5 Tips for Show Fighting

From time to time the Hundred Swords gets invited to do a show. Whether it be a convention, or a school fete, or some random event in the city, there are a few differences between show fighting and the kind of fighting we do at our trainings and games.

There is a fundamental change in the purpose of our fighting. We fight at training to get better and learn new things. We fight in games to achieve our objectives and help our warbands. But we fight in shows to display the activities of the group and to attract new members. This means doing a few things somewhat differently from what we are used to.

Here, then, are a few tips to make our shows look the best we possibly can.

1: Remember what you are doing this for

The purpose of the fight is to look good, not to win. Winning is cool and all, but it’s not the reason that you are fighting. If you can look good dying, then die. This doesn’t mean that you should deliberately lose (unless by doing so you can look awesome), but it does mean that you don’t have to go all-out to defeat your opponent. This leads us to…

2: Make the other person look good

A show fight is a team exercise. The other person is not your opponent, he or she is your fellow performer. Your dance partner. It’s not all about you. It is a little bit about you – after all, you are performing too – but it’s not all about you. You want help your partner to make the fight look fantastic. This means that you should…

3. Take your time

There is no better way to have a visually boring fight than to have it end quickly. The audience doesn’t want to see your clever trick shot. They probably wouldn’t recognise it even if they did see it. They want to see an exciting and gripping battle. They want to see two (or more) people struggling for supremacy. They want to see the fight ebb and flow – for one fighter to briefly gain the upper hand, only to lose it again under a renewed assault. Yes, this will be tiring. Doing a show fight takes a lot of energy. Especially if you…

4. Make noise

Sometimes it can be cool and intimidating for fighters (or Monks) to remain silent, but that is a gimmick that works best in games, not in shows. Show fights should be noisy. Yell battle cries. Grunt with exertion. Cry out when injured. Talk to your opponent – exchange insults. Establish a reason that you are fighting. If the audience can relate to one or the other fighter, they will be more invested in the outcome of the fight. Audiences especially like to hate. If one fighter takes the role of the villain and one of the hero, and the audience will naturally cheer the hero on. But to do so, both fighters need to talk – to establish their “character” and the reason for their antagonism before and during the fight. So talk it up, but…

5. Remember that we have a reputation to uphold

We want the audience to come away with a positive impression of the group and what we do. For this reason, do not swear on stage. Most people are okay with performers swearing, but there are people in the community who still view it negatively. Once you’re offstage, by all means swear like a sailor. But when you are on show, you have an obligation to present the group in the best possible light. Also, on the offchance that you are actually hurt or injured during a fight, do not call attention to it on stage. If you do, then the message the audience will take away is that someone was injured – that what we do is dangerous. Remove yourself from the stage if you can and bitch about it behind the scenes, but do not make a fuss on stage.

Conclusion

Show fighting is quite different from what you are probably used to. Think of all those movie swordfights that annoy you so much. Why do they annoy you? Because they are unrealistic. Why are they unrealistic? Because the purpose of the fight – the only purpose for the fight – is to advance the story. So movie fight choreographers make use of tricks to make the fight visually exciting.

You don’t have to go that far. But by putting aside some of the things you know about how to win a fight, you will be able to go a long way to making a fight look spectacular. And the spectacle is exactly what you want, when you are fighting for show.

Five more very quick tips to finish with:

  1. Fight side-on to the audience. Don’t circle or swap sides.
  2. Don’t cover your face with your shield. Audiences like to see faces.
  3. If you see your opponent preparing for a spectacular move, it is better to allow it to happen than to prevent it with a quick counter.
  4. Never underestimate the power of a good pose.
  5. Make sure your kit and costume is of top quality.

Remember – you want to showcase the group and what it does. You want the audience to come away with a positive impression of the Hundred Swords in particular, and of LARP and battle gaming in general. Do everything you can on stage to push this positive message. You do have to put some effort into it, but if you do, show fighting can be incredibly fun and rewarding, and we might just get some new members out of it.

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Four Defences, Three Parries

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Anyone can defend themselves with a shield. You literally just put it in the way of incoming attacks. You can close off lines of attack, funnelling your opponent’s attacks into the areas you want them to go. The bigger the shield, the more you can hide behind it.

But when you do not have a shield, you need to use your skill. In all cases, the priority is to remain safe from your opponent’s attack. Even if you hit and kill your opponent, if you yourself are simultaneously hit and killed, you haven’t won the fight. Both lose on a “mutual”, and it requires almost no skill to do so.

Hence, the art of fighting is often referred to as the art of defence, and not the art of attack.

There are four basic ways to defend yourself when you do not have a shield, and they are listed here in order from best to worst:

The Pre-emptive strike: If you hit your opponent before they even have a chance to attack, you may be able to end the fight before it begins. You remain safe, because your opponent hasn’t had an opportunity to throw an attack of their own. Attacking first is always the best defence.

Where your opponent has multiple hit points, which is almost always the case in our game, then this alone may not be sufficient to win the fight.

Void and counterattack: The “void” is the subtle and careful art of not being there when your opponent attacks. However, it is important to remember that simply dodging everything your opponent throws at you is insufficient. It keeps you safe, but it does not end the fight, and you cannot win just by dodging.

Hence, the counterattack. You must put yourself in a position where you can strike your opponent, and yet not be struck in return. Moving to their off-side can work, as they need to reach across their own body in order to hit you. Striking at their extended weapon arm can be better. This way you can stay out of the reach of their strike at your body, and stay in reach to strike at their arm.

Counterattack with opposition: Difficult to achieve in practice with bouncy foam swords, the counterattack with opposition consists of intercepting their attack with your own attack, simultaneously striking your target and blocking their attack. Historically, most often seen in rapier schools, where large and impactful swings are rare or discouraged.

I refer to a technique that I call the Cone of Defence. In all positions of the sword arm, you keep the point directed at your opponent’s chest. In the first position, your arm is raised and your hand pointed away from you. Rotate your arm so that it is horizontal and your palm is down to reach the second position. Continue rotating until your arm is lowered to your hip and your palm faces your off-hand for the third position. Raise your arm, palm facing up, for the fourth position which is the opposite of second. In each position, the point remains on target for your opponent’s body.

From an ordinary guard position, you can transition to one of the positions of the Cone of Defence, or somewhere in between two positions, to intercept your opponent’s attack while simultaneously striking their body with your point.

Parry and riposte: Intercepting your opponent’s weapon with your own is the most commonly depicted method of defence in Hollywood movies and video games, yet there’s a good reason for it to be the last of the preferred methods in an actual fight. The reason is that the parry and riposte is a double-time technique. You parry, then you riposte. Your parry intercepts your opponent’s attack, but in the time it takes you to launch your own attack, your opponent has time to move into a parry. Or worse, they have time to actually launch a second attack, forcing you to parry again. And a third, and a fourth, until they get tired of attacking you and decide to give you a break. Because they feel sorry for you or something.

Sometimes it is simply impossible to avoid having to parry an attack. If the attack is coming at you, sometimes you just have to stick your sword in the way in order to remain unhit. And for this reason I will outline the three different kinds of parry, which are block, deflect, and intercept.

Block: This is the simplest and least effective kind of parry, consisting of literally just sticking your sword in the way of the incoming attack. It is weak, because your opponent can often simply power through your block to strike you anyway. It does not put you in a position where you can effectively take your next move, because all of the momentum of your opponent’s attack is transferred into your sword and arm.

For this reason I suggest the Deflect: It is similar to the Block, except that your sword is angled so that the opponent’s blade slides off to one side or the other. If you do the deflect with your point down – a hanging guard – then the weapon will slide off. If you do the deflect with the point up, then your opponent’s sword will get caught on your crossguard, from where you can exert some kind of control over it. Again, with bouncy foam swords it can be difficult, as the weapons will not stay in contact for very long.

The best kind of parry is the intercept. Here, you are beating your opponent’s sword in order to knock it off course. Those who have trained with me have heard me say that you should attack your opponent’s body and not their sword, and this is still true. You should not launch an attack at your opponent’s weapon. An intercept, however, is a form of defence, not an attack. Strike your opponent’s blade with your own – with foam swords you will get a good bounce and their attack will be spoiled. However, you should be aware of what this move will do to your own sword. If you’re quick and clever, you can use the momentum of the bounce in a followup attack.

All of these defences, of course, still work when you have a shield. However, if you are using your weapon for defence, you are not using it for attack. The shield is better at defending than a weapon is – use it.

How Practice Works

We love fighting, right? We all love fighting. That’s why we do it. But are we good at fighting? Does being good at fighting even matter?

It does matter. For a start, being good at fighting – our style of mock-fighting, that is – means that we can be safer. We throw fewer bad hits.

Secondly, No-one likes being beaten all the time. Even if you, like me, put very little store in being the best, winning fights is fun.

At the Hundred Swords, we have two types of gathering – game, and training. The purpose of training is to get better at what you do, and the reasons we do it are the two reasons I mentioned at the top of this post – safety and effectiveness in games. So I encourage all of our players to use the time set aside for training, so that our games are more fun and enjoyable for everyone.

I am often saying things like “the more you do something, the better you get at it”. And this is sort of true. Repeatedly doing a thing makes you very good at doing that thing repeatedly. But for a skill such as fighting, you need to practice. And by practice, I mean a very specific kind of practice.

Deliberate Practice

You see, just doing something over and over again isn’t enough. If you really want to get good, you need to use something called deliberate practice. This stems from the work of a professor at Florida State University named Anders Ericsson. The whole idea is fairly complex, but it boils down to this:

You need to set a specific goal, you need to get immediate feedback, and you need to concentrate on technique rather than outcome. You also need to push yourself just a little bit more each time.

We all love to play within our comfort zone. It’s easy and we know how everything works and what’s what. But if we consistently stay inside our comfort zone, we never improve. The purpose of training is to make our comfort zone bigger – to extend it to cover more new situations and techniques.

When training, identify those aspects of your fighting that you are not satisfied with, and work on them. Find a training partner who is willing to work with you. Experienced fighters are generally more than happy to work with recruits – after all, the more people who can play well, the more fun the game.

Practice to address your weak spots. If you get hit in your left leg a lot, focus on that for a while. If you are consistently hitting too hard, concentrate on that. Set a goal, get immediate feedback from an experienced player, and work on the techniques. Start slow and get gradually faster. Constantly push yourself just a little bit outside your comfort zone – not too much at a time, or you will get overwhelmed.

Train for safety

Always remember that safety is our primary concern, so you should make that a focus of your training. If you find yourself doing a lot of unsafe shots, put a priority on that for a while. You should be in a position where you are good enough that your shots rarely go where you don’t intend them to, and on those occasions when they do, you instinctively mitigate the harm that they might be doing.

Train to pull your hits. Hit fast, but don’t hit hard. This can be tricky to get used to, but it is worth spending time on. No-one likes being hit hard. There’s a sweet spot where you can pull a fast shot back at the very last moment so that you hit firmly, but not solidly. Tap, don’t slap. Make sure you hit with a strong wrist – don’t “flick”. Practice this with an unresisting opponent at first, then spar slowly with them, concentrating on these firm but pulled shots. Gradually increase your speed until you can do a pulled shot at full speed.

Train for accuracy. Train to hit specific called points on your opponent’s body – say, the upper left arm. Practice several times with an unresisting opponent, making sure you hit that exact spot each time. Then spar slowly, aiming specifically for that spot. Don’t aim for anything else. Your training partner should leave that spot open occasionally so that you learn to spot when a location is vulnerable. Again, gradually increase your speed until you get to full speed. Then choose a different spot and do it all again.

Train for effectiveness

If you are new, use training to become safe and effective with a single-handed sword, or sword and shield, or two-weapon – whichever you feel most comfortable with. Do not be embarrassed about asking to train with a more experienced player. It is the experienced players who will push you out of your comfort zone and give you the skills that you need in order to be safe and effective in your play. Go slow at first – concentrate on good, safe technique and simple moves. Don’t try to use speed bursts or fancy feints. Just to the simple attacks and defences, and build up your speed gradually. Stop frequently and talk about what just happened. Think about and deconstruct the moves you have just made. Then start sparring again, using the technique you have just talked about. Above all else, remember that you are training for safety as much as you are for effectiveness.

If you are more experienced and have played a few games with just the simple weapons, pick an exotic weapon that appeals to you and start training with that. Borrow one to start with, and find a training partner who is experienced with that weapon. Again, start slow with basic attacks and defences. Push yourself just a little bit each time. If you find that you’re not enjoying that weapon, try a different one. And never forget to keep going back to the simple weapons from time to time.

Advanced players will want to keep training as much as they can to keep their skills honed. Skills will diminish over time – if you take a break or get complacent, you will suddenly find that you aren’t as quick as you once were, or that someone’s developed a technique that you haven’t worked out yet. You need to keep training in all the weapons you are qualified in.

Remember: a good fighter will practice a technique until they can do it right. A great fighter will practice a technique until they can’t do it wrong.

There is an excellent episode of the Freakonomics Podcast called How To Become Great At Just About Anything which goes into detail on Anders Ericsson’s theories and how they can be applied in other contexts. It takes only a little imagination to apply them to fighting.

On Energy Management 

How long do you want to be doing this for?

If you’re like me, you will answer “for as long as I can swing a sword”. And that’s great.

When you’re in your twenties, everything is fun and easy. You’re fast, you’re fit, and you can run and fight all day. When you start getting older, you find that things change.

While there are certainly exceptions, in general it is a true thing that people aren’t as fit when they’re in their forties as they are when they’re in their twenties, and that can pose a problem.

The activities you do in your twenties are harder in your forties. You get tired more quickly. Partly this is because when you’re older, you’ve spent more of your time trying to earn a living, paying off your mortgage, and drinking beer with your mates than exercising. It adds up.

Eventually you find that all of the high-energy techniques and moves that you practiced so hard to commit to muscle memory aren’t as easy any more. The problem is, you still have the muscle memory. You find that your body tries to do things that were once easy but now threaten to just break you. Most of the time it will succeed – you will do the technique, and you will break. You will tire quickly, and won’t be able to fight for as long. Which means that you miss out on a lot of fun fighting because you just don’t have the energy any more.

There are a couple of ways that you can overcome this. The first is to make sure that you stay fit and active as you grow older. But as they say, good intentions blah blah blah. Suddenly you’re hitting forty-seven and you realise that you haven’t kept up with the exercise the way you had planned.

The other is to plan ahead – learn and practice techniques now that focus on energy management. Don’t practice  high-energy, explosive techniques. Don’t waste your energy on unnecessary movements.

Low-energy doesn’t mean slow. On the contrary, it means that your techniques are quicker because you’re acting directly and without waste. All your energy is directed towards your goals – hitting your opponent and not getting hit – and none is wasted on extraneous movements.

The other advantage of training in this way is that those times when you do want to do something fancy, you have the extra energy to do it.

No-one ever plans to become old and fat. In fact, most of us plan not to. But then life happens. Training for energy management pays off now, and prepares you for your future. And hopefully it will help you to continue doing this hobby for many years to come.

The Circles of the Sword

The sword is an inanimate object. It would be wrong to say that it “wants” to move in certain ways. But it does. It totally does.

circles

If you remember your high school physics, you will recall Newton’s First Law: An object in motion will not change its velocity unless acted upon by an outside force. In real terms this means that when you swing a sword, you need to expend energy in order to make it deviate from its course.

Swords move in circles. Because a sword is anchored at one end – the hilt – it will tend to describe an arc when it moves. Changing that arc requires effort. Therefore for the most energy-efficient use of the sword, you will want to make use of these arcs as much as possible.

Why is it important to be energy efficient? That’s a topic for another post.

For now, consider this:

figure eight

This is one of the most basic circles, and I call it the Figure Eight. This is one of the first things a student will do when they pick up a sword: two slashes – one from right to left, and one from left to right. The hard part is flowing from one to the other without breaking the sword’s momentum. I say hard, but it’s not really all that difficult. It does, however, require a certain flexibility of the wrist.

When practicing the Figure Eight, it is often best to not worry about edge discipline at first. Just pretend it’s a broomstick. Or practice with an actual broomstick. The orientation of the broomstick when it strikes its hypothetical target doesn’t matter. When your wrist is comfortable with this movement, think about edge discipline – think about striking with the edge of the sword. This involves resisting the natural tendency to turn the wrist until the hypothetical strike has been completed.

The next step, of course, is to do this in the other direction. Instead of two diagonal down-strikes, make it two diagonal up-strikes. The movement is essentially the same, though of course backwards. Turn the wrist to make your hypothetical strikes with the sword’s true edge.

Here’s another useful circle:

around the head

Here, the downwards strike from right to left moves naturally into a block to intercept blows coming at the left shoulder. Having blocked this blow, the sword moves naturally to repeat the strike.

Notice here that the sword as it moves is more or less describing a plane. This is the natural movement of a sword – the arm and shoulder follow it.

Here’s the same thing on the other side:

outside

I say this is “the same thing”, but the motion is actually somewhat different – notice the sword shoulder is held back, for example. This gives a slight impression of leaning backward rather than into the blow. Ideally, of course, your shoulders should stay more or less directly above your hips.

Regardless, this is “the same thing” because it consists of the repeating diagonal strike, and the inclined plane that is described by the sword’s motion.

One last example:

thrust

An interesting variation, this, because it actually breaks some of the guidelines I’ve suggested above. Not really, but it seems to. Here, the sword is moving in a figure eight pattern like the first example, but instead of crossing the body, the sword does a small loop and moves into the thrusting position. Note particularly how the leg has to be drawn back slightly in order to make room.

To summarise:

  • Swords naturally move in circles
  • Deviating from these circles requires energy
  • Expending too much energy in a fight is bad
  • Following the sword’s circles when you fight is good.

Starting a strike, then arresting and reversing its motion so that you can strike elsewhere is inefficient in terms of energy and in terms of the time it takes to complete the movement. By the time you have arrested the motion of your sword and redirected it elsewhere, you have given your opponent time to react. You can achieve a similar effect by using circles, with less energy expended and in a shorter time.

Practice with your sword. Take it out whenever you’ve got time and room to move, and swing it. Don’t just do one movement at a time. Put some energy into it, move your feet, and let your sword move into the circles that feel the most comfortable. Familiarity with the way your weapon moves will help you in combat.

Axes, Hammers, Maces

GoblinsI’m going to say something which may be fairly controversial: Axes, hammers and maces are basically the same thing.

Why would I say such a thing? Well, it’s because of the weight. Specifically, it’s because of the weight distribution and balance. A sword’s centre of balance is usually close to the hand. Sword techniques take advantage of this fact, and include a lot of fast redirections. Axes, hammers and maces all have a large mass at the end of a stick. This changes its weight and the way it handles. From here on I will refer to axes, hammers and maces as “mass weapons”.

It is true that there are some kinds of mass weapons on the market which aren’t too different from swords. Most sword technique works pretty well with them. This is directed at the other kind – those with significantly different weight characteristics.

Fast redirections are much more difficult with this kind of mass weapon than they are with the sword. Where a blow with the sword might start aimed at your opponent’s shoulder and end striking your opponent’s leg, a mass weapon generally goes where it is pointed, and won’t deviate without some effort.

Mass weapons are usually best with a shield, especially a big one, as the shield takes care of defence for you. You can bide your time, blocking everything with your shield, then lash out quickly when you see an opening. The disadvantage here is that the mass weapon has more inertia than a sword, and can be slower to get moving. Learning to anticipate your opponent’s moves is harder than it sounds, but still generally necessary.

Using a mass weapon without a shield is harder. Choose a weapon for your other hand that is good for blocking. If your mass weapon is short, use it off-handed with a sword in your other hand. Use your sword for parrying incoming blows and again, look for openings with your off-hand. If your mass weapon is long, you’re still usually better off using it for blocking. You will need to be agile in either case, using voids and parries to avoid being hit.

I will mention hooking here. With an axe, people will always raise the idea of hooking your opponent’s shield or weapon. I do not recommend this for several reasons, outlined below:

  1. Getting the hook in is more difficult than simply making a hit. If you can get your axe behind your opponent’s shield, just hit them. You’re behind their shield!
  2. Once you have hooked the shield, you need to exert force on it to move it, and the shield user usually has better leverage than you.
  3. Foam and latex weapons aren’t designed with this kind of force in mind. Hooking exerts pressure on areas of the weapon that really shouldn’t be taking it, and reduces the useful life of your weapon.
  4. Now that you have hooked and moved the shield, what are you going to do next? If you have a shield, you can’t do anything, since your only weapon is currently hooking. You need to rely on an ally to exploit the opening, and allies usually aren’t quick enough.
  5. If you have the hook and you’ve made an opening, you can try attacking with your own secondary weapon, but be wary, because you’ve only hooked their shield – their weapon is still in play, and your attacking arm is vulnerable.
  6. I do not recommend hooking your opponent’s weapon at all – you tie up your own weapon as well as theirs, and this usually results in a tug-of-war, which can become dangerous. If you accidentally hook their weapon, call a halt and untangle yourself before proceeding.

Mass weapons are fun and extremely satisfying to use. Just remember that they carry a fair amount of kinetic potential, and can hit harder than you expect. Slow down, look for openings, and pull your blows and you will have a grand old time.

Do you regularly use mass weapons? Share your experience in the comments below!

Defending with the single handed sword

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As I have said previously, it is easy to defend with a shield – you just need to keep the shield between you and your opponent. But what if you don’t have a shield? This article explores the options for defending with a single-handed sword.

Three kinds of defence

There are three basic kinds of defence with a sword, which I refer to as blockparry, and void.

The block is where you stick your sword in your opponent’s way. It is not subtle, or particularly strong, and should be a last resort. A static block is weak and easily deceived. With foam swords, it is common for the attacking sword to simply bounce, pushing the defending sword out of the way and continuing to strike the target on a slightly different line. For these reasons, blocking is a last resort.

The parry on the other hand is an active defence. To parry, you intercept your opponent’s weapon with your own. You take control of it and put it where you want it to be. This could be with a beat – which involves striking the weapon in order to move it off its intended line, or with a bind – which is where you engage, maintain contact, and push it offline. Either works, but the latter requires a little more practice.

The void is always the preferred defence where possible. The best defence of all is to not be where your opponent’s sword is. This requires footwork. You must also remember that defending yourself is not sufficient – you also have to strike your opponent in order to win the fight. This means you must manoeuvre yourself into a position where you can hit your opponent, but your opponent cannot hit you. When your opponent strikes, take a small step backwards and strike for their arm. Move around them and strike from their shield side.

Defending against different weapons

Sword against sword is fairly straightforward, but the situation is more complicated when your opponent has a different weapon.

Against two-handed swords, blocks are almost useless. Your opponent has more leverage than you do, and can simply push through or deceive your block. You are much better off with a parry, though you must remember that with two hands on the weapon, your opponent’s grip and leverage will be stronger than your own. Use voids wherever possible and strike for your opponent’s forearms.

Mass weapons – axes, maces and hammers – are very strong in the strike, but slow in the recovery. They move in straightforward circles with little finesse. It is hard for the attacker to redirect them they have committed. However, you can parry and get some leverage over them – the heavy mass at the end carries a lot of momentum, and if you can gain control over that, it is difficult for the opponent to recover quickly. Again, voiding their attack is preferable. This allows you to counter during their long recovery.

Pole weapons such as spears and halberds are problematic for shieldless fighters, as they are very fast and dangerous, and will strike to the leg, which is harder for you to defend. You will need to rely on the void almost exclusively. However, remember that they are reach weapons – they aren’t as good against someone very close. Your best bet is to bind the weapon to control it and move in as quickly as you can before releasing the bind to strike at close range. Never fight at the spear’s range.

Fighting against someone with a shield when you do not have one is always going to be problematic. All other things equal, a fighter with a shield should always defeat one without a shield. However, there are still things you can do. In order to strike, they will need to reach out with their sword arm. Many shield fighters do not adequately defend this arm when they strike – especially if their shield is large. The sword arm is therefore vulnerable to counters. Also, try and manoeuvre to their shield side – they will have to reach around their own shield to get to you. You will need speed and luck.

My pedagogical approach

There are some who say that the best way to learn to do something is to do it. I would agree, with the addition that the best way to learn to do something badly is to do it badly.

In my classes I like to focus on the fundamentals – the steps, the grip, the way the sword and body move together. I believe that establishing good habits is essential to driving out bad ones. Repetition is the most effective way of doing this. It is also extremely boring. A small amount of repetitive movement is always going to be necessary for developing good technique, but I don’t want to let it take over the training session. This is why the entire second half of my classes are dedicated to sparring.

As it says in the description, anyone can hide behind a big shield. They are not difficult to use. Generally, my advice to someone using a shield is “keep it in front of you”. Defending yourself without a shield is a lot more difficult, and requires a lot more skill with the weapon. Hence, my classes focus on shieldless fighting.

All of my classes are designed with the following principles in mind:

1. Calmness of mind and preparedness of body

One of my goals is to train out the twitch response. A fighter should be calm and should react with precision, rather than being tense and reacting suddenly. Twitch responses are quick, but uncontrolled and can easily be deceived. Calmness in a fight is therefore to be cultivated. The mind must be calm in order to be able to react with speed and accuracy to what your opponent is doing.

Secondly, the body must always be prepared to move when necessary. The fighter must not be overly tense, but rather in a state where sudden movement is possible. Tenseness fatigues muscles quickly, and slows reaction time. The fighter should be relaxed but prepared to move.

2. Footwork and the relationship with the ground

I often say that you should always stay in contact with the ground. If you lose the ground, it will rush up and hit you in the head. Solid footwork is essential to maintaining contact with the ground. The ground is the surface that you push off in order to move.

There are some who will teach the “bounce”, that you should be constantly moving while you fight. I believe this to be a waste of energy. Your energy budget is limited, and excess movement that does not contribute to the outcome of the fight is unnecessary. I teach a stable stance, and a solid relationship with the ground. The purposes of good footwork are balance and distance, and neither is achievable without a good stance.

3. Precision of technique

Finally, I believe precision to be more important than speed. A precise fighter can move quickly, but a quick fighter rarely fights precisely. All fighters are capable of being precise, but speed is dependent on body type and fitness. Without precision, a quick fighter will always defeat a slow fighter. Precision is therefore the equaliser – the factor that can allow the slow to compete with the quick.

Imprecision in technique leads to bad hits – either you hit too hard or you hit a non-target zone. As safety is a primary concern in our game, both hard and off-target hits are undesirable and should be trained out. Slow repetitive practice is the best way of achieving precise technique.

Session 2 Recap

Thanks to everyone who came out tonight. We had eight students, which is almost double the number we had last week. I expect that different people will be able to attend on different days of the week, which is why I rotate days.

Tonight’s school was essentially a repeat of last week’s. I believe that repetition is important in developing good technique, and all my classes will basically begin in the same way – with warmups and practicing the Tai Chi Step. Over the summer we will develop different focuses and explore new techniques.

It is true that I talk a lot during my classes – this is just the way I do things. There is a lot of theoretical knowledge associated with swordplay, and sometimes it can only be given to students verbally. However, I want to make sure that practical knowledge is a priority in my classes, and so I started this blog.

Here, I intend to pontificate to my heart’s content, pouring out all the words that I keep in during classes in order to maintain the focus on practice. I have a number of posts on the boil – such as an examination of the differences between single combat and group fighting, discussions of several different weapon types and their use and purpose, and my thoughts on the battle games that are part of the Hundred Swords experience.

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On The Differences Between Battle Gaming And Historical Swordplay

Epic Empires5LARP, or Live Action Role Playing, is a popular pastime across the world. LARPs involve dressing in costume, getting into character, and playing out an adventure across the countryside – usually but not exclusively including mock fighting.

What the Hundred Swords does is best described as Battle Gaming – we take the mock fighting elements of LARP but leave behind the emphasis on costume and character. Since our focus is on fighting, rather than roleplaying, we have a particular interest in fighting technique and skills.

HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, is a method of recovering lost fighting arts by reconstructing them from period texts. There are many extant period texts to draw upon, dating from the late 12th century onwards, and dealing with a wide variety of different weapons and fighting styles. Some cover single-handed cutting and thrusting swords, others two-handed swords, and later manuals are dedicated to the rapier.

There is an obvious overlap between battle gaming and historical swordplay, but there are some significant differences that it is important to be aware of.

 1: The game.

Historical swordplay is almost exclusively illustrated by one-on-one situations. They are a very good resource for winning duels. On the other hand, battle gaming is usually (though not exclusively) done in groups, in the field. Group fighting is a very different situation from duelling.

Duellists are focused on their opponent, usually to the exclusion of all other potential distractions. In a group fight, such focus can be disastrous. Fighters will always need good battlefield awareness – the ability to perceive major events and flows on the battlefield – in order to achieve their objectives. Focusing exclusively on a single opponent is a good way to help your team lose.

2: The weapons.

Foam weapons behave very differently from steel ones. Steel weapons engage while foam weapons bounce. This bounciness necessitates changes in technique, since historical techniques relied on their weapons’ ability not to bounce. Techniques such as engagements, binds and winds usually require the swords to connect and ‘bite’ in order for the technique to work correctly. This is, of course, impossible when the weapons just bounce off one another.

3: The play.

Historical swordplay is all about killing or maiming your opponent. The techniques presented in historical manuals are brutal and effective at bringing your opponent out of the fight as quickly as possible. On the other hand, battle gaming is about fun and enjoyment. These two goals are basically incompatible, which means that if we want to adopt techniques from historical swordplay, we must adapt and change these techniques to be compatible with our goal of having a fun afternoon in the park.

In future posts on this blog, I will examine many aspects of how historical swordsmanship can inform the practice of battle gaming. I believe that there is a lot that we as foam-sword fighters can learn from historical techniques, as well as from modern reenactors and members of groups such as the SCA and AAF.

Ultimately, what we do will never be an accurate martial art. No, it is not necessary to study the techniques of martial arts before engaging in battle gaming. But we can still use these techniques as training tools, as long as we are aware of the differences. In the end, the enjoyment of the game is all that matters.