Melee Pedagogy   10 comments

Given the slew of nigh-contiguous rapier melee events promised by the coming weeks and my stated desire to increase both the quality and retention of Scholars in the ARA, I have taken to teaching a short, basic class to recently auth’ed fencers at each melee event I attend. As an unfortunate incident involving a sickle recently demonstrated, the principles of one form of combat may not be wholly appropriate to another; this applies equally to the singles fighting/melee dynamic, and this is where so many newbies struggle. To some extent this is to be expected, of course; not only are they too inexperienced to know better, but also there’s so much activity and movement in a melee that newbies may have difficulty processing it all.

“Melee 101 – Basics of Line Fighting” is pretty self-explanatory: I introduce the line as the default unit of rapier combat and use Wistric’s Rules of Melee 1-4 as the core lessons, with a few specific addenda such as “don’t lunge” and “leg ’em and leave ’em”. The class is short and limited because it’s designed to present a simple framework for the total newbie fighter to use immediately. The idea is to provide the Scholar with easily remembered objectives and some ability to process the confusing swirl of melee so she has fun and can enjoy some success (“I didn’t die and didn’t let my buddy die!”) instead of dying repeatedly until someone takes her aside to explain what this line thing is and why people are doing it.

My ultimate hope is to build a full semiformal curriculum and make pre-fighting 10am melee courses a standard and expected item on the schedule of any rapier melee event–ideally to the point where a handful of ‘Bruders can take a look at them-who-show-up and say “alright, I’ll take the new auths and teach 101, you teach those guys 110, and those two over there are probably ready for 201.” We encourage people to practice, expand, and experiment with these ideas at local practices, spreading competence throughout Atlantia. Then we destroy everyone else at Pennsic, and much fun is had by all.

This raises some important didactic questions, even beyond “what do we put in each course, and how do we order them?”

When teaching singles fighting, we start with the basics: This is how you stand. This is how you move. This is how you lunge. It’s all fiat, which is fine at that stage. The next level of instruction starts to touch on some of the simpler tactical considerations: Keep your point in presence to remain a threat. This is how you parry/riposte in a single tempo, to prevent your opponent from defending. This is when, how, and why you disengage. Remember hand-before-foot? This is why. Now we are talking about controlling the sword, leading to the first maxim of rapier fighting: control the sword, and you will be safe. From there, we start getting into understanding principles as a means to control the sword; it’s here that discussions of the basics of line, measure, and tempo emerge, and the fencer is introduced to the first truly foundational bits of knowledge from which all the rest springs.

This progression, from fiat rules, to the first steps of manipulation/control of a system within that framework, to more mature understanding and use of underlying forces, to eventual discovery, exploration, mastery, and application of the basic principles, mirrors instructional methodology in a variety of other disciplines.

So what are the equivalents for melee? We have plenty of fiats (this is a line. This is how you fight in a line. These are the commands), but what are the principles? How many of these are universal or can be borrowed from other combat forms, and which are specific to rapier? Our more advanced crews can run maneuvers or “plays”, in the basketball/hockey/lacrosse sense, and some counters to those, but can we enunciate what it is that makes them work, and build new material from that? Most any reader of this blog can bloviate on the tactical considerations of a singles fight; but our understanding (or at least our codifying) of melee tactics seems to be quite primitive and limited (compare it to the heavy field …). Can we expand this? How does it inform our pedagogy?

Or are these silly questions to ask at this point, given that “seize the initiative and press them” works against 85% of teams at the Pennsic 5-man tourney?

Posted March 27, 2013 by Ruairc in Melee

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