The Boston Sword Gathering was founded on the principle of providing a safe, fun, and regular venue for participants to improve their historical martial skills through friendly exchange.  In keeping with tradition, BSG VIII will allow free fencing at all times to allow all participants to do just that, this time over the course of a full 3-day event. 

In addition, BSG VIII will be raising the bar of self-assessment by expanding its efforts to provide competitive events to allow participants to put their skills to the test.  With the largest number of competitive events ever in its history (Open and Women's Longsword, Open and Women's Folk Wrestling, Dagger Self-defense Challenge, and Cutting Tourneys), BSG VIII will encourage participants to learn the limits of their skills by testing them against a field of opponents all intent on competing and winning. 

Read on below for details on each of these events. 

General Notes

BSG VIII will make every effort to allow attendees to participant in as many events as possible.  To assist with this goal, rather than the use of a pool structure for qualifier stages, BSG VIII will employ the use of Swiss pairings.  In Swiss-style tournaments, opponents are paired in subsequent rounds with others who have similar win-loss records.  This will allow a number of administrative improvements:
  • Participants will find themselves matched with opponents of similar skill within just a few rounds
  • With proper ordering of pairs, Judges should be able to compete as well
  • The number of rounds can be adjusted based on time available, e.g. if we have enough time, participants can get more rounds of competition

As always, safety is of paramount importance at the BSG, which will make use of a standard 3-tier penalty system as follows: 1st-tier accidental/incidental offenses result in warnings; 2nd-tier repeated/intentional offenses result in penalties; and 3rd-tier egregious offenses result in expulsion from bout/tournament/BSG as seen fit by the organizers.  If you injure an opponent in the course of a bout, that is a 3rd-tier offense, and you can expect organizers to respond accordingly.  The BSG encourages all participants to try their best to win, but please take care how best to go about this! 


The BSG VIII Longsword tournament is a continuation of the ongoing tradition of rule set development pioneered by the international HEMA community in recent years.  This rule set is closest in principle to the Fechtschule America format used earlier this year, but adds an important component (the concept of "Target") introduced by Longpoint format successfully used also earlier this year.  

Both the Open and Women's division of the Longsword tournament will take place on an approximately 10m diameter circular arena on indoor turf, and make use of the Purpleheart Type III "Pentii" Nylon wasters (will be provided).  Since this is the first official use of these weapons at the BSG, past participants are reminded to make sure that they wear sufficient protective gear, particular for hand protection.  Required equipment includes protection for head, throat, hand, elbow, torso, groin, and knees.  No skin is allowed to remain showing. 

To summarize, two opponents fence until one reaches 10 points and wins, or has the highest score at the end of 3 minutes, whichever comes first.  Each opponent is labeled either Red or Blue.  Using Red as an example, each exchange results in the following possibilities, with the appropriate scores below:
  • "Target" encompasses high-value deep-range targets, namely head or torso
  • "Clean Hit by Red":
    • On Target: 3 points for Red
    • Otherwise: 1 point
  • "After-Blow on Red":
    • Red on Target: 1 point for Red
    • Blue on Target: 1 point for Blue
    • Otherwise: 0 points
  • "Double-Hit": 0 points, but Double-Hit count increases by 1; 3 Double Hits results in double-loss
  • Disarm/unwilling loss of weapon: 3 points
  • Controlled Throw: 3 points
  • Ring out (= both feet out of ring): 1 point

The following actions are legal and can be used to score as indicated above: cuts, thrusts, slices, and pommel strikes to the front of the mask.  Participants are encouraged to execute slices with clear manipulation and control of the opponent for judging clarity. 

The following actions are legal but do not stop an exchange or yield points -- they should be used to set up scoring actions: push-kicks. 

The following actions are illegal: strikes to back of the head, non-weapon strikes, pommel strikes to anywhere except the front of the mask, joint locks, chokes, and high throws.  These actions are subject to the 3-tier penalty system. 

The Longsword tournament will be held in 3 stages: a qualifying stage with Swiss pairings; a single-elimination stage; and a single-elimination finals stage with the top 4 contenders. 

Folk Wrestling (back-hold)

The HEMA community has developed a successful competitive tradition with weapon forms, but is still in its relative infancy with regard to unarmed competitive combat.  BSG VIII will attempt to address this by running its very first wrestling competition.  Because wrestling is so fundamental to most of the HEMA weapon forms, BSG VIII has chosen to start with a very simple traditional Western wrestling game known as back-hold wrestling.  The reasons are:

  • Relevance: The back-hold grip is a traditional grip used in Western culture and is illustrated in many of the wrestling treatises the HEMA community studies from several cultures.  
  • Safety: the restricted grip helps limit wrestling mechanics that might lead to injury under the stress and strain of competition. 
  • Simplicity: the very simple rules that form this game should allow HEMA students to pick this up as a training game relatively quickly. 

Ultimately, the goal of this event is to expose participants to wrestling and get a realistic assessment of their skills in a simple competitive environment.  To encourage participation, we will hold a Wrestling class immediately prior to this event, and all who pass a simple skills test at the end will be allowed to compete. 

The rules are simple.  A bout is fought to the best of 3 falls.  Opponents start with their hands clasped around the back of the opponent: left arm over the opponent's right, and vice versa; chin on the opponent's right shoulder.  When the bout begins, each opponent attempts to make the other fall.  A fall is defined as any part of the body touching the ground other than the feet.  The loser of a fall is whoever touches the ground first, or who let loose of their grip first.  In cases where both opponents fall without a clear order, this is known as a "dog fall" and the fall is redone. 

The following actions are illegal, and are subject to the 3-tier penalty system: 

  • No striking, including kicking or kneeing
    • Note: striking with the side of the foot (i.e. tripping) is NOT illegal
  • No ring-outs
  • No passivity, as defined at the discretion of the Judging staff

    In keeping with historical tradition where bouts are often held outdoors on the ground, bouts will be held on the equivalent in approximately 10m diameter circular rings on indoor turf.  Required equipment is minimal, but safety for a first-attempt competitive event is always a concern, so we will require reasonable shoes (i.e. no bare feet) and mouth guards.  We will also recommend wearing gambesons or equivalent, so that the combined padding between gamebeson and turf should allow for reasonably comfortable falls.  No skin is allowed to remain showing. 

    Weight classes will be determined prior to the event and will influence the nature of the Swiss pairings.  The tournament will be held in 2 stages: a qualifier stage with Swiss pairings, and a finals stage with the top 2 contenders of each weight class. 

    Dagger Self-defense

    The first of its kind, the BSG VIII Dagger Self-defense Challenge is designed to help participants test and demonstrate unarmed self-defense skills against a dagger-wielding attacker in a competitive environment, in an effort to draw out techniques shown from historical treatises.  This challenge assumes a very specific context, and it is critical for all participants to recognize and understand this context as it frames the desired behavior for both the Armed attacker and Unarmed defender.  Due to the pilot nature of this format, participation in this event will be limited to a maximum field of 16 defenders who demonstrate a sufficient level of skill the the Dagger Self-defense class held prior to the Challenge. 

    The challenge assumes a scenario where the attacker launches a committed and repeated assault to fatally stab the defender.  Real-life examples of this behavior can be seen here, courtesy of BSG VIII instructor Jay Vail:

    As illustrated from these videos, a number of patterns emerge and can be summarized:

    • Attackers focus on overwhelming the defender with the weapon, throwing strong direct committed attacks repeatedly. 
    • Defenders often have very limited time and space to react, and do not always have the luxury of escape as an option. 

    To simulate this context and provide a test of unarmed self-defense skill, the challenge will begin with a basic scenario, and add complexity in subsequent rounds as organizers see fit based on how well the defenders perform.  The challenge will take place on an approximately 10m diameter circular arena on indoor turf, and make use of Forte custom collapsible leather-covered daggers (will be provided).  Target will start as head of the Unarmed, but may vary over the course of the challenge, but participants can potentially be stabbed anywhere, so required equipment will mirror much of that of the Longsword tourney: head, throat, hand (light), torso, and groin.  No skin is allowed to remain showing. 

    For each bout, opponents will each have an opportunity to play the role of Armed attacker and Unarmed defender.  The lighter of each pair can choose which role to begin with.  Each Unarmed is given 5 exchanges (at most -- this number can be reduced by the Attacker, see below) to attempt to successfully control the attacks from the Armed. 

    At the beginning of each exchange, the Unarmed starts inside a 1m diameter circle at the center of the ring.  To encourage the Unarmed to stand and defend rather than immediately retreat from the committed attacks of the Armed, the Unarmed must keep both feet at least partially inside the starting circle until contact can be made with the Attacker.  Once contact has been made, the Unarmed can move anywhere within the arena.  The goal of the Unarmed is to accumulate points by controlling the attacks of the Armed.  These points accumulate and carry over to future bouts, until the finals when these are reset. 

    At the beginning of each exchange, the Armed starts out of touch distance from the Unarmed, with the dagger drawn in ice-pick grip.  Once the exchange begins, when the Armed attacks, the attacks must be repeated committed stabbing attempts on the Unarmed.  The attacker is expected to try to hit the Unarmed with every stabbing attempt, and feinting will not be allowed.  The goal of the Armed is to land clear stabs on the Unarmed.  The exchange is halted as soon as three successful stabs are seen.  The Unarmed continues to defend for 5 exchanges or until 3 exchanges with successful stabs occur, whichever comes first.  

    Each exchange results in the following possibilities for the Unarmed, with the appropriate scores below:

    • Basic control, i.e. Unarmed controls the Armed for 5-count: 1 point
    • Control with disarm or counter-stab: 2 points
    • Control with take-down: 3 points

    To be clear, all control scenarios are successful only if the Unarmed is not stabbed. 

    The following action are legal but do not stop an exchange or yield points -- they should be used to set up scoring actions: switching the dagger from one hand to the other, and pushing of the opponent (e.g. elbow-push). 

    The following actions are illegal, and are subject to the 3-tier penalty system:
    • Both Unarmed and Armed: non-weapon striking, leaving the arena
    • Unarmed: joint locks, chokes, high throws, or tackling the Armed with excessive force
    • Armed: striking with anything but the dagger point; hiding the dagger; throwing the dagger; wrestling, throwing, or tackling the Unarmed with excessive force

    In subsequent rounds of the Challenge, based on participant behavior (both successes and failures), organizers may choose to add elements of complexity to adjust the difficulty level for the defenders.  These elements may include (but are not limited to):

    • Target to include torso instead of just head
    • Grip to include fencing instead of ice-pick only
    • Requiring 1 successful stab instead of 3 to end an exchange
    • Etc.

    The Dagger Self-defense Challenge will be held in 2 stages: a qualifying stage with Swiss pairings; and a single-elimination finals stage with the top 4 contenders. 


    BSG VIII will host the 3rd HEMA cutting tournament in the United States by building on the success and lessons of the Longpoint cutting tournament held earlier this year. For those who participated at Longpoint, the rules should seem similar but there are three important distinctions to note:

    1. In an attempt to make the rules more accommodating to Italian longsword students, and to the varied interpretations of some actions, the selection of cuts includes some freedom on the part of the competitor.
    2. Each competitor has a time limit on the completion of each pattern. Taking longer than the time limit imposes a small penalty for the round.
    3. There is a bonus for continuous action when cutting a pattern.

    Purpose: The purpose is to more fully test the martial skills of the competitors by addressing the question of whether or not they can cut. The test is not meant to be a simulation of a fight or a human target, but simply act as a measuring stick for comparison of skill.

    Skills evaluated (in order of importance)
    1. Edge alignment - necessary to reliably sever a mat
    2. Aim - this is tested by the requirement to place a specific number of cuts into a single mat without overlap.
    3. Versatility - the competitor is expected to be able to perform a variety of cuts, most from both sides. Imagine if you had to free-fence but could only score with a very limited selection of cuts; this illustrates the importance of this component.
    4. Angle Control - Angles selected are arbitrary and the requirement to match them is a test of targeting and control.
    5. Trajectory Control - the sword should maintain a flat path through the target as this maximizes the utility of a cut in a real world situation.
    6. Power - proper power generation is necessary for causing damage with a sword and is tested by the ability to sever a full mat.

    Equipment: A loaner sword will be available for all participants. Competitors may also use their own sword if it is an accurate replica of a Medieval longsword. The judges have have complete discretion on whether a particular sword may be used. If you have any questions please inquire ahead of time.

    Safety: There will be stringent safety rules in place. Failure to follow these rules can result in a warning or dismissal from the tournament or the entire Boston Sword Gathering. The Boston Sword Gathering reserves the right to impose penalties without a warning first, based upon circumstance.

    Remember, you have a deadly weapon in your hands, treat it with the appropriate respect and concern.

    Tournament Format: The tournament will consist of a number of stages. Some competitors will be eliminated after each stage. Each stage will consist of one cutting pattern. Each stages pattern will be more difficult than the preceding stage.

    Stage 1 will have all participants
    Stage 2 will have 9 participants
    Stage 3 will have 6 participants
    Stage 4 will have 3 participants

    Each cut is worth a specified number of points based on difficulty. A cut which completely severs the mat will earn full points. Penalties will then be applied based on any errors. Progress to subsequent rounds will be based on total, cumulative score.

    A one minute timer will be set for each pattern. Failure to complete the pattern in the time allotted results in a penalty for the round. There will be no audible signal for time.

    Participants in rounds 2 and after are allowed 1 ‘mulligan’ for the event. Use of the mulligan resets the scoring and time for that round. The availability of mulligans may be adjusted based on the number of participants and any changes will be announced the day of the tournament.

    Cuts: The following cuts will appear in the course of the tournament with the indicated point value.

    Descending Diagonal Cut (oberhau, fendente)2
    Rising Cut (unterhau, sottano)3
    Vertical Cut (schaitelhau) - this cut must completely split the tatami piece on top3
    Horizontal Cut (mittelhau, mezzano) with the long/true edge of the blade4
    Special Cut - any angle cut with the false/short/back edge of the blade or Crooked* cut4
    * A crooked cut is defined as one where the right foot finishes forward and the cut traveled downward from left to right and the hands finish crossed. This is reversed for left-handed competitors.


    Stage 1 (Max points: 6)*
    1. Descending cut
    2. Descending cut to opposite side
    3. Descending cut to first side

    Stage 2 (Max points: 8)
    1. Descending cut
    2. Descending cut to opposite side
    3. Rising cut (either side)
    4. Rising cut to opposite side

    Stage 3 (Max points: 11)
    1. Vertical cut
    2. Descending cut
    3. Descending cut to opposite side
    4. Special cut

    Stage 4 (Max points: 12)
    1. Special cut
    2. A different special cut
    3. Horizontal cut

    * In Stage 1 the competitors may attempt more than 3 cuts. They must continue descending cuts alternating between left and right. They must complete all cuts in under 1 minute.  

    For more a detailed downloadable version of this rule set, please click here