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Twenty Tips for Aspiring 'Stick Jocks', Part Three
This article originally appeared in AmtgardCombat.com in January of 2000 and was written by Sir Vargaard. It is presented here in a four-part series as part of our effort to preserve the best of Amtgard Combat's online offerings.
Diversify. Try different combinations of weapons and shields. Find out which ones suit your style best and which seem to be the least effective. Not everyone is suited to the same style of combat. Just because the best guy on the field uses dual short swords does not mean that it is the best combination to use, nor does it mean it will be equally effective for you. Learn what you are best at and build on that. When you are comfortable with your level of skill try changing it up a little bit (going from sword & board to single sword, or from dual short swords to sword and dagger for instance). It always helps to be able to use multiple weapon combinations efficiently and effectively. The best warriors are those that can use a polearm just as effectively as a sword and shield and are able to switch weapons and tactics in the heat of a battlegame.
Learn to be effective with your favorite battlefield combination, but spend some time learning other styles as well. Not only will it help you to be a better overall combatant, but it will teach you the vulnerabilities (and strengths) and weaknesses (and advantages) of the style as well, almost always adding to your ability with you favored combination in the long run. If you are having trouble fighting with multiple weapons, try employing a single weapon for a while. Secondary (or tertiary) weapons, even shields, require conscious use of both hands. Using a single weapon frees you up to concentrate solely on attacks and attack avoidance without having to worry about 'what the other hand is doing'.
Rely on peripheral vision. It is a fact that your peripheral vision is attuned to sudden changes in your environment whereas your primary focal vision is used for discerning detail. In a battle of the Amtgard variety, detail is largely irrelevant. Try not to focus your vision directly on your opponent. If you do have to watch something, watch their hands or their eyes since those tend to give a lot of information about impending attacks. If you can unfocus your vision, you will have a much higher success rate in being aware of shots before they land. Once you become adept at detecting incoming blows, you can begin to learn how to block or avoid them entirely.
Since Amtgard weapons are in no way similar to the real weapons they emulate, they are lighter, faster, and much harder to 'see coming'. To counter this, you need to increase the speed in which you recognize where attacks are coming from. If you can predict where an attack originates, you will be much more successful in stopping or avoiding it. Try aiming your head towards the middle of your opponent's chest and then deliberately not focusing, you will notice your peripheral vision will detect movement a lot more effectively than your primary focused vision is able to. Don't forget to turn your head from time to time to watch for additional attackers or approach from behind.
Don't pose. One of the biggest indicators of 'newbieitis' is the tendency to strike poses borrowed from media or martial arts. While some formal weapons katas look very intimidating, they rarely, if ever, have any effect on Amtgard battles. Traditional martial arts are made to hurt, maim, or kill. Amtgard, on the other hand, is simply a game of 'tag' with sticks. Posing is almost always an attempt to overcompensate with appearance to hide a lack of ability. There is zero advantage to letting an opponent know your strengths. The deadliest warrior is the one that is easy to underestimate.
Beware the "small, slow-moving fat guy", he is almost always more dangerous to your survival than the "skinny guy in the tae-kwon-do gi making sweeping gestures with his swords". To be honest, training in most traditional martial arts is a hindrance to Amtgard combat. You have to unlearn many things about 'real combat' to be successful in mock combat. Quite the irony, is it not? Not that 'flash' (another term for unnecessary combat flourishes) does not have its place, but posing for the sake of posing is generally a waste of time and tends to get you killed. Once you have the basic skills down, flash can add to your arsenal, but in most cases, it is only good for demos, photographs, or drawing unnecessary attention to oneself.
Attack more than once. The most common attack pattern you will encounter from opponents is attack, withdraw, reposition, repeat. While this is perfectly serviceable and quite natural (in the 'stick and move' sense), it is not the best method of attacking an opponent. In Amtgard, the best attack is followed up by a second, third, or even fourth attack. Often referred to as 'combos', such attacks have multiple advantages and few drawbacks. A good first attack will often open up gaps in your opponent's defenses, meaning successive attacks have a greater chance of striking true. While you are attacking, successive attacks do not allow your opponent the opportunity to counter-attack. Perhaps most importantly, if you strike a 'questionable' opponent multiple times, it is much harder for them to make excuses to avoid taking their shots. Advanced techniques often employ a 'useless' first strike to deliberately set up the target for easy second shots, but initially, you should simply practice landing two blows in the attack pattern, then move up to three, four, or more.
There is not a single Amtgard Warlord or Sword Knight whose attack patterns stop at the first blow (even the 'slot fighters' who rely on wrap-shots and one-shot-kills are prepared for a second attack or defensive move following an attack). Once you are comfortable with 'attack strings' you can add in defensive moves as well. I realize it sounds like advice for a Capcom Streetfighter game, but the theory is sound and functions just as well in Amtgard combat as it does in the arcades.
Misdirection. This is not so much a tip as it is something to recognize and avoid. For experienced fighters, it is second nature to look one way and then attack the opposite direction. Misdirection is a powerful combat tool. Techniques range from slapping ones weapons on the ground or shield, to sudden shouts, to subtle hand gestures, to throwing an offhand weapon or piece of garb into the air, to simply gazing intently at an opponents shoulder and then suddenly striking him (or her) in the leg. On another section of this website (amtgardcombat.com -- ed.), there is a whole page devoted to 'follow the birdie' misdirection techniques.
Distractions are just that: an attempt to break your concentration and make for an easier victory. Every warrior has his own little distraction tricks and, for better or worse, they work on almost everyone, newbie to veteran (to varying degrees of success). Whether you incorporate them into your battlefield repertoire, or simply take note of them so that they can be avoided is entirely up to your own sense of fair play and honor. If you are having trouble winning straight up fights, a little misdirection may be just what the doctor ordered; just remember, most gimmicks only work a few times and rarely at all when used in immediate succession, so choose your misdirection wisely and use it sparingly. If everyone knows your going to fake left after stomping your foot, it's not much of an advantage is it?
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