Mortal vs. Immortal: a Combat Game with the Ultimate Advantage

Combat games can be like an open-ended drill, or like sparring but with limits. Often one player is put at a disadvantage, and is challenged to fight their way out of a hole, solving puzzles and sometimes running into seemingly unsolvable problems (which prove as good discussion material over drinks later). Some games push us psychologically into areas of insecurity and emotional fragility. Some sparring games are purposed to develop the tactical perception of the players.


In mortal-immortal, one player is graced with immortality and can ignore all hits of any kind; they never bleed or die. The other player remains mortal and must preserve their health and life as a priority, attacking and wounding the immortal player only if their own safety is still secure in doing so. The fighting is continuous, with the mortal player simply calling “hit” when properly struck. There are no resets between hits.

Mortal’s Objectives

  • Survive! Make defense your priority, but continue fighting even if struck.
  • Try to find moments to strike the Immortal—there are many!
    • strike them as they move into range
    • strike them as they prepare an attack
    • strike them and control their weapon while they attack
    • deflect their weapon aside and strike them before they can recover and renew.
  • Learn to deal with the somewhat random nature of the Immortal and limit their options, understanding, for example, that if you’ve closed off your outside line, the next threat from the Immortal will come to your inside line.
  • Don’t just think about defending; sometimes a healthy dose of well-timed attacks can cause the Immortal to temporarily forget their advantage and begin making defenses for a while!
  • Often fencing is survival until your moment arrives, and when it does you must be ready to capitalize on it.

Immortal’s Objectives

  • Attack! Defense is a luxury you can take or leave as you please.
  • Flow smoothly from one attack to the next. If your partner has deflected your sword, turn that momentum into another attack.
  • Recognize where lines are opening (instead of just open) and go there to try and race the Mortal to that target area.
  • Be free of loss and losing; you are completely unburdened by the shame and sadness that might accompany a stunning defeat.
  • Understand that Mortal will prioritize defense, so use feints to draw their defenses and leave them further exposed.
  • Work many different attack combinations: high-low, left-right, low-high, etc. Then string attacks into longer sequences of three or five, moving high, low, left and right.
  • Strive to marry your footwork and your swordwork.
  • Incorporate new skills. Improve your grip. Move in ways you may not regularly do, and break up habits and ruts that keep you moving in old predictable ways.

Everyone Benefits

Set a timer and trade roles after the round has elapsed. Start simple at one minute each, then stretch your mental and physical endurance to rounds of three or five minutes—guaranteed you will feel the burn after that! If you’re in a group rotate partners after each pair has played both roles.
You can also practice Mortal-Immortal at scaling speeds (described here with longsword and sidesword) to help control the potential chaos that a full-speed Immortal can unleash. Slowing things down also allows for better recall and deconstruction of passes that may hold valuable lessons.
I didn’t like this game when first introduced to it years ago. I found the Mortal role especially frustrating; I kept getting hit all the time! But that’s the point, your partner will just keep coming, and you need to shrug off one hit (after calling it) and pull it back together as a mental exercise to stay focused. You will be struck at some point (or many points), but keep going! Gradually I’ve learned to appreciate the value of the game, and today it’s something I recommend to everyone.
Many people have deep insecurities about being hit. In our society hitting with speed and force is usually connected to punishment or abuse. I’m not saying that you just need to suck it up and tough it out, but in Mortal-Immortal there is a place where getting struck by the Immortal should be expected, so you can mentally brace for it, and know that it does not reflect poorly on your character or value as an individual. Set your limits (duration, speed, intensity) when setting up the rounds, and respect those of your partners. Immortals, make sure and give your Mortal partner a big hug or slaps on the back and many encouraging words after beating the stuffing out of them!
There is no losing in this game. Well, I guess you could consider the lack of ability to learn as losing. I find that a game like this allows me to just garner lots of fight data for later processing. Both Mortal and Immortal can find a lot to take away from a session, if one has the eyes to see. I remember one of my Immortal partners suddenly throwing a bunch of leg strikes and sneaky rising strikes to my hands that I was ill prepared to defend against. It was food for thought, and helped me choose some drills and training time to bolster my defenses in those areas.
Make combat games like Mortal-Immortal a regular stop along your path to mastery. Enjoy your training!

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