Lately, Kane and I have been involved in more than our average share of fencing discussion together, because we’ve recently happened upon a quandary. Essentially he wants people to discuss fencing more, and wonders why many fencers don’t share their insights more often. Are we just complacent? Are we scared? Do we not feel a need? As we’ve pondered this concern between ourselves and talked with others, Kane and I think we’ve found a potential “flaw” in our culture at Terrasylvae.
It’s actually a wonderful flaw, but a flaw none the less. We have noticed that there seem to be a few of the more experienced fencers that everyone will turn to for the “final say” in the matter of things. “Go ask Kane” and “Go ask Damian” are incredibly common phrases at fencing practice, which makes sense, because they have great skill and both have served long durations as captains in the group. It’s reassuring to know we have them as experienced fencers to turn to for clarification and ideas when need be. It’s a wonderful thing. However, dare I say, are we limiting ourselves by taking any single fencer’s opinion as an absolute fact?
I believe we are limiting ourselves, and therein lies the flaw. Here’s why: fencing is a theory, an art, and it NEVER looks exactly the same between two different fencers. When we go to the same people for the “final answer”, I believe we are taking their personal theories and applying them to everyone as fact. I’ll demonstrate what I mean with a very common concept discussed in our group: the 3 types of fencers.
If you’re newer to the group, you were probably taught that there are 3 types of fencers: blocker, runner, and charger. Each was explained to you and you’ve been challenged to start figuring out which one you are. I myself did this four years ago. I was taught the three types and decided that I was mostly a blocker with a bit of charger in me. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? Absolutely not. It’s a great categorization that helps us have a common understanding of ourselves and our opponents.
But wait, where did this idea originate? It’s actually based on a theory developed about 20 years ago and can be found in the Scola Metallorum Rapier Training Manual by Lord Randal The Malcontent (Randal Ames). Here are the highlights:
Charger: “This is a fighter that is predominantly aggressive and seeks to end the conflict by their own means. These fighters tend to attack early and often without a lot of preliminaries. They are predominantly linear in their approach (the shortest distance etc). A Charger tends to have a few obvious “tells” or motions that signal the perceptive opponent their intentions (which are simple: get in there and kill). Chargers tend to be middle-level fighters with limited experience and approximately 2-3 years of “training”.”
Blocker:“This is a fighter that is predominantly defensive. They seek to end the conflict by a wider variety of means than the Charger: When they are attacked, the Blocker does just that, block. They generally have a set pattern of counter-attacks called “Riposte” in the greater fencing community. The Blocker tends to seek a rhythm of exchanges or “conversations of the blade”: Attack, block, riposte, reset, repeat. They also tend to be linear in their approach. They tend to use very little footwork, preferring to stand and fight. Blockers tend to be higher-level fighters with as much as 5-7 years of experience.”
Runner: “This is an elusive fighter. They have no idea how to end the conflict and are mostly reactionary. They tend to have neither a strong attack nor an outstanding defense. They often make tentative or peripheral attacks on extended targets like arms and legs. When attacked they run away. When blocked, they run away. When looked at funny, they run away. Generally, the Runner has limited training and experience; 1-2 years at most.”
Shifter: “This is the most difficult fighter to describe until you meet one. They tend to fight as a runner at first, then shift to blocking or charging with no obvious pattern. They may attack strongly. They may stand and block or stay far away. They may leave the line of engagement and approach or retreat from their opponent at a variety of angles. They are difficult to describe and analyze because Shifters are actually thinking about the fight as it unfolds. Shifters tend to have a great deal of fencing experience (7-10 years).”
So, if you’re like me, you probably noticed that the idea of blockers and chargers in this original format is pretty similar to what is taught in Terrasylvae. However, Runners have changed immensely, and shifters are not included as a type.
Why is this? I blame Kane. He took a theory of 4 types of fencers and throughout his captaincy and swordsmanship, he began to adapt it. From what I understand from talking with him, he didn’t like having better/worse types of fencers. He wanted to have categories that had strengths in each, so he redefined them… and then he TALKED about it with people. He even went on to eliminate the category of shifters entirely when he talked about them, claiming that they describe more of a difficult skill than a fencing style. After a few years of this, what do we have? A fairly undisputed idea that there are only 3 types of fencers. That’s some pretty powerful influence for him to have. His idea became contagious and widely accepted until it was a fact.
So now here we are with a little flaw. Is anyone allowed to debate his theory? Or anyone else’s? Why doesn’t everyone speak up more about their own ideas? Who’s to say which is “correct”?
Well, if my husband wants people to talk more about fencing and discuss their ideas, then I’ll go ahead and share mine. After studying types of fencers myself, I have developed my own theory: I don’t think runners exist.
I believe that blockers and chargers are the two basic types of fencers. I understand chargers to be aggressive. They focus on the charge, clearing the weapon, and getting the kill. On the other hand, blockers are steady. They focus on their defense and return shots. Both are incredibly talented types of fencers, and I don’t believe which one you are is based on years of experience like the original source implies. I truly believe which one you are lends itself to your confidence in which side you want to be. I think these are the most common types for a reason. Are you naturally more aggressive or more defensive? That will probably tell you whether you lean towards a charger or blocker.
So what’s a runner then? I actually think the current idea of a runner in our group matches what a “shifter” was in the original theory. Why are there so few runners in our group? Because they are fencers that have developed some very difficult skills that take years to master. I believe they have expanded on the skill of movement, beyond the basic advance and retreat that is performed by the majority. They understand their body mechanics, their range, and they are so good at analyzing the current fight that they can act instead of react. They are hard to beat!
So bottom line, I don’t think runners exist as their own type of fencer anymore. I find it easier to categorize people as blockers or chargers and then would personally encourage everyone from either side to dive deeper into their understanding of movement. As we each better ourselves in seeing space and recognizing our range of motion (like our current “runners”), we all have the potential of being as unpredictable and deadly as they are.
My theory is not fact, but neither is Kane’s, and neither is the original. That’s the beauty of theories. There should always be more than one. In Terrasylvae, we have a flaw that I believe needs to be addressed. We need everyone to speak up more. The concern Kane brought to my attention definitely seems justified. We need to hear from others, and his word )or any person’s word) should not be taken as “gospel”. It also shouldn’t matter how experienced you are. ANYONE can create a theory and present it as a new idea.
Now as Terrasylvans, I just encourage us all to start sharing them and to listen to one another as we bring up new ideas. How else will we continue to grow as company? Why not see if one of your theories can help others develop greater understanding in fencing, too?