First, a note: If you submit a comment and it does not post, please email me at otownes AT gmail DOT com and let me know.
About the blog:
This blog began as a series of e-mails to help train my local SCA rapier practice in melee. In 2008 I decided to start maintaining it as a blog instead, hopefully to reach a wider audience but mostly to have a readily accessible archive for new members of the practice. I foolishly called it Wistric’s Weekly Warfare and thereby made a certain commitment regarding posting frequency (which, statistically speaking, we maintain to this day).
It morphed over time as my rapier pursuits developed into a place to document my thoughts on melee, as well as my experience as a fencer trying to improve and a student of historic martial arts.
In 2011 I received my White Scarf and I decided to open up this platform to others, especially my students. I have no doubt it helped me earn that Scarf, possibly through self-promotion, mostly through forcing myself to think more about what I was doing as a fencer and the feedback I received. At that point it became the Weekly Warfare.
Our contributor list has expanded since then and with it the range of topics and depth and breadth of knowledge. New contributors are always welcome – even the neophyte has a perspective and personal experience that will inform fencers and teachers of all experience levels. Academic writing skills and knowledge are not required – if they were the Warfare would be better off without me as a contributor.
If you’re reading this, please give feedback. “I agree” is fine. “I disagree” is better. “I disagree and this is why” is even better. This is a crucible in which to refine ideas and pick the brains of the audience for how to better understand the Art we do.
If you’d like to know more about a topic, just ask. We’ll see if somebody wants to take a swing at writing about it, or even help you do so.
(Ed. This is part 4 of a multi-part series. Comments that indicate a failure to read previous entries shall be mocked and, possibly, moderated with extreme prejudice. The author took the time to do the research, you can take the time to read it)
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
In the previous articles, I described the amount of force necessary to cause a concussion (Part 1), the force levels from a typical blow (Part 2), and other sources of force that can contribute to concussions (Part 3). In part 4, I will describe a set of techniques that will help you to both avoid concussing your friends and avoid being concussed yourself. Fortunately many of these techniques are also important aspects of good fencing in general. They will largely focus on the core mechanics of your fencing and will generally require active practice in order to put into regular use.
How not to concuss your friends:
The number one way to prevent concussions is to minimize or eliminate blows that land hard enough to cause a concussion. As the person delivering the blow, the key to keeping yourself from concussing your opponent is having control over your own weapon and body. Maintaining this control is largely a matter of practice; however there are certain techniques that will make it easier to keep control over your motions, and you should focus on using these techniques. First and foremost,Train good technique regularly. It is important to practice such that your technique is good even when you’re tired. Furthermore, consistency is a product of practice. If your lunge varies wildly in its length, how can you possibly have any idea how hard you’re going to hit someone who is standing within that range?
In general, you should hold your body upright and keep your arm and body relaxed and flexed, not tensed. You should also keep your core musculature engaged, tuck your tailbone, and support yourself with your legs planted firmly on the ground.
When you are moving, you should push yourself with your legs. Move forward by extending your rear leg and move backwards by extending your front leg. Your shoulders and hips should remain parallel to the ground and shouldn’t rise or “bounce” when you move. Likewise, don’t “fling” your body weight into the motion and allow the rest of your body to follow. In both of these cases, you are engaging in a motion where you spend a period of time falling and where it is impossible to control the placement of your body weight. Maintaining this safe technique is largely a matter of keeping your tailbone tucked, your core engaged, and taking small steps.
When striking your opponent, you should be certain to extend your arm completely before the rest of your body moves (without locking your elbow). If your arm is still in the process of extending when you strike your opponent, it is impossible for you to adjust or cushion the blow if needed.
As with your footwork, it is also important to push your sword forward rather than punching with it. Your movement should be similar to a waiter extending a tray. Punching and flinging motions are more likely to result in a hard hit because they offer less control over the muscles that are recruited. These motions also strike with a lot of impact force (i.e. with a “pop”), which makes it less likely that the sword will flex. Wistric recently suggested bare-knuckled lunges (with your fist rather than a sword) against a brick wall as a method for testing this mechanic. If this idea gives you pause, then it is likely that you lack control over your technique. If it hurts,then your technique is unsafe (and you’re hitting your opponents that hard over an even smaller cross-section. How do you think that makes them feel?).
Cuts should be delivered from the wrist, shoulder, or a sequential combination of the wrist and shoulder (only one moves at a time), not the elbow. This is better technique for a variety of reasons, however from a safety perspective, this prevents the kinetic linking that is typical of blows from armored combat (but is wholly unnecessary for cutting with a sword). It is important that you avoid using your hips when you cut.
Once the arm is extended, reaching your opponent should be performed by moving the body and/or legs. These motions should also be performed by pushing yourself forward. Do not jump.
If necessary, you should begin cushioning the blow immediately after impact (If you are striking with a technique that causes it to be necessary to cushion before impact so that you don’t hit too hard, you need to re-read the section on how to strike). As noted above, this will be impossible if you are tensed or if the arm is still in the process of extending.
It is best to cushion thrusts by withdrawing the arm in a straight line past your body (i.e. by reversing the motion of the extension). This method will provide the greatest range of motion for cushioning the thrust and removes the weapon from its position between you and your opponent where it can become grounded on your body. Other methods of breaking the force of a thrust such as releasing the ring and pinky fingers and breaking at the wrist in order to carry the weapon down or to the sides can cause the pommel to land ground itself onto your leg or chest which can result in an extraordinarily hard hit if your opponent is falling, slipping, or completely fails to control their body movement. While these situations may not arise due to your actions, you still have the ability to prevent their injury and should do so if possible.
Cushioning cuts is simply a matter of breaking the motion at a joint. The best ways to break a shot are by releasing your pinky and ring finger or by breaking at the wrist. These this will limit the mass behind the impact to only that of the sword and hand. This smaller mass should be less than the mass of the head and so due to the relative difference in inertia, it is the weapon rather than your opponent’s head that will undergo acceleration due to the force of the blow. In situations where breaking at the wrist is not possible, breaking the impact at the elbow or shoulder should be sufficient.
As fighters, it is also worth considering that there are sometimes blows that you shouldn’t throw even though it would be legal to do so. This is largely a matter of judgement and it is worth considering that it will sometimes be very hard to override your competitiveness in order to protect your opponent’s safety. These situations may occur for a variety of reasons. For instance, if the ground is slippery, you may need to refrain from lunging because you can’t be certain of how you will land. It may also be prudent to change how you target your blows such that you avoid hitting people in the “danger zones” for causing a concussion or to be gentler when striking these areas. For instance, in melees, it might be best to avoid blindsiding someone with a thrust to the temple, even though it isn’t against the rules.
The above list is somewhat convoluted, and not all of the techniques can or should be enforced by the marshallate. However, there are a couple key mechanics that marshals should keep an eye out for. Ultimately fighters who routinely:
1) Punch with the sword 2) Fail to extend their arm completely before moving the rest of their body 3) Throw themselves forward or jump at their opponent 4) Fall down or slip 5) Use their hips to generate force on a cut
Should be targeted for correction. These fighters are a danger to others and, if they refuse to alter their mechanics to correct these problems, they should be removed from the field.
How not to get concussed:
While it is important to understand that the blame for a hard shot generally lies with the person who is delivering the blow, there are a number of techniques that allow the recipient of a blow to do so more safely. Because of this, it is worth considering that a fencer who consistently fails to perform these techniques is a danger to themself.
Awareness – Fencers should be aware of when they’re about to be hit, especially in melees. Fighters who can’t see shots coming cannot protect themselves from injury and should be removed from the field.
Brace for impact – When a fencer knows that they are about to be struck in one of the danger zones, it is possible to brace for impact. This can be done by pushing their head into the blow with their neck muscles and by tucking their chin. Importantly, this is an active use of the neck muscles: Do not tense.
Keep your eyes open – Train to keep yourself from uncontrolled “flinching” at moment of impact and keep your body relaxed. Never turn away from a strike, as this exposes parts of the mask not designed to take a shot.
Maintain good muscular tone in your neck – Your neck muscles are the primary method of resisting impacts. When you are fighting, you should maintain good muscular tone in these muscles so that you can resist impacts even when you are surprised. This is difficult to accomplish, as those who lack body awareness will be incapable of even feeling what this is like. Fighters should engage in routine exercise and practice until they are capable of this. Fighters who are frequently “bobble-headed” are generally failing to do this.
Defend yourself – Don’t rush your opponent without defending yourself. Carefully evaluate how you are performing your “heroic sacrifice to take out the MoD” in melees.
Avoid “bouncing” footwork, “flinging” your body forward, and “jumping” when you lunge. You will be unable to control your body during the falling portion of these actions and if your opponent strikes you during these motions, your body weight will add significantly to the impact force.
Wear a mask that fits – Many fencers have masks that are too large. A correctly fitting fencing mask should result in a slight change of voice pitch. A mask that is too large may in some circumstances, act as an additional lever and make a concussion more likely.
Improve your level of Fitness – There are numerous risk factors for concussions that are related to general health and well-being. Smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, unmanaged diabetes, stress, dehydration, and age all place you at an increased risk for receiving a concussion (Because these result in your brain shrinking slightly such that it has more space to bounce around inside your skull). Some of these can’t be helped (you’re not getting any younger), but if you’re worried, you should take care of your health, stop smoking, engage in routine exercise, practice hydrating, etc.
Wear a mouthguard – There is some evidence that mouth guards may provide a slight protective effect against concussions for football players. Mouth guards are cheap and might not be a bad idea if you are particularly prone to concussions or getting hit in the face.
Do not tolerate dangerous technique – Leave a paper trail when bad things happen. If a same fighter is consistently a problem, deal with them mercilessly. Be aware of your kingdom’s marshallate procedures and policies. If you diverge from procedure, your KRM may be unable to take action.
Recognizing fighters who are placing themselves in danger is perhaps even trickier than identifying fighters who pose a hazard to others. In general, marshals should look out for and attempt to correct fighters who frequently: 1) Charge without defending 2) Throw themselves towards their opponent 3) Are surprised by being hit 4) Freeze, Flinch, or otherwise tense their body before impact 5) Receive hits like a sack of potatoes (i.e. fail to actively resist hits) 6) Are “bobble-headed” by face and chin shots
This past Saturday I taught a class on drills (and other ways to improve) on your own and with a partner. My notes are below, and the drills covered are linked here. One day I should get video of these.
First, GOOD DRILL PRACTICE:
Don’t try to win the drill (ffs!). If your job is to get hit, you get hit. Practice the action.
Start slow and large, train up to small and precise. 80% success rate (4 out of 5). If it’s below that, go slower and larger. If it’s above that, smaller and faster.
Targets should be small (hand, not chest)
Add footwork when it gets too easy.
Drill for 15-30 minutes at practice. If you have a two hour practice, this still leaves an hour and a half for fighting. Fighters will just get bored after 5 minutes or so, so alternate drilling different actions (feel free to cycle back to the first drill). Add time for conditioning on top of the drill time.
Execute an action until it can be done consistently before moving on to the next.
If you’re the coach, take this time to work on your form. Make sure your en garde stance is solid and your footwork and sword-work are clean.
Go slow to go fast. Train at Tai Chi speed to develop the muscle memory. Don’t train going as fast as you can. Train doing it right.
If you’re missing, your hand is going after your foot (point control is a myth).
I use a target of four small pieces of duct tape. One for each shoulder, the face, and the torso at “en garde” height. Start with just hitting one, then just hitting the next, and so on. Once consistent, start rotating through the targets or randomizing them.
Break it down into separate pieces: Start with the extension to strike. Step back half a step to add in the extension and shoulder rotation. Step back another half step to add in the torso lean. Step back another half step to add in a small lunge step. Step back another half step to go train the full lunge. Again, repeat each step until it can be done consistently before moving onto the next. Start over from the beginning each day.
Falling into a rhythm of lunge/recover/lunge/recover is bad. Don’t do it. I recommend using the Random Timer app for your smart phone if you have one. Set the interval to beep between, say, 3 and 6 seconds. Lunge when it beeps. Recover when it beeps again.
The next best use of your solo time is working on your conditioning: Develop the fast twitch muscles of your arms and legs (the ones responsible for bursts of energy), work on your core strength so you can stay in guard a long time, and cardio. These can be worked with mostly bodyweight exercises, no gym needed. Look around for examples (or maybe Dominyk can post some links here).
Also, Hell Drills. Misery loves company, so try getting your whole practice to do these.
Dead time training:
We have a lot of dead time in our lives. Use it to train.
Do footwork around the house instead of normal walking.
Practice standing in guard in line, waiting for the shower to warm up, on telecons, whatever
Hold your sword extended out to the side at shoulder level while watching TV.
“I want to be able to do a thing.” Drill doing that thing. Literally, “My dagger parries to the high inside line don’t work.” Have somebody lunge at your left eyeball until you can parry it effectively. Then add footwork (you or them leading the footwork). Have them add a setup (feint to the low-line, sword beat, whatever).
If you can’t find anybody to drill with you, do directed sparring: Drill doing a thing against an opponent who’s actively resisting (because they don’t know what you’re working on). You will eat a lot of sword until you get it right. Ego impedes improvement.
(Ed. This is part 3 of a 5 part series. Comments that indicate a failure to read previous entries shall be mocked and, possibly, moderated with extreme prejudice. The author took the time to do the research, you can take the time to read it)
In the previous two articles, I demonstrated how the typical amount of force delivered by SCA rapier thrusts relates to the force required to cause a concussion. Importantly, the levels of force delivered against Llwyd’s machine (~15-28lbs) were significantly lower than this threshold (~100lbs). However, we know that concussions do occur from blows delivered in SCA fencing. Consequently, we must therefore conclude that these blows are either delivered with an atypically high level of force, that Llwyd’s machine is not measuring typical blows, or that there are other factors that add to the amount of force delivered in order to reach this threshold. Here we discuss those other factors which include the angle and location of impact, the body movements of the fencers, and the technique used to deliver the blow.
Impact Location and Direction:
The largest factor that determines whether a blow can cause a concussion is where and how it lands. Obviously a blow that doesn’t strike the head won’t cause a concussion, but where a blow lands on the head is also important for determining whether the head undergoes linear or rotational acceleration. As we showed in the first article, far more force is required to cause a concussion due to linear acceleration (~750 lbs) whereas rotation can cause a concussion with far less (~100lbs).
As shown in Figure 1, the blows that are most likely to cause rotational acceleration of the head include rising blows landing under the chin, rising blows to the top of the forehead, and cross-wise shots landing on the cheeks or temples. These blows are more likely to cause rotation of the head due to the asymmetrical shape of the head and the placement and shape of the neck muscles that resist this kind of motion.Specifically, the shape of the head means that the face is further from the axis of rotation than the rest of the head, which provides a longer lever arm for blows to act upon. Likewise, the muscles that resist this kind of motion are the sternocleidomastoid which is relatively small and is not directly aligned to oppose this kind of motion.
Figure 2: Location of sternocleidomastoid muscle. Image from Wikipedia.
The second biggest factor is likely the body movement of the fencers. The blows discussed in the second article were measured against a stationary machine under relatively “perfect” conditions. During a bout, fencers are typically moving and they may accidentally put their body behind blows by using poor technique for delivering a blow such as kinetic linking (i.e. throwing a rattan blow), flinging their body forward in their footwork, jumping, or falling (See Figure 3). Importantly it is possible for either fencer (the blow deliverer or the blow recipient) to add force through body movement.
Figure 3: By throwing his body into the air, Wistric is adding a lot of force to the impact he’s about to receive when he lands on David’s sword. Image from Wistric’s Facebook.
The relative contribution of body movement should not be underestimated. Consider how much force is generated by a person walking into a wall. If that person’s mass is 100kg and they were walking forward at a pace of 1m/s (a moderate walk), then we can calculate this amount of force as long as we know how long it takes their body to stop (i.e. the amount of force is reliant on the rate of deceleration). Due to Newton’s third law of motion (When one body exerts force on another, the second body simultaneously exerts an equal and opposite force on the first), when you collide with the wall, it exerts an equal and opposing amount of force on you, which causes you to stop (i.e. decelerate). Therefore, the faster you stop, the harder you hit the wall (Assuming the wall doesn’t move). Consider a relatively slow stop, taking 0.5 seconds; we can calculate the force as F = 100 kg * 1m/s/0.5s = 200N ~50 lbs. In contrast, a relatively fast stop, taking 0.1 seconds, would result results in F = 100kg * 1m/s/0.1s = 1000 N ~250lbs. Based on this, it is easy to see how movements of the body can dramatically increase the force of impact that can occur well beyond the forces measured by Llwyd’s machine.
Punch vs. Push:
Another factor is the temporal characteristics of the impact. The muscles of the neck provide a significant level of protection against concussions because they are able to resist rotational movement of the head. However, these muscles need to constrict in response to an impact, which takes time. Because of this, impacts that cause force to be applied faster are more dangerous than impacts that spread that force over time, regardless of whether the total force or the maximum force is higher in the slower impact. For instance, a “punching strike”, which maximizes impact force is more dangerous with a blunted weapon than a forceful push because the push provides time for the neck muscles to resist the motion.
That being said, pushing through your target is better technique when using a sword. Swords do not rely on their impact in order to cause damage, rather they do their damage as a result of continuing to cut through a target after the impact. Maximizing impact force, as we might do in boxing, is therefore detrimental because it is more likely to cause the blade to bounce off of the target following the impact and it prevents continued penetration with the blade. This boxing video does a decent job of describing the difference between punching and pushing and the reasons that he gives for why a “snapping” is best for boxing and are the precise reasons why they aren’t good for when you’re using a sword.
This test cutting video, while a bit long-winded, provides an example of how this works with a sharp sword. The rest of the video tests out a couple different ways of delivering blows and is worth a watch, but for our purposes, you can skip ahead to the 20:34 mark.
If we look at the list of other factors listed above, the key take-away is that the person delivering the blow is largely responsible for causing concussions. While they do not have control over whether their opponent steps into the blow, they are in control over:
How hard they strike
The placement of their blows
The technique used to deliver their strike
Throwing their body-weight into the blow and
Their own body movement towards their opponent.
We should therefore consider it the responsibility of the person delivering the blow to control their weapon such that they are not likely to injure their opponent. Importantly, punching and flinging techniques, slipping on the ground resulting in hard hits, failure to control distance, failure to cushion blows, throwing cuts as punches, etc are a form of negligence and as fighters and as marshals, we should be proactive in eliminating these from the field.
Fighters who do these things may be quite capable of delivering blows within the typical force range most of the time, however, these techniques make hard, injurious hits more likely because they remove the fighter’s ability to control their weapon and body. When such blows occur, they are not accidents; they are the result of malice, ignorance, or negligence and should be treated as such.
We should also keep in mind that the recipient of a blow has some control over whether or not they will be injured. The recipient has control over whether they step forward without protecting themselves (i.e. closing the line/parrying, etc) and certainly should avoid footwork that involves flinging themselves forward. Recipients can also control how they receive a blow, but it is not strictly their fault if they receive a hard blow wrong. We should actively train fencers to receive hits correctly and fighters who routinely fail to actively receive blows are a danger to themselves.
The next article will address specific techniques for both the deliverers and recipients of blows to reduce the likelihood of concussions in SCA rapier.
(Ed. This is part of a 5 part series. Comments that indicate a failure to read previous entries shall be mocked and, possible, moderated with extreme prejudice. The author took the time to do the research, you can take the time to read it)
Knowing how much force is required to cause a concussion doesn’t tell us much if we don’t know how hard we are hitting. Fortunately Master Llwyd Aldrydd has created a machine for measuring the force generated by thrusts and has used it to acquire several hundred data points including blows from single-handed rapiers, two-handed swords, and rapier spears. The data he collected is available here for download as an excel document. The analyses presented here were carried out using the data from Pennsic 43 (.xlsx file download) combined with the “second” data collection.
A total of 78 fighters delivered a total of 1275 blows using a variety of weapon and blow combinations. Specifically, fighters delivered as many as 3 blows of each of the following types:
Single-handed strike with a rapier
Single-handed strike with a two-handed sword
Two-handed strike with a two-handed sword
“Harpooning” strike with a two-handed sword
“Fixed hands” strike with an Alchem rapier spear
“Pool cue” strike with an Alchem rapier spear
“Controlled combat” strike with an Alchem rapier spear
However, not all fighters completed all of the different types of blows. The weapons used varied between individuals. For our purposes here, we will focus on only the single-handed strikes with a rapier. A total of 73 individuals delivered 3 strikes with the rapier, for a total of 219 measured impacts.
Descriptive Statistics of single-handed Rapier strikes
Std Dev (lbs)
The first step in determining what a “typical” blow is like is to explore measures of centrality. In most cases it is sufficient to look at the mean amount of force, which we can see is about 21 lbs. However, median and mode are other measures of centrality that should be considered when trying to figure out what is “typical.” It is frequently the case in statistics that we assume that data follows a “normal” or “gaussian” distribution, in which case, mean, median, and mode should have the same value. If we look at the data above, we can see that both the median and mode are 20 lbs, which is pretty similar to 21 lbs. I have also chosen to show the descriptive statistics for each of the 3 blows separately because it helps to demonstrate that the “total” is, on its face, representative of the three separate blows.
The next step is to look at how much variance is present in the data. For instance, it is possible that one fighter (or group of fighters) were hitting with 5 lbs while another fighter (or group of fighters) was hitting with 35 lbs of force. Or, alternatively, everybody could be hitting with 20-21 lbs of force. These two situations are very different from each other, and so we need to determine how “wide” our expected window of force should be. A simple method for inferring this is to look at the range. We can see above that blow force ranged from 5 – 40 lbs. This value doesn’t really help us to determine whether 5 lb or 40 lb blow were common nor does it help us to determine whether most fighters were hitting with around 20 lbs of force, so instead we need to use a different measurement such as standard deviation. What standard deviation tells us is how much of a difference from the average to expect. The standard deviation in the sample shown above is around 7.5 lbs, which means that we would expect most blows to land in the range of 13.5 lbs – 28.5 lbs.
The standard deviation is, however, still a rather blunt instrument because it does not take into account the shape of the data. A good way to see the shape of our data is to make a histogram that shows the frequency of each quantity of blow force (Figure left). From this graph, we can see that most of the blows did occur within the 13.5 lb – 28.5 lb range centered around the average, as we might have expected.
As noted above, it is typical to assume that data fits a normal distribution for the purposes of modelling, but that isn’t always true. In fact, if we overlay our “Observed” data with what would be “Expected” from a normal distribution, we can see that it looks similar (Figure center), but that it doesn’t fit perfectly (Figure 1 middle). Now, we don’t expect that observed data will ever be perfect, so rather than just looking to see if they visually match, we can also do a statistical test called a chi squared goodness of fit test. If we do so, we find that X2(6) = 15.26,p < 0.05, which means it is statistically unlikely that our observed data follows the normal distribution.
I have also generated a third chart (Figure right) that shows how frequently a blow occurs at or below a given force level. From this we can see that 80% of blows fell over the range of 10-30 lbs and that 60% of blows fell in the range of 15-25 lbs, which helps to illustrate precisely how much more frequently blows were to land near the mean than they are at the extremes.
What does this all mean? For starters, the data demonstrate that typical single-handed blows fall within a range of around 15-30 lbs, which is significantly lower than the force that we calculated to be required to cause a concussion in our previous article. However, we know that concussions do occur as a result of single-handed rapier blows and so we must conclude that 1) fencers hit harder during actual sparring than they do when delivering blows against the machine and/or 2) other factors lead to concussions in SCA fencing.
Additionally, the shape of the distribution of blow force supports the idea that fencers are exerting control over the amount of force that they are delivering. Fencers were more likely to deliver a blow that was similar to the mean and less likely to deliver a blow at the extremes than we would expect if the data followed a normal distribution, which suggests an active selection towards the center, which is encouraging. However, we should keep in mind that some of this tendency towards the middle may be due to the limited range of the sample distribution. It was physically impossible to deliver blows with negative amounts of force, for instance, and so, compared with the normal distribution, the probability of low-force blows is lower in our sample.
This dataset may also provide us with another way of measuring an “excessive” blow. Currently the rules define an “excessive” blow as one that causes injury. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the obvious one is that it is reactive rather than proactive and waits until after an injury has occurred to set a boundary. It also sets us up for having more injuries. As you can see above, the amount of force delivered by a blow is distributed over a range of forces. If we were to increase the mean while keeping the standard deviation the same, we would expect that the number of hard blows would increase. Similarly, if we were to increase the amount of variability (standard deviation), reflecting reduced control, while keeping the mean the same, we would also expect that the number of hard blows will increase and of course, if we both raised the mean force and increased the variability, we would expect an even greater increase in the number of hard blows. By setting the threshold for an “excessive” blow as one that is injurious, we are creating a situation where the marshalate lacks the tools to curb an increase in mean force and/or the variance.
Rather than defining an “excessive” blow as one that causes injury a better method may be to define an excessive blow as one that is atypically hard. I expect that in practice, this is how calibration is handled by most combatants and marshals. This approach has the benefit of actively driving calibration towards the mean, and this practice may be responsible for the shape of the data seen here (specifically the greater tendency towards the mean than in the normal distribution).
If we were to use this approach, the next step is to figure out how to define a shot that is “atypically hard.” We can handle this in a number of ways, however two simple approaches are as follows: First, we can calculate whether a blow is likely to reflect the sample distribution and set a threshold value that dictates that the top x% of blows are considered to be excessive. In statistics, a threshold of 5% is frequently used, which would reflect a blow with approximately 38 lbs of force in the current sample. Second, we can treat the problem as a form of outlier detection. In this case, a solution such as the six-sigma method whereby blows that land 6 standard deviations or more above the mean are considered to be excessive. Using the current sample, this would reflect a blow with 66lbs of force. It would be interesting to devise a method to measure the force of a blow and allow a recipient to experience what these levels of force feels like qualitatively. We may be able to do this with a high-speed camera or, alternatively, we could devise a tool that delivers a known amount of force over a cross-section that is similar to our rapier blunts.
Another possible use for this data is in the evaluation of other types of weapons. Llwyd has collected data from two-handed swords and rapier spears delivering a variety of different kinds of blows and it is possible that we could use this data to determine whether these different weapons strike significantly harder than single-handed rapiers. I intend to do this comparison in the near future as part of a separate discussion.
What about cuts? Sadly, Llwyd’s machine has not (yet?) been used to measure the force of cutting blows. My personal experience with cuts, having now fought C&T in two SCA kingdoms and having some limited experience fighting with HEMA groups outside the SCA is that in general, cuts are delivered with a level of force that is similar to thrusts and that the hardest cuts I have received (ruling out situations where I was actually punched using the guard) are at the very least similar in their level of force to the thrusts that i have received. The society rules for C&T require that blows be delivered with sufficient control so as not to injure opponents and so we might reasonably assume that blow forces will fall within a similar range to thrusts or, at the very least, that cuts will not typically land harder than the hardest thrusts. We could even provide some extra wiggle room and assume that cuts land in a range that is more typical of thrusts by two-handed swords (mean = 26.6 lbs, sd = 9.6, max = 55lbs). In any case, we should not expect that the range of blow forces delivered by controlled cuts should exceed the minimum level of force required to cause a concussion (~100 lbs).
The forces measured from thrusts performed using single-handed rapiers are much lower than the threshold we have established for causing a concussion. While no measurements were taken regarding cuts, it is unlikely that cuts typically land five times harder than thrusts, and so we should not expect that either cuts or thrusts will, during typical use, cause concussions on their own. However, the force of the blow may still be a contributing factor in causing concussions, but we must also look towards other factors in order to understand why concussions happen in SCA fencing. These findings should also be considered with the caveat that the human body is certainly capable of delivering the 100 lbs of force necessary and that it remains a possibility that a fighter acting through either gross negligence or through malice can deliver a cut or thrust with sufficient force to cause a concussion.
Until somewhat recently, concussions were seen as a relatively mild injury. However, in the last few years, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated the long-term consequences of these injuries to medical professionals and the public at large. Simply put, a concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by impact with the head [1,2,3, 4]. In the short term, symptoms can include disorientation, headache, memory loss, loss of consciousness, an inability to focus, tiredness, lack of coordination, nausea, and dizziness [1,2]. However, high-profile incidents involving former professional athletes combined with a substantial number of veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom who have received head injuries has shown that concussions can result in serious long-term consequences including loss of cognitive abilities, depression, aggression, a loss of impulse control, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and premature death [1,3].
Symptoms of Concussions: Concussion Symptoms [Online image]. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from http://www.advancedvisiontherapycenter.com/services/sports_vision/concussion_management/.
What activities cause concussions?
Concussions can occur as a result of many different types of activities. For veterans of recent military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, concussions typically occurred due to explosive devices, gunshot wounds (with and without helmet penetration), and vehicle accidents. Vehicle accidents are also a common cause of concussions  for people living their day-to-day lives along with falling and physical assault . Various sports such as football, soccer, hockey, etc can also lead to concussions. In these cases, concussions typically result from impacts with other players or from impacts with the ground [2,3,4]. SCA fencing shares these risk factors for concussions, particularly when we consider participation in melees. Fighters are also at risk for receiving concussions due to sword blows, which is the type of concussions that we will primarily focus on here.
Regardless of the activities that caused the impact, concussions typically occur in one of three ways:
Direct Impact with the Brain: This type of injury involves either the penetration of the skull by a foreign object or an injury that crushes the skull.
Yes, this would also cause a concussion:direct impact with the brain Spear in Brain [Online Image]. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from http://brainandspine.titololawoffice.com/2012/07/articles/traumatic-brain-injury-tbi/phineas-gage-and-yasser-lopez-offer-modern-brain-injury-research-more-data/.
Linear Acceleration of the head: Acceleration of the head through space can cause the brain to impact the inside of the skull.
Linear acceleration causes the brain to impact the inside of the skull: Andrews, M. (2012). Concussion Anatomy [Online image]. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Concussion_Anatomy.png.
Rotational Acceleration of the head: Rotation of the head on its axis can create shearing forces inside the brain that cut through neurons causing something called “diffuse axonal damage.” Indeed, rotational injury seems to be most responsible for sports injuries .
Concussion due to rotational acceleration leads to shearing of neurons in the brain. Graves, T. (2014). Concussion [Online image]. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from http://weillcornellbrainandspine.org/condition/concussion.
Given that our blunted weapons should, in no way result in penetration of the skull, we can limit our discussion to concussions caused by either linear or rotational acceleration. The obvious next question is: How much acceleration is necessary to cause a concussion? Unfortunately determining a clear threshold for injury is tricky. A recent study has shown concussions occurring from football impacts ranging from 60G – 168G (1G = acceleration due to gravity = 9.8 m/s2) . However it is also clear that it is possible to undergo far greater acceleration without sustaining a concussion. For our purposes, it is sufficient for us to use a value on the lower end of this range in order to determine where concussions will start to occur, which gives us a value ~ 60G. However, there is some evidence that lower levels of impact (30G) may be sufficient to cause significant brain damage , so keep in mind that this threshold is currently a contentious aspect of concussion literature and is subject to changing due to new research.
How much force is required to accelerate the head 60 Gs?
In other words, if we want to calculate how much force is needed to cause an object to accelerate a given amount, we will need to know its mass. A human head has a mass of approximately 5 kg and a fencing mask has a mass of approximately 2 kg, so for this calculation, let us assume a mass of 7 kg. First let us convert Gs of acceleration to the more typical metric unit, meters(m)/second(s)²:
A = 60G * 9.8m/s²/G = 588 m/s²
Then in order to calculate the necessary force to cause 588m/s² of linear acceleration, we get:
F = 7kg * 588 m/s² = 4116 kg*m/s²
In the metric system, the unit for force is the Newton (N), which is equal to 1 kg*m/s², so the necessary force to cause this level of linear acceleration is 4116 N. However, I expect that most people reading this series of articles are located in the US and so Newtons aren’t a particularly intuitive unit of measurement. Fortunately the unit for force in the US/Imperial system of measurements is the pound and the conversion factor between these measurements is 4.45 N = 1 lb. We then have:
4116 N = 925 lbs
Calculating the necessary force required to cause this level of rotational acceleration is slightly more complicated. Rotational force is calculated using a slightly different equation, so rather than using F = M * A, we instead calculate for torque:
torque(τ) =moment of inertia( I) * angular acceleration(α)
Since we have already converted from Gs to m/s2, we must now calculate the moment of Inertia. The equation for this is as follows:
I = constant (k) * mass (m) * radius (r)²
Location of the atlas (shown in red) and axis (immediately below and encapsulated by the atlas). These bones form the joints that allow the head to rotate. Anatomography. (2012). Atlas [Online image]. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C1_lateral.png.
So now, in addition to knowing the mass of the head, we must also know its radius. Anatomically the head rotates vertically (nodding) in the joint between the occipital bone of the skull and the atlas bone and horizontally (side-to-side) in the joint between the atlas bone and the axis bone (the atlas is shown in red above and the axis is mostly obstructed by the atlas, but is visible as a small sliver of white under the atlas). Knowing this, we can measure from this point to the chin of a fencing mask, which is around 25cm. We can therefore calculate I as follows:
I = k * 7kg * 0.25 m² = k * 7 * 0.0625 m = k * 0.4375
You will note that this leaves the term, k which I have not yet defined. In this equation, k is a constant term that is dependent on the shape of the object being rotated. Choosing an appropriate k-value is complicated, so let us come back to it. For now, let k = 1. We can then finish calculating the necessary force to cause this kind of rotational acceleration:
τ = 0.4375 kgm²*588m/s²= 257.25 N*m
In this case, the “meters” part of the result is related to the radius, so we can get rid of it as follows:
257.25 N*m / 0.25 m (the radius) = 1029 N = 231.24 lbs
Choosing a value for k
Calculating a precise value for k is tricky because the head, particularly a head encased in a fencing mask is strangely shaped, the axis of rotation is off-center, and the mass is not uniformly distributed, however we can estimate a value for k by selecting a geometric shape that is similar to the shape of the head and using its k value here. That is, As the old physics joke goes, assume a spherical head. In this case, the value for k is 0.4. So, taking that into consideration, we would then multiply our result by this value:
1029 N * 0.4 = 411.6 N = 92.5 lbs
Given that we’re “fudging” the shape of the head here, we should take this value with a grain of salt and understand that the correct value should lie somewhere between these two values. In other words, the needed force is somewhere between 412N – 1029 N or in Imperial measure, 93 lbs – 231 lbs.
From the perspective of our combat sport, rotational acceleration poses the greatest risk for concussions, which is consistent with research into concussions in other sports. Importantly, the level of force needed to cause a concussion due to rotation is relatively low. In the next article, we will compare these levels to the measurements of striking force carried out by Baron Llwyd.
McCrea M, Guskiewicz KM, Marshall SW, et al. Acute Effects and Recovery Time Following Concussion in Collegiate Football Players: The NCAA Concussion Study.JAMA. 2003;290(19):2556-2563. doi:10.1001/jama.290.19.2556.
Guskiewicz KM, McCrea M, Marshall SW, et al. Cumulative Effects Associated With Recurrent Concussion in Collegiate Football Players: The NCAA Concussion Study.JAMA. 2003;290(19):2549-2555. doi:10.1001/jama.290.19.2549.
Guskiewicz KM, Mihalik JP, Shankar V, et al. (2007). “Measurement of head impacts in collegiate football players: Relationship between head impact biomechanics and acute clinical outcome after concussion”. Neurosurgery 61 (6): 1244–52; discussion 1252–3.doi:10.1227/01.neu.0000306103.68635.1a.
Varney NR, Roberts RJ. Forces and accelerations in car accidents and resultant brain injuries. In: Varney RN, Roberts RJ, editors. The Evaluation and Treatment of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Mahwah, NJ: L Erlbaum; 1999. pp. 39–47.
R.C. Cantu. Guidelines for return to contact sport after a cerebral concussion. Phys Sports Med, 14 (1986), pp. 75–83
Barth, J. T., Freeman, J. R., Broshek, D. K., & Varney, R. N. (2001). Acceleration-Deceleration Sport-Related Concussion: The Gravity of It All. Journal of Athletic Training, 36(3), 253–256.
Thursday morning was set aside for order meetings (where I discovered the best way to do an order meeting is standing in the back, drinking mimosas, banned by law from voting) and for the champions duels.
I watched for a while, hang out and chatted, and then wandered back to camp to get ready for the afternoon’s battles. First would be the Armored Field, followed immediately by the Rapier Town, so again I prepped to hot-swap.
The first run had siege and archery, so we formed up on the rez lines (Meridies in a block on the far right) and let the siege engines dial in their range, then advanced out towards each other, about a quarter of the field away from the rez lines, and let the siege engines duel some, and the archers go skirmish. We did the “Ballista!” dance a few times as it started to sprinkle on us.
Bored to death standing in the back end of the block, I moseyed over to the left side of the Meridian formation, in the gap between us and the next unit over, and hung out to watch the battle develop. Atlantia pushed forward on the far side of the field. Our archers went out to harry their flanks. Their archers, with some protective shields, came out to chase our archers away. His Highness said “I want to go skirmish” and trotted off towards the exposed shields and archers. Skirmishing being my preferred method of dying, I followed. I ended up on the far end of our unit, closest to the enemy line, with two spears facing off against me, and an archer trying to get a shot at me. I kept shuffling around to keep an enemy spearman between me and that archer (but making sure he didn’t turn his attention to His Highness). A few moments later somebody yelled “Heads up” at me. I looked right and saw a shieldman in full out charge at me. I skipped back, he pulled up short and faded back from our archers. We’d lost an archer in there, though, and His Highness called us back to the army. I fell back, but not before I killed one of my opposite spearmen.
After a little more waiting Meridies and Calontir charged into each other. I ended up in the scrum, got legged, and while legged a legged shieldman jumped on me and stabbed me in the Jimmy with what, I’m sure, was not a thrusting tip. I still called good.
Second run, Meridies formed up across from Atlantia. MORE FRIENDS! This was a pretty solid scrum from the word “Lay on” (because no archery, and Atlantia). At one point Sinclair charged into us near my position. He went to his knees in front of one of our shieldmen and I was not in a position to do much, so I put my elbow in his armpit and my head against his forearm so he couldn’t throw a shot. Somebody landed a kill on him, and as I stood up somebody chopped down on my wrist. Fencer brain went “I’ve lost my hand” so I spent the next thirty seconds throwing spear shots left handed before I got a break and realized “Oh, wait… heavy rules.” I got a bit of two-hand spear playing in, and somehow in there I died but I can’t actually recall how.
By now it was really starting to rain, now with thunder, so we mustered up on the lines and I shed my helmet and gauntlet, waiting for the announcement that the rest of the battles were canceled. And then they were yelling “Hats and bats.” It was the fastest turnaround time between battles I’ve ever seen.
We formed up and charged out. We hit the unit across from us (I can’t remember who it was). Two sets of war doors came charging in on our forward right flank, I turned to face them with the other flank guard, and took an arrow to the ass. Muttering vulgarity, I dropped to my knees right about the time the shield wall hit. I realized: They could not hit me around their gigantic war doors. So I put a shoulder into them and started pushing forward. Somewhere in there my spear got tangled up in their legs, and a few moments later there was a hold called. I was sitting there fishing my spear back out and the door in front of me moved aside. The guy behind it was offering me a hand up. “I’m good,” I told him, and hunkered down again. As they called make ready, he set up with just a little gap between his door and the next, enough for him to throw down on top of my head. So at Lay On I bailed sideways (Aikido turns out to be useful in so many situations) and put myself against his door again, and continued pushing him back. A pulse charge hit them a moment later, and wiped the two shield walls away, and I was facing an open field. On my knees. With a spear. So I charged. I got an exposed flank on one shieldman, then engaged a couple of spearmen. They killed me, I dropped into the mud (Here’s where my collar got muddy), and Meridies swept over my dead body.
When I got back to the field pavilion, I was informed that the rapier battle was canceled for the day, due to the weather, and so I headed back to camp.
Thor Turns Against the MOD
David, Morgan, and Brendan came back and we sat around chatting. David’s wife, Dori, was due in any minute, since he would be elevated to the Order of Defense in court that evening.
At one point our phones all chimed. “Did everybody else get a tornado warning?” I asked. “Yep,” they said. I looked around at all the tents, all the lack of cover, and the sky which didn’t seem tornado-like. “Well,” I said, “If you hear a freight train, we all run for the ravine next to camp.” Then I opened a beer.
Dori showed up and they unloaded their car. David started getting dressed for court. I got dressed as well and headed up to court as the rain thickened. When I arrived, Her Majesty asked me to see if David would rather do it the next day. I ran back to camp, he confirmed he really, really would rather not do it in the rain, and so I ran back to court and let Her Maj know. Then I stayed to relieve Her Excellency South Downs’s retainer and hang out behind the thrones.
What followed was the fastest bit of shot-gun court I’ve ever seen. Her Majesty, a force of nature, had thirty-five pieces of business to get through and by god she would. Eventually she lost patience with the herald, who was trying to tell her the next piece of business, and called it herself. It was a bit like an episode of Oprah. “You get a GOA! You get the AoA Arts award! You get a GoA!” At piece of business 17 a general alarm went up and Her Maj called one last piece of business.
Then the storms came (with me moseying through them, because it wasn’t that different from the afternoon in Florida). The rest of the war, including at least two MOD elevations (David and Damiano), was canceled. Dori was on site for only a few hours; they loaded up and headed to a hotel. We grabbed a hotel, too, packed down the next day and drove home. Which means I actually did fight all of the war point battles. IRON MAN!
Wednesday morning I woke up feeling like I’d spent about three hours in the sun in heavy armor the day before. Because I did. In other words, I wanted nothing more from life except to drink coffee and eat bacon and watch everybody else go off to fight. Then I armored up anyway, because it’s not like there was anything else to do. I figured even if I only fought for ten minutes before falling out I’d have done what I could, and the ravine at least had shade
It turned out it also had room to move, with the lines in more open order, so I could do my fencer-with-a-spear thing. It was great. Gone was the uselessness of the day before, and I had a blast. It helped that we had some great archer support, so when a couple of particularly tough knights with spears appeared on the other side of the line, I could just call in artillery. I love combined arms. Love it so hard.
Overall it felt like Meridies brought an entirely different army from the day before. Maybe its natural state is that open order sort of fight. It was much better coordinated and effective even at the grunt level. Shields would move to protect me against spearmen shooting at me from an angle, and would give me room to work when we had spear superiority.
Thanks to the rez walk not being goddamn awful, Kynric was able to form larger units with greater punching power. At one point one of these overran the center flag, which snapped off. By the end of the battle only one of the three flagpoles was still in tact. Strangely, it was the two Meridies was fighting over which died.
Atlantia for this battle was on the far side of the ravine, so I didn’t get to kill them.
Meridies held its flag almost the entire time. The total time-held difference between the two sides was under two minutes, with Trimaris winning because of Meridies.
I’d been worried I’d have to hot-swap gear between the ravine and the rapier field battle, but as it turned out that was not the case. It was only an hour, and started almost on time (so, if the GW MiC and the Pennsic MiC could gift each other a bullhorn and a watch, that would be great). I was able to go back to camp, drop my armor, dress leisurely, get food, and then go do the thing I’d been looking forward to for, oh, five months, at least.
I HAZ SCHOLAR!!!!!!
I’d been hoping to do it on the actual field, a little more formally and with a wider audience, but Their Majesties Atlantia had to go and elevate Dominyk to the OD during the time I’d been planning to do it. Damn them (congrats Dominyk!) So immediately after that we went off to the side, with a not-too-shabby audience, and His Majesty Meridies and Their Majesties’ Atlantia in attendance. Zhao read the contract, Toki gave her oath (in Japanese), I gave my oath to her, talked about the collar, put it on her, and we signed the contract. Now I have a Scholar/Pet Samurai/Valet (with a hard ‘t’). Except she objects to me using those last two terms. She is no fun.
Toki wondering if it’s too late to run for it.
Then came the only Rapier Battle of the war:
Rapier Field Battle
His Majesty Meridies took the field with us, which may be the first time that’s happened for the Meridian Rapier army. Also, it was the first time that Meridies had an army – 30 people. Usually it has 5 or 6. A lot of that credit goes to Gauge and Natalya who trained up Bryn Madoc, including a good chunk of crossover heavies, and brought 15 fighters to the field.
Still, despite Gauge’s prodigious unit, Trimaris and her allies were outnumbered by about 50% (number I heard was 190 to 130).
For the first run, Meridies was placed on the far left. I was told to form up with His Maj, who, along with Master-Sir Morgan and a clutch of MOBs, was at the core of the hammer. Then Ximon mentions “Oh, yeah, His Majesty’s color blind and can’t see that orange line on the green grass.” That orange line which you step one foot over, you die. I checked with His Majesty. “I can kinda see it,” he said, “Don’t worry about it.” Luckily, the solution already fell in with my own personal plan.
[Melee lesson time!] I picked up a trick from watching the Dragoons fight that, these days, I employ whenever possible. “Your Majesty,” I said, “My foot is going to be on the edge of the world the entire time. You stay on my right shoulder.” See, if you’re clinging to the edge of the field, then half of the world is no longer a threat to you. You only have to worry about the person in front of you, and the person to their side, but that’s where your whole army is, so really you have a single person to worry about. And so long as you don’t retreat they can move one of three ways: Step off the edge of the world (die), retreat (give you the ground you want anyway), or step away from the edge of the world (give you their flank). This was the thing I would do, and as a bonus it made sure Our King didn’t step off the edge of the field. The downside was that I’d wanted to have Toki, and her shiny new collar, running on my right wing. But, droits du roi and all that, so she was running behind me (And now she knows what it means to “be on my six”). There was a hay bale we wanted to stop them at: it was on their half of the field, technically outside of the edge of the world but a good visual marker for organization and edge awareness, and an ever so slight bit of terrain advantage (a rightie shooting a lunge along the edge would be obstructed). Also, if we could secure that point, our line would form a cup that the rest of their army would bulge into. Hey! Local numerical superiority!
So at “Lay on” I ran like hell for it. And almost made it.
You and what army?
They came to a halt just past the hay bale, I moved to engagement range as the rest of Meridian hitting unit came up and filled in next to me, and we got to work.
Also, I got to have Toki at my side after all!
They fed into the line and we munched them and moved forward:
Notice the significant decrease in white cassocks not standing on the sidelines.
Pictured above is the first wave of reinforcements.
And here’s a picture of the second wave of reinforcements filling in:
After the second wave of reinforcements my body asked for a pause in the killing to catch my breath, at which point somebody from the THIRD RESERVE walked up and poked me.
That guy, there, on the left. Kanly for reals.
Fighters from the enemy side have told me that that third reserve was sent from the complete other end of the field.
I wasn’t the only one gassed, and by the time I died a good chunk of Meridies had attrited away. When I looked up from the edge of the field, Atlantia was marching down the far end of the line, rolling up the flank and a rapidly disintegrating Trimarian army. The center of the field had buckled, splitting the field into two pockets that were slowly crushed. But the left, damn, we didn’t just hold, we took ground, outnumbered 3 to 2 or not.
For the second round, the enemy (in this War with no Enemies) decided to balance the sides. They sent six fencers over. One had a white scarf. So, 184 to 136!
We lined up across from Northshield again and were getting into position for the fight when Corbin (our Watch Commander) yelled “Meridies, up the hill!” I looked up the hill. Atlantia was at the top of the hill. “How far up the hill?” I asked. “Up the hill!” I was told. And so, giddy, I ran up to the top of the hill and proceeded to do my best “HI GUYS!” dance at Atlantia. Also, I was wearing a black and white boa (because the Atlantian blood never goes away) to make sure I was highly visible.
We fell in in the same order (me on the left, His Majesty under orders to stay to my right, the rest of the hitting unit around us). Across the field from me was Gardiner’s and Atlantia’s cross-over knights. I admit, Atlantia’s hitting unit kind of outnumbered ours, by a bit (Per Caitilin, Atlantia had 50 fighters. Meridies had 30).
Looking forward to a target rich environment, I crouched into my vague approximation of a runner’s stance, and across the field Terasu waved at me and did the same.
At “Lay on” we ran… cups out at each other, met in the middle of the field, and completely failed to do any awesome samurai one-lethal-cut-on-the-fly attacks. Instead we pretty much set where the lines would form up, and a little while after they arrived, Terasu legged me. Then I legged him. I took a moment to wonder why I was not looking up at the sky with Giacomo’s knee on my throat and Alan pretending not to hear my death gurgles. I realized that the fighter to Terasu’s right, between him and the edge of the field, was not one of their hitter squad. The Atlantian hitter squad was stacked up behind them or sliding off to the left to fill in further down the line. Atlantia’s flanking action was dead.
And then Terasu stabbed me, and I was, too. My whopping contribution to the fight was taking Terasu’s toe, and also forming a highly effective speed bump in the way of Atlantia’s momentum.
Meridies held the ground really well. In the center of the field, the Mid got a little too eager, pushed forward, and opened a gap between the Mid and Meridies. The Dragoons, on Atlantia’s left flank, punched through that gap and swept down on Meridies’s backfield while the rest of the center dissolved. Maintaining line integrity is a Good Thing (it doesn’t have to be a straight line, but it does have to exist).
In the last phase of the second battle the numbers had fought down to almost even. There was a line fight going on in the center (with Trimaris facing back towards their rez line) and a small unit skirmish going on in Trimaris’s backfield (with the Atlantian fighters’ backs towards Trimaris. Cunning and I stood on the sidelines asking each other “Are you seeing that?”). In the end, though, the numbers and the battle went in Ansteorra’s favor.
Ansteorra had won the first two battles, and therefore the warpoint, so a lot of fighters trickled off the field. I stuck around for the third, because I like fighting, at least that’s what the business card says.
For the third round we put Meridies’s runners – that unit of fifteen that Gauge trained up – out front. They train melee on a regular, and know each other well, but I’ve always wanted them to get an idea of Atlantian unit coordination and tactics, so they could steal them and improve upon them. They got a closeup view of those tactics. I was in the second rank, and as we trotted up to fill in a huge gap in our line opened up in front of us. I have no idea how, really. It probably didn’t help that they were against a high end White Scarf and two high end Free Scholars. There was just suddenly a gap with some guys trickling out, and the Atlantians in front of me were turning to face the exposed edges of the hole. So I killed them while they weren’t looking. I zippered the line, recovered back into position, saw Sinclair out of the corner of my eye, and realized he might want some revenge from the day before. He lunged, I extended, and we doubled.
Then it was time for more beer, this time including sitting around the dining fly with Morgan, Sir Aiden, David, Gauge, Brendan, and The Ladies talking until around midnight. That was the second best part of the day (see the above picture with the red neckgear for the best).
This year saw Wistric’s return to Gulf Wars, and perhaps the gods were unhappy about that. Really, though, I think the gods just think there are too many MODs: Damiano (Glean Abhann) and David (Meridies) got postponed due to the weather (more on that later) and Caitilin nearly did.
Having finally managed to Iron Man Pennsic last year, I decided I would do the same, as much as possible, at Gulf Wars. The Rapier Rose Tourney and a planned Saturday morning departure meant I really wouldn’t be able to do it, but I figured I’d get what I could.
This year, Meridies allied with Trimaris, the Mid, and Gleann Abhann, against Ansteorra, Atlantia, Calontir, and the East.
First things first, though: the ritual of the Monday New Orleans trip!
Except it went poorly. I am allergic to everything that grows, and it turns out mid-March is when everything grows in Mississippi. I spent four hours in New Orleans sneezing and wiping at my nose and eyes, and called it a day. Next year we’re spending the weekend and I’m double- or triple-dosing zyrtec.
Monday night was a MOD get together. I got to meet a lot of people I only knew online or by reputation and had a generally fun time hanging out.
After Opening Ceremonies the Diamond Tourney was held. I swapped out of the Suit of Great Pantsness for my fencing garb, and trotted over to the field. It took a little while to get going, but when they announced the pairings Meridies was the first, against Athelmearc. For the Diamond Tourney, the queens pick a heavy champion and a rapier champion (I was subbing in for Her Majesty Thorkatla’s rapier champion, since he couldn’t make it till later in the war). The kingdoms’ teams fight each other in a best of three passes, alternating forms: armored for the first pass, rapier for the second, and armored for the third if needed; or rapier-armored-rapier. Which form would have the first and third pass was decided by coin flip. Our set went armor-rapier-armor.
The armored fighter, Lord Jochi, fought really well, trading legs and then having a ground fight that lasted three or four minutes. It was great to watch, but ultimately he lost his first pass.
Aethelmearc’s rapier fighter was Mistress Illadore, which meant all of my range advantage was gone. I held my guard low in Giganti’s invite to the left shoulder, and she tracked it down with her own, leaning her head forward as she did so and advancing a bit squared up. I retreated a bit to bring her forward more and get her leaning in more. She circled to my left, creeping into distance as she did so. When I judged she’d come close enough that I could hit her with a clean lunge, I lunged up the gap between her sword and dagger into her exposed chest (see: my whole theory of sword and dagger from Giganti, somewhere on this blog).
And realized I am now of an age where I need to warm up before a tourney fight. Instead of throwing a clean lunge that would end up just pressing against her chest, it was a kind of ugly shot that would have ended up six inches out her back. Don’t feel too great about that, and it is a big ol’ lesson learned for me.
Unfortunately, Jochi wasn’t able to take the third pass, so Meridies lost and was out of the tourney. Thus did I have my one single tournament pass of the entire war.
Armored Town Battle
After that I went back to camp, picked up my spear and not-so-magic helmet and headed off with Sir Morgan to kill the wabbit, or at least the enemy.
This was planned to be two 45 minute long halves, swapping attack and defense roles in between the two halves. I learned last night that they decided to make it two hour-long halves sometime after lay-on. Because heat stroke is a Good Thing! And why did they do this insanity as the FIRST battle? Were they worried they’d have too many fighters for the rest of the war?
So it was that we mustered up, in the sun, in the heat, in our armor, and did the dance of standing and waiting for fighting start.
Since my very first rapier warpoint at Pennsic 11 years ago, I’ve formed up with Windmasters, or when I shifted into the command structure, Southern Atlantia. On the armored field, it was Windmasters or the Queen’s Spears. Last year at Pennsic I fought with Atlantia on the rapier field. On the armored field I fought with the Spears again, or hopped over and fought with the Meridian army, which was small enough to operate as a single unit.
When I arrived at the armored field for this battle, though, I realized I had no actual unit. It was odd. I felt significantly less effective because of that lack of familiarity with those around me – scratch that, I felt damn near useless. I’m already discussing with His Excellency South Downs and some of the local knights having a monthly baronial unit training day. We’ll see what comes of it.
I can’t find a map of the town, but it was basically six objective buildings scattered on the banks of a “Y” junction of two rivers, outside the fort. Defenders started inside the fort, attackers outside. The rivers had to be crossed knee-walking, or by one of a few bridges around the field. Knights, being on horse, could “ride” through the river standing up. I modestly inquired if this might apply to other peers, or at least other martial peers. It did not. Oh well. One day we’ll have a rapier melee and make the knights knee-walk. (Kidding… maybe? It would be funny! But it would go over like a lead cluster bomb.)
Meridies started on the defending side. At “Lay on” we exited the main gate, crossed the river, and turned right to hold the left side of the field and one of the objective buildings there. The space between the river and the edge of the field was narrow. We ended up compressed into a three- or four-deep rank, and it turned into a meat grinder.
I swear the attackers’ rez walk was shorter by half. I know it was shorter because I fought the second half of that battle and did that rez walk, too. We attrited hard just on the differential in numbers of fighters doing the rez walk. That guaranteed numerical inferiority, which is always going to be shit. There was a lack of rezzing as a unit, so we didn’t get much temporary numerical superiority to exploit for gaining ground and holding, though Kynric, the commander, did do a good job of holding people at the traffic cop checkpoint and sending them in as a burst. However, the constant immediate urgency of demand kept it from being a significant punching force (usually no more than a half dozen).
We had a preponderance of shieldmen to start with (double ranks usually), and they were not so good at giving spearmen room to move side to side or back up, so there was a lot of “try to void back, find a shield stopping you, get hit in the face,” and not a lot of room to support each other, so our spears got hit hard. Despite our numbers of shieldmen, we did not do a whole lot of crunching their spears when they were exposed in front of their shield wall. That would have helped our spears’ survival rate a lot. The combined shield-and-spear tactics could be worked on. It’s on the list.
Ultimately, with the numbers the way they were, and the heat and the length, people started falling out, and it seemed spears were especially hard hit. After a while I felt like the only spearman, or one of just a few, while the line commander was hollering for spears to fall-in. At the fifty minute mark I started feeling chills running through my body. I grabbed shade, water, and popped my top for five minutes until I’d vented and hydrated, then jumped back in and fought the last five of the first half.
In between halves I shed every single unnecessary thing I was wearing (shoulder pads gone; coif gone; underarmor shirt gone; surcote gone) and evaporated for a while. And here’s where I found out a thing – the MiC doesn’t have a bullhorn, unlike Pennsic. I was putting my now-reduced kit back on when I heard somebody yell “Lay on” and everybody started charging across the field. Oops.
I fell in at rez and followed the army up to the same side we’d been fighting over in the first half. This time, though, we had the short walk. Also this time, we were against Calontir and Atlantia. This meant FRIENDS!
With the reduced armor I was moving much better, and my body had finally acclimatized, and could actually pay attention to what was going on and who I was fighting. Also, I think the attrition had thinned our ranks enough that we weren’t packed like sardines and I ended up with much more room to work.
I got to stab Sinclair in the eye, found out that Gawin has the same tell with spear as with rapier (your right shoulder rises), and was reminded that Alric’s range is two inches longer than mine.
I also found out that Sir Daemon has been taking his glucosamine. He danced around and popped me a couple of times. It was pretty. At one point the non-Meridian fighter next to me was trying to nudge Daemon’s spear out of the way, and kept waiting for me to take the shot, and I kept not, because I knew Daemon and can see a trap when there’s one. Finally, my wingman took a shot, and when Daemon came back with the return into the tempo of their recovery, I landed my shot. Then the wingman tried to explain what had happened (“See, you just have to close the center-line”), and I realized my collar was hidden under my chain mail. That was fixed later in the war (just in time for my white collar to get mud all over it), and a permanent solution is in the works.
I almost got to spear duel with Ragnar Rainbowthighs, but as I was waiting for him to approach our line two Mid knights pushed me out of the way. That happened more than once. The river was under-manned with spears, and yet these guys were on the bank pushing me out of the way. They could have been in the river, and then we’d have a nice little cup of spears for Atlantia to attack into, but nah, they wanted one-on-ones. And they lost. *sigh*
After two hours of fighting, plus holds, it was done, and all I wanted was to sit down and drink a beer. So I did. Because I was camped in Al Mahala which is really convenient to the battlefield, unlike Atlantian camp, which isn’t convenient to anything at all except parking.