Basics of Melee

An exciting part of Period Fencing that you don’t find in the Olympics is Melees or group battles. The Basics of Melee lesson discusses what you need to know in order to jump in, safely, and get involved in the fight. You’ll want to take what you learned in Basics of Dueling and apply that to dynamic situations as part of the team and out on the field.

Points of safety

Things can get a little chaotic in a melee, which is why safety remains our number one concern. It’s important that you and everyone involved do what they can to keep everyone safe. Make sure you have a firm understanding of the following Points of Safety before you head out onto the field.

  • The Melee Hold: Like in dueling, the word “Hold” is very important when it comes to safety. Any time there is a potentially dangerous situation you or someone else could call a Hold and everyone should immediately stop what they are doing. In a Melee, we add another layer to the Hold and ask that anyone who hears a Hold being called, stop what they are doing, echo the Hold (by loudly repeating the word, Hold), and take a knee unless you are directly involved with the original Hold. This allows Officers and other leaders to immediately know where the Hold originated and can address it more quickly. After everything has been resolved, the Officers will restart the fight. Until then, everyone should remain where they are.
  • Don’t Run into a Fight: A lot of melees will be out in the field or in the woods with a lot of space to move around in. At times you will want to run and get to where you need to be quickly. Which is fine, except when you close distance to another fencer or group of fencers. As you approach your opponent(s), you need to slow down and purposefully enter the fight at a safe speed. Usually walking or at most a brisk walk. There is too much potential for injury if we dive into a fight at a run.
  • The 180 Rule: While our armor and gear keeps us safe, it doesn’t protect us perfectly. The back of the head and the minimal padding that surrounds the spine are particularly susceptible if we are not careful. This is where the 180 Rule comes in. Simply put you should never attack an opponent beyond their 180 degree field of vision or their front half based on their shoulders. If someone has their back to you, you need to get in front of them before you engage in a fight.
  • Be Aware of Your Surroundings: You’re going to end up fighting in the woods, on bridges, out on the field, and across tables. There will be all sorts of things moving around you as you fight and so it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t fight someone in hazardous places. Watch out for non-fighters who might enter the space unknowningly. Tell your opponent if they might back up into a tree or off an edge. We can all do our part to be aware of our surroundings and make sure we are our fighting areas are safe.

General Points

A Melee is any time three or more fencers fight at the same time. What makes Melees so fun is that each can have their own rules and conditions that make up the fight or game. This gives a lot of variety and everyone has a favorite they like to play. The fighting can be a little more chaotic because you’re facing multiple enemies and there can be a lot of moving pieces, but most of the principles you learned from Basics of Dueling still apply. Remembering these General Points can help you as you head out to the field.

  • Melee Terminology: The lingo of Melees can help you understand what is going on and ease any overwhelming feelings. Here are some of the most common terms you’ll hear while you’re out fighting.
    • Lay On! – This is our word for Go! Typically, you’ll also hear a call for “Masks On!” and “Swords Up!”. This is our version of “Ready, Set, Go!” and it visually indicates that everyone is ready.
    • The Objective – The Objective(s) is the overall goal of the Melee and how you win the battle. They can be things like Last Man Standing, Capture a Point, Find a Hidden Item, or Guard a VIP. There’s a whole bunch that get used over and over with little twists to keep things interesting.
    • Rez / Rez Point / Rez Count – A “Rez” is an extra life in a melee. Everyone will be given a certain amount at the beginning and it’s up to you to keep track of. Sometimes there will also be “Rez Points” which are locations that you have to return to in order to use one of your lives. Additionally, there may be a “Rez Count.” That’s how many seconds you have to count to before you return to the fight. These are really easy ways to change up the feel of the fight.
    • Edge of the World – Most scenarios will have a set boundary, meaning you can only fight in a certain area. The “Edge of the World” is the out of bounds line. If someone is getting close to that boundary, you’ll hear others call “Edge of the World!”, which reminds people to move away from that point. If you find yourself crossing that Edge of the World line, it’s usually good form to just take it as a death and go Rez.
  • Basic Melee Strategies: Your first couple of Melees will probably be overwhelming, but there are simply strategies that you can follow to not only lessen the chaos, but actually to get involved from the very beginning. As you get more experience, you will starting seeing more and more how these basic strategies build into complex team dynamics.
    • Find a Buddy – In most cases, you should never go into a Melee alone. Always try to find at least one buddy. Grab the nearest fencer, your friend, or a more experienced fencer and stick to their side. Even if you die and have to go Rez, one of the first things you should do is to team up with others nearby so you can be stronger together.
    • Outnumber Them Somewhere – Numbers really matter in a Melee. Whenever possible, try to outnumber your opponents. That can be waiting for other teammates to arrive before you commit to a fight, or running away until you find help. Always try to have the numbers on your side.
    • Be Part of the Team – No matter how new you are to Melees, you are part of the team as soon as you step on the field. It doesn’t matter what happens if you can play your part. Listen to your commanders, ask questions, and get involved. This is usually the best way to feel the excitement of a Melee.
  • Communicate: Basic communication truly does make every Melee easier. Talking to your teammates and informing them of what you see is incredibly helpful. Even if your opponent’s hear whatever you’re saying, it doesn’t matter. It’s more helpful to your team if you speak up then trying to be discreet. So be loud. Call out what you see, even if you repeat yourself.

Training Ideas

  • Lay of the Land: Grab a friend, a teacher, or another fencer and just explore Woodland. Different places in Woodland have names and are key landmarks for the group. Have someone point them out and test yourself to see if you can remember where “Haute’s Den” is compared to the “Lower Field” or the “Castle.”
  • Be a Spectator: If you’re unsure about jumping in right away, just watch a Melee or two. There is usually others who are taking a break and might be willing to watch with you. If not, pay attention to how the buddy system works, where Rez Points are, and how teams work together. You can actually learn a lot by watching and pay attention.
  • Start Small: We all love big, sprawling melees, but sometimes the little ones are the best places to learn. You, or your teacher, can grab a handful of fencers and just do a basic team fight. Remember, all you need are three people. You can work on staying with your buddy, communicating, and outnumbering your opponents in a small group too.


What we’re looking for are fencers who, even though melee can be new, scary, and a bit overwhelming, can jump in and participate in the group battles and have fun. We want fencers who can be safe while they learn the rope and aren’t afraid to work with other fencers to answer questions and try to get the hang of these crazy melees. Always be listening for that “Hold!” and on the lookout for potentially risky situations or actions. As you practice, melees will start to make more sense and you can really become a team player in these fights. It just takes some time, so show us that you can dive in, and if there are ever any concerns, just let us know!

What’s NEXT?

  • Suggested Next Lesson: Consider taking Gear Care & Requirements or Gauging & Breaking Shots. Gear Care can help you understand the equipment we use and how to use it properly. Learning to Gauge/Break Shots will teach you how to control your attacks in melees or duels.
  • Activities to Try: The most basic melee you can do is called TAG. Grab two other fencers and ask if they’ll play TAG with you (they should know how). Additionally, you’ll learn a lot by jumping into the melees already happening at practice. Make sure to grab a buddy and stick with them the entire time.
  • Spend Some Time: It will take some time to get comfortable with Melees, so give yourself a week or two to really learn the terminology, the lay of the land, and some basic ideas of how melees work.