Some of these terms come from fencing and some are from my own logic and approach. If there’s anything that needs defining in my posts, odds are it’s in here.
Quite simply, this is the amount of space between the two combatants. Distance can be closed or opened by one or both fighters moving away from or towards each other. For example, one could actively close distance by suddenly stopping a backwards motion when the opponent is moving forwards.
In fencing, every attack carries an inherent risk in that anyone who is close enough to hit their opponent is also close enough to be hit. Thus, risk is minimized by fencers who launch their attacks from the proper distance such that they hit the outermost or nearest part of their opponent’s body.
Even if both people are moving in the same direction, the distance between them can be opening or closing depending on their respective speeds. If one character is pursuing the other, the distance will remain constant as long as they’re moving at the same pace. It is important to note that well-planned and sudden changes in direction can be very disruptive and difficult for an opponent to manage.
This is my term to account for the fact that different characters have various body types and fight with various weapons. Effective distance can be measured as the length of a character’s arm combined with the length of their weapon. Essentially, this is how far they are able to reach and the distance from which they can hit their opponent.
In order for a person with a spear, such as Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell, to be effective, they need to stay far enough away from their enemies to be able to stab or slice with the point or blade at the end of their weapon. Thus, the effective distance of someone with a longer weapon is above average. On the other hand, the effective distance for someone fighting with a short dagger is up close. So if the person with a spear was managing the effective distance, they would not be letting the person with the dagger to get anywhere near them, whereas the character with the dagger would have to break distance and get to such a tight distance such that the spear’s length became a liability rather than an asset. This example shows how some weapons, such as a spear, battle axe, or anything along those lines also has a minimum effective distance. If the two characters are any closer than that distance, then the weapon becomes useless. You can’t stab someone with a spear if they’re closer to you than the length of the handle.
There is also an effective distance for different styles, regardless of the weapon. For example, if a character likes to make big, sweeping blows, then they need to stay far enough away so that they have time to complete said attack without being killed. Generally, I prefer fighters who make small, direct motions. This is in part because bigger actions are no longer effective once a character is close enough to hit or be hit by their opponent. From far away, the big, momentous attack is acceptable, but up close it is too big for the current distance.
A character’s tempo is defined as how long it takes them to make a simple action, be it defensive or offensive. The thrust of a spear or any direct attack is one tempo, as is the act of blocking or deflecting an attack. So to block a sword and then attack with your own in response is a two-tempo action. Drawing a sword back to make a big, powerful swing would take more than one tempo, as would any of the extraneous, flashy movements that are common in action movies and shows. To clarify, Game of Thrones’ Syrio Forel disarms his opponent within two tempos: one tempo is used to parry, and the other to attack.
Tempo is important to measure because it’s very difficult to react when in the middle of an action. You can’t suddenly take a swing at someone while in the middle of blocking a weapon. You would need to finish your tempo and then move on from there. You can think of tempo in a similar regard to how you would in music. Tempo will dictate the speed and rhythm of the movements in a fight just as it does the notes in a song.
Intent is something that can be used to differentiate between theatrical and realistic fights. Basically, what are they trying to do? Do the fighting characters intend to kill each other or do they intend to put on a cool show? Theatrical swordfights involve people dramatically clashing swords, whereas realistic swordfights involve people who have intentions to hit each other.
A direct action is a simple, one-tempo motion with intent. When a character is being attacked, do they simply block or do they twirl their sword around in the air while backflipping out the way? When a character is trying to hit someone, do they perform a quick, concise jab or slash, or do they swing their sword around in the air while screaming and chasing down their opponent?
An attack is any motion performed with the intent to hit a target. If a character is swinging around a battle axe but not decisively trying to hit something, then it’s not really an attack.
A preparation is something that sets up the conditions from which to launch an attack. For example, a parry is a preparation as a riposte is an attack. Basically if something isn’t an attack and isn’t just a wasted motion or dramatic flourish, then it’s a preparation.