Data Mining – CombatCon Longsword

This article is a cursory summary of the overall results of the CombatCon Longsword tournaments over the last three years. One must be careful when drawing too many conclusions from this data — likely there is enough random variation to make all but the most significant trends meaningless. In many cases, what is most interesting is not what changed, but what did not change.

I don’t pretend that this constitutes a complete understanding of the situation. Consider it more as ‘food for thought’, a starting point to determine what questions should be asked of ruleset changes, and how to determine if they have been effective.

The data is a lumped combination of Open Steel, Beginners Synthetic, and Women’s Steel longsword tournaments. It is also (hopefully) an interesting experience for you to compare and contrast with the SoCal Longsword tournaments, which originally had the same rules but have evolved in a slightly different way. Data Mining – SoCal Longsword.

Additional noise factors

The following are *mostly* not addressed in this analysis:

Judge Error: The data used is what was recorded by the score table. The assumption is that the judge error was random rather than systematic in nature, and on average does not affect the overall results.

Point Averaging: When faced with judges calling for a 3 point and 1 point target, the director will average the two scores into 2 points. It is believed that this occurs seldom enough, and is evenly distributed enough, that it does not constitute a significant distortion of the results.

Attendance: The attendance of the three tournaments is only somewhat homogeneous. While the main clubs in attendance remained the same, they all experienced significant turn-over in the individuals who attended. Additionally, while the results were dominated by a few clubs, there was a large base of fighters from other schools which was fairly transient in nature.

Skill Development: In addition to the change in targeting brought about by point values, the skill level of HEMA practitioners is rapidly improving year to year. This means that the techniques and tactics available to practitioners would be greatly expanded between 2015 and 2018.

Significant Score Values

CombatCon 2015 / Baseline

The following ruleset was used at multiple events in 2015, including CombatCon. The results of all three events are combined to give the baseline statistics.

  • Head: 4 points
  • Torso: 3 points
  • Leg: 2 points
  • Arm: 1 point
  • Direct targeting of hands forbidden, points given to hand strikes if defender moved them towards the path of an oncoming blade
  • Deductive afterblow: An afterblow reduces the point value of the initial strike by 1 point.

(CombatCon 2015, SoCal 2015, and PNW 2015)

CombatCon 2016

  • Head Thrust: Point values reduced from 4 -> 2.
  • Torso Thrust: Point values reduced from 3 -> 2.
  • Addition of controlled thrust to Head/Torso for 5 points.

CombatCon 2017

  • No point value changes

Target Areas

This data represents the number of scoring exchanges, not the total number of exchanges. Non scoring exchanges such as double hits are not represented.

Baseline 2015 ->  CombatCon 2016

Head Strikes

The data showed only a small decrease in the number of 4 point attacks delivered. In 2015 this represented the cuts and thrusts to the head, whereas in 2016 this represented only cuts. Possible explanations are:

  • Most attacks delivered to the head were cuts to begin with.
  • Fighters changed behavior and delivered more cuts to the head.

Torso Strikes

There was a significant reduction in the number of 3 point attacks delivered, and an increase in 2 point attacks, which correspond almost 1:1. A plausible explanation is that fighters did not alter their behavior significantly in regards to attacks to the torso, despite the different point values.

Overall Behavior

Given that the points awarded for control were delivered for strikes to the head and torso, and combined with the earlier discussion, it seems highly likely that there was little change in participant behavior between 2015 and 2016.

CombatCon 2016 -> CombatCon 2017

From 2016 to 2017 we see a continuation of the same trends. The most notable difference between the two events is that the number of Arm strikes increased, at the expense of Torso and Head cuts. A possible explanation is that as fighters continued to increase in experience they made striking deep targets more difficult, causing more attacks to land on extremities.

It is also possible that this is simply a random ‘noise’ variation.

Exchange Types

Over the three tournaments, the BpE* remained fairly stable between 17 and 21%. Currently there is not a wide-spread use of BpE, and it is difficult to compare to events around the world. Based on my experience (running different events/grabbing score sheets where I can/tallying points on live streams), these numbers are as clean as, or cleaner than many other longsword tournaments.

By and large this information doesn’t show any significant trends over time. The overall distribution of calls is fairly similar year to year, and none of the indicators indicates any problems with how the event is developing.

*Bilaterals per Exchange = (Doubles + Afterblows) / All Scoring Exchanges


  • A possible interpretation of the data is that the changes in the point values for thrusts did not produce any significant effect on participant behavior.
  • The number of Arm strikes has slowly crept upwards over the three years. It is unknown whether this is random, a result of the rules, or due to improving community skill level.

Appendix A: Full Data

Targeting – Pre 2018

1 point 2 points 3 points 4 points 5 points
SoCal 2015 210 100 314 234 1
PNW 2015 156 60 152 160 2
CombatCon 2015 161 47 204 252 0
CombatCon 2016 227 161 163 240 35
CombatCon 2017 299 183 158 233 50

Exchange Type

Event Clean Afterblow Double No Exchange
SoCal 2015 773 87 96 233
PNW 2015 469 43 61 98
CombatCon 2015 583 71 81 156
CombatCon 2016 763 64 87 145
CombatCon 2017 815 108 95 266
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.