Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Swordplay: The Four Types of Fight

It's Wednesday, so that means hitting people with swords. Today, the realisation that not all fights are the same, and that the swordplay (or other fighting, this makes just as much sense unarmed) will vary for each. There are lots of ways of subdividing things, but I think that it's probably best to think about four main situations:

  1. Sporting Contests. These could be fencing matches, kendo bouts, the medieval tournament or even some forms of gladiatorial contests (though those could argueably fall into my second category). Here, you will find circumstances designed to create an even contest of skill (matched weapons, safe/stable areas to do it in, referees and judges to decide when it starts) as well as ones designed to protect the combatants (such as blunted weapons, lots of padding, or simply the ability to give up whenever you want). The aim is not to kill or injure, but to demonstrate superiority while creating either fun for yourself or the crowd (though those can involve injury). The aim is to win by meeting set criteria. In swordplay terms, high levels of skill are needed, but probably not so much brute force.
  2. Duels. Again, these are what you could call a fair fight, since the idea is to have a contest of skill with a defined starting point as well as a predetermined end (though that could be either first blood or death). In some European duels, matched weaponry was important, and there were many conventions to obey. In other circumstances, weapons were whatever you brought. The point is more that this is a prearranged fight, usually one on one, with a set of defined boundaries. The aim is to win, thus demonstrating superior skill, the rightness of their cause, etc. The duel is the scenario where the aim is most likely to be killing the other person outright. Again, high skill levels will show up, with some very technical swordplay.
  3. Self defence situations. Not fair at all. This covers everything from someone trying to stab your character in the back to that barroom brawl. Generally, there are three scenarios. First, there is a bit of talking leading up to an attack, your character sees it coming and acts. Second, your character is too late, and has to react. Third (and closely related to the second one) is the ambush attack. The goal here is different from duels or contests, in that the aim for the character is to stay in one piece, rather than to 'win'. The main skill here is drawing the sword in the first place, and using it at very close quarters mixed in with unarmed stuff.
  4. Battles. Big, chaotic, and involving more people. They can be ambushes or set pieces, but for the character, they mean mostly going where everybody else is going and killing whatever is in front of them. Chance plays a huge role, because you can't defend every angle. Sword skills are likely to be less important than formation fighting ones, though one important subset is where you fight with the aid of someone else, who opens up opponents while you do the stabbing. The aim is usually to get opponents to run away, or force terms. Historical battles only rarely involved total casualties.


Tessa Conte said...

Helpful and informative, thanks for the info! This series was such a brilliant idea!!!

Raquel Byrnes said...

You know so much about this stuff you could totally hire out to be a consultant for regency romance writers.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Yes, I mean need to hire you to go over my two scenes! Great side-line for you, Stu ;)

Theresa Milstein said...

I've never had swordplay in manuscripts or real life. Something to keep in mind for the future.

I came to check your blogfest entry. I'll check back.