The Art of Ringcraft

Ringcraft is a term that originated in the boxing world to describe, amongst other things, the use of positioning within the ring to create advantageous situations. Camillo Agrippa makes mention of this indirectly when he describes techniques for fighting when pressed up against the edge of a list fence, where contact with said fence was considered a defeat. In the SCA, we regularly fence within a constrained space and we often have inconsistent treatment of that space; as such, it behooves us to consider how the list fence can be used to our advantage depending on the situation. There are numerous articles on ringcraft in boxing and kickboxing, and I encourage everyone to seek them out as supplemental reading.

First and foremost, the single most significant factor is not the size of the list field (though that is a pretty strong second place), but rather the way in which a marshal will respond to one combatant being placed at the edge of the field. Some will demand that both fighters recenter, some will make you take a step or two back, some will simply offer a verbal warning of proximity, and some will only call for a hold after or as someone is careening through the fence. Other variations exist, but those are the main four outcomes with which you are likely to contend.

A marshal who calls to recenter the combatants presents an advantage to the fighter who is more willing to retreat, as what functionally occurs is an unlimited list field that can be fled into indefinitely. In such a situation, retreating directly backward or at an angle in response to any forward steps is a good strategy, as your opponent becomes increasingly likely to lose patience with you and become overly aggressive, offering your tempi in which to strike. Against an opponent employing this strategy, your best options are to either not press forward and wait them out, or to edge them right up to where the marshal is likely to call to recenter, pause briefly, and then act decisively when your opponent experiences an instant of hesitation in anticipation of the hold.

When the marshal moves your from the fence, but does not call for a recentering, it favors the fighter who suffers the least from having their concentration broken. It is often possible to get an essentially free attack by eventually restarting in wide measure and attacking the instant that lay-on is called; most people take a second to reset their minds, and this offers a moment where their defenses are weak. The best way to take advantage of this is to establish a pattern of retreat or passivity, and then to break it after 1 or 4+ cycles; breaking a pattern on the 3rd instance is too commonplace, and going only one extra is too predictable a gambit. It is important to make sure your pattern is a safe one that can’t be reliably exploited.

The marshal who offers a verbal warning creates an unintentional tempo that either fighter may use to strike their opponent. If one fighter is processing the sentence they are hearing, and the other attacks, it is likely that the defending fighter will not be fully prepared. From a processing perspective, striking on the second word of the warning is best because your opponent’s brain will have begun to pay more attention after realizing that something is being said; e.g. “the” becomes your tempo of action in “Beware the edge.”

Finally, if you have a marshal who won’t intervene until someone is physically pushed up against the fence or is falling through it, exercise better judgment than them and don’t push someone through the list fence. If there’s no actual physical obstruction, that’s one thing, but if you run the risk of injuring your opponent, bystanders, or damaging the fence through your next action, don’t do it. There are numerous ways to exploit someone’s fear of genuine injury, but none of them are acceptable in our competitions.

Now, if you get the opportunity to play at the edge of the list, especially if there is an actual obstruction, there are several things which you can do to find an advantage where one might not otherwise exist. One of my favorites is to maneuver the fight so that the fence is to my dagger-side. This means that I can edge forward and to my right, circling to a better angle of attack against an opponent who cannot fully circle to meet me. In such a circumstance, I would keep my sword forward to act as a sort of prod to eventually push them into a corner or strike after hiding that I have entered wide measure (this can be done with visual tricks such as leaving your dagger in the same space but moving your body around it). Were the situation reversed, without changing my feet, I would form a guard with the dagger forward and the sword refused so that I would be better situation to find my opponent’s sword with my dagger and strike in fourth or second with my sword in the tempo of their step.

Putting your opponent in the corner of the fence enhances all of the advantages of having them up against the fence, but severely limits their ability to escape from this situation. Once cornered, so much of their awareness becomes attached to a sense of being trapped that they are unlikely to be operating at their best.

It is also worth noting that angling your opponent so that the list fence is present in his or her peripheral vision can be useful since that occupies their attention. It is possible to note the moment the fence enters their field of view, as most people will dart their eyes over to confirm the presence of the fence. This can be detected and, failing that, they may also turn their head slightly; if you can see this happen, you can strike in that tempo.

This is far from an exhaustive take on the use of the list fence or other kinds of terrain, but I think it serves as a good example of what can be learned from other combat sports and applied to ours. Surely, anything we can glean from sports where millions of dollars are on the line each year will be of use to us, as decades of evolution and thought will have produced excellent strategy.

4 comments to The Art of Ringcraft

  • Ruairc

    I would love to shift our standard from “Hold! Recenter” to “touching the list fence means you lose”. Naturally, this would require lists larger than a postage stamp, but that’s also something we ought to strive for.

  • Tibbie Croser

    Not only do we have small list fields, but we have to accommodate multiple rapier fights within the same list field. List fields may have to become even smaller with the “secondary containment” rule mentioned by Sir Otto at Unevent: outside the list field proper there has to be a buffer equal in width to the length of the longest weapon on the field, so roughly 6 feet for heavy combat and 3 feet or a bit more for rapier combat. If the dayshades can be moved out farther, this is not a problem, but sites like the one for Ruby Joust have a list field limited by the roads. Sir Otto noted that if the list field proper is enclosed by a solid fence, then the buffer can be marked with paint or surveying flags. However, if the list field is enclosed by rope, then I think we have to mark the buffer with rope, too.

    Splitting the list field between armored and rapier limits the space for each, of course. Alternating the use of the list field gives each group more space, and we can do that at some events (easier when melees alternate with tournaments).

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>