If using a scythe is such a restful and peaceful activity, why on earth would someone want to do it under the pressure of a stopwatch and a cheering crowd?
In any group we meet people who get something different from the community and the activity itself. In the scything world some need nothing more than a short heavy blade for knocking back bracken and brambles. Some like the quiet beauty of mowing alone, some really enjoy mowing as part of a team. There are mowers who would never dream of competing and there are mowers who never pick up a scythe all year except in competiton.
Even within the world of competition some go for speed, some for quality, some just love taking part. We see regular faces who come to scythe events for nothing else than the pleasure of watching, and without these people there would be nobody cheering us on. In reality, we all have the opportunity to experience the whole spectrum. Why limit yourself? There is something to learn in every experience.
There is a long tradition of agricultural shows and competitions. Landowners and land workers have come together at significant times of the year to celebrate a harvest, to exchange ideas and to enjoy others company. Farming can be a lonely occupation. Whether it is showing your prize pig or seeing how high you can toss a sheaf of wheat, we like testing ourselves. In a healthy spirit of exchange and competition we can spur each other on to better things.
At scything get-togethers, we see newcomers, intermediates and old masters exchanging information. New students may be inspired by the skill of the more experienced, and the more experienced are encouraged to see their enthusiasm. Teaching others is one of the best ways to improve and consilodate our own learning.
When it comes to the benefits of competing itself there are personal and community effects. On a personal level it lets a mower check in with themselves at regular intervals. “Has my mowing actually improved since last year? What went wrong that I need to improve? What went right and worked? Does my set-up need changing or tweaking?”. The drive to push our own physical and technical limits is an important thing for some.
The community effect is similar. Checking in with others is really important. Very few of us practice mowing in front of a mirror. A video recording might be helpful, but I don’t know many mowers who actually do this. In any case it is very hard, if not impossible, to beat the personal connection. Someone else’s eye can spot something we might overlook. Being open to constructive criticism is an essential part of self improvement.
I think of competition as something like Formula 1 racing. We aren’t all driving super-charged performance vehicles, but the lessons that the manufacturers learn by pushing the engineering to its limits eventually trickle down to consumer products. There is a natural evolutionary pressure that leads to the cream rising to the top. The shapes of a scythe blade, as well as the variety of different arrangements of snath, have all been shaped by a sort of natural selection in the geographical area where they are found. Attending or participating in a scything event is one way of making sure that this living stream of evolution stays healthy.
Scything events are held worldwide. Here are some that you might like to check out:
http://trimhaymakingfestival.com/ The National Irish Championship
https://www.greenfair.org.uk/ The National UK Championships