My first exposure to historical martial arts was in a tournament setting. All my training was intended to make me a tournament winner. I’ve fought in a lot of tournament, with a lot of rules. I’ve run tournaments and modifed the rules time and time again. The rules are usually modified to try and influence the behaviour of fighters. Too many double kills? Try a punishment system. Fights too static? Time-limited bouts. Athletic newbs one-shotting experienced people? First-to-fifteen bouts.

The real bugaboo that crops up all the time is realism. We want our art to be realistic, so we try to manipulate the rulesets to try and create a fighter that could survive a real fight. We contrast realism with sportsmanship…or as it is sometimes derogatorily slanged: Honour. A black and white distinction is drawn between the two, as if they are sides opposed to each other. One must be right, and one must be wrong.

My paying part time job is stuffing games in boxes. One of the more popular games right now is a really fun little miniature game set it in the Star Wars world, where you have little dog-fights with X-wings and TIE fighters and other ships. It’s a lot of fun, and like everything fun, people make it competitive, with tournaments. Tournaments lead to rules talk, and I found this interesting little discussion online on whether or not you should tell an opponent if they’ve made a mistake…like forgetting to attack with a ship during their turn.

I found it fascinating that it was a discussion that could have taken place on any online WMA forum. With no question of reality…no one expects to be actually piloting or commanding X-wings in real battle…the same questions of conduct come up. Should one be a sportsman, or should one freely take advantage of the opponent’s mistakes? All the usual stances of the swordplay enthusiasts were mirrored by the mini enthusiasts.

My pet position of “I’d rather know I earned the win, than be handed it by my opponents bad luck” was taken up by more than one person. So was the “I’ll give friends a chance, or when teaching, but all bets are off in tournaments.” It was a nice way to see our own points of view, encapsulated nicely in another forum. I’m starting to think that our opinions are not so much a result of our logic, carefully earned by experience…but rather a result of our natural inclinations.

And maybe it’s wrong to reach for a one true ruleset. Perhaps we should be looking at parallels. Separate tournament modalities for each preference, with equal status to the winners. Dirty tricks on the white field, do gooders on the black field. Technical monkeys on the green, anything goes if it lands a touch on the yellow. Compare results in the evening pub session.