The role of Competition.

Time has passed since the Horned Crown and I have been trying to write an article that deals with scoring systems in the world of HEMA. I have hit a bit of a brick wall; namely that I cannot seem to get to the point (excuse the pun) of what I am trying to say.

Basically I want to write about the function of scoring systems and then the various ways it is possible to keep score and how they might serve that function (or not). The difficulty I am facing at the moment is that as I attempt to write this I need to establish the theoretical background and explain why we want to keep score in the first place. This then spirals away from my original intentions and I end up writing about the function of competition rather than scoring systems. In my ears I swear I can hear the whispered voices of academic tutors past, telling me to “stick to the question” and “watch the word count”.

So what is the point of competition? I have stated my opinion of competition in the first couple of blog posts I wrote, short story is; I’m pro. However, my contemplation of scoring has led me to the following assertion of the basic function of league style competition as a learning exercise:

  1. To bring people together and give them the chance to fence against a variety of opponents and thereby avoid stagnation in their fighting.
  2. To identify strengths and weaknesses in your fencing and allow competitors to improve.
  3. Recognise those who fence well and by their example encourage others to further their own study.

Most other benefits of competition can be realised through in club sparring (e.g. trying out newly learnt techniques in a relatively free-form environment). I know some clubs, such as the Blademasters, run in house leagues which don’t necessarily serve the first point but I am really talking about the IHFL here.

Winning and thereby identifying anyone as the “best” fencer is just a sideline in my opinion. If you track scores then inevitably somebody will have accumulated more points that everybody else, there will be a winner in that sense. However, determining that person is not the purpose of the competition. It touches on the psychological benefits of competition slightly; winning or at least meeting personal goals of performance may well motivate somebody to return to more dedicated practice or demonstrate to them that their practice is working. Rankings derived from league events also serve the same purpose. It is worth noting that I would like to win a league event, just once, just to see if the resultant swollen head I am sure to develop requires the purchase of a new mask or just the re-distribution of padding…

For the most part my experience of the IHFL has been that whilst we all want to do as well as we can, egotism does not feature highly at the league events. Those that have won, and even those that have just beaten me, have always been ready to share their observations of my fencing. in some cases they have even gone so far as to explain how I could have dealt with them more successfully. It isn’t just about winning it’s about having a better quality opponent against whom to try yourself and therefore taking a personal role in assisting their development as fencers. Enlightened self-interest, I believe.

Another dude wearing red! Oh, the confusion! Is he me? Am I him? Ahhh!

When I consider other martial arts I am familiar with (not Tekken though), I notice that they rely on competition to determine student progress. My primary experience of this is the gradings that formed a major part of my childhood Judo career. As far as I know (feel free to correct me), Karate, Taekwondo and others use the same model. If you want to be seen to progress in the discipline then you have to fight competitively. HEMA doesn’t have that which is a good thing to my mind. People take up martial arts for a variety of reasons, fitness, self-defence and to build confidence; HEMA provides all those and adds the opportunity to engage in the physical exploration of a scholarly endeavour. When swinging a longsword or rapier n line with the text your group studies you are automatically carrying out experimental historical research.


This attracts people to HEMA that may have never considered taking part in the more competitively ‘fighty’ arts mentioned above. I still think that their practice of the art would be much improved by taking part in competition but I can totally respect the fact that it’s not what they are here for. Requiring these scholarly types to compete in order to ‘progress’ would alienate them rather rapidly, they would either give up or, worse, continue to study but not share the fruits with others.

My position is that by offering both HEMA brings together an interesting mix of people and gives them space to enjoy their arts in whatever way they feel best and keeping the scholarly and competitive streams together and available to all maintains this fascinating environment.

Hopefully by sticking down some sort of position on what league competition is for in this post, I can finally reach some kind of conclusion on the slightly narrower, but no less complicated issues of scoring systems.  I might even get around to writing it down and posting it here for you all to look at. In the meantime let me know what you think of this or any other article, you can comment below or on the Wrathful Peasants Facebook page.


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