HEMA Game Archive


How the game is played/scored. This should be information about WHAT to do, but please save WHY for the "Design" field.

Additional rules could be added because:
- You've decided that the game is better in every way with the new rule.
- You found a *slight* tweak that makes a small difference in a meaningful way. (If it's a big enough change just make a new game and tag it as a variant of this one.)


Why the rules are designed the way they are. What are the core skills targeted, and possible weaknesses.
Descriptions of the design iterations, failed attempts, or changes in thoughts are also helpful to other coaches.


Notes on what coaches have noticed playing this game with their students.


Video or article links

Canadian Two-Step

Uploaded by Eric Dalshaug on 2023-12-19
Tags:   attack, | decision_to_commit, | defend, | preparation |


Canadian Two-Step
Two roles: Attacker and Defender. Attacker starts in Vom Tag, Defender in Alber.

The fencers start at prep-attack range. The Attacker should be at a distance where they cannot hit with a simple direct attack without taking a preparatory step. The Attacker gets to make one prep step forward before attempting their direct attack.

The Defender gets to choose whether to stand still or retreat during either of the Attacker's steps.

The Defender's win conditions are either to make the attacker miss or to parry. If they make the Attacker miss or if they successfully parry, then point to the Defender. The Attacker's win condition is to land their direct attack. If the attack lands, point to the Attacker.

The attacker on their prep step also gets to choose whether to finish the attack or "pass" their turn by lowering their blade to Alber and taking a step back. If they pass their attack, the roles immediately switch as in the step-lunge game. The Defender now gets a turn to attack and vice versa the Attacker must now defend.

If the Attacker passes their turn, the Defender must attempt their own prep from the position they are in without any reset. If a point is scored to either fencer, then they reset at their starting positions again.

Design (added 2023-12-19 by Eric Dalshaug)

This game arose from myself trying to devise a way to take Coach Allen Evans's advance in preparation drill and make it a competitive exercise where both fencers could potentially win. The advance in preparation drill is described in this article:


The focus of Canadian Two-Step is on distance, judgment, and decision-making. It also targets smooth technical execution of the attack for the Attacker, and sound defensive bladework for the Defender, as well as footwork for both parties.

The main virtue of the game lies in the Attacker judging based on the distance and on the timing of the Defender's retreat whether they can successfully finish their attack or not. The "pass" option is meant for the Attacker to be able to decline the opportunity to attack at no loss to themselves in points, but it does cede the attack opportunity to the opponent so there is some disincentive against that as well. The "pass" option also means that the Defender cannot just leap back hugely away from the Attacker, because by doing so the Attacker will pass and the Defender will be in a bad position during their own attacking turn, so this option also changes the incentives for the Defender. This forces the fencers to fight for small increments of distance, each trying to get the other into a position where they think they can succeed but can't. It has some resemblance to the step-lunge game in that sense.

I have found at my club that this game was very successful at making my fencers think and judge whether or not the distance and time was suitable for their intended action. Often fencers will initially attack on every opportunity, but after getting repeatedly parried and losing points they start to pick their times more carefully. There is also a technical challenge element, in that if the attacker is slow, hesitates, or telegraphs their attack beyond the initial preparation then they can spoil for themselves an otherwise good opportunity to attack. It also functions well as practice for the defender in making effective parries or evasions, as if the defender does not parry correctly or tries to evade from too close a distance then they will get hit.

For the sake of consistency, I required that my students pick one direct attack for the duration of a bout and use only that attack. You can do this game with any weapon or any attack, but it should be the same attack every time for one bout. So if they were doing descending direct cut from the dominant side, that is the ONLY attack they will use for that bout. This forces the student to focus on identifying and setting up the conditions for that attack. If they're permitted to change attacks, then the game devolves into feinting the defender out, which may be relevant but is not the intended goal. I permitted them to try different types of attacks only on subsequent bouts, always remaining consistent with one attack during one bout.

One potential pitfall for this game may be "non-combativity". It hasn't happened at my club, but it's possible for two fencers to repeatedly pass their attacking turns without any fencing happening. You may need to watch for this and intervene if it becomes a problem. One potential solution may be to limit the amount of space the parties have for retreating, forcing them into a smaller fencing area where it is easier to reach the opponent. Also you may need to remind fencers to be consistent with their attacks, as some will be tempted to change the attack if they're not having success with one, and as noted this kinda breaks the game. Also do not allow the Attacker to feint, as that also breaks the game. 

Note (added 2023-12-19 by Eric Dalshaug)

At my club, we played this game to 4 points, in groups of three fencers, with the third doing scoring and judging and rotating in after the bout. We scored the game as such:

Direct hit for Attacker: 1 point
Firm footed parry for Defender: 2 points
Evade the attack without blade action for Defender: 2 points
Parry WHILE retreating for Defender: 1 point

We assigned one fewer point to the retreating parry for the defender because it is an easier and more reliable defence and I was concerned it would be too dominant an option. On reflection, I think that the direct attack may need to have a higher point score, so as to make the opportunity to attack more valuable to the fencer. However, the basic framework of this game is quite flexible and how you score things can be determined and changed by the coach based on your thoughts and your group's needs.

Here are some suggested variations to experiment with as well:

Canadian Two-Step Freestyle

Same basic framework as stated above, however if the Defender successfully parries the first attack then the fencers "fight out" the remainder of the exchange, free fencing until a hit is scored or the exchange ends. If the parry is made, then the Defender may freely riposte and the Attacker may freely remise, and either party can score. Resolve double hits by whichever priority system seems best to you.

Canadian Counter-Two-Step

Again, same basic framework, but the Defender can attempt a counterattack on either of the Attacker's steps, and the Attacker gets a point if they make a countertime parry agaisnt that counter. I would suggest giving priority to the Attacker if the Defender doubles during this counterattack, to disincentive reckless doubling from the Defender. I would also suggest requiring the Defender to be consistent with their choice of counterattack, using the same one for the duration of the bout, so they also have to focus on the correct conditions for counterattacking just as the Attacker must with their own attack.

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