Tag Archives: Combat Rule

The Rules of Combat, Part 1

Everyone who has ever had to take an English class has heard about the rules of good writing; don’t end a sentence with a proposition, don’t split an infinitive, don’t begin a sentence with “and” or “but”, and so forth. These are hard and fast rules for beginning writers, but experienced writers break them all the time. Writers do this because they fully understand the rules, why they’re important, and break them specifically and intentionally to achieve some literary effect.

Amtgard has rules of good combat. These rules are hard and fast rules for beginning fighters, who should only break them as they become more experienced and are fully aware of the reasons for and against breaking them, and who choose to knowingly violate the rules to achieve some specific combat effect. Today I’m going to go through the rules of combat and explain why they make good rules of thumb and then offer some instances when breaking the rules is a good idea.

Don’t throw to the outside. This is often stated more specifically as  “Don’t throw to the outside against a lefty.” Making an attack in an outside lane typically puts the opponent’s weapon between your weapon and your body. This makes your shot easier to block and, if it is a weapon instead of a shield that is between your weapon and your body, you are much more open to a riposte. As a righty against a lefty, you are throwing the single-most common shot the lefty encounters and he will often aggressively block your shot and riposte into your arm or shoulder. For a lefty, since righties are dumber, you’re at less risk, but a higher-end righty will punish you the same way you would punish a normal righty.

Once you are aware of these risks it is permissible to break this rule. Throwing to the outside can still be successful, either because you created an opening with a setup feint or because an opening exists already. A shot thrown to the outside can also be used as the first part of setting up another shot, as it will draw a predictable counter. Alternately, a shot thrown to the outside can be pulled through, allowing you to end the shot on the inside lane.

Don’t move your shield. This is one of the simplest pieces of advice given to newbie shield users. They often are holding their shield in the wrong place or flailing their shield all over the place, making greatly exaggerated blocks that leave them wide open. additionally, moving your shield can make it easier for people to fake you into moving your shield out of position. So it is not uncommon for a more experience fighter to help them place their shield in a decent guard position and then tell them not to move it.

Moving your shield allows for a greater variety of shots. A static shield will become a hindrance as your shot selection expands, so moving it will become necessary to throw some shots. The Darkside is a classic example of this. Additionally, shield movement can be used to disguise body movement. Finally, moving your shield expands the area it can cover, so moving your shield intelligently will increase your defensive options.

Block sword side with your sword. This advice is related to the previous advice. If you move your shield over to block your sword side, you not only open up your shield side to attack but your own shield gets in the way of riposting. Conversely, if you block with your sword you can open them up to a strong and fairly safe riposte.

The most common instance where you will want to break this rule is when you are doing something else with your sword. If you are in the middle of attack you may not have a good option for blocking a strike beyond your shield. If you are fighting a tracer, using your shield to block your sword arm as you strike may be a viable tactic. Some pocket stabs (stabs to the sword shoulder) are more effectively blocked by rotating and taking the stab on the shield instead of clearing the stab with your sword. Still, if your sword is not doing anything else at the moment, it ought to be blocking your sword side.

Your hand is too high. I suspect this is a legacy of sword-blocking high-crosses in righty-on-righty combat. Many, many people have a sword-and-board guard where their sword-hand is too high. This not only exposes the hip, ribs and the forearm to strikes of all sorts, but the response to strikes to the hip area are often responded to by rapidly jerking the hand down to catch the block, which is difficult to reverse rapidly and leaves the shoulder open after a fake to the hip.

This rule is harder for me to find exceptions to. The only time I will raise my guard is when I am fighting sword-foot forward against another lefty, and even then the rise in guard is minimal. Florentine is a totally different ballgame, though; then your hands are usually too low, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

Block Forward. This advice is tied to the Rogue-propagated concept of the Cone of Defense. The central idea is that blocks towards the point of origin of the attack (opponent’s sword-arm shoulder) can be smaller movements and therefore are faster. Having the arm forward instead of back also speeds the riposte after the block is made. Additionally, blocking forward can disrupt an attack and stall the attacker’s movement, leaving them exposed for a longer time to a riposte. Finally, if the defender is drawing the arm back to avoid the attack instead of blocking it, a movement commonly referred to as “chain-sawing”, a simple stutter can push the defender’s guard out of position for the real attack.

The primary time not to block forward is against deep wraps or other wide-angle shots where a forward block is going to be ahead of the pivot point of the wrap or inside the arc of the pivot. This really just gets to a refinement of the original rule, though; block forward, but don’t overextend your blocks. In practice, though, this can lead to blocks that are nearly even with your hips against the deepest wraps.

Never throw the same shot a second time in a row. Repetition of the same shot is one of the surest ways to lose a fight. First, the shot has already failed; the other guy has demonstrated that he can block the shot. Worse, it creates a pattern that effectively tells the other person, in advance, what you are going to do. Winning is much easier if you know exactly what the other guy is going to do.

I tend to modify this for experienced fighters to “don’t throw the same shot three times in a row.” Throwing the same shot twice does establish a pattern, and the first person to break a pattern tends to win. If you set up the pattern so they expect a third shot in the same area and then change things up you may catch them falsely anticipating you and therefore out of position to block your actual attack. A second reason to break this rule is that many people will reset to a standard guard between attacks, and a double attack can hit them when they’re still thinking that attack has been handled and is over with. This is mostly effective against lower-end fighters. It is important to remember that higher-end fighters are better at reading these patterns and will often read and murder you for the second attack.

Tune in next time for part 2, when we take a look at some more combat rules.

Throwing to the Outside

If you’re uncertain about a term used in this post, please check the Terminology page.

Someone recently asked why throwing to the outside is wrong. They correctly pointed out that throwing to the outside on a lefty draws a somewhat predictable return and that there is potential to capitalize on this predictability; the righty can throw to the outside, block the predicted return, and riposte for victory. Therefore, let me address the question of “Why is your default advice to righties not to throw to the outside?”

There are a few answers to this question. The first, and most basic, is that “Don’t throw to the outside” is good beginner advice, like “Don’t start a sentence with a preposition.” Good fighters, like good writers, learn the rules, and then actively choose to break them for specific, intelligently-chosen reasons. You can throw to the outside, but you’re breaking a basic rule so you better have a good reason for doing it.

The second is that it is simply dangerous. Reactive actions are faster than initiative actions[1]. Worse for you, the lefty is accustomed to this exchange and likely has it drilled to a higher degree of skill than the rest of his game. You’re throwing his favorite combo. Generally you want to avoid giving people their best-case scenario and look for weaker areas in the fighter. So you shouldn’t just do it willy-nilly. Of course, as you get higher-skill lefties, the skill-variation between this shot and other shots narrows as they equalize their skill at all areas of their game. Likewise, as the righty grows in skill, this becomes less risky simply because he knows it is risky and has planned accordingly.

The third answer is that you can use people’s habits and reflexes against them, and in that scenario throwing to the outside is acceptable. This gets into the “chess game” of fighting, where it is not just a matter of physical ability, but of mental preparation and planning. You plan to throw to the outside, draw the inside return, block, and riposte for victory. That works, until the lefty plans to draw a shot to the outside, block, counter to the inside to draw a riposte, block, and then riposte for victory. That works until… you get the idea. Of course, the other guy may not follow into your plan, so mental flexibility remains important.

So, in brief, “don’t throw to the outside” is a “combat rule.” It is permissible to break a combat rule, but you need to know what rule you’re breaking, why you’re breaking it, and what the repercussions of breaking the rule are.

Addendum: Brett pointed out the value of off-timed shots, and made an excellent point. I have included his comment, slightly edited for terminology.

I don’t think you take into account off timed shots. Assuming I am sword and board, I usually throw outside to trigger a predictable riposte and kill them in the riposte. I’m talking about an outside beat into a counter attack. I don’t want to block and then exchange; I want their reactions to be automatically wrong.

[1] Andrew E. Welchman, James Stanley, Malte R. Schomers, R. Chris Miall1 and Heinrich H. Bülthoff.  “The Quick and the Dead: When Reaction Beats Intention“. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2010 Jun 7;277(1688):1667-74