Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fighting Mindfully: How did you kill me?

Taking criticism is difficult. Asking for criticism and then taking it is even harder, especially when the critique tears apart something you've been working hard at. But it is necessary for improvement.

It is easy to get caught up in the culture of "Well, I put myself out there, which is more than most people can say, so I don't care what people think. I'm awesome because I believe I am." It's fine for some things, especially those you do just for fun, but that mentality is a killer of skill. It's one of the easiest ways to get stuck at a plateau. You stop listening to those who can help you because you don't want to deal with the voice which says "you could be better if you stopped doing all these things wrong."

Sometimes your best isn't good enough - yet. Until you learn to accept that, and know it is a reflection of time, good practice, and effort instead of your self-worth, you will struggle to improve beyond what you already know. Unfortunately, everyone has blind spots. We need our companions and even complete strangers to tell us what we don't want to hear, so we can know the truth of how we are doing and how to improve.

Okay, nice life philosophy and all, but what does that have to do with fighting?

Learning how to fight in Belegarth for most is an uncomfortable experience of trial and error with the help of their peers. There's very little in the way of standardized instruction. This haphazard manner of doing things is made worse by the multitude of body types and sizes that flow through the ranks, each of which pass on "tricks" of questionable soundness. You may slowly figure out how kill every one else at practice given enough time, except maybe that one guy who almost always beats you no matter what you do. But no matter how good you are at home, when you eventually go to a big event, you'll probably find yourself on the losing side of the fighting equation more often than not.

At this point you may think "Wow, I wish I could fight like that guy", or maybe you'll just give up on fighting at the national level. After all, you've already learned all you think you can learn at home, you've read every article online, and you're still not good enough to win. Maybe it's time to throw in the towel and give up your aspirations of being a great fighter. You'll never be able to compete with those other stick jocks.

I'd like to offer you an alternative.  Use their experience for your own gain. You'll find that most of the ones who live and breathe fighting are excited to impart their knowledge. Always be prepared to ask the question "How did you kill me?"
Even casual sparring can be extremely helpful if you fight mindfully.
Now, not every fighter will be willing or able to answer that question, but it is still worth asking both at events where there are more skilled players and when you're sparring back at home. You'll probably be surprised at how people see your fighting. Of course, you still need to use your best judgement when listening to their advice, but at the very least, you'll suddenly have a new aspect of fighting to focus on. Understanding your weaknesses by asking the person who sees them most clearly (your opponent) and using that knowledge to improve is the fastest way to go from "okay" to "great". It still won't be easy, but you certainly don't need to give up on getting better as long as you're willing to take critique.

And in case you're thinking "well, that's easy for her to say", I'd like to be clear that this is my biggest struggle with fighting. Even sparring against my husband, his pointing out flaws in my fighting can be enough to reduce me to tears some days. I usually "know better" than to make those mistakes, so hearing I am still failing is incredibly frustrating. But, when the dust settles and I drag myself out to try again, I am more conscious of those errors and can correct them; something I wouldn't be able to do if I was left to improve on my own. It may hurt your ego, but there is no shame in asking for help from those better than you.

In short, this is my advice to you: If you want to become a great fighter, find someone who kills you every time at your next event and ask how they do it. You'll likely learn more from that one encounter than months of "figuring it out" back at home. It may sting to hear what they have to say, but you'll be better for it.

Plateaus are obviously a common issue in fighting. For another take on it, check our Sir Torrence's blog.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cultural Differences and the BoW

One of the prevailing concepts when adjusting Belegarth's rules is KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.  In most cases, that means we have the minimum number of rules required to play safely. The unintended side effect is that we rely heavily on word of mouth and culture to fill in the gaps. Just a few examples:
  • What penalty is there for hitting an illegal target (e.g. the head)?
  • What do you say if someone hits you or your garb, but doesn't damage a target area (e.g. hand on weapon)?
  • Do you need to say anything at all?
  • What's the proper way for an archer to call combat hits?
  • How do you let your opponent know that you've stabbed with two hands on your weapon?
  • What does 'point' mean and do you need to honor it?
  • What is a courtesy strike and do you need to honor it?
  • When is okay to call 'HOLD' outside of unsafe situations?
Some of these may seem trivial, but others are the cause of heated debates on the field. When fighters from two cultures clash, there is a lot of room for miscommunication which can end in anger and resentment all around.

Even worse is when there's a disparity in power between the two people arguing - for example, a knight vs. a 'normal' veteran fighter. The knight gets annoyed because he feels like his experience is not being respected, and the vet resents that the knight is going to be seen as 'right' just because of his title. In reality, neither side may be 'correct' because the Book of War doesn't specify many details about required communication.

If you're not clear about what I mean, here's a culture clash I witnessed not too long ago. There are two players involved - a veteran archer and a knight. They were fighting in a bridge battle, where visibility was poor on both sides. The knight thought an arrow might have hit him, but couldn't tell in the chaos of bridge battles, so he looked to the archer for clarification. The archer, who saw the arrow contact a body tip-first but couldn't make out a specific target area, said 'point' when the knight stared at him, obviously waiting for some sort of call. And this is where the break down happened.
More than any other weapon, archers rely on culture
for their calls to be understood.
Photo © Ellie Apland
The archer said 'point' to mean "The arrow hit point first and deflected, but I couldn't see well enough to call a target area. I'm only saying anything because you're asking for clarification - I can't confirm for you a target area or that it hit nothing. Take what you felt. If you think it missed, that's okay." This is well within his rights as an archer, since they are not required to call their hits. He borrowed the word from how he learned to communicate javelin throws, indicating the hit taking is being left up to the judgement of his target.

On the other hand, the knight wasn't sure what 'point' meant when an archer used it. He may have assumed the archer may have meant "I hit you, take something." Compounded by the fact that the archer kept looking in his direction, he felt like he was being accused of cheating even though the archer wouldn't tell him what target area to take. In reality, the archer was only looking at the knight because he wanted a chance at a cleaner shot.

So what happened? A very unpleasant confrontation after the battle with both parties up in arms that they did nothing wrong. In fact, neither one did do anything wrong, but because of their different expectations around communication, they both felt like the other person was accusing them of cheating. A simple bridge battle turned into a heated situation for everyone because of a Belegarth culture clash.

To avoid unnecessary frustrations like that one, I would like to see stricter codification of language used on the field to avoid miscommunication. Short of that, perhaps it is time marshals take more control of their field and the communication that is expected on it.

Go ahead and require people to actually say 'hand', 'light', or 'garb' if there's concern your fighters are blowing off shots. Make it clear that an archer must call 'torso' instead of 'dead' when they shoot someone, so their opponents don't think think the archer is calling themselves dead. Tell your guys using javelins that they aren't allowed to call 'point' if it causes too much strife. Require that your fighters honor a courtesy strike if they are an archer or if they're hit from behind.

Where the rules have gaps, marshals can fill in and unify the culture on the field. I hope an extra bit of clarity will be enough to knock down the number of perceived slights and therefore the number of after-battle altercations. All too often, a simple difference in expected communication can grow into full-blown resentment of other fighters. More fighting on the field and less on the sidelines seems like a good goal to me.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Just swing already!

Intimidation is a powerful weapon in Belegarth. Some methods used on the field are questionable, like faking an illegal or dangerous shot to force an opponent to flinch, while others are simply a matter of dressing well and knowing what you're doing. For the record, I don't condone fakes of illegal or dangerous strikes; there's too much room for error and too many other options to throw your opponent off his game.

As a new fighter, you have an awful lot to be intimidated by. From the over-aggressive guy screaming in your face while bowling you over with a tower shield, to the silent knight in head-to-toe armor who barely even glances in your direction as he kills you, you've probably realized Belegarth can be a pretty frightening place. That same guy may help you back to your feet with a smile, and that knight may offer to train you on the side, but when you're getting tossed around like a rag doll out there, dying left and right, their kindness isn't the first thing on your mind.
Wait, he's coming to kill me? Yeah, no thanks.
Photo © Ellie Apland
Unfortunately, when you combine fear with being new to Belegarth, freezing up is a natural response. You don't know what to do, panic, and just stand there while the battle keeps moving around you. That's when you hear someone shout these words: "Just swing, newbie!"

It's not like you aren't trying, but you don't know where to swing. Every time you swing, you die.  Every time you don't swing, you still die. You want to fight, but it seems like you'll never even take someone's limb.

I'm here to tell you two things:
1) You are not alone. Most fighters have gone through these same feelings on their journey as a fighter.
2) Just swing anyway! No one other than you will remember if you die. You'll only get better if you try to stand up and fight.

To drive this point home, I have two quick war stories for you about new fighters learning to "just swing".

Our first story begins at a normal Belegarth practice. Near the end of the day, one of the veterans parried a glaive poorly and hurt his hand. Still wanting to fight a little longer since there were so many new people out, he tucked his injured hand into his tabard and picked up a shield but no other weapons.

When "lay on" was called, three new fighters were lined up across from him. They had seen him running around killing people just moments earlier and gave him a wide berth. Laughing, the veteran urged them on, even pulling out his injured hand from his tabard and waiving it to say "See? No weapons!"

Still, the three kept their distance.

"Come on guys, swing on me! I only have a shield and there are three of you."

More hesitation.

"I promise, you'll be able to kill me. Just attack!"

One of them finally got the courage to step forward just in time to be hit in the back. You see, by delaying so long, the veteran's team had managed to break through their line. If they had charged in and given it a chance, they may have been able to break the veteran's line first. At the very least, they could have killed the guy with nothing but a shield instead of simply dying that round.

Okay, so what does "Just swinging" actually look like?

At a smallish event, there was a two team battle going on with plenty of top-tier fighters on either side along with new ones. In this particular battle, a veteran got in close to a knight and started grappling him. Within moments, they were both so effectively tangled up that neither could swing or move at all. It was then the veteran called out:

"Newbie! Kill him!"

The new fighter, following orders despite the knight's terrifying persona, ran up and swung at wherever there wasn't armor on his back. And just like that, it was over - the newbie had killed a knight at her very first event. Talk about a fun story to tell to your friends, and I can tell you the other vets noticed it, too.

Now, I realize opportunities like that don't happen to everyone.  Sometimes it won't matter to your team if you charge in or hang back. Still, learning to listen to orders and put yourself out there is important in Belegarth; you can't get better if you don't try.

And if you stick with it, one day you will earn your first knight kill. You'll just need to swing to do it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You know you're a Belegrim when...

  1. Any trip to any hardware store is a rainbow of possibilities
  2. Are those pool noodles? Prepare for War!
  3. Every time you drive past a park, you instantly go through a mental checklist to decide if it would be a good place to fight.
  4. Your home is drowning in fabric, leather, or foam, yet you still somehow never have what you need for your next project.
  5. Using colors as a verb is normal to you. Example: "And then I greened him right in the chest!"
  6. You say "arching" to refer to firing a bow.
  7. Any mention of archers makes you cringe. If you are one, you still hate other archers because they give you a bad name.
  8. You go on tirades about the realism of fighting in movies, only to later realize basing your complaints off of swinging foam probably isn't a great idea.
  9. You've decided you need to leave work for a year, just so you can travel the country and fight with all these people you've heard stories about.
  10. You plan your life around big fighting events. This includes both saving days off at work and spending a ridiculous amount of money on camping supplies.
  11. Somehow your circle of friends has slowly become at least 50% other Belegrim, no matter how much of a life you have outside of fighting. Some of these may be people you have "converted" to Belegarth.
  12. If you live where it gets cold, winter is the worst. You've tried to use the extra free time work on weapons and learned why the indoors and contact cement don't mix.
  13. You've collected a small armory in your home, but you haven't touched half of it in at least a year. Never know when you may need that mace again.
  14. You're way better at telling war stories about "that one time, at Bele practice" than actually fighting. You've also spent almost an entire practice doing nothing but swapping stories with your realm mates.
  15. You must have duct and cloth tape on hand at all times. You likely own more tape than most people will use in a lifetime.
  16. Every time you find something new made of or packaged in foam, you can't resist giving it a squeeze to decide if it would be suitable for your next weapon.
  17. You've contemplated or actually started a business that deals in goods for foam fighting. Then you realized fighters are insanely cheap when it comes to garb and gear.
  18. Meeting fighters outside of Belegarth is awful because you can no longer keep their fighting and real name straight. This can lead to difficult conversations, especially when someone's fighting name matches someone else's real name. Example: "So I was talking to Mel..." "Wait, do you mean Fury Mel, Meli Mel, or fighter Mel?"
  19. You've said hello to another fighter in a public place, only to realize everyone's staring at you for yelling their fighting name. Example: "Hey, Meat! So good to see you."
  20. You first thought when moving to a new home is "So where are we going to have room to spar around here?" shortly followed by "How is all of my gear going to fit in this tiny place?"

Know your range: Attacking from standing

Range control is probably the number one thing I see new fighters struggle with. They're so focused on hitting hard and remembering the rules that they don't take time to practice engaging and disengaging their opponents properly. This is something that some very good fighters have extensively written about before, but I'm going to try to keep it simple for the newest fighters.  When you're ready for a more in-depth explanation, you should read through what they've written.
This is what happens when you misjudge your range. Photo Ellie © Apland.
When I talk about "knowing your range", I'm really referring to a few different things:
  1. From your usual fighting stance, how close you need to be to hit confidently with your weapon of choice.  The typical rule is you should be connecting around the top 1/3 of your blade.
  2. How large of a gap you can close before you take that swing. When you're starting out, you can think of this as how far you'll get if you take a single step toward your opponent. Eventually, you'll learn different ways to close the gap between the two of you. You need to end up close enough to hit confidently, as described in #1.
  3. How far your opponent can move to avoid your attack. This is probably the hardest of the three for new fighters to master, since it cannot be practiced alone and changes drastically based on the fighting style and experience of your opponent. The way most intuitively take advantage of this is by waiting for an opponent to commit to an attack before counter-swinging. That effectively gimps their opponent's ability to retreat because they're already shifting their weight to attack.
Note that I'm only talking about offense in this post. Obviously, range also affects whether or not your opponent can hit you, but that's a discussion for another day.

Today I'd like to focus on #1, since it's one of the easiest to teach and learn. I find studying a weapon's reach helps new fighters learn to stand their ground more effectively and reduces the number of times they whiff or graze their opponent. It also can help with safety issues because it forces a fighter to be cognizant of where they intend to hit and how to hit there.

A quick note: The one exception to "hitting where they intend to throw" is versus opponents that have good or very active footwork.  Most beginner drills use a "track" mentality to simplify concepts (only moving forward and backward), so they may still struggle with the odd angles decent footwork creates until they've solidified the basics enough to learn it themselves.

Onto the drill, which is really a simple warm up.  Stand opposite a partner with both of you in your fighting stances. Using your weapon of choice, take three simple shots - a straight cross that hits the shoulder diagonal from your sword arm, a shoulder shot that hits the shoulder directly in front of your sword arm, and a leg shot on the leg directly in front of your sword arm. You'll find you need to either move closer or lower to take the leg compared to the first two shots. Remember to take your time here so you aim for the "sweet spot" if you're using a sword - the top 1/3 of the blade connecting with your opponent.

After both you and your opponent have determined your maximum range while in your stance, spar for a couple rounds. It helps here if you have a third person who can watch you. If you catch yourself missing or grazing your opponent, even if you think it might be because they stepped out of the way, stop and repeat the first exercise. The idea is to keep drilling that good range, so you don't develop a habit of swinging while you have no chance of connecting solidly with other combatants.

Once you're done, if you have other weapons you like to fight with, make sure you do the drill with those as well. You want to cement in your mind exactly what your range is with every weapon you use. Over time, recognizing the range of a weapon will become second nature, allowing you to focus on other parts of the battle.

As a last step, feel free to add other shots you like to throw into the drill. It is a good way to test the viability of different approaches safely. If you can't connect properly 100% of the time while standing still and moving carefully, you shouldn't be trying that strike on the field yet. Don't be afraid to take extra time to drill more slowly during water breaks if you're struggling or ask for help from a vet. The only way you'll improve is through mindful practice, and sometimes full-speed battle isn't very helpful.

If you are a new fighter, this little exercise won't solve all your range problems, but it should start you in the correct direction. Just be sure not to get too attached to standing still and swinging; out on the battlefield you need to move your feet to be successful. For now, keep practicing and fighting as much as you can!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Growth beyond newbie-dom

Stagnation. It’s something we all suffer from in our lives, and Belegarth is no exception. The first few years in Belegarth are spent gathering new experiences, learning rules, playing with weapons, meeting fighters, and going to events. Everything is exciting and fresh. We still have high hopes for our own future in Belegarth: will we be a knight? A realm leader? Make the most amazing garb or kill the most people on the field? Will we invent a new weapon or technique that revolutionizes the game? Make a name for ourselves?
Learning is fun! Photo © Ellie Apland.
At that stage, teaching is easy and natural. There is so much to learn and no one is afraid to give you advice. In fact, advice comes from every corner: some good, some bad, some useful, some not. You learn who you respect and who you don’t. The list of flaws in your fighting or work grows shorter until you find your limit. That limit may be based on your body and mind, your time, or your lack of teachers, but we all hit it eventually. We plateau. While some of us struggle through on our own, others grow content with where they are and may shift to focus on the social aspects of Belegarth instead.

I’m not worried Belegrim becoming more social, but I am concerned that we are losing some potentially good fighters when they hit their first plateau and have nowhere to turn. We say that fighters should seek out the best at events, putting the burden of bravery and discomfort entirely on the learners' shoulders, but even that opportunity is only a few times a year at best. There are only two kinds of always-present advice out there if you don’t have the luxury of a good fighter who teaches well: lessons for beginners and lessons for the elite. The problem is most fighters don’t fall into these categories. They are mediocre and have been for years, sometimes by conscious choice but just as often not. Pride, experience, and fear of judgement have become an impediment to learning.

So short of doing what we already do or putting together some new instructional videos, how can we improve the average level of fighting?

I think a lot of it can be addressed by making the giving of advice to older fighters a more acceptable practice. Of course, ego is going to be an issue (most people don’t like unsolicited advice) but there are ways to make it more palatable. Run some special kinds of sparring at the beginning of practice that requires each pair to make an observation about their opponent before they move on. It acts as a normal warm up for those who don’t care to improve, and will make it okay for vets to give other vets feedback if they do. If you have the skill and charisma, you can also seek out those who have bad habits during a water break and ask them to spar. It’s a safe space where you can start by building a fighting-based friendship, then casually begin letting them know how their guard is off or you keep catching them on a bad cross.

The theme is to be proactive about teaching, not reactive. To build trust and respect, so there isn’t fear of judgement between the mediocre and elite. It should feel safe for a vet to say that they never understood how to throw wraps or don’t know how to make a blue sword, so they can learn instead of being forced to stay silent or face ridicule. 

Anecdotally, even after over seven years in Belegarth and countless events where I’ve done service, I am embarrassed to say I never learned the finer details of weapons checking or foamsmithing. Everyone simply expects I know these things because I'm well-versed in the Book of War and have been around for many years, but as a non-com, no one ever explained to me exactly how to do it. I'm only now pursing learning those things because I need to know it to serve my new realm, when I should have felt comfortable asking a long time ago.

I firmly believe that we can keep the rough core of Belegarth intact, in fighting and our adherence to safety, while softening a few harsh edges that impede learning. It is not so we can let in the weak, but so we improve the quality of fighting for all of us. In my mind, Belegarth is not for everyone. That is what makes it so important to foster the few that have already made it in the door, whether they’ve never held a sword or own two dozen. If that means a little discomfort while we redefine how to mentor within our ranks, so be it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holding your first sword

Not my first time with a sword, but pretty darn close.
I think most Belegrim remember the first time they held a foam sword. For many of us, it was an experience much like a cat that had climbed to the top of a very big tree: “This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have no idea what to do now.” What we chose to do next shaped our time in Belegarth. As a non-com who owns her fair share of weapons, I'd thought it might be interesting to share my own story.

The very first time I ever carried a sword was after hanging out at one of my first real practices. You may recall that it took a while to get there. My boyfriend at the time, who had recently become interested in Belegarth, purchased a longsword during practice so he had something to fight with. On a whim, I picked it up while he was packing his other things. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - how to hold it, how to swing it, nothing.

I should have expected it, being the girl who used to play fight with sticks until her knuckles bled, but there was an instant connection with having this foam weapon in my hands. I’m sure I must have looked like Gollum at that moment, clutching it to myself and insisting that I would carry it home for him. There was no chance anyone (including my boyfriend) would be able to take it back from me until I’d sparred someone with it. I remember an uncontrollable grin splitting my face on the walk home. For the first time in my life, I had a sword I could hit people with. It was glorious.

Now “sword I could hit people with” is a bit misleading. What I really mean is "sword I was allowed to hit people with". You see, as soon as I tried to swing said longsword, using the whole of my 5’2” frame and non-existent strength training skills, I realized that I couldn’t actually control the thing. I flailed wildly and grumbled obscenities at this foam on a stick that would not do my bidding. I’m pretty sure it only took about five playful swings of that heavy monster to really hurt my wrist, and I couldn't continue.

Of course, that didn’t stop me completely. I did try a few more times, but it wasn’t meant to be. Almost every attempt ended badly: I re-injured my wrist again, got nailed in the head repeatedly, and even tripped on a sidewalk while retreating and skinned both my hands. After enough of this, I gave up before ever stepping on the field. I still bought my own sword because I felt that connection with fighting, but I wouldn’t ever spar with it.

I wish I knew then what I know now. If someone had told me that sword was too heavy and long for me, I might have never hurt my wrist that first time. If I had trusted someone at practice to teach me, I might have learned ways to prevent the worst of my injuries and never been pushed into a sidewalk by an over-enthusiastic newbie. If I had been handed a sword earlier by a veteran, I might actually be a fighter today.

Everyone only gets one first encounter with foam weapons. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to hit harder

Disclaimer - this post is aimed at new fighters who are struggling to hit with sufficient force. If that is not you, this advice will probably not help you.

If a 5'2" girl can hit with sufficient force and control, so can you. That's my mantra when new fighters are struggling to throw good shots, whether it be due to weakness, wildness, or simple lack of confidence. There are some good resources out there in the form of videos that will show you this (go check out BrennonEH's channel on youtube if you haven't already), but I know I sometimes need more than demonstration to really understand concepts. In light of that, I've written this short guide to help those who don't have the benefit of good teachers near them.

To start, let's talk about ways you can make your strikes feel harder.

Be strong 
Pretty obvious, but more muscle trained for swinging your weapons means more force. In most cases, naturally strong fighters have less trouble connecting solidly even when striking quickly. You can, and should, work on this over time if you want to become a better fighter.

Be heavy
This doesn't just mean your body, though it certainly doesn't hurt.  Having more mass to throw around typically will make you hit harder. That includes using slightly heavier weapons, assuming you can control them. Even with those weapons (which require strength), you probably aren't going to be able to change this much.

Have tape on your striking surface (really, don't)
Okay, this isn't really a way to make you hit harder, but it technically can make your strikes "feel" harder. I'm only including this to address something you should not try but might come up in conversation.

Not much tape on a striking surface is allowed per the current Book of War, but you may notice taping is common on some flails and bats to improve the longevity of the weapon. As a side effect, it gives the weapons an extra slap or sting that makes it feel like a harder hit than it would sans tape. Note that this isn't the case when your opponent is wearing armor. More importantly, your weapon should be failed for using tape specifically to hit harder, so you can't rely on this method.

At this point, you've probably noticed that first way takes time to build if you don't already have it, the second is mostly immutable, and the third is strongly discouraged.  So how can you start throwing sufficient force shots more easily right now?

Body Mechanics
Can you guess what happens next? Photo © Kyle Janus (Noodle)
Quite possibly the most overused buzzword in Belegarth, the term "body mechanics" is spouted at newbies as if it is a magical unicorn that will solve all their problems. It's true, good body mechanics are required to hit hard and safely, but often the phrase is followed with so little instruction that new fighters can actually learn dangerous habits while doing what they think is necessary to get good force.

So before we begin let me be perfectly clear: if something feels "bad" about the way your are swinging (e.g. it strains your wrist, makes your elbow sore) do not keep doing it! 

Good body mechanics do not hurt and should help prevent injury, not cause it. If you're not sure what the problem is, please go find a skilled veteran (or comment below) so you can get help correcting the issue. There are many possible causes for injury that are no fault of your opponent, such as using a weapon that's too heavy for you, standing wrong, gripping the weapon poorly, or putting more momentum behind a swing than you can control.

What I'm going to outline for you is a simple way to work on throwing a full-power, controlled shot with a one-handed weapon. Before we begin, here's what you'll need:
  • A one-handed sword. This should be light enough for now that you can pull your shots without too much strain. As you become comfortable and stronger, you can use something heavier.
  • Gloves. Technically optional, but it can protect you from your sword's grip. Also, you'll want to train with the same equipment you use on the field because some gloves restrict wrist or hand movement.
  • Something to hit.  I recommend a friend with a shield if that's an option.  If that's not available, I've used a tall padded chair or couch indoors (a punching bag or pell is ideal if you have access to one).  You can even use a tree, but be careful of tearing through your covers. Whatever you choose, you should be able to comfortably strike it while standing. In the explanation below, I will assume you're swinging on a round shield.
For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to avoid the topic of different grips for now. That probably makes some veterans out there cringe, but I find that most new fighters already have a natural grip that works fairly well for this training. I will say to be careful where your thumb is: a thumb hanging out in the open or on your blade can lead to breakage if it gets hit the wrong way.

What I'd like you to do is stand sword-foot forward for now, other foot back and pointed at a 45-ish degree angle away from your body (view the videos on stance if you need help).  You don't need a particularly deep stance but be sure you aren't leaning over. Now, take a solid swing at the edge of your opponent's shield, trying to connect the top 1/3 of your blade with the shield edge.  You should be coming down at a significant angle, connecting with the shield in a place where this is no danger of hitting them in the head.  You can think of it as aiming for the shield instead of the person, preferably a little below shoulder height.

After you've done this a few times, take note of several things:
  • What muscles or joints are feeling the strain of swinging?
  • What parts of your body have moved between the beginning and end of your swing?
  • When you strike the shield, does it naturally force your blade to bounce back?
  • How much noise are you making when you strike the shield?
To be clear, I want to make sure you understand that the answers you should give to these questions will vary depending on what kind of shot you're throwing. When you've got body mechanics down pat, you'll be able to engage the right muscles for the right job, but at this time we're going to assume you're trying for full power. Most of the time, you won't want to use this full-body, maximum-power shot since it limits your ability to move and guard, but it should help you feel confident that you can hit sufficiently when you're working through other types of training.

For what we want to see, you should be engaging your entire core, including your hips, to generate power (more about that in a moment), so you'll feel it through your whole body. You'll be twisting from the start of the swing to the end to ensure a hard blow, so everything from the waist up will move through that motion. As you finish your swing, you'll be keeping your wrist "strong" to avoid taking the shock in a bad way to your joints, which will push the blade back forcefully after your strike. Of course, you should also expect the characteristic, reverberating "boom" that comes with a good hit to a shield edge. This isn't a foolproof list, but it will point you in the right direction.

You can think of your body kind of like a bullwhip in this exercise, with the sword being the end that cracks through the air. Your hips and core muscles will be the handle, the staring point that pulls your arm around to connect with your opponent. As that arm comes around through the shoulder, be sure to keep some tension so you can continue adding power to the swing as you extend to hit the shield. Lastly, you'll engage your forearm to actually complete the strike with a sharp snap, absorbing the bounce-back into your arm rather than your wrist, ideally using it to return to a guarding position.

Practice this full body-twist a few times slowly before trying it full speed on the shield. You should feel most of your upper body being used during the swing, and the sound that echos after it should be nice and loud. It will take a lot of effort to throw this kind of strike at first despite it being more efficient than an arm or wrist-only shot, but it shouldn't feel bad on any of your joints.

After a few tries, take stock of the earlier questions again to see what's changed and what hasn't. If you're doing well, switch to other stances and shots to see the difference in your swing.  You'll find you need to modify the finer details for a few, but the concept is the same. Your core is king to generate lots of power.

If you're struggling, this is a good point to hunt down vets or give those videos a watch to figure out what isn't working. Everyone's way of learning is a little different, so a second explanation might be all you need. I promise, you can get there with enough practice.

Some other tips
There are a couple additional problems that I see often enough during training that I'm going to address a couple of them now. If you're still struggling after everything above and the resources and teachers available to you aren't helping, I hope this will.

I'm going through the motions, but I just can't hit HARD!
I sometimes call this "noodle-arm" syndrome, and it's far more common in women than men. For some reason, many women have a tendency to go limp through their swings, letting momentum do the work. This ends in a very weak strike.

This problem can be symptomatic of using equipment that's just too heavy for you to control. The first thing you should do if you have this problem is go find something lighter to play with for a bit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you may find that with less weight you're able to better engage your arm during a swing rather than letting your sword just fall. Using those muscles will generate far more force and control.

Noodle-arm can also be symptomatic of having a metal block when it comes to actually fighting a person. I know it sounds kind of stupid, but when you're facing an opponent, you're probably thinking more than just "I'm going to hit them as hard as I possibly can!" especially if you're worried about hurting them. For you, I recommend practicing on an inanimate object first if you can. If you can't, try to think of the shield like a tree that you're trying to chop down. Remember - you aren't swinging on a person during this exercise. Once you know you can hit hard enough, you can work through the mental hurdle of doing it on an actually opponent on the field.

If neither of these are true, you just might need to work on your aggression.  Now, I don't mean anger, that can be dangerous, but just the drive to fight.  It's something worth learning to turn on and off. On the field, it's necessary to stand up to other fast and aggressive fighters, so you'll to want practice getting getting your adrenaline pumping.  I've never had a problem with aggression personally, but I often remind those who need help to "put a little hate behind it" or "swing like a badass". That usually gets the point of confidence across without promoting lack of control.

I'm female and can't get consistency with how hard I hit. 
I highly recommend you get a copy of The Armored Rose and read it.  Although all the body mechanics don't apply in Bele and you may not find all are true for you, it can save you some serious frustration. Males may be the best fighters and teachers in Belegarth today, and you absolutely should listen to them, but they won't be able to explain why certain things just don't work for you that seem to for their other students.

The one takeaway about power I'll impart to you is this: experiment with your stance. Since your power likely comes from your hips and those hips are set differently from a man's, you'll probably find that sword foot forward generates surprisingly more force than the alternative when using the same technique. If that's true for you, be aware of this favored side when you fight - it can be the difference between sufficient and light even if the motion feels the same to you.

Need more help or have additional advice? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Teamwork: Fighting beyond yourself

Fighters take pride in many things: their speed, their fitness, their weapons, their garb, and their kill count. Anything that measures how well they, individually, stack up against their opponents. However, this means one thing is missing in most battles: pride of team.

It is a notion that played out in places like hockey; the belief that the logo on the front (your team) is more important than the name on the back (yourself). Some SCAdians call it being a soldier rather than a warrior. On the field, you can see it in the fighter who is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of all. He retreats or advances with distinct purpose: to protect those around him. It is a romantic ideal of camaraderie and brotherhood that resonates with many of us, yet most never pursue it beyond their own unit. In your average battle, Belegrim fight alone despite many 'teammates' surrounding them.

In theory it is not difficult to change. The next time your team loses, simply think to yourself: what could I have done to prevent that?

But it is never so simple when numbers are large and instruction varies wildly as it does in Belegarth. In fact, there are many reasons this team-centric mentality isn't very prevalent in Belegarth’s culture, however I won’t explore that in this post. There is too much to be said, and I fear the main message will be drowned out. Instead, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to practice this ideal in a small, but concrete, way. Become an archer guard.
Defending your own can be the key to victory. Photo © Ellie Apland

It is one of the easiest roles to fulfill at its basest level. Simply protect your archer from enemy fire, gather ammunition for them, and keep your eyes where your archer cannot. Your personal kill count will drop dramatically, but the survival of your team should increase as long as your line is doing its job. Remember, archers are one of the most powerful weapons on the field while your line is intact, but they are also the most vulnerable. If you care about your team, it only makes sense to protect them.

But don’t stop there, grab someone who’s struggling on the line and teach them to be an archer guard, too. Give them a purpose on your team, a way they can contribute directly to your success beyond being an all-star fighter. After all, most fighters aren't elite. If you are particularly experienced, you may even act as commander from your position as archer guard, now given the freedom to see the full battlefield while you are not actively fighting. It's not just about playing your own role, but helping others find roles that fit them so your team can win.

If every fighter took it as a personal failure when an archer fell before the line broke, I think we would see far better team fighting at events. It could be the beginning of defense and strategy becoming more pronounced over ego, adding a level of interest and complexity to giant field battles. That mentality would encourage more fighters to step up who are skilled at tactics, but not combat. It is a whole new avenue for Belegarth to explore, and I hope it would be more exciting to both play and watch.

Now, there are more ways to teach teamwork than what I've outlined above, of course, and I expect I will cover this topic again in the future. If you would like some more ways to keep track of teamwork starting today, you can use something like the teamwork tournament Riverbend has outlined at their site. It's a little math-intensive, so you'll probably need a scorekeeper for battles that use this system. Still, it is a start in the right direction.

Do you have other ideas for promoting teamwork? Share in the comments below.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Belegarth's PR Position: Part Deux

Since my original post about the new PR Position, I've been nominated to fill that role. After publishing this post, I intend to accept that nomination and officially run for the position.

In light of that, I thought it would be nice to lay out exactly what I envision for Belegarth in the coming year if I were to be elected. I'm the kind of person who likes deadlines and solid plans, so I expect I'd be setting up public dates to go with most of the projects below as I tackled them. Any of those would be open to adjustment as the community saw fit.

So without further adieu, the following is what I would like to see in one year's time. It is not even close every project I want to see done, just the things I think are reasonable from where we stand today with community backing.  Anything marked "stretch goal" is not core, but I think it would be doable within a year given enough help. Even more might be accomplished if prominent community members band together to make it happen.

  • Absolutely critical - Create an official brand for the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society with the help of the WC and the input of all realms who wish to contribute. It will consist of a logo, look and feel, and a definition of how we wish to market (e.g. sport vs. larp, hardcore vs. fun). Realms will not be required to adopt this brand, though it will be available to them. This will be used in all official marketing promotions and channels that Belegarth pursues.
Paper Marketing

  • Official business card template for Belegarth that may be modified easily to suit individual realms.  At least one printing run must be offered to realms within the year, so it is one less thing for realm leaders to manage.
  • Stretch goal: Updated, professional flyer templates for all types of events.
Social Media

  • Create an official list of all Belegarth FB groups and post on the main Belegarth page
  • Update social media to match the official Belegarth branding
  • Create a posting schedule to keep regular content flowing out to the public.
  • Stretch goal: look to expand to social media beyond facebook and centralize updates
Intra-Realm Communications

  • Finish realm audit to get complete contact information and make that easily available to other realms
  • Create an official event calendar for Belegarth and determine a way for realms to easily have their events added.  This information must be available on the wiki and advertised via the boards and facebook.
  • Stretch goal: work with realms to determine if having regional and/or national mailing lists would be helpful to keep everyone in the loop.
Web Properties

  • After the main website is on a CMS, develop an update schedule and system of responsibilities.
  • Unify branding across the main website and the wiki
  • Stretch goal: integrate the wiki and main website more effectively, so there is one portal to all official Belegarth information.
  • Stretch goal: combine writing efforts of existing Belegarth members to create a regularly updated blog that can be advertised via social media.

  • Complete requirements for acceptance of an official Belegarth video and have it approved by the WC/BoD as appropriate.  It should include having Belegarth's official branding edited in.
  • Stretch goal: Complete creation of at least one promotional or instructional video
Demos and External Opportunities

  • Nothing new this year.  Next year, when we've established ourselves, this will be where we really start expanding. 

What do you want to see done with Belegarth's public relations? Add a comment below to let me know.

That guy? I hate that guy

Everyone has people they can’t stand on the field. Whether it’s the way they talk, the way they fight, or just the way they take up space, some Belegrim are simply annoying. Fighters have the luxury of beating these people to their heart’s content, rejoicing in every yelp of pain as their opponent screams “Dead dead dead dead!” all within the confines of the rules. I’ve been told it’s one of the reasons many of them enjoy fighting so much; if you’re a skilled fighter, it’s easy to deal with these “problem” people.

Non-coms, on the other hand, don’t have that opportunity. If we’re lucky the people we dislike will stay on the field where they can’t bother us, but often they seem to make a point of hanging around the sidelines, trying to get our attention. We sit there, stewing, wondering if it’s time to pick up a sword just so we can get away from the guy who can’t take a hint.

This is where I admit I’m not always a very nice person. I usually try to be helpful, going out of my way for new fighters and old, doing what I can for my realm and Belegarth as a whole. But when someone really irks me, I start finding ways to be just a little less helpful. Think of it like a shieldman who accidentally “forgets” to stop an arrow headed toward an archer that team killed him during the last battle.

One such incident occurred during the summer when I was back at Numenor. Practices were more sparse once school was out, and many locals I had never met before started showing up in lieu of the usual crowd. Most were completely fine, but a few would just not leave me alone despite my best attempts to push them onto the field. They weren’t mean, but despite having fought for a few years they weren't particularly good at it. Since they didn't like losing and didn't want to train, that meant they spent their time asking me what I was doing on the sidelines. The answer was usually “something that needs my complete attention if I don’t want a needle through my finger.”
Now, I don't really mind answering questions about my work, but I start getting annoyed when you expect me to talk to so much I don't get anything done for several weeks. After being pulled away from my own projects for the hundredth time by this group, I was completely fed up. 
You have no idea how badly I want to do this to you, sir. Photo © Ellie Apland.
At this point, I had been giving them the cold shoulder for a few practices, even telling them point blank that I needed to focus on my work and couldn't talk. I was praying they would eventually take the hint and allow me some breathing room without needing someone else to intervene. Luckily, they sort of seemed to understand, hovering awkwardly nearby and surveying the battle instead of directly bothering me. It was then I heard this:

“Why don’t we go challenge him? He looks skinny.”

Curious, I glanced up from my sewing to see who they were talking about. There was someone at practice they thought they could beat up? It took me a moment, but when I finally realized who they had chosen, I had to quickly stifle an gleeful cackle. They were pointing at Xiao.

For those who don’t know Xiao, he’s not a bulky-looking fighter, but he’s got plenty of lean muscle on him. He hits very hard and fast - way beyond what those guys could handle. Most importantly, he’s friendly enough to not turn down a sparring request but also probably wouldn’t tone down his shots. These guys were about to get their asses kicked. Hard.

Maybe I should have intervened, but I was still pretty annoyed after the weeks of prodded despite many attempts to get them to back off. So I did something that was a bit cruel: I said nothing at all. 

I let those guys walk up to Xiao and challenge him with gusto. Their offer was met with an enthusiastic “Sure! How about King of the Hill?” Only two bouts later they were both done for the day, exhausted, bruised, and wondering what the hell just happened. They had gotten utterly destroyed in a matter of minutes, just like I anticipated, and I couldn't help but feel a little smug at finally getting some payback. 

It didn't take them much longer for them to leave practice entirely, finally coming to the conclusion that they were the bottom of the food chain out there. If even that skinny guy could beat them, what chance did they stand against everyone else? For my part, I never had to deal with them again. I would have been sad about losing bodies out there, but if they weren't going to do anything other than harass me at practice anyway, I was happy not having them around.

I suppose this is a word of warning to those who don’t respect the time of Belegrim who have experience, including the non-coms. We have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years that can help you; don’t forget that we can choose not to use it. Fighting isn’t the only way we know to take you down a peg if we need to.

Got your own story about dealing with annoying Belegrim? Share in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Line-fighting: Mind the gap

Line-fighting is one of the most basic skills anyone on the field should know, but it's a little more complicated than just "stand in a line". A Belegarth line consists primarily of shieldmen, with polearms and missle weapons doing most of the damage to the opposing team. Since these are longer-range weapons, it is easy to understand how controlling range can be an important part of your line's success.

More generally, I'd like to talk about "gap control". This takes into account not just your opponent's range, but your allies' ranges as well. There are three basic types of gaps I'll cover today: forward gaps, side gaps, and diagonal/backwards gaps.

Keep in mind, the strategies I suggest for each are intended to be the safest for you and your team. You'll see advanced fighters taking more risks because they've learned how to do so without being a liability. One of the perks that comes with skill is being able to get away from the basics and still come out on top. Armor helps, too.

Type 1: The Forward Gap

Now that's a nice gap.  Look at all those polearms and javelins.
This is perhaps the most obvious type of gap - the one between you and the opposing line. In this gap, long-range weapons are king. If you're a polearm in the line, this is where you shine by keeping the opposing line from charging towards you, while gimping or killing as many as possible. You have the advantage if you're surrounded by good shieldmen, so use it!

If you're a shieldman, this gap is all about maintaining it while you protect your polearms. Even though you can't do much killing because of all that space, you can hold the enemy line back by being an obstacle. Lunging into this gap without a clear route past the enemy line will likely just get you killed; don't do it. You'll want to let the archers and polearms do their jobs as long as the line is intact. Once the gap closes far enough that shieldmen can finally swing on each other, that's usually when one line will start to crumble.

Type 2: The Side Gap

Walking shoulder-to-shoulder means a tight side gap.
This is the space between you and the guy next to you. Unlike the first kind of gap, this one you want to keep closed. Depending on your ally's field-awareness, footspeed, and weapon choice, the size this gap can be before it becomes dangerous varies. Keeping this space small is natural instinct and why lines usually "fill in" as fighters start dying.

In part, your goal is to make sure that you and the guy next to you can kill anyone who tries to run between you two. More important, however, is keeping the gap closed so you have the opportunity to protect the allies next to you.  If you are too far apart, you lose the option of fighting opponents on the enemy line who are diagonal to you. Instead, you are forced to just square up with a single enemy fighter. When you are close to one another, you and your allies can capitalize on the openings you create for each other in the opposing line.  This might mean you spend a lot of time swinging diagonally to snipe an arm or leg opened by your friend, instead of straight across.

For this sake of keeping things simple in this article, the side gap can also be between you and the edge of the world or you and a flanker. If your line is tight but an opponent can still get past your side to reach your back without difficulty, you aren't doing a good job of controlling this gap. In most cases, communication is what drives success around keeping this type of gap closed. If you see a risk, make sure your line knows about it.

Type 3: The Back/Diagonal Gap

Notice the line bending because of a few slow fighters.  Just a little pressure and...

This gap is one of the hardest to control, and like the side gap, it needs to be kept closed. You will often see this when a large line splits into smaller lines and each does not stay even with one another. One line pushes forward, while another one hangs back behind them.  This causes a diagonal gap between the fighters on the end of each line.

You can occasionally see this coming when a line begins to bow, a section of fighters being forced backwards while their allies don't step back to aid them. This type of hole is a flanker's favorite since unlike breaking through a simple side gap, they don't need to worry about two even fighters swinging on them at once. It's also easier for them to sneak through unnoticed, depending on how hard the back line is being pushed. Remember, what each line can see of the battle is very different when they aren't shoulder to shoulder.

Again, like the side gap, communication is key here. Sometimes you will need to hold back your attack to keep this hole from forming, since it's symptomatic of pushing harder than the line can actually sustain. If a gap like this does form, make sure someone is watching it for flankers. You need to notify your team or kill the flanker before the line completely falls.

So, what can happen when you don't mind your gaps?

I think this just about covers it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Learning to love the stick jock

There’s a misconception out there that all non-coms are only at events to look at the pretty garb and complain about how boring fighting is while waiting for after-battle festivities. They love elaborate lore, fantastic duds, and intricate armor but hate the boorish, uncultured nature of the stick jock. Fighters who care solely about hitting people are useless, in their minds. Non-coms wish those battle-loving miscreants would just leave, so they could be left alone with a more beautiful Belegarth.

I admit, there are threads of truth in there. I do in fact want to see a more beautiful Belegarth, filled with thoughtful costumery that makes my jaw drop. But I also want to see more top-tier fighting, the full-contact, smart combat that has the potential to separate us from so many other battlegames. I want to see the sport part of Belegarth shine. And that means, I love stick jocks.

Starting in Numenor, I quickly gained a healthy respect for the stick jock. Sure, the culture of “sink or swim” fighting was a bit harsh and lost some good members along the way, but it produced amazing battles. There, at a realm dedicated to combat at the exclusion of nearly all else, I grew to love watching the field. I learned great fighting was entertaining fighting. From the sidelines I could sit and watch the knights fight for hours, learning the habits of successful fighters just by soaking up the way they moved, the decisions they made. I spent literally years going to nearly every practice, doing nothing but observing, listening, and studying, but I was never bored.

When I moved away from Numenor and tried to start a new realm with my husband, I was sorely disappointed by the quality of fighting. It made sense, we didn’t have many veteran fighters, but even nearby events seemed slow and weak compared to the rush of Numenorean fighting. It was a painful realization that for their inclusiveness and focus on having fun, they suffered a lack of elite fighters and newbies motivated to become the best. It also hammered home what “average” fighting really meant, a level much lower than I realized even after visiting both Geddon and Oktoberfest.

And so, I found myself missing the stick jock with his blinders on and sword always in hand. Although he could be blunt and tactless, turning away meeker Belegrim, he brought entertainment through his skill. He was the reason I fell in love with Belegarth, and I hope one day he will be the reason we can have a real “sport” and attract more fans. Perhaps the rest of Belegarth can balance out his fighting-first mentality and match brilliant combat with a positive culture.

To the top-notch stick jocks out there: thank you for your skill and dedication. You make Belegarth a joy to watch.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How to pick up a Belegarth girl

Not long ago, I wrote about things you shouldn't say or do to pick up women in Belegarth. Thinking about it a little more, I realized this isn’t really fair of me. Telling you what not to do without providing alternatives is one of my pet peeves about most blog lists.

So here are 5 ways to successfully pick up a woman in Belegarth. At least, it worked for my husband.

5) Ignore her when she approaches you.

If a woman you like comes up to you, don’t appear too eager. Be polite, but make sure you brush her off to chat with other female Belegrim. You may even want to go so far as flirting with other women, teaching them one-on-one, and making it your personal mission to get them on the field while the object of your affections watches from the sidelines. She’ll see you as a challenge worth pursuing, and you won’t need to worry about her getting picked up by other men busy on the battlefield if she’s a non-com.

4) Be as unclear as possible about whether or not you’re into her.

She should still be guessing a month after you start courting her.  Remember:
 women love mystery. Be sure to only take actions that could be seen as casual friendship. Some examples might be: go out for lunch several times with her but never offer to pay, spend time around her only when your other guy friends are with you, and don't stray from the topic of Belegarth.  You need to maintain your mystique by keeping a healthy distance early on in your relationship.

3) Spend time with your unit over spending time with her.

Bonus points if you miss the first time she invites you to her place; it never hurts to play hard to get. Besides, it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re having fun with your fellow Belegrim. Your fighting brothers are important, and she will respect the strength of your commitment to friendship.

2) Don't hold back when you spar.

In Belegarth, it’s extremely important to make a good first impression if you’re going to be beating up a woman you like. Don’t go easy on her, even if she’s new. A woman will not only appreciate your manly strength, but will be happy you view her as enough of an equal to not hold back. Her bruises and pride will heal. Eventually.

1) Injure yourself.

Not only is this a surefire way to get some concerned female attention, but it will seal the deal for you if you keep doing it. Starting out with a simple injury, like a bloody nose after a bad shot at practice, is a good way to make her notice you. If you want to be sure she sticks around, take it up a notch. For instance, you might try to come back with staples in your forehead after an event. She won’t be able to leave you alone after that, if only because she fears for your life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Restricting weapon choice for newbies

I have often heard the sentiment “You can’t tell new fighters that they must learn to use a sword and shield first. They may not have fun if they can’t choose their weapons for themselves.” It is in reference to a common practice: not allowing newbies to pick up two-handed weapons, polearms, or bows until they’ve proven they are comfortable with the basic rules. The cutoff might be a small test or simply acquiring garb for themselves; some indication that they’ve invested enough time and money into Belegarth to be safe.

I understand what people mean when they say you should not restrict a new fighter's weapon choice. Belegarth is a place of escape for most, so telling someone that they must forgo what is allowed in the rules because they're too new doesn’t sit well. We don’t like being told what to do. It's unpleasant to have someone impose upon us that their judgement is superior to our own. We want our freedom.

The problem is, freedom gives us reign to make poor decisions that hurt ourselves and others, not only out of malice, but also ignorance. The example I will use is a new fighter who chooses to only fight florentine with red weapons. Allowing this decision to be made does a disservice to themselves and everyone around them.

I admit, I have heard a newbie argue with other veterans about fighting florentine using reds.  They insisted only that specific gear made them feel like a badass, and they simply didn’t want to fight if they couldn’t use it. But that feeling of being badass quickly faded when they started losing even more than the other new fighters, never taking time to learn the basics of combat on top of the heap of weapon-specific rules. They used weapons that were too heavy, too unwieldy, and too dangerous while trying, and often failing, to figure out proper hit calibration. That meant headshots, sloughed shots, poor positioning, and dangerous strikes, all of which lost them many battles.

Beyond their own poor fighting experience, fighters like this can be a danger to others. Veterans and heralds will no doubt recognize it, eventually finding ways to force them off the field anyway. The new fighter may find themselves on the wrong end of an enraged veteran’s rant after one too many headshots, making them afraid to step foot back out there. In rare cases, a vet may even completely lose their temper - after a slew of shots being sloughed and barely avoiding this person’s uncontrolled strikes, they’ll start hitting twice as hard as necessary to drive their point home. This mess ends in angry vets, frustrated heralds, and a new person who will leave out of pain, fear, or frustration.

But the worst side effect, in my opinion, is where their choice affects more than themselves and the veterans. It can hurt their fellow newbies who we are trying to welcome into the sport, unbalancing lines, causing them pain through dangerous swings, and making it difficult to practice proper teamwork. If a new fighter is trying to learn about basic line fighting but their teammate will only fight poorly with florentine reds, the first fighter going to become frustrated when their line continues to get rolled even by other newbies. It has nothing to do with their own skill, and it’s hard to sufficiently explain to someone new that weapon matchups are a huge part of a line’s success, so they shouldn't take it personally. Just like the fighter who chose their weapon poorly, too much losing like this can lead to frustration and eventually the loss of the other new fighter.

So please, enforce some extra safety on the field by keeping it simple for new fighters. Take the time to explain why you won't allow them to pick up any weapon on their first day, and you'll find most are understanding. Don’t be afraid to lose the few newbies that don’t want to start with the “easy stuff”. Like any other sport, skills require time and dedication to build; the fighters worth keeping won’t mind a few weeks of the basics before they graduate to bigger and better things.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Belegarth's new PR position

It looks like Belegarth is about to add a PR position to the BoD, which is a great step forward in my mind. Suddenly, the piles of suggestions on how to make Belegarth a better, more marketable entity will have an ear, and hopefully a pair of hands to complete them. I already have a long list of PR and communication projects written up that I would like to see prioritized, and I’m excited to have a forum to present them.

But probably because of that long list, the numerous projects I have completed, and my over-enthusiasm about Belegarth, I was recently asked if I would run for the position myself. I still haven’t decided if I feel like I’m the correct person for the job, but it made me think: If I were to handle the PR of Belegarth, where would I start?

I think the first order of business would be branding. Belegarth needs a united brand desperately if we ever want to hold sway as organizations like the SCA do. That means not only in look and feel, but in our message about what Beelgarth is. Everyone gets something different out of it, sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build an identity that is unique from the other games out there. Personally, I’d like to see the emphasis go towards “sport”, but I expect there will be many different opinions on the matter.

So after that, where do we go? There is a plethora of work and the skills required for each type are completely different, minus a good sense of organization. I think I would need to bring several more people on board as a team to handle it. Here are some of the branches as I see it:

Paper Marketing
Flyers, business cards, heralding guides, car decals, and printed copies of the BoW are all examples of things that could be created. This covers getting these made and distributed for individual realms as well as the BMCS itself as needed.

Social Media
In charge of keeping all social media outlets on point, on message, and fresh. There is a lot of content-generation required in this job, and they may need to outsource some of it. If a blog is ultimately created, they would be in charge of making sure it is maintained and edited appropriately, tracking down guest-writers and getting photos or war stories from events.

Intra-Realm Communications
This is basically the realm coordinator. They would be responsible for communicating WC decisions and issues to all realms and maintaining their contact information. They would also spearhead efforts to create a better system of support between the realms and figure out what web tools are required. They would probably work closely with whoever is working on Social Media, because they should be starting to centralize how events are marketed as well.

Web Properties

Belegarth most notably has the website and wiki, and this person would work directly with the Webmaster to determine what is feasible to change. They would need to dictate priorities per the need of Belegarth, not only going through a basic redesign, but determining the cost and value of having new applications build to support realms, events, etc.

Videos are an amazing tool that any web-based marketing can use, but there is a certain level of quality required. This person would not only figure out what videos should be made (e.g. marketing, teaching, event footage) and who can make them, but enforce a series of standards that make videos good enough to be “Belegarth Official”. They would need to meet a certain quota of videos a year.

Demos and External Opportunities
Documentaries, local charities, cons, and other exhibitions. This person is all about organizing official venues for Belegarth to be shown to the world and hand-picking the right people to be the “face” during these events. As the other parts of the PR job come into line, this position would become busier and busier.

So what does this leave the actual PR coordinator to do? To project manage. They need to take all the suggestions from the community, prioritize them, get them to the right people, and make sure they are completed. They should be aware of what is going on in every branch, regularly speaking to all the realm leaders (not just the WC), and keep a pulse on Belegarth’s desires and needs. They will remain the point of contact for everything, offering advice and support to specific realms as needed.

So there you have it. I guess if I were to run, this would be my platform and promise to Belegarth: I will work tirelessly to create a more unified image of Belegarth, finally beginning the creation of official tools realms need to be successful. I will strive to listen to not just the loudest voices, but all who are part of Belegarth and find what common ground I can so that we can expand more successfully. I will do as I always have and see projects through to completion - I never promise what I cannot finish.

Still, if I do not run or do not win, I hope whoever does will be willing to use my drive to help them. This is a good thing for Belegarth, and I’m excited to see what it can do.

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