Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Putting it Into Practice Part III

Putting it into Practice III
Jason “Aeston” Rosa

In my last article about practice, I attempted to explain why it is important to have a philosophy that defines your practice and that helps the organizers of your practice establish norms to continuously pursue their ideals. Today I will attempt to look a little bit more at the practicality of running a practice and how to effectively structure that practice to give everyone the opportunity to remain engaged and learn the most.

Again, the way we have decided to do things at UCONN is only one of countless structures people have found to make their practice successful. I will, however, discuss some of the conventions we use and explain why we use them in the hopes that others can gain some insight into the structure they adopt.

One-on-one time: I mentioned this in my last article, but the chance for participants to practice individually is very important. Again, this is because a lot of invaluable training and learning can happen during that time. Some of this section of practice can be “freeform”, without any specific direction as people stretch, warm up, and get into practice mode by sparring. Some of this one-on-one time can also be structured through a drill. Drills can be used in this case to ramp up the rigor and speed of the fight practice and to increase the diversity of the individuals that fight one another. Two drills we commonly use that can aid in this:

Switch: in this simple drill, combatants spread out around the field/room and pair off to start fighting one-on-ones. When the practice organizer yells out “Switch!”, everyone must immediately stop their fight (even if it is not finished), regain any lost limbs, and find a new opponent to start sparring with. As an extra push, we often challenge individuals to sprint to the other side of the room as they do so.

Fat Burners: invented by the members of Grimloch (at Nottingham practice if I am not mistaken), a fat burner is like a series of bear pits. The number of pits you start with depends on the size of your practice, but one for about every four people is a good guideline. Everyone forms into a single queue, and as they come to the front of it, they run to join one of the open pits, which functions like a bear pit except that the winner regains any lost limbs after the fight is over. As expected, the loser of the fight joins the end of the queue. This drill encourages a lot of diversity in opponents and leads to very intense, high-level one-on-ones. A great deal of learning takes place during it.

Drills: after we do one-on-one practice, normally we move into some drills. There is clearly some overlap here if we decided to use drills as a major part of that individual training, and sometimes if that's the case we’ll skip doing any others. Otherwise, drills are a great opportunity to teach and reinforce vital combat skills that go beyond individual fighting ability. Again, I will mention a couple that we use.

Two-on-Ones: to the best of my knowledge we invented this drill at SMAC many, many years ago, and credit has to go to Mike Palumbo for the original idea. A total of three queues are formed, with two on one side of our practice space (side by side), and one on the other. When the practice organizer yells “Go!” a team of two emerges from one side of the practice space to fight an individual coming from the other. This drill allows the team to practice coordination in attacking an opponent at the same time to minimize the damage they sustain, while it allows the individual to practice the maneuvering and elusiveness they need to beat a greater number of opponents. As the drill goes on, you can change the number of queues on each side to start doing two-on-twos or two-on-threes.

Infinite Line Battles: in this drill, a single queue is formed on each side of the field/room.. A number of people enter the practice area from the front of each queue, usually around five to seven depending on the size of practice, and engage one another in a small line battle. As each participant dies, they are immediately replaced by the next person in the queue on their side, while dead players return to the back of the queue. In effect, this makes for a line battle that always has the same number of people on each side and pushes back and forth as one side gains advantage over the other. This drill is meant to allow for sustained practice working as a team, seeing and exploiting weaknesses that develop in real time, and recovering from those same kinds of errors.

Whole Group Practices: the last half, or at least the last third of practice, tends to be something where combatants are all participating at the same time. For a lot of people, this is the most enjoyable part of fight practice, and it is an opportunity to build up a lot of intensity and momentum, especially as your numbers of participants grow larger.

Line Battles: this one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. I’m pretty sure every fight practice incorporates them to some degree. Line battles are a staple of the game, but they have a lot of limitations too. They allow combatants to practice working together, assessing and reacting to evolving situations on the battlefield, strategizing to gain advantage before engagement -- overall a wide degree of valuable skills. They are not, however, very representative of how the majority of the combat in the game actually takes place, apart from some large tournament events. It’s easy to rely too heavily on line battles, and certainly we at UCONN do so. Currently it is a problem we are trying to correct.

Squad Battles: depending on the overall size of the practice, you can make squads that range in size from three to six, but overall we try to make sure there are at least four to six squads total. The premise is simple. The squads attempt to kill one another until there is only one squad left standing. The issue, however, is that this can lead to significant down-time for the squads eliminated first. To change that dynamic, we started having each squad pick a regen point somewhere on the practice area and having each member of the squad return there when they die. When the whole squad is back at the regen point, the whole squad regens and enters the fight once again. This eliminates most downtime and gives each squad the opportunity to fight all the other squads multiple times.

Games: sometimes, especially when we are outdoors, we use the last twenty to thirty minutes of practice for a game such as Capture the Flag. This can be a fun departure from the more regimented aspects of practice, especially from something such as line battles. However, while you can have some good individual fights in a game, and there are overall skills that are applicable such as awareness of your surroundings or pressing numerical advantage, all in all you should try and be wary of relying too much on games too often. The amount of training and learning the happens overall is pretty low. Still, they can be a good answer to questions about engagement and the overall enjoyment of practice. It’s just important to find a balance.

Above is only a small accounting of the diversity of drills and whole-group exercises that can be used at a practice. There are other examples of activities that we have used and other practices in the game have come up with a wide variety of other options. For my own part, I am greatly anticipating Chris Marques’ upcoming Practice Manual which will certainly delve deeper into practice organization and drills than I was able to, even in an article of this length.

Once you have established your drills and routines and once you have built up a functioning practice that runs regularly, your last and greatest challenge is to not grow complacent in what you have created. As much as the Realms community has stayed similar through all these years I have been playing, there have also been a great many changes. Those changes, whether in fighting, in materials, or in the evolution of our understanding of combat, must also be reflected in changes to the way we practice. Certainly in the last twelve years we have changed quite a bit about how we approach UCONN SMAC practice. In the next installment of this series, I will explain how we are looking forward and the changes we hope to implement from here. Hopefully, I’ll see you at UCONN SMAC soon. And, as always, everyone is welcome.

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