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?
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.
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.
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?”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer them in my column.