Case Study: SoCal 2018 Sword and Buckler

I’ve always been a big advocate of evaluating tournaments in as objective a manner as possible, so I’m going to take a crack at it. To my knowledge, this is the first time a HEMA ruleset has been evaluated in such a way. This is not, and was not intended to be, up to the quality one would expect from an academically published paper. I would encourage anyone who feels I did not do the subject justice to contact me, and I can arrange for you to begin working on an improved draft. 😉

TL;DR  Conclusion: The ruleset shows a marked improvement in most measurable ways. It is likely that a large part of this is due to the exceedingly demanding quality standards for cuts, particularly cuts to the torso.

History

I will be comparing the ruleset used at the SoCal 2018 Sword and Buckler tournament (which I will call the Prototype ruleset) against the Sword and Buckler ruleset which has been used in many West Coast events over the past few years (which I will call the Legacy ruleset).

The SoCal 2018 Sword and Buckler tournament was a small tournament, consisting of only 217 exchanges. While the sample size is small, the Legacy ruleset shows fairly stable results — enough so that the differences observed are highly likely to be significant.

Rules Summary

The full rules for each tournament may be found in the Appendices at the bottom of this article.

Point Values

Deep Targets (3 points) Non-Deep Targets (1 point) Excluded from Analysis
Legacy Cut to the Head

Thrust to the Head

Covered Thrust to the Torso

Cut to Torso

Uncovered Thrust to Torso

Buckler Punch

Leg cut below the knee

Weapon hand attacks

Prototype Cut to the Head

Thrust to the Head

Thrust to the Torso

Cut to Torso

Buckler Punch*

Leg cut below the knee

Weapon hand attacks

* see note in Deep Target Ratio section

Bilateral Hits

Afterblow Behavior Double Behavior
Legacy Deduction of 1 point from initial score No points awarded.

3 Double hits leads to double loss in pool matches.

Prototype Deduction of 1 point from initial score Full Weighting for each attack, with net points awarded.

(eg 3 – 1 = 2 points)

Pool Ranking & Advancements

Both rulesets used pools ranked by score, followed by a single elimination bracket.

Legacy

Overall Score = [Points Scored] + [5 Points per Win] – [Points Against] – [Doubles Penalty]

Doubles Penalty =  -1 point for first double, -2 points for second (-1-2=-3), -3 for 3rd (-1-2-3=-6), etc…

Prototype

Overall Score = [Points Scored] / [Total Times Hit]

Total Times Hit = [Clean Hits Against] + [Doubles] + [Afterblows Hit With]

Metrics

The ruleset was evaluated quantitatively using two different metrics.

Bilaterals per Exchange (BpE) – The percentage of exchanges which ended in either a double hit or an afterblow. A lower BpE is desirable.

Deep Targets Ratio (DTR) – The ratio of attacks aimed at targets prioritized by the rules (high point values) to those with less emphasis (low point values).

Bilaterals Per Exchange

The BpE at produced by the Prototype rules is significantly lower than any other tournaments. Using the Legacy tournament ruleset, the BpE ranged between 25% and 17%, with an average of 21%. The Prototype rules showed a BpE of 11%, which is not only significantly cleaner than any SnB tournament I have data for, but is one of the cleanest tournaments of any weapon that I have data for. (The BpE is 2.9 standard deviations under the legacy mean.)

Weighted Doubles and Deductive Afterblows

The scoring for the Prototype ruleset was an interesting mix of Fully Weighted Doubles and Deductive Afterblows. In very few circumstances were points awarded for a double hit: only 4 exchanges of the tournament (2% of the total) were double hits that awarded points to the fighter hitting a higher value target.

Deep Target Ratio

DTR as a variable is a a little more problematic to track. This is because actual targeting data does not exist, only the scores recorded by the scorekeepers. Additionally, the point breakdowns were not the same in each case.

The data shows a significant increase in the DTR, from an average of 0.6 to 1.1. This is almost double the previous average (just shy of 5 standard deviations higher than the Legacy mean).

Leg Strikes

A major difference between the two was that in the Legacy rules the leg below the knee was worth 2 points, and in the Prototype rules this area was off limits. The deep target ratio only considers the ratio of 3 point shots to 1 point shots, and thus does not include lower leg targets from either ruleset.

The 2 point Legacy lower leg shot offered a higher point value than the 1 point targets. It is unclear whether removal of this target would significantly change the DTR.

Buckler Punches

Attacks to the weapon hand were off target in the Legacy rules, and worth 2 points in the Prototype rules. This means they may also be excluded from direct comparison. More problematic is the buckler punch. A buckler punch was worth 2 points in the Prototype rules, as opposed to 1 in the Legacy rules.

In order to ensure useful comparison between the two rulesets it was necessary to account for the buckler punches, which would have been included as low point value attacks for calculating DTR. At the conclusion of the tournament, I consulted with the match director and asked him to estimate the percentage of attacks directed at the sword hand vs buckler punches. Independent estimates from each of us produced the same result: 50%. This number has been factored into the DTR shown in the plot above.

Quality of Attacks

In post event discussion, the organizing committee agreed that perhaps the largest effect on the conduct of the fights was not the rules themselves, but the strict adherence to quality of blows. This was over and above the Legacy rules, which were already very strict with cut quality (the highest standard I know of in a Sword and Buckler tournament).

The number of No Exchange calls can be used to estimate the number of shots the judges disallowed due to lack of quality. The fidelity of the information is low, as the number also includes the number of calls for which there was no agreement by the judges. Nevertheless, the sharp increase in No Exchange calls supports the understanding of the observers that it was more difficult for fighters to be awarded points by judges.

The Prototype rules paid particular attention to cuts aimed at the body. Based on test cutting practice it was known how difficult it is to execute such a motion, and how most S&B flank cuts are simply fighters pumping their arms and ‘bashing’ at the flank. Due to the relative size of the tournament, it was possible to staff with a director and judges who could recognize from experience the efficacy of blows performed to the torso.

This appeared to produce a dramatic rise in fight quality. Once hacking/uncontrolled attacks to the flank proved unlikely to score a point (or even a hold call), most fighters adapted by throwing cuts to the sword arm/head, and thrusts to the head/torso.

The low horizontal cut, relying solely on the buckler for defence, has a very high incidence of Bilateral Hits. This significantly reduces its attractiveness and is likely the biggest contributor to the reduction in BpE.

Concerns

Though the initial results are favorable, there are issues which limit the utility and adaptability of the Prototype ruleset.

Leg Strikes

The Prototype ruleset deems strikes to the lower leg non-point scoring. This significantly distorts fighter behavior, as was intended. Because of this it may be argued that the improvements in BpE and DTR were achieved at the expense of adding another artificiality to the matches.

As of this writing, there are plans to eventually introduce the leg target into the Prototype ruleset with the hope that fighters will have developed an increased skill set for targeting higher openings. At that time it will be possible to independently evaluate the effect of the elimination of the lower leg target.

Staffing Concerns

Due to the small size of the Prototype tournament it was possible to run it with a single set of highly experienced Judges/Director. They were able to rigorously enforce the quality of cuts to the flank to a very high standard, which is judged to be a major factor in the tournament’s success.

Because of this requirement, the Prototype ruleset is limited by scale. Based on the current judging standards of most HEMA events, it is highly possible that adoption of these rules would lead to a completely different outcome in a larger tournament.

Conclusion

Based on the results observed, the Prototype ruleset appears to be preferable to the Legacy ruleset. This is based on a single small tournament, but the difference is significant enough to consider the prototype ruleset an improvement. There are important concerns to widespread adoption of the Prototype, but future use is undoubtedly justified.

I’ve been told I need clip art in every article now.

Appendix A: Raw Data

Clean Double Afterblow No Exch 1 pt 3 pt
CC 15 157 26 27 43 82 57
SoCal 15 191 16 26 56 111 75
CC 16 292 28 35 64 171 80
Rose 16 102 8 13 4 52 38
SoCal 17 100 14 20 30 66 30
CC 17 268 29 41 62 156 102
Rose 17 197 23 37 60 115 65
SoCal 18 141 11 6 59 70 76

Events: Combat Con 2015-2017, Rose City 2016-2017, SoCal 2015,2016,2017.

Appendix B: Legacy Sword and Buckler Rules

The Legacy rules have experienced slight changes from event to event. The following is from Rose City Classic 2016.

Fencer Conduct

All fighters are expected to display skill and control. This is a martial arts tournament and all fighters are expected to conduct themselves with respect for the weapon, their opponent, and the tournament staff. Any fighter that is deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others will be addressed at the discretion of the tournament director.

The tournament director will serve as the ultimate authority within the ring. The disciplinary procedure will generally constitute first a warning, then a penalty, then an expulsion from the match or tournament; however shall remain at the discretion of the director. Fighters who have been banned from attendance this event in the past, or from other major HEMA tournaments, are not permitted to attend.

Match Length

Each match will last for 90 seconds of regulation time, or once the maximum score has been reached. Once the time of 90 seconds has been reached the timekeeper will announce ‘Last Exchange’. The match will then proceed until the next break in the fighting is called.

Double Hits & Afterblows

A double hit is defined as two fighter landing valid blows against each other in the same tempo. This is undesirable, as it shows that the fighters are not adequately concerned with their defence. Doubles will be penalized in accordance to the stage of the tournament in which the occur.

  • Pools: Should two fighter strike three double hits in the course of a pool match the match will end end they will both be considered to have lost their match. At the conclusion of the pool fights each fighter will have their total number of doubles recorded and have their score penalized by an appropriate margin.
  • Eliminations: Should two fighters strike three double hits in the course of an elimination match the winner of the match will be assessed a score penalty for their subsequent match.

 

An afterblow is defined as one fight striking another immediately following a failed defence which lead to them being struck. At no point should an afterblow be considered a ‘revenge blow’, and afterblows are expected to be thrown with an appropriate level of control.

 

Should the match director determine that a double hit or afterblow was without a doubt the direct result of a single individual acting with complete disregard of defence they retain the ability to assign the fault of the double strike to the individual in question. At this point the offending fighter will be assessed a penalty at the discretion at the director.

Valid Strikes

Points will be awarded for cuts, thrusts, slices and pommel strikes in accordance to the rules of the individual tournaments. Points will not be awarded for touches with the sword, but be delivered with sufficient intent.

  • Cuts: For a cut to be considered valid it must travel an arc of 75 degrees. Cuts must be delivered with sound body structure to be considered valid. Strikes with the tip of the sword, incidental contact and flailing type attacks are not valid cuts. SCA style ‘wrap strikes’ are not valid cuts.
  • Thrusts: Thrusts must be delivered in a committed manner, rather than pokes which make superficial contact. A sword bend is not required if the fighter is in range to deliver a deeper blow.
  • Slices: Slices will only be considered at valid targets when performed against the head/neck and the arms. A valid slice must exert sufficient pressure on the target that judging staff can clearly see the effect on the balance and structure of the affected fighter. Please note that this requires a very high degree of commitment, and is not simply sawing a blade back and forth on the body.
  • Pommel Strikes: Pommel strikes are only valid against the mask. Though the pommel need to hit hard it must display a structure capable of delivering the whole body’s force rather than a lucky strike from an uncontrolled fighter.

Additionally should a fighter place both feet outside of the ring (through their own action or if pushed by their opponent) their opponents will be rewarded with one point.

Off Limits Targets & Techniques

The following are off limits for safety reasons:

  • Back of head and spine. Should a fighter display the unsafe behavior of exposing the back of their head to the opponent they will be progressively warned, penalized and removed by the match director.
  • Direct targeting of the hands and feet. Should the defender move their hands in the path of a strike targeted at a valid target (such as the forearm) it will be scored as strike to the arms.
  • Punches and kicks are not permitted.
  • ‘Mordschlag’ style strikes are not permitted.
  • Any strike thrown with a complete lack of control on the part of the attacked. Competitive martial arts fighting involves throwing forceful strikes with full intent to make contact, however each competitor is expected to maintain a respect for their opponent’s safety at all times.

Protective Gear Requirements

All of these tournaments are considered to simulate ‘blossfechten’, and in the interests of promoting a professional HEMA image and to encourage fighters to respect the weapon simulators, heavy armor (breast plates, etc) or Fantasy-styled armors are not permitted.

 

No exposed skin is permitted for any tournaments.

 

All armor will be inspected by the tournament staff prior to competition. If any armor is deemed to be inappropriate, the participant will be required to remove it and replace it with a piece of appropriate equipment.

Point Scoring

The following point scoring will be used for the sword and buckler

 

Cuts Thrusts Buckler Punch
Head 3 3 1
Torso 1 1 / 3*
Leg (below the knee) 2 2
All other targets 1 1

 

Afterblow

The afterblow deducts one point from the score of the attacking fighter.

Controlled Thrusts

A thrust delivered in a manner that controls the opponent’s blade will be awarded an additional point score. For the sake of the this sword & buckler tournament a controlled thrust is defined as a thrust displaces the opponent’s blade with either the buckler or swords as the sword makes impact.

Point Limits

The match will be concluded once a fighter has reached a total of 7 points.

Acceptable Equipment

Swords/Bucklers

To be provided

Protective Gear

All of these tournaments are considered to simulate ‘blossfechten’, and in the interests of promoting a professional HEMA image and to encourage fighters to respect the weapon simulators, heavy armor (breast plates, etc) or Fantasy-styled armors are not permitted.

All armor will be inspected by the tournament staff prior to competition.

  • Appropriate Head protection: Encouraged – Masks with back of the head protection.
  • Acceptable head protection – ‘That guys products’ style masks.
  • Trachea protection, that protects the throat from a direct thrust.
  • Heavy padded HEMA jackets (ie SPES), or Padded Gambeson
  • Hard elbow protection, that covers the 3 points of the elbow.
  • Hard Knee protection that covers the knee.
  • Ensifer / AF gauntlets / lacrosse gauntlets.
  • Groin protection is essential for male fighters.
  • Breast protection is essential for female fighters.
  • Shin and forearm protection are not essential but recommended.
  • No exposed skin will be allowed.

 

Appendix C: Prototype S&B Tournament Rules

EQUIPMENT

  • See steel longsword requirements.
  • Bring your own steel sword. Approved sword manufacturers will roughly mirror those for steel longsword. The director will have to inspect and approve any sword before tournament. The total length of blade cannot exceed 32 inches and the weapon needs to have sufficient flex.
  • Bring your own buckler. Any buckler with a diameter that does not exceed 18 inches. No spikes. Steel bucklers must have an edging of rubber or similar material that will not damage opponent’s sword.
  • If one or both competitors do not have steel swords, both fighters will be supplied with Black Fencer synthetics.

TIME KEEPING

  • Matches are 90 seconds long.
  • Time is stopped between exchanges or if a fighter involuntarily steps out of the ring with both feet in which case the fighters will reset.
  • If time expires during an exchange, the fighters will complete the exchange and the match will end.

FINAL EXCHANGE

  • If less than 10 seconds remain, a “final exchange” is declared to both fighters, and the match is allowed to go until the next point is scored.
  • The match is done at the end of the exchange, regardless of outcome (hit, no agreement, double).

SUDDEN DEATH

  • If time ends during the initial match, and the fighters are both in a draw AND are not engaged, a Sudden Death is called.
  • Sudden Death is won by the first fighter to score a decided point.

VALID TARGETS

  • Upper Opening – Between the shoulder seams of jacket and above sternum. Back of the head is a non-target.
  • Lower Opening – Between shoulder seams of jacket and Between sternum and waist.
  • Limbs – Entirety of arm and the leg above the knee. (targeting the knee or lower results in a non-scoring strike).
  • Hands – Attacks to the hands with cut or thrust. Slicing to wrist also counts, but must be performed in a manner that physically pushes and controls wrist.
  • Pommel/Buckler Strike – Strike to head or face. Must be performed with control. Injury resulting from reckless strikes of this nature may result in ejection.

SCORING

Scoring is as follows:

3 points – Cut to Upper Opening or thrust to either Opening. Any attack performed with control. Disarm or takedown.

2 points – Buckler or Pommel strikes. Cut, thrust, or slice to hand.

1 points – Cut to Lower Opening. Cut or thrust to limbs.

  • Each match shall conclude when a total score of 12 points is scored by one fighter or time expires.
  • Cuts must be performed with sufficient energy and edge alignment. Director has discretion to deem a cut insufficient.
  • Poking your opponent with tip of sword does not constitute a thrust.

DOUBLES

  • Simultaneous hits are fully weighted! If fighter A lands a thrust to the Upper Opening while fighter B lands a cut to the leg then fighter A will receive three points and fighter B will receive one. Simultaneous hits include any strikes that are in the same tempo or very near the same tempo.

AFTERBLOWS

  • When a hit lands in the tempo after an opposing hit it will be called and Afterblow
  • Afterblows reduce the value of the opponent’s strike by -1.
  • Very late Afterblows will be dismissed.
  • Unsportsmanlike behavior which is deemed a reckless abuse of the Afterblow rule will result in point deductions and possible ejection.

ILLEGAL TECHNIQUES

  • The entire body is a valid target area except for the groin, back of the head, and spine. Strikes delivered to non-valid target areas will result in warnings or penalties. If a fighter intentionally exposes illegal target areas purposefully, they can be warned or penalized at the discretion of the director.
  • Fighters who step completely out of bounds voluntarily with both feet will be penalized by subtracting one (1) point from that fighter’s total.
  • Only “straight” kicks above the hips and below the shoulders that are as a push/shove are allowed. Kicks are not scoring techniques, but may be used to set up follow on techniques, to create space, or to push an opponent clear and then recover.
  • Blade grabbing is allowed provided the weapon’s energy has dissipated or the weapon is static..
  • Throwing the sword or other equipment is forbidden.
  • Intentionally striking a fallen or incapacitated opponent is forbidden.

GRAPPLING

  • Successful grappling points will be awarded when a fighter has performed a proper throw or technique in which they are clearly in the dominant position to end an exchange.
  • All grappling will be halted once the Line Judges identify a scoring technique by calling “Point!”, or after a verbal five count from the director, whichever comes first. Directors may stop the action early at their discretion if they observe fighters to be engaging in unsafe or forbidden techniques.
  • Submission grappling techniques whose inherent nature results in serious injury (fractured bones, dislocated joints, suffocation, and the like) MUST be stopped short of full application by the competitors. Failure to do so will result in ejection from the tournament.
  • All throwing techniques whose inherent nature is to deposit an opponent onto their head are forbidden.
  • Neck wrenching and small joint manipulation techniques are forbidden.
  • Penalties for forbidden techniques, or any other infractions, are at the referee’s discretion up to and including immediate disqualification from the tournament in total.

GENERAL ETIQUETTE AND BEHAVIOR

Fighters may self call hits on themselves only. Fighters are expected to conduct themselves in a mature and sportsmanlike manner throughout the tournament. There will be no derogatory insults, back talk, or baiting of other fighters, coaches, Director, Line Judges, staff, or spectators by any fighter or coach during the tournament. Coaches are expected to show the same decorum and sportsmanship as their fighters. Any coach who violates this rule may, at the discretion of tournament staff, be banned from cornering at the ringside and/or ejected from the tournament. (This includes vocal heckling of judging and refereeing calls during the match. If a coach has a question, with the exception of safety concerns, they may speak with the referee at the end of the exchange by raising their hand.)

Anyone who sees an obvious safety concern including spectators–for example, a blade break, or a tip coming off of a rapier or dagger, or other safety equipment malfunction, should yell “HALT! SAFETY! HALT!” as loud as they can. The referee will immediately halt the match, and the situation will be handled as needed. Any fighter who hears a call of “Halt! Safety!” should cease attacking and withdraw from their opponent as safely as possible.

All warnings, penalties, and ejections will be entirely at the discretion of the tournament staff. No part of these rules should be taken as either an exhaustive list of potential offensives or as requiring action on the part of the tournament staff.

About Sean Franklin 21 Articles
Sean has a Bachelor's Degree in Mechatronic Systems Engineering, and is currently employed as a Controls Engineer. He is passionate about developing more analytical ways to view sword fighting, wishing to develop evidence based standards for protective gear and rule sets informed by tournament statistics. His martial arts history includes competitive success, medaling in international competitions for Longsword, Messer, Grappling, and Cutting. In addition to competition Sean has been invited to instruct at a number of events across North America.