From the beginning the name was the idea. I wasn’t there the first time the four words were strung together into a single concept. That credit goes to Guy, Cedric and Lief. It was one of those many Amtgard car trip notions that blossomed into something more. The first time I heard about it was a week later at a normal park day. The three of them gathered the other Sword Knights of the Iron Mountains together to discuss the idea in detail. We got together that first day with the original three, plus Jetara, Thor, Wolfram and I. I remember us all standing in a circle around a steel grill in the bright Colorado sunshine. All of us liked the idea and were willing to put some money up to make it happen. We saw it as a way to help the Iron Mountains preserve its edge among stick-jocks and as a way to communicate our love of fighting to the rest of Amtgard. Sword Knight Boot Camp, (later called SKBC 2002) was therefore sponsored by the Sword Knights of the Iron Mountains. Our first catch phrase, “Got Warlord?”, was also adopted at that meeting.
The key to our success from the beginning has been our shared love of fighting. Even then, the competitive tourney climate meant that very few reached the level of sword knight without being dedicated to the pure fighting aspect of our society. Even the three guys who first put the name (and thus the idea) together knew we should concentrate the event narrowly on fighting. The rest of the IM KSw’s readily agreed. That fact gave us some answers to the highest level questions in itself. We would sponsor it ourselves, budget it to make no money but lose no money, and cover any losses ourselves. We wouldn’t ask the Iron Mountains or any of its provinces for anything. We felt that if we used the IM’s money, leadership, or resources, we would have to let the king determine things like schedule, price, or event content. It wasn’t that we distrusted the king of the IM. In fact, the monarch on the throne at the time was Belgarion, my roommate and a close friend to all of us. We just knew that a king has responsibilities to all members of the kingdom and all aspects of Amtgard. We didn’t want that for our event. We wanted to do only one narrow part of Amtgard, and to do it very well. Finally, Cedric, who wasn’t a sword knight but who claimed a right to participate as one of the originators, offered to autocrat the event so the rest of us could teach.
The idea of privately hosting an Amtgard event was a little concerning. Events sometimes fail and sometimes lose money and we were cautious about that. Thus we discussed how to run the event on a shoestring budget. Cedric was an experienced autocrat and we had a cheap site, but food was a serious question. Our site wasn’t close to town and we worried that if we didn’t provide several meals we would have a hard time sticking to the schedule. Cedric beat the bushes for people willing to donate food to the event. I wish I could remember the full list of donors but I know we had three donated meals at that first SKBC. Cedric also led what was for that time a real media blitz. He wasn’t the first autocrat to hit every kingdom e-mail list (remember those from before Facebook), but he was early in the process and he hit them hard. Response was mixed with Aramithris memorably ranting against the idea. But there seemed to be some interest.
While Cedric was handling the logistical side of the event, we sword knights were working on the class part of it. That first time took a lot of brainstorming just to figure out what classes we should teach. What might be interesting, valuable, or fun to students? It’s different now with YouTube videos of all the Amtgard basics, documents about technique, training, shots and theory. Back then the best resource was one website, Sir Corbin’s Stick-Jock.com. So we built our materials, test fired them on each other and generally tried to figure out what would provide the best experience for the students. Early on we decided that even though we had high faith in the skill of the Iron Mountains and of our best fighters, the project needed some of the great fighters from Texas for real credibility. We invited Sir Arthon and Sir Spyn, as the best boarder and the best flo fighter we knew from the area. That first year most instructors taught to their area of fighting expertise. Thor and Spyn taught florentine, Arthon taught board, Wolfram taught madu, and I taught team classes. Guy in particular wanted to add a high fitness component, and his florentine class started with calisthenics.
The event took place on a beautiful April weekend at the Crow Valley Recreation area in North Eastern Colorado. The plains of Eastern Colorado are boring but we didn’t care. We were there to fight and teach fighting. In addition to a good showing of Colorado Amtgarders, we had an RV of Justicars from Dallas, a couple of Triads from Florida, and a scattering of others interested in the art of hitting someone with a foam stick. We recognized several of the up and comers at that event as those who would be warlords and sword knights soon. The classes were interesting and mostly good (although they have improved greatly over the years). The food was plain but filling and plentiful. The camaraderie was outstanding. In addition to a limited set of classes from the relatively few instructors, we also included an all students ditch battle exercise, an instructor panel, and a student wrap-up tourney. Any Amtgard event has a good level of camaraderie (after all, we all share a key hobby), but this was better because almost everyone there shared a key interest within that niche hobby.
After the event during the clean up and debrief, Cedric mentioned that some of the people in the RV from Dallas were interested in the idea of bringing the same event to Tanglewood (the EH’s traditional site) the next year. We were obviously all psyched and still coming off the high of a fantastic event so we were completely into it. Cedric volunteered to autocrat again. Since we weren’t going to be doing it in the IM again not all the sword knights could commit to the travel. Guy picked out a group of us who he thought mostly likely to commit and formed a committee to decide how to run SKBC 2003. This was the real birth of the organizing committee. We were four Warlords (Guy, Lief, Thor, and me) and a Crown Knight (Cedric). The acronym, FWACK was born. Then we added Arthon because we thought the event needed a scope outside Colorado on the organizing committee.
SKBC Dallas brought a key part of our model into play that we have tried to live by ever since. We knew Sword Knight Boot Camp was a good project and that we had been relatively successful, but we also knew that Amtgard events get stale and that we had to do better in 2003 than we had in 2002 if we wanted to be as successful a second time. I like to think it was applying the sort of adapt or die philosophy that is part of reaching the mountaintop in fighting to running events. We knew that more classes were needed and that more instructors with more specialties were essential. Fortunately, Texas gave us that in spades. The high number of excellent fighters available in the Dallas, Austin, Houston triangle gave us tons of good instructors and we added more of the classes that have been staples ever since. Again the event pulled in most of the members of the EH interested in improving their fighting and an interesting smattering of travelers. The hardest part about the event didn’t fall on the instructor cadre though. The challenge was in autocrating. Cedric knew his business but he had never been to the site and he didn’t know the EH people well. Some of his volunteers failed and some of his facilities were not as he expected. Thanks to great on-the-spot fix-it help from King Martello and the Crawling Chaos folks the event worked and the students barely noticed. Another oddity was that the winner of the wrap-up tourney was a fighter who didn’t attend any classes or even show up until midday Saturday. Students who were there the whole time claimed that physical exhaustion hurt their performance.
These small negatives at SKBC Dallas led us to make some further changes going forward. First, the tourney was removed to accommodate more class time. Second, two members of Neverwinter (Glen and Lily) were especially interested in getting us to bring the project to the Southeast. Cedric was very worried about that, given that most of us had been to Neverwinter one time or no times and we didn’t know the people, the sites, the resources, or anything about running an event there. Cedric said he would only do it if we could get a detailed write-up of how the event would be run and a local autocrat we trusted who could do that part of the event organization for him. Admittedly, none of the committee members knew Lily or Glen well at that time, but Lily had a very strong advocate who the whole committee knew and trusted: Squeak!. With Squeak! vouching for her, we decided it was worth our time and money and even before we left Dallas it was pretty much decided that we would likely go to the Southeast.
However, online communication following SKBC Dallas was very upbeat and several other parts of Amtgard were interested in getting the event to come to them. We wondered if we had decided too early. We decided that a competitive bidding process would be the fairest method and would give us the best choice of where to go. SKBC 2004 (which became SKBC Atlanta) introduced the full process. The FWACK committee was still pretty highly concentrated in Colorado so we chose Rakis as the time to accept bids and choose next year’s destination. That year we had three bids and two of them were very good. Atlanta edged out Kentucky and SKBC Atlanta was born. In many ways SKBC Atlanta was so great that it became a model for how to do it going forward. That was the first time we tried hard to establish class levels. The difference between Basic and Advanced classes has always suffered because students often lack the perspective to self-identify properly, but it has still been a useful distinction. Atlanta was also a real success in terms of food. It was plentiful and good, which kept people on site and ditching rather than running around. Meals were taken together and much of the dining time was spent talking shop. This too is something that we have attempted to emulate in all SKBCs since (usually successfully).
In the years since Atlanta, we have crisscrossed the nation and been successful each time. We remain committed to continuous improvement and we have worked hard to achieve that with some notable changes over the years. In 2005 at SKBC Seattle, we started using online registration. In 2008 at SKBC Austin, we started the formal one-on-one time where each instructor commits the last three plus hours of the day on Saturday to one-on-one time, and the event staff formally hands out cards which authorize students to take the classes. In 2009 at SKBC Columbus we invited a few great fighters from other foam sports to instruct. This has gone so far that Peter the Quick who is originally and primarily a Belegarth fighter is now part of the organizing committee. Now going into our eleventh year of a mission to increase the understanding of foam fighting skills, and raise the level of training, education, and talent across our game, SKBC is still going strong. To whatever extent SKBC has helped shape and encourage the tradition of teaching and treating foam fighting as a teachable skill, our mission has been successful enough so far. Though as any true Warlord knows, the mountain doesn’t really have a top. We can do better with this event every year, just as each of us can fight better tomorrow than we did today.