Hello, and Welcome!
This post will be a start of a series, in which I will talk in more detail about using different weapons in combat. Naturally, as I have not been in the reenactment for a very long time myself, many times I will refer to my more experienced friends, when it comes to using weapons I am not so proficient with.
The series will start with a weapon I HAVE a lot of experience with- a seax.
What is a seax? The shortest answer is- a Viking age side-arm, similar in size and use to a dagger. Larger Seaxes, also known as scramasaxes, are more akin to short swords, and the largest of them all, a langsax was basically a sword, with a simplified design, suitable for a poorer warrior.
Nearly every reenactor carries a seax or a scramasax, as a secondary weapon, to be used if the primary one is lost, damaged or becomes trapped. For many warriors it is a symbol of status, more than a weapon and is elaboratory decorated, to reflect this.
But enough about what the weapon is- let us go into more detail about how to use it.
The most important thing about seax is- it is short. With this weapon you have no reach, and so must get very close to your opponent, to stand a chance of hitting them. This forces a warrior into a very pro-active stance, and to utilize an aggressive, offensive style of combat.
With this approach, confidence is essential. A warrior must be willing to get uncomfortably close to the opponent, and to put up with furious blows, as he tries to close the distance. Your footwork will be essential, especially the ability to close in very fast.
In order to close your distance in the fastest possible way, you need to perform what we like to call a “waddle”. Instead of making a regular “shuffled” step forward, like you are taught in fencing, with one leg in front of the other, this time, you put your back leg in front of the leading one, pivoting your front foot as you do so. Look at the picture below:
The red line represents where your back foot should land. Your front foot stays where it is, merely pivoting, to keep your balance right. The green line represents your weight centre, moving forward. The black circle is the tip of the weapon, now so much closer to the opponent, than it was before. This method of movement s much faster than regular steps, and allows for rapid advance and retreat. This is what you need to employ, if you want to close in fast on your opponent, to be able to use your seax.
The most important advantage of a seax, is that it is short. Once you have closed the distance, the length does not matter anymore- but speed does. Being a small, short weapon a seax is very fast indeed, and allows much greater agility than other, larger weapons do. Also, do not forget, that most weapons become in nt useless, than very difficult to use at close-quarters. Pole-arms and spears are useless once you are face-to-face, swords become difficult to use and maneuver. Only axes can compete at very close proximity, and that is provided, that the user shortens the grip in time. So, get close to the enemy, and use the speed and agility of your weapon to your advantage.
There are two ways of scoring “hits” once your are close up to your enemy. One, is to use feints and rapid movements to get around your enemy’s defence and hit him on an exposed part of the body.
The other, is to create an opening for yourself, usually by using your weapon to move the opponent’s shield (or weapon) out of the way and coming in with a hit. Below is an illustration of the latter method:
As you can see, my seax is coming over the opponent’s shield, which is angled away from his body. This is, because using the hilt of my weapon, I have hooked his shield out of the way, just like with an axe,and went in for the hit on the chest straight away.
This technique requires not only speed, but also confidence, belligerence and certain amount of aggression.
Below, you will see a simple drawing, in aid of the first method of attack, the one utilizing feints. Red spots in black circles represent the most common points where a hit is possible- this is where most faints are aimed for. The arrows indicate the direction of the faint (up-down, left-right and so on). All those who have practiced combat should be familiar with the concept already. I would like to point out, that with seaxes and scramasaxes, feints can be performed much faster, and therefore more effectively, especially, if you perform left-right sort of feint, which can be difficult to master with a larger weapon.
Additional advantage is that because of a much shorter distance between you and your opponent, there is less chance of spotting a feint- only fast or experienced warriors will be able to react in time.
Avoid striking the opponent’s shield, as you fight with a seax. It is pointless as a show weapon, due to its small size, and wasting valuable seconds on hitting a shield is the last thing you need. Instead, each blow should be aimed at the body, intended either as a killing blow, or a feint. Your each move should be aimed at hitting the opponent, or distracting him, rather than making “showy” moves and impressive strikes, of which so many swordsmen and axemen are fond of.
A seax has one more important advantage- it allows you to easily take control of your opponent’s weapon. How does it work? It is a very simple principle, based on bio-mechanics. Any weapon has what is called a “strong” point and a “weak” point. The further away a point on a weapon is from the warrior’s hand, the “weaker” it is. Look at the photo below. Blue line indicates “strong” point of the sword. Here, the warrior has full control of his weapon and should win any bind he comes into. Yellow line indicates the middle section of the weapon, whereas the red line indicates the “weak” point of the weapon, over which the warrior can easily lose control, as per the laws of leverage:
With a seax, nearly all of your weapon is “strong”, because of the limited length. More control gives you more leverage. The only time you can really lose a bind, is if your opponent holds his weapon in two hands (like a pole arm or a long spear). With a seax, if you do come into a bind, you can easily move the opponent’s weapon out-of-the-way and take control of it, thus allowing you to create an opening into which you can strike.
One last piece of advise- PLAY with your weapon. Often and repeatedly. Get to know it’s feel, the balance, the weight. Get used to it, until it becomes an extension of your arm- that way, even if you are not practising in a duel, you will become better at using your weapon, simply because you are so used to it!
So, to sum up- seax gives you speed, leverage and agility, but it has very limited range and does not look as impressive, when used in combat. It requires speed, confidence and aggression when used, and your footwork must be top-notch if you want to maintain distance control. It is not an easy weapon to master, and for most of us it will remain merely a secondary weapon- but there is a saying amongst reenactors, that a man with a seax and a small shield can kill ANY warrior, provided he is really good with those. There are few enough seax users in the reenactment, but those that do use it prove just how good a weapon it is, when used correctly.
Next time, I will write more about the seax, but this time I shall focus on fighting with seax alone and no shield, which is a different sort of combat altogether.
Until next time!