The Mountain and The Red Viper – Psychology of Fighting

Psychology Mountain and Red ViperSo it has been aired now, the fight between the Mountain and the Red Viper and the outcome is now known to all. The Mountain has taken the fight, although seemingly grievously wounded, against the Red Viper – seemingly sending Tyrion to his death. But knowing GoT anything could happen from here. In saying this, does anyone think that he head explosion was a little over the top, almost comical? That first hit and the teeth jangling to the ground really illustrated the power of the Mountain, but then we get this almost Monty Python-esque head pop…anyway…

psychology of fighting qiang
Similar Qiang type spear use by the Red Viper

From what I can tell (and I could be wrong) Oberyn uses a technique similar to Wushu (Chinese Martial Art) using the Qiang (long spear). Wushu is known for it’s stylised movements and also for it’s techniques which are aimed at distraction, such as the Drunken Fist style, and the use of the tassel on the long spear. On the other hand, The Mountain seems to use the intimidate by size and brute force stabby-stabby style of combat.

A lot of the combatants in the world of Game of Thrones (and in other television series and movies where there is a lot of conflict) are well trained in fighting. For most of them they have been training all of their lives for violent confrontation, from Arya Stark learning to ‘dance’ to Jaime Lannister relearning the sword with a missing hand, combat is a part of the everyday. So what makes a difference in combat? With two combatants who are well matched against one another, what are the things that set two fighters apart? Besides the unexpected, the ability of a fighter to intimidate, obscure of confuse their opponent is a big part of this, and this post will look at the psychological tactics of fighting especially with swords. Most of these tactics are aimed at ensuring that there are brief moments of distraction, confusion or annoyance to simply ‘throw’ the other combatant so that there is a chance for an attack, some of the most common are listed below.

Noise and shouting (and talking incessantly…)

Noise has been utilised for thousands of years, and is still used in some form in both combat and sports. Battle cries are a very common form of this and they are used for a few reasons: to intimidate, to show how aggressive a tribe is (for example the New Zealand Maoris), to distract and to make the opposing force seem stronger than they actually are. The use of noise can also be to distract opponents away from weapons and attacks – screaming whilst swinging a weapon can ensure that the opponent’s attention is drawn in several places. In terms of  group type attacks this can also help to identify where other friendlies are but also to further distract individual opponents as they may not know where attacks are coming from. This can also be seen in the kiai of martial arts, that can be used to increase the power of an attack (by exhaling at the correct time) and also to further intimidate and distract an opponent.

We can see that Oberyn used some of these tactics in his fight against The Mountain, in particular the repetition of his desire for The Mountain to admit to the murders of Oberyn’s sister and children. This psychological tactic can help a combatant leave the ‘zone’ in which he is fighting and become cognitively distracted, if only for a second. It may not seem like a great deal but against an opponent like the Mountain, wouldn’t you want just a second’s advantage? This technique is also indicative of a show of power and confidence, seriously, who can keep up a monologue whilst trying to kill another person? Which brings us to the next point…

Confidence and shows of power

When a participant knows their physical ability, it is then possible for them to build that up in the eyes of their opponent (or on the other hand, break it down). Oberyn is so confident that he is sipping wine before the battle, alcoholic or a genuine confidence in his own ability? Further, Oberyn’s lack of a helmet or heavy armour further illustrate his confidence and his desire to show The Mountain that he is there for vengeance and will refuse to lose by any count.

We often see this in combat sports as well, one of the participants goading their opponent by showing their chin or dropping their guard on purpose, essentially saying “Come and get it” which again builds the cognitive dissonance of the attacker – can they knock them out with a single blow, or gain a significant enough advantage to risk stepping inside the strike zone?

Oberyn also showed this somewhat, by being able to slip outside of the Mountain’s range with ease, moving in and out quickly, and making sure that he wore him out. In combat the effect of exhaustion is massive. In a fight to the death the exhausted individual knows that they are tiring, which leads to the need to lash out and finish the fight quickly, battling themselves with the need to stay sharp and the need to end it before they are no longer physically prime. Despite his size, the use of a broadsword and heavy armour is a short term strategy, one which Oberyn countered well with speed.

Distancing Techniques

Another technique that can be used in the use of sound or speed to obscure another movement (or non movement). This is a little different to the use of noise and battle cries, as it is used to try to get the opponent to attack first, or in a position whereby they are frustrated and therefore lash out.

In fencing this is called an appel and is the tapping of the foot (either front or back) to create a sound that may indicate to the opponent that you are advancing. For example, if there is a two step gap between you and your opponent then you could take one step and appel, leading the opponent to believe that you are closer than you really are. This can then lead to them attacking prematurely, giving you the space and time to mount your own attack. On the other hand, this technique can also lead to frustration on the opponent which again can lead to them acting out of annoyance, rather than reason.

Most people will move in the same way, back, forward, sideways in any given situation, so the ability of Oberyn to flip out of danger and to also slide his boots across the surface gave him a massive advantage. He was able to get close, and move away with relative ease, tricking the giant as to how easy he would be to reach.

Feigning Injury or weakness

Another example is a show of weakness or injury, to allow the opponent to believe that they have a stronger chance of winning than they actually do. By building their confidence, and letting them believe that you are injured, they may be more likely to act in a brash or over-confident manner, attempting to finish the fight quickly and dominantly. Obviously, if you are not injured or weak in that area and only feigning injury, then there will be no issue with fighting and therefore you can take advantage of their perception of weakness.

The fight between Oberyn and The Mountain also showed some signs of this, whilst the drinking of the wine showed confidence, it may have also led The Mountain to believe that Oberyn was an easier opponent than he was in the end.

A way that you can see this play out today is the reporting of small injuries in sports teams or the reports of a flu virus going through a team, meaning that they are underprepared. This can be legitimate injury, but is often used (or exaggerated) closer to big games, to make the opposition believe that they can win with less effort, or that certain types of attacking play won’t be coming from the supposedly injured or ‘sick’ individual.

I would like to say that The Mountain was feigning injury and that he understood the psychology of fighting, however I doubt this (considering he had a spear in him at one stage), I think he is just a man mountain made to kill. That brings me to the final point in how to win a fight – Just be stronger or more skilled than your opponent, then all these psychological strategies won’t be needed…

Unfortunately for The Red Viper, whilst he may have utilised some strategies to gain the upper hand (psychologically speaking) it was that brief moment of inattention which he created himself that was the cause of his demise in the end..Valar Morghulis

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