Thursday, July 17, 2014

Theory Thursday: Range Game and Support Weapons

I talked about range last week from the perspective of a typical sword and board fighter. This week, I thought it was appropriate to look at support weapons and how they play the range game.

Because of the extra reach, glaives, spears and most other red swords have very favorable advantages in the range game. However, most of them suffer at close range. Even skilled fighters only have a few options at close quarters, especially with longer weapons.

The extra range increments for a support weapon somewhat overlap with the breakdown from last week, with the following additional considerations:

1. One handed range. The maximum reach of a weapon is when it is held with one hand.

2. Two handed range. This varies with the distance between hands. If the hands are right next to each other, it is still shorter range than one handed range.

3. Short range. When the opponent is inside the typical range that the haft padding would be in a normal stance, requires changing angles to hit safely.

4. Close range. When you can no longer effectively use the weapon because your opponent is too close.

The ghosted image shows roughly where my glaive might end up if I were to rotate my shoulders into a one handed stab.  There is also more overlap between one handed and two handed that depends on hand position.  The overlapping zone is roughly the same size as the distance between my hands.

Original Photo by Ellie Apland

Therefore, it is the support weapon's goal to keep their opponent outside of close range, or kill them before they get there. This leads many newer users to always attack at maximum range, to try buying themselves time to get a second attack in before being inside their opponent's range. This can work, but isn't always as favorable as it seems.

Attacking at full extension also means your recovery has to start at full extension. This means more time recovering the shot, rather than attacking or blocking. Larger weapons make this even more of a hindrance. Common practice for experienced fighters is to wait at the fringes of a support weapon's range, then rush when the shot is dodged or misses. This is very visible when looking at spears and glaives doing single handed stabs at a target standing just at the very edge of maximum range.

Of course, there are a few tricks support weapons can pull off that are harder to do with a smaller weapon.  It is harder to predict the range of a longer weapon, at least the margin of error is higher. That means they can catch someone off guard who thinks they are safe. It can be extremely effective to try to deceive ones range by changing grips, stance, or shifting your weight. Use these factors to start with shorter ranged attacks, then switch to increase range when the opponent feels safe.  With a long enough weapon, one can also get away with taking a step towards the target, assuming the step doesn't have the drawback of bringing them within range of their opponent.

A note on safety is due here. Gripping a two handed with your hands close together near the pommel increases range, but drastically reduces control. There are very few times it is worth the risk for a few extra inches of reach. Also, because your hands are so close, you will lose leverage and slow the speed you can return to guard. Avoid throwing this type of shot unless it is a fairly static target with the lowest risk of hitting someone's face. Leg sweeps can work here, because it is fairly safe to the target.  Some extra control can be gained by moving the upper hand during the swing, giving you some margin to correct the final direction of the blow if the target moves.  The same words of wisdom apply to one handed strikes, using the second hand as long as possible to help keep the strike on target and removing it as that arm reaches maximum extension.

During a field battle, range control is much easier, using your own position relative to your line to dictate how close an opponent can get safely.  In one on one fighting, it requires much more work.  If you are using a longer weapon like a spear or glaive, your opponent is going to want to rush you.  You have to use footwork in order to create openings and shut down angles that they might attack from, remembering that range depends on the distance from your shoulders to the target zone.  As such, and short/close range, you have to actually get your shoulders farther from the target to hit with a large weapon, especially if only a small portion is striking surface, in the case of glaives and spears.  This also causes your upper body to be farther from your opponent's attacks.

To do this, you either have to step, lean, or change your angle of attack.  Stepping away from the opponent's sword arm greatly increases the range advantage, and can give you a better angle to counter their attacks, especially if they originally threw a wide shot or wrap.  Shifting your weight away from them moves your shoulders back, giving you around half the distance between your feet in extra range to play with.  These two combined can make for a considerable change in range and angles.

Changing the angle of attack is more about shot selection than the range game, but I'll point out a couple of things about it.  Normally, the distance from shoulder to target is the primary focus of the range game. However, at closer range, a wider shot selection opens up from wrap shots and extreme high crosses.  You are now attacking based on where your hands are, using your arms to change the angle of attack, and thereby changing the distance between your hand and target.  For example, with a minimum sized two handed sword, raising your arms above your head and throwing a cross shot to the opponents arm can be done at very close range, even more so if one leans to the side.

Another option when inside the short/close range is to choke up on the weapon, to an extreme amount in some cases.  This brings your strike zone back within range without moving yourself.  With a glaive, you can hit safely at nearly point blank by holding near the striking surface with one hand and near the middle with the other.  Spears are slightly more difficult, but you can place good stabs up close by moving your front hand closer to the tip.

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