Being a Runner
by Dmitriy Ryaboy - Club Ursus
Version 0.0.3 - Feb 26 2014
I've been doing this for a little under two years. The sport is still young, and is certain to evolve quickly; things that seem like great advice right now might be antiquated in six months. I'm a moderately successful runner/flanker/striker, but I'm not a "Striking Eagle", though I had the honor of stepping into their line up a couple of times when they were short or auditioning people.
This advice is the best that I can put together right now, between the 2014 Winter Tournament in Montreal and the 2014 Winter National Practice; a few folks asked, so I wrote it down to encourage sharing and dissemination of ideas -- not to freeze them or claim any particular mastery of the art.
These are my opinions, and my interpretation of opinions of other runners/flankers/strikers that seemed to make sense. You might have your own opinion on what works and doesn't; you might be right and I might be wrong. I'd love to hear your feedback.
If you think I'm completely gone from too many falchions to the head, write down and share where I am wrong -- a healthy discussion will make all of us in the ACL better.
The runner's position is that of a fast moving, agile chaos element. This can mean turning a flank and getting into the back field; it can also mean cutting an inside line, sprinting through a formation hole and turning a tight loop, or even cutting straight across between lines to distract and confuse the opponent. The term "flanker" is also frequently used to describe the position, but this term is misleading. "Flanking" only describes an action relevant to the initial formation of the teams. There is more work to be done after the first run. Everyone, be it runners, centers, or guards, should be hitting their opponents from the side and back, not from the front. Runners are not unique in this way. Keep running.
Because the runner frequently winds up without much support and separated from the main team, it is critical that the runner maintains field awareness and is able to keep a cool head. It is frequently the runner that tips the scales of a fight and makes a critical play, be it a take-down or an assist or a pull. Keep running, keep thinking.
The rest of this short handbook is broken down into three sections: techniques, tactics, and training. We start with descriptions of individual techniques that make up a runner's arsenal. We then move on to tactics we've found useful as runners; even with excellent technique, a runner with poor tactics is minimally effective. Tactics, and the ability to call the right play at the right time, are critical to success as a runner.
We conclude with some thoughts workout regiment and diet.
How to run fast
Undoubtedly, speed is one of a runner's main weapons. There is a wealth of information available online for improving sprinting speed, and you should peruse those resources if this is a big area of focus for you. A few basic tips:
● Don't bother with runs of over a mile. Do shuttle runs. You do have to run a lot as a "runner", but it's a lot of sprints, rather than endurance running. A 5x5 match usually lasts under a minute. A 6-minute mile is a pretty good speed, and by definition takes 6 minutes. It's the wrong kind of skill. Train for powerful bursts of speed and fast recovery, instead.
● Sprint uphill, if this option is available.
● Practice sprinting across broken ground, over tires, and other obstacles.
● Run outside, on broken terrain (and use good footwear).
● Do NOT run in armor on a regular basis. You will wear out your knees.
● DO try sprinting in your full armor a few times to identify any issues of fit or comfort. Speaking of comfort...
● Invest in your greaves. Nothing will slow you down like a metal edge digging into the top of your foot every time you take a step.
● Get hobnails or other period traction soles put on your shoes (keep a second pair for practice on
surfaces that can't get scratched up, like gym floors).
● Never hit someone from the front, if you can avoid it.
● Forty-five degrees is good, ninety is better, from behind is best. Change your target if the one you had in your sights sees you!
● Do not hit an opponent straight back or straight forward. Always direct them in an angle off from their natural stride.
● Hit high -- do not aim at the center of someone's back. Hit the shoulders or higher.
● Hit through -- the impact of your hit should be past your opponent, not at the immediate point of contact. If you aim at the surface, your hit will lack power.
● Don't hit your opponent into the barrier. There's a barrier there.
● Don't hit your opponent into your teammate, unless your teammate is ready and knows how to help. Practice pulling down someone who is pushed into you.
● Have a plan for staying on your feet once an opponent falls in front of you. Many powerful hits from behind end up taking the runner himself out of the fight, as he trips on the body that falls directly in the runner's path, and the runner's momentum causes him to stumble over prone limbs and weapons. You can either reserve some of the hit's power to bounce yourself back, or plan on turning at a 30 degree angle right after impact, to avoid getting caught up in the aftermath. I prefer the latter method, since it preserves some of my momentum and allows me to keep running and finding my next target.
● Sometimes slowing down just slightly before a hit to gain control over the hit is all that is needed for a running to remain up.
● Don't keep your arms extended -- extend them at the moment of impact to get an extra explosion of power.
● If possible, put your foot right in front of the space into which you are pushing your opponent. Don't try to kick their feet -- just prevent them from being able to move forward.
● If you are using a polearm, cross-check. Hit the head or up into the armpit.
● If you are using a weapon and shield, put your hands together to form a triangle upon impact -- this will create a stronger structure and transfer more energy to the opponent.
● A flying knee can work. Practice on a punching bag. Make sure you can land.
Basic single-handed blows
Single-handed strikes to the head and body are rarely hard enough to cause real concern for a well-armored opponent. Use the weapons to confuse, distract, and disorient the opponent; use them in combination with shield punches, kicks, trips, and throws. They are far more energy efficient than wrestling -- if your opponent is already unbalanced, you may be able to drive him down. But don't just stand there hitting armor on an opponent who is not otherwise disadvantaged. Upper arms, lower legs, and shoulders are good targets for single-handed blows.
A strong strike is not made with the hand; it is made with the core muscles of the body. You are looking for percussive force. Step through your blows. Target past the surface your are hitting, not the actual target you see.
Basic two-handed blows
A two-handed weapon such as an axe or a polearm can deliver devastating power. It is an advanced weapon -- in expert hands, it is extremely effective, but is likely to be more of a hinderance to someone not experienced with it.
A two-handed weapon is not wielded by the arms. It is powered by the core, hip, and back muscles; arms and shoulders merely guides that direct the weapon where it needs to go. Powerful strikes do not need to come from behind one's back or above one's head. In fact, strikes with wide arcs are easily fowled, slow, and predictable. Practice holding the weapon with one hand, and getting it to move in different arcs by using only our hips and core. Practice holding the weapon no more than two feet from a pell or hanging tires, and delivering significant amounts of explosive power by making room with your hips, then locking them with your lead shoulder and driving forward. Practice doing this multiple times in a row. Practice doing this while moving around the pell. Practice doing this while changing distance, adjusting your hands as needed.
Choke up on the blade when you are in close. Slide your hands to the bottom when hitting from distance. Holding the middle of the polearm is rarely useful.
Choosing between close range and long range: this is a skill that comes with time; a short rule of thumb would be: if you have someone's back, and they are not wrestling with your teammate, go for a tackle -- don't bother hitting them. If they are engaged and you won't get a clean hit, strike them with great power from a distance. If you are face-to-face with an opponent, prefer hitting them from distance, but if they close in, you need a close-range game.
Put a butt-cap on your haft so your hands don't slide off, and you can always tell where your hands are without looking.
Make sure your haft is not round. Round hafts spin. I prefer planed hafts (two sides are completely flat), but ovals work for some, as well. Make sure you can tell which way the blade is pointing without looking at it, instantly.
Do not get fixated on the grappling aspect of ACL fighting. While undoubtedly useful and flashy when it suceeds, it is only one weapon in your arsenal, and one most likely to get you completely worn out. You should learn how to do this, but only when you know you can do so without going down yourself and when you have no better options (better options might be: thrust-kick to the hip, a weapon strike or cross-check, or holding the opponent at arms' length and turning his back and side to a team-mate).
The most basic mechanic of a throw is that you are getting your opponent to pivot around a single point, and don't allow him to adjust out of the pivot. Prevent him from getting a second point of balance, and the opponent falls. A trip works the same way -- by catching a foot in mid-stride, you are preventing the opponent from catching his balance while his center of mass shifts away from the previous post.
Basic throws are taught at many Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Sambo schools. Because these disciplines have a large ground grappling component, you may not find immediately useful instruction by dropping into an arbitrary class. Look for seminars or classes on throws.
Freeing a trapped polearm
Frequently, a weapon and shield opponent will attempt to gain advantage by rapidly closing distance on an opponent with a polearm, and trap the pole between his and his opponent's bodies.
For these movements, I assume that your right arm and leg are leading (top of the polearm on the right, right foot forward). Practice other positions once you master this -- with minor adjustments, the same techniques can be made to work with other hand / foot positions.
Option 1: attack the shoulder. Let go of the weapon with the right hand. Weave your right under your opponent's armpit, and grab your weapon again -- you now have control of the opponent's
shoulder. You can pivot around your right foot, by bringing the back (left) foot around and turning 180 degrees, while rotating your hands counter-clockwise. This will drive the opponent's shoulder and body towards the ground.
Option 2: attack the base. Let go with the bottom (left). Put the haft between your opponent's legs. Squat if needed, and grab the bottom of the polearm by encircling your opponent's right leg. Stand up, driving the polearm into the thigh (watch out for the crotch), and pivot clockwise. Slide your right foot forward to prevent the opponent's post leg from moving, if necessary.
Option 3: Hip throw. Put your left foot next to your opponent's right foot. The throw will most likely fail -- and potentially cause you to be thrown -- if your left is in front of the opponent. Step your right leg around and behind the opponent's right leg. Drive your right hip into the opponent's right hip.Push the polearm into the chest and shoulders of the opponent, and drive him in a circular motion backwards and down and to the left.
Option 4: play defense. Don't bother with the complex stuff above. Hang out on the barrier and don't put yourself at risk by trying to get fancy. Just look for an opportunity to leave -- get away and make yourself useful elsewhere.
Role on the team
A "runner" or a "flanker" is a "free radical", a highly mobile fighter whose goal is to create chaos, confusion, and surprise. This can be accomplished by running through to the opposing team's back field, and dropping them from behind by cross checks or thrust kicks. This can also be accomplished by moving quickly into situations that draw attention of multiple opponents, and creating take-down opportunities for the rest of the team.
Some runners combine the mobile chaos creation role with the "punisher" role -- equipped with two-handed axes, they can quickly change from an emphasis on mobility to an emphasis on delivering crushing powerful blows, if the opposing team winds up wrestling on the barriers.
A runner needs to establish firmly in his opponents' minds that leaving him in the open is a very dangerous thing to do. This will make them hesitant and give his team an advantage. He than needs to use his speed and field awareness to maximize take-down opportunities by movement, and thus prove his opponents correct.
The easiest way to stay up is to not get hit. This is not always possible.
Bursts of speed can create opportunities. Make sure that if you are heading into a dangerous zone, or if there is heat behind you, you are aware of the barriers. Nearly all bursts should finish near a barrier, given a reasonably-sized field; this will allow you to bounce off when the inevitable hit comes.
If trapped against the barrier by a bigger, heavier opponent, simply relax against the boards and keep them occupied. Stay on your feet, do not attempt a sacrifice (falling to take the opponent with you), just keep your new friend busy and look for an opportunity to get away if it presents itself. Do not extend extra energy trying to wrestle. Wait for help to come. When help arrives, make room for them to work by making the opponent's back and shoulders available for axe strikes, getting some air between the two of you for a tackle to be possible, etc. Collect the assist points.
Don't hang out in the wilderness and look for perfect kill
A runner who simply laps the ring a few times while his team mates fight strenuously against 5 opponents is not doing his job, even if he is not getting hit. He is giving the opposing team a numerical advantage.
Do not look for the perfect kill. Sometimes they just aren't available. Do something -- find a leg to kick, a heel to anchor, a hip or leg to punish. Keep your team mates from getting crush. Don't just circle.
Take a second to look around. Sometimes there is an open hit nearby, and you don't need to charge across the whole field. By the time you get there, the opening you saw will likely not be there anymore, anyway.
Keep track of where the enemy is on the whole field. You just ran by someone -- could they be on your tail? You are about to hit an unsuspecting opponent -- who will hit you the moment after the impact?
Watch out for bodies, weapons, teammates rushing to help someone else, and other obstacles.
Don't run at a higher speed than you can control. Simon Rohrich tells the story of getting his foot in a cast at 2012 BotN, and discovering he is fighting better -- the cast slowed him down and he stopped falling over himself. Overly excited runners eat dirt for no real reason all the time. Don't be that guy.
Work in pairs.
A runner should work with either another runner or a guard as much as possible, and avoid being a lone wolf. Working together does not mean standing next to each other -- it means one runner is acting as lead, and mostly distracting, drawing attention, or creating an opportunity by any other means. The second team member is the one who will likely make the drops by following up on the trail of destruction and confusion the first runner causes. This requires a great deal of attention and focus on the second player's part -- he needs to make his drops quickly as opportunities present themselves, since they are fleeting. It is also his job to cover the runner's back. A well-synced
runner/runner or runner/guard pair have to trust each other absolutely and learn each other's timing and queues in order to successfully deliver the one-two punch that drops opponents repeatedly. It is important for the pair to keep their connection past the first engagement.
Occasionally, the situation will dictate a role reversal and the lead becomes the second. This is natural; don't get too used to having a specific role.
Inside vs outside lines
Assume two pairs of flankers, during the initial engagement, are facing each other. They are a few feet from the side barrier, and there is a gap between the flankers and the 3-man main body. There are two ways of getting past the flankers: inside, between the flankers and the main body; or outside, between the flankers and the rail.
The inside line has the benefit of reducing your chances of getting pinned on the rail, and giving you a shorter path to the 3-man main group. If you get past them and they start chasing you, the opponent runners have a longer distance to their allies than you do; you can hit someone before they catch up, turn around, and receive their charge.
The inside line also has drawbacks. It is easier for the main body to see you coming, and the angle you will hit at is more shallow, making it much less likely to succeed. You are potentially within range of an agile guard from the main body, in addition to the two flankers in front of you.
The outside line has the benefit of putting you completely behind enemy backs if you break through. This is a very significant advantage.
The outside line has the drawbacks of being fairly easy to stop (the opponents simply have to anchor the rail), and giving you fewer options once you are committed. The length of engagement with flankers is also increased, as you are running a longer arc. Furthermore, your arc is much longer than the defenders', so the speed or footwork difference has to be that much greater to succeed.
The second runner's job is to either take down the enemy fighters as they turn to deal with or chase the first runner, or to stay in front of the enemy fighters and draw their attack, allowing them a temporary two on one while the first flanker is doing damage in the back field (it can certainly happen that the first flanker is the one that winds up fighting the two on one, in which case the second flanker's job is to seize the opportunity and get into the backfield himself).
Naturally, choosing inside vs outside will also put you primarily against one or another flanker, assuming they are standing next to each other. This can also influence your decision on where to go.
I do not have a strong preference of inside or outside. The choice is usually made at the last minute, based on how the situation develops, who seems to be paying attention, and other subtle cues. Practice doing both. Practice having your partner adjust to you doing either one.
If the opposing line winds up being four or five people in a loose, jagged formation, engaged in a wild west stare-down, a third option is available -- the middle cut. A runner from the outside of the line cuts a very shallow angle, sprinting outside the range of his immediate opponent, and aiming for the third or fourth person away, going right through the middle of the "no-man's land" between the two teams. This is unlikely to actually succeed, but the sudden burst of action is likely to draw the enemy he runs by out of position. The partner guard or runner should watch for heads and bodies turning to follow the runner, and seize those opportunities for take downs (preferably, also not on the person directly in front).
Do not chase directly after another fighter unless you have vastly superior foot speed. Even if you are faster, the relative speed with which you are moving will be what matters, not the ground speed -- meaning, the speed of your opponent is subtracted from yours by the time you hit.
It is far better to attempt to anticipate the target's trajectory, and cut to the place he will be, rather than going around in circles by following his exact path.
In a standard 3-2 split, it is not uncommon to see opposing 3-man groups stick to a rail and look at each other, perhaps engaging lightly, while the flankers try to make something happen. If one group's flankers go on the outside, and their opponents turn to prevent the back field from being invaded, an envelopment can occur -- by slowly pressing on the turned flankers, the outside team can bring their opponents back to back with each other, or nearly so. The 5-man team is now clumped on a barrier, with their enemy surrounding them in a semi-circle. More often than not, this goes badly for the team on the inside.
When this starts happening, the flankers being bent around need to find a way out -- as usual, one of them can go through the inside line, or the other through the outside. This needs to be done carefully, as it has potential for putting a runner in the back of both teams -- the faster runner with better target selection will likely turn the tide.
Love 'em and leave 'em
Don't stick. If a hit didn't work, most of the time, the correct follow up is to assess the rest of the field and disengage. If there is an opportunity to provide an assist and ensure a quick drop elsewhere on the field without unnecessarily endangering teammates by letting your current opponent loose for a second, sprint on. If they go chasing you, all the better -- their attention is focused on you, meaning they are susceptible to a flank attack from one of the teammates, and you know where they are, so you can turn and receive their attack in a strong position after you make your targeted hit. If no opportunity to create quick assist is available, disengagement may still help -- lead your current opponent on a chase, get them off balance or distracted, put them into a position where their side or back are exposed to one of your teammates or you.
This works particularly well if you can slam your opponent on the barriers hard prior to disengaging. This will put them on their back heels and give you a bit of extra time to make your distance.
Note: there are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes, disengaging can be the wrong thing to do. Don't run if that means you are creating a 2 on 1 situation for your buddy also on the rail. Don't run if a team mate's back is turned nearby and he will likely get plastered as soon as you let go. Love 'em and leave 'em is a good play but it's not always right. Use your situational awareness.
If you attack an opponent's back and he stays up, do not stay on the back too long. He now knows you are there, and you don't want to get into a drawn-out wrestling match, Disengage, fade to the side. The opponent will turn to where you were -- you can now try again from the side, if there is no better place to go.
● CrossFit: whole-body exercises, burpees / box jumps / rope, oly lifts
● speed exercises
● Video Study Study videos of 5x5 fights. Analyze them. What seems to work repeatedly? What do successful fighters tend to do? Can you identify patterns? Can you predict what your opponents will do in a match by knowing their tendencies from videos? Keep a notebook. Do specific clubs and teams have particular styles or preferences?
● wind sprints / suicides
● eat healthy, sleep, don't overtrain
Much thanks to Scott Stricklin, Jeff Galli, and Mike Kucharzyk for sharing tips and tricks. Special thanks to Rich Elswick for extensive comments and contributions to this doc.
0.0.3: Added a disclaimer and some minor clarifications based on Jesse Shido-wagenet's questions. 0.0.2: Incorporated Elswick's changes, most notably resulting in the "field awareness" section and the suggestion for video study in the training section. Also added Acknowledgements and Changelog.