Musings: The Front 180

First, thank you all for chiming in on the question.

To repeat some things I’ve probably said: The front 180 tends to be arbitrary and ill-defined.  Shoulders move, heads move.  You can usually figure out a “frontness” of an opponent, but that 180 is really hard to define.

Recently, while mulling this at work, I figured out that you really only see the front 90 degrees or so (which, I’m told, is perceived through Foveal Vision).  Focus on your computer without moving your eyes (which is usually our state when we’re engaged with an opponent) and watch the periphery fade away.  Move your hand around in that periphery and you’ll sort of see it, sort of be aware of the movement, but it’s not till it gets into that central field of vision that it really becomes clearly visible as a hand.

Same goes on the battle field: you might be aware of something moving in that blurry periphery, but you’re in a melee, there’s always something moving somewhere.  It’s not until it’s in your front 90 that you see the details of the person, including how far away from you they are, whether or not they’re on your side, and whether or not they’re coming at you.

Which means those 45 degrees on either side, between the edges of the 180 and that foveal field, are where “bad things happen”.

We don’t have acknowledgment.  That’s a Good Thing because it just makes more problems.

We don’t have unit engagement, except at Gulf Wars.  That’s also a Good Thing because unit engagement directly contradicts Society rules: If I’m engaged with your flank and it’s collapsing, I can stab you in the back according to unit engagement, even though I’m not in the front 180.

I think there’s a tendency, even among top-end fighters, to straddle the line laid out in the rules (sometimes literally, doing a “frontal attack” while one foot is still behind your opponent seems… not frontal).  It gets pretty close to a Beer Rule violation, and rubs me wrong.  There’s an extra 45 degrees on each side of them to play in; they probably can’t see you unless you’re Duke Cuan.

When there’s no DFB I’ve been working towards attacking from well within the 180 and outside of that central 90.  When I am close to the edge of the 180, I try to get their attention (beat their swords, put my dagger across their throat) or get acknowledgment (wait for their attention to shift in my direction).  Maybe it’s a luxury of the White Scarf that I feel like I can take that risk of giving my opponent a little bit more chance than is required by the rules, but I still don’t feel it’s a huge risk.


9 comments to Musings: The Front 180

  • Arffuidsson


    One of the things I like teaching is, instead of killing the Opponent directly, the person who is coming from behind has the option to bind their Opponent’s blade. This allows time to react by the Opponent, and allows an opportunity for the teammate of the attacker to kill the Opponent while his or her equipment is bound.

    And, unless Death From Behind (DFB) is explicitly allowed, any other choice needs to be done within the front 180 of the Opponent.

    In Service to the West,
    Staffan Arffuidsson

  • Dante di Pietro

    I don’t drink beer.

    “Don’t hit from behind” is a rule to keep your kidneys, not your feelings, from being bruised. Spines, skulls, and kidneys are the issue with shots from behind the 180, not whether or not someone saw it coming or got startled. I don’t care where someone is standing in relationship to their shot as long as it doesn’t land in a place where, were I to suddenly back up rapidly, there’s a reasonable risk of injury. Worrying about where a person’s feet are is unnecessary hand-wringing about part of the event that isn’t actually relevant to the outcome we’re trying to avoid.

    • Wistric

      I remember, vaguely, some rule about not being a dick. It may be unwritten. But I feel it applies in these situations.

      • Ruairc

        If you’re in a position where “front 180” applies, your opponent is very likely at your mercy anyway.

        Ideally, you should:

        1) Take another step to be “firmly” in the front 180, preferably edging towards the front 90, before you attack
        2) Bind their blades, talk to them, or otherwise make them aware that they are about to take a shot and have no way to stop it. (I am reminded of a time when Giovann, coming from behind, said “your day is about to get worse” as he swept my blades aside, then daggered me in the sternum.)

        Naturally, these make a single-action kill into a two-action kill, so there is some tactical loss. Rarely do I find this loss to be significant. In such cases, “don’t be a dick” prevails.

      • Dante di Pietro

        I don’t think it applies because it’s not a sportsmanship issue; it’s a safety issue.

        • Gawin

          So do you largely think of the front 180 as being based on shoulders then?

          • Dante di Pietro

            I look at what I believe to be the forward line of movement (e.g., the lunge line), and go by that. Shoulders move, and it’s not perfect, but I don’t hit people in the spine. Like I said, the goal is to avoid hurting people, not to define “the front” down to the last degree.

          • Ruairc

            The problem I see is, that’s not what’s in the manual.

            “How are we defining the front 180?” is a fairly common question before melees, to which most marshals, desiring a clean, manichean set of house rules (or needing to preserve face in front of a crowd), will go ahead and define it, as if the lack of definition in our rulebook was some unfortunate and quite inexplicable oversight that has yet to be rectified.

            This creates a situation where many, especially the more junior fencers, feel entitled to protections that do not actually exist (and sometimes aren’t reasonable to expect) in a game of dynamic movement with swords. When they feel those protections are violated (whether or not the violator was, in fact, following the letter or spirit of the rules), they protest. Loudly. And given the widespread spineless compassionate, nigh-automatic sympathy for anyone who claims injury … well, yeah.

            It’s partly about not being a dick. Mostly it’s just easier than trying to explain to a marshal that the complainant is a goob.

          • Gawin

            I ask because some other placements of the 180 degree line put the kidneys in the legal target zone.

            If we’re solely focused on the safety concerns, then it may make more sense to define the legal target zone as closer to 220 degrees (110 degrees of so on each side of the center line). To expand on some of the info Wistric pointed out earlier, if you keep your head stationary and move your eyes, you can view about 110 – 120 degrees. 220 degrees is what you can see if you move only your head and eyes. I think in practice, we’re already using something similar to this (as the concept of “frontness” fluctuates based on head position, typically). The problem with using 180 degrees is that if we define it at the shoulders, then we exclude some reasonable targets on the outside line that a person standing directly in front of you could hit. If we define it at the head, then we have a moving target (which leads to some messy situations already). 240 degrees is a less intuitive concept than 180 degrees, but really this boils down to don’t hit people in the back (but allows the posterior portions of the side). This excludes the kidneys, spine, and back of the head, but leaves all of the reasonable places to hit someone available.

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