Seventh rule: fights will go on as long as they have to

 How often have you seen a contest start at the lay-on, a brief bit of pointless circling and then both combatants closing in attacking for all they are worth in the hope something will strike home?

Tournament combat should be a deliberate act. Every move is there for a reason, to cause a reaction or to respond to some feint. We create a threat by our position and guards, causing our opponent into some countermove. Even in our preliminary attacks, we are testing the defence, seeking to gain an understanding of our opponents timing and reaction. Like a commanding general we scout out the enemy position, try to find a weakness in their defensive line.

This process is one that takes a good understanding of measure. Come in too close and you are committed and in the fight before you are ready. Too far out and you are no threat, your opponent safely ignoring your plays.

Always remember, just as in Fight Club, a fight will go on as long as it has to. Never be in a rush. Remain calm. This does not mean stand back and do nothing. You must be comfortable on the edge of measure, always a threat and always ready to disengage if you need to. Look to find the moment that will allow you close in for an attack/s. Lay traps, move one way and then once your opponent is responding shift to a different action.

If your opponent is pressing in with a strong attack then you are able to give ground, get out of measure and reset the engagement. Sometimes you need to do this several times, all the while seeking the opportunity to counter.

Quite often, your opponent, used to the quick flailing encounter, will grow frustrated and make a mistake, over extend or commit at the wrong time. This is then the moment in which you are able to capitalise. In turn, you must be patient but always ready.

If your opponent will not close then sometimes you must go to them. Again misdirection is vital. Confound their distance and timing. Make them pause so you can control the range.

Be confident in your skills and training. Use the weapons the way they are made for. Stay active and moving. Be calm. Never give your opponent space to rest or relax. Most importantly take your time!

Still trying to reclaim the blade

Many of you would be aware of my slight obsession with always striking with the edge of your sword. I even did a short clip on this a while back which caused a little bit of discussion in other forums.

 There has been a trend in many SCA groups to simply ignore or to be unaware of the need to treat our tournament sticks as though they were a weapon with an edge.

 Indeed there are some combatants were this ignorance forms a part of their technique (or lack thereof).

 I have even read some members of the Chivalry claim that striking with edge and in the plane of the blade is not necessary.

 The rules here are clear, to quote-

6.4 Effects of Blows

1. Blows must be delivered with effective technique for the particular type of weapon used, and must strike properly oriented and with sufficient force, to be considered an effective, or good, blow.

Lets think for a moment what “must strike properly oriented” means, simply that you must strike in the plane of the blade. It does not mean that you have to strike on the taped edge.

Pretend for a moment that you are holding a real bladed sword. Perform your cut as you would with a rattan weapon. Are you striking with the edge? Did you cut come in along that same line? It is this last bit that is critical, not only for delivering a cut with good power but also for making the weapon work in the manner it has been designed to do.

 Let us look at an example of this, difficult as it is to talk about this without pictures. Someone attacks with a wrap to the back of their opponent’s helm. The sword comes high dropping almost vertically down hitting the back of the helm directly on the strip of tape marking the swords edge. This cut would be considered flat as the arc of the cut was at right angles to the plane of the blade. For this cut to be legal the sword would need to come in horizontally or for the sword to strike on a very different part of the stick.

 Such flat/with tape cuts happen a lot on the fast wraps many combatant use. Indeed I am absolutely guilty of doing this until (to my shame) I saw video of me taking someone’s leg with just such an illegal cut.

 Another common place was combatants throw a flat cut is in attacks to the offside. As they try to reach around the defence the sword will strike with the flat of the blade. Just like the wraps, some of these strikes come in at an angle that would never work with a real weapon.

 Remember that it is the way the sword moves to the target that is the best determinate of it a cut was properly oriented, not the tape making the edge.

 It is true that by ignoring the rule some folk are able to make hits that would have been impossible or slower if they had made a correct cut. To be blunt these people are scoring victories that they have in no way earned. At best they are either poorly trained or ignorant of the rules by which we play. At worst they are simply cheating. There is no honour to be gained by false victories.

 How do we ensure that we always cut properly? I think we need to do several things. Having a proper grip on your sword is a good start. Do some pell work with a real sword is an excellent thing to do. Making sure you are delivering your cuts properly is also a fundamental part of this. Retape your sword and see if there are any marks on the flat of the blade. Use this to correct your technique. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Are you really using your weapon as it is intended or are you cheating yourself as much as anyone else?

 Have the people you train with look out for any errant strikes. If anyone calls a strike flat, refight the bout. Remember, victory must be by skill not by doing things incorrectly.

 I will be the first to put up there hand and say that I am not perfect in this matter. I have had to drop a very effective attack because I simply have been unable to perform this cut correctly.  

 Unfortunately there are some combatants that are unaware of the requirement to strike properly. This is sometimes the fault of their environment. If you are from a group that does not pick up on these bad habits then it is difficult to correct them. Make them aware of what good swordsmanship is gently. In the end it is only yourself that you have control over.

 I am sure to annoy some people my comments here. That is probably partly my intention. While we all sometimes make mistakes, I have witnessed many examples of combatants who are simply ignoring the rules and this is cheating.

 In the end we all must be honest with ourselves and what we do. In some way this is a true lesson of swordsmanship.

Somewhere between a student and a master

There has been a little bit of discussion in other forums about the standards and role of peerages in the SCA. As these conversations happen with a certain level of inevitability and attract a wide variety of opinions. I have mentioned this topic previously and thought I would offer my own opinions on at least the martial side of things.

So what is the level of skill and knowledge required of a knight?

The simple answer for a good many people is that the person in question can compete head to head with the majority of active knights. Even this definition has its problems. How does one define what that level is? Do we compare an aspirant to knighthood against those with 20 years of experience and training? While a rough guide, I feel that this is a poor measure to use as it focus’ primarily on raw win to loss ratio and does not bring into the equation all the other things required of a skilled martial artist.

I look for someone who firstly understands the use of weapons. Do they know how to move and cut effectively, can they execute their attacks with clean and crisp technique? More importantly can they explain what they do and why? Saying ‘this works for me’ is not enough. Nor is it enough to do things just because that was the way they were taught. A knight understands their technique and when it will work and when it does not. They can identify the strengths and weaknesses of every weapon, shield and style to be found on the tournament field. They have made a study of the science of arms.

Allied to this is they are able to impart this understanding to others. Yes, teaching is a separate set of skills, but a knight is able to pass on their knowledge and sense of excitement to others.

Increasingly I think that it is appropriate for us all to have some familiarity with the historical combat manuals, even if it is to understand what is and is not useful from them. A knight is able to speak with authority on this subject.

Their performance on the tournament field must be considered and precise. It is not knightly to flail madly in the hope of scoring a winning strike. This is the difference between piñata good and knightly good. The knightly combatant uses line, distance and timing to out-position their opponent, just as they have timing and natural power to what they do. There should be deadly efficiency of purpose.

A knight is able to exploit deficiencies in the defence and technique of their opponents. They are able to quickly adapt regardless of their opponent.

A knight is also humble in their prowess. A knight does not talk their oppenent to death. To quote Count Gemini, “in the art of Chivalric combat, one can never take or even demand victory. It must be always be given by your opponent to achieve honour…”

The knight also takes care of their appearance and gear. They add to the spectacle of our events. Their armour is well maintained and in good condition.

They are an advanced student of the tournament arts. They have an understanding of all the things mentioned already and are now ready to continue on the path.

So this has not been a list for any of us to tick off as we go. There are many of these criteria very open to interpretation. There is also all the other aspects that is required of Knights, but that is a much longer conversation.