Lightsaber Academy, Sword Lab

A tale of two rule sets.

We have been focusing a lot on the French rules of late. For obvious reasons we have a large stake in the matter. Our Knight Cedric Giroux has created quite a thing and accomplished quite the feat getting it accepted in the FFE. We have our first workshop on this rule set Saturday June 22nd 2019.

But, this is not the only rule set that we use. For most of our time we have used a good number of combat games and methods of keeping score that we picked up from various historical and traditional schools.

Duan Bing

Recently we have ben able to simplify our method of this type of sparring with the addition of “Duan Bing” type fencing. Duan Bing means “short weapon” and is a Chinese style of armed combat sport. The rules we use for Duan Bing are relatively simple:

  • Each hit to the hand or body is 1 point. hits to the head are 2 points. matches go to 5
  • Parry ripostes (block and hit) are worth 2 points.
  • The entire body is a target.
  • The arena is 10X10m circle (square is permissible).
  • there are no after blows counted in this game. The first hit scores.
  • If a player makes a hit and transitions into a pose, they are given 1 bonus point for 2 points total.

In Duan Bing there is no rule of priority or right of way. In this way it is similar to epee. The advantage to this rule set is its simplicity. The rules are fairly intuitive and pretty much anyone can pick up a weapon and try it out. It is a very good rule set to practice one’s ability to apply the technique they have learned with full resistance.

This is of course in direct comparison to the FFE rules which are based on priority and defense. This creates a different game than some are used to. I talked about the different rule sets previously, but these two methods are a good illustrative comparison of the issues at hand. Both have their own dynamic and their own benefits to be had.

Match play

If we look at examples of both side by side, we can see the differences in play, rhythm, and movement used between the two approaches.

The Duan Bing match (“Guang Bing” as a little pun), looks fairly standard to what one would see in many martial arts schools. The sport these days is mostly prcacticed with “boffer” style or padded weapons. At the competative level there is a lot of displays of athleticism, with light announcing footwork. But it has been noticed by some, that often the matches are two opponents that do not defend themselves. Scores are merely a matter of arriving first.

This is not to say this is not a valuable game and a wonderful sport. Only that there is a large gap in what people assume are identical practices. We have learned our method from Ma Yue. He took us through a workshop in the game this winter and is coming back in August for a public workshop on the same topic.

The TPLA way

So for us at TPLA we like the Duan bing rule set because of its simplicity and it ease in use. But there are a few things that we like to focus on that may be a bit unique in the sport. The first and most obvious difference is the weapons we use. As we stated before, competitive duan bing weapons have traditionally been of the padded variety. We use the LED light sabers, not just because, well lightsabers, but because they have the qualities that really aid in the sport. They are light and fast, they can be customized to the user, and they are more realistic in the way they interact. The padded weapons feel very much like padded weapons, diminishing the feedback that one receives from parries and strikes. The glowing nature of the blades adds ease to judging hits as well.

The other way is that we try to practice good defense. The parry riposte being worth 2 points is an effort in that direction. Ma Yue was also very good at officiating matches, so bad exchanges, double hits, and weak contact was not rewarded. We have taken this lesson to heart and stress defensive techniques with in the Duan Bing rules.


The Duan Bing match with out priority is a pretty fast game. One must be adroit at entering and retreating. The exchanges are relatively short, with a few outliers that had a good back and forth. The single touch hit makes this game fast paced and playable by almost anyone. However, the freedom that is inherent in this system can be too much for those just starting out. While it maybe more fun for a novice to practice something that feels intuitive, it tends to translate into the “whack a mole” style of fight.

Contrasting this with the New French system of lightsaber sport, we can see a slower more deliberate pace. But added within are some more daring and showy type techniques. This is intentional. The system allows for techniques that would not be utilized other wise on account of how fast points will really go. This creates more of a spectacle and match play that is somewhat easier to follow as an audience member. The rule set allows for things like spins and jumps but ore importantly, it creates longer and more deliberate exchanges. This can be more appealing to people who are not familiar with martial arts or sword fighting.

All ages

One thing that the FFE rule set has enabled is that it levels the playing field a lot when two fighters are of different skill levels or ages. If you follow us on Facebook, you might have seen a GIF of one of my young students getting a dramatic point complete with special effects (thanks Cedric!) . Well, for those out there who thought that might be an isolated or staged encounter, here is the entire match between them.

As one can see, Alan holds his own agains Frank. Gaining priority, while sometimes difficult to remember to do, allows one to control a bit more of the pace and trains one to focus attention on the opponent. This was the first time Alan was playing this game. He picked up on the rules very fast and was ready to start going within 20 minutes. He surprised us a few times as well, finding places to throw in spins that were surprisingly effective and, well, surprising. The experience was positive from all stand points. Duan Bing tends to work better when the players are more equal in skill.

Both ways for a well rounded fighter

As you can see we are using both of these rule set for different purposes and goals. While both are great for competition, each has aspects that should be experienced by all people wanting to learn to fence. We are doing workshops on both sets this summer. Our First on the FFE rule set is Saturday June 22 from 1-5pm EDT. Call Liberty Athletic Club to sign up. We will then host Ma Yue and a Duan Bing seminar /training camp in August. That is a chance of a life time and I encourage all interested to come and participate!

So, while there are arguments over priority and non priority rule sets, the basic fact of the matter is that both are equally valuable. If you favor one over the other, you will be missing out on half the picture.

Until next time!

Happy Sabering!

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