Amtgard Rules of Play.

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Lessons From a Paragon
[06/29/2003] [Jabberwock Pentacles]

This last weekend, at Rakis XIII, I watched as Sir Michael Hammer of God was given his fourth belt. The Iron Mountains also reconfirmed his other three. Although many claim that he is now the 7th 4-belt knight in Amtgard, I like to think of him as Amtgard’s first 7-belted knight. I have learned so much from Sir Michael over the last half-decade of being his squire, and I wanted to share with everyone some of those lessons, not just about how to be a better Amtgarder, but about every facet of the game. This article is meant not only to give due tribute to one of the great knights of Amtgard, but it is also an attempt to share his lessons, in the form of four of Mikey’s favorite mottoes, with those unlucky enough to have never had Sir Michael Hammer of God as their knight.

Disclaimer: Everything in this article is both pure opinion and exceedingly biased. Nothing is meant to be comparative (i.e. if I say Michael Hammer of God is the best Knight in Amtgard, it doesn’t mean you aren’t) and nothing is meant to be derogatory or insulting to anyone.

“I love this game”.

The last time that Mikey HOG was Emperor of the Iron Mountains, it became clear to me exactly what the greatest attribute of a group leader should be. I have heard opinions from a number of sources; a great leader should have organizational skills, connections to other groups, political savvy, ability to deal with crisis, ability to look at a subject objectively… etc. These are all fine attributes, and Sir Michael has all of them in spades. They all make for a really good leader. The thing, though, that made Sir Michael’s last reign the best reign I have seen so far in the IM was his love of the game. He loves Amtgard. All of it. And it is infectious. When he is in prime mode, and is out there on the field or before Court or just emailing out park schedules, it is obvious that he loves being a part of this game and that everyone else should love it too. It energizes. People get excited to come out. They get inspired to try new and exciting things for the game. New and interesting battlegames appear. It is a phenomenon.

In my own group, I have seen the exact same things happen. I have seen reigns where the organization was there, the connections, the savvy… but the newbies weren’t interested. Even the old-timers (if only by comparison) seemed a little lackluster. Attendance suffered. But when a leader (or even just a visiting Sir Michael) has shown the enthusiasm, optimism and pure love of the sport that is obvious in every move that Sir Michael makes, the group takes off. Newbies flock in. The games get cooler. Everything changes and all of a sudden, we are playing a game we are willing to sacrifice precious time, money and sweat for.

The love of the game manifests itself, too, in another incredibly beneficial way. When Sir Michael is in power, or is seeking power, it is because of this love. Unlike others who I have seen take the throne, or even just taken on minor autocratting duties, Sir Michael never gets drunk with power. He takes charge in order to make the game better and to make it better for others, not to satisfy his own ego or even so he can make the rules. He looks on it as service, not prestige. It makes him trustable in office. I am never afraid that his decisions are not for the benefit of the group. Along with his love of the game, he brings integrity, service and loyalty.

“Do not ride the train.”

Amtgard is not a service. It is not an amusement park ride where I pay my money and have my fun. It runs only because of the volunteered commitment and dedication of those who are willing. It is not a train that one can simply expect to board and get off at the desired destination. Sir Michael Hammer of God has never ridden the train. He has always been one of the people who steps up to the plate and does what needs to be done. He volunteers time, energy and more money that is probably reasonable to bring greatness to his Empire, his Duchy and his company. He is a tireless supporter of the game and encourages everyone around him to do the same.

I have seen people who are interested in little more that ditch battling, become the kind of people you know are there to help. Sir Michael knows that the game runs because the people playing it spend time to make it run. I have tried to always be there to help drive the train. I still have a long way to go. Sir Michael always seems to know what needs doing, and has the energy, the savvy and the strength to get it done.

One of the greatest changes I have seen in our Empire was the shift to a floating crown. The impetus there was Sir Michael’s belief that we would be served better by a new system and a new Corpora. He worked tirelessly to gain support for the idea, to get the Corpora written (with some other notable “non-riders” like Sir Airleas and Sir Cedric) and to get it voted in. It has made the Empire a significantly better place, and has made everyone feel like they own some small part of it all.

Stepping up to the plate, though, is not always easy, and it is often made even more difficult by a lack of recognition. Watching Sir Michael when he is in charge is always an inspiration. He is constantly noting and remembering good deeds done. When he gives his awards, there is a sense of ceremony and true gratitude on his part. When I get an award from him, I never feel like I’ve been “paid with paper”. I always feel like something I did mattered, and that he noticed and was truly thanking me. It is one more way in which Sir Michael is one of the greatest of Amtgard leaders.

“Earn your belt everyday.”

I used to think it meant only what it sounded like: that a knight should not rest on his/her laurels once the belt is attained. It can mean much more, I think, and I will come back to that in a moment.

I have always taken this motto as gospel: a true knighting is not the end of anything, but the beginning of a greater commitment. It should not merely be a reward for past deeds or past glories, but should be a contract between the knight and the Empire, recognition that, having achieved greatness, that greatness will then be put to service. Another of the Iron Mountains’ knights once told me something very similar: that earning a sword belt does not mean you’ve won and can go sit down. It means that you are now responsible for tempering, teaching and challenging another generation of fighters; that a sword-belt unearned by prying it from the “cold, dead hands” of those who came before means nothing. And that knight, Sir Thor, does that every day on the field. He earns his belt every day.

It also means that a knight should be held to a higher standard. The knightly virtues should not be adopted until the ceremony and then released, no longer needed. A knight should always stand for his/her Empire and should always be the pinnacle of honor, courtesy and integrity. It is a difficult standard to maintain. One of Sir Michael’s greatest challenges has always been his temper. He knows that it is the crack in his armor, and I have seen him work at it year after year, trying to be a better example, and a better knight than he was the year before. Even so, his anger comes from caring. Caring about people (his squires, his company, his Empire) and caring about those very same knightly virtues: honor, courtesy and integrity.

The other meaning of the motto, that I promised I would come back to, is that it is not just white belts that must be earned. In my years of Amtgard, no relationship in the game has been more important to me that the Knight-Squire relationship. I try to earn my Squire’s belt every day, by acting in a way that would make my knight proud and by doing those things that I know he would do were he in my position. My knight has my loyalty, absolute trust and limitless friendship. My highest goal in Amtgard is to one day become, in some small way, the kind of knight that he is. I try to earn my red belt every day by learning from him and supporting him in his endeavors. It is not a light relationship, to be committed to lightly.

I am fantastically proud to be a squire to Sir Michael Hammer of God. He makes me so proud to just be there beside him, and I see the admiration and the friendship in the eyes of others. The relationship I have with him as my knight is the best part of Amtgard for me, and it has changed me and inspired me in more ways that I could ever write down. One of the things that I get out of Amtgard, that I don’t get out of the real world, is nobility. I don’t mean “Duke” or “Baronet”. I mean that Amtgard brings out a certain nobility of spirit, where questions of honor and truth and justice matter. Knights drop their belts over causes that they think really matter, and service, loyalty and integrity are real issues, not just abstractions reserved for Philosophy 101. For me, Sir Michael Hammer of God is the embodiment of that nobility of spirit, and I would not trade that for the world.

And finally…

“ARRRR. Tea-baggin!”

Amtgard is a game. It is one hell of a fun game. Sit around the fires and insult your brothers. Run smak ‘till you get shivved in the dark. Beat your friends with sticks. Get your license to Neverwinter revoked. Excel. Enjoy. Contribute. Laugh.

But never, ever fall asleep with your mouth open…

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