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The Book of Five (Belt) Rings
[01/30/2002] [Cullum]


This Book is dedicated to the whole of Amtgard. Its purpose is to give insight to those seeking Knighthood and those who have already attained it, and it is intended to make those people and this club better. The structure is superficially similar to Go Rin no Sho, the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, but otherwise has very little in common with that book.

The Red Book

The color Red represents Service. Our club is built on the back of its current, past, and aspiring Flame Knights, just as a book is built upon its first chapter. This is the round, the place from which all things come, where understanding sprouts, even as it grows higher and higher. This is the beginning of the path of a Knight. All Knights serve the club, and in fact they have a duty to do so. A Knight is the best and brightest, a recipient of "the highest award that Amtgard offers", and the recipient of a sacred trust. A Knight stands out. A Knight is memorable. A Knight is awarded respect merely because of their belt; unfortunately, that respect is all to often undeserved.

There are many people who see Knighthood as a reward, and this is unfortunate. A Knighthood is not a reward, but a promise. The Knight promises to serve the club, and the club promises to respect the Knight. Rarely does the club fail on its end of the bargain, but all too often, the Knight does. Why?

There is an attitude among some people that Knighthood should be given to anyone who wants it; more often, people will say that because they have some number of pieces of paper, that they should be a Knight. Both of these attitudes are wrong. To distribute Knighthood to all who want it is to dilute the meaning of it; it would flood the market, so to speak. "Box-tops", that is awards, are no judge of who should be a Knight. They only show how adept one is at impressing people, which may or may not be an indication of skill. Skill alone does not make a Knight.

There are three attributes on which a candidate for Knighthood should be judged. They are:

  • Service
  • Skill
  • Virtue

Service - The candidate must be dedicated to the club, and willing and able to provide service when needed. Ideally, the candidate should be very involved with service to the club. This attribute is important for those considered for Flame and Crown belts.

Skill - The candidate must show aptitude in their chosen field. Diversity is also important; no matter how good someone is with a polearm, if they are miserable with everything else, they should not be a Sword Knight. Again, the candidate should be at the top of their class. This attribute is important for Sword and Serpent belts.

Virtue - The candidate should be honorable, reliable, honest, helpful and honest. This should not just be the candidate's "game face"; they should exhibit these traits both on and off the field. This attribute is important for all belts.

These three attributes are the basis on which Knighthood is built. If you would be a Knight, you should excel in these attributes, and you will obtain your goal. If you find that to be distasteful, or discover that you are only doing so to obtain Knighthood, you should reconsider why you are doing this at all. If your motivation is impure, you are in danger of failing. But if you master these things and your motive is pure, you cannot help but succeed.

The Gold Book

The color Gold represents Leadership. A Leader gives direction, and that is the focus of this book. A leader is also a servant, and so this book also focuses on the First Attribute of a Knight: Service.

A servant serves his master, and the master leads the servant. However, the master may also serve, and his master may serve, and his master may serve, and so on. So it is in Amtgard. Take a feast, for example. The Monarchy chooses an Autocrat to serve the feast, directing them in what to serve and where to hold it. The Autocrat chooses a Head Chef, who chooses cooking and serving staff. The Autocrat, meanwhile, locates a site and organizes a site crew for set-up an clean-up. Thus, the cooks and serving staff serve the Head Chef, who directs them and serves the Autocrat. The Autocrat directs the Head Chef (and by extension, all those underneath the Head Chef) and the site crew, and serves the Monarchy. The Monarchy gives instruction to the Autocrat, and by extension, all those underneath the Autocrat, yet still serves the populace.

As the example above demonstrates, Leadership and Service are thoroughly intertwined, and essentially the same. To Serve, one must know what those whom are served want. To Lead, one must know what those whom are led want. In both positions, one must be alert for opportunities to surprise those who are led or served. It is good to apply your knowledge of what is wanted to determine these opportunities. To be a successful candidate for a Service belt, either Crown or Flame, one must be always willing to serve in whatever capacity needed. When you lead, you must determine the strengths of those you lead and use them to your advantage; when you serve, you must be sensitive to the failings of those you serve, and compensate as best as you can. Thus it is easier on the mind to serve than to lead, for the mistakes of a servant can be laid at the feet of their leader.

When one serves, one should bear menial tasks without complaint, and should not feel slighted if denied the recognition you feel you deserve. When one leads, one must delegate to the best of one's ability, and share any praise with those to whom it is due. In either position, you should put forth your best effort, for the glory of those who serve is the glory of those who lead. One cannot exist without the other.

To summarize, these are the tenets of the Attribute of Service:

  • Every servant is a leader, and every leader a servant.
  • When leading, delegate tasks to those who are most capable of performing them, and trust them to be done.
  • When serving, perform your task to the best of your ability, and fulfill the expectations of your leader.
  • The success of a leader is dependant upon the success of those he leads. Thus, those he leads must be given their share of the glory of success.
  • Serve wherever you are needed.
  • Serve whenever you are needed.

By mastering these tenets, you will earn a Service belt.

The Green Book

The color Green represents Skill, and so this book's focus is on the application of the Second Attribute of a Knight: Skill.

The Sword Knights and the Serpent Knights are the epitome of skill. They are the best fighters, the finest garbers, and the best armorers. Many people wish to earn a Skill Belt, and many get discouraged when they find that they are a slow fighter, or can't sew a straight stitch to save their life. But a Sword Belt does not just come from speed, any more than a Serpent Belt comes only from sewing.

It is a simple fact that Skill Belts require as much if not more effort to earn than a Service Belt, but those efforts are generally much more noticable. After all, the guy who comes out every weekend and beats the snot out of people, or the girl with three different tunics on every day, is easier to spot than the guy making phone calls to secure the site for the Feast next weekend. So generally, they come quicker, if only because they are easier to see.

The key to earning a Skill belt comes down to two words: Practice, and Diversify. Practice hones a skill. The more you use it, the better you get at it. Things that were once hard become easy, and the once-impossible becomes routine. If you do only one thing, practice. Practice until you can no longer stand it, and then keep going. A Knight should be the best a group has to offer, not only amongst themselves, but even compared to the rest of the Amt-world. The more you practice, the better you will become.

Diversity is also important. Someone who sews well, makes nice armor, paints like a master and sings like a songbird is more likely to be recognized than someone who only does one thing. The same holds true for the battlefield. A Sword Knight should be able to make short work of any opponent he faces on the field, regardless of his opponent's advantages, except for another Sword Knight. What's more, he should be able to do it fairly.

When one seeks a Skill belt, they should set aside time to practice. The more serious you are, the more often and longer you should practice. However, even practice loses its value eventually, leaving you at a plateau. To escape, you must challenge yourself, try new things, add new techniques to your bag of tricks. Pick up a new weapon, or weapon combination, if you feel your fighting has stalled. Find another craft, or two or three, if you think you've stopped improving. Try to figure out how you can apply those techniques to your other skills. Like Musashi said, "From one thing, know ten thousand".

The last thing is to display your skills. Enter tournaments, go to battlegames, make gifts for people. It is important for people to see your skills.

To summarize, these are the tenets of the Attribute of Skill:

  • Practice. Improvement only comes with experience.
  • Diversify. Apply things you learn one place somewhere else.
  • When you feel frustrated, change tactics.
  • When you feel you've stopped improving, challenge yourself.
  • Display your skills at every opportunity.

By mastering these tenets, you will earn a Skill belt.

The Silver Book

The color Silver represents Virtue. By being virtuous, you show that you deserve a belt.

There are as many interpretations of "Knightly Virtues" as there are Knights, from the high chivalric ideal to "hey, he's a good guy". However, there are a few specific virtues that are more important thant the rest.

  • A Knight should be Honest, and Honorable. If a Knight's word has no worth, than what worth has the Knight?
  • A Knight should be Sincere, and mean what they say. Knights are human, so it is not impossible for a Knight to be wrong, but they should strive not to be.
  • A Knight should be Humble. It is natural to take pride in one's skills and accomplishments, but a Knight should not boast or hold them over other people's heads. Nor should a Knight seek glory that is not due to their achievements.
  • A Knight should be Good Natured. Knights are the most visible part of Amtgard. A Knight should be arbitrating disputes, not starting them.
  • A Knight should be Reliable. If a Knight says they will do something, it should get done.
  • A Knight should be Giving. A Knight should be willing to give what they can when asked, especially when it comes to sharing their experience. Of course, real-world circumstances may limit the Knight's ability to give.

In addition, Knighthood is not an excuse to stop doing what it was that earned you the belt. Once a Knight, you should continue on, although everyone understands that in time skills fade and people grow out of Amtgard. But there is nothing worse than an old Flame Knight who hasn't done anything but come out to the park and drink beer since they got Knighted five years ago.

These are the virtues of a Knight. Live by them, and not only will you deserve a belt, but you will become a better person as well.

The White Book

The previous chapters have discussed the Ideal Knight, but such a creature is, unfortunately, rare. The truth is that there are a lot of people out there who have earned a belt they don't deserve (a Sword Knight that tries to hurt people, for instance), or deserve a belt they didn't earn (which is easily the lesser sin). Of course, there are also a number of people who have neither earned nor deserve their belt(s), and it is a sad fact that such "buddy beltings" continue to happen.

You may have noticed that I consider earning a belt different from deserving a belt. I am very much of the opinion that no matter how skilled you may be, if you are a waste of flesh you should not be a Knight. Likewise, you may be the best person on Earth, but if you are unskilled, you should not be a Knight. Fortunately, people are capable of change. Thugs become nice guys, and incompetents can become masters. I suppose that all comes from my Ideal of Knighthood.

The truth is, there is very rarely anything holding you back from Knighthood besides yourself. If you feel you are being unfairly passed over, sit back and look at the situation before you start complaining. Why do you think you've been passed over? If it's so they could Knight someone more qualified than you, don't worry, your turn will come. If it's because you think the Monarch or influential members of the Belted Circle don't like you, try and figure out why and what you can do to correct that. Everyone was born with a mind; don't be afraid to use yours.

There are no easy paths to Knighthood, which is how it was intended. A Knight represents the best and brightest of Amtgard, and to achieve a belt is a significant event. The preceeding has been nothing more than an outline, painted in broad strokes, of the path to Knighthood. The details you will have to fill in for your self. Good luck.

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