil the needs of the production. There is good guidance on hiring re-enactors for film and TV work here.

Q: Will you work on weekdays?

A: As noted in the answer to “how much does it cost?”, KIB will work on weekdays, but will charge per head rather than a flat fee for the whole society. This is because we need to compensate people for time off work. We regularly do school history days, for example, which obviously need to be done in the week, and have performed at product launches and business conferences on weekdays.

Q: What will we need to supply?

A: We turn up with as much equipment as we need to do the show, including our own PA and boundary ropes. The only things we generally need from organisers are access to toilets and a supply of drinking water. If there is to be cooking as part of the show, we would also appreciate a good supply of firewood.

Q: Do you have insurance?

A: Yes. We have £5 million Public Liability Insurance.

Q: Can you supply references?

A: We will be glad to supply you with the contact details of event organisers who have used us recently. You can contact them yourself to be sure that you are getting an unedited report.

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