Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I think rules in combat sports fall into two categories:
I. Rules for safety
II. Rules to make the other guy admit that you won.

Category II only exists competitively, and most often as a consequence of safety rules, in order to prevent game-breaking tactics. But what that's really necessary is a sense of "fair play"- meaning, in this case, that both people share the goal, and avoid doing the things that are only possible because you're not trying to kill each other while working towards this goal. For example, if you slow down, there are tactics that are possible that would not be at full speed. Someone speeding up is obvious, but not obvious is the case where an action would only be possible if predicted. I start to swing, you counter-attack, I change the course of my swing to block your counter-attack. At speed, this is generally only possible if I planned it ahead of time- if you hadn't counter-attacked, i would've done it anyway. but with slower speeds, you can do it seamlessly, exactly as if you had planned it. And the only person who could know is me. You can't use rules to get rid of this problem- you either would have to go full speed, or else both people have to assume each is playing fair.

and then, competitively, you get the unintended consequences. In foil and saber fencing, they have rules of right-of-way to settle the issue. If I attack, you counter-attack, and we both hit at the same time, I win. Originally designed to promote good sword self-defensing technique- you saw the attack, and you decided to attack? Dumb. You get punished. Which, good, right? Except then competitively, the attacker gets REWARDED when his opponent counter-attacks. And the more committed the counter-attack, the better it is. So you get attacks that start long, lazy, and with the head and torso wide-open (but not the arm, because the opponent could hit that and get away) that encourage the opponent to counter-attack.
Safety foundation ("Only counter-attack if you can avoid getting hit!") plus who-wins rule ("Attacker wins vs. counter-attacker") = reality warping behavior ("welcome, suicidal counter-attackers!")

With the foam combat I've been doing, the head is not a valid target, and if you intentionally (or even solidly unintentionally) strike someone in the head, you should take a loss. Which has some predicatible warping effects on technique, as there's no reason to learn to especially learn to protect the head. But then the warping effect gets stronger- one of the essential problem of a large shield is that you can see, or you can protect your face, but it's hard to do both. Problem removed! Just stick your head right over the top of that shield. Which, naturally, people do. And but then it reaches even further. To counteract the advantage of a big shield, you can "break" it by hitting twice with a two-handed weapon. Which works sort of okay in battles with multiple people. but (unintended consequence), one-on-one, sword'n'shield vs two-handed weapon, the game is trivial (meaning, only one real chain of events, uninteresting). Any pauses mean the 2h-er will hit the shield. If they can hit it twice, the shield-user will probably lose. If the shield-user charges to close distance, the 2Her will have time for only one shot. The shield-user can easily block all shots to the arms and torso during that time, leaving the only possible target the legs. So, the only real course of action is: shield-user immediately charges, 2h-er attempts to hit a leg. If they hit a leg, they win. If they don't, the shielder user closes in and wins.
TLDR version: Two-handed weapon vs. sword and shield is a boring fight, with no possibilities or variations. Which is sort of mind-boggling, given how many possibilities there should be with that matchup. And then origin of that was a simple safety rule, "Don't hit people in the head." with associated who-wins rule, "If you hit someone in the head, you lose."

Every combat sport has these things. Not exploiting them is generally an insurmountable competitive disadvantage. It doesn't take long at all for techniques to warp to adapt to these holes. Attempts to correct the warp will just create new, weirder warps.


  1. Off topic, but you might find this blog of use and interesting.



  2. So I had fun in my head taking different routes to solve the 'safety' problem ... and the consequent 'who won' problem.
    It is obvious that leaving the head out of the picture as a target is ridiculous ... so is there a better way than what you describe? Using weapons that mean you can do head shots perhaps? We use golf tubes to good effect.
    Realizing a tag to the top of the shoulder requires the same range as the head, so one could count as the other (not as good but works).
    Better armor? See Dog Brothers for inspiration.
    How about the shield prob? Did people really duel with large shields? Or was it a battlefield thing? I actually don't know, but I bet the head was a target either way.
    If it was battlefield, where are the spear and halberd players? If I had to take a guy out with a big shield, I'd bring a friend.
    Surely dueling would only allow for a smaller shield - level playing field and wish for resolution and all?
    I don't know .... Seems like there are many different directions to go to get the full picture, maybe not at the same time ... but as a whole series of methods.
    After all, Muay Thai guys spar light and padded train heavy ... and they seem to combine the 2 just fine in the real thing.
    Have you thought of possible improvements to what you do?
    I once suggested a format for one on one fighting where one was guarding an object and the other had to get it and take it away. This inserted the 'getting away part as important, i.e. living.
    It could also be done with both parties approaching from different directions trying to take the same object out of the field of combat (whatever sized circle you care to make).

  3. There's just no good way to deliver two-handed shots to the head, over a decent lifetime, without serious consequences down the line. Dog brothers when I've seen usually use fencing masks, which is something, but those are designed for puncture resistance, not impact. It gets better if you pad them, but even then, your brains get sloshed around, and that's bad. Not for years, but eventually, bad. Maybe if you could harness it so it redistributes the force into the shoulders, but that's... complicated.

    Large shields don't make sense for dueling, but I'm more interested in asymmetrical situations anyway. All things being equal, the bigger guy wins, but all things are never equal, etc. Unfair is okay, but unfairly limited to a single boring answer is... boring. Spear and halberd players exist too. They get limitations in not being able to use the haft for close in work, which is half the fun of those for me.

    see also my next post.