Combat: The Elemental Mind

The mind is the foundation of all combat ability, even if it’s an animal mind. It governs tactics and will as well as technique.

Different combatants will have a different view of combat and violence depending on their experience. To talk around this I’ve thought to use an elemental model. It’s a starting point, not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully it will open some ideas for you.

I’ll also say that these models are preferences. Good fighters will appreciate all four elements, but they may show a bias for one – perhaps because that’s what they were taught first, or as a consequence of the world they live in.

In Everway the Fire element is usually the one associated with fighting, but there are exceptions. The examples below can serve as suggestions for four different martial artists.

Air – the Duellist

Let’s call Air the analytical mind, or the noble mind. The Air preference is for as much distance from the opponent as possible. They see their weapon skill as a discrete skill (such as fencing or archery) rather that a facet of general martial ability. They may view it as a game, without much appreciation of consequences. They might not even connect the concept of scoring a hit with shedding blood.

Someone who is all Air and little else might be very good at their game, which is against a single opponent who salutes them and squares off before beginning a bout. When the game changes – if they’re caught in a street fight with a mob, or if their opponent grapples them or does something “against the rules” – they may go to pieces. This sort of fighter may also have the furthest to fall when confronted with the consequences of their actions. This makes the fencer a tragic, romantic hero.

Fire – the Soldier

The Fire mindset is the all-rounder – the experienced martial artist who has fought with many different weapons against individuals and groups.

The Fire mindset recognises the need to keep moving, and has a good appreciation of distance and timing. Their priority is to keep themself (and their comrades) safe first, and defeat the enemy second. If they’re a professional soldier they are constantly assessing threat, not expecting it to approach and salute in the way a Duellist does.

However they do have some limits. The Soldier makes war against other humans and understands human behaviour just fine, but when confronted with animal behaviour (or humans who behave unpredictably) they may be vulnerable. Soldiers will also be risk averse meaning they will go out of their way to avoid trouble and resolve combat non-violently. They won’t go looking for a fight like a Duellist.

In the extreme the Soldier presents a character who is distrustful of everyone around them, and has trouble integrating with society. They may be strongly tribal, perhaps even only able to function when fighting for a particular cause.

Earth – the Champion

During his duel of wits with Roberts in the Princess Bride the criminal Vizzini compares the raw strength of the giant Fizzik with the sense of mortality possessed by a duellist like Inigo Montoya.

The Champion and the Duellist are two sides of the same coin. The Champion represents a mindset of reliance on natural physical dominance over learned skill. Not just strength, but any attribute such as height, speed or fitness. By comparison the Duellist represents learned skill in “the game”, to the extent that they can defeat their enemy in spite of the enemy’s superior strength.

Now following the earlier example a Champion may seek to close at the earliest oppoatunity, when a Duellist would try to stay as far away as possible. But that’s not a difference, that’s playing the same game from a different perspective – the Champion just feels more comfortable wrestling than on the end of a sword.

The real difference is how the Champion eschews learned patterns and rules in favour of instinct and intuition. In a balanced mind the Champion mindset challenges the utility of practical technique, and at the extreme of bias the Champion will refuse outright to learn any technique because they see themselves as naturally proficient.

The Champion is guitly of playing “the game” as much as the Duellist. Often people progress no further with their martial art because their physical advantage over others is enough to win a fight, and that’s all that motivates them.

Champions are the best at what they do – which is some test of strength or speed. They may well train their natural strength in the way the Duellist trains his learned skills. But as characters they focus on winning a specific game, and if that game results in a bloodless defeat they will be every bit as shocked as the Duellist if confronted with an unexpected outcome.

Water – the Assassin

Murder by stealth is the goal of the Assassin. She is the antithesis of the Soldier. She seeks to triumph without any confrontation at all.

The obvious action of the Assassin is the poisoning or the knife in the back. But less obvious is the social aspect that she presents. She wants to defeat the Soldier’s danger sense, so she positions herself in order to gain advantage. Instead of being physically distant she can present herself as too close for comfort, moving her hands so they are on the inside of her opponents while distracting them with conversation.

The thing she has in common with the Soldier is the appreciation of distance. The Soldier uses distance to keep himself safe – he’s always got time to move his weapon to defend against any attacker. At the same time he’s trying to “gain the place” as George Silver puts it, by moving to a position where he can strike in time without moving his feet.

So the Assassin knows that to defeat the Soldier, she has to be close enough to strike without moving her feet – and if the Soldier sees her coming, he’s not going to let that happen.

Last Words

Just as Duellist and Champion are polar opposites who can learn from each other, so are Soldiers and Assassins. The former teach the balance between leaned Art and inherited Strength, and the latter teach the importance of Awareness, Judgement and Distance.


p>Polarity in each area is interesting, but balance in all four mindsets is necessary. Any one of these can be overcome by the others in a specific circumstance. Compare this in most games where people play a universal fighter who can answer any challenge with their sword. You won’t stop such a player from feeling cheated when they face a different kind of fighter and lose, but maybe you’ll be able to explain why they lost.

One thought on “Combat: The Elemental Mind

  1. Nice. My card-based combat system was aimed at teasing out the possible different styles of fighting. You build your deck around your preferred style – powerful strength-based attacks match your earth category, skilful manoeuvres roughly correlating with your air category, and simple but versatile general cards I guess roughly correspond to fire. I missed your last category – the guy who wins the fight by ensuring that there is no fight. Perhaps he doesn’t need any cards at all.

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