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A tested, working solution for the NeverEnding Problem of Afterblows and Doubles

"Never give up, and good luck will find you" -Falkor, NeverEnding Story

It's been a fairly long time since I first started dealing with competition rulesets and how they can be improved. In my club, we've been organizing tournaments for around ten years now, starting with fun competitions between clubmates and always growing, going through five years of organizing the AICS National Tournament (the head HEMA event of our sports insurance body) and constantly experimenting, until last year I felt the rules (in the iprovement of which I had become ever more personally involved during the years) were mature enough to have their core concepts set in stone, and innovative enough to be worth creating a whole circuit wherein to test them with other judges and a wider array of fencers, in order to verify how the ruleset would behave outside of my direct control.

This involved the necessity of transforming the ruleset into a "barebone" set of rules instead (which can be partly or entirely borrowed by other events), where it's mostly the borrowed rule that adapts to the rest of the ruleset and not vice versa.

This is the first instance of a series of rules I will be releasing for anyone interested in trying them out and adding them to their events, in order to improve specific situations or counter specific problems.

The origins of "the problem".

It's likely that the most serious problem in modern competitive HEMA is that the intention to not be hit is very difficult to reward, compared to the intention of hitting, in a sport that is fundammentally based on fencers hitting each other. Double hits universally represent both fencers failing at doing the most important thing (i.e. saving their own lives), while afterblows of any sort were originally designed to reduce the tendency of sucidally striking first, itself generated by the "stop at first touch" rulesets which are the most common in HEMA.

The true origin of this all though lies in the problem of "ruleset artifacts", so when the outcomes of a rule directly generate an unwanted result (an artifact) that then has to be dealt with, usually with another rule. But what if that second rule generates onother artifact? The cycle can potentially never end, so that the original problem ends up requiring a potentially infinite series of rules to correct both itself and the artifacts generated by the corrective rules.

The original problem in this case is the lack of sharp edges and our need to decide when to stop the fight in absence of physical damage forcing the interruption.

Regardless of the specific ruleset, the universal solution we apply in HEMA, or actually in any form of fencing, is that the Judging staff stops the fight when a relevant hit is landed (may it be the first one or a decisive one depending or the ruleset itself, but this is irrelevant).

This produces the first and most important artifact: the goal of the fight becomes that of hitting the opponent in a decisive manner to stop the fight (most times it being "hit first").

To take care of this artifact, a lot of subsequent rules have been designed over time, such as full afterblows, deductive afterblows, etc. What all stop-and-afterblow systems have in common though is that they produce another artifact: suicidal fencing. Since it is possible to "even the situation up" by striking back at the opponent, these rulesets make it far less important to not be hit, as much as it is important (again) to hit your opponents during the exchange. So, while this actaully removes the problem of being the first to make a decisive hit (or any hit most times) as an absolute goal, it creates the problem of hitting at all costs.

Then other rules have been designed, such as a maximum number of doubles or afterblows allowed per fight or per tournament, but all these measeures end up producing further artifacts such as fencers "keeping track" of how many double deaths they have left compared to their opponent, or how convenient it is for them to risk an afterblow compared to trying for a clean hit, or even to suffer a strike in order to afterblow and seize a vicotry by an artifact!

But how then are we to solve the issue of making people value not being hit more than hitting, especially without completely rewriting the maority of the rulesets in the world, without just relying on "club culture" and "correctness"? Those are all beautuful things, but they are prone to anyone just abusing of the rules and not caring for their fellow fencers. As the co-organizer of multiple events a year, I needed a solution.

Preventing suicidal fencing, "seeking doubles", etc.? Yes we can!

I have deisgned a rule, quite easy to apply, that completely eliminates this specific problem. We have already tested it in national and international events, and it worked a breeze, sensibly reducing the amount of double deaths. By "sensibly", I mean the total number of double deaths (either afterblows or doubles), in over five hundred bouts during two days and four competitions at HEMAICS Bononia in October 2018, was under a dozen.



If your ruleset is not already like this, you will need to make a couple of minor adjustments:

  1. Bouts must be limited by points, not by time, as the main limiting factor. This means the standard end of a bout must be "X points are reached" as opposed to "X time is reached". This is not a major shift in any way for your ruleset, but it's a necessary step to remove the discrepancy in scored points between super-aggressive fencers and more cautious ones, which presently advantages repeatedly scoring at the risk of being hit back since "more is better than less" as long as the fencer manages to lead by at least one point over the opponent, making "seeking a double" a sensible strategy once in advantage. I know there are some "X doubles and you are out" rules, but generally these end up punishing as many innocents "suffering" someone just trying to double them as they punish serial doublers. I have personally seen people trying to double someone to kick them out of the competition because they had one more double hit "left" than them. It just doesn't work, and it creates artifacts. So, you will absolutely need to make bouts limited by a maximum score, in order to make the rest of this system work.

It is recommended to choose a low "points goal", such as 3, and eventually make a fight of multiple bouts, rather than a single 10-points bout, but this is not "necessary"; it will just improve the fencing quility by reducing the ability of a fencer to "make up" for mistakes and risks taken, or for having been struck on high-value targets, and multiple bounts per fight (we do 3) will also allow the use of some other rules of mine to be published in the future. But again, not mandatory. Each fight can be even just one large 10-points bout or whatever.

  1. A time limit must exist, so that if neither of the fencers has reached the points goal by then, they BOTH lose by maximum points. This will have to be a large time limit, with the only goal of not letting fencers just "not fight", since the way this system works will dissuade them both from r