Rules Laboratory Part Three: Shortpoint After-Action Review

Shortpoint went off last Saturday without a hitch, with about 75 fighters showing up for a day of informal sparring, a handful of classes, and the first real pressure tests of the rules variations posted in Rules Laboratory 2.

The first round of testers were primarily complete beginners to HEMA tournament judging, forcing a quick training session. Throughout the training session I was reminded how hard it is to accurately watch two fencers at the same time, identifying targets, evaluating blows for quality, and generally trying to maintain the feedback resolution that defines Longpoint’s CQTC rules. Shortly after teaching these new judges the “basic” Longpoint rules (think 2013), we shifted to testing Shortpoint Option #1:

German Quality Priority. All strikes are judged independently, without regard to doubles or afterblows. All points are counted for each fighter (i.e., no subtraction).

We tried this with four judges watching all of the action, but it was a disaster. Then we shifted to Longpoint 2014-style judging with two judges watching one fighter each and the fight director (referee) adjudicating the calls. Rather suddenly the quality of calls improved. Significantly.

We continued the tests with sword and buckler, and again with more experienced judges. In each case, this approach worked better than every other. After only a short amount of testing of the other three options from the rules laboratory, fighters, observers, and judges unanimously agreed to continue working on the two-judge-per-fighter, quality-over-priority model. The next several hours, then, were devoted to working out the bugs.

Before I go into detail outlining how these rules will work for Fechtschule New York (and probably for Longpoint 2015), I want to discuss why we’ve moved in this direction at all, as it’s quite a bit different from where the Longpoint rules started and the general state of US HEMA tournaments in their early years. What drove us this direction?

  1. Zee Germans. The introduction of the afterblow, based primarily on Matt Galas’s research and best known from 16th-17th Century Franco-Belgian rules. We know that rules calling out some kind of afterblow were pretty far reaching, showing up in the Italian states and elsewhere. Many Germanic Fechtschulen, however, seemed to operate under a different model: matches were broken down into a series of Gänge, or “goes,” each lasting a finite number of strikes. At the end of each Gang the fencers were inspected for highest bleeding wound; the fencer who delivered said wound was the winner. Under this model, priority of strike was subordinate to quality of strike, judged by objective criteria. Longpoint’s competitions—though open to all traditions—has always skewed Germanic in flavor. Taking this approach seemed a natural progression.
  2. The Vikings. Or, more specifically, the Nordic Historical Fencing League, which has been running on a similar model for the last two years…and with good effect. Compare the longsword finals for Swordfish 2014 to previous years for cleanliness of fighting and of judging, and you’ll see what began to persuade us.
  3. And Judges. Judging accuracy in competitive HEMA is a challenge—one that’s rued, begrudgingly accepted, and frequently mocked by the competitive populace. After six-plus years of fighting in HEMA competitions, judging HEMA competitions, reffing HEMA competitions, and running HEMA competitions, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on our challenges in this department. The greatest of them (after the quality of fighting) is a judge’s limitations of attention. Watching two fighters for an hour (or six) is difficult. Noting who hit who…in what order…and where (for both fighters)…is even more difficult. This paradigm eliminates these issues almost entirely. It’s easy to judge, less fatiguing, and significantly more accurate than any previous method we’ve used.

So What’s Different, Exactly?

CQTC Point Values

  • Contact—intentionally striking your opponent—is now called but not scored. Incdentally, caroming, ricocheting, or otherwise accidental strikes will not be considered contact.  Contact alone is worth 0 points.
  • Quality has now been more objectively defined. All quality strikes must be performed from stabile posture or movement. Cuts must be made with the last 50% of the sword (the “weak”), using the edge, with at least 45 degrees of rotation; blows made with the strong or with the flat will not earn the point for quality. A thrust must make solid contact, though the blade need not bow. A slash/draw cut must drag at least 50% of the edge along the target. A quality strike is worth 1 point.
  • Target, meaning the prioritized target area, has been narrowed slightly. While a strike to any allowed target area can earn contact and quality, earning the bonus points for target require landing a thrust to the torso or head, or a blow with the edge to the head or upper openings above the seam of the shoulder. Slashes are counted as blows. Pommel strikes, as always, are only counted against the mask. The target bonus is +2 points, for a total of 3 points.
  • Control has changed the least and maintains 2014’s definition, paraphrased as active control of the opponent’s weapon in the time that your attack lands. A standardized (but non-comprehensive) list of techniques which, if properly executed, earn the control point bonus will be published prior to Fechtschule New York. Unlike the 2011-2013 rules, a blow or afterblow landed by your opponent does not necessarily cancel out your opportunity to earn the control point, though the fight director (aka head judge) may still cite such a blow as evidence that control was not sufficiently maintained. The control bonus is +3 points, for a total of 6 points.

Afterblows, Doubles, and Clean Hits

All of our early tests indicate that rules systems which don’t penalize doubles and afterblows lead to sloppier fencing among beginners but have the opposite effect at higher levels. Rewarding clean hits (instead of punishing poor ones) pushes skilled fencers harder and promotes better technique. We feel it’s time to hold our fencers to a higher standard—but we also believe that reward systems are more effective at promoting such behavior than punishments are.

The accuracy of this judging system led to some interesting observations. Most noteworthy was that many blows which would have been scored for only one fighter (aka a clean blow) under any other rule set often came out as a scoring blow for one fighter and contact without quality for the other fighter. This irritated some fencers (including me) at first, but on further reflection it became apparent that we rarely fence as cleanly as we imagine. The effect on the score in such situations is marginal (just the “clean hit” bonus point); the effect on our egos has been more lasting…

Two judges will focus on each fighter. Last year this resulted in some confusion of the priority of landed blows, and led to the nice-sounding but inconsistently applied “Double without defense” ruling. The planned 2015 rules eschew the concept of afterblows and double-hits altogether, taking cues from old German Fechtschule rules. Every blow is evaluated independently of its priority in the action. When a judge for either fighter sees their fighter land a hit, the judge will call “Point.” The fight director will follow a moment later with “halt.” The best blow landed before the director calls halt is scored by the judges.

To reward fencers who land clean blows with no afterblow or double-hit, a clean hit bonus point will be awarded to fighters who score a quality (or better) strike without their opponent scoring contact. Note that blows which make contact without quality cannot earn the clean hit bonus point.

This means that a fighter can earn up to seven (7) points in a single blow, assuming the blow is assessed for quality, target, control, and is a clean hit.

Other Bits and Pieces

The updated rules for grappling and ring-outs followed the model published in the second Rules Laboratory post. To recap:


  • Grappling with no resolution after a 5-count: 0 points (equivalent to Contact)
  • A throw or take-down resulting in one fighter in a dominant position or remaining standing: 1 point (equivalent to Quality)
  • A throw or take-down resulting in the dominant fighter planting the point against the opponent’s torso/head: 3 points (equivalent to target)
  • A throw where one fighter remains standing and armed while the other fighter is disarmed or unable to use his weapon due to position: 6 points (equivalent to control)


  • If a fighter leaves the ring for any reason during the fight, his/her opponent will be awarded 1 point.
  • If a fighter leaves the ring under their own power before the halt, any points scored before the halt will not be awarded and the fighter’s opponent will still be awarded 1 point.

Win Conditions

Matches will end when one fighter has a lead of 9 points on the other, or at time. We have reduced this from 2014's 14 point margin to partially regain the fear of being hit and losing quickly from 2013's rules, where one hit could get you all the points you needed to win. 


We’re sure you’re going to have questions and comments. We invite you to discuss them on the Longpoint Facebook Page. Questions posted to other locations may not be noticed or answered; we will do everything we can to address your questions on our official page, however.

One More Thing: What About the Baltimore Sword and Knife Co. Feders at Shortpoint?

I got to use and abuse the heavier of the two feder models during our rules tests. These tests will be continuing for a few weeks. Initial impressions are positive—the weapon handles well and appears resistant to breaking. The temper on this initial model may be a bit soft, but not by much, and Kerry over at Baltimore Sword and Knife Co. seems genuinely interested in tweaking this thing until it’s right. This isn’t an approved blade for Longpoint yet, but if things continue moving in this direction, it will be.

One Last Thing…

Oh yeah. I had a really amazing time at Shortpoint this year. Everything went great, the fights were a blast, and it was wonderful to see 75 of my closest friends for eight hours of mayhem. We should do this more often.