Category Archives: General

SKBC 2017 Review

SKBC 2017 has come and gone. I had a great experience and got in a ton of fighting and teaching time. The FWACK committee should get bonus points for securing us a gym to fight in on Friday when it rained all day. That’s a level of dedication you won’t find anywhere else.

I taught Women’s Combat in the first time slot. The class was significantly revamped from last year. I truncated some of the information dump and tried to just hit highlights, critical misconceptions, and essential information. I added a number of drills as well. The class continues to evolve, and I think next year’s class will be another major evolution. One persistent problem is that many people still think women need to be taught *female* body mechanics, rather than just body mechanics, and other similar myths. I’ve toyed with trying to make two classes, one that is more social/psychological differences, and one that is the abbreviated footwork/body-mechanics/closing/shots class that some women seem to be looking for. I think there is still room for improvement in how I teach this class. Anna was my ever-tolerant co-instructor for this class. Poor Anna.

My second slot was free, so I sat in on Raven’s body mechanics and made his life harder. Poor Adam.

My third slot was Body Mechanics. It is different from what Clalibus used to teach, since we’ve got different backgrounds and viewpoints. We looked at stance and grip, then moved on to looking at the correct mechanics of blocking (I’m amazed how many people do it wrong). Then we looked at power generation and shot mechanics. We ended with proper footwork and movement. Anatole was a great co-instructor. He had some great insights and alternate ways of explaining things, and he’s roguishly handsome.

Saturday I led off with Lefty Combat Theory. I had a few right-handed folks in it, which was really handy. I hope they learned how to kill tons of lefties. That class seemed to go pretty well, and we were able to hit not just practical things like specific shots, but delve into some of the theory about why we do them and how they differ for a lefty vs. a righty. Drakknar, as a lefty-turned-righty, was a great assistant. He was also amazingly imperturbable about being hit over and over and over and over.

My last class was the theory of footwork and movement class. Thor was my co-instructor, which was awesome, since he used to be the lead instructor for the class. He had a ton of great information to add to the course. My class got to do a lot of drills and cardio, and hopefully learned some things to improve their range control.

I also really enjoyed the one-on-one time Saturday. I had six people with cards, and we worked on a wide variety of things; from dark-sides to switching stances in florentine to two-handed greatsword work.

One of the biggest things I always struggle with is how to maximize people’s takeaways from SKBC. It’s two long and intense days, but it is also only two long and intense days. People needs weeks and months to internalize a lot of those lessons. I’ve found three things that help maximize those takeaways.

  • Communicate Theory. That gives the student the tools to decide what they should be doing, and a concept is often easier to remember or write down. This also gives the student the tools to take the next step on their own and to advance the state of the art in fighting.
  • Teach Drills. Ideally, every concept should come with a corresponding drill. This drill should both practice the concept taught, but it should come with some “self-check” markers to indicate whether it is being done correctly. For example, if you’re doing a non-cross step footwork drill and your feet touch or your head is moving up and down instead of moving on a flat plane, you made a mistake.
  • Provide Documentation. People aren’t going to remember everything you tell them. Writeups of drills help people remember drills. Write Ups, with proper citations, of any facts you promulgate, gives people a reference to check their information with, or just to read later as a general refresher. If you’re lucky, you can just cite a specific work, such as Tony Dicicco and Colleen Hacker’s “Catch Them Being Good.”

I didn’t manage a perfect sweep for my classes in those areas. I’ve written up most of the drills I mention on fightocracy.com, and I’ve documented and cited my facts for the Women’s Combat class, but there’s still more I can do for next year.

Should You Be A Warlord?

Whether or not someone is qualified to be a warlord is something I’ve given a lot of thought. When I was coming up, I was constantly assessing myself and trying to answer that question. Both before and after I became a warlord, I’ve had up-and-comers who felt they were close to that achievement ask me if I though they were ready and deserving.

I’ve developed a list of eleven criteria I use to answer that question. I am not a believer in “bare minimum” approaches, and my standards are higher than the minimums listed in the rulebook. I want new warlords to be figures of respect and fear on the battlefield, not min-maxers who found a way to number-crunch a marginal minimum benchmark. I’ve held myself to this same standard; I streaked past 21 several times but judged the opposition insufficient to merit a strong warlord argument, and I had more than twice the required number of wins when I finally became a warlord. I don’t expect everyone to do as much to become a warlord, but I’m not going to hold others to a standard I myself have not exceeded.

I use Sword Knight and Warlord synonymously in my criteria, even though there are some Sword Knights who are not actually warlords.

1) Have you earned at least four decent kingdom wins in the last couple of years?

Earning warlord is about being good now, relative to fighters now. It is your job to raise the bar; if you got some of your wins ten years ago, that doesn’t mean diddly as to whether you are any good now. I also won’t accept people who squeeze in a win by coming in second and third a lot while the better fighters keep knocking each other out of the brackets. You better have some first places in that tournament to show you won it by yourself, not with the blessings of the Bracket Gods.

Ideally, I want you to exceed the bare minimum of four wins. I’m happier with six or eight, but I will count lesser wins towards that number if you have four really solid wins to go with them.

There is no number of extremely weak wins that counts as a solid win. If you won seventeen kingdom tourneys where the best fighter was my grandmother, your qual is weak as her aged arms. You can definitely count those for bragging rights after you accumulate four solid wins and tell people you warlorded on tournament wins before you got your warlord, but you can’t convince me you deserve to be a warlord on the strength of those seventeen weak wins.

2) Where did you get your wins? A warlord is not just “the best guy at his park.”

A warlord is one of the best fighters in the game. If you got all your wins in the same kingdom, there is a chance your are just a big fish in a small pond. This is especially problematic if you’re in a kingdom that doesn’t get a lot of visiting warlords. The last Wetlands tournament had five warlords from three different kingdoms, all of whom have won tournaments recently; that’s a pretty deep pool. Other tournaments I’ve seen are all locals, with one local warlord; those wins are less impressive when you start repeating them. I expect new warlords to not just win in their kingdom, but to be competitive across Amtgard. You should have won something in at least one other kingdom. The more kingdoms, the better.

3) Did you win in your home kingdom?

This is the “Glen Rule.” At one point I had five or six wins in four or five different kingdoms, but I had moved to a new kingdom and hadn’t won there yet. If you can’t win at home, you don’t deserve to be their warlord.

4) Have you won tournaments over a variety of warlords?

I don’t want a warlord who is just specialized in beating one guy. If you’ve gotten all your wins beating the same warlord, you need to get out more. A warlord should have defeated a variety of warlords who use a variety of fighting styles. I think the minimum number is four. Five is gravy. Ten is showing off. There should also be at least one “A-List” warlord on your list of defeated candidates. Defeated warlords only count if you won the tournament; just placing higher than a warlord means nothing if you didn’t win.

5) Have you won multiple categories?

This seems like a gimme, but I don’t want a warlord who wins S&B and Open (using S&B), sucks at everything else, and wins because there are only four categories in the tournaments he fights in. A warlord should be better than non-warlords with any weapon he picks up; I once streaked to 21 with a foam guitar. Everything should be a deadly weapon to non-warlords in your hands.

6) Are you better than some of the active warlords?

You don’t have to be the best fighter in Amtgard, or even in the top ten, but a new warlord should at least start out in the middle of the pack when it comes to active warlords. The new guy is training hard and working to improve; some of the still active warlords, while still good, are no longer training hard and fighting 4-5 times a week like they did when they were coming up. If you’re going to be the worst warlord, or even in the bottom 10%, you don’t deserve to be a warlord. Warlords should only get to the bottom 10% by starting out in the middle, and then the next generation improving past them.

7) Do you flank the meat counter?

“You don’t understand what it is like with warlords: when Brennon goes grocery shopping he is figuring out how to flank the meat counter.” (Dame Squeak!)

Part of being a warlord is excelling at the mental game of Amtgard fighting. You must think intelligently and analytically about fighting on a regular basis. You must possess, and constantly utilize, the ability to adapt to strange and unusual circumstances and fighting styles quickly and easily. A warlord can encounter something new, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of it, devise a counter, and execute the new maneuver successfully, all in the space of a couple rounds of sparring. Afterwards, the warlord should be able to explain to his opponent what he did, why, and how his opponent could counter the warlord’s new move. This requires a complete understanding of the fighting space. Part of this comes from fighting being a constant preoccupation for the impending warlord.

This is one of the most critical aspects of being a warlord, and anyone who doesn’t do it shouldn’t be a warlord. In a very real sense, gaining this ability is what makes people into warlords.

8) How do you do on an off day?

On a good day, a warlord can beat almost anyone else in the game. On a bad day, a warlord can beat any non-warlord in the game. Your “off-day” skill level is a key differentiator between people who should be warlords and people who are not yet ready to be warlords.

The not-yet-ready up-and-comers often start thinking they’re warlord material because, on their best days, they can beat a warlord, maybe even win a tournament. They manage to get up to seven, maybe even eight orders of the warrior, and feel like they’re really ready to be warlords. However, on their off days, they lose to other up-and-comers as well as the warlords, place behind non-warlords, and may even fail to place at all.

Conversely, a warlord beats all the up-and-comers even on his off days. When I was coming up, I won some tournaments and took an amazing number of second places. On my “off days”, I just wasn’t able to deliver that win against the other up-and-comers. My last tournament before I received my warlord, out of four limbs only my off-hand had a non-debilitating injury I was rehabbing; I won anyway. Brennon once won a tournament with a fever, and having to take a break to vomit after every round.

To a large degree, it doesn’t matter how well you do on your best days; it matters how well you do on your worst.

9) Would I be embarrassed to be grouped with you?

Is it going to be embarrassing or bothersome if people look at your fighting, note you’re a warlord, and use that to set an expectation of my fighting or credibility? Being a warlord is being part of an elite club, and we’re jealous of our membership. We don’t want people in it who we don’t feel are worthy. You can show us really easily if you’re worthy or not, just by fighting us and demonstrating your skills. As a side note, please don’t blow off shots to try to make yourself look like a better fighter than you are. We’re warlords: we can tell when you’re cheating and we really hate cheaters.

10) Are you a dominant fighter?

A warlord should be a dominant fighter, both in tournaments and on the battlefield. You should be able to mow down opponents and dominate any space you stand in. Some good fighters get sloppy when they’re not doing one-on-one fighting, and they fail to have a dominating presence on the field because they continually die to lesser fighters because their technique is sloppy.

11) Do you have doubts?

This last criteria is not about “should you be a warlord?”, but rather “should you accept a warlord title?” Being the newest warlord puts a big target on you. Everyone is judging you and second guessing your shiny new title. Worse, if you’re really dedicated to excellence, you’re also judging and second-guessing yourself.

This means every time you lose to a lesser fighter, and everyone does at some point, the question will occur to you or them, “Should this guy be a warlord?” If you go less than 60-40 with another warlord, you will start to doubt your worthiness. (Sparring with JLee right after getting my warlord was hard on my ego.)

When you “level up” to warlord, you will put a lot more pressure on yourself to win and demonstrate that you deserve to be a warlord. If you had doubts about getting the title in the first place, this stress will be increased tenfold. All this pressure makes fighting a lot less fun.

The best way to alleviate this problem is to have no doubts (or at least very few) about your worthiness *before* you accept a Warlord title. There are three ways to accomplish this. First, you could be a narcissist who is completely out of touch with reality. I don’t recommend this approach at all, but I have seen a few up-and-comers who are clearly taking this approach. Second, you can get the approval of someone who is notoriously honest and hard to please. This provides you with quality control, so you know you’re not being blinded by your own desire to be a warlord. I recommend Brennon. If Brennon tells you that you deserve to be a warlord, you are definitely worthy. Third, smother your doubts with victories. It is a lot easier to smother your doubts if you have a dozen kingdom wins to bury them under.

Drill Spotlight: First to Ten

The first-to-ten drill is a fairly straight forward drill; two combatants fight a sequence of rounds, and the first person to win ten times (total) wins the drill. Simos are ignored. This sounds like regular sparring, but there is an important difference. In regular sparring, you should not be seeking to win; you should be seeking to improve. That means you are testing your opponent to see if your reads match their actions, you are trying out new shots or new setups to increase your repertoire, you are practicing shots you haven’t perfected, and you are, in general, performing actions that challenge you and increase your skill instead of performing actions that make you most likely to win. In this drill, you are trying specifically to win, putting out your best effort and choosing the options that are most likely to make you win.

This drill is an excellent tool for overcoming tournament anxiety. Generally, poor performance in a tournament results from succumbing to “nerves.” A fighter will focus so much on the importance of winning that he will lose focus, over-analyze his attacks, play overly safe, and otherwise fight in a different manner, and in inferior manner, than he normally fights. This drill provides the pressure of tracked wins with a defined end goal in a competitive environment and allows a fighter to grow comfortable in such situations. To accomplish this goal, the drill is best used sparingly, as a capstone at the end of a sparring session, so that the competitive nature of the drill is heightened.

The First-to-Ten drill also has the benefit of pushing both fighters to maximum effort, because it has both a winner and a limited timespan. It is easier to push yourself when you can see the finish line. It’s a good thing to do when both fighters are flagging and getting ready to take a break; it drives you to put in a last burst of effort and has the side benefit of getting in extra rounds of fighting with your opponent.

This drill also provides an excellent barometer for your progress. It is common for fighter to come away from a sparring session with a very vague, and often overly optimistic, sense of how they’ve done. Actually counting fights lets you determine an actual win ratio, and the competitive part ensures you’re both putting in your best effort instead of trying out new, less polished skills.

The final feature that makes me like this drill so much is that it is a good way for up-and-coming fighters to get noticed. If you go 8:10 against a warlord, he’s going to remember you. If you beat him, he’s going to seek you out at the next event for a rematch. Putting concrete numbers in your opponent’s mind about your performance and his makes you, and your encounter, more memorable.

Video: Ten Shots

This is a longer video, about twenty minutes, so it’s embedded via Youtube. It shows ten different shots for striking your opponent in their sword arm. These shots are shown lefty on righty, but most of them work in any hand configuration. The filming is done with a digital camera, so, as always, the appearance of sword bending in some of the shots is an artifact of the camera’s CCD scanning during high-speed motion and is not due to actual bending of the swords.

I encourage you to watch this video in the 1080 HD it was originally recorded in. If you have questions or comments, come visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/LeftyCombat/

Ask the Champion: Dealing with Tracers

Dear Champion:

How do I deal with tracers? With some fighters, as soon as I throw a shot, they throw a shot. So I end up with a lot of simos. Sometimes I kill them and just lose an arm, sometimes they kill me and I just wound them. If I don’t throw a shot, they just wait for me to throw.

Tired and Traced

Dear Tired:

Excellent question. Tracing is a common problem that fighters have to deal with. People who trace can end up being difficult opponents to deal with for mid-level fighters, despite the tactic being a dead-end for fighting development. There are several approaches you can take to dealing with opponents who trace.

Initial Assessment

Before you can develop a tactic to deal with someone who traces, you need to know they’re a tracer. If you’ve fought them before and already know they trace, then you can skip this part entirely. However, you’re eventually going to be in a situation where you’re fighting someone new and you don’t know if they trace or not. There are three methods for detecting tracers.

Die. You can just hope they’re not a tracer, throw some random shot, and get killed if they trace. Most people who are tracers do it incessantly, so now you know that they’re a tracer. Also, you’re dead. Sadly, this is known as “losing” in Amtgard, so I can not recommend this method.

Feint. If you throw the beginning of any traceable shot, which is to say a shot that a tracer has an opportunity and opening to counter-attack into as soon as they see you start to move, a tracer will immediately twitch and start their counter-attack. They usually won’t finish it, but that twitch reveals their nature.

Play Safe. Throwing a safe shot, where you can cover yourself against the primary counter-attack, allows you to expose a tracer without getting killed by their counter-attack. This usually means throwing a low probability shot that you don’t expect to land, but your goal was to determine the nature of your opponent, not to win.

Counters

Once you know you’re facing a tracer, there are many strategies for killing them safely. The biggest weaknesses of a tracer are that they are both predictable and controllable. It is typically apparent what the tracer will throw when you make your attack. Additionally, you have complete control over when the tracer will attack; they will throw their shot the moment you swing, and not a moment before. With these two factors, you can select from a variety of strategies to defeat the tracer.

Blocking

Block with your secondary equipment. In situations where you have a second piece of equipment, you can block the primary return with that equipment as you throw your shot. Not all shots are safe to accomplish this with, nor are all primary returns blockable this way.  If a sword-side hip-wrap is going to be the primary return, you can’t effectively block that with a shield. Conversely, while lunging florentine, it is fairly safe to guard your sword arm with your non-attacking hand.

As an extension of this idea, a single sword user can block the primary return with their off-hand instead of using their hand to guard the secondary return. However, this is a poor choice for facing a tracer, as this will result in the loss of a limb, leaving you an arm down against the next opponent.

Defensive Transitions. An alternate method to block a tracer is to throw a shot that has a quick transition into a block of the primary return as part of the return to guard. (Remember that in general, when you throw a shot, you should almost never be recoiling through your outgoing weapon path to return to guard. Returning to guard along a path that leads through or begins a block against the primary return is usually the best practice and allows you to quickly block ripostes. If the opponent doesn’t throw the primary return, you do not need to complete the block and can continue back to a guard position or transition to block the slower secondary or tertiary return as needed.)

If you choose a shot that has a very short motion between the completion of the shot and the beginning of the block of the primary return, it is possible to both land a shot and block the tracer’s counter-attack. This is a high-risk option, however, as most tracers throw a shot that lands almost instantly in time with yours. An example would be throwing a back-handed chop to the top of an opponent’s arm through the outside lane, ending with the palm rotated upwards and the blade parallel to the ground. This leaves you under the opponent’s weapon, inviting the tracer to throw a quick downward chop as the primary return. The return to guard begins with collapsing the elbow with the elbow pointed down, which immediately puts your weapon in place to block the primary return as soon as the elbow begins to bend.

Weapon Manipulation

Weapon Jamming: Instead of blocking the attack of a tracer, it is possible to preemptively interfere with their weapon before they begin their attack. One option is to jam their weapon as part of your attack. This allows you to control the opponent’s weapon and prevent them from launching their tracing counter-attack. An example of this can be seen in hand-matched single sword, by throwing a flat horizontal chop to the opponent’s torso through the inside lane. As part of the chop, the aggressor closes range and strikes the blade of their weapon just above the handle against the middle of the opponent’s weapon, with the blade parallel to the opponent’s chest. The aggressor then uses this weapon as a fulcrum, continuing the motion to strike the opponent in the chest while pushing their weapon towards them and slightly to the side. Obviously, this will only work against opponents whose guard leaves their sword somewhere close to vertical.

Weapon Beats: A less aggressive form of weapon manipulation is to make a beat at the opponent’s weapon. The intent is to disrupt their reflexive motion, forcing them to spend a portion of a second regaining control of their weapon before they can counter-attack. The aggressor then uses this time window to land a strike without being hit. With a beat, the attacker’s blade should stop as soon as the defender’s blade is struck. You are knocking the blade aside, not pushing it aside. It should be noted that the tracer will often still attempt to counter-attack, even though the resulting shot will be late. An example of this is a standard lefty attack against a sword and board righty. The attacker beats the opponent’s blade two-thirds of the way up with a backhand beat (palm facing to the attacker’s shield side) to the inside (shield side) of the blade. As the defenders sword is knocked to the outside, the attacker changes the strike to a vertical chop to the defender’s sword shoulder or upper sword arm.

Feints

Partial Shots: The fact that a tracer is going to start their counter-attack as soon as they detect that you have begun your shot gives you a great deal of control over the fight. By beginning but not completing a shot, you can force the tracer into action. The degree to which you complete the partial shot will also give you additional control over whether the tracer completes his counter-attack or attempts to abort it partway through. Often a simple but pronounced twitch will cause the tracer to start his counter-attack, abort it, and then reset. By preceding your actual shot with this sort of feint, you can often land your shot while the tracer is still resetting from his aborted counter-attack. A more pronounced feint, where you complete more of the shot, will often draw the tracer into completing his counter-attack. In this scenario, since you did not commit to the shot, you are in position to either open range to avoid the shot, or, preferably, block and riposte.

Off-Target Shots: Another method of drawing the tracer into premature or inopportune action is to throw an off-target shot. In this scenario, instead of striking the opponent, you will deliberately miss. This allows you to keep the motion of your strike and use it to either continue moving out of the way or to flow through the attack into a block. An example of this can be seen in hand-matched single sword. In a scenario where the tracer is going to counter-attack with a vertical chop at your arm when you attack their sword arm (a common tracing tactic), you can swing just past their arm on the outside lane and continue moving your arm down. In this case, you will be dropping your arm at the same time the tracer is swinging at it, allowing you to keep moving your arm out of the way of their sword. You would then roll your wrist in a loop, transitioning from palm to the inside to palm up as you bring your hand back up after evading their strike, landing a back-handed strike to the tracer’s sword arm or sword-side body.

Noncommittal Shots: Another way to draw a tracer into action is to throw shots without committing to them. Such a shot has little chance of landing effectually, but it looks a great deal like a real shot while providing the advantage that the attacker has not committed themselves to the shot and is therefore less exposed. A classic example of this is a strike to the back of the hand. In the scenario where an attacker is facing a florentine fighter, it is a given that crossing the body to strike the unmatched arm will draw a strike from the florentine fighter’s hand-matched hand to the attacker’s sword arm. If the attacker instead strike at the back of the florentiner’s unmatched hand, the attacker does not expose as much of their arm by reaching for the arm, nor do they get as close to the opponent. The attacker can instead bounce his strike off the opponent’s unmatched hand and immediately transition the motion into an aggressive block against the matched hand’s expected vertical chop counter-attack. Blocking this vertical chop aggressively will open the florentiner’s hand-matched shoulder for a riposte by the attacker.

Overfeint: Feinting can also be taken to an extreme. Instead of making one or two feints and then throwing a shot, continue feinting different shots until the tracer’s brain short circuits. This does run the risk that the opponent will elect to stop tracing and just hit you while you’re throwing your eighth feint. This sometimes has the benefit of breaking the tracer out of “trace mode” so they stop tracing and become a more interesting opponent, but most tracers are monomaniacally dedicated to tracing as a fighting style and have no other modes.

Maneuver

Open Range: While any fool who says “the best block is to not be there” should be ignored until they stop getting their fighting advice from Karate Kid (part 2, at that), evasion is still a valuable tool in any fighter’s toolbox. Opening the range as part of your shot allows you to complete a shot out of range, which makes it harder for a tracer to strike you. The classic example of this is the retreating chop. The attacker begins with a simple chop from within range, and as part of his strike retreats. The weapon should make contact with the opponent while the attacker is in retrograde motion and is at the very limit of effective range. This means that, the moment after the strike lands, the attacker has left effective range. The tracer is left to strike empty air as the attacker opens the range and returns to guard. This type of action can be difficult to pull off and requires good footwork and range control, but opens up a variety of new attack options.

As always, if you have questions for Ask the Champion, send an email to glen@malletofprovidence.com and I will answer them in my column.

Ask the Champion: Overcoming Overthinking and Uncertainty

Dear Champion:

I often find myself not doing anything because everything I can think of will get me killed. I have been taught a number of different shots, but I avoid throwing them because I’m terrible at them. What should I do?

Overthought and Outfought

Dear Overthought:

The answer is really simple: throw a shot. Like most simple answers, though, this one isn’t very useful without some context. So let’s look at the different scenarios when either overthinking or a lack of confidence is causing you problems; being unable to choose a shot, lack of confidence in a shot, and a lack of confidence in your strengths.

Being Unable To Choose a Shot

The most common form of over thinking leads to freezing up in combat. Ironically, it often starts to afflict fighters as they become more knowledgeable and skilled. The fighter begins to think through their attack plans and anticipate the responses of his or her opponent in place of raw newbie aggression. However, it turns out that there is a counter to every move. There is no such thing as a guaranteed shot. So the fighter gets locked into a loop of, “If I do X, he will counter with Y and then hit me with Z. So I better not do that. But if I do A, he will counter with B and hit me with C. So I better not do that.” The fighter will enter an endless cycle of this, since every move has a counter, and end up doing nothing.

The short term solution to this is to give yourself a count; after your third discarded plan, you have to do the third one. You don’t get to try to figure out a fourth plan that will ensure your victory. You don’t get to pick one of your earlier plans (and then procrastinate longer while you try to pick one of those three.) You just execute Plan Three, even if it seems doomed to failure. This will accomplish two things; first, it keeps you from standing there until the other guy decides on his plan, and kills you. Second, it teaches you the important lesson that just because a shot has a counter, doesn’t mean the other guy is going to do it, or do it correctly. You will find that your “discarded as a doomed failure” plan sometimes leads to victory.

That second lesson is the long-term solution: learning that you are not seeking the guaranteed win (because there isn’t one), just the plan with a good chance of leading to victory or survival. This lesson is something that is easy to understand intellectually but hard to internalize so that you can act on it. Doing something, anything, is usually better than doing nothing.

Another tool you can use is to talk things out with the other fighter. Go ahead with your plan, even if it seems horrible. If it works as planned, hooray! If it does not, ask the other fighter about his thought process. What was he expecting, what was his reaction, why was that his reaction, whether he has any alternate suggestions, and what would he have done in your place. This discussion can help you reach the long-term goal of understanding that there is no perfect plan, give you confidence in your planning, and help you devise better attack plans. Good fighters love these sorts of theoretical discussions.

Lack of Confidence in a Shot

Fighters often artificially limit their shot selection to shots they are good at or that they know will work. This is a fine thing to do in a tournament and a terrible thing to do anywhere else. The fighter believes that he or she is unable to throw the shot correctly, and, rather than throw it incorrectly, the fighter chooses not to throw it at all. Often this is done under the reasoning of “not wanting to practice it wrong.”

There is no way to learn to throw a shot correctly without first throwing it wrong. Many, many times. There is no shame in screwing up a shot; every single good fighter has completely botched every shot they can throw. It is how they learned in the first place. A fighter needs to practice throwing a shot, failing, and trying to figure out what went wrong, over and over and over and over and over. That is how you get good at something.

When you are sparring or ditching, that is precisely when you should be throwing the shots you are bad at. Do not hold off on throwing a shot until you feel you’ve perfected in on a pell. Do not avoid throwing a shot because you know it won’t land simply because you’re bad at that shot. Throw it and get some practice in! If you are doing it wrong, or think you are doing it wrong, ask someone to give you critique on your shot. The more you have practiced it, even “wrong”, the easier it will be for you to understand and incorporate their feedback.

People also sometimes avoid throwing shots they think they are bad at in order to avoid being embarrassed, especially in front of their instructor. If someone has taught you a new shot, throw it on them the next time you fight them, even if you’re still awful at it or haven’t had a chance to practice it much yet. That’s the best way to show them that you valued their instruction and advice. If you get it wrong, this also gives you grounds for asking for help refining it. No one expects you to master a shot the first time, but they do expect you to keep trying it out.

Lack of Confidence in Your Strengths

Fighters often talk themselves out of victory by convincing themselves that the other person is better (which may be true) and then failing to play to their own strengths. Often a fighter will change their fighting style.

The most common way this manifests is in switching to a passive, rapid-retreat and arm-snipe fighting style. I recently saw an up-and-coming fighter, who had just fairly conclusively demonstrated that I could no longer get one-shot kills on them, at all, due to rock-solid primary blocks and counters, completely abandon this hard-earned skill-set in favor of trying to keep the range open, evade shots rather than block, and then trace arm snipes at the opponent. I wanted to jump up and down and scream.

There is no easy solution to this, except to remember to always fight like you and not suddenly change your style just because you’re facing someone who you think is better than you. It is perfectly acceptable to adapt your style because you have an alternate skill-set that will better defeat theirs, or because you are testing out something new or learning new stuff. It is not okay to change your fighting style out of fear of defeat.

The best way to do a self-evaluation and check if you are doing this is to decide if you have ceded control of the fight. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to this, but there are several scenarios where the answer is “you are probably letting uncertainty rule you.”

If you’re being passive instead of using a specific concrete plan (not get hit and snipe arms is not a specific or concrete plan) to control the fight, you’re letting uncertainty rule you. Figure out a plan and put it into action. Even if you want to snipe an arm, you should have a plan to control when they throw a shot, what shot they will throw, how you will avoid getting hit, what shot you will use to hit the arm, and so forth.

If you are spending all your time retreating and evading instead of engaging and blocking, you’re letting uncertainty rule you. There are definitely times to open range, and there are times when evading is better than blocking, but if that is all you’re doing then you are probably avoiding the fight instead of participating in it. Sometimes a fighter will be doing this in order to maneuver into more favorable positioning, but often the fighter is telling themselves they’re “maneuvering” but they don’t have any plan behind their maneuvers except “don’t get hit”.

If you normally fight a certain way, but not you aren’t doing any of the things you normally do, you’ve probably let uncertainty change your fighting style. If the person you were fighting was a low-skill fighter, would your overall style be different? If so, you’re letting uncertainty control the fight instead of yourself. Pretend the person you’re fighting is a fighter who is just a little bit less-skilled than you. Now do what you would do in that situation. You will probably find more success than you were having.

Conclusions

Overall, the answer to all of this is “be yourself” and “just do something.” You do this by accepting that you can not win them all and that there is no shame in failure. You ultimately need to learn to embrace failure (which sounds easy but is ultimately very difficult) because failure is an inevitable side-effect of learning.  So go out and try those new shots. Mess them up. Bop people in the head. (But not me!) Accidentally fling your sword across the field. Lose ingloriously because your plan failed. These failures are the hidden fees and surcharges that you have to pay in order to become truly good. It will all pay off eventually.

As always, if you have questions for Ask the Champion, send an email to glen@malletofprovidence.com and I will answer them in my column.

Ask The Champion: Training in Isolation

Dear Champion:

I am having trouble improving as a fighter. Many people at my park do not wish to fight against me anymore, as I have discouraged them. My goal is to ascend to Warlord, and eventually Sword Knight. I do not have access to veterans able to teach me the proper ways to improve, but have been doing everything I can to train in my free time. What can I do, as someone who does not always have time or money to travel to more experienced fighters, to improve my fighting so I can be on par with top fighters and warlords?

Unascended

Dear Unascended:

That’s an excellent question, and one with many answers. I’ve spent a lot of time without access to a better fighter locally, so I’ve had to find a lot of ways to overcome the same obstacles you are now facing. I’ll group these methods into local improvements, learning from less skilled fighters, training yourself, train others, getting remote training, and maximizing your travel benefits. I encourage you to do all of these things. Also, go to SKBC.

Local Improvements

Attitude. As you become a better and better fighter, it becomes more and more important that you be nice. Extremely nice. After you murder someone ten times in a row, the only thing that will keep them fighting you is your positive and fun attitude. Little things like a sincere, “Good shot” every time someone kills you, and complementing people whenever they do something cool or interesting, can keep people fighting you.

Play Down. You can also play “down” in ditching and battlegames. I’m not saying throw fights or let people win. Never do that. However, if you’re unstoppable with sword and board, your florentine probably needs work. Work on that for a while. If it’s a single sword ditch or game and you’re dominating, switch to your off hand. Don’t mention that you’re playing down, don’t get upset if people are overjoyed to finally beat you; remember, be nice and don’t rub their face in their inferiority. Also accept that you’ll lose a lot more than you otherwise would; your goal is excellence and improvement, not victory. Not only do you get much-needed practice, but other people get to win, which will keep them coming back.

Find a sparring partner. They don’t have to be better than you. They don’t even have to be competent. They just have to be willing to spar with you. If they are willing to do drills with you, even better, but you just finding a regular sparring partner is pure gold. Training up some competition will make you better. Take the long view.

Learn From Less-Skilled Fighters

You can learn from inferior fighters, and they don’t even have to be training with you. They could be the guy you face in a battle game, or your regular sparring partner. This takes a lot of mental discipline, but at the Warlord level the game has a very large mental component anyway; learn it early.

Shot Discipline. If there is a shot that always works on someone, stop using it. Pull it out once every day or two just to keep it from getting rusty, but just mark off that that shot works, call yourself a winner, and start working on making a second shot work. Then a third. And so on. If you can kill someone three times in a row with a shot, you’re done using that shot on them. This will force you to learn new shots and perfect new techniques, instead of relying on your current repertoire.

Free Drilling. There are several drills you can do with inferior fighters, and you don’t even need them to know you’re doing it for it to work. Block-X is a drill where you do not throw any shots until you have blocked X shots from the person you are fighting. It’s good if you normally win through aggression. Pick-A-Shot is a drill where the only kill shot you throw is one you choose before you engage, and you have to figure out the setup you will need to throw that shot and survive. CBE is a drill where you Close on an opponent, Block their attacks, then Egress out of range without throwing a shot. Draw-A-Shot is a game where you attempt to bait your opponent into throwing a specific shot, and you can not throw a real shot (feints are allowed) until they throw that shot, and your kill shot has to be a specific counter to that shot. These drills all work best if you don’t tell the other guy what you are doing.

Train Yourself

Keep a journal. Jot down a few notes whenever you fight someone new. What worked, what didn’t, what they did that worked, and a rough description of how they fight. If you have particularly interesting or challenging people you fight, make regular updates to your journal.

Take video of yourself fighting. This is one of the most useful tools for the rising fighter. Be merciless in your self-critique. The first time I watched video of myself fighting, I was amazed that I ever won anything. Invite critique from others. Make notes and add them to your fight journal.

Watch other people fight. Skilled or unskilled; it does not matter. You can watch videos of fights, or just random people fighting while you’re getting a drink or sitting in Nirvana. Try to predict what each fighter will do and what they should do. Compare results to your predictions. Being able to read other fighters is a critical skill.

Drills. Get a pell. Do pell drills. Find some open space. Do footwork drills. Do more footwork drills.

Improve your cardio. For almost everyone, improving their cardio is the best thing they can do to improve their fighting.

Think. This one is pretty generic, but constantly thinking about and analyzing your fighting is your most useful training tool. “How can I throw this shot on this guy?” “How can I make that guy do X?” “How can a land a shot in THAT area that none of my shots target?”

Train Others

Teach. Whether it is your sparring partner or people at the park who want advice, teaching others is an excellent way to learn. Training is an excellent way to force yourself to reexamine concepts and clarify them to yourself so that you can explain them to others. Watching the guy you’re fighting for flaws, figuring out how to exploit them, and how you would correct them is a critical skill for all top fighters. Teaching people, even newbies, will start honing this skill.

Get Remote Training

Videos. There are a lot of videos out there. Some are crap. Many are excellent. Brennon and Spyn and Brett have all put out a large quantity of quality videos you can find on Youtube.

Connect. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people online. I get about one question a week from random people asking for fighting advice on Facebook. For more visible fighters and warlords, I expect they field several a week. If you have a specific and precise question, we’re generally okay with taking a few minutes to answer it. Though sometimes those few minutes are a week after you first send me the question.

Maximize Your Travel Benefits

Ditch in the deep end. This is not only good practice, but it can help you network with other fighters. Half the people I know in Amtgard I met on the ditch field.

Network. When you go to events, spar with other fighters. Most top fighters are always willing to stop ditching to spar with someone who asks, and anyone standing still holding weapons is a sparring partner waiting to happen. Make new friends and meet new people. These are the people you’ll be talking shop with and asking for help later, and if they know you they’re more likely to be there for you.

Talk shop. Everyone who is any good loves to talk shop. Theory, amusing anecdotes, style analysis of people they’ve fought, how awesome they are; fighters absolutely love talking about this stuff.

Ask questions. Be Specific. A good fighter is always willing to explain how he killed you, how a shot works, how to defend against something they did, or what you did wrong. That’s fun for them. However, it is annoying when someone simply asks, “How do I fight florentine?” or something equally generic. I have well over a decade’s worth of fighting knowledge in my head. I can’t sit down and tell it to you. Where am I supposed to start? (The answer is I’m going to start with the very basics, so if you’re a newbie, good question! If you’re not a newbie, you’ve wasted both our times.) More specific questions show that you’ve already put in the brainwork and aren’t expecting to be spoon fed, and are easy to answer. You can keep asking more questions.

Test Yourself. When you find good people, now it is time to try out or talk shop about the new things you’ve worked out on inferior fighters. Sometimes you’ll find that a shot that works on bad fighters is suicide against a good fighter. Sometimes these shots can be modified and salvaged, other times you have to write it off as “only works on bad fighters, but works every time on them.” I have a few of those.

As always, if you have questions for Ask the Champion, send an email to glen@malletofprovidence.com and I will answer them in my column.