How to use a shield- single combat



In this post, we will have a closer look at using a shield in single combat, where the conditions are very different from those we would expect in a shieldwall. We will look at how to protect yourself effectively, and how to use a shield to it’s maximum advantage.


First point to remember- this guide is not THE  definitive way to use a shield. It is only showing my personal experience and perspective, and as I am not yet a veteran reenactor, there are still things I must learn as well- but enough foreword, time to get on with the post!

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1. The basic stance

Just as in the shieldwall, the most basic way to use a shield, is to simply hold it in front of you, and put it in the way of incoming blows.

Standing with your legs wide apart, knees slightly bend, and feet forming the letter “L”, hold the shield about 6″ away from your body, keeping it straight, preferably with your elbow touching your side. You can have either the “shield” leg forward, or the “weapon” leg forward, depending whether you want to use a more defensive “shield stance”, or a more aggressive style of combat.


In this technique, all you do is intercept the opponent’s blows, moving the shield to parry- couldn’t be simpler! As long as you have good reflexes, are not put off by feints, and do not flap your shield about, you should be able to block just about any blow, and stay alive in a fight.

But we all want to do more than just stay alive… This is where more advanced techniques come into play. Allow me to introduce you to one of my best friends- Mr. Active Shieldwork


2. Active Shieldwork

I have touched upon this technique in my previous posts, especially the one about using seax and scramasax. The idea is to use your shield as actively, as if it were another weapon, instead of a static defense. By using your shield proactively, you can intercept coming blows before they go anywhere near you, take control of enemy’e weapon, or create an opening in their defenses.


Taking control- a simple exercise in active shieldwork, is to try to take control of the opponent’s weapon as he makes an attack, then counter-strike yourself. It is a modified version of the traditional parry-riposte you will know from fencing. When your opponent makes an attack, instead of waiting, move your shield quickly to intercept it. Once the weapon has connected to your shield, keep contact, and push out forcefully, ideally trying to keep the opponent’s weapon near your shield boss. In this way, you take control of the weapon and know it’s exact position- plus, by pushing out, you make sure your enemy cannot use it. Once you have done this, you can attack your opponent, who will be very vulnerable. You must be very quick and fluid though, to make sure your move works. You must think of it, as if you were trying to grab the weapon with your own hand- the shield is merely an extension of it.


This technique will require you to have a more flexible grip on your shield, to be able to move it a variety of directions. It is a good idea to keep your shield at a slight angle, rather than square on, presenting the edge to the opponent, rather than the flat. This will give you more flexibility on moving your shield- but remember to always move it on purpose, never just flap it about.

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Bat it out of the way- when parrying a blow with your shield, instead of simply intercepting the enemy weapon, use your shield to actively bat it out of the way. Move your shield fast and with strength, as if you were trying to strike the enemy’s weapon out of their hand. In this way, you will unbalance your opponent and create an opening you can use to defeat them. You must move swiftly though, your attack must be simultaneous to your defensive action, otherwise you will give your opponent time to react and recover.

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Follow the weapon- imagine your shield is covered in glue- and the the opponent’s weapon is stuck fast to it. Could they make an attack? Could they defend effectively? Exactly. When you parry an attack, follow your opponent’s weapon and keep contact with it all the time- as long as you can feel it on your shield, you know precisely where it is, and that it cannot hit you. Best way to do this is to keep the weapon near your boss, where you have the most control over your shield. If you master this technique, it becomes extremely difficult to hit you, provided you have the speed, confidence and accuracy to make that first parry and keep contact afterward.


Shield- a weapon of defense. Instead of using your shield purely to defend yourself, use it to attack and actively create openings in your opponent’s defenses. Best way to do this, is to hold your shield at an angle, presenting the edge to your opponent. When in combat, strike your opponent’s shield with yours, either on inner or outer edge. If you manage to hit the flat of it, you will notice, that the shield is really to push aside- it will open almost as a revolving door, creating a space where you can attack your enemy. It can be very effective, but requires a large enough shield, preferably 30″ in diameter or more, and a swift, decisive action, otherwise you simply leave yourself open to an attack. Also, do not use this trick too often, as it is easy to anticipate.


And lastly- drop it! Final technique I am going to share with you is very risky- but the risk may just pay off. Firstly, hold your shield very lightly- just with the tips of your fingers. Instead of using your shield to parry an attack, your weapon, Once the enemy’s attack is safely and securely stopped- drop your shield down on the ground, and grab the opponent’s hand at the wrist, or by the hilt of a sword, haft of an axe etc. Push up, or pull down- hard, and fast. Your opponent will be defenseless, unbalanced and practically disarmed. Simply finish off with a killing blow! Remember though- there is a very good chance that you may end up being killed, because you dropped your shield in a wrong moment. This technique is a very much one trick pony, and works only if you get the element of surprise. You must be fast, decisive and aggressive, and a bit of luck will go a long way too.

This will be enough for one post- I hope you find the techniques I described here useful, and that we will see more warriors on the field using shields actively, instead of holding largest piece of wood they could find statically in front of them- something which is not only not very impressive, but also not accurate historically, as many sources and research shows. Till next time!


Training Weekend!


The title says it all- an annual Training Weekend for the Vikings reenactment society, which I was able to attend this year, for the first time. WARNING- most of us did not bother with fully authentic gear, as there was no public, and event itself is very casual- jeans, shirts and sports shoes ahead!


On the Easter weekend this year, some 250, if not more society members gathered together, for 3 days of combat training, camping, lectures, workshops and, of course, deciding on some vital society matters.


Having arrived on the evening before the first day, most of us set up camp on the grounds provided, and set out to the beer tent, for some much-needed refreshment! The night was windy and wet, but the morning found us in perfectly good mood and some improved weather has added on to the enjoyment.


First order of the day, was combat training- sessions were held for basic weapons, spears, two-handed spears, axes, advanced sword combat, bows, javelins and slings, as well as for display combat. Plenty of choice for everyone, and an opportunity to hone a skill, or learn how to use a new weapon.

In my case- I have decided to expand my weapon range, and learn to use a spear, which I did on a lengthy, well-organised training session led by a wonderful Training Thegn (not the man in combat trousers with a Dane axe, he was just an assistant, equally great to work with- Thegn is visible with glasses and no helmet on second photo).

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Once the spear training was over, it was time for lunch and a quick drink, before afternoon sessions began- lectures, workshops and some fighting in the woods- I attended a very interesting lecture on mead hall and its importance in the Anglo-Saxon culture, as a cornerstone of society. Much like the modern pub, but with added functions of a temple, feasting hall, centre of authority and way for a chieftain/king to show off his wealth and build networks.

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Later that day I took part in what was called an Extreme Viking Event. A hike into the woods, with no modern equipment allowed, only the authentic stuff, and only what you could carry on your own back. The participants were split into two opposing groups, and set up two camps in the woods, where they stayed over night. We were supposed to fight each other, through the night and then perform a Dawn Attack. Sneaking through the woods at night, axe in hand, waiting to ambush another team, sneaking into their camp, defending yours, and sleeping rough for a night- all these things were the highlight of the weekend for me!

And, once we got back to the main camp after the Dawn Raid was finished, there was more combat training to be had, after quick breakfast- there was a lot of group training as well, and a tournament for best fighters, one champion for each type of weapon- all followed by a warband fighting competition, and more beer tent fun.

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As luck would have it, during axe competition, I have managed to hit an opponent in the neck (no injury just a light blow landed in wrong spot), which is a big no-no for safety reasons- if you are reading this, know, you have a pint on my next time I see you!

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And, on Easter Monday, our last day of training- much of the same, just cut short, as we were leaving by mid-afternoon. Last highlight of the event, was a 2 hour-long fight in the woods, with some 16-18 warriors o each side. Use of terrain, obstacles and the wide area of battle allowed for plenty of tricks to be used and made for some really fun combat conditions, which you do not normally get to experience.

So, all in all it was an amazing weekend, I learned lots, had massive amounts of fun, and cannot wat for the rest of season to come in! Bring on the summer!

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Hand Axe- a closer look


As you may remember, I have written a post some months ago, presenting the virtues of a hand axe and trying to raise its profile a little in comparison to the sword. In this post, rather than introduce the weapon, I will present a more comprehensive guide to the various techniques and tricks available to an axeman. The more experienced warriors will probably not learn anything new, but I would welcome your comments and opinions, while the beginners will ( I hope!) learn some interesting and useful stuff to help them become more proficient!


Axe In The Shieldwall

In my opinion, axes rule in the shieldwall, pure and simple. Yes,  a sword is faster and has far larger cutting edge- but in the confines of a shieldwall, it is difficult to use these traits to their full advantage. With an axe, you need less space to use it effectively, have the same range, and you can shorten or lengthen your weapon, depending on how close-quarters you get. An axeman is comfortable to get extremely close to his opponent, which is especially useful if your line is making a decisive push forward, something that swordsmen and especially spearmen cannot handle this well.



An axe is perfect for hooking shield and weapons in the enemy line. Simply hook an opponent’s shield down, hold it there for just a few seconds and wait for someone to put in that killing shot into the exposed body- this trick works best in tandem with a spearman, who can strike at an exposed body part the moment an axeman makes an opening. This makes axe-spear the deadliest weapon combination to face on the field, with much more versatility than just a pair of swords or even sword-spear, spear-spear combinations.

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In the same way you pull away shields, you may hook weapons, to keep the enemy occupied or to try to disarm them. Remember never to hook limbs, as this is dangerous, especially around knees, and to always pull down, when disarming or using a circular parry, to avoid a weapon flying through the air..


Axes are also ideal for defending against spears- due to their top-heavy balance and larger contact area, they are superb for knocking spears down, or to the side. A good axeman can defend against a spearman for ages, preventing him from making any kills, and making it easier for his own line.

In Single Combat

When fighting as an individual, an axeman must remember the limitations of his weapon- ie. he will always be slower than a swordsman of same ability and will almost always be outfenced by one. He will also have control over his weapon and have only a small cutting edge to make kills with.

But the answer to these limitation, is not to play the swordsman’s game- instead enforce your own rules of engagement.

By far, the most popular trick is this: you rush forward, fending off incoming blows with your shield. Once you are very close to your opponent (one, maybe two feet) you shorten your axe’s haft and then pull your opponents shield out of their way- strike for their chest as soon as it becomes exposed by pushing your axe into it. Performed with confidence and fluidity, this move wins axemen most of their fights- but it is also a widely known trick and your opponent will expect it, making it harder to pull off.



My personal favourite trick, is to attack the opponent’s weapon instead of their body, and attempt to take control of it. As soon as your opponent presents his weapon forward, strike for it, and try to hook your axe around it. Once you have your axe hooked on the opponent’s weapon, use a circular parry to move it out of your way, and step forward at the same time. Release your weapon, and use your shield to cover the enemy’s weapon, while you yourself strike for the exposed side/shoulder. This trick requires speed- to hook the weapon and move it out to one side, before the enemy can react- as well as good footwork, to ensure that when you step forward, you maintain your balance and you land exactly where you need to be in relation to your opponent. It is a more complicated technique and requires practice, but is very effective and may even result in your opponent loosing their grip on their weapon, and becoming disarmed.



Another vital technique to use, is feints- even though the axe is not as fast as a sword, feints can be performed with just as much success, but the technique needs a little adjusting. I find it easier to follow through with my initial attack, and allow my opponent to block it. Once I have made contact with the shield, or the weapon, then I put another shot, this time to a different body part, in the same instant. This technique relies on your opponent to over-commit to his defense, so the initial shot must be really “sold” to them. With enough speed and practice you should be able to make your next (“the real”) attack to connect with the body. As with most feints, this works best with a high-low feint: strike high, for the shoulder, and once the enemy has committed to defense and the blow has connected, with all speed you strike low, trying to get underneath the shield or past their weapon. This relies a lot on you being able to convincingly put in big, scary shots, forcing the opponent to commit fully to their defense.

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Shieldwork, is yet another very important element of using the axe effectively. I find, that with an axe, a flexible stance and active (even aggressive) shieldwork are required. What do I mean by it? Well, normally, a warrior will keep their shield static, only moving it as little as necessary, to parry incoming blows. I tend to move mine a lot instead, but always with a purpose in mind. I will actively put my shield in the way of an opponent’s weapon, almost “punching” into the blow, or follow their weapon around, wherever it goes. If I can, I will make sure that their weapon makes contact with my shield, so that I can feel where it is, and “glue” my shield to their weapon, to render it effectively useless. Often, I will try to hook my opponent’s shield away using my own, or to block their field of vision with it.

Parry-riposte is also very useful trick, where you parry a blow with a shield, and momentarily take control of the weapon, by forcefully pushing it, or skilfully rolling it, out of your way and to the side. At the same time, strike your opponent back, into the opening you have just created.

The above techniques are more advanced, and require very good footwork, flexible stance and fast reactions, as well as experience. A good idea is to practice slowly, at half-speed at first and gradually speed things up, as you become more confident using these techniques.


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Another trick, while simple, is rather brutal: simply batter the opponent into submission, launching attack after attack, left, right and centre. Keep your defence solid and keep on attacking, never giving them a moment’s rest. Advance forward and push on, and do not give the enemy a second’s respite. As a result, less experienced, or more timid warriors ( as well as those more used to “fencing matches” and “tappy shots”) will often make a mistake, either by loosing their balance, panicking or even becoming tired and slowing their reactions down. This technique requires aggression, control (be aggressive, but always safe and always pull your blows), stamina and good defense. More experienced or more naturally aggressive warriors will not fall for this trick, so judge your opponent wisely.


These are a majority of available techniques and tricks, but not an exhaustive list. Warriors with more years under their belts than myself will surely have something to add and improve!

Also, the techniques shown above would all be used by actual warriors on the battlefields of the Viking Age (they would not of course pull blows or be concerned with safety rules!). I hope this was an interesting and informative post- feel free to put your comments and add further to the topic!

The Axeman Cometh!


In today’s post I shall talk about the most iconic Viking weapon of all- the battle axe. It is always associated with the Vikings, as their weapon of choice. And yet, in reenactment, it is seldom used. Just look at any image of a shield-wall clash, and look what weapons are they using:


Swords, swords, swords, some spears, one or two axes here and there.

Why is that the case? Why does everyone use a sword? Mostly because the swords are “fancier” and because the axe gets a bad press, due to its alleged “clumsiness” and difficulty in use.


The axe often seems like the poor warrior’s choice, something one will use, before he gets the money to buy a “proper” weapon- the sword. In my humble opinion, this is a completely wrong idea!

Contrary to popular belief, axes are not clumsy, slow, or difficult to control. A well made, quality axe is fast, well balanced and a pleasure to use. It will go exactly where you want it to, stop when you wish, and it is capable of a whole range of nasty tricks to use on your opponents. Actual battle axes, like these below, were designed for speed, agility and cutting power:




Each axe would have slightly different properties, and the choice was much up to the individual warrior.

ImageAn axe is a wonderful weapon to use, if you know how- it is not in any way inferior to the sword, it just requires a different technique to use. It requires a direct approach and a certain aggressiveness, willingness to attack first and keep the pressure up. Let me outline to you some techniques you can use with the axe, to convince you how useful can it be:


Feinting- yes, it is possible, and I encourage it strongly! Because an axe is a chopping weapon, with all the weight and force on the top of it, it is easier to “sell” your attacks to the opponent. A wide swing for his body will provoke a reaction, as axe blows are harder and more difficult to stop than sword or spear blows, as well as generally more intimidating. Once your opponent has committed to a defence, you can swiftly change the direction of your attack (a light, well balanced axe can do it in a blink of an eye) and strike at the exposed parts of his body.

ImageHooking of shields- this is a powerful and widely used technique, using the axe shape and the leverage it gives you, you just hook it behind your opponents shield and pull it away from their body. Then, you can push your axe into their exposed body or slash across it, in one swift move.


Changing the range- oh yes, an axe can be used to fight a distance, as well as in extreme proximity, something a sword cannot do very well. When you are far from your opponent, use the whole length of the axe haft to strike from afar, or get face-to-face and simply slide your hand up the haft, making for a shorter weapon, ideal for close-quarters or tight spaces. Even better- start from afar, and as you deliver blows, get closer and closer, until you are almost stepping on your opponent. Then shorter your weapon and finish them, while they try to get away.


Disarming/taking control of weapons- yet another trick that uses the shape of the axe and the leverage it gives you. When you parry a blow from your opponent, you can use the axe to hook it round the weapon and using a simple circular parry, direct the weapon away from you, or even disarm your opponent completely. Than step in and hack them down at will. Note- do not use this against two handed spears or Dane axes. Their size and the fact they are held two handedly gives your opponent much more leverage then you have and you will loose in this situation.


Intimidation- psychological effect of an axe is not to be underestimated. When you rain blow after blow on your opponent, and always present the danger of disarming them or taking their shield away, it makes them intimidated. Also, when you constantly step on, and keep the pressure up, the enemy is more likely to make a mistake.

Unlike the sword, the axe is not good as a defensive weapon, and should be used for offensive. An axeman must be aggressive and ready to get close and personal and to deliver the first strike, but also must have solid defence to protect his advance. This is where many reenactors choose swords instead, as they allow a defensive style of combat, when you just wait for your enemy to over-commit on an attack, or use parry-riposte to defeat them. The axe is a very direct weapon and should be used as such.


The “axe-head effect”- this is a trick for a clever warrior, who knows the range and size of his weapon. You use the shape of the axe head to get to opponents body through his defence- even if the shield, or the weapon stops the blow, the axe head may still connect with the body if you place it smartly. You can target the shoulders with a straight blow, or step to the side and the the axe head around enemy’s shield. You may even get through a sword or spear parry, if you deliver the blow the right way. This obviously works better with longer axe-heads.


The Shield-Wall- the axe is a fantastic weapon to use in the tight spaces of a shield-wall. You can use it at full-length to attack and parry from a distance, or if the lines clash, shorten it and fight without any difficulty, while the swordsmen can barely get a good swing going! Also, the axe is great at knocking down opponent’s weapons, due to its extra weight at the top- this is especially true for spears.Also, with the axe you can hook opponents shields and open them up for a strike from your comrades. This works best at a distance, when you hook a shield and force it open, while your mate (preferably a spearman) gets the killing blow at the same time.

Last, but not least- the axes just look cool, and are such an iconic weapon. They also make for a great show combat and, since they force a more aggressive stance provide better entertainment value for the public.

Hopefully I have convinced you of the virtues of the axe- let us see more on the battlefield!

What are your thoughts on axes? Write down in the comments below!