Stierbach BB and Some Observations   5 comments

The Jaunty Lads headed up to Warrenton for a bit of fencing this weekend—a combined eight hours of driving, all for someone else’s baronial birthday. Might be a Foxworthyesque joke somewhere in that …

The event was hosting a pentathlon (A&S, armored, rapier, archery, thrown weapons). Cool stuff, but I have only one skill. For us pure fencers, that translated to “fight a 45-minute multiple bearpit under a 90-degree unclouded sky. Then, do it again.”

The bearpit format worked well. Flaithri (RMiC) awarded one point for a loss and two for a win, and dispensed with the lazy three-and-out paradigm, instead opting for progressive bearpits. Two fencers enter, one advances to the next pit up, two more enter the first pit. Therefore, each progressive pit is, at least in theory, harder than the one that came before, and holding the “top” pit is the only way to maximize fight time.

Of course, the format also suffered a little from bottlenecks, and in the interest of getting more fights, the rules were occasionally relaxed (particularly in the second run, where Gawin and Dante each held their own pits for a half-hour).

Ultimately, the outcome was decided from the start: the laws of probability are far more kind to the most consistently strong fighter than to the Scholar-having-a-good-day. That’s not a bad thing at all, but most tourneys have at least a modicum of excitement regarding the overall winner; even the best Provosts can get unlucky.

So: Dante won handily. Marcellus might have made a strong second-place finish, but he arrived after the first round was already completed.

I fought decently and finished the first run in second or third place, following a by-then familiar pattern of “beat someone, beat someone else, lose to Dante.” For the next round I opted to fulfill a longstanding promise to myself and dropped my dagger on the sidelines, going single-sword for the rest of the day. 45 minutes later, I’d fallen to sixth or seventh. Eh, to be expected.

So, About That …

Some people say that the dagger’s a crutch. I don’t like that term; it has a distasteful ring of “REAL men don’t use daggers” or something, and it’s been ambiguously tossed about on Atlantian RapierNet in recent times. There’s nothing wrong with a defensive secondary from a tactical or a historical perspective, and it can be used to complement, rather than replace, skill with a single blade.

Nonetheless, limiting yourself to the Queen of All Weapons has some advantages in the long run. Unless you’re doing some bizarre dagger fighting, you will always be equipped with a sword and will always be able to use single-sword techniques and principles. Good footwork, tighter form, and a solid understanding of blade mechanics become that much more important when you have to defend and attack with the same tool, and when you don’t have a secondary to close off the line you left open. And training at a disadvantage (fighting someone with a secondary) can open up your mind to trying new techniques or tactics to level the playing field.

So for the next, oh, six months, I’ll be fighting single-sword exclusively, focusing on enhancing my understanding of finding the sword (particularly through instantaneous tactile feedback), contracavazioni, girate, and all the other things I just sort of ignore when I have a dagger to do all the defensive work. And since it’s in print now, I’ll have to stick to it. The only exception is for melees, when I’ll pick up the dagger once more; there are many more angles available to multiple opponents and taking a single sword is too limiting in a game that favors raw point density.

Two-Vs-One as a Melee Microcosm

For some reason utterly incomprehensible to me, there were only a handful of fighters willing to run around after our hour-and-a-half of sun-drenched bearpits. Cardio, people! As is my wont, I made sure to squeeze in a little Bruder-inspired melee instruction. Our scenario was 3v3 CTF with rezzes, which frequently broke down into 2v1, so after a couple runs I invited those few fencers still standing for a short lesson on handling 2v1s, from both perspectives. As I was teaching, an epiphany hit me.

We may be teaching melee the wrong way.

Our usual approach, to be honest, reminds me of certain bad didactic methods present in a lot of education today. We start at the line-vs-line level and teach rules. We have reasons for these rules, and our rationales make sense, and our students nod their heads, but because they haven’t learned these lessons from experience, they have difficulty understanding, applying them to new situations, or spotting the exceptions.

We tell them not to die, and it’s all they think about. We tell them not to let their friends die, but they don’t really know how. We tell them to kill the enemy, but they’re so paralyzed by the first two rules and the prohibition on lunging that they just sort of stand there, afraid to move and potentially expose themselves. And it doesn’t help when a Gold or White Scarf, with a little more thorough understanding of these “rules”, goes and breaks them all, because he knows when and how.

But what if we start at the most fundamental level of melee, the 2v1?

First, this creates a difference in how students approach and perceive the fight. That contemptible illusion, “a line fight is just a series of single fights”, is impossible. No longer can fencers conceptualize of the field as two large, mostly static groups, nor a series of pairs; the dynamism of melee is instantly recognized.

Second, the “rules of melee” that we lecture about in professorial tones emerge naturally with a couple run-throughs. “Don’t Die” is easy enough. Assuming the 1 is a more experienced fencer, “Don’t Let Your Friends Die” becomes pretty obvious for the 2; if you let your friend die (and don’t immediately get the kill), you’re soon to follow. Furthermore, the WAYS you keep your friends alive also emerge: stick together; attack him together; fall back when he threatens you, press when he threatens your buddy. “Kill the Enemy” comes up, obviously, especially if you’re using a reinforcement drill or put a time limit on the 2. Likewise for “Remember the Objective”, particularly when a fencer realizes that his survival is unimportant if it leaves the target exposed for long enough for another to get the kill.

Other things 2v1 organically teaches: good order/spacing, communication, sweep/stab, possibly awareness of terrain, how to use numbers effectively …

Oh, and 2v1’s are that much more appealing to smaller practices.

We’re rapier fighters. Skirmishing is the most natural thing we do. No good 5-man team just sits there and pokes at hands. Why start with boring, static lines? Build up from the bottom.

Posted June 28, 2013 by Ruairc in Events

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