We gamers often take for granted that physical training is a necessary part of being an effective combatant. No one (mostly no one) role-plays the hours of intensive physical training and practice necessary for their player character (PC) to be the champion that he is. First, that kind of thing can be boring to role-play, and secondly, we often forget that while the warriors of yesterday did prepare their bodies for combat, even if they did not have fancy running shoes, expensive weights, or well-stocked gymnasiums.
The Romans understood the necessity of being fit for combat and left a detailed record of how to become so. The Roman author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (Vegetius) wrote two books read by most professional commanders in the Middle Ages and they described the Roman methods. These were not only the classic Greco-Roman fitness ideals of running, swimming, and jumping, but included specific guidance for war. They described how young men of the legions were issued double-weight shields and swords to practice the armatura (Roman combat drills) so that they would be all the more capable with their proper equipment.
Medieval commanders, knights, and tutors sustained the idea of integrating physical exertion into training for war. This could just be practice of military skills to exertion; squires might wrestle and spar in order to develop "hardness of the body" (Aegidius Romanus). It could also be the practicing of military skills under an increased burden or under duress as the Romans recommended. Jean Le Meingre, Charles VI of France's marshall, submitted his warriors to a regiment wherein they practiced scaling walls in armor and leaping onto horseback armored. This practice is echoed by famous medieval author-commanders such as Dom Duarte, king of Portugal, who advocated leaping into the saddle while wearing armor. Geoffry de Charny, standard bearer of Jean II of France, had his squires practice skills in armor so that they would not be "handicapped by being thus constricted".
While many medieval warriors and scholars alike could agree with Cervantes's statement that "force is overcome by art," it would be the rare one who did not also agree that force was a big help.
Knights, be they paladins or otherwise, are professional soldiers who would have a vested interest in being well prepared for combat. Some of these could be interesting for other PCs as well: I imagine fighters drilling before a competition or maybe an interesting feature for a new fighter's guild. Here are some specific examples of historical exercises (some of which could make for some fun event or area building ideas):
- -leap into the saddle (armored or unarmored, on a real horse or a wooden one)
-run or walk long distances (sometimes adding the vaulting of obstacles)
-strike a pell with your chosen weapon
-somersault in armor
-dance in armor
-ride a horse
-lift and throw stones
-throw javelins or lances
-scale walls in armor
-fight with staves
"The Role of Fitness in Historical Fencing", accessed October 25, 2012, http://www.thearma.org/essays/fit/RennFit.htm
Geoffrey de Charny, A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry
, trans. Elspeth Kennedy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
"A man may die yet still endure if his work enters the greater work, for time is carried upon a current of forgotten deeds, and events of great moment are but the culmination of a single carefully placed thought." - Chime of Eons