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Twenty Tips for Aspiring 'Stick Jocks', Part Two
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.
Be aggressive. In Amtgard, the victor is most often the person on the offensive. Granted, there are a few effective defensive techniques that turn an attack into a defeat and some fighters prefer to attack from a defensive position, but by and large, the majority of Amtgard battles are won by the aggressor. By this, I don't mean charge in blindly and attack, but the aggressor controls the flow of the battle. Make your opponent react to you. Watch a melee sometime and observe the success rate of aggressive tactics. Unless you are better suited to the style, don't wait for your opponent to come to you, carry the battle to them.
Be aware of your surroundings. Another often overlooked facet of battle is awareness of your surroundings. When you first take the field, take a moment to note the placement of trees, fences, bushes, buildings, exposed rocks, concrete paths, bridges, 'battlegame border markings' such as staked-down ropes or ribbon, and all the obstacles you will be encountering when you are fighting. It is not uncommon for someone to be chased into a tree or a gully so that they lose their footing or their attention to the battle at hand. Sure, it's not really sporting, but it is a common tactic. Even the nicest fighter gets a bit of a kick from intimidating an opponent into backing into a tree, puddle, or teammate. You can also use such obstacles to your advantage. Having a tree at your back makes it much harder to be back-stabbed and trees make fairly effective shields if properly taken advantage of. Another important field aspect is where the 'lurkers' are.
Lurkers are those individuals who sit on the fringe of a battle and then rush in for easy kills or back-stabs. You have only two options when dealing with lurkers if you don't wish to die to them frequently. First, you can kill them off at the beginning of the battlegame and not worry about them during the actual battle (slang parlance is "swat the flies" or "hold the cheese"), or secondly, you can know where they are & keep an eye on them; when they come in for the kill, surprise them with your awareness and kill them instead.
Practice. If you are not naturally adept at combat, you might initially need to practice to build up your basic skills. If you are taught (or see) a new move you want to add to your repertoire, you'll need to practice it. Not every trick works the same for every player. Some natural gifts such as quickness, long arms, great strength, or the like cannot be emulated but they can almost always be adapted to. Whenever you get the chance, try out new things in an actual battlegame. You may die due to your inexperience, but you will get a better understanding why the move you are practicing didn't work and what you might need to do to make it effective. If you do not have ready access to battlegames, call over a fellow Amtgardian for sparring practice on slow weeknights. If you don't have any friends who want to come over and spar, go in the backyard and practice against a tree or an imaginary opponent (though trees are often hard on weapon durability). The key is to get the basic moves down to where they are instinctual and you don't have to think about them. Thinking takes time and taking time is a liability in a fight.
Learn to accept blows. This does not mean 'call your shots' (that is an entirely different subject to be covered at another time). By this I mean learn not to be afraid of aggressive physical contact. The rules of Amtgard weapon safety tend to limit the number of 'truly dangerous' weapons you'll encounter in a battlegame, and there are veteran players, reeves, and Champions whose responsibility it is to insure that there are no 'truly dangerous' weapons on the field. Even so, some people honestly believe power equals success and try to hit opponents with more force than necessary. A lot of these people have been playing for years and recall days when 'swords' weighed a couple of pounds each rather than a few ounces like they do today. This is also a great intimidation tactic. If they can get you to flinch or run from their attacks, they are almost always at an advantage in any battle they engage you in.
Pain from Amtgard weapons is largely illusional. In all the years I have been playing, I have almost never seen an injury occur from a non-polearm Amtgard weapon that was in good repair. Sure, there will be the occasional skinned knuckles, bruises, and sore muscles, but rarely anything more significant, and surely nothing that would be noticed the next day at work. In order to be an effective combatant, one has to accept that one will be hit by bigger, stronger, and faster opponents. Get used to it. It's all part of the game. I'm not advising anyone to go out and become a masochist, but acknowledge that you'll often be 'stung' and realize that it rarely lasts for more than a few moments. If you are afraid to be hit, you cannot be an effective field combatant. If you flinch every time a shot is thrown at you, you need to fight more often so you can get beyond that instinct and learn to control it so that you only dodge when YOU want to. As odd as it might sound, you have to get beyond the acknowledgment of pain to make use of the best combat skills.
Use familiar weapons. If you don't have weapons of your own, make some. If you don't have the skill or interest to make your own, have someone make some for you. Make sure your weapons have snug covers and are padded adequately (most sword jocks go through new swords (at least the padding) every month or so). Being familiar with your weapon is a great asset in a battle that most take for granted. If you are familiar with your weapon, you better know your reach, the weapon's weight and speed, how hard it is to block, and what it feels like when it strikes an opponent solidly.
If you are constantly using borrowed weapons, it does give you greater adaptability, but it limits your ability to concentrate on 'moves' because you are constantly getting used to the weight, range, and speed of each new weapon you use. If you have your own weapons, use them until you are familiar with your range, speed, and weapon weight and learn the difference in 'feel' between a solid shot and a missed/glancing blow. Your opponent may not call every shot you land, but it is good to know for your own piece of mind, especially in a tournament situation. Once you get used to your own weapons, you can branch out and take advantage of 'loaners' so that you are not disadvantaged by reliance on your personal weapons (should they break, get lost, or be declared unsafe prior to (or during) a battlegame, etc.). As with most things in life, there is potential for "too much of a good thing." Every veteran combatant has his 'special weapon'. Some even treat their favored weapon like a good luck charm and can't enter a tournament without it, often only taking it out of 'storage' just for the 'important' tourneys or battles. It's hard to relate in words, but I assure you, this tip is a very, very common trait amongst Amtgard's 'great warriors'.
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