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.