Black Tigers: School of Historical Fencing

This was the website of the Black Tigers school of historical fencing. The content below is from the site's archived pages.

Random News.

Posted by Tora on Friday, February 05, 200?

Our Site is shifting over to Facebook

Just wanted to give the heads up to one and all that in an effort to reduce redundancy the site here will soon be shifting entirely over to our mirror site on Facebook.  There we will still have the ability to post pictures, articles, discussions, etc., but it is also much easier to post video as well.

So, if you have not already done so and wish to maintain contact with the group, just mosey over to Facebook and make a friendship request.  We'll see you there.

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Renaissance Rapier “Technique and Tactics” By Joseph “Blayde” Bricky This treatise was developed to share the art of Renaissance Rapier fighting, also known as Elizabethan Fencing, SCA fencing, and other terms. If you are interested in learning the art form, reading this treatise is a good place to start. If you’ve already picked up works by Saviolo, Di’Grassi and others, this treatise may shed some modern light on the historical writings. For those of you who are already fighting and are looking for more background, you will find some advanced tactics and techniques in the pages to follow. I would hope everyone who takes the time to read this finds something useful. 

The aim of this treatise is to teach rapier tactics and techniques to be used in competitions through out the U.S. and wherever historical rapier is fought. In the U.S., the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) holds rapier competitions regularly. There are both large and small gatherings where tournaments and melees are held. In California there are numerous schools and organizations that compete in rapier and epee combat with historical techniques and rules. If you want to pursue the art of Renaissance Rapier, there is no shortage of venues. Prior to beginning the basics, I thought I would share just a small bit of history to better understand why the rapier had its place in time.

Brief History of the Rapier and Small Sword

The Rapier is a long, thin, diamond or oval shaped blade with a sharp point. It was used primarily as a thrusting weapon. The thin blade focuses all of its energy in a very small area allowing for greater penetration. The deadliness of the rapier had a lot to do with the shortfalls in medicine during the time when it was most widely used. Deep, narrow wounds were much more difficult to treat than short long wounds, and many casualties of the rapier did not die immediately, but died later from internal blood loss or infection. Some rapier wounds were not immediately incapacitating, and fights continued until a combatant could no longer continue due to blood loss.

Unlike the broadsword or long sword, the rapier is not a cutting weapon. It may have sharp edges, but does not have the weight to be effective as a slashing or cutting weapon despite Hollywood’s depiction as such. Cutting wounds were primarily tip cuts to vital areas of the body. A cut above the eyes causing bleeding into the eyes may not be deadly, but would cause a combatant to be disinclined to continue a duel. A very minor 1 tip cut to either eye, would be enough to end a duel as well. Another type of cut considered effective, but not deadly unless delivered to a vital area is the draw cut. Draw cuts usually start from the tip and are accomplished by asserting pressure from the blade across an area of the body.

Realistically, draw cuts are not heavy enough to slice through Tendons or through muscles, according to research on cadavers outlined by John Clements in his book, Renaissance Swordsmanship. If a draw cut is delivered to areas where vital arteries are near the surface of the skin such as across the front of the neck, under the arms or inner groin, the draw cut or tip cut could be a mortal wound.

The rapier was reported to have its origins in Italy in the early 1500’s and gained prominence towards the middle of the century, eventually finding its way to England. As it gained popularity, so did the occasion for Italian Masters to make their living by teaching their art to English Nobles.

The popularity of the rapier was based on a principle outlined by several of the Italian Masters. That principal is that a quick thrust from a rapier is more effective than a slash of a long sword. The time it takes to raise an arm and slash your opponent is longer in duration than the time it takes to thrust straight into the vital area of your opponent. The bottom line is that cuts are slower to perform than thrusts. It is a simple matter of geometry; the closest distance between two points is a straight line.

Parts of the Rapier

The Blade is divided into three parts for purposes of parrying:

  • Forte - The stronger blade portion closest to the hilt (the bottom third) 
  • Terzo - Middle of the blade (middle third)
  • Foible - From the point to the terzo.

Edges and tip:

  • The tip - Point of the blade
  • Top edge - trailing edge in a cut
  • Bottom edge - leading edge in a cut
  • Flat - either side of the blade that does not have an edge.
  • Grasp the grip/handle of the rapier as if you were shaking hands with your knuckles on the side of the forward quillon. The loop guard should also be on the same side as your knuckles. Place your index finger above the quillons and wrap it around the ricasso. Your thumb should rest and wrap around your middle finger.

HAND POSITIONS

Pronated - palm facing down, knuckles facing forward and right Supinated - Palm facing up, knuckles facing forward and left.

ATTACKS - Thrusts, Slashes, Beats, and other terms 

Thrusts are quicker than slashes or cuts and are the principle on which the Italian Masters based their rapier strategy. 

Tournament Etiquette

To compete in Elizabethan fencing, you must understand the rules and etiquette. There are numerous schools and fighting organizations in the U.S. and around the world who may have different rules, but there are many basics that I will outline below. You may also be required to pass initial competency tests prior to being allowed to compete. The first thing you should do is learn the requirements, weapons, rules and etiquette of the organization holding the competition.

At the beginning of a fight the scholar needs to acknowledge his opponent by saluting. The marshal will ask each opponent to salute each other, salute the crown (if present or appropriate), salute the one they fight for, and salute any appropriate dignitaries or someone who’s favor you bare. These are traditions and you should find out the traditions of the arena you are fighting in prior to beginning your first bout.

The marshal will then ask each fighter if they are ready. Both fighters should verbally say yes. The marshal will then tell each fighter to come on guard or say “Lay On” or “Alle.” The fighters will then fight. 

Target Area SCA rules: (Note – these are different in every Kingdom and this is merely a guide for those who aren’t familiar with the style) 57

For Rapier Fencing, the entire body is a target. If the hand or arm is hit, the fighter will no longer have use of the arm or the hand. If the hand is hit, the fighter must drop the weapon in that hand, but can still use it to parry but not grasp. If the arm is hit, the fighter can not use the arm whatsoever. If both arms are lost, the fighter must acknowledge defeat and the bout is over.

If the leg is hit, the fighter must drop to one or both knees. The non-injured fighter is not allowed to move more than 120 degrees beyond the fighter. It is also proper etiquette not to compass to gain an advantage

Incapacitating blows:

Any hit to the mask, head, torso including groin, back are considered killing blows and the bout is over. The torso is anything inside the seams of the shoulder extending below the waste. The triangle from the hips to the bottom of the groin is considered torso. The upper leg, outside the groin, below the hip is a leg wound.

A draw cut is delivered to the body, head, neck or groin that is a push or pull of at least 8” of the blade with continuous pressure. It is a killing blow if delivered to the head, throat, groin or under arms (because of arteries).

Ending a bout:

If you are victorious you should always shake the opponent’s hand. If you are hit, acknowledge the blow call hit or hold. Wait until your opponent recognizes the blow and then shake your opponent’s hand. 

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Posted by blayde on Friday, September 04

Black Tiger Academie - Extension Black Scarf Program 2004

If you've never heard of the "Black Scarf" training program, here is your opportunity to improve your game and you don't have to live next to a Black Tiger instructor.  We are offering a one year program to anyone who already has had at least one year of training in historical fencing.  To begin the program, you need to meet with myself or Tora at an event to begin your instruction. 

What you will earn is a "Black Scarf" which is basically an instructor qualification.  It will give you the ability/right to train our style.  It will also give you the right to compete for Black Scarf rank.  When you pass your qualification tests after one year, you will receive your scarf and begin the challenge of ranking up.  To rank up you must win a tournament with 10 participants.  You will then be at rank one (1).  To get to rank (2), you must then win in a 20 person tourney.  These have to be in succession.  When you get to rank (4), not only do you need to win a forty person tourney, you must also have defeated three people on the battlefield or by test who have engaged you simultaneously.  The final rank (5) must be a 50 person tourney and also you must have defeated five combatants in a single engagement by test or confirmed on the battlefield.

What you don't have to do is join the Black Tigers fighting group.  We have fighters enrolled in the program already from around the Known World who are in various fighting units and households.  The program is separate from the fighting unit.  Of course, if you want to be in the unit or fight along side the unit, you are highly encouraged to do so.

When you commit, you will be provided with written training material, video, coaching via chat and email.  You will be required to hit a couple major events during the year to get some face to face time.  At the end you will be required to pass a written test an oral test and a trial by fire with myself or Tora or both.  But, if you've given a good effort and learned the system, you will undoubtedly pass those tests.

The first member in the program is scheduled to get his Black Scarf next year at Uprising. Another will earn his at West Antir War and another is scheduled for Pennsic.  We have one White Scarf enrolled as well. 

So, if you want to learn more about earning your Black Scarf, feel free to contact me. I will give you more details and explain how the commitment works both ways.

 

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Posted by Tora on Friday, August 14

Tigers Roar at Pennsic 38

Before even arriving at the grounds of Pennsic we received our first good omen of what was to come.  Blayde and I stepped off the plane and went straightaway to baggage claim where—I kid you not—my two golf bags and his suitcase were numbers one, two and three off the plane and onto the carousel.  Now I have been flying for a long time and have traveled to a great many states and countries where my bags have always been in the last fifty percent, if not dead last, of bags to make it off the plane.  So to have not only my bags but those of my cohort as well come first off the plane had me wondering if hell had finally received that backordered ice skating rink.  In any case, we were quickly out of the airport and driving our happy backsides to the Valhalla of rapier combat.

Fortunately for us both, we were camped with the West, which just so happened to be conveniently located near the food merchants, showers, bathrooms, and—oh-so-importantly—the battlefields.  For those of you who have never been, Pennsic is quite large as far as events go and can essentially be divided into the high, middle, and low grounds.  Those camped down on the low ground, those by the lake, have interesting scenery and a great many parties to choose from on any given night but one heck of a hike to reach the fighting.  Consequently, this also means a healthy hike to get back home again.  For Blayde and myself it was a tolerable jaunt either way since we were situated on the middle ground with the West.

The next morning started us off with the storming of LaRochelle.  This scenario was not for warpoint but rather for fun, with each side taking turns assaulting or defending the permanent fixture “castle”.  Anyone assaulting the castle had unlimited resurrections while those defending were allowed only two.  Given this caveat, it was of course only a matter of time before the castle would be taken, so the ultimate victor was determined by the side who stormed it the fastest.  In order to storm the castle, however, the assaulting team first had to blow up the gates on the front and side by placing a petard, but the gates themselves were heavily defended by fighters on the ramparts armed with guns.  As a member of the assaulting army, this turned out to be easier than we thought.  Not by virtue of exquisite planning or masterful skill, but rather by a gunner on the ramparts who took aim and accidentally shot the petard just as our runner reached the main gate.  So with a resounding “BOOM!” (okay, maybe only in our heads) the forward gate was destroyed and the main surge was on.  I cannot remember how long it took us to break the opposition’s kill pocket, but once done we flowed into the courtyard beyond and proceeded to mop up those who remained.  For whatever reason this scenario did not allow for death from behind (DFB), and at one point an enemy fighter jumped out in front of me as I strolled around looking for a fight and shouted “mi’lord!”.  Purely on reflex, I swept her swords away with my left hand blade and stabbed her with my right.  Apparently, however, a fellow soldier standing beside me felt she died too quickly and asked her to remain and refight.  So once more she squared off against me, and I summarily swept her swords away with my left hand blade and stabbed her with my right.  This time I turned my head and looked to this fellow soldier with raised eyebrows, to see if he had any objections THAT time, but he only shrugged and went off to find someone to kill.

After the merry slayfest of LaRochelle another fighter, Conner, and myself settled in to some pickups on the low-grade hillside behind the castle.  He’s a very good fighter, an enjoyable dance, and I would highly recommend him to any looking to challenge their skills.  He is also very gracious, for at the end of our sparring he did me the honor of paying me the compliment, “It’s nice to be reminded there is always someone better.”

A couple of days later brought us face-to-face with the woods battle and, let me tell you, that is all kinds of fun.  After hitching in the back of a trailer with a host of other rapier fighters, we disembarked on the east side of the woods which was to be our starting point for this 45 minute, unlimited resurrection battle.  The purpose was to capture and control as many of the stationary flag positions as could be managed in order to score the most points for your side.  As before, Elsbietta wanted to fight alongside our rogue squad but this time she brought along the king of Atendveldt to participate in the slayerfest as well.  In honor of our royal guests we, therefore, named our rogue squad “Royal Pains”, making that name the rallying call in case we should get separated.  Before the lay on, however, I decided to take a stroll into the woods and get a lay of the land.  Very soon I realized that the density of these woods would make fighting in a two-sword style just a tad prohibitive, and in other areas near impossible, so I left having made the decision to fight with sword and dagger.  I would soon learn that was a wise decision.

At the sound of the cannon our rogue squad dashed up the hill and into the woods to engage the enemy straight up the middle.  We, of course, had a battle plan but, as such things are wont to do, it never survives the first five minutes of the fight.  Even on open fields an army’s lines tend to get torn apart until all you have left are pockets of fighting occasionally reinforced by fighters from behind.  Well, throw in resurrection in a dense thicket of woods upon hilly ground and keeping your forces in a line becomes a thousand times more difficult.  It was not long before we did indeed become separated to the point that I didn’t even know where Blayde had gotten off to amidst all the fighting.  Fortunately, I not only expected but planned for it.  Upon seeing no other Royal Pains members about I immediately set off for a particularly dark patch of woods I had spied on my earlier walk.  It was a ribbon of very densely packed pine trees with low, full branches that blocked most of the light from above and obscured vision through it—and just so happened to be perfect for a man dressed in black armor.  Once there I melted into the center and traversed far enough that I could see through to the other side.  I watched as a line of reserve enemy forces approached and then veered to avoid the dense copse of trees I now stood in, moving to join forces with their cohorts and form a battle front.  The reserve line was only around ten fighters and I emerged from the woods behind them.  The first fighter went down as I killed him from behind but the man beside him spun before I could put him to the sword as well.  I backed off and he followed me--even when the rest of his squad continued to move toward the battle line without him.  Let’s just say that was not the wisest move he made that day.  After killing him I snuck up behind their battle line to kill a few more via DFB as they engaged my allied compadres.  It was at that time I spied another squad of reinforcements approaching on my six o’clock at a dead run so I broke off contact and slipped back into the cover of the dark woods.  It went on like this for much of the battle, for truly my chosen cover was too thick for any line to try and move through.  On a few occasions some folks actually pursued me into this dense copse but someone really should have warned them about the dangers of pursuing a Tiger into the jungle.

By far the most talked about and prepared for tournament of Pennsic was the single elimination five-man melee.  This year broke a record in the SCA for the largest number of fighters in a tournament, with 180 rapier fighters making up 36 teams of five.  For ourselves, we were a West Coast team made up of myself, Blayde, and Coronado but we needed to find two more to complete the team.  Hearing of this, an east coast white scarf named Rodrigo asked if his two cadets Edward and Charismos, whose skills he vouched for, could join our squad.  We figured, why not?  And just like that we became the team “Event Horizon” (because it is the last thing you see before getting sucked into a black hole).  Though I had never fought alongside Edward and Charismos before, I am happy to say they more than held their own.  From left to right our line consisted of myself, Edward, Coronado, Charismos and Blayde rounding out the right flank.  Throughout the whole of the tournament, Rodrigo’s cadets fought with skill and fire worthy of any Tiger and together we took down the competition one by one—in one instance it took a scant twenty seconds—until arriving at the finals.

In the end it came down to our team Event Horizon vs. Four Zombies and a Ninja, made up of Conner the Gypsy and Kenji (a fellow Japanese influenced fighter) to name two.  They knew we were the other heavy hitters to watch out for and I witnessed them being careful to watch us fight at every opportunity they could.  By the time our two sides lined up they had chosen to match themselves with Kenji directly across from me and Conner taking the right side across from Blayde.  At the lay on we marched forward and the fight was on—well, at least for the rest of my team.  You see, it took me about five seconds to recognize that Kenji had no intention whatsoever of closing to within attack range of me.  In fact, as I would later find out, his instructions were explicitly not to engage and just stay alive.  This, of course, required an immediate change of strategy on my part.  If he would not engage me then I would engage the next man in his line instead.  With a sword in either hand, I pressed Kenji into a retreat that put me directly on his line’s 180 and then shifted right to threaten the man there.  Kenji’s compatriot took a startled step back, while Kenji himself rushed forward to hopefully thwart his friend’s demise.  That, however, was not my plan.  As quickly as I changed directions before I changed again, pressing Kenji backward and then shifting to threaten his friend once more.  The distraction worked, for Edward, my teammate to my immediate right, lunged across and killed the man without resistance.  Without missing a beat Edward joined me in a hard press against Kenji, who made it about five steps before a sword point brought his efforts to an end.  I do not know what had happened on the right side, but when I looked up there were no more zombies or ninjas left on the field.  So, just like that, it was over and Event Horizon stood victorious in the largest rapier tournament the SCA had ever seen.  I have to give much props to all the teams we faced that day for, though some fought harder than others, it was an honor to face them all.

 

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Posted by Tora on Monday, July 06

"Blood of Heroes" rages at AnTir/West War

The SCA’s AnTir/West War, held down in Gold Beach, Oregon, had yours truly taking on a different mantle than is my usual.  Sebastien asked me about six months ago if I would be interested in helping him to come up with and run the scenarios for this year’s An Tir/West War Crown event.  So I figured, why not?  Besides, this would be a golden opportunity to try and run an event that skews a bit from what the rapier community has come to expect.

The Gold Beach site is one located very close to the ocean near the Oregon/California border, but far enough back from the water that the site itself is surrounded by tall, thickly forested hills.  If you have never been, it really is a nice site and even with 1500 people in attendance there was plenty of room for all.  Blayde and I did not arrive until Friday morning, and we spent the better part of that setting up the pavilion and getting our camp in order before heading over to the rapier fields in the afternoon.  It was the following day, however, when the real fun would begin.

 Saturday started off with a Roman style melee where everyone starts off in a big circle, and at “lay on” you can then attack anyone except for those immediately to your left and right.  Somewhere in the middle of the action Blayde was legged and stayed alive until the last two healthy fighters squared off and double-killed each other, leaving Blayde the victor since he was the only remaining fighter left…well, sitting.

We then ran a “water of life” tournament—which is fun even to watch.  In this format the object is not to kill your opponent, but instead to destroy his Styrofoam cup carrying his water.  Sure, you can stab your opponent to end them, but so long as they retain enough water to cover the bottom of their cup they come right back.  In this Blayde did not fare so well, as someone snuck up behind him while he was fighting another and swiped his cup right out of his hand with their rapier.  It landed upside down and that, as they say, was that for my fellow Tiger.  Another fellow in the midst of the combat had his own cup swiped from his hand as well and, when it landed right side up, his opponent finished him by crushing the recalcitrant cup under his boot.  In the end, it was Lindy, a fighter from our own Kent practice, who emerged the victor with barely enough water left in her cup for a fly to bathe in.

Then came the grand event which many a rapier fighter had been practicing for several weeks beforehand: the Blood of Heroes.  This is a five-on-five tournament played on a rectangular field, and the goal is not so much to kill your opponents as it is to move a PVC dog skull down the field and place it on a stake to score a point.  Each player has a predetermined weapons form they must use ranging from sword and dagger all the way down to the position known as the “Quick” who only fights with a dagger.  The key, however, is that the quick is the only player who may actually touch the dog skull.  Further, any player who is killed merely drops for a very loud five count (one-thousand one, one-thousand two, etc.) before reemerging into the game.  There are more rules, of course, but that is the gist.  Needless to say, it is a very fast-paced game and really forces you to cooperate with your teammates and keep your head on a swivel.  The great thing too is not just its addictive nature, but that it is a grand time to watch, eliciting applause from the onlookers at the conclusion of each match.

At one point a team’s quick became confused in the midst of all the action and snatched up the dog skull with all due haste and staked it…failing to notice until it was too late that it was his own team’s stake.  Far from being uncommon, however, it happened yet again with another team, and had the crowd grabbing their sides in laughter both times.  It is also worth pointing out that the king and queen of An Tir came out and tried their hand at the game, and in honor of the event I had to start throwing in names for the teams as I introduced each match.  “On this side,” I said indicating the majesties’ side with my marshalling staff, “we have team ‘Royal Jelly’!”  The Majesties were good sports and seemed to like the name even, laughing right along with the rest of the crowd.  And, in case you were wondering, they did indeed win their match.

I have to say, I was pleased at how well the BoH tournament was received.  The rapier fighters even came up to me afterward and asked that I run further contests in between the other rapier scenarios we had planned.  Since we were all there to have a good time, I did just that.  Later that day I came to wonder what it is that I had unleashed, as various fighters came up to me asking about the potential for an event solely about BoH, or at least a yearly BoH championship.

The rest of the scenarios went off without a hitch and, though I don’t know what may have been said to Sebastien, I had three different fighters come up to me and say thanks for the two of us putting on the best rapier war they had ever been to.  Since I was co-running the scenarios, I may not have been able to get in the amount of fighting I wanted to but, in retrospect, it was a small price to pay.

 

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Posted by tora on Wednesday, June 17

Tigers assure victory for Blatha Noir

This past weekend saw the culmination of the annual “Honey War”, a contest of arms between the SCA baronies of Blatha Noir and Glym Mere to settle the score over a case of stolen honey.  Well, never being one to pass up a fight, I mustered a few Tigers to the cause—including my younger, 6’7” brother Pardus who began training three months ago.  After 90 days of instruction it was time to finally cut his teeth on some actual melee combat that didn’t consist of getting pounded repeatedly by his older sibling.  Turns out, though, that kind of hard training more than prepared him for what was to come.

The site itself was a working horse ranch surrounded on all sides by hills and trees.  Aside from a few ranch buildings it was nicely removed from the mundane trappings that would normally take away from the atmosphere of such an event.  Not that it matters all that much once you start throwing steel around but it’s a nice accent for the rest of the SCA folk who aren’t necessarily intent upon stabbing their peers.  Since this particular event was so close there was no need to camp and we decided instead to day trip.  Call me crazy, but whenever there is a choice between camping and a warm bed and hot shower after a day of fighting I always opt for the latter.  I know, I know, give me another ten years and I’ll start showing up in an RV.  So sue me.

As is typical, even though we showed up on time the fighting did not begin until much later, but that gave us a ample opportunity to thoroughly stretch out and get in some warm up fights with some of the other rapier folk who also knew how to tell time.  It was interesting to watch Pardus as he hooked and jabbed for the first time with rapier bodies outside of our own practice.  Though he has only been training for three months his opponents were very leery of him—both because of his obvious height and reach, and secondly (as I found out later) due to some apparent expectation of fencing osmosis.  I.e.: This is Tora’s brother so he must be as good as Tora.  In any case, Pardus was having a grand time learning about the advantages of being able to lunge from a football field’s distance away.  In due time he will also learn the disadvantages of having arms like a spider monkey, but that lesson will come later.

When the festivities did kick off it was with a burning ship battle.  For those unfamiliar, that is where you are confined to a predetermined space that is interspersed with “fires” represented in this case by cloaks laid out on the ground.  Step on the cloaks, and you immolate yourself.  When lay on was called the Glym Mere forces decided to stay on their side of the “ship” and wait for us to approach—which is a sound strategy under normal circumstances.  Not necessarily so when fully fifty percent of the opposition are Tigers.  I broke off to the left and pulled three of the Glym Merian fighters along with me, but then did the silly thing of touching my heel to the fire and removing myself from play.  It did not affect the course of events, however.  Those three Glym Merians who left their comrades to deal with me consequently left their brethren outnumbered when the Blathanoir fighters came across.  By the time I doused myself in fire, freeing them to return to their compatriots, the damage had already been done and they too were overwhelmed.

We quickly reset and once more the lay on was given.  This time the Glym Merians decided to take the fight to us, rushing out in the midst of the flames to engage us in the center of the field, no doubt hoping to use the “fires” to break up our line.  Once more I broke off (very mindful of the fires this time) but rather than engage me as they had before the Glym Merian fighters let me stroll right into their backfield.  Well, the only thing worse than facing a Tiger head on is letting him approach you from behind.  Now facing threats on two fronts, the battle for the Glym Merians went south very quickly and the first warpoint was gained for Blathanoir.

Aided by the Tigers, the rest of the warpoints were similarly won by the barony of Blathanoir, but the “play of the day” had to go to the Tigers’ own Cameron of Clan Stewart.  During the plank battle scenario, in which one side had to break through to the defenders’ ship via a plank wide enough for fighters to stand two abreast, Cameron single-handedly ripped through eight opposing fighters in rapid succession and cleared the path to victory before anyone else could even raise a blade.  So, much props to Cameron of the quick kill.

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