Category Archives: Fencing

Plan for improved fairness in martial activities

I wrote the core of this in an earlier post, but this summarizes it with a different slant:

Scope

Too many high stakes tournaments, in both chivalric and rapier combat, have of late left participants and even audience feel that unfairness transpired.  While we may never fully alleviate this issue, there are steps I believe we can all take in order to help break and even end this pattern.  My observations have led me to conclude that a large part of the problem is a culture of silence.  While this may pervade the larger society activities, the following suggestions concern martial activities, and even more specifically, conduct in tournament lists.  A lot more thought, discussion, and listening, will have to take place before I can wrap my mind around suggestions for that broader problem (although I’m working on it, so I’m more than happy to listen to comments and suggestions about that!)

Not everyone agrees there is a problem that needs to be fixed

The truth of the matter is that not everyone receives the short end of the stick, and not everyone sees this problem.  This is largely due to inherent personality differences.  For example, you’ll read below that one of the suggestions is training combatants on how to speak up for themselves.  Those for whom this comes naturally are, by this token, likely to experience less of the problems.  The point I am trying to make is, that we can largely take “personality” out of it and put everyone on a more even foundation.

and now to the meat of the matter:

The duties associated with tournament bouts

  1. It is the duty of combatants to call shots as they land, and to take the shot if it could have been good. 
  2. It is the duty of combatants to inform their opponent if the shot that they called as “good” was actually not good (for example, flat).
  3. If a combattant feels that they landed a good blow, but their opponent did not acknowledge it, It is the duty of combatants to inquire about the blow in the list, or elect to let the matter go.  
  4. It is the duty of the marshallate not to act on any complaint that was not brought up originally in the list.
  5. It is the duty of the marshal to watch a bout for its mechanics.  The marshal should only participate in a discussion if one of the opponents opened the discourse (by, for example, questioning a blow) and the opponents are not able to quickly resolve the matter.  Although it is not possible for a single person to watch and understand every aspect of a martial bout, a well trained marshal should be able to provide an informed opinion on most exchanges.
  6. If, then, a combatant feels a shot landed well, and the marshal agrees that the shot likely landed well, and with this explained to the opponent, the opponent does not acknowledge the blow, this should be noted.  In the case where the marshal was not able to observe the blow, the bout should be refought.  
  7. A mechanism for formally reporting problems in a list should be put in place.  In this case, problems include both:  A) A pattern of a combattant questioning blows that the martial does not feel were good, and B) A pattern of a combatant not acknowledging blows that the opponent and the marshal felt were likely to be good.  The marshallate should note these and watch for any repeated patterns.  Any repeated patterns should then be discussed with that person by the marshallate.  There are mechanisms in place for this already, but in my experience they are implemented unevenly, and this mechanism should be formalized for the sake of fairness.  Feel free to make suggestions as to what constitutes a repeated pattern.
  8. Finally, there should always be a provision for the marshal ending a bout and tabling declaring an outcome until more eyes can be assembled.

There must necessarily be exceptions to the above duties of the marshallate.  Especially in the near term, until all combatants are trained to speak up, I will add that the marshal is strongly encouraged to step in and encourage opponents to speak up if they see one or both opponents hesitant to speak up for any reason, and use that as a teaching moment to further remind the combatants to speak up for themselves without marshal prodding in the future.

How do we get there

Some people already do the above.  Not all do, and not in every situation.  A lot of this is, once again, about personality.  Some people are timid.  Most are timid when they aren’t sure of themselves.  Nearly everyone, with training, can overcome the tendency towards silence.  Everyone involved, be it combatants and marshals, needs to learn how to observe a fight:  The fighters from the first person perspective, and the marshals from the third person perspective.  This will arm them with the knowledge of what transpired, and with that the confidence at least to ask the questions that are likely to lead quickly to resolution.

A new, less silent, culture for martial tournaments

All of the above will translate to more actual *talking* during tournaments.  Some have expressed their opinion to me that they feel this will degrade the tournaments.  I respectfully disagree, and also point out that even if this is true (and clearly it might be true for them, and some others who similarly feel it will diminish the tournament experience) that the benefits will outweigh this decrement.  The biggest benefit may be to eliminate the negative of situations like what spurred this dialogue, but there is likely to be a positive to be gained, and that is that untrained observers (i.e. observers, onlookers, the audience) are likely to better understand a bout.  That the audience sees a shot, for example, land on a squire’s head, and the squire exclaims “I felt that, but I caught most of it on my sword so it only grazed my helmet” would be really helpful and might increase audience attention and attendance.

Action Plan

As I mentioned above, training needs to happen.  Some people are naturally able to break down a bout better than others.  A few of the people who are able to break down a fight are also able to articulate what they saw.  This subset should train the rest so that the skills that may come naturally to some can become more prevalent.  Personally, I know I’m not perfect at being able to dissassemble a fight, but I seem to be able to do it better than some, and I’ve started coming up with a list of explaining how to watch and what to watch for (which I will start posting about, even in its draft form, for others to help add to).  I ran a discussion in how to analyze a bout at the Northern Region Academy of Defense on Nov 8, and learned a lot myself about how to teach this topic.  Many others added to the discussion with their observations, for which I am very grateful.  I will continue to run these discussions, and others are encouraged to do the same.  As people learn, they too can teach others, and pretty soon we’ll have covered the whole kingdom, and maybe areas beyond.

Who can benefit

These discussions, training if you may, should be open to all.  For strictly the above duties, combatants should learn how to mentally register the mechanics of a bout that they are involved with, and marshals the mechanics of a bout they are observing.  But combatants will benefit from learning the third-party perspective, because by watching and understanding others they can improve their game.  Most marshals are also combatants at times, so they too should learn the first-party perspective.  But even observers can probably benefit from a deeper understanding of a fight, if they are so inclined.

How to find me

Comment here if you’d like, or email me personally: rozi at baeli dot com or on FB (Rozi Galea).  Find me at events.  I’ll do my best to wear my signature tall boots in either red or white at all events so that I may be easier to locate.

On track for the “now what”

Note: As is my habit, I will put headers on the sections of this post, so for example if you only want to hear about the “now what” part, just read the Preamble and the Breaking Down the Bout sections.

Preamble

Yesterday was the Northern Region Academy of the Rapier.  It was a small, but well-attended, event.  Very well run (I was particularly amused and impressed by, and appreciated, the lady who ran gate running after those of us who arrived but ran to an activity before checking in.)  I would estimate that we had 30-40 fencers, some who drove 4 or more hours to get there (and me, who flew in from AZ, but that’s a different matter).  Fencing experience ranged from brand newbie to 20+ years.  Personally I participated in two authorizations: one for a new-to-SCA fencer, and one for a reauth from many years prior.

The discussions I hosted

I ran four discussions.  I hate to call them classes, because although I arrive with certain points I want to hit, I hope I am accessible and able to alter the direction of the discussion per the attendees’ wishes and questions.  One was An Overview of Period Fencing Manuals, one was on “Practical Fabris”, which delved in more depth into that Master’s book, and discussed how to incorporate his style into SCA fencing, since it is not necessarily 100% applicable (and why). The third was “SCA Fencing For Every Body Type”, which is a new take on “Tailoring Your Teaching”, a class I used to run, but a similar ilk: how do you find the best style for different natural abilities and body shapes? I feel that the classes had really great discussions.  Some people stayed for the whole thing, some drifted in and out.  My favorite question that I was asked was “which period master would you suggest for someone of my body type?”  In retrospect, it was a very logical question, given the discussions that I had been running, but honestly I hadn’t thought of it that way before.  Or at least, not consciously.  Certainly with certain students I have made suggestions and pulled lessons from different masters depending on their body and abilities, but I hadn’t thought about generalizing those lessons.  At least, not yet.  Stay tuned for a new discussion on exactly that topic!

Breaking Down the Bout

The fourth discussion was on “Breaking down the bout: How to make sense of flying metal and moving bodies”.  Originally (see previous post) I thought this would be useful for marshals, to understand the bout.  I also realized that it could be helpful for fencers, too….. you can learn a lot by watching others, if you understand what you’re seeing.  Someone also pointed out that it could be useful, or at least of interest, to non-fencing bystanders, and I realize that with only a modicum of basic knowledge (e.g. the types of hits that are kills) that indeed this could be useful to the audience as well.  As the discussion progressed, we started to draw in the fencers themselves, because being able to break down a bout even when you’re in it isn’t always easy.  It really does go by fast and adrenaline messes with your long-term memory.

I am grateful to the attendees who stuck with the discussion, especially Alys (just got that spelling) who was there the entire time, as they endured my modifying the style of the discussion on the fly as we found what worked best, and the fencers who drew the straw that placed them in my list, and am incredibly grateful for their playing along and explaining the bout from their point of view (especially Camille, who is not only a pleasant and eternally cheerful person, but also very good at understanding bout mechanics, and freely shared her observations)

Overall, I think this went very well, and that those who took part walked away with a little stronger ability in breaking down a bout, including myself.  I will type up my notes and prepare a (hopefully evoloving) list of things to watch for, as a starting point for those who want to learn/improve this skill and have a written list of reminders.

In the near term, I will try to take this type of discussion to as many events as I can.  Next target: 100 Minutes’ War.