Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Knighthood still in style

Owen Graf shows Professor of History Vincent Carey’s class about the Black Death what a 13th century knight would have worn.


By Aleksandra Sidorova

One of Owen Graf’s first memories is hitting his brother with “swordies” he’d made out of sticks. Now, the senior history education student shows off his own set of imitation Knights Templar armor, most recently in a class about the Black Death in the first week of the semester.

Graf demonstrated the layers a typical 13th century knight would wear: a wool-padded jacket to absorb blunt impact called a gambeson, which he purchased from a “crappy medieval recreation website,” a chainmail shirt that he assembled from a DIY kit he got on Etsy, a Knights Templar tunic that was part of a Spirit Halloween costume and a Knights Templar helmet he borrowed from his roommate. 

The set, which Graf officially finished putting together last semester since he started two years ago, is “worthless in real battle,” he said, but looks “fairly good to the untrained eye.”

“The gear is very much amateur,” Graf said. “It’s very expensive to get the real deal.”

He’d love to get the real deal eventually, though — “super high quality” and fitted to him — to display in his home or show his future students in the classroom.

“There’s also combat leagues where you get together and you fight in the armor,” Graf said. “I would like to do that, but I’m also afraid of getting more concussions.”

His interest in history started with fantasy. He loved it all — the “Star Wars,” “Percy Jackson” and “Harry Potter” series — but he said it likely started with watching “The Lord of the Rings” with his brother and dad. Someday, he hopes to write his own medieval fantasy book.

“I just like a good story, and history is a good — entertaining — story,” Graf said.

Graf is currently obsessed with the “Witcher” video game and original novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski, based on Polish mythology and folklore. However, he has trouble enjoying some other popular medieval fantasy media, like the “Dark Souls” and “Elden Ring” games.

“It breaks the immersion for me, the suspense of disbelief,” Graf said. “A 10-foot sword that weighs 50 pounds, that is just— It drives me crazy, I just can’t do it, because swords were incredibly light. They had to be, to be able to use them.”

Armor is also frequently assumed to be slow and uncomfortable, Graf said. People don’t see armor the same way he does, either. Where others see violence, Graf sees the life it is designed to protect.

“Armor is fashion, it’s protection, it’s a status symbol,” Graf said. “It’s history and technology, from primitive designs all the way to extraordinarily intricate and super high quality. It speaks to me as a fashion statement, a display of status, well-designed. It looks so beautiful to me. It’s not even about war.”

Graf said he has a “morbid outlook” on history. He is most interested in the period from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, characterized by cycles of conflict, growth, development and recession.

It’s also so far removed from him that he can study it without getting “emotionally disturbed” by its issues and events the way he would with more contemporary periods.

“American history is deeply upsetting to me because you can still see remnants of that today,” Graf said. “It’s very saddening stuff, so trying to keep a distance from it helps me be a happier person.”

While Graf enjoys viewing ancient and medieval history as a spectacle, there is a part that resonates with him.

“I do not believe in the feudal system,” Graf said. “I do not believe in kings and queens. Maybe the only thing I believe in from that period is the code of chivalry.”

Not all knights adhered to values of honor, courtesy and loyalty, but Graf tries to. He said he believes in being kind and charitable and protecting “the weak and the innocent.”

“If someone needs assistance, you help them,” Graf said. “It doesn’t matter who they are — you’d help them.”

In the role of a teacher, all of Graf’s passions — history, sports and helping others — intertwine. He hopes to teach ninth grade global history, coach a sports team and introduce a “Gentleman’s Club” for students without a father figure to instill life skills and chivalrous values in them. 

“I feel like teaching and coaching is the best way I can help kids and really make an impact on people’s lives,” Graf said. “A lot of young men these days I don’t think have great role models, and I feel like I could be that.”

Graf knows his interest in knightly aesthetics, armor and chivalry isn’t common, but he embraces it.

“I like being able to say it’s weird, because weird is kind of unique,” Graf said. “Yeah, it’s weird, but I don’t care that it’s weird.”

Aleksandra Sidorova
Owen Graf wants to become a teacher to combine his passions for history, sports and helping people. He says there aren’t enough role models for young boys, and wants to be one.


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