By the Sword

Sunday, 16. January 2011

This is a project that has been finished for a little while now, but it had some finalizing details to get everything put together and make it work well. Overall time on it was about 3 months, and we took around 3 days filming it. I think our end results turned out very well for having a budget of precisely zero dollars to put this together. Filming was done on a SLR camera, in 720p resolution.

The overall goal was to put together a small promotional video for the Doro I train at in the Detroit area, the Martial Science Center. The Iaido group here is Takumakan and specifically is Toyama Ryu or for those that aren’t in the know… the style taught to Japanese military officers.

There is probably one in the future coming for Jujitsu, but I hope it’s not too soon as this really took some effort.

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Firing for effect!

Wednesday, 29. December 2010

Struck! (Flickr / ThisParticularGreg)

All to often in martial training one is given a generalized target to work with such as the head, torso, outer leg, etc.  While at a basic level this approach acceptable in order to further our training we need to proceed further.  Rather then generalizing, we need to be thinking head for instance.. we need to be thinking nose, left orbital, left temple.. base of jaw.  The study goes further than that however.. there are a lot of additional components. Intended effect and reaction, type of strike, angle of  attack and knowing what surrounds your target is equally important.

Specific targets are aimed at within the body for specific effect.  I’m not talking about the obvious such as simply poking someone in the eye.  What happens when the hips are displaced backwards from a low punch, or then the a leg is driven outward from a strike?  Where does the body move and what openings does it produce?  Study of body movement in such cases are important because it guides what your follow up strikes are going to be.. and equally important where they are not going to be based on your expected reaction.
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The trouble with Initiative..

Monday, 29. November 2010

Looking at Christan’s post over at Destination Unknown, I have some mixed feelings about initiative systems in general. A lot of them are cumbersome and generally a pain to work with. It’s another layer of complexity that slows down the action… depending on how its handled that is. There is some added obscurity in that the first acting person isn’t necessarily first… depending on the circumstances.

As the title was saying, the trouble with initiative is that at least in melee combat – the person who is “first” is often the loser. The trick is to get someone to mentally commit to an action, then respond to it. There is a large variety of methods of accomplishing this, but unless the defender really is “flat footed” so to say, its often to their great advantage to go second. Make them miss, then kill them. Of course, this only applies with melee weapons.. if there are ranged weapons such as guns that are brought into play then the first person to connect wins. There is no choice but to beat them and control the weapon or take evasive action until you can bring your own weapons to bear (Incidentally, 4-10 feet is about the worst possible distance you can be in that instance, but thats another conversation entirely.)

Any case, the point is that the person who shouldn’t be “first” per say isn’t always at an advantage.. which is where at least somewhat of the random factor in initiative comes from. So what factors are there to consider?

1) The mental willingness to commit acts of violence – #1 the largest single factor in combat. It is one thing to hit someone with a fist, it is another large step to attack them with something that is obviously lethal. If the mental resolve isn’t there, this person loses. Period.
2) Physical preparation for combat – If your hands aren’t up you’re probably going to get sucker punched. Likewise for the person balancing oddly on one foot or in other strange positions. There is a weight shift necessary to respond and it works in strange fashions.
3) The characters speed in question – How fast can the character respond.. both mentally and physically. This places a pretty respectable effect on how bit that reactionary gap is.
4) Weapon type & Distance – What weapons are being brought to bear, and how far away is your target? Woe to the person who is within the reactionary gap of the weapon in question.
5) Luck – Not to be discounted. Training only hedges your bet to survive a fight – sadly it has diminishing returns as well.
6) Superseded action – An interrupted combat plan has a tendency to slow people down considerably further as they have to rethink what they’re doing.

I would rate speed based on the above, with a healthy dose of luck and an order change in between rounds based on interruptions, if I were to normalize away from regular systems dice throws.


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Controlling the Center

Thursday, 18. November 2010

One of the more universal concepts within martial arts is the control of the center of the engagement.  This makes natural sense as when the opponent is within range, so are you.  If not immediately, you are within a step of being potentially in trouble.  As the shortest path between 2 points is a straight line, controlling the center of an engagement becomes paramount.  As with nearly everything however, we have to apply the rule of threes to this.  Controlling your center as well as controlling the center of the opponent equally important.

As for controlling the center of an engagement… there are 2 ways this can be accomplished; directly and indirectly.  The direct method is to have something in between you and your opponent be it an arm or a weapon.   This prevents your opponents from simply closing without consequences and allows you the opportunity to check and parry.  It also allows you to have a simple method of attacking as well through thrusting and striking.  The indirect method is perhaps more interesting, command of  the center is simply “implied” rather than having it physically controlled.  This is accomplished by having a weapon ready to strike or otherwise being able to punish your opponent for attempting to take it.  Indirect control is particularly useful in the case of blunt weaponry where you don’t necessarily want it grabbed and taken away from you.

Controlling your center is important for a large variety of reasons.  The first of which is that it gives you a consistant set Ma-ai for percussion as well as allowing you to be rooted when you do so.  Secondly, a good center will allow you to maintain a good neutral posture which has no tells in your movement… very important or an opponent will exploit these.  Lastly, maintaining that center makes it much more difficult to throw you or otherwise use controlling techniques.

Controlling your opponents center has a number of good applications as well… most of which are listed above however I’ll reiterate them for emphasis.  An off centered opponent is far easier to throw, control or sweep.  Good application of technique will off center them rather easily.  Their movement will also be considerably more predictable, as moving to the off centered sides is far slower as a weight lowering and then shift is necessary to accomplish the task.  In the case that they are forward, their techniques will lack speed, power or the proper distance to do the damage that’s required of them.  There is a number of ways to achieve this;  successfully attacking either of the legs is one of the simpler ones.. as properly applied control will take them out of the fight immediately.

Control of all of these can be accomplished through training proper technique diligently.  That same technique is applicable across all systems, so it is important to get it right and into muscle memory so it can be easily applied.

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House Rules = Cars Continued

Monday, 15. November 2010

Continuing along with my question last week, there were a some very good answers regarding them.  Rujikol had a very pertinent comment regarding house rules.. as to what really breaks systems fast.  In this case, I especially play attention to the first sentence…

“What I try to avoid changing:
Basic combat mechanics; how to attack, defend, etc. Creating a dependent tree of exceptions can quickly break a game.
Basic damage mechanics; hit points, critical wounds, effects thereof.
Skill resolutions; messing with this makes it very odd. I find that one can trim a resolution system, by discarding what situations a test might be required in, without the same problems as expanding those situations.
Silos: if there are silos, like class/profession, don’t intrude into other silos. Undermining a silos specialty will make it collapse and remove its niche. Have to say that I avoid games with silos.”

Tearing into the core system and monkeying around with the base defining rule sets can quickly cause problems unless you are prepared to do a lot of play testing.  If you give yourself the opportunity to be undermined, you will and it will happen in very dramatic and sometimes quick fashion.  Which creates another issue of what exploitations you’re letting players get away with.. another issue in itself.

I disagree with the statement on Silos… with the exception being that you are playing a game that relies on that as basically its total existence.  MMO’s make fine examples of this, simply because the underused classes simply aren’t played because numbers are the sum totality of the game.  Some encroachment into what other classes do is necessary for redundancy as long as there is that crossover exists universally.  In that particular case classes might have the same method of getting the same job done… a thief picks the lock, a warrior kicks the door in and the mage can do either depending on what set of spells they have memorized.  The difference is just a matter of efficiency in how they accomplish a given task and how much energy and noise it takes to do it.

Hit points can be tweaked… but its usually into a wounds based system and then it’s a significant amount of work particularly if you incorporate any sort of death spirals into the combat.  I’m not entirely sure critical have a tremendous effect on the game unless you’re doing some sort of permanent wounding.   Typically its just an ego boost, as the damage increases they pull off are usually that of a second or 3rd swing. (Granted, in any of the OSR style games that can be devastating.)

Another sacred cow that I can think of would be essentially class power mechanics.  Your warriors typically amount to what the baseline is, and everything falls behind them.  Their overarching efficiency in combat is checked against the other classes and their skills are somewhat tuned from there.   Or Visa Versa; Skills, Number and frequency of spells  and other abilities are typically balanced against this in a combat based game.  Frames are a lot of work to modify!

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Martial Artist vs Martial Scientist

Monday, 8. November 2010

Despite the obvious overview of the title this post isn’t about any sort of contest between the 2 whatsoever.  Rather its an examination of the styles and methodology of martial study.  In that regard, the title is very limiting and should be expanded upon greatly to include probably more titles perhaps than I could fit into this article.

This has a fair amount of bleed over into the reasons for training martial arts (and there are indeed many.) so I am going to try and separate the two as much as possible.  The reason for this of course is because different training styles attract various  personality styles and along with them, motivations.  Someone might ultimately be unsatisfied with the practical effectiveness of their training and move away from a Do style to a Jitsu.  The reverse is equally as likely as one searches for a meaning in their training beyond taking people apart.  All styles have this crossover, as well as a spiritual aspect and one of self improvement.  Although I list terms in Japanese, it shouldn’t be too difficult to break your methodology apart if you look at it.

With that out of the way we can being to look closer to the heart of the matter; artist versus scientist.  Of the original study there was no “art” in martial arts at all.  It was purely a military study of defeating ones opponents using the best technology available at the time.  Fists, Sticks and Swords have now been supplanted for the most part by firearms and explosives.  The former is still used, but it’s highly situation ally specific.

The martial artist is interested in the study of martial arts primarily for the “art” of the study.   The techniques need to look good as well as be effective within their intended scope of their application (Note I did not say this was ineffective, just slanted towards what the scope is.)  Technique is there, however the original intent and depth of the technique is reinvented from its original purpose.  Compartmentalization occurs between the trinity rather than looking at the similarities. 

The martial scientist on the other hand is looking for the connection and application between the techniques.  Biomechanics, leverage, momentum, mindset, distancing all carry between the triangle of grappling, percussion and weaponry.  The martial scientist seeks to exploit the familiarities between these to a point where no thinking is required.  The motion is familiar enough in muscle memory to the point where it simply occurs with predictable results.

I can’t say that martial scientists were the “original” martial artists because that approach wasn’t taken until later in Japanese history and a good amount of European teaching was non standardized until later as well.   The concern for effectiveness was most likely there over modularity.  Modern martial “arts” in many cases are far from the original and is something that needs to be rediscovered to encourage the original effectiveness.

Where does your training fall within the spectrum?

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Damage Scaling

Monday, 25. October 2010

BX has an interesting post on the use of a simple d6 damage mechanic for D&D gaming.  The argument is essentially that all weapons are lethal and equally capable of gutting someone should they connect.  I agree to a point, but there is definitely an advantage to be had for reach and then armor adds just another entire level of complexity.  Lets face it, most of the time damage in games is pretty abstract because it would be very disappointing for someone to get gutted in the first hit particularly after spending all that time making a character.

So lets look at using something similar or perhaps a “slight” change in the damage die for weapons if you prefer just based on the mass of damage done.  In this case, we’ll just keep with a simple d6 however for sake of simplicity.  From there, we’ve got another couple layers that heap on complexity and perhaps affect the damage we can do with a given weapon.  Technique (combat experience, skill etc) has a lot to do with it, so that should be a major factor.  Strength plays a smaller part and speed is equally important.  (I know there are a lot of other factors we can incorporate, but this has to be playable!)

For D&D it might be something like this

Skill – Every 4 levels results in a +1. Classes that are specialized in fighting gain an additional +1 to this scale.
Strength - Each point of bonus represents +1 on the scale.  Likewise with penalties.
Speed – Dexterity is factored in a similar fashion.

All of those attributes end up getting summed on each side of the equation and a comparison is made between the 2.  If there is no or simply a small difference, the damage for each weapon remains the same.  As the difference increases, whomever has the advantage increases their damage in increments.  For D&D, a d2 would be appropriate.  For games similar to heavy gear, a damage increase of 1 per step would be appropriate.

Difference Added damage
0-3              None
3-6              d2 (d6 would be d8 now, etc)
6-12            d4
12+             d6

What does all this do put together?  It provides a relative effectiveness of each combatant with a weapon.  The more able combatant is going to be able to better leverage his  weapons strengths and the damage increase shows this.  In the case of the less skilled person; a lethal weapon is still lethal.  Damage in their case remains the same to reflect this. It also represents the multiple hits or other techniques that might be applied with a weapon that’s seemingly “less” lethal to greatly increase its effectiveness.

If you wanted to get away from hit points, you could use a scale of combat advantage the combatants progress along until one wins, with the win resulting in a wound for the other.  Combat progresses until a clear winner is there.


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The lowly knife?

Wednesday, 14. July 2010

Often in RPG, the somewhat lesser weapons are assigned a rather low damage value (1d4 perhaps?) and not much further thought is given. Is this really the case, are we underestimating the amount of damage that can be inflicted by “lesser” weapons? Virtually all combat in a non fictitious sense really is really is potentially crippling or with lethal consequences. Lets examine the humble common knife or dagger.

Bladed weapons, swords in particular are a major part in nearly any of the old civilizations culture. Consider that edged weapons were only very recently supplanted by ballistics as the weapon of choice (~1700s) on the battlefield. This is a veritable wink in the existence of mankind. Up until this time edges of any sort were the preferred method of eliminating ones foes.  This is due to the brutal and cold efficiency of such weapon and certainly deserves further examination.

For starters knives pierce or sever depending on how they are used. In the process anything in the way gets cut: Muscle, Nerves, Arteries, Veins and bone all get separated. In the worse case, this can result in instant or near instant death in the case of the central nervous system. Any sort of hit to a major artery can cause unconsciousness in a few minutes (or far less depending on what was hit.) and death shortly after without assistance. Damage to nerves will paralyze any part of the limb that is past any affected nerves. Damaged musculature is considerably less useful even with just a slight cut. As one can see the results are plainly put, devastating on a well aimed cut or thrust. Even in the case of a lesser wound, the target is now bleeding. The wound channel knives open is considerably large in the amount of surface area and in the case of a well sharpened blade difficult to close. These factors combined with the high maneuverability of the weapon means that most martial arts who are familiar with such weaponry would often prefer to deal with a gun in close quarters instead of a knife in competent hands.

The real world answer to such combat is go somewhere else (de-escalation or evasion is the best bet,) arm oneself with another, perferably longer weapon or if one can not do that to prepare to get cut.  Fights rarely go as cleanly as they do in the movies and are typically short and brutal.  Part of the long fights in movies is due to entertainment value,  a brief engagement is boring even though it may be accurate.  Another factor I’d consider however is the psychological blocking of the danger of such common weapons. 

I realize the explanation is that  other weapons are more lethal, but dead is dead.  Any sort of weapon in an engagement deserves respect.  Thoughts?

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