|Reflections on the Ring and Knighthood
By Eric J. Johansson, Archivist
In the past I have written many articles on the history of our Order, its physical beginning, the works of the knights of the Old and their armor. Indeed, I have even traced the Order into the Twentieth Century.
In a way, the Order of today perhaps faces challenges far more intimidating than any thing it ever saw in the Past.
Former centuries saw our Order challenged by foes in the East; we faced dire dangers in the Holy Lands; indeed, even the Papacy was a threat on many occasions.
However, all of these were overcome sometimes by might of arms; at others by cunning and knowledge of the foe.
In today’s world we face a new enemy…ourselves. It is far harder battling oneself than any external enemy.
Have you ever tried to play chess against yourself? I delight in the game; in fact it was one of the favorite pastimes of our knights both in Europe and in the Outremer: the Arabs played chess and the game, in one form or the other, has found itself played throughout the world. I like the legend behind chess it is said that the Great Moghul in India created the game around the 7th century A.D. Originally he developed it as a way of teaching his generals grand strategy. The pieces represented elements of an army and each general was encouraged to use his forces in ways to trap his foe or envelop the opposing player.
The game soon caught on and was avidly played in the West, traveling from India in a short time to become popular with all who delighted in the Grand Strategy.
I began playing chess when I was around eight-years-old: by the time I was in college I was a very powerful player and was a member of the Pace University Chess Club. Many opponents fell before me before I graduated in 1965. However, to be frank, the fiercest opponent I ever faced was myself.
You can play against a human or machine: you can only guess their strategy based on their moves: when you play against yourself you know your every move. It is unbelievable how difficult it is to do more than come to some draw. In a sense you are fighting your own skill level and your opponent knows your moves as well as you know them yourself.
Why do I draw on chess? Simple. A knight has to challenge himself to be more than a knight. We all bask in the glories we received during investiture. For many it is perhaps akin to a second Confirmation or Baptism: you are a new person. You have the honor of adding ‘Sir’ as a prefix or ‘Dame’ as it were, before your name. It is an honor. However, no honor is ever given without having an ‘attachment’ to it be it an obligation or a promise.
When I took my Oath of Allegiance to the Order I made a special purchase a fine silver sealing ring the emblems of the Order and the inscription thereof. This ring always graces my finger ring in my waking hours. I weighed it once to see its weight the scale registered 28.9 grams. That’s an insignificant weight to carry since I weigh around 180 pounds. The ring is no burden as a physical weight to carry, but in terms of its spiritual weight, it is like an anchor.
I wear my ring to remind me never to be happy with a title or an honor. The ring is the physical symbol of the Oath I made to this dear Order; in a real sense I don’t need the ring to remind me of this, but its weight is like tying a string around my finger.
I have to wage war with myself: how can I help the Order; what can I do, personally, to fulfill my vows of Knighthood?
Personally I don’t have the wealth to travel to Africa, Pakistan, Guatemala or any other countries where many of my fellow knights have visited in their quest of refugee relief. I don’t have the wealth to casually write off a check for twenty thousand dollars. I don’t have the medical abilities that many of my brethren have. Who would want an English professor to teach English in some war torn country where medical relief is more important than anything else?
However, that little ring keeps prodding me. I have waged war with myself. I think many of us have done this. We play chess against ourselves.
As a writer I have composed and seen published many books, monographs, scholarly works. I finally, some time ago, decided to give the Order what talent I had. If I could not be rich in money, I could share my knowledge; my years of research and study could be given as a gift to the Order. After all, I reasoned, not every knight of old was one who had his hand blooded in combat. Some were needed to record the deeds of their fellows; some had to keep records.
I chose to write articles, to do research. Having some fluency in Latin, Spanish, German, French and a few other talents I decided to help the Order in reaching out to others.
I say this not to boast of it, but to acknowledge the obligation I owe to the ring which ever reminds me of our Order and I say this also to you the reader.
What talents you have, share them with the Order. After all, do we not call ourselves ‘brethren,’ are we not bound in common cause? The essence of the knighthood does not lie in combat; it lies in compassion. As a child I delighted in the stories of Prince Valiant: I think he was a good role model as we use the term today. In addition to being a stout and mighty knight of the Round Table he was also a just and compassionate man, helping more by deeds than the sword, those whom he aided.
I know that our Commander has called on us for deeds: don’t think that because you immediately define deeds as meaning writing checks and as you can’t, that you’re delinquent.
What skills do you have; what help can you offer the Order? Have you ever thought of setting up an educational booth at a school (if you have kids there and they have ‘School Day Exhibitions’ that would be great) or at a Mall? Have you thought of calling on your local radio or television station to talk about the Order? Have you ever organized a cake sale or clothing drive, the funds benefiting the Knights? Have you ever considered giving a talk to the local Lions Club or Rotary Club? In your garments and orders, you would certainly be an impressive presence!
I give lectures on medieval weapons at local schools in the Kansas City area: the teachers always remind their students that when I talk about the knights of the 12th century, I too am a knight. I don’t know how many questions I have fielded from interested youngsters about the Order. I think I could almost just give an hour lecture on our Order to these kids.
Have you ever thought about contacting your local Middle School? They’re always desperate for guest visitors and you could prepare a short half hour lecture on our Order! What visual effects! You in your cape, badge, spurs, with your sword and all! Kids would love it and through them you would influence their parents. You might not be able to give out a card to each kid by you could arrange with the teacher to leave something about the Order it the kids’ parents want to pursue it. Believe me, schools under tight budget constraints, are desperate for guest lecturers and if you offer your service for free, that’s even a juicier plum for them to grasp for in these days of cut-backs! A call to the Principal is almost all that needs get you into the door. He may want to visit with you in his office. Take some material along books and “what-not” to show the legitimacy of our Order ‘real’ published History impresses people.
I lecture at a local college: almost always my students (adults) want to know about the Order when they see my ring and inquire about it. Most are somewhat flabbergasted to learn that I am a knight and that the Order and others like it survive! They seem to think (before I talk about us) that all knights have long been dead!
Fellow knights and brethren how long have you hidden yourselves? My ring reaches out to the world and through it I try to do what I can to further our Order.
If for nothing else, wear your ring you can help the Order by talking about yourself, our Order, our pledges and our promises. You’d be surprised at the positive reaction that you get form people. Every time I attend one of our events I always bring different guests and they are always impressed (and I hope, now aware of our Order).
I didn’t join the Knights of Malta so I could hang my ‘diploma’ from my wall: I joined it to do SOMETHING…
All of us English teachers know when to quit the lecture: we can see the students’ eyes rolling to the clock, begging for the hour to end. I won’t speak any more on this occasion; I can see the minute hand nearing twelve. Join me, join our Order, join Commander Sir Glen Stinson let’s do something, individually, before we forget our rings, our promises. Let’s play chess against ourselves and use what talents we have to make the “Great Game” interesting!