Tag Archives: Dear Champion

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.

Ask the Champion: Choosing Something to Work On

Dear Champion:

I have a laundry list of things I need to improve; footwork, stance, guard, shot accuracy, shot selection, feints, baits, combos…. I’m overwhelmed. Where do I begin and how do I go about improving in a smart and logical fashion.

Overwhelmed in the Wetlands

Dear Overwhelmed:

That is an excellent question. The answer is not going to be the same for everyone, but hopefully I can give you some guidance that will help you find the best answer for you. There is a general hierarchy that will serve as your framework for deciding what to work on next; guard, stance, footwork, shot accuracy, shot selection, feints and baits. However, you can’t simply work through this linearly, developing the perfect guard before learning anything about your stance, then perfecting your stance before you learn anything about footwork. That just doesn’t work. It would also be intensely boring to spend months practicing your guard instead of fighting. Instead, there are a couple ways to decide what to work on next; the “what am I doing wrong?” approach, the “what am I not doing?” approach, and the “what should I be doing?” approach. We’ll look at all three.

When a newbie first shows up, you show him how to hold his sword, how to stand, and show him a couple basic shots. Then you turn him loose. When he comes to you for help later, you are generally going to have one “biggest mistake” he is making, and fixing that will give him the best improvement for his efforts. He may be only throwing one shot, he may be throwing his one shot incorrectly. He may be holding his shield far too low. After he fixes that, you find the next big problem, and so on.

This is one method for finding where you need to improve; find a flaw and fix it. What is the one thing that gets you killed most often, or what is the most common way you get killed. Isolate that and you’ve found the next thing you need to work on.

As you become more skilled, you need to start finding gaps in your fighting instead of flaws, i.e. figuring out what you’re not doing at all. Do you only throw shots to certain quadrants of the opponent? Then you need to develop some shots that attack the quadrants you are neglecting. Do you always move around to the shield side of your opponent? You need to develop some moves that require moving around to the sword side. Analyzing what you do, then comparing it to the set of “everything it is humanly possible to do” can help you find gaps in your skills.

A third method in deciding what to work on is to take a holistic approach and figure out what your fighting development path should be. That is no one true path, and I’ve never actually sat down before and charted out a full fighting development path (and I’m very glad your question got me thinking about this!), but here is a rough estimate of what your progress path should look like. If you’re behind in something, that is probably the area you should work on next. This isn’t a hard and fast ordering; if you start doing great stabs as a newbie, awesome. That just means you don’t have “shots” as an area that needs tons of work until you get your other areas up to speed.

  1. Level 1 Fighting
    1. Basic Stance/Guard: When you are standing still, how you hold your gear, where your feet go, and how you hold your body.
    2. Basic Shots: The three basics of chop, high cross, and wrap, plus the straight stab. Throw and return to guard. Nothing fancy.
    3. Basic Blocks: Sword blocks sword side, shield blocks shield side. Nothing fancy.
    4. Basic Movement: Moving forward and backwards without dropping out of guard.
  2. Level 2 Fighting
    1. Basic Ripostes: Learning to throw a good basic shot as an immediate riposte after blocking a shot. The goal is to exploit people’s failure to return to guard.
    2. Basic Range Control: Keeping out of the Danger Zone and controlling when the opponent is in yours against static and near static opponents. Basic footwork drills like two-step are useful.
    3. Intermediate Stance/Guard: There is more than one guard and stance. You should be trying others, and returning to your guard through the highest probability return after throwing a shot. (Hello, Block-Strike)
    4. Intermediate Shots: Stabs and other more complex shots, such as the darkside. These shots require more precise weapon control (pocket stab) or have multiple motions that need to be done in order to complete the shot (darkside).
    5. Intermediate Blocks: Blocks that violate the sword-side/sword-block rule. Aggressive or weapon controlling blocks, blocking in the opponent’s space or other opportunity-specific blocks.
    6. Intermediate Movement: Moving laterally while maintaining stance and moving at angles. Transitioning from one stance to another while moving without exposing yourself. Footwork drills composed of multiple movement types are really your friend. You should begin experimenting with cross-steps and lateral movement.
  3. Level 3 Fighting
    1. Basic Feints and Baits: Start with the more obvious baits: exposed shield shoulder, cross both feint, et cetera. These should be fairly safe moves and only require a few basic movements.
    2. Intermediate Counterattacks and Ripostes: Counterattacks that jam the opponent, Throwing more complex shots as ripostes, how to draw attacks you can riposte from. (Overlaps with feints and baits)
    3. Intermediate Range Control: closing on fast retreaters, keeping range open on fast closers. “Follow the Leader” and “Close on the Wall” are good drills.
    4. Advanced Shots: You start building new shots that fill in holes in your attack space repertoire. You may start wasting time with spin shots. “Shots”, “movement” and “feints and baits” start to blend together.
    5. Advanced Range Control: You should be able to move rapidly in any direction and be able to control range control to within an inch or so. Partner stop and go drills, “Follow the Leader” with multiple movement types, laterals, angles and cross-steps.
  4. Level 4 Fighting
    1. Elite Fighting: You don’t need a roadmap at this point. You should also start teaching at this point, since teaching will force you to develop a better and more cerebral understanding of your own fighting, which will in turn make you a better fighter.

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 – Pell Work

Dear Champion:

I hear, very frequently, that in other activities similar to Amtgard pell training is highly encouraged. Does pell training have value in Amtgard, and if so how should I go about doing it?

Fighter Practice Absentee


 

Dear Absentee:

Pell training is an excellent addition to your Amtgard training regime. I use a pell myself, especially during times when I am injured and am unable to do any sparring. I encourage anyone who wants to improve as a fighter to put some pell time in. There are many ways you can use a pell to advance your fighting and many ways to get yourself a pell.

Getting and Setting Up Your Pell

The easiest way to get a pell is to buy one. I bought mine, which is an upright boxing bag, for about $75 from Sports Authority. You could probably shop around at Play-It-Again Sports or Craigslist and get something cheaper. You can also make your own. The cheapest solution there is to beat up a tree your don’t particularly like. (Be aware that continual abuse of the bark may make the tree more susceptible to parasites. Use a tree you hate.) I used to have an $8 fence post I’d picked up from Home Depot and sunk into the ground in my backyard  and then build a box of scrap shield foam around. You’ll want to ensure your pell is padded, so you don’t destroy your practice swords as quickly. My upright bag is also wrapped in a towel to reduce the noise, since I use it indoors because I love air conditioning.

Once you’ve got your pell, mark it with duct tape. I put four bands of tape around mine, equally spaced apart, to help me choose specific target zones. I also recommend at least two swords, one fairly light, and one the same weight as your normal swords. If you are practicing Florentine, you’ll eventually need two of each, but you can put that off by using both the light and normal swords, and switching them between hands. Do not use your normal fighting swords for pell work or you’re going to wreck them much faster; your pell doesn’t care about cored out swords but your fellow fighters do. I also recommend something pretty heavy (which I will henceforth call the “Very Heavy Object”, “VHO”, or “Grix”), such as a length of metal pipe, that you can use for slow-motion practice of swings to work on your body mechanics.

Using Your Pell

There are several different ways you can use your pell. You can use it to practice new shots you have been shown or put some polish on an existing one you already use, you can practice attack patterns, or you can use it to do some general conditioning to improve your general shot coordination. You can also just go hit it really hard for the heck of it.

Shot Practice

The most basic way to use a pell is to practice a specific shot. Perhaps your reverse wrap is giving you trouble, and you need to work through the shot and then practice it until it is smooth, accurate, and fast. For this sort of practice, you’re going to start with your Very Heavy Object. Get into your fighting stance, advance into strike range, and pick out your target on the pell. Then, very slowly, go through the motions of the shot. The Very Heavy Object will put some strain on your muscles, joints, and assorted connective tissue as you throw the shot. If there are motions where you have to muscle through something, or where your joints lock or resist the motion, that means you have a problem with your shot. Work through alternative motions until the shot motion is smooth and you don’t have to fight your body to do it. You *will* be able to muscle through or force the shot with a lighter sword, but that’s going to be hard on your body and make your shot slower. Use the VHO to remove those problems from your shot mechanics. This is worth experimenting with even for shots you already think you’re pretty good at. Make sure you’re returning to guard as part of the shot; the energy recovery part of the shot (returning to guard) is as important to get right as the “hitting the other guy” part.

Once you’ve worked out the shot mechanics, you can graduate to your normal sword. Get back in your stance and throw the shot, still at a glacial pace. Repeat. Again. After ten successful shots, increase the pace slightly. Go ten more times. Now throw the shot a little faster. Repeat this process until you are throwing the shot correctly at full speed. If you make a mistake or the shot doesn’t feel right, go back to the previous speed where you did get ten in a row right and try again. If you find yourself just botching it after a while, take a break. Tired muscles perform poorly.

The light sword is for building speed. Once you’ve got the shot down with your normal sword, you can intermix some practice with the light sword, going at your maximum speed. Practicing quickness builds quickness. Don’t devolve to only practicing with the light sword, though, or it will throw off your shot timing.

General Coordination

The second way to use a pell is to increase general coordination using your normal weight sword. If your off-hand is completely incompetent, this might be a good place to start with it. The general concept is to throw a variety of very simple chops to the pell, to get your brain used to moving your arm in the “swing a sword” type of way. This drill is either a 6×6 or 8×8 drill, depending on your level of conditioning and endurance. Divide your pell into three (or 4) equally spaced targets on each side of the pell, to represent thigh, side, and shoulder (or thigh, hip, side, shoulder) of an imaginary pell warrior. Number them 1 to 6 (or 1 to 8.) Strike location one, then one again. Then strike location one, then location two. Then one/three. 1/4. 1/5. 1/6. (1/7. 1/8.) You have now completed one circuit of this drill. Go back and hit location two and then location one. Then hit location two, then location two. Then two/three. 2/4. 2/5. 2/6. (2/7. 2/8.) Do this until you have done all six (or eight) circuits. Now do it in reverse, starting from 6/6 (or 8/8), then hitting 6 and 5 (8/7), then 6 and 4 (8/6), going all the way back to 1/1. You will have thrown 72 (or 128!) shots when you are done. I switch hands before reversing directions, so both hands do 1/1 to 8/8 before I do 8/8 to 1/1. You can also do this with your light sword at your maximum speed to work on your quickness.

Attack Sequences

The third way to use a pell is to practice an entire attack sequence. Start out of range, plan your footwork, the setup for the shot (feint, bait, or just your pre-shot body positioning), the shot itself, the recovery to guard, and your exit motion to get back out of range. Start slow, moving deliberately through each motion, looking for flaws, hitches, or difficulties. Just like practicing the shot alone, repeat it again and again, then increase the speed and try it again, until eventually you are doing it correctly at full speed. This isn’t as good as practicing it against a live participant, since pells don’t move, but most people won’t let you practice hitting them with the same shot 100 times in a row, either.

When using a pell, it is common to start working on shots single sword. Do not neglect the rest of the game, however. Practice your shots using your full set of normal equipment. Pick up a shield or a second sword, since this is going to change how you throw your shots.

Common Mistakes

There are several common mistakes people make when using a pell. The most common is starting out full speed and just swinging away at it. The purpose of the pell is to perfect your shots. Practice does not, it turns out, make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Make sure you’re practicing the right thing before you practice doing it a thousand times.

When you are using a pell, form is critical. Strikes should be a function of your entire body, not just your arm moving while your body remains motionless. This is not Bizarro Riverdance. Power comes from the feet and is channeled by the torso. Get your body involved. If you’re just standing there chopping wood by swinging your arm you’re not getting anything useful from your time spent at the pell.

A second common mistake is forgetting to return to guard when practicing shots. For the 6×6 and 8×8 drills, you do not have to return to guard. For shot-practicing drills, returning to guard is an integral part of what you should be practicing.

People also often make the mistake of using a pell for increased endurance or for strength training. If you want to increase the amount of time you can spend on the field fighting, pell training is the least effective way you can accomplish that. Straight-up cardio training, whether it is swimming, cycling, walking, or jogging, is going to do the most to increase your endurance. Fighting is all about body movement; standing at a pell for an hour hitting it isn’t going to dramatically increase your field endurance. Likewise, pell training is a terrible way to do strength training. Throwing the same shot at speed for 30 minutes with a heavy weapon is really just a great way to eventually give yourself repetitive motion disorder. If you need to build some strength, go hit the gym and do actual weight lifting. A well-balanced weight-training regime is going to do wonders for your fighting; whacking a pell with a ten pound sword is not. (As a side note, this is even more important for women, who tend to have less strength in general. As an additional note, if “I don’t want to get huge muscles like Tato” is a reason you avoid weight training, be aware that building those muscles takes intense training and a very specific diet. You can put that worry to rest.)

Resources

For further resources, there are a number of pell-training videos put out by the SCA. They can serve as a basis to give you more ideas about things you can practice with your pell. Pell work can be a great tool for advancing your fighting when no one is around to fight or to work on something that you’re just not ready to show off in public yet.

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

Ask the Champion – Minimized Movement

Dear Champion:

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?

Girthy Giant


Dear Giant:

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 glen@malletofprovidence.com and I will answer them in my weekly column.

Ask the Champion – Footwork

Dear Champion:

I often hear people say that footwork is important to being a good fighter, and several times I have been told I need to work on my footwork, but no one has ever explained to me exactly what I should be doing or how I can get better at it. Can you help me out?

Feet of Clay


Dear Feet of Clay:

The term “footwork” often is used to mean several different but related things. These things can be broken down into three categories; where your feet are, when you move them, and how you move them. Let’s take a look at each of these categories, what you should be doing and why, and address how you can improve them. I’m going to focus on things that improve these aspects of footwork specifically, not general ability exercises like ladder drills. Sit back and pop open a Coke, this is going to be a long one.

1) Where Your Feet Are

Where They Start

Where your feet are breaks down into two subcategories; where your feet start and where your feet stop. Where your feet start is usually referred to as your “stance.” A correct stance has your feet slightly more than a shoulder length apart, with your knees slightly bent, your weight centered between your feet, your knees above your toes, and your lead foot pointed toe-first in the direction you plan to move and your back foot 45 or 90 degrees off from the direction of your front foot. You want your feet slightly further apart than your shoulders so you have a leg far enough outside your center of mass so you can push of with it easily and effectively to initiate movement; feet too far apart and you don’t have enough “spring” in your initial movement, too close and you don’t have enough leverage to rapidly initiate movement. The knee bend prevents you from having to waste a lot of time bending your knee to launch into a step and keeps you loose; a straight leg really increases the time it takes to initiate movement and a too bent leg will just make you tired. Centered weight makes it easy to shift in any direction and will also, combined with keeping your feet from getting too far apart, increase your traction on inferior surfaces; if your pushing foot gets too far from your center of mass it is much more likely to slip. Having your knees above your toes shifts your weight more towards the balls of your foot and gives you an excellent skeletal position to gain maximum leverage with your thigh muscles when you straighten your leg. Unlike standing on the balls of your feet, which will only serve to rapidly tire out your overworked calf muscles, this is a position you can hold for a long time. Don’t let your knees come out past your toes; that much bend will slow the process of straightening your leg, costing you reaction time when you want to start moving. The lead toe pointing in the direction of movement takes advantage of the whole point of knees: bending in one direction. When you step forward and then need to stop, your knee bends and your mighty thigh muscles absorb all your kinetic energy. If your toe is not pointed in the direction of movement and you do that, your collateral ligament absorbs some of the energy, and it is a lot less durable than your thigh muscles as well as a lot worse at helping you slow down, so you are going to halt your movement slower than you want and increase your chance of injury. Your back foot is at an angle in part because your knees only bend backwards and this gives you a better launch platform for forward movement. You will be pushing off on the side of your foot and your big toe is going to get a workout. The other reason is that having your foot at an angle increases your lateral stability and makes it easier to initiate lateral movement. As a final note, your feet should not be in a straight line, one behind the other in your direction of movement, but rather offset somewhat, because in Amtgard you are going to have to move more than just backwards and forwards.

The best way to correct your stance is with a lot of time in front of a mirror, dropping into stance, fixing it, then trying again. Likewise, if you attend a regular fighter practice, it is worthwhile to encourage other fighters to mention to you when your stance is wonky. You can also do random spot checks on yourself throughout the course of your normal day of fighting.

Where They End

After you have initiated movement and completed the movement, your feet should end up in the same arrangement they started in. It doesn’t matter if you backed up out of range of a charging fighter or advanced to kill someone retreating from you. Too often, I see fighters who end up leaning back with most of their weight on one foot, leaning way the heck forward (your mom was right: keep your back straight) and balanced on one foot, with their feet crossed up and close together, or some other arrangement that is wrong and robs them of the ability to initiate or change their movement. Almost always, this problem is caused by not doing enough movement; instead of taking another half step forward, they lean far forward over their front foot and then end up having to lift their back foot for balance, or they back up almost far enough, then end up having to lean out of the way.

Resolving this issue is nothing more than a matter of observation. When you fight, stop and check where your feet are; if you’re out of stance, try taking another step or half step in the direction you were going to reset your feet. In fighter practice, having a third party who calls “freeze” whenever someone ends their motion with bad foot positioning can highlight situations where your footwork is bad. Practice completing your footwork motions before you start swinging or doing anything else. (This isn’t something you’ll want to make a fighting style, but it can help you overcome bad ending foot positioning. Once it becomes second nature, you can resume multitasking.)

2) When You Move Your Feet

When you move your feet is usually referred to as “range control.” In this case, it is the “how” of range control. The “why” of where you should be standing and the “when” of when you should adjust your range is a whole different topic. For now, let’s just talk about keeping control range. The simplest answer is that when your opponent advances, you retreat, and when your opponent retreats you advance. It turns out, though, that learning to do this is hard. It is not sufficient to be able to judge your distance to within a foot or so; fighting often comes down to critical range differences of a fraction of an inch. (When you “just barely miss” that warlord, it’s usually not because you almost got him; it’s because he moved just far enough to get out of range and then stopped because he was totally safe.) Why range control matters is pretty obvious; you need to be able to know when your opponent can’t hit you and when he can, and when you can’t hit him and when you can, and you need to be able to maintain those types of ranges (there is often more than one “can/can’t hit range) and switch between them.

There are several good drills for practicing range control. One requires a partner, one can be done with a partner or with a group, and one you can practice alone. The first drill is done with full equipment. Two players partner up, starting just far enough apart that they can stand in guard, extend their swords, and cross the blades. One person leads and the other person follows. The leader initiates movement, moving forward or backward by small or large steps, with single or multiple steps. The follower attempts to maintain the same distance and keep the weapons crossed at the same point. The leader should adjust the tempo to challenge the follower, but not to lose them; the goal is training, not some sort of competition. The two players then switch roles and repeat the drill. Starting slow with a single step, then letting the follower catch up before initiating the next movement is recommended for beginners.

The second drills keeps the leader/follower mechanic, but works on more general range control. The follower (or multiple followers) start on a line, while the leader starts fifteen feet in front of them, facing them. The leader initiates movement, forward or backward, and the followers attempt to match it. After a long string of movements, the leader should end his round back where he started. The followers should, but rarely do, end their movement back where they started. If they end too far forward, they are probably failing to keep range open enough when pressed. If they end too far backward, they are likely retreating too far when pressed, though they may also fail to be pressing enough when the opponent retreats. As always, remember that drills are training tools, not competitions; don’t try to game the system to win. As a more advanced version of this drill, the leader can also include lateral movement.

The third drill addresses controlling range on the attack, and can be done solo. Start out of range, facing a wall. Your job is to close the range quickly, stab the wall, and retreat back to your starting point. You should be attacking from just inside range, so your stab at final extension just barely hits the wall. Repeat. This drill addresses controling range when you close, so you do not over or under close, as well as rapidly reversing direction. You should end up in a proper stance both when you make the stab and when you finish retreating out of range. Vary the distance from the wall from which you start, so that you must practice closing and retreating different ranges. Using tape lines can help you check and see if you are retreating farther than you intended or not far enough. Remember to check your stabbing tip for legality after you finish this drill.

3) How You Move Your Feet

This is a topic that people often overlook. Everyone has been walking just fine for years, so how hard can proper foot movement be? The answer is “pretty hard.” You don’t walk when you fight and your feet are not arranged in a normal “walking” stance. The goal of moving your feet correctly is to be able to make quick movements and to end movement quickly, as well as to be able to rapidly change direction. This often requires moving in a very specific way, as opposed to just walking.

The most basic form of “moving your feet” is the shuffle step. The front foot is lifted just enough to clear the ground and extended as the back leg is straightened, pushing off on the side of the foot (specifically the semasoids and first metatarsal head and the hallux, or the “big toe and the big toe mound” to normal people). The forward leg lands after near but not complete extension, toe facing in the direction of movement, and the forward knee bends to absorb the force of forward motion. The rear foot slides over the ground after the forward foot lands, coming forward to return to stance. Notice that both feet never leave the ground. Hopping is wrong. The process is reversed for backwards motion. The distance of the initial step is varied to close shorter distances. Multiple shuffle steps are used to close longer distances. Don’t just start taking long leaps forward; take multiple steps. This gives you more control and more ability to quickly terminate your forward motion in response to changes by the opponent.

The second form of movement is the cross step. In a cross step, you take a semi-step forward. Movement is initiated with the back foot, which is brought forward and crosses past the front foot by a short distance. It is critical not to take an actual step, as this will disrupt your foot placement. The rear foot should be kept at a 45 or 90 degree angle (45 is sufficient in most cases) and the step past the front foot should not be a full normal stride. The foot is then planted and the former forward foot is brought forward as in a shuffle step, with the fighter again finishing the movement in stance. The movement can be done in reverse to move backwards. The purpose of the cross step is to rapidly cover distance. It is much faster than the shuffle step for covering ground, but suffers from the drawback of not being as easy to stop or reverse direction. The purpose of keeping the rear foot at an angle as you step is that it prevents your hips from rotating (and then causing your shoulders to rotate in turn) which would open up your stance as your feet crossed and make you vulnerable to a well-timed attack.

The drill to practice this movement is boring, but important. I’ve fenced at two different universities, and practices always contained a fairly large amount of footwork drills. Movement is life. Find a long length of ground you can move over. Start at one end, with your full gear. Pick a pattern, such as shuffle, shuffle, cross step. Advance across the length using that pattern; shuffle, shuffle, cross step. Stop. Shuffle, shuffle, cross step. Stop. Et cetera. When you get to the end, do the pattern backwards to return to your start point; backwards shuffle, backwards shuffle, backwards cross step. Stop. Repeat. Do it a couple of times. Pick more complex patterns as you become more practiced; shuffle, backwards shuffle, cross-step, shuffle. Eventually you should be mixing forward and backward motions in your pattern. This drill gets you used to the general mechanics of movement, gets you used to controlling your own movement instead of being reactionary (like the other drills), and, when you mix forward and backwards movements in your pattern, gets you used to changing direction. The “stop” part of the pattern is also very important; it teaches you to control the end of your movement and not just rush off in one direction. Never skip or skimp on the “stop” move.

4. Conclusion

Plan to do these drills a lot. At one practice, we did movement drills for an hour straight. Start slow and stop if your knees or joints start complaining. Movement is one of the most important and under-practiced parts of fighting in Amtgard.

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