A bear pit is a way of organizing singles fights. In general, a fighter remains in the "pit" (a defined area) until he is defeated, upon which the fighter who bested him takes his place, and so forth. Bear pits can be found both in practices and at events.
There are several styles of bear pits.
- Basic: As described above. A single area to hold, with fighters entering one at a time to challenge the holder.
- Multiple: Similar to basic, but multiple pits exist. Used when the number of fighters is higher. Fights can be synchronized across pits or cycle at the speed of each individual pit. Fighters join any unchallenged pit (sometimes as directed by a marshal).
- Progressive: This is a bear pit configuration that cycles fighters through four pits based upon their success in the previous pit. The pits are initially populated by 8 fighters; two to a pit, with a line formed for fighters waiting to enter. The pits are generally laid out in a square, each occupying one quadrant. When lay on is called, all four fights commence, with the losers joining the end of the waiting line. The winner of pit three joins the remaining fighter in pit four. The winners of pits one and two move on to pit three. Four new fighters move in to pits one and two. Then the cycle repeats. Getting to and holding pit four requires winning three fights in a row. Often, points are awarded based on how many bouts a fighter survives in pit four.
- Reverse: A rarely practiced style in which the losing fighter remains in the pit. The winner rejoins the end of the line. This style is also known as a Shark Pit Tournament.
Certain modifiers can also be placed upon the bear pit.
- Wounds-Retained: If in the course of a bout, the winning fighter receives a non-lethal wound (arm/leg), they must retain this disadvantage for the fights with all future challengers until they are bested. By default this is not observed.
- Pit border enforcement: Depending on the pit configuration, especially when multiple pits exist, this rule is used. It restricts fighters from stepping out of a defined area. If a violation occurs, that fighter automatically loses. Depending on region and event customs, pushing your opponent out purposely may be frowned upon.
There are several benefits of running a bear pit. Because it can involve many fighters, often cycling quickly, any one individual can expect to fight everyone participating at least once. It also offers a competitive environment where winning is rewarded to some extent. The bear pit works with fighters of mixed skill levels (particularly in the progressive format). The best fighters will hold the pit and face many challengers, with stamina becoming a factor quickly. Fighters with less skill still get to fight regularly and will occasionally find themselves holding the pit. Finally, the format offers a constant stream of bouts, with reasonable downtime for all but the best competitors.