s: the danger zone

Flint’s duels with Joji and Hands

weapon duel breakdown basics, warning: 4x09 spoilers

A lot of people believe that Joji had better skill and Hands went down too easily, and thus the duels were plot gifts for Flint. I disagree completely. The duels were actually an expose of what makes the ultimate advantage in a duel against an opponent using different weapons other than a broadsword.

Here are basic duel logics on who has the advantage:

1. Skill and expertise in your weapon of choice. Flint is likely one of the best three broadsword fighters in the show. Joji is the expert with his katana. Hands is an expert in wielding two weapons - cutlass and hammer with spike. Flint dispatches several men wielding broadswords with great or relative ease. Billy has less expertise in the broadsword than Hands has with his 2 weapons, and lacks experience in defending against 2 weapons. Hence Hands could dispatch Billy so quickly.

2. Physical fitness and strength. The stronger, the fitter, the more agile, the taller a fighter is the more he has a personal physical advantage over his opponent, and it could make the difference if the duelists are of equal expert skill. Remember the duel between Blackbeard and Flint. Same weapons, same skill, but Flint weakened after living weeks on rations. Duel between Billy and Flint in 4x02: Billy has the length and power over Flint, but just not as skillfull.

3. Distance > manouvaribility > sharpness. The longest weapon has a distance advantage, because it allows the duelist to harm the opponent without requiring your body to come into the danger zone of the opponent’s weapon(s). Joji’s katana is longer than Flint’s broadsword, very flexible in use because of its two handed grip, and deadly sharp overall, more so than a broadsword. Flint’s broadsword however is longer than Israel’s cutlass and hammer, and sharper.

4. Having optimal space for your weapon. You need the space that matches your fighting technqiue and your ability to optimally wield your weapon. While a spear is longer than a sword and can prick someone dead as easily as a swordpoint, theoretically a spear has an advantage over a sword, especially if the spear wielder is an expert in wielding it to block, knock and stab the opponent. But that is only true when the fighter has the space to wield it around. Put the fight in a small corridor and the spear wielder loses that advantage altogether, and would do better in dropping the spear and draw out a dagger instead. 

Joji versus Flint

Assume both are equally skilled in their weapon of preference. Joji has the weapon advantage and fighting technique in his optimal space, when he can also use his legs to trip Flint. That is what we see at the start of the duel.

As soon as Flint realizes he is outmatched in this manner and nearly has his head chopped off, he moves away from Joji’s optimal space and draws back into the trees. Flint starts to lure Joji into a more confined space, so Joji cannot use his legs anymore and the slight difference in weapon length might still put him in a disadvantage, but just not as much anymore. Still, the katana remains an advantage in flexibility. Flint manages to defend himself barely in this phase of the duel based on muscle power. But he sees his chance, and drags the both of them into a ditch and close contact position. On their knees and this close to one another, Joji has lost all his advantages, while Flint has the strength upperhand.

Result: Joji dies.

Israel Hands versus Flint

Assume again that both are equally skilled in their weapon of preference and required fighting technique. 

Hands uses two weapons, both shorter ones than Flint’s sword. In that sense Hands is always at a distance disadvantage against any opponent with a broadsword, whether that is Jacob, Billy or Flint. He is a tough guy but not the tallest either. Because Hands has to always put himself in bodily harm’s way against anyone with a sword, his advantage relies on agility on the one hand, and the opponent not having any expertise to defend himself against 2 weapons. We see Hands win against Jacob and Billy for these reasons. He gets into the danger zone, deals a blow, a cut and dances away again to avoid and parry a swoard at a safer distance.

Hands’ foremost issue is that Flint knows how to defend himself against 2 weapons. Hands cannot come in and strike a cut or blow. You may also have noticed that Hands seemed to fight far more stiffly than against Billy and Jacob. His arms are outstretched and stiff. It looks like he cannot fight anymore all of a sudden. Well that’s true and not true. Hands has not lost his skill, he just cannot use it as he usually does, because Flint doesn’t allow him to get close. And now Hands is forced to try and hurt Flint without going near Flint’s sword. So, he creates a bigger distance than he usually does, by stretching his arms, thereby losing his felxibility.

Then consider the environment. It is an open space, optimal enough for Flint’s sword, and yet too slippery for Israel’s dance in and dance away tactic. To win this duel, Israel had only one option - do what Flint did with Joji. Hands should have drawn Flint into a close and confined area, though he would still risk being outforced by Flint.

Conclusion

In both duels, Flint managed to gain or keep advantage because of his tactical choice of fighting space.

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