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!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Commanding Troops that are not Yours

A question came up recently in a forum and I just didn't think I was capable of putting a succinct answer into a Facebook comment.  Now I don't pretend to think that I'm an expert commander, but I'm certainly better than I was 3 years, and its something I've been putting a lot of thought into.

How do You Present Yourself?

First and foremost, people are not very inclined to listen to a young person in newbie armor.  One of the things that I've noticed is that the older you are, and the better your kit looks, the more inclined people are to listen to you.  Beyond that, you need to speak with confidence, have a loud voice, and be very direct and specific about what it is you want people to do.  "You guys need to start pressing those guys, " is not a very clear command.  "Push around the right.   Push around the right.  Keep moving.  That's good.  Keep going.  Okay, lets jump them.  NOW, NOW, NOW!" is much more authoritative and clear.

Is There a Commander Already Present?

Before doing anything, you need assess the situation as quickly as time allows and see if you can identify someone who is "in charge" worthy. 

One Pennsic we shared a bridge with Atlantia.  Our unit had mostly died off toward the end of the time limit, and along with that, most of the hot spears on the bridge.  What we were left with was a bunch of Atlantian shields facing 2 ranks of spears.  The right call was to charge, but instead of calling it myself, I looked back and caught the eye of Sir Bryce de Byram, who I could tell was surveying the situation.  I ran up to him and yelled, "they're stacked 2 ranks deep with spears and we've run out.  We need to charge."  He replied, "yeah, we're on it," looked at the Atlantian commander and gave him the nod, who then called the charge.

Know Your Audience

A disorganized group of young fighters in low grade kits are likely to listen to commands.  Households wearing the same colors are much more likely to listen to "suggestions."  They don't want a random guy to tell them what to do, but they might likely listen to good advice.  If they've lost their commander, there's likely still a couple of veterans in the group that the rest will listen to.

One Pennsic the Tuchux broke through on our left flank and I sent my unit to go and stop the bleeding.  I ran back and saw a unit waiting in reserve and started yelling enthusiastically, "Hey, the Tuchux are breaking through.  We need you help!  We've got to stop them!"  They immediately jumped into action.  Even though I wasn't "assertive," the task was very clear.  You, go there, now.

That goes over much better than actually saying, "Hey, you guys.  Get over there right now!"

Know What You are Talking About
People are more likely to listen to commands that are obvious ideas that just need a voice to get everyone on the same page.  This is not D&D.  Don't pull dumb ideas out of your butt just because the look like epic victories in your imagination.

The Best Command Situations

Don't turn commanding into a personal box to check off on your way to becoming a knight.  Good leadership is about getting the job done, not about trying to take charge of a situation that you have no business taking charge of.

The best command situation is very simply motivating units in a "kill situation" (like at any point during a single death field battle) to move toward the enemy when they are unengaged, usually after the surviving the first impact.

From personal experience, the best example I can come up with was from Aethelmearc War Practice, two years ago.  I found myself in the middle of a unit of Tuchux (we were on the same team) and we had just wiped out the right flank in a way that left our back toward the rest of the fighting.  With ~20 fighters now left with nothing to do, the obvious answer was to turn around and find somewhere else to be where we were needed. 

Lacking a commanding voice at this point (their leaders must have died), I began yelling, "Lets go find someone to hit.  C'mon!  Everyone, this way!  To the left, to the left!  There they are.  Lets get down this hill and hit them.  Lets go, lets go!  Keep moving!"  At this point its really about finding an obvious right decision, and then motivating your side to get on board with the plan. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

5 Fundamentals of Melee while Eating at Denny's

Who here discusses tactics with their house hold over dinner?  How often?  Is it a regular part of the conversation?

Where I live, tactics are rarely discussed.  Of course, what's to discuss?  Form a shield wall and go right, what else is there to say?  Who ever hits first and hits the hardest, wins.

The Anglesey approach is much different than what standard units around these parts do.  It has its plusses and minuses.  The plus is that its more effective.  It really is, at least more effective than most.  Its like playing college basketball offenses against high school basketball defenses.  The downside is that it takes time and dedication to learn.  Forming a shield wall and going right can be learned in a day.  What I'm about to describe takes years to understand the nuances of more advanced melee fighting.

Stages of a Fighter

There are stages of fighting that one must progress through in order to master the melee.  In my opinion, most fighters never really get past the first stage.

1 - One on One
2 - Supporter
3 - Leader

Most people begin at the one on one stage.  What this means is that if you see a person, you go and fight him with no concept of how it fits into the bigger picture of the battle.  This also means that if you see a friend fighting someone, you tend to leave him alone and either watch until the fight is over, or look for someone else to fight.  Often times in this stage, the fighter will charge at any one person on the field, even if that person has three friends backing him up.  At other times, fighters will actually grab each other's attention and give a little nod like, "Hey, are you ready?  You are?  Okay, lets fight."

For some people, this stage lasts forever.  If you are a unit or army commander with no interest in actually developing these fighters within the context of a melee, the best you can hope for is to teach them to "stick together" and listen to commands (usually either "charge," or some other phrase which means "don't charge").

I've come to expect new fighters, with proper training, to exit out of this stage within 10-15 events (counting each day at a multi day event has its own event).  The next stage is the supporter.  This is a fighter that doesn't really know what to do, but they know who does.  Instead of running out and trying to find a one on one fight, they start watching the experienced fighters drawing attention, and then they run in and kill their opponents when the opportunity arrises.

Great examples would be when I fight with a sword and shield and have either Yangus or Rygus as my wingmen.  Now to be clear, no one tells them to be my wingman.  They just know by now to look for fighters to support, and we often find ourselves next to each other.  Now, since I'm not a particularly great sword and shield fighter, I am often out matched when an enemy shield presses me.  What I like to do is draw him in to me with my body movement and get him to turn the back of his head to my wingman who's fighting with a pole, giving that pole fighter an easy kill.

The final stage is to be a leader.  This doesn't mean unit commander, but rather one who knows how to make things happen on the field.  At this point, he should have other "supporters" watching and helping him out.  Typically it takes probably 50 - 100 events to truly get to this level.

5 Fundamentals

This is what I wrote out at Denny's after practice.

1 - Support the Flanks

This is job #1.  If your flanks drop, you're dead.  So many units make fighting easy because they "stick together," which allows us to form a kill pocket.  Keep enemy fighters out of your backfield, or if they do get into your backfield, contain them.  Personally I prefer having the two best shieldmen on the flanks.

2 - Even Balance of Weapons and Strength

Spread your weapons and your strengths out evenly unless there is some clear objective that calls for a specific strategy (like the gate you need to defend is on your left and they are lining up a big bubba shield wall to crash into it).  Clumping spears together allows the other side a weakness to run over. Clumping shields together in a static battle will give their spears easy targets.  Putting all of your new fighters on the same flank will cause that flank to collapse.  Etc.

3 - Asses Range Advantage

If they have archers and you don't, you need to press the attack before they can pick your line apart.  If you have 4 veteran spears, and they have 2 novice spears, lull them into a static fight and pick them apart.

4 - Push at Least One Flank

Almost always you want to try to get them into a kill pocket.  Ideally I like to use a pincer attack and move at both flanks, but sometimes it makes sense to only push on one side while trying to keep the other side stable.  Sometimes you don't have the ability to push either side, so you do your best to control both sides, or reposition your unit somewhere else.

5 - Can you win, or will you lose?

Not every battle can be won.  If their right flank is stacked with more talent than your left flank, then you have to do your best to draw out the fight and attempt to keep the flank stable.  If you can win quickly, then win as quickly as you can because you might be losing somewhere else on the field.  If you can't win, then try to survive.  If survival is futile, then try to drag out the fight as long as possible and die in a position on the field that sets up the rest of your side for the greatest odds of winning.

When tourney fighting, you have to believe that you can beat anyone in front of you.  In melee fighting, you want to avoid any situation where your odds of winning are not greatly in your favor.  Stall the knight, kill his squires.

Tactics Cheat Sheet

#5 leads to a simple tactics cheat sheet that our warlord, Arundoor, put together.  Its a nice way at looking at the decisions you should make given your tactical situation on the field.

Final Note

Anglesey has been going through a growth phase, which is a good thing.  A lot of this growth has occurred within the borders of the East Kingdom.  "Kinsmen" are our leaders, and lately we've been getting ~8-12 kinsmen fighting at Pennsic.  Ideally we are strongest when at least half of our unit are kinsmen.  We only have 2 kinsmen in the East, and until recently, 5 of our other 6 fighters in the kingdom were in stage 1.  Anglesey tactics don't work well for that kind of mix of talent, but we always believe in the long game.  I fully expect this same group of guys to "hold their own" this year and develop into some real killing machines in just a few short years.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Maze War - Identifying Weapon Strengths

For several years, now, Duke Timothy has been putting on a fantastic event in a corn maze.  We fought from 11:00 to 4:00 with zero breaks, and then many fought again from 6pm to midnight.  As our warlord said, "He seems to have cracked the code for putting on fighting events.  Now if he can only write the instructions to the rest of the SCA and get them to follow suit."

Most of the scenarios mainly played out kind of like a woods battle, and there wasn't much in the way of tactics that presented itself to be of any interest, but I did find one glaring hole in some of the smaller 5 man teams.

Rule number 1, as far as I have always been concerned, is to first identify who has the range superiority.  If your side has more spears and/or archers, then you want to lull the other side into a static fight.  Any shields that you have should stay out of the way and only step up when the other side is threatening a charge, in which case their job is to stop the charge and keep the spears and archers alive.

On the other hand, if your side has fewer spears and/or archers, or if your overall range strength is less due to experience and/or talent, you have no choice but to charge and to do it quickly.  The 5 man teams that understood this rule were very difficult to beat, but there were many who didn't seem to understand (or care).

Warlord Tourney

There were several warlord tourney's that were run starting with 5 man teams.  A 5 man team would seek out another 5 man team and fight it out.  After the fight, everyone instantly resurrects and the losing team gets absorbed by the winning team, who then goes on to fight a 10 on 10 fight.  The final battle was a 20 on 20 on 20 three way fight, which was quite interesting (it actually worked out well).

Personally I feel that the ideal 5 man team in a corn maze would consist of 2-4 shields with some poles and, at the most, 1 spear.  Interestingly, one of the warlord tourney winners was a team of 4 spears and 1 shield.  In fact, 3 of the 5 fighters had less than 2 years of experience, each.  In my opinion, despite the talent of the other two fighters, there's no reason why this team should have won the first fight (some of the team members said as much to me).  How did they win?  The first group they ran into failed to recognize the need to charge.  They stood there and let the spears pick them apart.  After winning the first fight, the team now head a spear heavy 10 man squad which is actually tactically strong.

Spear vs Shield

In one of the 5 man scenarios I found myself across from our warlord Arundoor.  Anyone who knows him knows that he is incredibly dangerous in a melee.  As soon as our two teams met, I got a quick kill with my spears against one of his teammates.  Understanding rule #1, he immediately made a charge at me.  Normally I'd flee and let someone else take him on, but I knew that we had no shields to back me up and that I would not be able to swing out into a position where I could get my spear into action.  So I slammed my body into his shield hoping to prevent him from getting into our backfield.

As a result, I lost an arm, but I made him swing 3 times to get it, and he ended up getting killed by one of our poles in the process.  In this exchange I believe we both made the correct tactical decision.

Being without an arm, I charged their archer hoping to keep him from being able to reload his crossbow.  I was more interested in neutralizing him than I was in killing him.

Unrelated:  Melee vs Singles Practice

So that's all I really had to write on that subject, but while I have the blog open I thought I'd bring up another topic:

A recent conversation came up about whether or not one should practice melees or singles in order to get better at melee fighting.  The literal argument was made that one should practice singles 100% of the time, and that the refined killing skills would translate well to melee.  The context was not practicing singles versus not practicing at all, but rather singles versus melee.

Now, truth be told, I don't really believe that the argument was meant to be taken literally.  I think there are lots of reasons to spend the bulk of one's time practicing with singles, with the top two being 1) its easier to get a singles practice going and 2) you will improve both tourney and melee skills while melee practice does nothing for tourney.  But I can't disagree more with the idea that one should practice singles instead of melee if the goal is to improve melee.

This is my 61st post on melee tactics, very little of which can actually be learned in a singles practice, and I don't think I'm running out of things to write about.  Does anyone think that the players on basketball, soccer, and hockey teams spend the bulk of their practice in one on one situations?  Of course not.  The bulk of the success in a melee comes from positioning, communication, leadership, knowing how to read your opponent, assessing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing what weapon to bring to what kind of fight, knowing whether to press, stall, or run away, etc. and to do all of this while spending the least amount of time thinking.  This can only come from training those specific skills.

Sure, a given fighter with improved singles skills is going to be more dangerous fighter, all else being equal, which is why a portion of practice should be dedicated to fighting 1 on 1 (in fact, I'd probably recommend that at least 50% of a melee fighter's practice be spent practicing singles or pell work).  But given the choice, I'd much rather have a pole arm on my side who's skills are limited to a basic over hand chop to the head who knows his role on our team rather than a quarter finalist in crown who has little clue of how to fight in a melee.  As a friend once said, "I like fighting with you guys.  On Saturday, I couldn't die because your poles beat off anyone who tried to kill me.  The next day, fighting with that other group, they just let people run me down." 

I'm sure some reading this will disagree, and to that all I can say is to trust me.  I've been doing this for over 20 years and have specifically focused on melee.  Its not a skill that can go unpracticed.  Like anything else, you have to pay for your education in bruises.  Its not something you can just figure out by thinking about it on the day of the battle.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Experiment Bringing Your Spears Up

EDIT:  (this post is considering skirmish situations, or any situation where a small group of fighters find themselves detached from a larger unit)

Spear is my best weapon and I've been fighting primarily with it since 1995 or so (started off with great sword).  One of the things I picked up early on, as well as my friends in Anglesey, Concusare, Galatia, KF, Head Clan, and the other melee groups in our region was that spears don't need to hide behind shields as is often taught in the SCA.

There has been this prevailing philosophy in the SCA that you want to bring all of your points to the enemy at the same time.  This would mean, for example, that your shield should be within 3 feet of the enemy, your poles 7 1/2 feet, and your spears 9 feet.  In theory, this combination of attackers should have three weapon ends on the opponent at the same time.  There's also a belief that shields offer the best defense and spears offer the worst defense, so shields should stand in front of the spears to keep the spears safe.

This philosophy is missing the forest through the trees.  The BEST defense is being out of range of your opponent while your best offense is to hit an enemy who can't hit you back.  For this reason, I like to have most engagements begin with the long weapons out in front and the short weapons waiting in quick reserve, waiting to see what the opponent is going to do and then attacking him when he is blinded or focussed on someone else.

What if the opponent charges your spear?  The spear has feet, does he not?  Your poles have feet, do they not?  Certainly your shieldmen have feet as well.  If a shield begins one full step behind his spear, in the time it takes one step, a spear can take a step backward while the shield takes a step forward, and the spear is now behind the shield.


I didn't need to do this experiment because I already knew the answer from 20+ years of experience, but I did it anyway to help our new guys to understand.  We had a newish sword and shield on the left, a newish pole fighter on the right, myself in the middle with a spear, and we faced a young, athletic, well practiced shieldman with 4 years of experience.  The shield merely had to get into position to kill me to with the scenario.  I was only allowed to move at walking speed (this prevents me from just turning and running away and winning by cardio rather than by tactics).

We tried three different scenarios, each one doing 3-5 times.

1)  Spear behind the pole and shield

2)  Spear even with the pole and shield

3)  Spear in front of the pole and shield


1)  Opponent used our shield to pivot around to get into the back field

2)  Opponent used the same strategy as in 1, but with significantly less success (50%?)

3)  Opponent said after several tried that it wasn't even worth trying anymore because he was getting overwhelmed.  He repeatedly either got stabbed in the face, stabbed in the belly, or hit on teh left side of his head by the pole.

The big difference was that in the first scenario, the enemy could get close enough to our line before our weapons got into range that he could block both the pole and spear with his shield as he made a dash to pivot around our shieldman.  He would be blinded briefly, but could see the fee of our shieldman to make the turn.

In the 3rd scenario, he would have to begin his charge 6-7 feet further out.  This put him charging 14 feet away from our shieldman instead of 8 feet, which meant that he couldn't see the feet of our shield, and it gave our entire side time to react and maneuver so that he couldn't pivot around our shield and into the backfield.  At some point he would have to take a peek to see where we were, and he'd either look over his shield and take a shot to the head or face, or he'd look past the side of his shield and take a stab at the face or belly.

The gif below compares the two scenarios:

After doing several of these drills, our pole fighter, Rygus, had employed these very same tactics at the next couple of events with astounding success.  Attacking to the left side of the head of the enemy shieldmen before he can get within weapons range sets up the rest of our team for success.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Weapons match ups, bridges, a cool situational drill, and more!

Hi all,

I've been collecting ideas for a few months now and decided to just make this a big brain dump.  I think there's a lot of good stuff here.

Exploiting Range Advantages

I noticed that some of our newer fighters don't understand the value in exploiting a range advantage.  With 1-2 years experience, they have managed to figure out mostly how to key off of the veteran fighters, which is a good thing.  Being the least experienced people on the field generally means that they are going to lose most 1 on 1 engagements, so they have learned to let the veterans set up the situation, stay alive, and then come in and help when needed.

What I've noticed they are now missing is understanding when they have a clear, safe advantage regardless of experience level.

Two examples stick out in my mind.  "Rygus, start throwing shots at him.  You have a 7 1/2 foot pole arm, he's fighting with a 6 footer.  Throw some shots.  Don't worry, he won't charge while I'm here.  Okay, you still aren't throwing shots.  You should have thrown 5 shots by now."  Rygus just would not attack.

The second was an interesting battle where they only allowed great weapons.  Spears were allowed only if you didn't bring a great weapon (made me wish I left my pole at home).  We were in a situation where we were facing nothing but poles and we had one spear and he wasn't throwing any shots.  After some cajoling, he finally threw a shot, and it hit a pole fighter in the arm.  "See?  The worst that can happen is that you actually hit someone."

As a veteran fighter, I generally won't throw spear shots unless I see something I think I have a good chance to hit.  However, there's usually enough targets that I think I can hit that the shots will come often enough.  Also, I know how to make things happen on a field even when not throwing anything.

Less experienced fighters, on the other hand, don't often have those tools.  They can either attack, or wait.  Waiting accomplishes nothing.  Attacking does a few things:

1)  It might kill someone
2)  It makes the enemy concerned that an attack is coming
3)  It might blind them for a second
4)  It might make them throw a defense which then tells you something about their defenses
5)  It might set up one of your veterans for an attack of opportunity

Containing His Majesty King Amos le Pios
We fought some 5 on 5 battles at War of the Wings.  In one of the battles we faced Mountains Keep, who brought a variety of fighters, however Amos was the only knight who chose to fight in this scenario.  Amos was certainly the most experienced and effective fighter on their team and was fighting with a Dane axe.  I believe the other 4 had shields.

We, on the other hand, had two shields, two spears, and one pole (me).  The field had a boundary on one side (our left) and was open on the other.

Our initial plan was to have our strongest shield (and probably our strongest fighter) on the open side, and our other shield on the inside (in this case the left).  The spears were in between, with the pole floating in the back.  Our set up was to initiate the attacks with the spears expecting them to charge at the spears, and then the other three of us would have to react.  We also thought that we might be able to keep Amos out of the fight because he wouldn't want to face 2 spears and a pole.

Amos, however, being very melee savvy, made an adjustment before the battle began and moved onto the open flank and took a shield with him.  At lay on, they both moved around our right flank.  Our right shield went out to meet him with our right spear staying beside him. 

I made a quick read on the situation and thought that I was better suited to fight Amos with my pole.  I didn't need to win, only to contain him, while freeing up our most dangerous fighter to go and kill the rest of his team.  I moved to the outside and told our team "I'll get Amos."

Why did I feel I was the better match for Amos?  Generally speaking, the shield should have the advantage on an axe in a 1 on 1.  However, the shield needs to close.  In this situation the shield would have to close on an axe and a shield, which puts him at a disadvantage.  Or, this might free up the shield to run down the spear.  More importantly, Amos is almost a duke and has far more experience fighting Dane axe vs shield than our shieldman does.  I, on the other hand, fight great weapon on great weapon all the time.

After making the switch, our shield ran off and attacked the others, Amos made a B line for our spear and I chased, placing him in the center of the fighting and a bad position.

Learning Other Weapons Forms

One might ask, "Why were you fighting with a pole instead of a spear?"  Of the five people on our team above, four of us are best with spear, but four spears and a shield is not a very good 5 man team weapons mix.  With that said, some people need to pick up other weapons to make it a better mix, and there's an art to figuring out whether its better to use the weapon that you are better fighting with, or the weapon form that is better for the occasion.

With this mix of people, Titus is the second best shield and the shield is a critical piece to anchor the left flank, so he took shield.  Out of what's left, I'm the best pole, so that's what I took.  Had we been in a larger melee, El Kabong might have taken a pole and I'd move to spear based entirely on the different dynamics of larger fights.

Additionally I've been working on left hand center grip shield over the last two years.  Had Titus not been there, I may have taken a shield to try to secure the left flank.  I'm not great with a shield, but I'm good enough to neutralize most average / slightly above average fighters.

Avoiding Fair Fights

Whether I'm fighting pole against King Amos, or shield against a decent shieldman, I have no intentions of fighting any of them 1 on 1.  The odds just aren't good enough for me to do so.  I focus more on holding the position, and trying to draw them into a 2 on 1 fight.  There's no need to put myself at risk. 

In most scenarios you need to identify if you are a killer, or a supporter.  A spear in a line facing a bunch of poles is a killer.  A great fighter against a bad fighter is a killer.  Two people against one are killers.  A shield running down a spear is a killer. 

A shield with 2 years of experience against another shield?  That's a supporter.

Having said that, the Bog was very successful at Battle on the Bay last month.  As observed by an East Kingdom friend who fought with us for the first time, "I don't think I ever saw you guys engage with someone unless you had a 3 on 1 advantage."  We are constantly looking for those kinds of advantages!

Bridge Battles

Bridge battles have become much more fluid over the years.  There was a time when we would just dominate bridges because the prevailing philosophy was to keep the spears behind the shield wall.  We'd bring all of ours to the front and literally decimate the other side.  Every now and then they'd mount a charge, and we'd just fall back behind our shields, let the carnage happen, and then come back out and pick them apart.

Now it seems that at least in the East and in Atlantian, most battles turn into meat grinders with a constant back and forth between the shields and spears.  Two walls will charge at each other resulting in deaths and fatigue.  Once things settle down a bit, bodies pile up, and people get tired from the push, a few spears start to trickle out to fight over the gap.  Once one side finds that they are at the range disadvantage, or they start losing ground, they will mount a charge. 

Its been a while since I've seen two full ranks of spears going at it for any length of time.

The most successful units are the ones who can get organized.  If the spears are fighting, get the shields out of the way.  No spears should be standing around in the second rank.  If a shield is not actively fighting in a press, he should be giving up his spot for a 3rd rank spear.  etc. 

3 on 1 Drill.  Spear to the Front Wins

I did a drill a while back that was a 3 on 1, with an experienced shield being in the 1 position.  On our side we had a veteran spear, and two relatively new fighters (a lefty shield on the left, and a pole on the right).

The single shield had only one goal;  get to the backfield and touch the spear (spear could move but not run).

We did 3 scenarios:

1)  Spear behind shield and pole
2)  Spear even with shield and pole
3)  Spear ahead of shield and pole

Most people tend to think that 1) would be the most successful and 3) the least successful, but the opposite was actually true (as I knew it would be).  The thought is that you want to bring all three fighters into the fight at the same time, and that a spear out front is unprotected.

What they don't realize is that in scenario 3, the spear forces the shield to commit a good 6 feet further than he does in scenario 1.  It also forces an angle of attack that is much easier to adjust to for the team of 3.  The spear doesn't get run down because he only needs to take a step or two back while the others take a step or two forward to meet the opponent. 

In scenario 1), the single shield made it around the flanks every time.  In scenario 3), the shield said that the scenario seemed unwinable no matter what he tried. 

2 on 2 Rez Battle with 360 Degree Friendly Engagement

Keeping the rez points close, we did this 2 on 2 fight, with one catch.  If anyone gets hit from behind, that person has to run a lap.  The point of the drill was to promote situational awareness while also trying to get people to think about getting behind the enemy.

Another great lesson was learned, however.  At one point my partner was killed.  As he began to jog back to the rez point, the enemy turned to face me.  They paused for a beat or two, and then watched me as I jogged behind my dead friend and met him at the rez point.

Never fight a 1 on 2 fight when you can easily make it a 2 on 2 fight.