Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 23: Charging

For all good Atlantians, of course, “Lay On” means “Charge”.  But usually what THAT means is “Run across the field and then stop outside of range”.  That’s not so much charging as, well, running across the field and stopping outside of range.  This is sensible, though: We’re all holding metallic stabby things.  Running onto them hurts.  And if it doesn’t hurt us, it will hurt the guy we run into if we don’t stop running.  And then he will not give us beer.  So while “Lay On” may mean “Charge”, “Charge” is actually something of a taboo in fencing.  Should it be?

Er… maybe.

 

The problem is Goober Charging:

When you take your average fencer in a large melee (i.e. an average fencer who doesn’t practice melee) and tell them to charge a position, they will run straight at it until either they or their opponent are dead (assuming the charger notices the shots landing on him; charging screws up calibration something fierce).  They will run a high risk of stepping on somebody, or getting the wind knocked out of them, or in all other ways turning two armies into a pile of people on the ground surrounded by pissed off marshals.  Marshals, preferring an ounce of prevention to a pound of paperwork, will therefore bawl out anybody who looks like they may be thinking about charging.

The usual goober response to a goober charge is to pike the charging goober like a catfish: Arms go straight out, back foot gets planted, and pain is spread all around.  It also runs a pretty high risk of fucking up weapons.  In the days of epees, charging like this could result in a real skewering if a sword broke and a person’s full body weight landed on the broken tip.  With rapiers, the chance of that happening is much less (approaching zero).  However, rapiers don’t take kindly to that treatment nonetheless, and can kink over, developing a soft spot that will become weaker and weaker.  At that the blade is done, and it’s all because some goob threw himself on it.

 

There are two ways that I’ve come across so far to do it right, and we’ll call them after the people who were teaching them when I was paying attention.

 

The Sir Christian Way

This boils down to: Run at your opponent full out, sweeping their blades out of the way, and passing between the fighters of the enemy line as you stab them.  On the other side, the attacking force will regroup, turn, and repeat. 

The strategy is to throw the enemy into disarray while maintaining unit cohesion, so that even though you may suffer losses on the charge, equal to or greater than those suffered by the enemy, you are a cohesive unit and they are not, allowing the second charge to be a mop-up operation.

We took about two hours at a baronial practice and worked this, and I admit I was never comfortable with it.  Perhaps it would become moreso with more practice.  However, there were just too many instances of somebody trying to force himself between two fighters at top speed, leading with a shoulder or head; or of fencers stepping out of the way of a charger and ending up in front of another.  And this was with a receiving team that knew what was going to happen.  With untrained recipients, I’d expect an even higher rate of stupid reactions (piking, getting in the way, stumbling backward).

An interesting live experiment of this happened shortly thereafter at King’s Assessment ’06.  As Rapier Champ of Windmasters, it fell to me to be the head of whatever formation took place.  At one point, that was Alan Gravesend saying “follow me, we’re going to run right through their middle”.  So we did.  Alan and I swept through on either side of the fencer holding the center, said fencer backed up, fell over a hay bale, and a hold was called.  Alan and I were standing in the backfield of the enemy as they all turned to look at us, and we realized that not a single other person had followed us.  And as shown, an opponent who doesn’t know how to take a running charge will mean a hold is called and your charge will be fucking useless.

 

The Dante Way

This boils down to advancing smoothly, at a constant walking pace, closing the line, and killing on the first pass.  A full description of it is on the Drills page, as Dante’s Charge Drill.  Whereas the Sir Christian Way is a shock tactic, this could be viewed more as an assertion of will on your enemy.

In practice, this has a higher survivability rate than the Christian Way, and is done in one pass (with maybe some mopping up to do by part of your unit, or by a second wave).  On the other hand, it takes longer to train up a unit to be effective at it.  On the other, other hand, there’s very little likelihood of a hold being called to kill the momentum of the advance.

 

The Counter

In general, the proper response to a charge is a counter-charge.  That way everybody meets at speed and things are too hectic for an organized attack by one side or the other.  It’s also a bit of a cluster fuck, unless everybody stops dead before they hit. 

If you’re in a situation where you need to hold ground, the easiest way to handle the charge is just step out of the way, defending yourself as the opponent passes through.  Your unit then reforms cohesively, with minimal loss, and can pursue the enemy or hit them as they reform for a second attack.

 

That Fourth Thing

If you’ve read Sir Corby’s Book of Four Things, you know that he describes charging as the easiest thing to do, followed by running the right, running the left, and lightly engaging as the most difficult.

For rapier, the order is mostly reversed: Lightly Engaging is our default mode, followed by running the right, running the left, and lastly, most difficult, charging.  If the victory can be achieved through any of the first three, why bother charging?

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