I am a large fighter and I’m taller than average. Typically when fighting smaller fighters, I see them leaping and darting around. Even at my thinnest, I am just not build for such maneuvers. Do you have any suggestions on resources, specific fighting styles, or advice for someone who doesn’t fit the average mold?
Your question boils down to two related areas: how can you maximize your economy of motion so you don’t do as much extraneous dancing around as some players do, and how you can still be effective with minimal or inferior footwork.
The answer to both these questions depends on your fighting goals. If you want to reach the warlord level, not all of these solutions are going to work for you. While not all warlords are going to be as physically mobile and kinetic as someone like Diego, even a warlord with extremely conservative body motion, like Brennon, still does a certain amount of movement to gain and retain tactical advantages. If you don’t aspire to warlord (not everyone who wants to become a better fighter has to aspire to being the best fighter; Amtgard has room for all skill levels) or you want to advance to the top reaches of fighting, but still have some “down time” options for when you’re tired and feeling less energetic, all of these options become feasible.
There are two reasons for movement; controlling range and creating openings. If you’re fighting multiple opponents, movement is also used to convert the fight from a single many-on-one fight to a series of one-on-one fights, but there’s no good way to do that without a lot of movement, so we’re going to ignore many-on-one scenarios for this discussion.
Range is controlled to get into range for your own attacks and to get out of range of your opponent’s. As a taller person, getting into range is not as big of a problem as it would be for a shorter person; in order to get into their range, your opponents will probably have to get into yours. You can increase your benefits here with equipment changes. While long swords are never going to become dominant in fighting as long as people can close, you can probably go a bit beyond the standard 36″ sword without too much trouble. Wyldecatt, a warlord up in Tal Dagore, once explained to me his theory on sword length, and how the ideal sword should be the length from your spine to your out-stretched fingers, which in his case was 39″. He backed it up with a bunch of martial arts experience, so he probably knows what he’s talking about. On the other hand, I won the tournament and I use a 35″ sword, so your mileage may vary.
Another weapon combination that will help you increase your range is the short sword and downspear combination. With a typical 5′ downspear, you’ve got pretty good range and are going to be the bane of florentiners everywhere. On the flip side, giant shields are actually useful against downspears, so they’ll be a bit of a problem. My downspear percentage at a game like Dagorhir (home of the giant shields) isn’t much better than my single sword percentage. Warlord Brett of the Emerald Hills is one of the best people to ask for downspear tips, and he’s a pretty approachable guy. Downspears also help create openings without requiring footwork; people get so focused on defeating the downspear as they transition forward through its range that they forget to switch threat priorities when they cross from the downspear’s threat range to the short sword’s threat range, and then you hit them in the shoulder.
Without switching equipment, there are some stylistic things you can do to control range with minimal movement and generate openings. Adding “stall” shots to your repertoire can help. Stall shots are shots that are not intended to inflict wounds on the other player but instead are intended to force the other player to move to counter them in a way that arrests his movement. The most obvious is a swipe at the leg above the knee. You don’t even have to actually be in range to hit them; just be close enough. (Don’t bend at the waist to throw the shot, though, or you’re giving up your precious range by moving your shoulders closer to them, which is bad.) Many fighters will move back when faced with a swipe at their leg. (Some will jump. Shame on them.) Another common tactic, which is also used just to create an opening, is a strike to the opponent’s sword hand. You’re not extending far enough into their threat space to really risk getting hit, but they’re still going to block the attack, which will often stall fighters or encourage them to open range. It may also draw a predictable riposte, which gives you an opening to block and riposte yourself. Finally, sometimes taking a small step forward will cause opponents, especially the most jumpy one, to retreat far more than you advanced, again opening range.
If you’re not moving much, opponents are ultimately going to close, so it behooves you to learn to deal with that too. Learn to “grind”, which is fighting up close and personal, face to face. A lot of fighters are going to be reluctant to close if, when they close, you take a small step forward and get right in their grill. (Remember not to crash into them or knock them over. Dag or Bel players reading this may feel free to worry less about crashing into them, but should keep in mind that shield bashing ties up your shield when you need it most and has, almost universally, let me kill the basher when people do it to me in those games. Precision of movement is always important.) Torches are good people to learn this style from, since it is the only thing they know how to do. But they do it very well. Dome shields are going to be superior to flat shields if you do a lot of grinding because you can hook them over your shoulder without angling them.
If you are fighting florentine, you need to remember to collapse and widen your guard when you get to grinding range; hardly anyone (but a few will stab you a lot) is going to throw a lot of stabs when you’re close enough to kiss them, but they’re going to throw a lot of outside chops and some outside wraps. Warlord Tato, or if you’re out in the barren East, Warlord Gilan of the most excellent Winter’s Edge, provide excellent examples of this when they close to grinding range.
Another way to “deal with it” is to do a lot of block-strike. The ability to block and immediately riposte with a strong return is very important when you’re not willing or able to open range. Even a little bit of regular block-strike is going to up your game. Many people are going to close in and swing, and a surprising number don’t have a plan after that. Blocking that initial swing and riposting with any sort of shot vastly increases your chances of winning compared to simply blocking. The way you block in these circumstances is also going to potentially create openings you can exploit; an aggressive sword-side block forward, for example, is going to create better opportunities than pulling your guard back and tight to block.
Shot precision is also going to be critical. As a larger guy, you’ve generally got a range advantage. If you can snipe at a momentary opening quickly and precisely, you’re going to be able to take people out before they get into range. The best way to develop this is with a lot of pell work with a light sword. Using a light sword lets you get used to moving at a high speed while targeting specific locations on the pell.
Finally, don’t be afraid to switch up your stance. Transitioning from sword-forward to shield-forward (and vice-versa) when someone advances on you completely changes the makeup of your defense, which will force them to either commit deeper or pull up short, depending on what shot they were planning, which will often screw up their attack plan.
That was a lot of data and a number of suggestions. Don’t try to follow or process all of them. Pick out a few that appeal to you and go with those. You can always come back and get more ideas to work with in the future. You have a number of options to choose from; just like going to Baskin-Robbins, don’t try to eat all 31 flavors at once. Also keep in mind that, while all these suggestions and substitutions can help, none are as good as having good footwork.
As always, if you have questions for Ask the Champion, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer them in my weekly column.