Survive the Pools and Fence the Finals?

“Survive the pools and then fence in the finals.”

This is a phrase that sometimes gets tossed around. Many experienced fighters will bemoan fighting aggressive novices, as it is really hard to execute any good work when someone simply swings wildly at you. The perception is that you have to deal with these double-prone fighters in the pools before you can enjoy cleaner fights of higher caliber in the elimination brackets.

But is this actually the case? We all know that pool fights can be very messy. But so can elimination bracket fights. While I can’t speak for ‘quality’ of fencing, I can have a look at the number of double hits!

In investigating, we turn to our old friend Bilaterals per Exchange. This is a measure of what percentage of exchanges end up with both fighters hitting each other, be it a double or afterblow. By lumping these two together, we can compare across tournaments with different rulesets more easily.

The Cliffs Notes

The following data is based on 20,586 exchanges, from 114 tournaments. (at 31 different events)

Based on this, we can can see that pool fighting is not doublier than bracket fighting! If anything, the brackets are slightly worse. (Though not by a significant margin.)

So that should be enough to put this myth to bed. But I think I have to keep you entertained for another 800 words or so.

Let’s look at weapons!

How does this stack up looking at different weapon sets?

In every case the elims are higher!

For the most part, there isn’t much weapon difference here — but why tell you when I can show you using a pretty picture.

And I get to play with Excel’s pre-made chart options I never normally use.

So the elims are usually 8-18% more ‘doubley’ than pools. We get a difference between weapons, which I’m not sure is significant or not. Rapier/Sword&Buckler/Singlestick all have FAR fewer exchanges recorded than longsword.

How much less?

I will neither confirm nor deny I am now padding the article.

What does it all mean?

So why do many experienced fighters feel that the pool matches are messier?

Something to consider is that pool fights are more likely to have a larger skill disparity between fighters. So even if rookie fighters are inherently more ‘dangerous’, they are facing experienced fighters who have the ability to deal with it. This would serve to artificially lower the number of bilateral hits in pool fights, even though experienced fighters are constantly worried about them.

Another explanation is confirmation bias at work. Perhaps the stage of a tournament affects a fighters perception of the double? When they take a double hit from an inexperienced fighter, they attribute this to their opponent being inexperienced and/or reckless. When a double is received from someone closer to a peer in an elimination match, it is more easily shrugged off as being ‘bad luck’. Or not remembered at all due to a high focus on winning the match.

Naturally, these are difficult things to examine in raw statistical data. But the next time you hear someone talking about how pool fighting is doublier than elims fighting, be prepared to bring out your inner know-it-all!

(Ok, so there wasn’t much to this article. But I thought it was an interesting topic when I started, and I still do. Since I failed in my promise to keep you entertained for over 1000 words here is a picture of a stick man getting hurt. You guys seem to like that.)

Stuff for Nerds

Pool Clean Pool Bilaterals Elim Clean Elim Bilaterals
All Weapons 15702 4058 4884 1446
Longsword 2042 7973 730 2475
Rapier 370 1596 148 516
Sword and Buckler 392 1896 131 550
Singlestick 956 2708 333 858

Events Used

  • Mid Atlantic Rookie Tournament: Fighty McFightface 2018
  • Nordschlag 2018
  • The Battle of Buffalo 2018
  • Swordplay 2018
  • 1st HERA Event 2018
  • Combat Con 2018
  • Sword Fight IV 2018
  • Cornhusker State Games 2018
  • Short Blades Symposium 2018
  • Ragnarök 2018
  • BC Highland Games 2018
  • Victoria Highland Games Open 2018
  • SoCal Swordfight 2018
  • Rose City Classic 2017
  • Sandstorm 2017
  • Combat Con 2017
  • Short Blades Symposium 2017
  • BC Highland Games 2017
  • Eurofest 2017
  • Victoria Highland Games 2017
  • SoCal Swordfight 2017
  • Rose City Classic 2016
  • Combat Con 2016
  • BC Highland Games 2016
  • Dune Longsword Competition 2016
  • SoCal Swordfight 2015
  • PNW HEMA Gathering 2015
  • Combat Con 2015
  • BC Highland Games 2015
  • PNW HEMA Gathering 2014
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About Sean Franklin 119 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, Rapier, and Cutting. In addition to competition Sean has been invited to instruct at a number of events across North America and Europe. For non-STEMey coaching topics Sean posts on