Deconstructing Defeat

I went to KWAR! Some observations:

  • C&T melee is the best (but we already knew that)
  • Rapier spears are problematic (but we already knew that)
  • If you don’t wear a white scarf in a foreign kingdom, people assume you’re a goob until you prove otherwise (but we mostly already knew that)
  • Sport fencers seem to have some strange ideas about historical fencing (we were disappointed to learn this again)
  • Despite the above, historical fencing is alive and well in the SCA, and even developing to new heights, although you do have to look for it (we doubted this one)
  • There’s some correlation between skill at fencing and SCA rank, but there is frightfully little correlation between skill at teaching and SCA rank, and apparently an inverse correlation between the ability to accurately assess one’s skills at teaching and SCA rank.

“Teaching Movement (And Most Everything Else)” is now on my list of University class ideas. But you came here for swordfighting. It is given.

KWAR C&T Tourney

Held in the evening after classes. Fencers were divided into four pools. Each fencer took a turn “holding the floor” against all others in his pool (so A fought B, C, and D in immediate succession; after a break, B fought C, D, and A; and so on, until everyone had fought everyone twice). Each bout was three passes each. Each pass was fought to the first valid blow, scored accordingly:

  • 4 points for a clean hit to a kill target (head, neck, torso, or legs)
  • 3 points for a clean hit elsewhere (arms and hands)
  • 2-1 for an afterblow, weighted for the first strike
  • 0-0 for a double

The top scorers in each pool advanced to the finals – a straight round-robin with the same scoring system. Top scorer in the finals won the tournament.

(As an interesting aside, this scoring is very close to a tournament structure Dante posited following my Swordfish complaints. I thought three bouts were better than Dante’s one. And the “holding the floor” element is similar to how Gawin has suggested we run round-robins in the past. So I imagine we’ll all like this style.)

No system is un-gameable, but whether from SCA chivalry or a prevalence of historical styles and tactics among the competitors, admirably good fencing resulted.

My Performance

I drew the easiest pool, and dominated. Of my 18 passes, I believe only two resulted in afterblows (one for, and one against me). Everything else was clean.

In the finals, I was dominated. At this point in the day I was dehydrated and stiff and a little tired, but it wouldn’t have mattered; I was outclassed by people who’d been doing C&T way longer, and using their secondaries far better.

Vs Vincent (George Silver):
– First pass: he cuts my dagger-hand. 0-3
– Second pass: I feint low, he cuts to my sword-arm. 0-3
– Third pass: I strike under the buckler and parry (or void) the afterblow. 4-0
Vs Kai (LVD):
– First pass: he cuts to my head. 0-4
– Second pass: he thrusts under my arm. 0-4
– Third pass: inconclusive, re-fought
Fourth pass: he cuts to my wrist. 0-3
Vs LOGOS (Fabris):
– First pass: he feints and yields around the dagger. 0-4
Second pass: he beats and strikes between the weapons. 0-4
– Third pass: he feints and strikes between the weapons. 0-4

But hey, video! That means time for detailed analysis and learning. Take a look! I’m interested in your comments; mine will come next week.

I’ll conclude by saying nearly every fencer I saw in this tournament had perfect calibration, and was a pleasure to fight against. The finalists were all great examples of historic fencing.

10 comments to Deconstructing Defeat

  • Gawin

    Could you link the videos?

  • Wistric

    Each of those guys had pretty significant advantages in size and experience on you (which they exploited in the rush-and-bash attacks you received a few times); well done in your fights against them. I thought you got some hits that didn’t get called, but maybe the camera lied.

    Things to work on:
    1) Stessotempo counter attacks. You’re doing far too many parry-ripostes instead of attacking into the cut (see: My favorite Giganti plate)

    2)Prima void to the inside: You still need to work on getting your guard higher or getting your head lower when you throw that.

    3) You still drop your shoulder before attacking. There’s a pass against Logos where you’ve got your attack set up and he’s stepping into it, and you drop your shoulder (which also breaks your sword engagement and gain) and he scoots back from the tell.

    4) Get one of the Darkwood C&T dagger guards (the one with all the hand pro). I think you lost two passes to cuts to the dagger hand that you shouldn’t have. Also also, practice rolling out the true edge to intercept those (while lunging – see Giganti’s other defense against cuts).

    Those were my thoughts watching these.

    • Ruairc

      I have zero complaints regarding calibration, given or received. If anything, the camera makes me doubt my calling of the third shot Kai delivered. It felt like it skimmed off my abdomen and caught the seam of my doublet, but the camera angle suggests that it was more in-line than I thought.

      1. Yes. Among the first things I’ll talk about in my analysis is that I’m too reactive (distinguishing between a proactive stesso – “I am ready for this moment” – and the reactive parry – “he’s attacking! Stop it!”).

      2. Yes. Looking at this again from a structural perspective I think it has to do with instability resulting from a bad axis of rotation. This is one of the more advanced movements that’s been on my to-do list for a month.

      3. I spoke with Logos the following day and he mentioned this very thing. Bad technique, exacerbated by poor scapular stabilization. I’ve almost got this fixed in drills, but it’s not automatic yet.

      4. Not sure about this. Certainly, something as big as a sail guard isn’t illustrated in the manuals I work from. Even getting something more conservative implies relying on equipment rather than good technique. This is a major hole in my C&T game right now, but I hope to fix it with drill from Giganti’s advice in his second book.

    • Gawin

      “Things to work on:
      1) Stessotempo counter attacks. You’re doing far too many parry-ripostes instead of attacking into the cut (see: My favorite Giganti plate)”

      Yes… I believe I said the same thing to Ruairc immediately before these videos with regards to fighting Sir Logos (He was in my pool). You can see in all of these passes that Logos opens his center line immediately before passing forward to attack. However, he was catching you with your pants down so-to-speak with your sword pointed down and to the left, so you weren’t in a position to manage the single-tempo counter.

      As a more general note about cuts, you seem to be locked into performing “full” cuts rather than being in control of your weapon. This is especially true in a couple situations where you are starting with a first-intention cut into their weapon. If you can turn those into a more controlled blow where you stop your weapon while it is still pointed at your opponent, you’d be able to immediately follow-through with a strike.

      • Ruairc

        This is interesting, because in practice (even sparring) I almost never actually land my cuts, pulling them to the point of not making contact. I have noticed that my tactical thinking seems to stop after “throw cut”, however (unconsciously assuming that it’ll end the fight), so that lack of planning ahead may be to blame rather than technical flaws.

        More cutting in sparring is needed.

        • Gawin

          Some of the stuff I’ve been working on lately + today’s FB discussion on Bolognese fencing has brought something to mind.

          In Manciolino, there’s a section regarding how to fight when using sharp swords. The section strips away a bunch of the guards, leaving you with only alicorno, faccia, coda lunga e stretta, and porto di ferro e stretta (For the Germans, Ox and Plow left and right). Remembering that in Bolognese, all transitions are performed with cuts, then the key is that rather than cutting through, you only cut into one of those four positions.

          For example, rather than cutting a mandritto downwards into cinghara porto di ferro, you arrest the cut at porto di ferro e stretta and likewise, rather than cutting upwards into something like alta, you instead arrest the cut in alicorno. This allows you to immediate transition into a thrust.

          In the Italian rapier systems, the advice for dealing with cuts is to perform a cavazione and then strike your opponent in the tempo provided by the fact that their cut takes their weapon out of presence.

          So, we can use this fact as a set-up. If you perform a first-intention mandritto into your opponent’s weapon, you may provoke them to perform a cavazione (avoiding the cut) and attack. If you arrest your cut in porto di ferro e stretta rather than letting the weapon drop all the way into cinghara porto di ferro or porto di ferro e larga, you won’t have actually given up that tempo. Void the outside line and thrust in a low third under their arm 😀

  • Tibbie Crosier

    Congratulations on doing so well, Ruairc. Will you be posting more about the C&T melee and about anything else from KWAR?

    • Ruairc

      Probably not. There’s not much more to say about C&T melee (it works almost exactly like HR melee, but line fighting is even harder to do cleanly). The ideas of “how to teach movement” might develop into a future article, but it won’t specifically address the things I saw at KWAR.

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