Why Ditch Battle?

by Sir Michael Hammer of God

Ditch battles have always been a central part of Amtgard. It fills time between battle games at almost every park in Amtgard and it is so pervasive at events that many have added lighted fields so that ditching can continue late into the night. Ditching has achieved this place in Amtgard for many reasons but the most significant is that it is fun. Also it is a way to enjoy Amtgard combat with no organization or preparation. On that basis it is a perfect addition to other Amtgard activities and something that all aspiring fighters should learn to love and embrace. In discussing why ditching should be fun, I will look at three angles. First, I will discuss the value of ditching and the takeaways that a player (even a novice) can expect. Second, I will look at strategies and adjustments that you might make to ensure that you are having fun while ditching. Finally, I will examine some of the obstacles to enjoying ditches and how to get over them.

Ditching has several inherent values, which allow it to help you improve your fighting and your enjoyment of the combat element of our game. The individual training aspect of ditching is obvious. It gives you a place to get a lot of practice, against a variety of opponents in a relatively short time. It allows you to try new techniques and tricks in a low risk environment. If something fails in a ditch battle you can just wait ten or fifteen seconds and try again. You can train yourself by fighting against those fighters you might not otherwise get a chance to fight against. Most of this individual practice could be done in another setting, like sparring, but most fighters have more fun with a ditch than with prolonged one-on-one. Thus fighters who learn to love ditching can get more total practice time. Also, while ditching provides enough competitive spark to make you feel good about your successes, it is so transitory there is no time for failure to put you off your game. The next ditch comes so soon that rosy glasses are easy.

As important as its role in teaching individual skills is the fact that ditching teach teamwork and tactics. You can line up next to almost any Amtgarder you want and fight with them in a ditch. You can observe their methods and techniques and the two of you can work to maximize your over all success. Not only do you get to fight with a good partner but you also will get plenty of opportunities to fight against greater numbers or against bad match-ups which really allow you to test yourselves. In larger ditches even units of six to ten can fight together. In fact, ditches at events are one of the few times that these groups can arrange to practice together against reasonable opposition. Practicing together builds confidence in your partners and that trust promotes maximum teamwork. Especially when working with others the shared feeling that accompanies success in a ditch is very rewarding and the group will have a great feeling and a nifty story to share later.

The final value of ditching is less obvious but also very important. Ditching builds camaraderie more than almost any other Amtgard activity. Shared physical activity of any kind often has this effect but in Amtgard ditching is particularly good at it. Whether it is the fighter who spent an hour covering your right flank or the one you spent thirty minutes charging, you very often leave the field with a sense of shared endeavor and are much more likely to break bread or share beer afterwards. This feature can often be used to great advantage when you are in a new park or at a foreign event. After you have shown that you share a love of Amtgard fighting with a field full of people at least a few of them will almost certainly have a friendly inclination to you. It can make fitting into a new park or event much easier. Talking shop can be a great icebreaker once you have established that you care about shop.

Even though ditching has all these values; I cannot, in good conscience, tell everyone to ditch whether you enjoy it or not. Most of the virtues discussed above only work if you do enjoy it. However, since ditching has these values it is worthwhile learning to enjoy it. There are some basic things to do that will help maximize your enjoyment. First you should fight next to the right people. Lining up next to good folks that you can enjoy dead time with and who you like fighting next to the simplest method for making ditching more fun. This can mean you really ride at a partnerís flank and try hard to cooperate or it can just be you stand near your friends so you have someone you like to talk to for fifteen seconds between ditches. Often for the newest fighters this works especially well if you and another new player ditch together, metaphorically holding hands as you dive in.

It is also important to make sure you line up against the right opponents. If you donít like fighting someone because he or she hits too hard or sloughs then donít line up against them. You are risking spoiling your own fun. Not only could this make you miserable but also if you waste time thinking about that garbage, you miss most of the value of ditching. A ditch that is neither fun nor good training is wasted time that could be spent hanging around the fire, talking to friends or drinking. If you find yourself lined up against someone you donít enjoy fighting, for whatever reason, move on down the line. Be subtle and courteous about it. Remember this is about you and your fun not about someone else. In a reasonable sized ditch you can always find someone fun to fight. Also recognize that what is fun for you might not be for them. For example even if you are having a blast fighting some Warlord because of the tremendous challenge, you shouldn't worry if your opponent moves on. Perhaps that person wasnít having quite as much fun as you.

Fighting with and against the right opponents can really increase your fun. Better still, both those things can be varied. You can get the joy of lining up next to your knight to cover a flank for twenty minutes and then go right into the fun of leading a number of new players against a couple of veterans. Not only can you provide the Ďspice of lifeí by changing opponents and partners but also you can change weapon combos, styles, fighting roles and all kinds of other things. This kind of experimentation keeps the ditch from getting old and increases your potential for learning too. At this point I want to say a quick word about one particular weapon combo in ditching. Pole arms can be a blast to fight with. Actually they can be very fun to fight against too but they are different from other Amt-weapons. Fighting against a pole arm in a ditch situation requires an opponent to run more and work harder. For that reason if you are using a pole and an opponent moves on down the line away from you, you should take care not to follow them. They may need a rest from chasing.

Finally, courtesy and friendliness are always valuable in both Amtgard and life and this is particularly true in ditch battles. If you are friendly towards your opponents and treat everyone in the ditch with the respect they deserve as fellow fighters you will dodge many of those pitfalls that can make ditching un-fun. There are many of these things and I have discussed some of them as an adjunct to the techniques of enjoying ditching. I would still like to look at some of the things most likely to ruin your enjoyment on a ditch and talk about how to avoid that.

The first issue that can make a ditch battle uncomfortable for some is smak talk and one-upmanship. If you canít live with this then ditches will always be hard. This kind of teasing is part of Amtgard in many ways and it comes out especially strongly in ditching. The most important part to remember is that it is all in fun. The few people who take trash-talking to a mean-spirited level are generally frowned upon and they usually learn not to do that. Also if you stay out of it then you will usually not be picked on. Most of the fun of smak talk is the back and forth of zingers. If you get insulted anyway even though you arenít involved then you remember itís in fun and then take time to discourage the behavior later. Really this kind of juvenile behavior is harmless and while it might not enhance your enjoyment of a ditch battle you shouldnít let it interfere.

Cheating on the other hand is harder to deal with. Amtgard has a relatively low number of cheaters but since each one can annoy every opponent he or she fights in a ditch, their effect can be great. This is definitely a case where you can take charge of your own fun. Allowing such a person to spoil your fun and get you out of your groove is foolish. First you should remember that everyone probably misses a call now and then and be forgiving. Until someone proves they are a blatant cheater it is a mistake to let one or two sloughs upset you. This is especially true of nighttime ditches where some percentage of the fighters may be a little the worse for drink. If this doesnít work and you become sure that you face a blatant cheater, your best bet may be to move on down the line and fight someone else. You can talk to him or her, or get someone respected like a friend, company member, or park leader to talk to him or her but this may not be of any use. Anyone who cares enough about the relatively low level of competition provided by a ditch that they would cheat in it is unlikely to change or be reasoned with.

Handling such a cheater wrong can lead to the one guaranteed spoiler of ditches (and many other elements of Amtgard), the temper tantrum. This one is very hard to deal with. Fortunately the transitory element of ditches means that anger issues come up less often in ditch than in more competitive games or games where the rules are more vague. However, even in a ditch people do get emotional. If you are the one getting angry, you need to stop yourself, take a break and get right. More often you arenít the one getting angry so it is a question of how to maintain you enjoyment when someone else is busy being a jackass. The first suggestion is to take a couple of ditches off. If someone just blew up at you or even near you your own emotional equanimity will be endangered. Relax and remember how much fun you are having. Once your heartbeat slows to a normal exercising level rather than a full out fight-or-flight deal, then feel free to go back in. The rest of the people in the game have already let it pass and donít want to deal with it anymore.

Following these hints will help you find a path to enjoying ditch battles more. That enjoyment will both build your fighting skill and increase your love of Amtgard. The friends you make on the field will prove to be every bit as valuable as those you meet around a fire and you wonít ever be bored on at an event.

This page last updated 05/23/05

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