Sunday, April 9, 2017

Aggression

Every once in a while I hear someone say "I need to be more aggressive when I fight."  After the most recent occurrence, I realized that I had never really compiled my thoughts on being aggressive in fighting, both in a duel and on the line.  A few posts might suggest specific aggressive maneuvers or tactics, but don't really address aggression directly.  Shock trooper tactics, in particular, are generally aggressive in nature, especially on the offense.  The aim of this post, then, is to look at how aggression works as a general concept rather than what tactics might be aggressive.

Aggression in duels

When fighting a single opponent, most people only consider direct offensive swings as "aggressive".  While that is generally the case, one will also find that positioning and footwork can be aggressive. Moving towards an opponent's weakness is aggressive, even without swinging a sword. This will also be true in a line fight, but varied in scope. 

What separates offense and aggression is that offense is applying pressure to the opponent with attacks, regardless of relative position--from a weak position, equal footing, or from a place of advantage.  Aggression, however, is moving towards a place of advantage over the opponent (often with offense included). This forces an opponent to either fight from a disadvantage or react to get out of that disadvantage.

One thing to consider is actually the transition from a more passive or defensive posture into an aggressive attack.  You might hear the term "explosive" used to describe fighters that sort of switch on to being aggressive quickly.  By switching gears into a highly aggressive movement as quickly as possible, it makes it extremely difficult for an opponent to react.  If, instead, one were to just start the fight by running directly at the opponent, they have time to prepare.  However, by pacing one's self and waiting for the correct time to act, a quick burst of aggressive fighting might catch them flat-footed.

An example of this might be starting the fight defensively, while circling backwards and towards your sword side.  This causes your opponent to constantly turn towards their shield side (assuming the same handedness).  After a few moments of this circling, quickly switching directions and being aggressive will likely find their sword arm exposed as they are still trying to turn away from it.  In this way, we see that aggression isn't always going to be a constant way to fight, but something that turns out to be essential at the right time.

With regard to footwork, the aggressive step is diagonally towards your opponent's sword side, as they have much less passive protection.  Against two sword fighters, the more aggressive step is diagonally towards the opponent's lead leg side, for much the same reason--though it also serves to reduce their offense from their offhand weapon.

Aggression in line fighting

Much like a one on one, aggression in terms of line fighting is about moving towards the enemy's weakness.  The difference is that the weakness here is often a gap in the enemy line, or another weak point, that might lead one into their backfield (which is the true weak spot).  Also like our dueling considerations, aggression doesn't have to start at the beginning of the battle by running headlong into the enemy.

Many of the sort of shock trooper actions that I have discussed previously are best when executed at the correct time in the fight.  For example, gaps don't often form in the enemy line until part(s) of the line are nearly engaged in the fight during the tail end of the maneuver phase of a battle.  A shock trooper, looking to run a gap, has to wait and observe the enemy line and try to predict where and when that gap might be.  Once the gap is formed, the shock trooper will assess the enemies nearby and try to time their attack to catch one of them unaware.  This often involves noticing vision gaps at the area around the physical gap in the enemy line.

Other aggressive tactics, like line strafing (down the front of the line), don't require specific timing to start.  When strafing a line, the aggressive fighter merely picks a target, usually based on vision gaps noticed, and makes a run for it between the two lines. The weak point being sought in this specific example is vision gaps, the first target simply being the first weak point noticed.  As they move down the line, new vision gaps crop up and they can keep moving down seeking to deliver swings from each vision gap they find. If any of the vision gaps disappear (the shock trooper gets noticed), they simply block and keep moving down the line looking for the next vision gap.

Another case of aggression can be seen when looking at fighting while outnumbered.  A single skilled fighter often moves towards the flanks of whatever group they are fighting against.  Obviously, the flanks are a weak point of the line, and the single fighter gains advantage there.  Therefore, moving towards the flanks here is aggressive and it forces the enemy to change their position (rotating to move their flanks).

Most people will generally consider aggression from only the standpoint of a sword and board fighter.  However, aggression can also be used when using a support weapon.  Not all of their aggression is direct from attacks, but from positioning their weapon along a line that will be able to exploit opening or force an opponent to cover them instead of their usual guard.  Pointing a spear tip towards someone's sword side hip, for example, forces them to either lower their guard to block, back away, or risk the hit.  Note that this aggression needs to be within the effective range of the weapon, and is amplified by attacking the target directly along this line.  As I've covered many times when talking about glaive fighting, creating "presence" on the line is done by spreading attacks around to several targets.  Ideally, engaging each of these targets in their weakest point (an exposed leg, sword side hip, or shield side if it is low) will further amplify the effect.

Confidence, Threat, and Perception

One thing that I believe several fighters have issue with when trying to be aggressive is actually confidence in what they are doing.  Being aggressive while presenting a more timid appearance and/or hesitating doesn't have the same effect as a determined appearance.  It may be that one is unsure if their plan will be successful, and this impacts how they appear to the enemy. To alleviate this problem, one has to commit to their action fully, without worrying too much about the outcome.  

Threat is roughly how the enemy perceives one's effective range.  This effective range is amplified by things like longer weapons or previous encounters of one running, rushing, or otherwise being aggressive. Someone that never does more than walk forward and never runs gaps will have a much lower perceived threat than someone that is constantly strafing lines and breaking gaps.  This threat range increases the effects of aggressive maneuvers.

For example, several folks out there recognize my shenanigans when strafing lines or pushing gaps.  This causes people to call out when I am approaching gaps or maneuvering down a line much faster and more often than when someone doesn't engage in the fight that way on a normal basis.  While my personal success ends up being lower due to the call, my actual impact on the team via aggression is amplified.  I force their line to move against me, or deal with me running around in their backfield.  (Though, I do sometimes miss the days when no one realized what I was about to do...)

Misc

Much of being an aggressive fighter is actually just being an observant fighter that is willing to take some risks.

Observing a weakness in the enemy doesn't mean much if you don't "just go for it".

Aggression is one of the tools used to manipulate the enemy into the position of your choice. That includes a line of enemies.

Aggressiveness does not have to be recklessness.

Aggressive defense is a thing (see Outnumbered).

Cardio.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"For Clarification"

After working through a bit of a roundup of new rules, I thought I would take a look at one of the larger changes more in depth.  The changes to the way archers will have some impact on the game, if nothing else due to our ingrained habits needing tweaked.  For your ease, the relevant new rules:

3.13.6. An archer who attacks with an arrow or bolt may call a combat hit for clarification when the shot clearly and unambiguously hit a target area.
3.13.6.1. For a shot to be clear and unambiguous, the archer must have an unobstructed view of the entire flight of the arrow or bolt including post hit deflection.
3.13.9. When in doubt, the target makes the hit determination for missile weapons.
Several archers out there are worried about 3.13.9, thinking that it lets anyone just ignore arrows.  However, this is in line with all of our other weapons as far as someone deciding to cheat on the field.  It does seem like this rule might be prime for a bit of rewording, specifically when "who" is in doubt.

With that in mind, here is my interpretation of how a few common archer/target interactions might work out with these rules. These are strictly based on my personal interpretation of the rules above, and are intended to start some discussion on how fighter etiquette might change a bit due to these rules.

Example 1:
An archer fires an arrow and it hits their target with good deflection near the seam of two target zones, such as right near the hip. The archer thinks it might be a body shot, but the target takes leg.  Under the old rules, the archer could just call the target dead.  Under the new rule, the archer wouldn't be able to make a call for clarification, because the target zone wasn't hit clearly and unambiguously, meaning it was the target's call to take the hit correctly.

Example 2:

An archer fires an arrow which hits low on a target wearing baggy pants (hakama).  The arrow stops, but the target doesn't take a hit.  Under the old rules, the archer could call leg, if they wanted.  Under the new rules, because the baggy pants prevent seeing if the target zone was hit clearly and unambiguously, the archer doesn't get to make a call for clarification.  This leaves it to the target to decide if it was garb or leg.

Example 3:

An archer fires an arrow at an unaware target that is in full armor.  It very clearly hits in the middle of their back and deflects.  Under both the new and old rules, the archer can call a combat hit.  Even if the target didn't feel the hit, they should take it.

Conclusions:

Just from working through those three short scenarios, it appears to me that both of the first two rules are highlight what the best archers out there do already.  3.13.6 says that archers need to be certain that their arrow hit a specific target area, without question, in order to call a combat hit.  3.13.6.1 says that an archer has to be able to see the whole flight and deflection in order to even be able to ascertain whether a shot hit clear and unambiguously.

Most of our experienced archers already call their shots this way.  They only bother calling a hit when they are certain it is a good hit, or if a target requests clarification (ie, giving them the deer in headlights look).  In essence, these adjustments to the rules actually force newer archers to adopt best practices of our seasoned vets, while giving targets a chance to disagree with bad calls.

"But Torry, what about when people just ignore my arrows/calls and don't take hits?"  Well, this is exactly what other fighters deal with on occasion.  Heralds/Marshals still have the authority to call hits, and are still the people you should take problems to.  If it happens to be someone you know fairly well, just ask them about the hits and discuss it.

At the end of the day, this sort of change to the rules requires archer and targets to both make some adjustments in how we do things.  People that aren't archers need to read the rules for arrows and understand how to properly take hits from them.  Simple things like arrows passing through weapons often leaves people confused already, so it will take time for them to adapt to not relying on archer calls for simple hits.  Archers will have to grow accustomed to only calling shots that they are sure exactly where they think they did.

Personally, I'm hopeful for how these changes impact the game.  As a herald, I definitely have spent way too much time managing incorrect archer calls and bad hit taking from arrows.




Wednesday, February 1, 2017

New Season, New Rules

Long time, no post.  It's been a busy time for me away from fighting.  If things happen to calm down a bit, I'll get back to writing more regularly.  I realize this post is a little sloppy, my apologies, I'll try to clean it up soon*.  I just wanted to get this started and out there for folks that hadn't had a chance to read the new rules.

Update 2/2/17: added change regarding having one leg hacked and the other pierced.  Also added "Unclear" section.

Update 2/14/17: added head then body to unclear

Update 2/17/17: added Shields lying on the ground can't be broken

Background:

The War Council of Belegarth has recently passed a vote to accept a new, updated version of the Book of War.  This version was crafted by a rules committee, which was appointed by War Council, through a long process of analyzing the old rules for issues and reconciling differences between interpretations from various realms.  It isn't "perfect", but it does give us, the Belegarth community, a solid footing to look at our rules and make changes as needed down the line.  Lots of rules have changed to reflect clarifications or compromises between different interpretations.

I had originally intended to compile a list of changes and break each of them down here.  It quickly became apparent that was beyond the scope of a quick blog post.  Instead, I would like to point your attention to a few items that are definite changes to how the game is played (vs. my local realm of Numenor).  I only highlight below a few of the things I noticed on a couple of quick reads, so this is in no way comprehensive.  If you want to check it out and see for yourself, GO READ THE RULES: http://www.belegarth.com/getting-started/rules/

These are just a quick overview, not exact wordings of the new rules.  Significant changes are those that might have an impact on how the game is played or on current equipment passing weapons check.  Minor changes are those that, while different from the previous version, shouldn't change much of how the game is typically played. Clarifications are things that either were implied through various old rules interactions or were played a specific way that never made it into the rules. Unclear is anything I notice that is either still ambiguous from the old rules, or where I noticed some sort of conflict between rules.

Significant Changes:

  • No leg running.  From what I have seen, this is likely to be updated in the next round of voting later this year.  This is a carryover from the old rules that no one seems to remember enforcing.
  • Archers can call hits for clarification if they have an clear, unobstructed view of the whole arrow flight.  The target gets to make hit determinations if it is unclear, for all missile weapons.  This will take some adjustment and discussion on how these rules actually work out in combat.  From what I have seen, "archers" are usually playing to these rules most of the time anyway.  "Guys with bows", not always. It does bring archers more in line with everyone else as far as hit taking goes.
  • Incidental and courtesy padding have specific, and different, definitions now.  Incidental has to be somewhere between a striking surface and what generally has passed a semi-okay non-striking surface in the past.  Flails, glaives, and other weapons with haft padding need be looked at to conform with the new rules.  For incidental padding, 6" for one-handed, and 12" for two-handed is required for swung weapons.  It will take some time for the community/craftsmen to figure out what exactly passes for incidental padding.
  • "Two-handed" is defined as both hands firmly gripping the weapon at the point of impact.  Allows you to pool-cue double, but only if you grab with the sliding hand at the end.  Same applies to the two-handed "ax swing" for swung weapons.
Minor Changes:
  • Half-draw for arrows has a little different wording.  It now means "half the force of a full-draw".  Not a big change, but it is a good thing for archers to be aware of.
  • Draw stops on arrows have stricter requirements than before. Most of the our archers were already conforming to standards close to the new rules.
  • Sufficient force is defined a little differently
  • Heavy hits for shield breaking hits is better defined (and is specifically "heavy")
  • Communication for "light", "graze", "garb", "armor" is now required, as well as truthfully reporting any damage/armor condition when asked.
  • No intentionally hitting a combatant with non-striking surface (like flail haft to hit with ball). 
  • No feinting head strikes from non-head legal weapons or shields.
  • Weapons "contested" in a grapple take limbs if they are grabbed by the blade.
  • The rules for shield bashing/checking were cleaned up.  They also added shield bumping (pushing without trying to knock them over) and bracing (static bracing against someone moving into you).  Basically, don't try to knock people over from behind, and target their center of mass if you are trying to knock them over from a different quadrant.
  • Crossguards are now actually in the rules (templated like a pommel).
  • If you have a pierced and hacked leg (both will be down), hits to the hacked leg don't do damage. The wording of rule 3.7.2.4.5. is a little goofy, but this seems to be the intent of the second part. (Added here 2/2/17)
  • Shields lying on the ground can't be broken. (Added here 2/17/17)
Clarifications:
  • "Magic Switching" your weapon when your arm is killed is specifically legal.
  • "Shot In Motion" is now official, including "Late" being defined in the rules.
  • Shield kicking requires one foot on the ground.
  • Grappling has been cleaned up and better defined.
  • Grabbing a weapon handle/haft padding is NOT a grapple.
  • Grabbing your own striking surface (half-swording) is legal.
  • A hit to a disabled arm when you are wearing body armor counts as hitting the body armor.
  • Armor definitions got better.
  • Handles have to be continuous except on double ended weapons.
Unclear:
  • Arrows hitting a hand on a weapon has two rules in conflict.  Hand on weapon counts as part of the weapon, so the arrow should go through.  However, the rules for the hand target area specifically say hits to the hand count as hits to the arm.  Traditionally, the interpretation was that arrows go through hand on weapon.  
  • A swing that hits both head (illegal target area) and body doesn't specify if the target should take the body hit, or discount it due to the illegal hit.  Strict reading would indicate this is still a valid body hit, as long as it is sufficient force.  Common way to play is based on if the head shot was significant enough, to ignore the body shot. (Added 2/14/17)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fundamentals: Following Through

We talk about following through with swings fairly regularly, but what does that really mean?  Following through is continuing a swing until its force is fully delivered to the target.  When teaching newer fighters about the concept, instructors often explain this as aiming beyond the target.  For example, if one wants to hit the opponent's shoulder, they should aim their shot to go through the shoulder into the chest. By mentally planning to have the shot hit well past the target, the body's motion used for the swing ends up carrying on beyond when the hit actually makes contact.

Why is continuing the swing after it hits important? Every time a part of swing is stopped or slowed prematurely, it loses power.  Even adjusting the angle of attack can reduce the power of the swing. Changing the speed or direction of a swing forces your body to do extra work.  This combination means that a swing that you "put a lot of effort into" may end up still hitting light.  In turn, that causes your perception of an opponent's call of "light" be tinted by your own inflated feeling of how hard you swung. So not only are you hitting way lighter than the effort put into the swing would suggest, you are also building up a feeling that your opponent has a high hit tolerance.

As I've mentioned in Overswinging, the bounce of a shot helps aid in recovering or comboing it.  By not following through, you fight against the force used to swing the shot in the first place, and get rid of some of that bounce.  By not following through, you are essentially wasting energy, either by swinging extra hard to compensate for the wasted effort to get a sufficient hit, or by swinging a wasted shot that will end up being light.  Through a long day of fighting, that wasted energy will take its toll.

You will notice above, I mention that the body must continue its motion as part of the follow through.  This is important, as some out there don't explain that simply letting the sword motion continue isn't the same as following through with the swing. From the moment your body stops the motion, the shot loses power.

From the moment your body stops the motion, the shot loses power.

Lets look at an example. A common situation where I see this regularly is with min reds. As I've mentioned before, they aren't really suited for breaking shields efficiently. This is made even more true when the user doesn't follow through with their swings.  Many times I have witnessed a min red user attempting to place many shield shots in rapid succession, only to have them all called light.  The problem is that by trying to fit in as many swings as possible, the user ends up having to stop their body's motion before the shot has connected.  Essentially, their body ends up starting the motion for the second swing by the time the first has hit.  Not only are they reducing power by not following through, they may be further hindering the hit further by pulling their arms back to prepare for the second swing before they've even hit.

In order to deliver a good, solid shield hit here, the min red needs to keep their body motion until as much of the force of the swing is transferred to the target as possible.  Attempting to block a counterswing or recover to guard are often causes of not following through.  This means, for min reds, that often the choice is between being able to block, or delivering enough force to be a solid hit.

Following through doesn't only apply to slashing weapons.  Stabs have a stark contrast between a good hit and a light hit.  Without any follow through, a stab might touch the target, but it won't always be sufficient. Even with only a short bit of follow through, however, the force goes up drastically.  Stabs, then, should be aimed to be stabbed "through" the target, not stop on them.

A common cause for stabs landing light from not following through is actually range.  At max range, the body can no longer continue the stabbing motion, which causes it to greatly reduce power as it approaches this range (as different parts of the body reach their limits of extension or twist). Roughly, the last few inches of reach that can touch a target will have a significantly lower impact than a shorter ranged stab.  Those "last few inches" turns out to be about how far of a follow through is required to land a solid hit.  By reducing that follow through, you reduce the hit force proportionately.

One thing to note here, is that following through also might result in excessive hits in some cases.  For example, a close/medium range stab with full follow through, to an opponent that is unaware, will likely hit on the side of excessive.  The same is true for backstabbing with a sword.  By choosing specifically not to follow through with the entire body, one can scale back their hit force for their opponent's safety and generally courtesy.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fundamentals: Combos

This post didn't make it out nearly as fast as I had hoped.  Between work trips and Okfest (complete with post-event plague), I've been a little behind.  I also realized that combos was a little larger topic to narrow down to fundamentals than I had originally planned for (go figure).  There are other posts in the works, but they might be a bit delayed as well.

Last time I took a look at the basic swings. While each of those shots has value on their own, especially for new fighters developing their skills, combining different shots together is essential to overcoming foes.  Most newer fighters tend to step up and swing once, then go back to guard and repeat.  As we talked about in Overswinging A Sword, this has a few potential issues in energy efficiency as well as giving your opponent more time to defend themselves.  Another issue is that by pausing between attacks while within range to swing, you allow your opponent the opportunity to take control of the fight and put you on the defensive with a combo of their own.

What we often see from more experienced fighters is approaching to range and using a combination of many basic attacks or feints (see bottom) to keep their target on the defensive and unable to counter effectively.  Commonly used combos tend to utilize the rebound from a strike as we talked about in Overswinging to recover into the next attack.  As such, most typical combos attack opposite sides of the target or switch to/from legs and arms.  Besides the natural flow of the rebounding energy, an added bonus to switching target zones is that the opponent's guard might move to cover one direction and expose another target.

I had originally considered breaking down several combinations of the basic swings here, but that started to become a little much to write in a clear fashion.  Instead, I have decided to break down a few things that significantly impact a combo's effectiveness.  Combos tend to be a defining characteristic of fighting style and part of individual development, which makes them difficult to break down to a simple list of swings (picturing a fighting game's moves list).  While simple combos can be thrown together at practice with little forethought, I have found that thinking about fighting outside of practices to be extremely valuable in improving. So, here are some things to consider when contemplating how to put together your own combos:

Common Reactions

By "common" here, I mean what many fighters often do, which can vary by person and group.  Some common reactions are more universally true than others.  In general, when thinking about combos and fighting, you should be asking yourself "what would I do to counter that swing?" This, at least, gives you some idea of what a fighter might do against you.  Each step in a combo should go through the same though process. This sort of critical thinking is the core of developing as a fighter, both for developing your combo and analyzing your own reactions to swings.

Common reactions to a swing can help figure out what swing should follow it in your combo, or where your guard should go to help it.  For example, a leg sweep is often countered by a cross to your arm.  This gives you a rough idea of where your shield should be during the swing to reduce your risk, and also an idea of where an opponent's arm might be exposed after the swing.

Many shots don't have just one common reaction, but a few different ones depending on the opponent.  The high cross, for example, is often countered with a high cross (usually a simultaneous kill), but others counter it with a very short cross towards their opponent's exposed sword arm (highly effective counter).  However, both of those attacks target the sword side, which still gives you some idea of what the opponent will do.

Knowing and understanding common reactions is an important step in utilizing feints in your combos.

Power vs Speed

As I talked about in overswinging, it is difficult to combo into the same swing/target with enough power because you are fighting against the recoil of your swing or stopping the swing early to bring it back to swing again. Both options waste time and power.  To target the same general area, one needs to work with the recoil and allow the sword to pivot around the hand, arcing back into the same area a few inches away.  Even then, power is lost as the arm/body don't fully recover from the first swing.

It is ideal, from a power standpoint, to hit targets on the opposite sides of the opponent, because your arm and body will already be coiled to deliver the next blow.  For example, when swinging to the opponent's shield side, your elbow tucks in towards the body, but throwing a cross shot causes your elbow to pop out away from the body.  The extra distance covered as the sword goes around from side to side also acts as a wind up for the next shot, which can allow each blow to be substantial.

By starting the next swing before completely finishing the previous one, the combo is done faster, but it loses a significant amount of power. 

While combos are great for hitting many targets quickly, there is danger in executing the combo too quickly.  By starting the next swing before completely finishing the previous one, the combo is done faster, but it loses a significant amount of power.  This is especially problematic for lighter weapons and min reds that already require a decent commitment to following through with shots. This can be extremely frustrating as many shots in a row will be called "light". (More on following through on the next post)

Some shots in combos can be intentionally light.  The cross shot is often used this way to temporarily disrupt an opponent's sword so they will be less able to swing.  Other shots may be thrown light as a way to trigger a common response or guard reaction from the opponent, without wasting the energy of a swing that may not have had a good target, such as a shield side swing to hopefully cause the opponent to move their shield over or up slightly.

Number of swings

A two shot combo is quick and forms a good building block for other combos by adding other swings to the end or as a follow up to a different swing. A nine shot combo that assumes the target moves a certain way for three of them, on the other hand, is way too complicated to be effective.  For the most part, combos end up being either a two or three shot attack, or some combination of common two and three shot combos.

If we knew we could kill a target with specific number of swings, that would the be correct number to have in the combo.  But, because our target can move and block, we have to assume some of our shots will fail.  As such, some combos are geared towards swinging enough to land a single blow or to take a specific limb.  For example, a simple combo that is often learned early is a short cross to the opponent's sword followed by a leg sweep.  The short cross is assumed to fail, but allows one to safely close for the leg sweep and protect against the counter swing. So, even though the first swing didn't "do" anything, it was worth doing.

In general, a combo only needs enough swings that it can regularly accomplish a set goal.  Adding extra swings after such a combo is optional, and completely dependent on the opponent's reaction to it. If the opponent somehow blocks your amazing combo's finishing blow, but has to leave themselves wide open to a followup, then add another swing when the opportunity occurs.  If the combo is super effective, but leaves you winded every time you use it, maybe you can figure out a more efficient way of achieving the goal with less swings.

As the number of swings in the combo increases, there is a good chance that your arm will be exposed for a longer period of time.  This is especially problematic in fights that are larger than one on ones.  Even a combo that does a decent job of protecting the arm against the opponent, will often leave the arm exposed to other fighters on the opponent's team.

Goals

Do you need the target dead, legged, armed, or just to move them?  Not all combos have to kill the target.  Sometimes simply forcing someone out of their position or keeping them occupied is valuable to your teammates.  Some combos are entirely about getting a feel for your opponent's reactions without making any attempt to kill them outright.

Even individual swings within the combo can have goals. For example: a short cross the close the distance safely, shield side swing to move their guard over, followed by crossing over to a sweep to take their leg, then finished with a high wrap shot to kill them over their now low guard.  Each swing here has a purpose.  If they didn't, it wouldn't add anything to the combo.

Using any combo repeatedly has diminishing returns.

Options

Using any combo repeatedly has diminishing returns. Combos work best when they can lead into a number of possible swings. By using different options at each step in a combo, it becomes less predictable by your opponents and can better capitalize on targets of opportunity.  Lets take a look at the short cross.  If I were to throw a cross at your sword, I end up in a position that could naturally flow into a number of other shots, like a leg sweep or a swing to their shield side shoulder. In the event that I were to only ever throw a short cross, followed by a leg sweep, my opponents would soon figure it out.

One way to develop options is to practice each option as its own combo. This will help make each options a little smoother, and be easier to switch to as the situation dictates.

Number of opponents

Combos are almost always discussed in the context of killing a single target.  However, combos can be used against multiple opponents to some extent.  For example, a min red user might target one opponent's shield for the sole purpose of luring another opponent to counterswing.  In this case, the mid red user would have already planned for the common response and brought up a block, then followed with a counterswing of his own.

This line of thinking is often used more for support weapons, as they are most often facing an array of targets on the line, rather than dueling.  One key to consider here is that the recovery force between swings is carried over to a new opponent, rather than adjusting target locations on the same opponent.

Considering the common reactions of multiple opponents, and how they are different in a team vs solo, is way beyond the scope of this post.

Feints

There are many finer points of feints that might warrant their own post, but I have included them here due to their importance in many combos. In essence, a feint is using many of the body mechanics used to execute an actual swing, but only enough to convince an opponent that swing is about to happen. "Only enough" takes a bit of time to figure out, and varies greatly by opponent.  Newer fighters and those with a preference to counter swinging tend to react more heavily to certain motions. Other fighters only react when the sword reaches a certain distance from them, and don't react at all to anything outside of that.

For example, to fake a leg sweep, one might bend their knees, dip their sword side shoulder a bit, and  pull their elbow in slightly to rotate the sword to vertical (out of A-frame).  This is enough motion to (hopefully) fake out some opponents, but doesn't add much momentum in the sword, making swinging towards a different target fairly easy.  Should the opponent lower their shield to try to block the leg sweep, one could then just push out their arm into a pop shot to that shoulder, as the arm is already coiled correctly for the strike with the sword in relatively good position.  If they don't fall for the feint, one could just continue the motion to throw the actual swing instead, which the opponent hasn't decided to block.

The best feints give options to follow up with, either pressing the attack that was mimicked, or striking one of several other targets that might open up after the feint is "bought" by the opponent.

I mention feints in this post because they can be used in lieu of an actual swing in a combo under the right circumstances.  In the case above, we could also have just used a leg sweep and recovered it into another swing, but that recovery would have taken much longer and been less likely to hit an open target.  By feinting for the leg sweep instead, you save that effort and reduce the risk of the opponent's counterswing taking your arm, all while setting up a good second shot.  Feints can even be put into combos with other feints, each one leaving a couple of possibilities for follow up depending on the opponent's reaction.

Another use for feints, which I mention here for completeness sake, is to gauge an opponent's reaction.  If one was to fake a high cross, for example, an opponent with a tendency to counterswing will be far more reactive than other fighters.  This gives you a slight edge when considering what your opponent will do against your next combo, and might suggest leading with a feint would be effective at opening them up.






Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fundamentals: The Basic Sword Swings

I looked at the basic swing for sword a couple of weeks ago, so I will skip over it here.  That basic swing is one of several basic attacks that form to core of several styles using one-handed weapons.  Single sword, sword and board, and two sword techniques all draw from these basic attacks and add a layer of their own fundamentals.  Rather than muddle up the basic swings with extra diversity here for those styles, I want to focus strictly on the motions required to do the most basic attacks so we can build on them in a later post.  Several of these are sort of tinted towards sword and shield because that is their most common usage. Note: these shots do not apply equally to lefties in terms of value, unless they are fighting other lefties, but the motions are much the same.

Below is a list of the remaining five basics shots. I have tried to focus on the motions required for the sort of "base case" of the attack, the version I would teach a new fighter. By learning these shots, one begins to be able to see how they can adjust a swing to change targets or combine motions to make a different swing. Next week In a few weeks, I could go into how to combine these motions into different shots, but I want to keep with the fundamentals.  With that in mind, look for a post on combos next week that looks at how the basic shots can work together.

The Pop Shot

This is one of the lesser used attacks out of the basics.  It doesn't hit particularly hard, and has some limits on usefulness.  The big advantage is that it is super fast at hitting an exposed shoulder. Despite being seldom used, it is perhaps one of the easiest attacks to learn and uses very simple motions.

The goal of the pop shot is to go from guard to hitting the opponent's shield side shoulder (assuming righty vs righty) as quickly as possible. Now, your arm is already slightly cocked in guard, with the elbow bent a bit.  This usually ends up with your forearm roughly pointed at the target's shoulder.  The sword tip is slightly tilted in towards you head/shield.

In order to hit the target's shoulder, you'll need your sword to both get closer and to align with the target.  Getting closer is as easy as punching forward with the arm directly towards the target, extending the wrist with a snap at the end to get the most range possible as the sword angles forward.  Aligning the sword is just a small rotation of the wrist done in conjunction with extending the arm.  Just like with our look at how to swing a sword, extra power (and range) comes from rotating the shoulders/torso towards the target, starting with your hips.

Unlike most swings, the pop shot ends up being somewhat more like "pushing" your sword into a target, rather than a typical slashing motion.  This motion makes the pop shot a building block for other "swings" that use similar motions of the wrist after moving the arm towards a target.

Recovering a pop shot that hits a target is fairly easy.  The sword will naturally bounce up from the target, so raising the hand and pulling back to guard takes a minimal amount of effort.  This does leave you forearm exposed briefly until you can fully recover.  Overswings with the pop shot, especially with a heavier sword, are much more difficult to manage.  Perhaps the easiest recovery is to carry the force down by rolling the wrist, twirling the sword to the outside and back up towards guard.

The Wrap Shot

What I might consider the opposite approach to the pop shot, the wrap is designed to go around a target's defenses and hit with the back of the blade. This means that it doesn't take the shortest or fastest route. Also unlike the pop shot, the wrap generally carries a decent amount of force into the shot and is probably the shot newer fighters struggle with learning the most.  Because of the position required to strike, a wrap shot is best used at close/point-blank range. It can be used further away occasionally to hit arms, but it is only really possible to hit a torso shot from that short range.

There are many different variations of the wrap shot, but the one we generally start out teaching newer fighters is a basic, wide wrap aimed towards the middle of the opponent's back or shield arm. This isn't the most direct or efficient wrap shot, but it allows someone to learn the motions a little easier.  The swing starts much like our basic swing with tipping the sword to the outside, rotating the torso toward the target, bringing the elbow in towards the body, and extending the arm all in one motion to propel the sword in a bit of a corkscrew.  The difference comes from carrying the corkscrew motion around by rolling the wrist over, causing the blade to turn such that the back edge is towards the target. After rotating the wrist, the elbow should naturally want to bend out as the shot hits.  At this point, starting your recovery with the torso will pull the shot towards you a bit, giving it slightly more power.

A good wrap shot will feel smooth for most of the motion.  Should you start rotating your wrist too late or too early, you'll end up fighting against the motion rather than redirecting the hit.  A good way to feel how the motion should be working is to simply swing your sword back and forth loosely by your side, rotating the wrist as it passes by your hip.  You are looking for that same smoothness when throwing a wrap shot.

The motion itself requires rolling the hand/wrist over mid swing.  Improperly timed, that can lead to a ton of strain on the wrist and elbow.  If the swing is interrupted during the transition from front to back of the blade, it causes additional strain on the arm. For these reasons I generally recommend not overdoing it on practicing wrap shots.  Try to space out the practice and focus on the motion, before trying to deliver extra power.

The Chop 

Unlike the finesse used in a pop shot, or the technique used in a wrap, the chop shot is a shot that focuses on using the torso's power to deliver a solid blow. A very common use is to attack the "slot" between the opponent's sword and shield, particularly as they throw a wide wrap or are recovering from a swing, aiming for the inside of their forearm.  One reason this particular chop is used regularly is because the natural motion of blocking (with a shield) will cause your body to rotate into the shot.

The shot is very simple overall.  Rotate the torso towards the target.  As the torso rotates, slightly extend the arm to draw the sword down into their arm.  You'll notice here that wrist motion is minimal.  In fact, much of the shot is done with a locked wrist, specifically as the blow lands.  Other than extending, the arm doesn't move much either.  Overall, chop shots rely on the torso's rotation for a vast majority of their power.  In order to hit solid, more rotation is generally used, including as part of the follow through.

Because of the limited arm and wrist motion, the basic chop shot is also slightly shorter ranged than other swings.  Its advantages come from power and, as in the above example, efficiency of motion.  The chop to the inside of their arm is perhaps the fastest swing to use in that example because it causes the sword to take the most direct route to the target with very little wasted motion.

The Short Cross

This is a very common attack for righty vs righty because it targets the enemy's sword side.  A successful cross shot can tie up the enemy sword or put an opponent onto the defensive to avoid leaving their sword arm open.  Here I am breaking the cross shot into two types, the short cross and the high cross.  While very similar in basic execution, they differ in range, utility, and risk.

Much like the pop shot, the short cross uses a punching motion. However, the short cross adds wrist and further torso rotation towards the target's sword side.  The shot ends with a wrist extension.

That sure sounds a lot like a pop shot pointed at a different target, doesn't it?  Yes, kind of, which illustrates why learning the basic shots is important for developing further.  The difference here though, is the the short cross has far more power than if you were to execute it more like a pop shot by simply aiming your arm, then punching out.  That extra power comes from the rotation of the arm.

One important note about cross shots is that due to the rotation, they have a tendency not hit squarely on the blade, often closer to corner of the blade or even flat depending on where they meet the target.  Many vets will actually angle their sword in the hand to compensate before/as they throw a cross to ensure a cleaner hit and avoid flatting someone.  While other shots have similar rotation, they generally follow a wider, more complete arc, giving the swing more time to level out the rotation.

For lefties, the short cross can be an important tool to have as it is one of the few techniques that effectively targets a righty's shield side.  Many righties shift their shield over towards their sword side to help guard against a lefty.  This leaves their shield side somewhat vulnerable.

The High Cross

While I am including it in this fundamentals post, the shot by itself isn't ideal.  Later on, adding shield work, footwork, and combos into the mix helps make up for many of the shortcomings of the high cross. The swing itself is much like what a short cross would become with a bad overswing or over rotation.   Rather than targeting a sword, the attack targets the opponent's chest/gut/hip.  The main problem with the shot is that in order to be able to land it on a target, you have to be in a position that the opponent can hit a similar target on you with the same technique.  This is one of the largest causes of simultaneous deaths.

The way the swing is often executed, in addition to the normal motion of a short cross, the rotation is aided by raising the elbow and bending the torso with the swing.  This change in position also helps aid the sword in angling straight down, ideally somewhat parallel to their shield so it might pass behind it.  This angle is what makes it a shorter ranged attack than the short cross as your sword can't be fully extended out and also pass behind their shield.

Now, because the high cross is rotating so far, an overswing can be painful, and there isn't a great way to recover the force due to the awkward position.  Because of being so hard to recover, the overswing will leave your arm and defenses vulnerable. For these reason, it is generally safer to avoid throwing a high cross at its max range, as an opponent may well move back and cause an overswing.

The Sweep

Attacking the opponent's legs, a sweep follows the curve of their shield down into the leg.  While I can utilize some variant of the basic swing, wrap, or even the pop to attack the leg, a sweep can be more ideally suited for the job.  As I have discussed on the range game before, leg attacks require one to be closer to the target and some extra work to help close the distance.

The motions of the arm are much the same as the basic swing, but the forearm takes a wider arc to the outside as the arm lowers a bit.  This makes the sword follow a smoother, wider circle than the basic swing. Following this arm motion, without adjusting the body, will result in either being out of range or likely hitting the bottom of the shield

In order to compensate for this problem, many newer fighters are temped to lean their torso forward. This causes one's shoulder, or even back, to be highly exposed to the opponent. Most of the range and positioning can more safely be done by bending the knees.  This brings the shoulder lower and closer to the target, which improves range.  It also keeps your body centered and guard relatively intact, especially with a shield.

One could also choose to lean slightly towards the sword side, causing a dip in that shoulder, while simultaneously shifting weight onto the the sword side leg (if it is forward).  This still keeps ones guard relatively intact, but does have a couple of problems.  For starters, this lean ends up placing your head in the path of a common counter swing used against sweeps, which will result in getting hit in the head many more times than simply bending both knees.  The other problem is that your weight ends up almost entirely on one leg, making it an easier target and reducing your ability to dodge other attacks.

Recovering from an overswung sweep, or even some hits, it is often easiest to sort of complete the circle, rather than pulling the sword back.  During the swing and the recovery, the arm is much more exposed to attack than during many other swings because the hand has to be so much lower than the normal guard.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fundamentals: Overswinging A Sword

So, overswinging a sword isn't a fundamental, but recovering from a swing properly is. It is a problem that many newer fighters face. An overswing happens when a swing misses a target altogether. Now, the obvious problem here is that missing causes you to generally be in a bad position, either with your sword low or arm extended well past the target.  Perhaps less clear to newer fighters, is that recovering an overswing both takes longer and more effort than recovering a swing that hit a target.

Recovering from a single swing that hit the target is fairly straightforward.  Once your sword hits, it will naturally rebound back in the direction in came from.  This natural bounce helps fuel your recovery, and sort of refunds some of the effort put into the swing.  By doing the opposite motions with the muscles that got the swing there, recovery should feel smooth. For the most part you are just returning your body to its normal, rested state.  All of your recovery for most swings is going to be first in, first out.  Your swing started with your hip rotation, so will your recovery. The rest of your body follows the hip back into position. Your resting position will be back to whatever stance you started in.

So why is an overswing so bad?  Well, for starters, your opponent is no longer stopping your sword for you.  That means you now have to stop the sword, then recover to your guard.  The more force you've put into the swing, the more force you have to stop in midair.  This places immense strain on your body and drastically slows the recovery.  You end up doing twice the effort to get back to defend yourself as you would if you had hit anything.  You are also losing some of the energy from your initial swing that would have been refunded with the bounce.

Stopping a swing midair can also lead to injury or soreness.  This is especially true if it is a frequent occurrence.  Certain shots are far worse to stop, as well.  For example, the wrap shot already places a fair amount of strain on the wrist, and stopping it mid-motion isn't fun at all.

Overswings are going to happen, even to veteran fighters. The difference between a vet and new fighter here is in how they recover.  Ones natural inclination is to stop the swing, and pull it back into guard.  We've already talked about how that is going to be bad. Veteran fighters, however, have grown accustomed to following through with their swings and carrying the motion around, either into another swing or to reset to guard.  

For example, if I were to swing for your leg and miss completely, rather than stop my sword and bring it back up to guard, I would carry the motion past your leg and rotate it around.  I can carry this motion either back to guard or into another swing.  This uses my arm only to redirect the motion, not to stop it.

Obviously, hitting your leg would have been ideal, but by carrying that motion around I'm not wasting effort or time stopping a swing.  I can also carry that force onward to another swing so I end up conserving some of the energy I've put into my first swing.  It also distributes the strain of the recovery out, rather than concentrating it all into stopping the sword.

This concept of carrying motion on into another swing forms a basis for combos. When getting a bounce from hitting a target, one can use the recovery to guard to help power another swing.  This causes your sword to basically orbit your guard or sword hand in between strikes, using your arm to redirect the motion and effort into the next hit.  The same principles also make it harder to hit the same spot twice in a row with the same swing and with sufficient force, because you are fighting against your recovery force with your second swing.

One note here, there might be some vets out there thinking that they can recover an overswing really easy and it doesn't put too much strain on them.  While that may be more true for your 12 oz, counter-weighted sword, it isn't really going to be the case for heavier weapons or those with a balance point further out from the handle.  Having your balance point in the handle might help reduce the amount of force required to recover an overswing, but it does that because there is less force carried in the tip of the sword to begin with.  This is more important on swings that involve wrist extension or rotation, and much less important for attacks like the chop that don't rely as much on the sword and arm for power. (more next week on that)

That being said, some swings fit into this concept of recovery better than others.  I'll talk more about the basic swings next week, and try to point out where some of those swings differ in terms of recovery.