Saturday, September 20, 2014

Recreating Medieval Combat

Recreating medieval combat is hard, and there are a lot of ways to skin that particular cat.

It's a three dimensional trade space. Authenticity, affordability and safety are competing goods. Actually, it's even more complex, because even it authenticity is your primary goal, different aspects of authenticity also compete. The more realistic you make your pollaxe simulator in mass and materials, the less you can use it with the full force blows used in actual combat.

There are a lot of different ways to do it, all better in some ways and worse in others. I would say that the whole "My dojo can beat up your dojo" impulse is pretty unproductive, except that there are actually a very few schools where the founder is wallowing in "I AM YOUR SENSEI" narcissism, and should be mocked and scorned.

Mostly, I think, there are just a lot of different approaches with different tradeoffs.

And remember this: any simulation rules you select will be an imperfect model of a real fight. Once you start using the simulation as a game with winners and losers, the players will be tempted to game the system.

The late great Kurosawa illustrated this brilliantly in two duels at the beginning of Seven Samurai, embedded above.

The master swordsman Kyuzo first fights a weaker opponent with bamboo weapons. The final blows land almost at once and the opponent proudly claims a tie.

Kyuzo responds: "No. I won. If we had fought seriously, you'd have been cut and dead."

His opponent unwisely insists on a replay with sharp blades, but it turns out just as Kyuzo said.

Kurosawa does a good job in the second fight of illustrating that once you start fighting with real swords that will kill you dead, the dynamic of the fight changes a lot.

That said, not all simulation rules are equal. Some do a better job reflecting the dynamics of a fight in earnest than others. If you want to understand real combat, the closer your rules come to a real fight the better.

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