Do Runners Exist?

The Quandry

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.

The Example

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.

The Debate

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.

The Conclusion

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?

7 thoughts on “Do Runners Exist?”

  1. I disagree with you on a couple of points:

    Thane when fighting with us was a text book definition of a runner (in Kanes theory) and it is how he fought every fight. They do exist, but I find them to be more rare.

    I think that shifters do exist, but it is more of learning each of the other 3 types of fighting and combining them into a fluid style. I also believe that shifters use action to place themselves in the positions they need so that their reactions are enough, or plenty when fighting. I find it impossible to know when every shot is being thrown therefore I put myself at the edge of range so my reactive voids are enough. I have trained my blocks enough so that my body knows what to do institutionally to react to the shot.

    I want to also purpose another idea: Peoples body and their minds can have a different type of fighting style. How someone stands and how their body moves will dictate what they are allowed to do and not allowed to do. Though this may be different from how they envision the fight in their head, and how they want to be fighting.

    • Oh man, thats a deep thing to consider having a different style of fighting for your mind than for your body. My initial thought would be to go by what your mind desires and then train your body to become that fencer you want to be.

      Could you explain what it is about runners that you see makes it an actual fighting style? What is a runner in your definition and how is it unique? I was not aware we had anyone defined as a runner who didnt have many more years of experience.

      • Yes, but maybe a hurt knee or shoulder or hip is keeping you from moving how your mind wants to be. Therefore you might need to learn another style for your body.

        With runners you will mainly see it with people who fight dagger only. They are forced to run until they can get in. This doesn’t require much skill to keep out of range in this idea. It’s run away until you can get in. Some examples to watch is myself when I do just dagger, or Yip. If you want to work on running that is a good way to start learning and easily see it and see it’s benefits.

        • Though going to this extreme shows you the basics of running. I believe there are levels to each of each of them. This running with a dagger is very easy to see and notice. But when you go and look at Kane it is a lot harder to see the runner, but he does do it. Like I said earlier, I like to use that “Runner” mentality to keep myself at the edge of range. This is a lot harder to see, and notice.

          A good example of this is people with the charger mentality. You will see them start doing what we have named the sewing machine. This is a great example of beginning charger. We have learned how to teach the student to move to a higher level of fighting going to multiple attacks.

          Every style of fighting has different levels of the fighting style. I disagree with the original types of fighting on how new or experienced they are. I think all of them have different levels, and when you learn more, you might take some things from another type of fighting type, or a new level to your main fighting type. I do not believe anyone has to fit into one category. I think most have a primary and secondary type to who they are and how they fight.

  2. I think a major issue we have is that we changed the definition of a runner but left the name. I don’t think “runner” accurately describes someone who effectively uses the space around them – they aren’t running from anything. Like you said, I believe that aligns more with a shifter as described above. They aren’t shifting between styles though; they are shifting between spaces.

    So, I would argue that runners don’t exist, but shifters (as I’ve described) do.

  3. Dang, so many good things to think about as I keep developing my own theory. Veron, I very much like your idea that people can develop through different stages of their type of fighter. Your example of the sewing machine graduating up to multiple attacks makes a lot of sense, and I do think that’s an excellent idea I want to explore more in my version of types of fencers.

    Edward, are you just trying to solve my marital problems by finding the perfect middle between me and Kane? ? but I think you are on to something. Perhaps names needed to be adjusted when a new theory was formed so that it could be more easily distinguishable from the original.

    With that being said, perhaps a better way to describe how I view types of fencers would be to establish new terms of “Offensive” and “Defensive” instead of charger, blocker, respectfully. This could allow me to better reintroduce how I think running/shifting fit as skills, not types, within my theory.

    With Kane, I would classify him as defensive in my theory because I know his ultimate goal in fights is always to stay alive and wait for openings. He does this by incorporating a lot of advanced movement now (learning the skill of shifting/running), but when he first started out lets not forget how he’d dance behind his sword jabbed into the ground to stay alive. Also defensive. Maybe not effective though. ?

  4. I really want to argue the classic definition that runners are just newbies too nervous to engage, blah blah blah, mostly because I FRIGGIN’ HATE RUNNERS!!!! and want them to STOP DOING IT!!!! And what does this show? It shoes that runners’ tactics CAN be highly effective at times. A lot of runners ARE unwilling to engage, for any number of reasons (it’s always a bit funny when you are legged and have to fight a runner- man, you will be waiting a LONG time) but if they overcome that being able to run your opponent into the ground is a great asset. Renald is a good example of an experienced fighter with plenty of assertiveness and know-how who can still seriously turn Running into a miserably effective tactic. (Man, that sucked). Or Veron playing the Snitch back in the Quidditch scenario. (Never again.) I think a lot of people ditch the Runner style as time goes by is, yes, more experience and confidence, but also less energy! So, yes, I do think there are people who genuinely choose the Runner style, but not really very many of them. Well, maybe they’re the Shifters flipping into the Runner style at the time. That’s up for debate. But I think we should keep it in mind to teach people how to use/fight the style effectively. When it comes right down to it, no classification system is ever perfect. I’ve typically used this one in my thoughts but in my mind I’ve added several other types and crossovers. I thinkn everyone’s probably tweaked it a bit.

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