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It is the day before the first league event of our kind in the US and I am sitting here at work in Pittsburgh waiting for people to start arriving. The Longpoint Historical Fencing League is a plan we've been working towards, slowly, for a few years now. Originally, we had planned to try to get multiple leagues going across the US all at once. Later, we decided this would be too much effort and would rather just lead by example, letting other regions choose to follow suit or not, with many having started up quite quickly. One of those examples is how we chose to handle rules and our reasons for doing so as organizers, instructors, and fighters.

Allow me to start out by stating that one of my internal checkboxes for how I view an individual or school is if they are interested in or have participated in competitions, even if only once or twice. I believe the experience is important and should be a part of a holistic training approach. There is an opposite extreme, though, and thus also a checkbox for if a school puts too much emphasis on competition. Given that, some of my thoughts here might be influenced by these views.

When speaking to people about leagues, both in Europe and the US, a common topic is rules standardization. In our case, standardization would mean that every event uses the same, or at least very similar, rules. There are certainly pros and cons to each approach, but which one you prefer paints part of a picture of how you approach tournaments. Standardization is great for refs, judges, tournament organizers, and ensuring that all fighters understand what is expected of them. However, it isn't so great for continuing to challenge martial artists.

Tournaments are governed by rules. Hell, sparring in your local club is governed by similar, although unspoken, rules. Unless you are fighting for realsies, you are playing a game. Rule sets always have deficiencies and tend to focus on one set of preferred skills at the cost of others.

  1. Longpoint's rules artificially limit the validity of playing the range game with a focus on deep technique.
  2. The Nordic rules artificially limit a fighter's need to worry as much about limb strikes with a focus on strikes and thrusts to vital areas.
  3. Franco Belgian rules limit a fighter's need to worry about any part of the fight that isn't striking or winding for a strike to a high target in favor of those two items.
  4. In club sparring, often unspoken, limits intensity in favor of friendly opposition.

Thus, consistently training under one set of rules has never sat well with me. We all have our preferred rules to fight under, but people like Axel Pettersson, year after year, show that a great fighter can excel under any given set of rules.

Sometimes, rules suck. Sometimes a rule set that was great the year before becomes significantly worse due to a set of minor changes. Sometimes rules are applied inconsistently. Yes, these are all problems, and they're problems that won't go away without standardization, but they are also problems that I think we have to deal with without standardizing if we want to continue to approach tournaments as training tools rather than just a related activity.

If you are a fighter who enters a competition with the rules heavy on your mind, you probably don't enjoy or get as much out of that competition as you should. You have to understand the rules, sure, because going into a Franco Belgian format with a plan to absetzen everyone in the face will get you disqualified, but otherwise your plan should just be 'Fence well under the given conditions'. That is a plan that will carry you consistently through any competition, and a plan you can work towards in your school without compromising your fencing.

Even if you, as an individual or as a school, attempt to focus on what you consider 'the art', competitions will influence you and your friends. Consistently fighting under a single rule set will influence them even heavier in that, from a competitive standpoint, they are only being encouraged towards and rewarded by whatever preferred set of skills that rule set focuses on. For this reason, with holistic training as a leading goal, we decided to require that the LHFL host at least two different rule sets each season, and would prefer that every event use a different set.  As a fighter, I want to compete under Longpoint rules, Nordic rules, historical rules, some of Ben Strickling's crazy ideas, and whatever else people come up with and successfully test purely for my own, selfish benefit. As an organizer, I accept that this means more work for me. As an instructor, I acknowledge that this means I need to teach people to fence, not play to a set of rules. All rule sets are important in different ways, especially in that they will ensure that we continue to grow as a whole martial art, not just a tournament scene.

 

Ben Michels
Broken Plow Western Martial Arts

 

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