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Blog posts of '2012' 'November'

Stabchats Podcast

Anatole, Ilmryn, Eggman, and Brennon sit around shooting the shit and talking about fighting. Enjoy.


Down Spear Fighting

Disclaimer

In this tutorial I describe how I fight with a down spear and what I do to be successful. My style may not work for everyone and reading this tutorial will not necessarily immediately improve your game. I recommend that you take what I say and try it; Keep what works for you, modify what you can of the rest, and put everything else to the side. You can always try it again at a later date

Introduction

Sword and down spear is an extremely fun and, if done correctly, effective form of fighting. The down spear gives you a long range attack that, once mastered, will often secure kills while you are still outside the range of your opponent. When combined with the close range efficacy of a short sword and the surprisingly effective close range defense of the down spear you find a combination that has a lot to offer. Plus… stabbing people is fun!

This tutorial will cover the basics of down spear fighting and try to equip you with a few tricks to help get the kills rolling on your way to learning the joys of this combo.

Basic Shots

The video below covers the three basic shot angles for a spear. All of the angles can also be raised or lowered to better hit your target. It is vastly important that you practice these shots until you are extremely accurate with them. If you see an opening you have to be able to hit it accurately.

Fighting at Range

With the basic shots covered lets go over some simple rules for using them.

  1. While this combo is capable of holding its own in close range combat, its obvious strength is its ability to attack from distance. Try to keep the enemy in range of your spear but far enough away they can't hit you; This will allow you to take pot shots all day.
  2. While at range you'll find that you can often use your sword to move the opponents guard and create openings for your spear even though you are too far away to hit with your sword. This is very important to pay attention to and learn. This is the number one most useful tactic in a down spears book. Pay attention to who you are fighting and where there guard goes when you move your sword and then throw into the gap that is created.
  3. The easiest and most effective fake with this combo is to begin to throw to the outside of the opponent with your sword and immediately stabbing them with your spear. Against a shield user the pocket created by your swords movement is generally their sword side hip and you want to stab it as I showed in the video. Against a florentiner the pocket created is generally from center stomach to their left hip which can easily be hit with either the straight stab or by turning your hand over for a better backside angle as shown in the video.
  4. You can pump fake with the spear to create openings. Often by simply raising your spear as though you are about to throw, your opponent will move there guard and you will be able to take advantage of its new location. I use this often against people who always want to try to stuff the spear down with their sword; I raise the spear as if I were throwing and as their guard comes down to stuff me I just throw over it for an easy kill.
  5. The sword arm is also often a good target, pay attention to it. If it's too far from the shield shoot the gap between sword and shield and hit the arm. If it's too high snipe the elbow, if it's too low throw over the sword

Those are a couple of simple moves that can get you started. Really at range the sky is the limit play around and see what you come up with. Remember: as long as you're at range you are safe. The trick is to really just pay attention to your opponent and try to make something happen while he is still unable to do anything.

Defending/Defeating a Closing Opponent

So it's clear that as long as your foe is staying out of range to attack you then sooner or later he's going to die to your spear. That means in order to win he has to close the distance; It's our job to punish him for trying to close. The better you get at stopping or killing your opponent when he tries to close the better down spear fighter you will become. There are many ways to do this but most of the time this is where your sword starts getting you kills. It's important to remember that when an opponent closes the first thing he is going to think about is negating your spear. Because of this he becomes very vulnerable to a well-placed swing from your sword. The most straightforward technique is to pump your spear slightly as he closes and chop down on his shoulder with your sword. The pump will almost always bring his guard down and expose his shoulder. The most important thing to remember in this situation is to stay calm and pay attention. Watch what he is trying to do and make him wrong. If he is protecting his shoulder and stuffing your spear down then swing for the shield side hip. If it's a florentiner a quick stab over his right hand is sometimes your best choice. Always pay attention to what your opponent is doing and make it the wrong choice. He will begin hesitating and second guessing himself and you can have a field day making him feel stupid.

Backward movement is also very important. Learning to backpedal while still being on the offensive will give you more time to assess the situation and make the right decision. You will also find that after the initial rush they often will raise their guard back up forgetting about your spear and giving you an easy kill. On a ditch line backpedaling past your teammates is often all you will have to do to stop a rush if your teammates are paying attention.

The final trick to stopping a rush is stepping into it. By stepping into it you often unexpectedly disrupt the timing and intended range of your opponent and this can give you easy kills from a deep wrap with your sword. At such close range it also increases the effectiveness of your spear as a blocking device.

The Close Game

It should be noted that when I say "close range" I mean your bellies should be no more than a foot from each other. We don’t fight at sword range; we fight at spear range or belly to belly. If your opponent is trying to retreat to sword range then take a quick step back to put your distancing back to spear range. We are at the greatest disadvantage at standard sword range. At sword range it is difficult (but by no means impossible) to throw safe, effective shots with your spear because we are too close. At the same time we are too far away to take full advantage of the spears ability to block. Bottom line: it's just not where we want to be, so don’t be there.

When up close with an opponent you will find your spear becomes a five-plus foot single axis shield. By placing your spear to one side of your body you can almost completely defend that side from attack. Once you have learned to correctly position both your spear and body you are able to shut down a lot of your opponents throwing lanes. For me the most commonly effective fighting stance when in close combat is to basically create an upside down V bringing your down spear hand up to beside your ear in order to protect your left side from the shoulder down while bringing your right hand up to about shoulder height angling the sword toward your head (so that it looks something like this /o). It is worth noting that your right hand needs to drop lower if you are fighting a florentiner in order to stop a left handed hip wrap. This is the most defended position to be in at close range. Once you are here it is up to you to pick your shots wisely and as always pay attention to your opponent.

Closing

Finally, let's discuss the best way to close on the opponent with this combo. Closing is for when we don’t have time to just sit back and throw shots. There are some fairly simple ways to effectively close if need be. My personal preference, and what I think is the easiest way, is to simply begin to fake a stab and lunge in and throw with your sword. As I keep saying in these situations, pay attention!

  1. The most commonly exposed place on a shield fighters body will be their shield shoulder... but at times it could be the hip or the sword arm. You just have to watch your opponent and catalog his movements.
  2. The most commonly available target on a florentiner will be the arm/shoulder of the sword he drops to block your spear. Make sure to be ready with your spear to block the shot that may be coming in from his other arm.

Closing will in time become easier and easier as you learn to predict how opponents will react to your spears movement. As people begin to respect/worry about your spear more and more, they will become more vulnerable to a quick lunging sword kill off the slightest of spear feints.

Final Words

Down spear is an extremely fun and effective combo. With a basic understanding and a little bit of practice you will be surprised at how fast you are destroying all of the chafe on the field. With a lot more practice and experience you will find that sword and down spear has the capability of holding its own against any other combo on the field. Now go pick one up and have some fun stabbing things!

 

Learning to Fight Off-Hand

Learning to fight with your off-hand is functionally identical to learning to fight with your primary hand with the added hurdle of being a total retard with your off-hand. On the bright side, you probably overcame this hurdle when you started fighting with your primary hand and now you’ve got years of experience fighting to help speed the process along. For ease of discussion I’m going to break this into three categories: Physical Training, Mental Training, and Practice.

Physical Training encompasses the following attributes: Hand speed, coordination, arm strength, grip strength, grip style, guard placement, and stance.

  1. Hand Speed: Your hands don’t need to be terribly fast, but they do need to be tolerably so. Your off-hand is very likely to be markedly slower than your primary hand. This issue can cause a myriad of problems with your timing, break points for wraps, and blocking. Drills that you can do to work on hand speed include Boxing Focus Mitts(1) and Dot Number(2) drills.

  1. Coordination: You don’t need to be able to write with your off hand (I certainly cannot) but you do need excellent gross motor control. Just as important as having this control is being able to have this control without thinking about it. That means you need to create the same autonomous reflexes you have in your primary hand in your off-hand. Drills that will help with this are Boxing Focus Mitts(1) and Wall Bounce(3).

  1. Arm Strength: You need a certain minimum amount of forearm, joint, wrist, bicep, tricep, and shoulder strength in your off appendage. I wouldn’t sweat it much; if you can curl and kickback a 30lb weight through a set of ten with good form then you should be fine. Exercises that will accomplish this are... Curls(4), Kickbacks(5), Shoulder Presses(6).

  1. Grip Strength: The ability to hold on to your sword with your off hand is a great start towards, you know, hitting people with it. Get a climbers grip tension trainer and use it. Mine is made by ProHands.Net and is rated ‘Heavy’. You should be able to easily compress and hold the springs down for at least a minute.

  1. Grip Style: Just mirror whatever you do with your primary hand; you don’t want to have a different grip type with your other hand. If your grip type is different it will just confuse your ability to transfer what you know with your on hand to your off hand.

  1. Guard Placement: I recommend you start with a classic Denial guard for your off hand (Video). There are other guards possible, but this one is the most effective to use passively. Also, make double-dog sure that you return to guard with your off hand. I had the worst time getting that right at first. If you do nothing other than return to guard and keep your guard in the proper place you will automatically block 90% of shots. Once you’ve mastered that you can experiment with other guards. The best drill for this is same-side Block Strike(7) while focusing on returning to a proper guard each time.

  1. Stance: Nothing too special here. It’s going to feel awkward to have your off foot forward at first, but focus on having a solid stance that is wide and deep enough to maintain your balance while not sacrificing your mobility. Check here for more info.

Mental Training includes all of the areas where you’re going to have to train your brain to do the right thing with the wrong hand: Feints, reading, shot selection, and planning.

  1. Feints: These are subtle movements that need to be well-timed and well-controlled to be effective. You’re going to have to develop an entirely new set of feints with your off hand because the feints you used with your on hand simply won’t translate in many cases. If you were a lefty used to fighting righties and are switching you will need to develop feints that draw your opponent into crossing or dropping their shield-side, which you probably never worried about before. If you’re a righty switching to lefty you’re going to need to develop same-side feints that force your opponent to swing to the outside. It’s really hard to drill feints since your opponent will know they are coming and it’s not realistic. The best you can do here is develop a repertoire of feints that will draw your opponent into situations advantageous to yourself and try and work them in to sessions of block strike and normal fighting. Thinking about your feints, stepping through them in your mind, and practicing them mentally will be one of the best things you can do. There was theoretically a study about this at the University of Chicago by a Dr. Blaslotto. But I can’t find the damn study online anywhere, so it may be a myth. Oh well, whatever, it can’t hurt. I can attest from anecdotal experience that visualization helps.

  1. Reading: Your opponents are going to be reacting to a different side of your body now and it’s important to take this into account. The subtle movements and tells that allowed you to anticipate your opponents behavior are going to be changed as part of that. A half-step that previously indicated a same-side chop may now indicate a cross chop or a same-side wrap. You need to be cognizant of that fact and analyze your responses to people consciously in order to speed the transition. Don’t just accept a win or a loss but turn a critical eye on each part of an exchange and train yourself to recognize the new sets of tells being given off by your opponent. The best drill you can do here is to tape yourself sparring free-form and see if you’re consistently reacting to your opponent as though you are still fighting with your primary hand. Keep a log of tells that you are catching, aren’t catching, and ones you are catching but reacting to incorrectly. Re-read this log at the start, middle, and end of each session and update it as appropriate.

  1. Shot Selection: You aren’t going to be able to fight with the same shots with your off hand just like your feints won’t be the same. The trick here is to develop shot selections for scenarios rather than for specific hands.
  1.  If you’re same-handed (regardless of if you’re using your off or primary hand) you want to force them to the outside and take the inside lane. Your bread and butter shots are going to be:
  1. Shoulder slot Video
  2. Hip scoop Video
  3. Torso stab Video
  4. Forearm chop Video
  5. A safe opener is to throw a short wrap to the outside of their hand at close to their max range to get them to throw a center line chop or outside wrap which you can turn into a block and riposte of your own.
  6.  If you’re stronger than your opponent or you catch them out of guard you’re also going to have good luck with:
  1. Outside shoulder wrap Video
  2. Outside forearm wrap Video
  1. If you’re cross-handed (regardless of if you’re using your off or primary hand) you generally want to use footwork to position yourself  where your sword-side is nearest to their weak side and their sword-side is out of striking range of you entirely. Your basic maneuvers are going to be:
  1. With a step towards their weak side:
  1. Same side shoulder wrap Video
  2. Same side hip scoop Video
  3. Same side leg
  1. When they cross:
  1. Chop on the extended arm Video
  2. Darkside the cross hip

  1. Planning: You will have to consciously create plans that work for your off hand. The plans you have for your good hand rely on a level of control, familiarity, and timing you will not have with your off hand for some time. Plans that work well with your off hand to start with will incorporate footwork, static blocking, baiting for a cross or other slow shot, and slots and chops. Plans that won’t work well for your off hand to start are plans involving precise timing, precise wraps and scoops, or prolonged blocking (grinding). Eventually your off-hand plans can be as complex as you like, but you have to develop your physical control first.

Practice is what you do to make a physical action and a mental concept come together successfully. There is no shortcut for avoiding practice, but practicing properly will move you along faster than practicing poorly. The main areas for practice are placement, timing, and familiarity.

  1. Placement: Being able to put a shot where you want it is rather important. You want to start out slow and then work your way up to slow. And then keep going slow until you get to the point where you can go slow. The trick here is to go slow, in case that wasn’t coming through. Speed is pretty irrelevant to placement. If you can do the shot properly and with good form slowly, you can do it properly and with good form at speed. What you are training is muscle memory and a sequence of movements, not speed. Speed training is covered separately and is almost entirely physical in nature. Training placement requires you to do something physical in a very specific way so that it lines up with your mental expectations. Recommended drills for this are Blind Flailing(8) and Velcro(9). You can go crazy and combine them if you feel like it.

  1. Timing: Timing is an incredibly hard thing to train, but it’s a pretty easy thing to transfer to your off hand if you already have good timing with your primary hand. If you don’t already have solid timing then the drills I’m going to recommend will help, but probably aren’t sufficient in and of themselves. Red-Headed Step Child(10) is excellent for working on your blocking timing and at wider angles forces you to combine it with footwork and body mechanics. Show Me the Money(11) is good for working on your shot timing and block timing.

  1. Familiarity: The ability to do things without thinking about them. To some extent all of the drills and lessons laid out here will help with familiarity, but most of it just comes with time on the field. Stay dedicated to it, keep your chin up and tough it out when you get annihilated, and log the hours you need to succeed. One-on-one sparring will be more useful at first than ditching simply because it generally gives a slower pace and more time to reflect on what you’re doing. The more attention to detail and concentration you can give to the process, the more you will get out of each minute spent on the field. A good rule of thumb for me is 75/25; I’ll spend 75% of my time fighting and 25% of my time analyzing what I’m doing while fighting. If I spend fifteen minutes on the field I’ll take a five minute break and identify a few key things to work on in my next fifteen minute round. More frequent, smaller breaks work better than larger, less frequent breaks.

Drill Appendix

1) Boxing Focus Mitts: Requires a partner. Get a partner. Have them wear focus mitts of the type commonly used in boxing. Hit the mitts. You may want light bag gloves, or you may find your Amtgard gloves suffice. If you have some boxing experience you can work on good form and doing it right, but even if you know nothing about boxing the act of working the mitts even with bad form will still be good training for your hands. Example Video

2) Dot Numbers: Requires a partner or a random number generator. Lay out a regular grid on a piece of cardboard, posterboard, plywood, whatever. The grid should be two feet square and be evenly divided into sixteen sections and numbered appropriately. Have your partner call out numbers while you try and touch the appropriate section on the grid. Once that is easy, have him call out patterns. Always return to a reset ‘rest’ state between patterns, and try to go as quickly as you can.

3) Wall Bounce: Get a wall and up to three tennis balls (or similar balls). Stand ten feet from the wall. Starting with a single ball, bounce the ball off the wall in front of you and catch it before it hits the ground. Start with your primary hand, then your off hand, then rotate between them. When that becomes easy, add in another ball. You can also vary the difficulty by throwing harder or standing closer.

4) Curls: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Biceps/DBCurl.html

5) Kickback: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Triceps/DBKickback.html

6) Shoulder Press: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/DeltoidAnterior/DBShoulderPress.html

7) Block Strike: It’s Block Strike. Come on, guys.

8) Blind Flailing: Requires a buddy or a video camera. Or both, ideally. Practice throwing a shot with proper form slowly with your eyes closed. Focus on feeling the proper flow of the shot rather than trying to ‘aim’ at your target. Your buddy’s job is to correct your movements and keep you in proper form. If you don’t have a buddy, review the camera between every few shots and make sure you’re still on target with good form. This is best done with a pell, obviously.

9) Velcro: Requires a pell, some velcro, and some sewing skills. Get a one inch square of short-nap velcro (short-nap will be less sticky than long-nap) and put one side on your target location on your pell and the other on the portion of your sword you want to hit with. Throw the shot with proper form and when you get the form, range, rotation, and placement correct your sword will stick to the pell. It shouldn’t stick enough to prevent you from returning to guard, but it will stick enough to give you a good bit of feedback that you did everything right. This is especially effective for wraps, since you can put a piece on a pell behind a shield and practice targeting precise shots on things you can’t see. A bell hung behind a shield can also serve a similar purpose.

10) Red-Headed Step Child: Requires two buddies. Stand in a 4ft diameter circle and have your two buddies stand outside at 30 degree angles in front of you so that there is a 60 degree arc between them. Have them alternate throwing shots at different locations which you must block. To increase the difficulty you can increase the arc between your opponents and/or increase the speed of their shots. This forces you to work on analyzing where and when a blow will land on the fly, which helps work on timing and block placement.

11) Show Me the Money: Requires a buddy. Pick a location on your buddy to hit that is normally covered by their guard or shield; Common locations are the same side shoulder or same side hip. Your buddy will start out of your range, then step in to your range, expose the agreed upon location, and throw a shot. Your job is to hit the target location and then return in time to block their shot. When you start out your buddy should leave a large time window for you to hit the area and throw the shot slowly. As you progress the shot window should get shorter while their shot gets faster.