Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pennsic 47 (part 1) - Allied Champions

Pennsic was hot!  Very hot....and very humid! 

And this year's Allied Champions battle was very different than in recent years in that the fight only allowed for a total of 5 substitutes.  That meant that 70 of the 80 fighters on a given side had to be prepared to fight for the full hour in the late morning of a very hot and humid August day.

The Format

With exception of the substitution policy, this year's battle followed the traditional format.  We fought in a rectangular field, each army starting at opposite ends, with the goal of capturing the other team's flag which is situated near their starting point.  Upon death, a fighter goes to the resurrection corral where they must wait for the corral to be released (once every 3 minutes).  If a flag is captured and brought back to that team's own flag, then a point is scored, the fight is stopped, and both sides are reset.

Last year's battle had ~30 substitutes per side, with unlimited subbing in and out.  This, combined with near perfect weather,  caused the battle to be much faster paced and higher energy.  Knowing that I only needed to fight for 6 minutes at a time before resting for 3, I was able to push myself very hard.

This year's battle was fought much more like a marathon.  His Majesty Dietrich of Atlantia and I had a short conversation prior to the fight about how our plans were to play mostly defense in for the first half hour and only taking shots that were sure kills, hoping that we'd still be in the fight once the other side started dropping out.

Additionally I'd like to note that Anglesey picked one of its newer up and coming fighters instead of a more seasoned veteran because this fighter was young with low body fat, and we thought he'd fare better in an hour long resurrection when compared to our middle aged big bubba's.  The main point being that heat was a major factor to strategize around (note my bare arms, below, for heat dissipation). 

Basic Strategy

In general, both sides meet in the middle.  Though the ultimate goal is to reach the banner, that's rarely done with an aggressive push from the middle.  A numbers advantage must be gained, which typically snow balls.  In other words, a small advantage allows for more kills, which leads to a bigger advantage which allows for even more kills, which leads to an even bigger advantage.  If the side are relatively balanced, it is not uncommon for both sides to push toward the banner from the right.  This is generally done with the spears, but sometimes a weakness can be exploited with shields (see below).

Tactical Mistake from Red

We (blue) were able to push hard on the right and grab two banners early on due to a mistake by Red.  Their far left flank was one rank deep with only spears on it.  Twice, a loan sheildman from our side was able to rush the spears which gained us lots of kills and a lot of ground.  On the third fight Duke Timothy and another knight with a shield moved onto the far left and did a great job of securing the flank, but that was only after being down 2-0.

Atlantia's Secret Weapon

I'm a stinker and give away all the best secrets.  His name is Hugo, and he's a beast of an unbelted fighter.  He's probably the fastest running fighter at Pennsic.  Two years ago he grabbed the first banner, but the point was taken away because one must wear a gauntlet in order to grab the flag.  This year he sacrificed hitting power and precision for the ability to grab the flag by wearing a gauntlet instead of fighting with the much preferred basket hilt.  As a result, he was able to run in and get the first two points.

Lord Bannon McLordy Pants

Bannon Macdugal of the Concusare (loooong time friend and ally of Anglesey, fighting together as kindred celts of the bog) also managed to grab two flags.  Being almost twice the age of Hugo, I asked how he was able to do it.  He said that as he got close to the banner, he waited until each of the 5 fighters defending the banner were engaged with other people, and then he used that opportunity to spring into action.

Oh....and that earned him a Lordship, which we tease him mercilessly about. 

Spear Movement Around the Flanks

As a spearman, the biggest thing you should be looking for in battles like this are opportunities to create kill pockets.  If you are at the point of the fight and driving the other team back, then you are in a good position, but those positions are so few relative to the number of fighters on the field.  Everyone else needs to figure out how to create a tactical advantage.

Normally what happens once a line starts to thin out is that a gap and/or bulge will form between the center and the collapsing flank.  Placing oneself in the gap can allow for opportunities on either the flank or the center.

Note on How to Handle Corral Releases

As I said earlier, though this is a game of field position, in my opinion, the numbers advantage is key.  There were times when we'd get about 3/4's the way across the field, and the corral would release near the flank that we were pushing.  We were told from the sideline to "stay the line" and to not "give up ground."

Like with any topic, I'm open to hearing different strategies.  This is one, however, that I disagree with, at least on the surface.  Lets say, for example, that we are down to our last 30 fighters, and they are down to 15, and then the corral opens up.  Before our guys can get up the field, we'd be at a 30 to 75 disadvantage, which is nearly impossible to defend.  Its always been my belief that, regardless of what ground you've gained, you have little choice but to walk back to mid field, reset, and press again. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shields vs Long Weapons

We had a great practice Friday night in the muggy summer heat in Philly.  We had 11 fighters show up, ranging from 5th or 6th time in armor, to 20+ years of experience.  What I think is especially great about these practices is that it seems to bring the newer fighters up to speed much more quickly than in more traditional practice settings.  We get a lot of fighting in, throw in different scenarios, and mostly let the fighters figure it out on their own.  If they can't fix their problems, then we'll talk about it, usually on the breaks.  Everyone is going to have a natural instinct based on their body type, fighting experience, and their athletic background.  I find, especially for younger fighters, that its better to let them figure it out on their own, and only step in when they are struggling.  I think that this is far more effective than to box them into a specific philosophy, as that teaches them to wait to be told what to do, rather than to explore their own talents.

Who Wins in a Shields vs Long Weapons Battle

We did several open field single death battles with 5 shields vs 6 long weapons (3 spears and 3 poles).  Who would you expect to win?  Take a minute to think about it.

The answer is actually that it all depends.  Who has the better fighters?  Who has the better strategy?  Who has the faster fighters?  Can a spear land an early face thrust?  Etc.

These fights turned out to be fairly evenly matched.  Most ended up with only one or two left alive on the field.  The point of this fight, however, was not to determine what is the better weapons mix, but simply to get experience in a situation where one team has a distinct long range advantage, while the other team has a distinct short range advantage. 

The original plan was to move fighters to the losing team until the sides were evenly balanced, whether that be a 6 on 5, or a 7 on 4, or whatever, but the fights were close enough that that wasn't ever really necessary.

How Does This Scenario Normally Play Out

There is one major mistake that either side will often make that leads to a loss in this type of fight, and that mistake is simply a lack of mobility.  The shields need to get in, and they need to get in fast.  If they stand there, they will get picked apart by the spears.

Likewise, if the shields charge and the long weapons get caught flat footed, then they will die a quick death.  The long weapons need to be very fast on their feet, mobile, and work together.  They need to be aggressive when their opponents are at range, and avoid getting hit when their opponents close. 

I was very happy to see that, for the most part, neither side made these mistakes.

Shieldmen Mistakes - Giving Up Outside Control
The way to win a battle of rock, paper, scissors, is if they throw rock, you throw paper.  The other way is to throw a bigger rock.  A lot of SCA groups, particularly in the East Kingdom, go with the bigger rock vs rock approach, which is to bunch up the shields and to get the jump on the charge.  Expecting that the opponent will do the same, whomever wins the initiative wins the engagement.  Effectively it becomes a sumo wrestling match.

With that said, the charging shield wall generally expects to engage two types of enemies; one who uses a similar strategy, or a disorganized mess that has no idea what they are doing.  When this type of unit runs into an experienced skirmish unit, they often have a hard time finding a unified focus and either charge in a disorganized fashion, or they default to what seems to be a human instinct (as I've observed) and go into the middle of the mass.  This allows the enemy to form a kill pocket and surround the shields.

What Poles and Spears Need to do to Survive and Potentially Win

1 - Don't stand there and get run over.

2 - Poles need to focus more on beating down shields and less on trying to find openings.  Beating on shields makes them raise their shields up and charge blindly.  If a pole finds an opportunity to kill someone, go for it, but don't wait for it.  Your job will be to keep those shields off of your spears and out of your backfield.  And don't be afraid to shove a man. 

3 - Spears need to run away, but also run to another fight.  A spearman has less than a 5% chance of getting a kill once a shield gets past his tip, so just get the hell out of there.  Literally turn and run. 

But when you do, realize that you have just taken yourself out of the fight, so get into a different fight as quickly as possible.  A couple of weeks ago we did a 2 on 2 drill, and surprisingly a pair of spears was able to hold its own against a pair of shields, but it was usually by killing the shield that it did not originally pair off against (and I don't mean by shooting on a diagonal.  I mean by running away from his opponent and eventually running into the other shield who is chasing after his partner who is also running away).

Now keep in mind, I'm not advocating to always run away.  As you progress through the years, the goal is to run away less and less, but no matter how good of a spearman you are, you will reach a point where you have no choice but to bail on the fight.  When that happens, get right back into another fight as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Proper Application of the Charge

For starters I'd like to note that this post is not titled Proper Execution of the Charge, but rather "application."  So much time is spent on HOW to charge, but not when, so before I get into this, let me pull from my experience as a former basketball coach.

I can remember teaching a bunch of high school boys a technique called "boxing out," which is a method of placing yourself between the opponent and the basket in order to grab a rebound.  Who ever had the better position, often determined by technique, would get the rebound, regardless of size and strength.  I remember teaching everyone the technique, and then I'd drill it in to them with a variety of drills.  Then I'd run a scrimmage and everyone would forget to box out, so I'd go back to the drawing board, do more instruction, and then more drilling, and then back to the scrimmage.....again, no improvement.

Then the lightbulb went off.  The problem wasn't that they didn't know HOW to box out, but that they didn't know WHEN to box out.  I mean, I told them.  And if I was to give them a quiz, they'd circle the right answer, but they would never think to do it in the moment.

Ultimately the problem was solved by blowing the whistle whenever they'd forget and then make them run a lap.  The punishment didn't need to be something terrible, just something that would be annoying enough to reinforce good decisions.

Likewise, so much time is spent in the SCA on the how, yet very little on the when.  I mean, I understand why.  The when is simply when the commander says.  But does the commander know when?  Someone in the unit has to know.  Right?

Execution of the Charge

I'll spend a little bit of time here, though its not the focus of the post.  Here are some basic thoughts on how to charge:

-  Generally shields lead the charge
-  Stick tightly together
-  Try to run at the same speed as the rest of your unit
-  Charging on an oblique tends to give you an advantage
-  Charge through the enemy to get the shields into the back field to clean up.  Your poles will cleanup what you left behind you.
-  If you call a charge, give yourself a beat to allow your unit to react, otherwise you will sprint ahead by yourself
-  Column charges and pulse charges behave a little differently

When Should You Charge?

To a hammer everything looks like a nail.  I've run into many commanders who seem to think that there is no situation that can't be solved with a charge.  More often than not, the advantage of a charge is not that you will win the engagement, but rather that you will resolve the engagement more quickly (meaning if you are going to lose, you will lose quickly).  More on that later, but first a list of when to charge and win not to.

You should charge if:

-  You have the advantage (usually numbers and skill)
-  You need to get to an objective and will take an acceptable amount of casualties or fewer
-  A static fight is to your disadvantage (they have archers and spears, etc.)
-  The enemy doesn't know how to repel the charge (depending on the circumstance)
-  Seizing the initiative will give you an advantage

You should not charge if:

-  You do NOT have the advantage (usually numbers and skill)
-  A static fight is to your advantage (you have archers and spears, etc.)
-  The enemy knows how to repel a charge (depending on the circumstance)
-  Seizing the initiative will NOT give you an advantage

The list may seem straight forward, and it is, but I think sometimes people are blinded by a little idealism.

Charging a Bunch of Spears

To begin with, I want to show some very simple, obvious situations where the correct call is to make the charge.  Later I'll cover some scenarios that didn't work out so well.

Below is funny video that is making the rounds.  Now I don't know if there were any clever tactics to bringing all of those spears so far out in front of their support, but at the very least this video illustrates a simple example of a bunch of shields running down a bunch of spears.  As there were no support weapons, and the spears had all turned to run away, there really was no value in slowing the charge up by sticking together, so they simply ran as fast as they could to get as many kills as possible (and a few laughs from the sidelines as well).

Charging When a They Have all the Archers

Some of my unit was recently in a 9 on 9 single death battle.  We actually had 10 fighters, so I volunteered to sit out and said one thing as I left, "They have 3 archers.  Don't stand there and get picked apart."

Normally our fighters like to spread out and force the fight either into a static spear battle, or to pick off people with 2 on 1 or 3 on 2 fights.  We are also good at waiting and repelling charges.  Especially with only 2 shields out of 9 fighters, this would be the inclination.   Had they employed any of these tactics, the archers would have decimated them.

So, instead they formed a 2 man shield wall backed by 3 poles and went very aggressively at the left flank, which flushed the archers off to the right side where they got run down by the rest of our group.  The battle was over very quickly.

Don't Charge if the Opponent Knows how to Repel It

Ok, there's a couple of things that need to be explained regarding this next video.  Often the unit that takes the initiative on a charge will have the advantage much like you would if you and your friend had a pushing contest.  If you jump and take the initiative and catch your opponent flatfooted, you well send him off balance.  When a unit charges at a flatfooted unit, they tend to knock them backwards and finish off the battle fighting "downhill."  The idea is that you will throw them a bit off balance, your shields can get through the front line and into the backfield to clean up the poles and spears, while your poles and spears follow up behind and cleanup their frontline.

However, this normally doesn't work if you a) charge into a unit that knows how to repel a charge or b) send smaller numbers into a unit with more numbers, especially if they also have equivalent levels of talent.

In many cases, charges are repelled simply by staying alive, absorbing the chargers, and trying to funnel them into kill pockets.  This isn't something that is normally planned but rather done on a more instinctual (drawing from experience) back of the brain level as each fighter bumps the chargers into other fighters, breaking them apart, hand having the back field surround them and beat them down from all sides.

Before getting into the video below, I should qualify it by saying that this was last year's Allied Champs battle and the army on the left was very experienced in this fight (having fought it at Pennsic every year) while the army on the right consisting of the East and Mid, had only fought it twice before.  Those armies worked very hard on the battle throughout the year and despite having some trouble early on, managed to pull out a victory in the end by a single point.

The battle itself is a capture the flag with resurrection corals that open every three minutes.  The basic strategy to is weed the other side down, normally with spears, and finish with a hard push toward the flag before the three minute coral release.  What tends to win this battle is a combination of numbers (its a 100 on 100, but substitutions are allowed.  More substitutes allow for more recovery), skill, and fitness (it is truly a test of endurance).

One last caveat, sometimes I catch flack for being overly critical of on the field leadership, so I think its only fair to point out that prior to the battle I thought that the East was going to employ a losing strategy by rotating substitutes in too often, and lowering the quality of fighters on the field.  I freely admit that I was wrong in my assessment and that I think their strategy is ultimately what lead to their success on the field (that, and letting me fight on their side instead of against them...........hey, I'm only one guy, but I did get a lot of kills if I do say so myself!)  =P

Anyway, what you see in the video is a 10 man charge early in the fight which initially pushes back the allies, but leads to the demise of many of the chargers without tallying up many kills.  I contend that this thins out the charging side giving the side that repelled the charge a numbers advantage.  If you watch the video, it takes about 25 seconds to recover the ground that was lost, and then the repellers keep sweeping forward toward the flag, eventually capturing it.

In a situation like this, I can only assume one must be thinking one of two things:

-  "Their spears are in the front.  We can charge those spears with our shields and kill them."


-  "If we charge them, we'll catch them flatfooted and then we can kill them."

Both thoughts may be true against most units, except that this was a champions battle, with both sides consisting mostly of experienced (some incredibly experienced) melee fighters.  These are spears who know how to quickly get out of the way, and shields and poles who know how to repel a charge.  It shouldn't be surprising that charging 10 people into a pack of 20-30 champion level fighters shouldn't end well.

I saw many examples of this in the video.  I've yet to really take the time to analyze the end of the battle, but I'm curious if the charges continued or if they eventually stopped.

Again, charging in these battles is not necessarily a bad idea.  They just need to be done either when one side has a clear advantage and wants to finish off the fight before the 3 minute mark, or they need to make a quick 10-20 yard push toward the flag in order to capture it.

The Statistics

After writing the above section I decided to watch the entire video, again.  I counted 7 "even strength" charges.  By that I mean that there were two solid static lines near the middle of the field, and one side decided to mount a charge (6 times it was the East/Mid).

1 was successful
1 lead to no change in advantage
5 resulted in an immediate capture of 10-20 yards, followed by a much greater loss as the other side pressed back within 30-40 seconds

If You are Going to Lose Anyway, do it as Slowly as Possible

I fought in a 50 on 50 battle last year.  Our left flank was defended by a small unit of relatively skilled (some highly skilled) fighters, who faced a larger unit also composed of relatively skilled (some highly skilled) fighters.  If you put these two units on the battle field by themselves, the larger unit is going to win 20 out of 20 fights, guaranteed.  It was an un-winnable matchup.

In the first battle, the larger unit marched across the field, mounted a charge, swarmed the smaller unit, and then marched into our backfield and cleaned us up.

That's an example of good application of a charge.  If you are going to win, win quickly, get it over with, and then get the remainder of your unit into another fight immediately. 

The following battle, the smaller unit made an adjustment by marching across the field quickly to meet the larger unit, and charged into them hard and fast!

The result?  Can you guess? 

They died, just like before, except much earlier in the battle and in a position that allowed the larger unit to get into their second engagement much more quickly.

Had this been against a unit of similar size and ability, and one that's not particularly skilled at repelling charges (like most unbelt champions teams.....great chargers, but not so much the repelling), this extra level of initiative might have been the key to winning the engagement.  But because they were so outmatched, it only resulted in a quicker defeat.

Given the choice between the two scenarios, the better play (waiting for them to come) was the first scenario.  Other options would have been to drag the fight even further away from the action, scatter before impact, get help from another unit, or trade flank responsibilities with another unit (ultimately the last choice was made in the next battle with much better results).

The point being, charging hard and fast was the worst of those decisions.

What if You Have Unlimited Resurrections?

I was criticized for having our unit standing and playing "ticky-tack" with our spears when we should have charged in a scenario where we have unlimited resurrections in a timed battle.  While I tend to agree that I am too tentative with calling a charge, the following statement I don't agree with.

"If you have unlimited resurrections, don't waste your time with your spears.  Charge.  If you die you have resurrections, and ultimately you will win the battle more quickly."

I know first hand that this statement is not often true only because I have personally called charges under exactly those circumstance that have lead to zero kills (I had also once helped repel a charge where our unit took zero kills).

Think about it by taking an extreme example.  Their side has 6 shields and 4 poles.  Your side has 10 spears.  How many kills will you get if you charge?  None.

Okay, what if you have 9 spears and 1 shield?  Probably still none.  8 spears and 2 shields?  What about 6 spears and 4 shields, but all of your shields are small and inexperienced and the other side has formed a kill pocket?

The point here is that there are plenty of situations that you can end up in where a charge won't lead to a single kill.  Sometimes you have to whittle the other side down with spears and archers.

And none of this takes into account the fatigue factor of multiple charges and walking to and from the resurrection point. 

Take Aways

If there's anything to gain from this, its the following:

- Not every problem can be solved with a charge
- Identify what kind of situations can be solved with a charge and which ones can't
- Charge when a charge will be effective
- Don't charge when a charge will not be effective

Monday, April 9, 2018

3 on 2 is Better Than 3 on 3

After writing 66 tactical blog posts, I've learned a lot about running a small melee practice.  One conclusion that I've come to is that a 3 on 2 practice is way more useful than a 3 on 3.


3 on 3's tend to turn into 3 one on one's.  This is especially problematic if you are a new fighter, or a seasoned tourney fighter who's done 1000s of reps training yourself for 1 on 1 fighting.  The 3 on 2, on the other hand, sets you up for a very obvious need to come up with a plan to win.  The larger team absolutely needs to learn how to win while taking no casualties and to win quickly, while the smaller team needs to learn how to survive and try to make the best of a bad situation.

On a side note, I used to be a high school basketball coach.  Every practice we ran 3 on 2 and 2 on 1 drills as do many basketball programs.  It is uncommon for a program to run 3 on 3 drills.

New Perspectives

This is probably the 4th time I've written about the 3 on 2 because I'm constantly learning more about it.  Now, tactics will certainly vary depending on the level of experience of the fighters.  A lot of kingdoms spend a lot of time trying to get their fighters to stick together because there is safety in numbers, so what you are about to read may be counter productive for what I call "kingdom fighters" (fighters who don't train for melee with a household and intend to fight with the kingdom at big wars).   More often than not, when fighting a 3 on 2, both teams need to split, and I'll explain why.  Keep in mind as you read through the explanation, I'm merely trying to present an analysis of why it works.  This isn't conjecture, but rather a review of what I've learned through many, many repetitions of this drill. 

2 on 1 and 45's

Many should be well aware after a little bit of experience that they key to beating a single opponent with two fighters is to attack at 45 degree angles. 

This isn't really any different for a 3 on 2 advantage.  The left fighter tries to get to a 45 degree attack angle on the opponents' right fighter, and the right fighter does the same on the opponents' left fighter.  The center fighter then attempts a 45 degree attack angle on either one from the inside.

Now consider the 2 on 1 from the singe fighter's perspective.  What he wants to do is position himself around one of the fighters in order to take the other fighter out of the fight and turn it into a 1 on 1.

Again, the same for a 2 on 3.  Essentially by splitting out wide, both fighters can attempt to take the middle fighter out of the fight.

Ultimately, if both teams know what they are doing, the fight will break up into a 2 on 1 on one side of the field, and a 1 on 1on the other side.  This is caused by the team of 2 splitting and then the center fighter on the team of 3 committing to one side or the other.

Disadvantages to Moving as a Unit

What is often taught is to move together as a unit and to attempt to throw your unit at the flank of the opponents' unit.  Again, this may be the best strategy given the abilities of your team, but I'd like to outline the weakness in this approach.  In either case, the team that moves as a unit leaves a glaring weakness on their trailing side that it easy to double up on.

Of course, both of these counters require the receiving team to know how to react to a unit charge.  Most of them don't, which is one of the reasons the unit charging on the oblique is as effective as it is.  For what it is worth, I have tried this maneuver several times and have lost many times to a much weaker opponent.

Thoughts About Who to Double Up On

We did a lot of 3 on 2s last Friday night and, with that group of people, ultimately we went for a strategy of doubling up on the weakest fighter.  This may seem counter intuitive in that you might think you'd want to match your 2 fighters against their best and 1 fighter against their worst in order to present a balanced attack.  My line of thinking was that we don't need to win the 1 on 1, only survive it.  If we double up on the weaker fighter, that should ensure the quickest kill.  If the single fighter simply goes into full defense mode, he shouldn't have to last longer than a few seconds before help arrives.

Again, this all depends on who the fighters are.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

2018 Spring Melee Practice Scenarios

I made some adjustments to my approach for melee practice this spring and, so far, its been a huge success!  In short I've been using social media to get the word out, finding a neutral location, and using the Markland system instead of the SCA system.  While the SCA is great, the biggest, and one of the best games in town, the tourney focus and the armoring requirements were making it difficult for me to get something consistent going.  To use just one example, its not uncommon for someone in the SCA to drive 3 hours to a practice, and if it happens to be your practice, its not very hospitable to run melees when they were coming to prepare for a major tourney. 

I've found that Markland was an easier gateway to bring in new people, while also allowing SCA regulars to fight, hence the reason why I started a practice near, but before, one of the local SCA practices.  I can get new people into loaner armor and throw them into the mix with no authorization, while some of the SCA people can jump in to a few fights as a warmup for the following SCA practice.  (For those not aware, Markland is very similar, but with an inch of foam on the hitting surface).

Practice Scenarios
What I like in a good scenario is A) everyone fights the whole time (minimal standing, guarding, etc.) and B) some sort of learning, teamwork, etc. takes place.  Most of our scenarios have consisted of between 8 and 11 fighters.  The ultimate goal is not to form unit cohesion, or sticking together, or following command, but rather for everyone to have fun, get some experience under different situations, and learn to work together without being told what to do (though we still communicate).  This is, for lack of a better term, "Street Ballin'," the ability to adapt to any situation on the fly.

Single death.

3 lives or unlimited resurrections.

Single death.

3 lives or unlimited resurrections. 

3 lives or unlimited resurrections. 

3 lives or unlimited resurrections. 

Short blog today.  Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, March 5, 2018

2 on 1 drills - new fighters - new insights

On Sunday I had two fighters come over to my house, Rygus and his roommate.  Rygus has been fighting for ~2 years with solid melee experience while this was his roommate's 3rd time in armor, first ever melee drilling.

After doing some singles fighting all afternoon, trying out different weapons, working on techniques, philosophy ,etc. we opted to do some 2 on 1 drills.  We went with one right handed shield vs two great swords.  There were a number of reasons for picking this combination (including the fact that I had two great swords and only one pole), but ultimately the most important part is making sure that the battles are competitive and that the tactics work out in a fashion that is not uncommon on the battlefield.  The goal is not really to win the battles, but to learn how to work together in a 2 on 1 situation.

What Most Fighters do Incorrectly

I have done this drill with countless fighters, and I've found that most fighters do this drill very poorly.  Partly this could be due to a lack of talent, but I think the larger problem is simply a lack of experience or exposure to good tactical awareness.  I also think that a reinforced tourney mindset hurts the melee awareness.

Newer fighters:

1)  Waiting for the fight to come to them

These are the fighters that will stand there and wait for the opponent to come to them.  In a 2 on 1 situation, the single fighter will move to engage one fighter by pulling him away from the other fighter, while the second fighter just stands there and watches the duel resolve itself.

2)  Avoiding a 2 on 1

I've really been noticing this over the last couple of years with newer fighters.  I call it "Bruce Lee-ing the fight."  If you've ever seen a Bruce Lee movie, he will fend off a mob of bad guys as they charge at him one at a time.  I've seen new fighters win 1 on 4 engagements against other new fighters as they charge in one at a time.  It seems to be some sort of natural instinct of fairness, or taking turns, where a person will wait until their friend is finished fighting as if they don't want to get in the way.

Veteran fighters:

1)  Charging in as fast as possible

Veteran fighters tend to be less timid and are under the delusion that charging at an opponent as aggressively as possible is the best way to win a numbers advantage engagement.  This is more or less a hold over from the kingdom unbelted team training.  This is where you train a team of good tourney fighters to fight another team of good tourney fighters, both teams which really have minimal experience working with each other.  Within that context, the best method is really to get them to charge quickly and aggressively in the same direction as they don't really have the opportunity to learn how to work more complicated tactics together, but also that they can generally rely on matched aggressiveness from their teammates within the 40 second battle.

The problem is, this is not the most effective way for two fighters to take out a single fighter in some format other than an unbelted champions battle.  An example that comes to mind is when I was in a battle that left us with two spears and a shieldman facing a duke.  Instead of working together, the shieldman charged ahead to fight the duke by himself instead of allowing the spears to work on the duke at range while setting up a better killing opportunity for the team.

When fighters charge in as fast as possible, it isn't difficult for a good single fighter to maneuver in a way to turn the fight into a 1 on 1 while leaving the slower fighter out of the fight.

2)  Cutting off your teammates

In addition to the quick charging, I've noticed that fighters have the tendency to charge toward the middle of the opponent rather than the side ,which causes them to cut off their own teammates and turn the fight into a 1 on 1.

The Single Fighter

The goal of the single fighter in these situations is pretty simple; turn it into a 1 on 1 battle by trying to isolate one fighter and take the other fighter out of the fight.  This will often require some sort of sprint in one direction or the other, usually away from your shield side, and try to get one fighter in between the other.  If either fighter makes any of the four mistakes listed above, your chances of success are much greater.

When I fought as the single shield this weekend, I had two goals in mind.  I'd either charge at the new fighter hoping that he would pivot in place and cut off Rygus, or I would charge at Rygus hoping that the new fighter would be slow to react.  I had success early on, but it wasn't long before they both figured out how to work well together.

The Two Man Team

Since we had no time limit on how long it would take to win the fight, we both moved at a very moderate speed.  The ultimate goal was for the two of us to be right at striking distance, but outside of the single fighter's range, regardless of where he moved.  This required us to constantly move together, as if we were two legs of a giant who is facing the single fighter, always forming a triangle with our swords.  Sometimes one fighter would have to move faster than the other.  Sometimes one fighter would move backward while the other moved forward, always keeping this triangle on the opponent.

At some point the single fighter would have to commit toward sprinting at one fighter, and that fighter would swing at him, while also trying to maneuver to get the other fighter into position to maintain that triangle of attack.

Ultimately you want to be able to do this as quickly as possible, but since we had a new fighter, we did it as slowly as necessary to be able to work together.  Quickness comes later.


Occasionally we'd secretly decide that one fighter wasn't allowed to move to see if the second fighter can force the single fighter to come into the triangle.  Sometimes we'd have a goal of trying to corral the single fighter like a sheep dog into an area that we'd want him in.

The biggest failure/learning point with these variations was that the new fighter wasn't quite experienced enough to be able to work Rygus back toward me, and would sometime misjudge how quickly he could back pedal toward me for help, or he might backpedal in a direction that wasn't close enough to me.  I also learned that I needed to be more vocal to let him know when he was getting to far away, or so that he could hear my voice and know where to run to.

Rygus was far too clever to allow us to trap him in a corner, so good for him on that.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Aedult Swim Spear Fighting: What I Learned

For those who don't know me, I've been fighting since 1993 (w/little break in between) and the bulk of that has been as a melee spear fighter, and especially in the last 2-3 years I've really focussed all of the attention I can muster to "mastery" of the weapon.  For those of you who do know me.....well, you know me.  =)

For the most part, the vast majority of practices I go to I'm the most experienced spearman there, so there's only so much I can learn, most of which I have to figure out on my own.  Having said that, my old mentor from 20+ years ago has been around from time to time and we challenge each other, while especially in the last year Sir Donnan and I have had some epic duels and have exchanged a lot of thoughts on the weapon form.

Aedult Swim

If you aren't already familiar with the practice, Duke Timothy has set up an annual practice at a warehouse in the middle of Pennsylvania where hot sticks (and not so hot sticks) from all over the country will travel to test their mettle, teach, and learn from other hot sticks that they don't normally have the opportunity to fight with.

With that said, the past two Aedult Swim's I had the opportunity to fight Sir Ariela, Sir Dietrich, Sir Donnan, Sir Randal, Master Wolfstan, Sir Simon, Guppy, and Ulsar, all of whom challenged the skill level that I brought and inspired me to take my game to the next level.

The 5 Ways

Spearing, though difficult to master, is a pretty simple form.  You pretty much have a thrust to the left, a thrust to the right, and a face thrust.  With the left and right thrusts you can tweak the shots to where you throw what I call an "inside hook" and an "outside hook" (essentially moving the hand to get the tip to rotate over the opponent's shaft).  Nevertheless, that's 3 shots, and not really a great ability to throw combinations when compared to other weapons forms.

Compare that to, say, sword and shield; flat snap, off side, Moulinet, flat snap leg, off side leg, head wrap, leg wrap, face thrust, etc. etc.  If a shield man can learn 10 shots, that's 10 options to attack.  If he can then put them into two shot combinations, that gives him over 100 possible attack combinations, making it very difficult to predict what he will throw.

With only 3 available spear shots, it becomes critical to master all of the "5 Ways of Attacking.'

1 - direct attack (hit what you are aiming at)
3 - feint and attack (pretend you will thrust at one area and follow up with a thrust somewhere else)
2 - combination attack (hit 2-3 times in a row)
4 - draw or counterattack (get them to attack you first, and then immediately counter)
5 - move their weapon and then attack

Aedult Swim I

Coming into Aedult Swim I, I had a very deadly direct attack.  That was my meal ticket.  I'd see where my opponent was open, and hit them there faster than they could defend.  The problem was, this was all hat I had.  After over 20 years of fighting, my game, as effective as it was, only encompassed one of the ways of attacking.

I quickly found out when fighting other top spear fighters that my direct attack was not enough.  I started to notice that as soon as I began to move my hips, they were already moving to block.  Through the course of several duels, I started to set up my shots with feints, and began to have more success.  In addition, I began to alternate my stances between "aggressive" and "relaxed" in order to try to throw them off on when my shots were or were not coming.  These adjustments proved to be successful.

Aedult Swim II

In the year between the two events I continued to work on the 2 ways, in addition to adding in some combination attacks (these would usually come after a missed shot.  I worked on letting my tip bounce off the ground, picking it up quickly, and then throwing a quick follow up shot).  So lets call that three ways of attack.

Then I met Ulsar, Ragnar Blackhammer's squire, out of Caid, then Atlantia, and now the Midrealm.  Ulsar is, in my opinion, one of the top two spearman I've ever faced (the other being French Canadian Sir Moe out of the East) and the only one to have given me an undisputed beating (I believe he won 10 of 13 passes).  The problems that he gave me were an extra inch in range and similar speed, taking away my usual advantages, and having a really tight defense making it near impossible to move his spear out of the way with feints.  Worst of all, he found a hole in my defense which he was able to exploit, that being an overly crouched and sideways defensive position that was difficult to counter out of.  This gave him free reign to throw aggressive attacks at me without fear of being hit.

Aedult Swim III

In the year before Aedult Swim III, most of my improvements came from a lot of dueling that I did with Sir Donnen.  After many practices with him, I think we both learned that we were not able to kill with a quick direct attack.  Even after setting up my shots with good feints, I felt that he started to figure out how to read my patterns (how do I look when I feint vs how do I look when I actually attack).  We both started getting much more patient and either forcing the opponent to attack, or really building tension in the fight to throw off when a direct attack would come.  So lets say that at this point I had learned the 4th way, draw or counterattack.

I brought this into Aedult Swim III and got a chance at redemption.  Ulsar and I did two full sessions of spear dueling in the afternoon.  I didn't count the actual number of passes, but if I had to guess, they were probably each about 15.  This time I brought with me better speed and timing, a more offensive fighting stance, and a 4th way.  This was better, but still not enough.  I still had a really hard time getting his spear out of position.

Which brings up to the 5th way.  Earlier that day I was working with a fellow Anglesey fighter, Tacitus, who also had developed a really tight defensive position.  The only way to get him to open up was to force his spear off of its line, causing him to over compensate, and then fire to the other side.  This is something I had been doing for years, but never with a powerful push on the opponent's spear.  I had actually worked on a "smack" technique for a while, but never felt comfortable with it.  This "shove" cause a light bulb to go off.  I finally got it, and have now added the 5th way to my repertoire.

Utilizing all 5 ways, I was able to "hold my own" against a highly respected opponent, one who beat me pretty handedly the year before.  Truth be told, we didn't keep score, and it wasn't a true tourney situation, so even if I knew the actual score its not a true test of skill.  He told me he felt that we went about 50/50, and in my opinion, even if I actually won less than 50% I'm very satisfied.  I made him work for it, gave him a challenge, and had him breathing heavy, so I felt I gave him a good fight, something I was unable to do the year before.

Developing Speed and Accuracy

One point I didn't cover about is with regard to speed and accuracy.  Over the course of the last year I probably threw well over 20,000 spear shots on my target at home, constantly refining my technique to get my shots faster, more accurate, and coming from more aggressive angles.  Learning to fight is still of great importance, but bringing sharpened tools to the fight are just as important.

Teaching Some Friends

Over the course of the day I had the opportunity to teach a couple of friends a few spears techniques.  Both are great fighters having fought on championship teams and having been inducted into the Order of the Tyger Combatant, and it was satisfying showing them something that they were able to pick up quickly. 

One of them, we (Ulsar and myself) just had to tweak the fighting stance a little bit to cover up a hole in his defense on his right side.  The other I showed how to throw a spear shot to the opponent to his left without allowing that opponent to know that the shot was coming to him.

Fighting is Largely About Recognizing Patterns and Timing

Ulsar left me with this great analogy.  If you've ever played Mike Tyson's Punch Out, each fighter you had to face had repeated patterns that you had to figure out.  Once you were able to figure out the patterns, all you had to do was get the timing down so that you could hit them when they were vulnerable and defend yourself when they were attacking.

Spear fighting is very similar. 

All in all the fighting at Aedult Swim was great and highly recommended!