Armored combat is not a spectator sport. Not yet, not the way we do it. And by we I mean HMB, IMCF, M1, and even SCA. They all suffer from their own individual problems but there are a couple of universal ones. The lack of visible damage, the technical knowledge needed for appreciation, the ugly clinch. Each of these makes the sport less appealing to the non practitioner and even to those on the inside it can still yield boring fights.
Now I know some people will point to the success of IMCF world Championships, the viral videos of M1 pro fights, the fact that any steel fighting at Ren Faire’s tend to draw the whole crowd, but personally, I don’t believe we’ve made fans of these people. Most of them see it as a curiosity, a one time experience that was cool enough but not a life time draw. More like a traveling circus show than the local ____ball team. It’s possible I’m wrong, only time will tell. Till then, here’s a more detailed breakdown on why I think the sports aren’t designed for spectating.
First off, the damage problem. The big problem with armored combat is Armor works. Punch a dude with a good helmet in the head, even if you have a heavy gauntlet and he’ll probably laugh. Most blows will have negligible effect and from a viewing perspective this is a problem. Blows no longer become interesting in and of themselves, if they appear easy to shrug off. They may be interesting to count as part of the overall competition, in the same way each return is interesting to watch in tennis as build up to the return that finally scores, but as individual actions they have little appeal. This is untrue of other combat sports like boxing or MMA where most landed blows have some visible effect and have the potential to be a fight ending knock out.
The SCA has the opposite problem actually. Since every “good” landed blow counts as removal of a limb or end of the fight, each shot is interesting. However because of the speed of the strikes and the fact that many landed blows are of sufficient power, from the stands it can be hard to comprehend what happened in an exchange. It’s made even worse by not being able to judge a blow’s quality from outside, so each shot is a bit of a puzzle.
These however are minor problems compared the next two. The slow clinch being my least favorite.
In a singles match, often times when combatants get in close they will end up hugging to prevent their opponent from striking them. Even in the SCA where grappling is illegal, a shield will often be pressed against an opponents sword preventing a strike. Due to restriction on movement of armor, restrictions on legal moves, and a current lack of knowledge in the steel fighting world, these exchanges rarely see much action. Combatants will try little shifts to adjust weight and gain small advantages, but this is hardly visible to an audience, especially one untrained in the sport. For the most part it looks like two dudes hugging or pressing each other for a few minutes of no excitement.
The biggest problem though is the technical knowledge of how to watch a fight. You’d think it would be real easy to watch, whoever beats up the other guys wins right? Well no. Lets take melee’s for an example. A typical melee has no central focus point. Once contact is made it breaks up into numerous smaller fights. It’s hard to know where to look to get a sense of the overall battle. Singles in ACL, how many non initiated people can tell the difference between a cleanly landed good blow and a poorly landed flat one, especially in a flurry? I sometimes have trouble picking them apart, when watching video after. SCA singles, one person can land a blow and the fight continues for 3 more strikes before the person beaten realized they were struck well. Catching all these things takes time watching and even then it’s not easy to tell everything that’s happening.
So, what’s my point? My point is we need to bring the beauty back to the violence. Fights need to be active first and foremost. They need to be able to be understood. This doesn’t mean simple and the subtly should be removed, just that subtle things should lead to big changes that those that didn’t catch the subtly can understand. There needs to be a simple goal, that’s easy to follow. They also need to highlight effective damage. We should encourage fighters to strike blows that cause their opponents to double in pain or fall over from force. We want the audience to see the effect. I have thoughts on things that might potentially improve the games, but each one deserves it’s own post. Every rule change has the equal potential to mess up the game and both pros and cons should be fully explored. So that will come at another time