Going To Knight School

Chivalry may not be dead yet, but it's looking pretty sad.

Think about it. If a regular wants to be chivalrous in the 21st century, what's he supposed to do? There's nothing to slay and all the fair maiden rescues go to 911. Can a guy even be valiant anymore?

For answers Steve Hartman turned to John Bridges, self proclaimed chevalier and author of the book "How to be a Gentleman."

Hartman's first question: What is one of the key attributes of being a gentleman?

"Putting the toilet seat down. It's an act of love," said John.

Not exactly the Sir Arthur answer we were looking for, but John insists that before a man can be chivalrous he has to be courteous. And in modern times that means turning off your cell phone at dinner and opening doors.

Of course, there are complications. For example, what are men supposed to do at a revolving door? Even John admitted that was complicated.

We never did get a sure answer. So we spoke to another author, Brad Miner. He wrote "The Complete Gentleman," and he said none of that stuff really matters.

"One of the mistakes that people make is equating chivalry with etiquette," Brad Said. "But it's not the same thing as chivalry. Because chivalry is courage, honor, justice, prowess. That is to say you have not only to recognize what is good but to fight for it. The fighting part is essential, otherwise we're not talking about chivalry."

Hmmm. Chivalry needs a little blood and guts to it.

"I think there has to be blood in it, that's right," said Brad.

Brad says chivalry is like what Antonio Davis did last month. Davis is the New York Knicks player who bolted into the stands because he thought his wife was in danger. For leaving the court, he was suspended for five games, a lenient sentence because it was considered a chivalrous act.

"Because it was an expression of love, it was combined with a kind of militant expression of concern, it has the elements of chivalry," said Brad.

Still, Brad said true chivalry also means restraint, only fighting for a woman when absolutely necessary. He said any good martial arts class can teach you what you need to know.

Karate? How about fencing?

Steve tried rapier fencing. Both his instructors got started doing it in theatre. They said becoming more chivalrous was just an added bonus.

"Circumstances do occur and you end up reacting that way," said one instructor. "A few years ago a woman in my apartment building was getting mugged and I ran to help her.

With the sword?

"No. I put down the sword. I thought running through the streets of Manhattan with a sword was not a good idea," said the instructor.

In the end, Steve didn't perform any deed that would qualify as chivalrous. Saving the old man from the swarm of pigeons could have been…if the man hadn't been feeding them.

"I think the thing is it's an aspiration as much as it is ever in the life of the individual, an achievement," said Brad "The thing is you have to start to want to have those qualities. You have to begin by thinking that these things are important. And then you measure yourself by them."

Chivalry is a brass ring. As long as saps like Steve keep reaching for it, we can all keep believing in it.
  • Scott Benjamin

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