6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing

The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills.

Sean Franklin
Game List: 6 Games for a Complete Fencer
Explanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo

Tea Kew
Game List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style Fencing
Explanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games

Adrien Pommellet
Game List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your Fencing
Explanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing

April fools day? In my HEMA? That would surely never happen. No sir, this is a serious, honest-to-God, family friendly fencing blog.

Or is it? HEMA is an experimental endeavor, and, just like any experiment, some are less… Let’s say, successful than others. In my previous article, I introduced six fencing games that were inspired by various HEMA workshops I have taken over the years. I will now explain what makes them a rather sub-optimal way to train.

Wrong of way

Picture of the author watching a modern sabre bout and enjoying himself

Fight as usual, but if there is a double hit, the defender wins the exchange. Keep the afterblow window long and the entire body a target: you want your students to stay covered during the whole exchange.

The age-old fencing convention known as right of way states that, in case of a double hit, the defender is more to blame than the attacker as they ignored a blatant incoming threat. No matter whether you agree with this rule or not, it’s hard to deny than never initiating an attack, ignoring any hit coming your way, and only looking to double out your opponent is a terrible way to learn how to fence… Which is precisely what this game encourages.

Barking, Mittelhochdeutsch style

Each fighter is paired with a ‘coach’ they can’t communicate with. They spar but can’t score until their respective coach calls a technique name that they must execute immediately.

Fencing motions do not happen in a vacuum. They are answers to complex external physical, visual, and mental stimuli; as a consequence, a technique cannot be abstracted from its context, and certainly cannot be triggered on command. Moreover, openings are fleeting, and by the time a fencer understands the order that has been barked, the opportunity to strike will be long gone.

Circles are boring

The faster you circle, the better the fencing.

Fight as usual, but only actions performed with an offline step can score.

A good technique isn’t an arbitrary motion with a funny name. It is meant to provide a fencer with a tangible advantage in a particular situation, and stepping offline is no exception to that. Making it a mandatory scoring condition is putting the cart before the horse: footwork is never the point, it merely facilitates a strike or a parry.

Bindy touchy feely

Fight as usual, but only actions from the bind can score.

This game would almost be playable, weren’t it for the ability of any fencer to deny the bind at any time and prevent their opponent from scoring at all. Bad games often fail to account for malicious opponents and interactions that do not fit the platonic fencing ideal the game designer had in mind.

Thinly-veiled bullying

Babe, it’s sparring time. Hope your pecs aren’t too sore from last week’s training.

Fight as usual. The first time there’s a double hit, both fencers must do three push ups. Each subsequent double hit increases that count.

Should I really explain why corporeal punishment is a terrible way to learn any skill? On this blog? Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is not a role model.

Word salad

Fight under the scrutiny of a judge. The judge must penalize attacks that are tappy, suicidal, rushed, or too violent.

What would be HEMA without a fair amount of buzzwords? I’m eagerly waiting for an objective definition of tappy (or is controlled?), suicidal (committed), rushed (explosive), or violent (martial). The only reliable way to avoid one of these expletives is not to perform any offensive motion whatsoever, stop fencing, go home, and sit on your couch.