The topic of this rambling is similar to that famous recruiting slogan "Be all that you can be." Often in life we tend to find a nice comfortable niche, snuggle in and stay for a while. We can do this with our jobs, our relationships and even our individual SCA fighting styles. We often reach a certain fighting skill level we feel comfortable about, or at least we rationalize to ourselves we are happy at that level. After all, we don't come home after practice with TOO many bruises anymore. We put on the same armor that we finally got the bugs worked out of, we use the same size shield we have for the last couple of years, and we swing the same style weapon in the same old way. In other words we get stuck in a rut. People tend to repeat that which works for them and discard that which doesn't provide immediate results. After attending a few practices with your local group you learn that "Ugar the Unbathed" is the axe and round shield guy in the group. And that Lord "Flashy Pants" has a nasty wrap and not much else. Your opponents quickly become in a word ....predictable.
Fighters in geographically seperated areas have another concern to think about. Being so far from the mainstream of SCA life, we tend to become somewhat like the locals in the movie Deliverance. Inbred, in other words. Groups tend to be on the small side, so after a while you pick up on what everyone else is doing. A new fighter will come in occasionally, stir things up for a while, then slowly (if he does not remain vigilant) start to be absorbed back into the common gene pool of talent and skills.
So what happens when someone goes back to a large SCA group after a couple of years away from the mainstream? Often a rude awakening on the tourney field when they find out that things kept changing while they had remained comfortable being the big fish in their little pond. So what is the point of this endless monologue? Shake things up! Stir the pot! Confuse your friends! Switch off weapons styles so you have the same confidence with Florentine as you do with sword and board. Grab a polearm and face off against that axeman. Use a smaller or bigger shield. Use mismatched weapons. Try to travel to other group's fighter practices as often as you can.
WHY? Because that's one of the best ways to help you progress as a fighter. Most of the fighters who win crown tourneys do so because they dedicate the time and effort into being as well rounded a fighter as they can. They often go to two or three different group's fighter practices a week for a couple of months prior to a crown tourney to get maximum exposure to all the talent out there. They pick up all manner of weapons and give them a try. After a while most of these guys could probably meet you on the field with a French baguette and a wheel of brie and still kick your butt. My point to all this? Don't get stuck in a comfortable rut, remember to change up your techniques and weapons styles to see overall improvements in your fighting skills. See you on the field.