Fast and Furious- the art of knife duels

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As promised in my previous post, this time a deeper look into the “knifefighting”. How to fight armed with nothing but a seax or a scram and do so effectively? Let me show you some of the techniques and share some advice.

1. First- learn how to walk 

When fighting with a seax or a scram alone, your position and footwork are essential if you are to have a chance for victory. Look at the photo below, to see what stance you should adopt:

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Both opponents are leaned forward, with legs apart and knees bend. The weapon-hand is brought forward, presenting the weapon to the opponent, while the empty shield-hand is held at the ready, to parry, bat the opponent’s hand out of the way or to tackle his sword-hand. There are of course other possible stances one might adopt, but trust me, this one is the only one offering the right balance, speed, and opportunities for attack and defence. Note, that it does not really matter which leg you put forward, left or right- it is entirely up to you, and which attack you are planning to utilize.

2. Have patience and time your attacks well 

If you have ever watched a seax duel, you will have noticed, that there seems to be nothing happening for the better part of it. Both combatants would square off, and wait, preparing their strike, circling each other, changing footing, weaving their weapons left and right. After what may be as much as a minute of inaction, one or both opponents spring into action and after a few snake-fast blows are exchanged, one usually wins. Knife fighting is a very speedy affair, and usually only 2-3 blows are exchanged before a Hit is scored. That is why it is vital to have the patience to wait it out and find the right time. Only once you have found the right moment, strike, and strike fast.

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3. Use your shield-hand 

In the absence of a shield, you must use your free hand for defence- but be careful not to use it as you would a shield. Parrying blows with a palm can be painful and lead to injury, and remember that in most cases you are not allowed to catch or hand-parry a moving blade, as normally this would result in the loss of your hand, if the weapon were sharp. Instead, you must use your off-hand very actively, to either bat the opponent’s hand out of the way, or grab it and take control, thus creating a nice opening for yourself.

Hold your off-hand with an open palm, closely to your weapon. every time you make an attack, move your shield-hand too, attacking the opponent’s weapon. Your both hands must work together, with great speed and purpose. Remember that each move counts, and you have no shield to hide behind- any mistake will get you killed.

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This may seem surprising, but most of the time, what you do with your free hand is much more important than with your actual weapon!

4. Attack with speed and purpose 

Once you are ready to attack, there are limited options- a thrust or a slash. Bear in mind, that thrusts are usually frowned upon if not outright banned in reenactment (ever got poked with a spear in the ribs? Now you know why!). Your attacks must be fast, well aimed and co-ordinated. Feints are a great idea, but yet again, they must be quick, if they are to work.

It s a good idea to try to attack the opponent’s weapon side, whilst using your own off-hand to bat his weapon out of the way. But attacks to the shield-side are just as effective, if less surprising.

When attacking, range is the key- both distance control, and being close enough to actually land a Hit. Thsi is where your leg position comes into play. (the below instructions are for right-handed folk- if you are left-handed simply reverse them for a lefty option)

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Put your right foot forward, and you are in the “offensive” stance. Your weapon is projected much more forward, making attacks more likely to reach your opponent. Your off-hand is further back, limiting it to defensive action, but giving you more time to react, because your left flank is further away from the opponent’s weapon. At the same time it is harder to advance forward, because if you move your left foot to the front, your weapon does not change its position.

Put your left foot forward, and you are in the “defensive” stance. Your weapon and your free hand are close together, giving you more options for your off-hand. It is harder to reach the opponent, because your weapon is further away, but, at the same time, it is easier to advance quickly, because if your now step forward with your right foot, your weapon travels a lot forward with your body.

The choice is up to you, and your prefered style of combat.

5. Example!

Now, a short  YT video (yes, I am advancing into videos now!), showing you an example of a seax duel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ89xewDYKQ

See, how at first not much is happening, both warriors looking for an opportunity. Both of us are trying to use our off-hand to take control off ech other’s weapons, as well as batting them aside with our own seaxes. Once the first blow is struck, both of us score a simultaneous Hit. Once we are reset, similar thing happens, but this time, I manage to slip my weapon out of my opponent’s grasp, while keeping hold of his weapon with my off-hand. See how I rapidly went down towards the end, to help me get my weapon away from my opponents hand and strike into his torso.

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Final piece of advice- get familiar with your weapon, handle it and play with it as often as you can, to get used to the balance, feel etc. A good idea is to practice knife duels at training, starting with half-speed exercises, progressing into actual combats.

I hope the points I made in this post were useful to you! Also, big thanks for my good pals Anfrid for being my sparring partner and Ryan for taking the photos. In my next post- a deeper look into the hand axe.

Until the next time folks!