Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recreating Belgian Longsword Rules

This past summer, at Pennsic 2008, we recreated a tournament using Belgian longsword rules as part of an anthology of tournament styles at the Company of St. Michael’s Vespers.

We used rattan longswords and the ordinary minimum protection of SCA rattan combat. This was expedient, and although lighter protection and steel fencing longswords would have been closer to the original, this provided a quick and enjoyable way to explore the dynamics of the rules.

Since we were recreating unarmored combat, we counted blows at about half standard SCA calibration. We also disallowed thrusts to the face: this wasn’t explicit in the surviving rules, but it was for rapier rules used by the same groups and it seemed likely considering the limited protection worn.

Otherwise we used the following rules posted by Matt Galas.

Important note: One party is designated as the "King"; he has certain advantages (see below). His opponent is called the "Champion." If the Champion defeats the King, he becomes the new King, and has the corresponding handicap. The goal is to remain King until everyone has fenced; the last person remaining as King wins the tournament.

- Each bout consists of a single round.

- Both cut & thrust are allowed.

- Valid target area is above the belt and above the elbows (ie, no hands or forearms).

- No corps-a-corps is allowed; no grappling or pommel strikes.

- Only two-handed technique (no one-handed or half-sword).

- If you lose your weapon, you lose the bout. If you fall, the bout is played over.

- If the King hits the Champion a clean hit, he wins the bout, and remains King. (Go on to the next contestant.)

- If the Champion hits the King with a clean hit, the King still has one last chance to hit him (called an "after-stroke"). The King can take one step with his after-stroke. If he hits, he wins the bout. (This after-stroke must be delivered immediately, without delay, or it is lost.) If the Champion parries or evades the blow, then the Champion wins the bout, and becomes King.

- If there is a double hit, the highest hit wins (head wins over chest, etc.). If it's the King who has the highest hit, he wins. If it's the Champion, the King still gets his after-stroke (see rule above).

He adds that:

Some of the rule sets prescribe a certain number of "venues" (read: "rounds") that the guild brothers have to fight. Usually, the number is two for a new member, three for a guild member who has passed his initial tests. One rule set explicitly says that the venues cannot be played back to back, but must have at least one other person fighting a venue in between.

Because all of the participants were experienced, everyone was allowed three chances to enter the field. We chose the first King by drawing straws. If I was running a repeat event with the same group, I would have the King from the last tournament begin as King.

Although the limited target area created some artificiality relative to actual combat, the rules were in practice simple and elegant in recreating some of the dynamics of actual combat. The after-stroke rule strongly discouraged depending on attacks that might land first, but left you vulnerable to a dying blow. While in theory it might seem that a weaker fighter could be lucky and enter the field at the right time to defeat a tired but superior King in the last fight of the day, that wasn’t an issue for us, since the weaker fighters exhausted their venues faster than the better ones. Evidently the rules evolved over many years to achieve a good balance between simplicity and realism.

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