Monday, May 22, 2017

Aethelmearc War Practice: Ten Man Tourney

Unfortunately I don't have any big picture ideas like I did last year.  We had a lot of new people with us, which is something I'm not used to, and so much of my attention was directed at how to help them and how to come up with tactics that would work with them as well as how to communicate them.

To put it in perspective, last Pennsic we brought 18 fighters with an average experience level of 15 years.  Only 5 fighters had less than 8 years of experience.  This weekend, on the other hand, 5 of our 9 fighters were very new (~1 year of experience or less....two of them were at their second event).

The Ten Man Tourney

In the middle of the tourney the knight running it asked, "Hey, are you the guy that writes that fighting blog?"  I smiled and said, "Yes, but please don't judge anything I wrote by what you see today!"  We did not make a good showing in this tourney, but it was a great experience and I really learned a lot.

Before I get into tactics, I'd like to quote one of our spear maidens who fought with us in this tourney.  "Fighting in a 10 man tourney requires a completely different skill set than fighting in a 150 person battle."  She's a 5'1" spear fighter who probably doesn't weigh much over 100 lbs.  Her skills allow her to use her size to go unnoticed and poke people in the face in larger battles when they don't expect it.  If she gets into trouble, she can turn and run and usually find someone to use as an obstacle for defense.  In larger battles, one can disengage from one position and go and join up with 20 fighters in another position.

None of that applies to a 10 man tourney.  There's no way to go unnoticed.  There's nowhere to hide.  There's no other unit to run to.  In addition, as my fellow kinsman Seamus, who has fought in many of these tourneys put it, "Its much closer to ACL type fighting."  Fighters tend to be big and strong and they take a hard, decisive hit to get killed.  This places spears and smaller fighters at a distinct disadvantage.

Bringing a bad weapons mix, new fighters, and people we'd never fought with before, it was a real challenge, so we had to adjust our tactics in order to try to find something that could work.

At First

Our first approach was to use our standard system, which is to lead out with the spears and leave the shields back to support.  If the opponent is slow to the attack, we might get a kill or two before the first impact.  I also took it upon myself, being fleet of foot, to run into the backfield and hope to pull at least two fighters off the line.

This went poorly.  We lost the first two battles killing only 4-5 fighters on the other team.  I sat out the third battle and discovered what was happening.  We were spreading wide, as we normally do, and our opponent would send a large crew at one section and wipe them out.  This is actually an example of why the shield wall often beats the skirmish formation.  They amass a group of fighters and send it straight at a smaller group.  The problem was that the fighters who were not being engaged did not react.

The Adjustments

In the last three battles I gave my job up to a fast new fighter and moved myself to the middle of our backfield so that I can watch the battle unfold and call out commands (Badger was thinking something similar).  The commands were pretty simple.  We'd split into two, go wide, and I'd yell at which ever group had the advantage to attack.  I'd then run to wherever I thought I could help.

We started having a lot more success at this point, getting 6-7 kills on our opponents, and even winning our last battle (yay us!).  Adding our two experienced late arrivals helped as well.

These changes accomplished a few things.  It got our stronger side engaged when needed, it allowed someone on the field to watch the battle unfold, and it made better use of my fast footed skills.  I was able to run into a fight unopposed, often getting kills on fighters who were tied up.  In my earlier role, I'd often find myself in a one on one situation, which just took me out of the fight.  This was bad on my part being one of the most experienced fighters on our team.  

Making the Most of What You've Got

I'm guessing that many will read this and think that the tactic shown above is just stupid. might be.  Why not just block together into a shield wall and hit the opponent on an oblique?  With spears, new fighters, lightweight fighters, and the fact that we don't ever fight that way, I saw that as playing rock, paper, scissors, and attempting to win by throwing a much smaller rock than what the other team was going to throw.  Why not switch out the spears?  That wasn't really an option, either.  Two of us already did, but the rest had one reason or another why they just couldn't grab a different weapon (like one fighter had a bad back.  Another was only authorized in spear, archery, and siege.  etc.)

So we did the best that we thought we could with what we had.  Ultimately any unit is going to have to make the same kind of decision.  What do you have, and what's your highest percentage play?  I'm a big advocate of utilizing spears in large melees, but if your unit is full of 280 lb sword and board fighters, different tactics would be in your best interest.

If anyone reading has any suggestions for other tactics we could have tried, I'd love to read them!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Southern Army Practice: Rock, Paper, Bigger Rock

I'm winding down before bed and wanted to jot a few of these thoughts down.  First and foremost I'd like to state that I learn a lot from a whole lot of people all the time.  This blog really is about sharing information about melee fighting, getting the conversation going, and getting people thinking more and more about melee.  Some of its about helping me express my own thoughts in a way that helps me get a better grasp of these ideas.  Some of its about challenging standard conventions that I think can be improved upon.  Its certainly not, I hope, about me telling anyone who may be out there what the "right" way is and that everyone else is doing it "wrong."

Today's Scenarios

Due to weather and coming off of a big event (crown was yesterday), we were a little light today.  30 fighters in total, which included four knights, six former unbelted champions, three former alternates, two archers, my own incognito "ringer"(an Anglesey Kinsman down from NY), and a bunch of well practiced fighters of various levels.

Off the top of my head, we fought five open field battles, a bunch of fort battles, a few bridge battles, and a scaled down version of the Allied Champions battle.

General Observations

I just wanted to added this quick note.  Fighters at this practice, even the best, have had the bad habit of fighting legged fighters.  I was happy to see that there was very little of this this time.  The next thing we need to work on is the habit of just running and attacking anything we see.  Once the battles break up, they are not won with 1on1s and 2on2s. They are won with 2on1s and 3on2s.

Big Rock vs Big Paper

Duke Brennan and the unbelt captains were offering a lot of guidance, most of which I thought was pretty good.  They are very big on being aggressive, sticking together, and taking the initiative to win the battle.  The title above is rock, paper, bigger rock because, at least in the southern region, it seems that the strategy is usually to win with a bigger rock.  There's nothing wrong with this approach, as the Anglesey and Bog approach is often to try to win with a bigger sheet of paper, and we found out today that sometimes our big paper was too much for them, and sometimes their big rock would just punch right through our paper.

In a nut shell, sticking with this metaphor, a big rock is a bunch of powerful shieldmen backed up with some hard hitting pole arms that just plows over people.  The approach is to roll over weaker opponents, punch through gaps, and break through doorways.  If you have a unit with a lot of shields and a lot of big guys, this is probably your best approach.  To pull this approach off, the unit needs to be aggressive, take the initiative, and work together.  Like anything, there's a skill to it that one learns over time.

Paper, on the other hand, brings a lot of well practiced spears, mobility, and flexibility to the unit.  Battles are won by picking apart the opponent with spears, breaking up their main units into chaos, and then winning a bunch of smaller 2 on 1 fights.  If rock charges, bigger rock will counter charge.  Paper, on the other hand, will absorb the charge and draw them into a kill pocket.  Again, the victor largely depends on who is better equipped to pull of their unit's best tactic.

Below you can see an example of how the team on the right used the bigger rock tactic to beat our side (this was after Duke Brennan told them to adapt their strategy):

The two spears on the left team (my friend and I ) used a tactic that normally works will with Anglesey and The Bog, which is to get out in front of the unit, attack early, and then retreat when the opposition advances.  It actually initially worked.  He got a quick kill before the lines engaged, we forced them to charge way out in front of our main unit, and got them to break up as they  approached our unit.  The charge actually began about 25 feet out when they would normally be called closer to 10 - 15 feet away.  You can actually see some of the faster guys get out ahead of their unit.

What ended up going wrong for us and well for the other side is that you can see our main unit moving backward as our spears retreated.  That allowed the other side to get us on our heals and overwhelm us with their initiative.  What is supposed to happen is that as the spears retreat, the rest of the unit is supposed to step up and counter.  I believe our retreat sent them the wrong message and they reacted to us.  One of the things that Sir Thorson has been teaching me down here is that certain tactics are hard to pull off when you are working with a mixed group with mixed levels of experience.  Its a lot easier to get a group to work together and move in the same direction than it is to understand the when/where/what/how's of how to move in different directions to achieve a common goal.

Though the above is an example of the success of the big rock approach and might lead one to believe that spears are ineffective in small field battles (I've found this to be a fairly common belief), the side with two spears actually won the other four battles, and the two spears accounted for (at least in the three battles that were videoed) over half of its team's kills (~6 per battle).

Spear in the Gap

In the field battles, we had a main unit on the left with a smaller flanking unit on the right.  All of the shields were up front in a wall formation.  The poles and spears (3 poles, 2 spears) started off in the back and left to support and improvise.  This was decided by our team captain.  I asked one pole to follow me (I had spear) and protect me if anyone tried to jump me.

In general I looked for parts of the units that had the least mobile fighters in them so that I could start off the battle taking free shots on them without too much risk.  After each battle, the other side made a small adjustment, and I'd move to another part of the field.  My buddy with the pole was doing a pretty good job and smashing into anyone that tried to jump me.

For the most part they were doing a pretty effective job of neutralizing me in the first impact.  The fact that I was surviving through to the next stage of the battle without a fast guy chasing me around the field was a big improvement over the last practice for me (shakes fist at Dietrich).

My "ringer" came down from New York and is a very dynamic, athletic, and accurate spearman.  He noticed early on the he could sit in the gap between the two units and fire his spear with no real counter.  After several battles, the other side never picked up on it.  He mentioned it during our debriefing, and those observing didn't seem to quite understand what he was explaining.  The below diagram explains it a little better:

 Below is an example of how this looks.  Notice the green spearman in between the gap.  He takes a shot at the pole arm in the left unit, and then follows up with a shot a pole arm in the right unit.

Why Spears are Effective

I put a lot of thought in this and watched a lot of video and have come to one main conclusion.  Spears can attack from a range where the opponent does not think they are engaged.  A 7 1/2 foot pole is still close enough that a shieldman or pole is going to keep their defenses up against it.  The extra 18 inches that a spear has seems to put it just far enough away from the opponent that he doesn't realize that you are there, not if he's occupied with someone else, anyway.

Look at the two spears coming out of nowhere below and getting two quick kills.

Never Fight a Fair Fight

This is a huge issue that fighters at most levels have.  They see a 1on1 situation and assume that they should go and hit that person.  The only time you should engage someone 1on1 is when you significantly outclass that fighter.

In the gif below, a shieldman on my team had started attacking a knight by himself (bad) before I came over and stabbed the knight (2on1.....good).  I then ran to my left and joined up with a pole to double up on a shield (good).  Meanwhile, you can see the shieldman in the background run into the middle of a pack of four enemies and get quickly taken out (very bad).  He's actually a very good college aged fighter, but sometimes gets overzealous with his enthusiasm to go and hit people.  This was an observation that Sir Tash had at a recent event concerning newer fighters, that they like to "Leroy Jenkins" their way into hoards of enemies.

Notes about Timed Battles

Duke Brennan had made the comment that if you have a timed battle with resurrections, that you can't waste your time playing around with spears.  I mostly agree with him, but not completely.  I only say this because I've commanded charges in the past with exactly this thought in mind, and they failed.  The most recently actually being just two weekends ago.  If your side is spear heavy, you may not have the brawn to successfully mount a charge that will deliver even a single kill.  You may need to whittle the other side down a bit in order to weaken them enough such that a charge is successful.  Exactly what that point is is not easy to figure out (not for me, anyway).  That's where it helps to have an experienced commander.

Sad News

We lost one of our family shortly after this practice.  If you hadn't already heard, Lord Gunnar Alfson was killed in a car accident just two nights later.  Sunday was his last day in armor.  This was is home practice and the community is absolutely devastated.  He was loved by most who had the pleasure of knowing him.  Though we all strive to become better fighters, train to beat other people, and gain recognition for our accomplishments, its not nearly as important as enjoying life, and bringing joy into the lives of those around you.  Gunnar epitomized that and has reminded me that its the time you share fighting with your friends that is most important, not whether or not you win those fights.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Melee Fighting 101 for Novices

We had a great event this weekend with double the attendance as usual.  This was largely due to a whole lot of new fighters, which was fantastic, but it did change the dynamics of how we fight, and we realized that there's a lot of information that we need to give the newer fighters.  Normally, when fighting with a new person, we just have them fall in with all the veterans and eventually, with a little guidance, they'll figure it out.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, we had a short class in the middle of our event to talk to the new fighters about some basic tactics.  Someone suggested this idea to me, I approached Sir Tash, and he offered to run a short class between scenarios and did an awesome job.  Much of what I write will actually be based off of what he taught.  (Interestingly, much of what he taught was about how we fight.  He just seems to know better about how we fight than we do, and knows how to organize those thoughts for a new fighter).

Shield Walls

We don't normally do these.

Most SCA units teach their new guys how to work in shield walls.  Its an easy way to get a person with limited melee experience to move and work with a unit.  Much of how we fight is designed to counter shield walls or fight in larger scale battles, so it really just doesn't fit our style.

Field Battles:  Support the Veterans

Where as the standard shield wall tactic is to turtle up and survive, or find a target and run it over, we take a slightly different approach.  We fight more with our longer weapons and use our shields to support them, holding back to either hit someone who intends to run at one of our longer weapons, or to pounce on something as a group when an opportunity presents itself.  We also have a few superstar shieldmen who will do much more dynamic and creative fighting, but that's not something that is taught in Melee Fighting 101, but rather something that is learned over the course of 5 to 10 to 30 years of fighting.

Most of what I write about below will be the starting point of a long progression of fighting over one's fighting lifetime.  As one gets better, they will gradually pick up more and more advanced tactics.

What to do:  if not being given any other direction, the newer fighters should spread out evenly within the unit.  Find a group of fighters to follow or pick a side of the unit to work with and stay one full step behind the veteran fighters, keeping yourself out of the spear range of the other side.  Move together as a group.  The veteran fighters will be moving out ahead, looking for an opportunity to exploit, or a good position to fight from.  Your job at this point is only to be near them for when they may need your help.  They are going to start off the battle doing most of the fighting and drawing the attention of the enemy.  If you aren't near them, one of two things will happen.  Either the enemy will see that they have no support and rush them, or the enemy will see that there are no veterans near you and kill you.

One you get within fighting range of the enemy, one of two scenarios will happen.  The battle will either be static (both sides stand there without much movement) or one side will charge into the other.  If the battle is static, try to stand outside of the spear range of the other side.  This means you will likely be a step behind your spears.  Listen for the veterans calling out commands.

"I need a shield on my left!"  means that he or she is worried that our left flank is going to get rolled without a shield to stop it.  Move to his or her left.

"Shield, step up!" means that he or she either can no longer stop the advance of the other side without help, or there is a dangerous archer and he needs an obstacle to hide behind.  Step up in front.

"Shield, pull back!" means that you are too far up and are going to get stabbed in the face soon.  Take a few steps back.

"Shield, I have a spear.  Let me have your spot," means that the spearman sees a good killing opportunity but needs to be standing exactly where you are in order to get the kill, or support someone else in the fight.  Step back and either hang behind them or find somewhere else to fight.

"Let me in here," combined with a spear coming up from behind over your shoulder means that the spear needs you and the person next to you to slide out of the way to let them through.  Give them plenty of room to fight when they do that.

If the battle is dynamic, your role will be slightly different.  Your job now is either to run up and smash the fighters on the other side who are trying to chase down your spears, or to collectively charge and overwhelm a weakened opponent.  If you see a safe and easy opportunity for a kill, take it, but for the most part you are just trying to push the enemy with your shield so that your veterans can move into position to kill them.

Notice in the gif below, the shield and the pole stay out of the fight so long as the spear can fight the red shield at range.  Once he charges, the green shield and green pole step into action:

Here's a group of shields (green) repelling red's charge as the green poles back out:

If your side intends to charge, you will hear two kinds of commands.

"Press these fighters!  We need to move now!  Keep rolling around them!  Keep moving!"  This generally means that you move at a fast walk with the rest of your unit in order to force them to back up.  Again, your veterans will get the kills.  Your main job is just to put pressure on the enemy.

"We need to charge!  Go!  Go!  Go! Go!"  This is a sprint and a smash.  Again, moving at the same speed as your unit, and only attempting to push them with your shield.  If you see an easy kill, go for it.  Over time you will get better and better at identifying when and how to swing your stick, but the most important thing is to move in and push on them.  The veterans will do the killing.

What not to Do

Don't do solo "heroic" (stupid) charges.  I know it feels like you are fighting, but you are just running in and getting killed and accomplishing nothing at all.  Our best fighters can't survive solo charges, let alone a newer one.  When you charge by yourself, multiple defenders converge on you giving you little chance of survival.

Don't stand in the front line trying to parry spears.  Again, it feels like fighting, but Mr. Miagi said in The Karate Kid 2, "Best defense, don't be there."  Only stand in spear range if you absolutely have to (see commands and reason for commands above).  More often than not, just stand out of their range.

Don't stay out of the fight.  So after all of this, I've pretty much told you not to swing your stick, but you have no idea just how valuable you are.  The veterans NEED you to be near them at all times.  You are what keeps them alive just by being there.


To summarize from above, a lot of what a shieldman does is to stay near the fight, but not actively in the fight, until he or she is needed.  Once engaged in the fight, the primary responsibility of a newer shieldman is to be an obstacle to keep the enemy from being able to hit our veteran fighters.  Sword attacks are only taken if they can be done safely without risk of death, or more importantly, if the enemy is completely exposed because they have turned to fight someone else.

Pole fighters are slightly different.  Though they can be used as obstacles, more often they need to stand at the end of their range and swing as hard and as often as they can at the enemy.  This happens usually when either side presses.  Too often I see pole fighters standing there and looking for an opening.  Don't wait for an opening.  Swing at their head.  They will either have to block it with their sword, which means they won't be able to swing, or they will block it with their shield, which means that they won't be able to see.

The pole fighter needs to be even more patient than the shieldman.  Where as the newer shieldman will stay out of the fight except for presses, to stop an advancing line, or to block against arrows, the newer pole fighter will mostly only fight during the presses.  I realize this sounds contradicting.  95% of the time, the pole fighter is waiting and staying just outside the fight.  5% of the time, however, the pole fighter needs to swing at anything and everything within range whether a shot is available or not.

Bridge Battles

There are a few tactics that apply to bridges that I'd like to cover, specifically bridge battles where the objective is to move past the middle of the bridge.  The battles will start with our shields up front in the first rank in order to charge quickly to the middle (or past) once lay on is called.  After sprinting across the shield, at the same speed as the rest of the unit, both sides will engage.  Again, focus on staying alive.  Let the veterans and the poles and spears do the killing.

Once this first engagement has occurred, usually a little gap will form between the two units, often with dead bodies lying between.  Stand there defensively until someone from behind either asks you to give them their spot, let them slide in between, or asks you to step back.  At this point we usually like to have our spears move to the front with the shields waiting in the second rank, and the poles in the third rank.  A small number of veteran shields may stay in the front rank, but this is only a position for veterans.  Newer shields are just in the way at this point (unless no one has called them out, possibly because there is no suitable replacement).

Your job at this point is either to repel any charges that may come from the other side, or to join in any charges initiated from your side.  If the other side charges, the spears will usually begin to slide back into the 3rd rank.  You need to slip past them and hit the enemy wall that is trying to kill them.  If a charge is initiated by our side, you may or may not be given any warning.  As soon as you hear, "Go!  Go!  Go!  Now!" as a shieldman, you need to push past your spears and smash into the other side, again, mostly focusing on staying alive.

The job of the pole fighters in these scenarios is pretty simple;  stay behind the shields (usually 2nd or 3rd rank) and hit any enemy that you can swing at during the presses.  Again, don't wait for an opening.  Just swing at their heads.

The last important piece of the bridge battle is something that our entire unit needs to work on.  We need to take ground in these kinds of battles.  Whenever a gap forms between the two units, we need to be aggressive and slowly push forward to close the gap, not stand there and wait for the battle to come to us, and certainly not backing up.  This doesn't mean doing a solo charge at the enemy.  It means if a bunch of people have just died, and there is now a 12 foot gap, we need to walk down 3 feet of it to get our spears back in range.  Again, you should hear people yelling, "Move forward!  Take ground!"  That means, as defensively as possible, step forward until someone tells you to stop or to give up your spot.

Closing Thoughts

As I watch the newer fighters on the field, and as I get feedback from others who are also watching, I'm coming to realize that newer fighters are focusing on just running out there and trying to hit someone.  Instead, as a newer shieldman, focus on staying alive, supporting your unit, and fighting with your feet and your shield more than with your sword.  Over time, more and more "high percentage" opportunities will present themselves.  By that I mean that you will see shots that you know you can take without risk of getting killed.  It is unlikely, however, that you will ever be able to charge into two shields and a duke who's wielding a polearm, swing at someone's head, and survive, let alone get a kill.  Newer pole fighters just need to learn to be patient, but also to be aggressive once in the fight.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Caer Adamant Melee Practice

I've had dreams of helping to build a melee practice in the area ever since getting back into this game 3 years ago.

A little background, if you will.  I started fighting in 1993.  The people I met were melee fighters.  What does that mean?  That means if we had four people in armor, we were NOT doing singles.  Ever.  We never went to tourneys, and fought maybe 5-7 melee events a year plus Pennsic.  One of the highlights of my formative years as a fighter is from a time period between ~1996 and 1998.  Every Thursday a friend of ours would clean up his warehouse in Washington D.C. and we'd cram into it 8-20 fighters and do melees until we couldn't do them anymore.  We called it "The Dog Pound," and it was here that I went from being a guy in armor to an effective melee fighter.

There are many fighters in this are who have similar goals, and some have implemented them quite well.  The monthly Southern Army Practice is one example of a well run, consistent, high attendance melee practice.

I approached the Caer Adamant Knight's marshall and with the help of a few other fighters, we have started a monthly melee practice in Newark, De.  Yay us!

The Focus of Practice

After about a year of discussing tactics with Sir Thorson, and topped off with a good conversation with Joseph from Serpentius, I've been convinced that the Dog Pound style of practice may not be what's suitable for the fighters in this area.  Some of it is the age of the fighters, some of it is the value that can be gotten from some variety and structure, and some of it is the varying levels of fighters and the enthusiasm that they may or may not bring to a melee practice.  In short, we aren't dealing with a group of 25-35 year olds, all with similar fighting experiences.

With that said, we agreed that we wanted to keep the stick time high, but focus a little more on drills.  With that said, Sir Thorson brought out some really good drills that he learned from his Northern Army days, and we brought in a bridge scenario that has worked in the past.

The Drills

3on3 "Bridge" Drill

The first one we did was on a narrow "bridge" that was outlined with a rope and had a line across the center that neither side could cross.  The bridge was just wide enough for three people to fit in one rank.   Three people on each side fought across from each other with a line of people waiting to replace someone if they died so that we always had a 3on3.  Fighters were encouraged to change teams after they died.  We kept the weapons mix to at least one shield per team of three, and no more than one spear per team of three.  Shields were also encouraged to fight all the way up on the line (in other words, if one team had a spear and the other didn't, you couldn't just stand out of range and let the spear do all the killing).

The focus was to work on communicating, shifting positions on the line, and fighting in close.  This was not really intended to be a tactical drill.

Resurrection Bridge Battle

With a 9 foot wide bridge, we divided up the sides evenly (by skill and weapon mix) and fought an unlimited resurrection battle.  Every minute a stop was called and whomever controlled the middle got a point.  We did a best of 5.

3on3 Loser Stays and Gains a Fighter Battles

Joe had told me about this and Thorson suggested it today.  I really wasn't sure how it would play out, but it turned out to be a very good scenario.  I don't normally like even sides for small team battles because they tend to break off into a bunch of 1on1s, but only the first battle was a 3on3.  The rest were 4on3, 5on3, and a couple of 6on3s.

You begin with a 3on3.  After the battle is resolved, the losing team stays on the field and picks up a fighter from the winning team.  A new team of three comes on the field and fights the team of four.  Whomever loses stays on the field and picks up a person from the winning team.  Sometimes the team of three would win which would create a team of five and as much as six in a couple of instances.

3on1 Five Second Fights

I've always liked 2on1 drills, but the 3on1 added an extra layer toward learning to work together as a team.  Each battle lasted five seconds (being counted down out loud by someone not fighting).  The goal was for the three person team to move together and cut off the single fighter.  The single fighter, on the other hand, would try to pivot off of one of the flankers to avoid being hit by the other two fighters.

Lessons Learned

Bridge Scenarios

The first two battle scenarios went pretty well.  There were mainly just some individual tips given to fighters here and there.  During the bridge battle, some shields were starting to do solo charges, and it got sloppy.  They'd initially gain some ground, but ultimately get killed or pushed off the bridge, and the hole left behind them would allow for the opponent to push the line back.

Small Team Scenarios

I had a disagreement on tactics with another fighter, and with what has been standard teaching in the East Kingdom in general.  The general tactic is to "stick together" and either move left or right.  The idea is that whatever direction you move in, you will have all of your fighters facing a smaller number of their fighters.

I'll contend that while this is generally an acceptable strategy with units of 5 or more fighters, it starts to break down with fewer fighters.  In fact, most of the success that has been demonstrated, in my opinion, is because the opposing unit is confined to the same strategy.  Now that's not to say that this isn't a good teaching mechanism to get fighters used to fighting on a larger scale, but I do think that seasoned melee fighters can benefit from different tactics.

Below is an example of how sticking together failed in a 3on2 encounter (this is from last season).  Red split apart and green decided to run after one fighter while they stuck together.  The fighter they went after ran away while the fighter that was left alone took an easy shot at a green fighter who was running in another direction.

Having put a ton of thought and practice into the 3on2, more often than not I believe the two need to split, which means the three need to split as well.  This leaves a 1on1 and a 2on1.  All else being equal, the two need to kill the one quickly while their third fighter needs to play defensively.  The opposite is true for the other team.  The one that is being double teamed needs to play defensively while his partner tries to win the single matchup.

The 3on4 is a little trickier, and it depends entirely on ability levels and weapons mixes, but again, the smaller team generally wants to split the fight up to see if they can either tie up fighters or draw them out, and try to win the matchups that have the best odds on the field.

Below is an example of a 3on4 that I was part of today.  The other side had two solid, fast shieldmen and two poles that were a little bigger and a little slower.  We had a fast moving veteran shieldman, a fast moving veteran pole fighter (me), and a newer, yet very fast pole fighter.

We knew that if we stuck together, one of their fast shields would get around a flank and kill us quickly.  We knew that neither of their shieldmen would let our shieldman get near the poles or around the flanks.  We also knew that their biggest threats would be the two shieldmen.

Our plan was to split wide. I'd take on one of their shieldmen and hope to get a kill, our shieldman would try to take on their other shieldman and get the kill, and our pole in the middle would run around and try to draw out both of their poles and stall until we could get to him.

Sometimes the team of four will try to double up on one of the flanks which can often give the pole in the middle a quick kill shot on one side or the other since he's only worried about a single threat in front of him.

3on1 Scenarios

As usual, the single fighters generally did pretty well in these.  Most of the better fighters looked at the flanks and figured out which fighter was the easier one to pivot off of.  They'd back pedal a bit to draw out the fight, and then move hard at one of the flanks and hope to turn the corner, using that flanker as a shield to cut off the other two guys on his team.

There were two things that I personally felt that the teams of three were not doing well in some of the fights.  They either out sprinted their slowest team member, often over running their opponent as he'd side step to get out of the way, or they'd cross in front of their teammates and cut them off from the fight.

In these scenarios, the left fighter needs to stay to the left and focus on attacking the left half of his opponent (or fouling his weapon).  The right fighter needs to stay to the right and focus on attacking the right half of the fighter.

Interestingly, I have noticed a common pattern with 2on1s, 3on1s, and 4on1s.  So many fighters have this instinct to both outrun run their teammates (maybe to get the glory of the kill???), and to attack the side opposite of where they are starting from.  Its been so long since I've fought like this that I really can't pinpoint exactly why that is.  Are they subconsciously trying to cut off their own guys to so that they can force it into a 1on1?  Is their momentum carrying them to the opposite side of their opponent when they run at them?  Is there a subconscious draw toward the middle of their opponent rather than their side or back?  I really don't have an answer to this question, but it is something I have observed in a large number of fighters.


Melee Recap: Lessons Learned

I just came off of a discussion with a lot of seasoned melee veterans and wanted to capture some of the ideas here.  Overall we had about 15-20 on a side with a mix of veteran melee fighters, newbies, and a mid class of well practiced fighters with 3-5 years of experience.  The sides were picked so houses were broken up, which meant that we had a fairly even matchup but both teams were mixed and had to learn how to work together in a short amount of time.

Team Attributes

The biggest differences between the two teams is that (I'll just call us green since that's a color I use in my diagrams) green had the faster, more mobile veteran fighters on the field and a fast, mobile veteran spearman.  Red had the larger, heftier veteran fighters and no spears.

Spears Win Static Battles but Don't Forget to Guard Your Flanks

In the first battle, both sides were slow to get moving, probably wanting to watch and see how the battle would flow before committing.  I like to personally engage first with my spear if the other side will let me, figuring I can take some free shots and distract them while they try to read the fight.  In this instance it seemed to be effective.  I got one, maybe two kills while keeping other veteran fighters occupied on their side.  This seemed to stall their unit a bit as we moved around the outside to engage.

I was actually fairly certain that we would win this fight pretty decisively until I saw their team coming at us through our backfield.  They managed to either push through our left flank, or just ran around it.

Red mistakes:  they were too passive with an effective spear sitting right in front of them

Green mistakes:  We didn't do a good enough job shoring up our left flank.  We probably should have also committed harder and faster on the right once the unit had been weakened.  This would win the right side of the battle more quickly allowing us to move to the left if they are in need of help.

Don't get Outmaneuvered

 I covered this in my last blog post.  In one of the battles, the red team took their stronger unit and moved quickly and aggressively at our left flank.  Instead of moving out to deny the flank, our left unit rolled back and let them get an advantageous attacking position.  You almost always want to be forcing them to roll back on themselves, not letting them to roll you back on yourself.

Don't Let a Dangerous Fighter into your Backfield

In one of the engagements, one of our best and fastest fighters broke away from the unit, , flew around their right flank, and into their backfield uncontested.  Red team should have had at least one person pick him up and, at a minimum, put a body on him if not tie him up and kill him altogether.

One of the difficulties that you'd have in that situation is that all of the best fighters on their side were occupied with the front of the unit and moving forward.  Here's where the newer fighters need to learn either how to double up on a veteran fighter, safely tie him up or keep him occupied, or to know when and how to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his team.

What if You are Outmatched?  

Both sides seemed to have built an "A team" and a "B team" with the A team having the better and more experienced fighters.  The general goal for each side is to use their A team and run over whatever they can.  We had a problem, however, when both A teams met up without an advantageous flanking position.  The other side had a stronger A team with bigger fighters in the front of their shield wall.  This was a bad matchup for us, however, our A team did what they needed to.  They stalled the engagement.

What needed to happen in this instance was for the poles that we had waiting in the middle of the field to move aggressively on their A team's flank.  I made the call to do this, but they were disorganized.  This was my fault.  I was put in charge of this unit and dropped the ball on getting them organized and mobilized.

Rather I should say is was partly my fault, and partly the fault of the experience of the fighters.  Its still my job to asses their experience and command accordingly.  Yet, we also need to train them to start to read these situations themselves and attack appropriately.

Leg 'Em....

...and leave 'em.  I still saw a lot of fighters, some seasoned veterans, wasting their time with legged fighters.  If I could pull something from my basketball coaching days I would.  If a fighter is caught fighting someone on their knees, then the whole team has to do 10 pushups.  This can actually fix the problem with fighting legged fighters and it'll take no more than 30 pushups.

The Pushups isn't really a "punishment."  Its a reinforcer.  The next time you see a guy on their knees, you will have a strong memory associated with how you are not supposed to fight that guy.

Try it sometime if you wish and let me know how it goes.  =)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Southern Army Practice: A Few Thoughts

Just finished our first practice of the year and came away with a few thoughts.

What to do in a 4 on 1

We started off the day doing 3 on 3s and eventually graduated to 5 on 5s.  The team that I was on managed to get ourselves into a 4 on 1 situation after some people died in a 5 on 5.

The 1 we were facing was Sterling, who in a 1 on 1 situation could easily kill anyone of us over 90% of the time.  What he wants to do is to get people to fight him one at a time.

Now you might think, "Who cares?  You've got four fighters.  At least one of you should be able to land the kill."  Yeah, you might think that.  In fact, I would normally be inclined to think that as well if it wasn't for the fact that I've actually seen 1 fighter take out four before, on several occasions.  And I'm not just talking about amazing super dukes.  I've seen guys with three years of experience take out four fighters before, because the four fighters did exactly what they shouldn't have done.

So today Sterling danced around and made a few plays until he could find someone that he could sucker into taking him on.  On our far left was one of my guys, a relatively new guy with a lot of spirit, Tacitus.  Sterling started to move at him, and Tacitus accepted the challenge forgetting that we had three other fighters on our side.

After calling him to back off, we reset and faced Sterling.  We had two shields (the lefty set up on the left flank and the righty set up on the right, as they should), a pole, and a spear.  The correct play here was to go at Sterling with the spear and pole, and use the shields to hang back and only step up if Sterling pressed.  From here its actually impossible for him to get any of us into a 1 on 1 fight.

Now, a big piece driving this tactic is that the most experienced person on the 4 team is the spear, and the two fighters on the left have ~1 year of experience.  Had they been more experienced, I'd be more inclined to have them force the situation in the 4th frame above by moving out on Sterling and trying to corral him into a kill pocket.  

Leg 'em and Leave 'em

I saw too often people were beating on a guy who was on his knees while the battle had not yet been decided.  Just as important as "leg 'em and leave 'em" is for everyone else to take responsibility to yell, "Leave him!!!!"

Having said that, I feel I should point out that I did just that only to be hit in the arm by the legged fighter as we were leaving him.  My bad!  So...uh....make sure you defend yourself when leaving them.  =)

Don't Get Outflanked

Again, controlling the flanks is the key to victory.  In one of our battles, the other team moved out much faster on our left flank than they had been doing all day, and it threw us off of our game.  As a result, our left unit curled back, which put red in a great position to fight from.

In this situation, green team really needs to try hard to either slide out left, or to roll people out of the back field to contain that flank (thanks to Rory for pointing this out).

Definitely looking forward to more fighting now that its gotten warmer.  Later!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Moving Out on a Flank: A Game of Chess (drone footage)

Hey there,

I fought at a small Markland Event (similar to SCA rules but a different organization) called the Death and Taxes War.  Someone flew a drone over head for a few of the battles and I thought I found a very good example of how a few seasoned melee veterans played our little game of chess.

Order of the Lost Boys' Hammer and Anvil Approach

First and foremost I want to commend the OLB for their approach to organizing a melee group.  I think its a great example of a model that most SCA units could benefit from emulating.  Most that I've seen fall into one of two camps:  the shield wall or disorganized chaos, with the former being the better system.  The biggest problem with the shield wall is that it is very easy to beat in most circumstances by moving out of their direct line of attack and pinching in on the flanks.

Anglesey and our Bog Alliance don't really do this anymore, mainly just because of where our talents lie and the types of weapons we have, but we did used to do almost exactly what the OLB does, and its simply this:  Put the people who work best in a shield wall into a central shield wall.  Put your fast moving, most experienced melee fighters around it and give them the freedom to make adjustments on the fly.  Some of them will float out on a wing by themselves.  Some will sit right behind the wall in a quarter back position and command.  Some will pair up with others to accomplish whatever needs to be done.

Chess on the Flank

We split up teams and had roughly 10 on 10.  Our team consisted of 6 Lost Boys, myself and a new-ish Anglesey fighter (El Kabong!), and then 1-2 other random fighters.  I should note that the atmosphere of the fighting was very laid back and especially considering that the teams were mixed (ie Lost Boys were on both teams) that there wasn't a lot of motivation to take the battle too seriously.  Looking at the slides you might think, "Well why didn't they do this or that?"  Could have been motivation.  Could have been having the unit commanders on the other side.  Could have been a little feeling out the competition to see how they'd react.  Also consider that there are skirmishers and archers not in the frame which tend to impact the flow of the fight.

The point is, don't over analyze the whole picture.  I'm really only using this to focus on a small piece of the battle.

Now as far as the battle was concerned, I really only focussed on my job and the other Anglesey fighter.  The rest of the fighters on our team did whatever they decided to do.  There wasn't a lot of communication between us.  And with that, I'd like to drive home that that has been a major focus of my blog in general;  what can YOU do within the context of a melee?

So the first thing I saw as the battle slowly unfolded was that the enemy was leaving their left flank open.  It looked as though they were taking a typical "stick together" strategy, which generally means there is going to be a weakness on the flank, so I moved out on the flank to get a good angle on the end fighter.  As I did that, I brought my Angle-brother along with me.  The greatsword fighter (Adam Greatsword) on the opposing team answered by coming out to meet us (note:  notice the two guys in their backfield?  That's their job).

Now I've said time and time again, don't protect your flank with spears. There's actually an exception to that and that if there's no real threat to your flank, in which case a spear is perfectly fine out there.  Once Adam moved out to meet us, there was a significant threat to our flank.  For this reason my Angle-brother with the pole arm moved to the outside to protect me.

Notice from this position that we've spread our spears out and are attacking their spear from both obliques.  This is a very good position for us.

At this point, Adam begins to slide further and further out on the flank, hoping that either we'll let him roll around the flank, or that we'll match him with a single fighter.  Adam is fast on his feet, has great field awareness, and is one of the best one on one fighters on the field, so either situation would be ideal for him.

My Angle-brother slid out to deny the flank, while I had to split duties between doubling up on their spear and backing up my pole arm on the flank.  In the meantime, I was able to take free shots on their shieldman.

Also, I should mention, one of their shields, Troy, noticed the threat to our flank and moved out to assist.

Adam continued to slide out even further in an attempt to roll our flank.  Once he got far enough out, I had to make a decision.  Do I leave the main group to double up on Adam, or do I let Troy go out with my Angle-brother while I stick with the main group? I decided to move out, as I felt that Adam would have more trouble with a spear and a pole on him rather than a shield and a pole.  The kill had to be quick and decisive at this point.  Troy moved back to join the main group.

After moving out we made a couple of aggressive moves at Adam, at which point he decided that he didn't like the odds and moved back toward his group.  We continued to press and move around the outside, eventually corralling them into a kill pocket.  

Shortly after this, Dave, the peasant's flail fighter in the back, moved out to put pressure back on our flank, and eventually straightened the kill pocket back out.

We managed to win this battle, though the other team won the previous battle by ripping through a defenseless flank (its all about that flank, 'bout that flank, 'bout that flank!)  In my opinion we managed to out maneuver this small group of fighters, giving us an advantage in the engagement, though I thought their side made some decent counters.

Anyway, I hope you go something out of this short analysis of how a battle unfolded and the little small individual maneuvers that occurred.

Look for my page on Facebook if you haven't already.  Peace!