Viking (and Dark Age) Combat Training Exercises

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So far, on my blog I have discussed various weapons and the more (and less) advanced techniques of using them in combat. I have discussed weapons individually, I talked about shields, there was even a generic training post in the early days. But what I have missed out up until now, was the training regime itself, other than mentioned in rather generic terms. As we all know, practice makes perfect. I heard once, that Olympic athletes say, you must repeat a motion 20,000 times, before your body and mind truly master it. With this in mind, I am going to talk about exercises, techniques and ideas for training in Dark Age combat. Without further ado, let us delve right into the long topic of training…

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1. Individual and Pair Exercises:

a) Sparring

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Simplest and most common way of getting better, at any kind of combat. Find an opponent and go at it. Again, and again. To keep things more organised, it is good to have a third person watching and telling you from an outsider’s point of view what you are doing right and what you should do differently. Swap partners as often as possible, to get a wider spectrum of opponents and challenges.

b) Half-Speed Sparring

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This is when things get a little different. Just as before, find an opponent, and go at it- only this time, do EVERY move at half the normal speed. The idea here, is to build up muscle memory, so the moves you make come out naturally, almost as a reflex; but also to give you and your opponent time to think through and observe each action and it’s effects. Everything is much slower, so you have plenty of time to analyse, think about each move and see exactly where the move is or isn’t working. It is important (and a tad difficult) to make sure EACH AND EVERY move is done at half speed, by both opponents. It is harder, and more tiring , than might seem at first! Again, it is a good idea to have an outsider watching and giving you feedback.

c) Figure of Eight- Standing and Moving

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As an individual, practice both your footwork and your attacks and defense in this simple exercise. Walk forwards and backwards performing the eight basics attacks (head, shoulders, sides, legs, thrust), then do this whilst standing still. While it may seem it is not doing much, you are still practicing your footwork, and control of your weapon and shield, as well as your general stance. Use both “shield” and “sword” stance, “shuffle” and “waddle” walk, stationary position, moving backwards and forwards. Never underestimate the importance of this exercise, because, as any combat specialist will tell you, if your feet are in the wrong place, chances are everything else is. Strength, control and balance all come from the roots: make sure you train yours!

d) Accuracy Training

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On a flat surface, put some suitable targets, you can hit with your weapon. Cones, sticks stuck in the ground, old furniture, punching bag or even a cardboard cutout of yourself- anything will do. Take your weapon and hit the targets, in a random order, making sure you hit SAME EXACT SPOT each time (mark it maybe, or just try to hit top of a target, or some specific part of it, as long as you know exactly where your blow is supposed to land). Spread the targets around, so you are forced to turn and move as you strike. The aim of this exercise is to develop accuracy and confidence in delivering an attack. If you can consistently hit top of a cone whilst striking fast and moving around, you should be able to hit an exposed part of an opponent’s body with equal precision. When repeated enough, this exercise will help you to hit where yo aim, and make sure each blow lands where it is supposed to, safely and accurately, as well as with lethal speed. Repeat the exercise at half speed and full speed, making sure you do not form a pattern, but strike randomly. The more often you do this, the better.

e) Play with weapons

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Try different stances, and weapons, Try different grips, Spin a weapon around, jab it in the air, practice pirouettes, try out new moves on imaginary opponents. Any form of “play” will do, as long as you keep doing it. A warrior must be intimately familiar with his weapons and protective equipment, to use it effectively. You weapons and shield should be extensions of your body, your armour should feel like second skin. Make sure you know the feel and the balance of all of them and that you are used to wielding them; otherwise, handling something you only use twice a month, you will never achieve the result you aim for.

2. Group exercises:

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And now, let us take a look, at training exercises done in groups. The more, the merrier, and I would recommend group size of 8-16 as ideal, but let’s face it; you will want to use as many people as you have available, and if your group has 50 members ready to train, then good on you!

a) Circles- with and without Honour

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This is simply sparring, but on a bigger scale. We start, by getting all the participants to form a rough circle and raise their weapons, once they are ready. If the Circle is with Honour, contestants will engage in honourable one-on-one duels, with no backstabbing, ganging-up and no alliances. Each duel lasts till the first Valid Hit scored on your opponent- losers lie down dead or leave the circle, while the winners find a new opponent. This goes on, until a lone victor remains, who is the overall winner of the circle. With the Circle is Without Honour, anything goes, and every dirty trick imaginable is allowed.

b) Circle of Infinity- individual and warbands

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The idea is exactly the same, as above, but with one important difference- when the person who killed you, is in turn killed by someone else, you are allowed to go back into the Circle and fight again. When you are killed, all those whom you have defeated are going back into the Circle. This takes a lot longer to find a victor, and sometimes may go on for what like seems forever (hence the name). There comes a point though, at which one person manages to defeat all of their opponents, and win the Circle. This exercise, while a lot longer, does allow for more fun for all the participants, and it does mean, you get several chances to win, and ultimately more practice.

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When the Circle of Infinity is played with warbands, the difference id, that warriors group into bands of between 3 to 6 warriors, and fight it out as units. Each time a warrior is killed, he/she goes to a designated spot known as “the dead-pile” or “the re-spawn”. Once there are enough dead warriors there, they form a new warband, and enter the competition again. This time, there is no single unit which wins, but rather the exercise goes on, until everyone has had enough. The idea here, is that not only you learn to work in a unit, you also learn to work with a variety of warriors and weapon combinations, against largest possible variety of opponents.

c) Hunting Parties

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Very simple exercise, where bands of between 3 to 6 warriors compete against each other, just as they would in a Circle of Honour. Warriors practice tactics, mobility, battlefield awareness and working as a small unit, as well as finding solutions for problems encountered in combat. It is important, while fighting other warbands, to have some sort of a plan- this exercise helps warriors to practice coming up with various stratagems, as well as honing their leadership skills.

d) Shieldwall- Infinite Shieldwall

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This time, two opposing groups form their respective shieldwalls, and fight it out, until one side is vanquished. Just like with the Hunting Parties, warriors practice the most essential skills with combat, and this form of fighting is the most common and important to Dark Age combat. Formation, tactics, battlefield awareness, individual skills, team work- they all come into play in the shieldwall, and it is in the shieldwall, that the warriors are truly tested. Infinite shieldwall means, that units behave, as if they were in the middle of a huge shieldwall, with no flanking, running round sides etc. The only way to go is forward- towards the enemy and their blades. Most essential exercise for any group that takes reenactment combat seriously, shieldwall must be practiced at every conceivable opportunity, as often, and for as long as possible.

e) Formation Practice

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This set of exercises focuses on various aspects of what one might call a “Viking Age military drill”. Shieldwall is more than just two straight lines clashing, and there are various manoeuvres involved, some more, some less common. Wheel, about-turn, advancing, retreating, reforming, receiving a berserker, forming two lines, forming one line, adopting shield-burh formation, forming a boar-snout… Things can get pretty complicated! It is important to have a person (preferably multiple people) in the group, who know how to perform these maneuvers and who can instruct and drill the others. Formation practice is equally as important as combat practice, as without it, it is very hard to keep discipline and cohesion within a fighting unit, not to mention that if you never practice, say, about-turn, you will not be able to perform one, when called upon to do so. Now, wouldn’t that be embarrassing…

f) Rotating Shieldwall

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It is a variation of the traditional shieldwall, where warriors, after each clash is concluded, rotate clock-wise, to shift places within their formation, and ultimately join the opposing team. Say you start in the middle of a 6 man wall. After first clash is finished and one side has won, each warrior moves along one space clockwise, so you will end up second from left. One more clash, you end up at the end of your line. After one more clash, you will join the opposing team, while a warrior from the opposition’s left-most flank will join yours. Usually this goes on, until everyone is back in their original spot. What makes this exercise great, is that you sometimes end up with uneven, or bizarrely arranged sides, teaching you to fight when odds are stack-up against you, or in your favour, and to deal with a variety of opponents and weapons combinations, as well as how to cope when forced into a certain spot in a formation.

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And there we go: a run down of some of the most important (and my favourite) exercises and training regimes. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I have encountered many exercises I have not mentioned here, and I am sure there are some I have not yet heard of. For the sake of keeping things manageable, I have not gone into too much detail about each training technique, and I rely on the reader’s common sense and experience when attempting to replicate any of the above. Do you have any comments on these exercises? Have you got any you would like to share, which I have not included? Feel free to comment and discuss below. Until next time!

 

Guide to using a spear

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Today, I present to you a guide on using a spear in reenactment combat. I will only discuss one-handed spear, as using spear in two hands is a topic deserving of a separate discussion in itself.

In my experience, using spear is one of those disciplines , which takes seconds to learn, and years to master. After all, a spear is just a long stick, with a metal point. To quote Zorro “pointy end goes in the other man”. Couldn’t be simpler! But, there are many ways in which to “stick the pointy end” in your opponent, and techniques, that ensure combat is both safe and entertaining, while remaining competitive.

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1- Hold it right!

Many of you will probably turn around and ask, why would anyone need rules on how to hold a spear. Well, there are some- every reenactment society will have different ones, and to keep this post at a manageable length, I will only quote rules from The Vikings society, which I am a member of.

There are just a few simple rules to follow:

Spear must be held in middle-third of it’s length. No ice-pick grip or holding it at the very end, to gain leverage or more reach. Reasons? Historical accuracy is one(show me one, just one historical reference to anyone ever holding a spear in combat by the very end of the shaft, I dare you…). Safety is another, as with gripping spear by the end you have little control and by using it as an ice-pick you can injure someone, or loose control (remember, there is some 4-6 feet of shaft behind you). Combat effectiveness is the last reason- by holding spear in the middle you get the best mix of reach, control, balance and speed.

Spear must be held overhand or underhand, with no couching it under your arm. The point of a spear must always point downwards, never upwards (this is to prevent face injuries, as when spear point’s up and you thrust with it, your opponent’s face is naturally where the point will go towards). This is again for safety reasons. In actual combat, you would happily stab people in the face- in reenactment, we avoid it at all costs.

That’s about it- also remember to always have both your feet planted on the ground, when making an attack with a spear.

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2- Hit zones:

When using a spear, hit zones is exactly the same as with any other weapon- the only difference is, you are not supposed to perform thrusts to the opponent’s legs. Instead, you should push the spear point past their leg and slash against it. This is to prevent knee injuries and leg injuries, which can be quite severe, when thrusting is involved. Thrusting to other body areas is fine, as long as it is done under control and blows are pulled.

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3- Defending with a spear:

While spear can be used to parry or deflect blows, it is not very good at it. Not only will vibrations caused by hits to the spearshaft make it difficult to hold on to the weapon, but also, if parry is not good enough you may loose control of your weapon, or have it batted out of your hand. Generally best way to defend is to use your shield, and/or dodge incoming blows. If you must parry with a spear, it is best to do it, using overhand grip, with spear tip pointing down. In this way, you can defend yourself rather well, while maintaining control of your weapon- simple move the spear to intercept any incoming blows. Major disadvantage however, is that you loose the ability to attack effectively. Defending with underhand grip is hard and I would not recommend it, unless you have no other option.

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4- Advantages of a spear:

Reach! While using a spear, you generally outreach most of your opponents. It is a huge advantage, especially while fighting in formation, where spears really come to the fore. The ability to hit an opponent while being out of their reach is a tremendous advantage. and any spearman must ensure to maximize it in combat. In a shieldwall, spears rule, and it is the spearmen who decide outcome of many battles. Remember, that with the extended reach, you have the ability to pick and choose your targets, and also engaged more than one person. As long as you have someone next to you with a hand weapon to parry incoming blows, you can concentrate on picking out enemy warriors.

Speed. While other weapons rely on slashing and hacking, with a spear you thrust to make an attack. As the fastest route between two points is a straight line, a thrusting attack tends to be faster then a slashing one. Spearmen can really take advantage of this, and thrust at incredible speeds- not only to kill their opponents, but simply to make nuisance of themselves, and force their opponents on the defensive. Sometimes, simply by putting in a blow against a shield, you can distract an opponent, or make then take a step back. This is very useful when holding a gap in a line, or trying to make a break-through. You would be surprised how many warriors I have seen retreat, or fail to attack, simply because I have been thrusting at their shields like mad with my spear, forcing them on the defensive by speed and ferocity of my attacks- none of which aimed to score a hit, but simply to create a psychological effect.

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Easy to use. To learn basic techniques of spearfighting takes very little time, and there are not many advanced techniques, unlike with a sword or an axe. Spear is a very straightforward weapon, but one which takes years of practice to master. There are some very nifty tricks for spearmen too (like using your spear to disarm your opponent, or performing a circular parry with it), but I would only recommend them if you have learned all the basics and are sure you can control your weapon and your blows at all times in the heat of a fight.

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5- Disadvantages of a spear:

Reach. Wait, what!? Yes, you read it right. Look at your spear. 4-6 feet of wood, ending with a pointy metal tip. Which bit inflicts damage? The metal bit. What happens when someone comes within 4 feet of you? You stab them with the metal bit. What happens when they are 2 feet away, or at a “bad breath distance”? Oh-oh. Once your opponent has made it past your spear-point you cannot harm them anymore. All you can do is retreat, to gain more distance, or defend like mad. Or abandon your spear in favour of a close-combat weapon. This is a big disadvantage of a spear, because one the enemy comes to close, it becomes useless. Keep that in mind, and always be ready to retreat/move away, or if you cannot, make sure you have someone with you who can deal with close-quarters melee. This is why it is important to have plenty of spears in a shieldwall, but even more important not to have TOO MANY spears in a shielwall.

Vulnerable in defense. As discussed above, defending with a spear, while possible, is not the most effective defense. Best thing to do, is to keep enemies at a distance and use your shield to good effect.

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6- Fighting techniques:

By far, the most common technique with a spear is a feint. Thanks to it’s speed, spear is really good at feinting, and with added reach you can exploits gaps in defense more easily. As discussed in my previous posts, the principles of a feint always remain the same: make it seem like you strike in one spot, while you actually do it somewhere else entirely. Deception, after all, is the basis of the art of war!

Waiting for a gap. This is not so much a  technique in itself, but just something spearmen do. because of your reach, you can attack not just the person in front, or immediately to your side- you can attack further down the line as well. Wait and watch your opponents, spear ready, to see if any of them will step out of line, lower their shield, or turn around a bit. As soon as you see a gap… Bang! Thrust right in, to score that Hit (or slash if it is a leg you are aiming for). This is probably my favorite thing about a spear, and I hope you will see why. All I need is for an opponent to make a mistake, and they are out. And believe me, in the heat of the battle we all leave ourselves exposed at one point or another. All a spearman must do is wait for the right moment to strike.

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One very useful trick I will discuss, is opening of the opponent’s shield. When in a fight, strike at the opponent’s shield, to the side opposite their weapon-hand. You will notice, if you push hard enough, that the shield will “open” and your opponents’s body becomes exposed. This is because you apply plenty of force to one spot, which a warrior holding a shield cannot do. The laws of bio-mechanics do the work for you! Once your opponent is exposed, you can do one of two things. You can: A) Wait for a comrade to attack the enemy while he is “open”. Perfect for teams of two spearmen, or fighting in a formation. B) Withdraw your weapon as fast as you can and attacking the still exposed body of your opponent. This requires plenty of speed and practice, but is deadly in a one-to-one fight. There are several more tricks and techniques spearmen use, but these are better left out in favour of more basic techniques, which will still do the job just as well.

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7- Practice:

Spear is a weapon, which you can train with very easily. All you need is the spear itself, some room and something to hit. Every technique I have discussed can be practiced with the very basic equipment, and you can do it almost anywhere. Spear is a weapon, which though rather simple in it’s use, does require a lot of repetition. You will use same styles and same hits over and over, and though it may seem too simplistic to even bother, believe me, without this constant repetition no one can become a good spearman. So, if you feel like giving it a go, go get yourself a spear and try it out. If you are using one already, compare your experiences to what I have described here- is there anything you would add?

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Til next time!

 

 

How to use a shield- shieldwall/formation

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The question posed in the topic may seem a redundant one at first- after all a shield is just something you put in front on the body to take the blows. But is it really all that simple? Anyone who has been doing combat for a while will know, that there is more to using a shield than getting it in the way of the blow.

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Using a shield is a large topic, and therefore I will split it into two posts- one about formation and one about single combat.

First one to go, is the shieldwall. Most of reenactment fighting is done in formation, be it war-bands, hunting parties, or shieldwall clashes. In all of the above use of the shield is essential, and each one needs a slightly different approach.

1. Basic stance

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In shieldwalls and in loose formations, best way to hold a shield is square in front of youd body, some 6 inches away from you, keeping it straight. Do not put the shield too high up or under your chin, because hits to the shield may cause you injury- I have seen people getting hit in their faces by their own shields simply because they held them too high, or at a wrong angle. Firm hold and good stance are essential. Do not put the shield too low either, because that will expose your chest and shoulders to hits, which means your battle-line career may be very short lived, and consist mostly of staring at the sky as a battlefield casualty. When in stance, put your shield leg(usually the left, if your are right-handed) in front, bend your knees slightly and keep feet wide, in an L shape, firmly on the ground.

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2. Adopting a shieldwall

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When warriors form a shieldwall, they overlap their shields, to form a barrier, with each shield locked by 2 others on either side of the warrior- exactly like a hoplite phalanx. When holding a shield in this formation, keep it perfectly straight, with your elbow touching your shield. When interlocking, push out with your elbow against your partner’s shield, while pulling in with your hand at the same time against your other partner’s shield, In this way, by creating even pressure, shields are kept tightly locked and even a large, burly viking running at full speed should not break through the formation, but be repelled- as if hitting a wall.

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3. Using the shield to defend

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In this formation, shield should not move a lot relatively to each other, as this breaks up the formation. Blows to the upper body should be parried with your weapon if they are directed at your shoulders or taken on the shield if directed at the chest. To defend lower body you may quickly put your shield down, and bring it straight back up. A shieldwall relies on everyone keeping formation and keeping their shields locked- it is when this formation breaks up, that a battle is lost or won, therefore your shield should move as little as possible and only when necessary. Shieldwall combat consists mostly of parrying incoming blows and so it is important to parry with your weapon as well as the shiled and only strike when an opportunity presents itself.

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Larger shields are more useful in the shieldwall, as they cover more of your body, and do not require moving a lot. Beware of creating too large shields though, because if a man holding a 38″ shield is slain, this creates a huge gap in the wall through which enemies can push through- this is when the discipline, training and skill of the warriors in formation comes into play, as their task is to cover the gap without breaking their own shieldwall.

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Smaller shields are less useful in the middle of a formation, but can be very handy at the edges of it, where warrior are more liable to split off or try to flank the opponent. Greater maneuverability of smaller shields helps greatly when it comes to more flexible fighting required at the flanks- though large shields can and are used there too. There are no set rules about which shield goes where, and a lot will depend on individual preference and battlefield situation.

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A lot of the time your opponents will try to force your shield open, hook it out of position, or take control of it to create a gap. This is when keeping together a s a formation becomes hugely important, because a shieldwall is like a chain- only a strong as its weakest link. Hand axes, two-handed spears, dane axes all can be successfully used to hook shields, or force them out of the formation by using leverage. Experience and discipline will prevent this from happening, but only if your train, you will be prepared to deal with these situations. Keep your shield in the wall, stay together with your unit and be aware of what is happening around you- remember that the killing blow seldom comes from the man you are facing, but mostly from those to your side, with attacks you do not see coming. Keeping your shield in a good position is essential to counter those blows.

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Sometimes a shieldwall may adopt a more loose formation, where instead of locking shields together, warriors will keep them “rim to rim” or with tiny gaps left between them. Same will happen when fighting skirmishes between war-bands and hunting parties. This allows for a greater freedom of movement, so you can move your shield more freely, and move about as and when needed around the battlefield- but remember to stay in formation, and keep the shield in a good stance, straight in front of you at all times.

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Important- never angle your shield towards your face when in a shieldwall, this may cause glancing blows to come up and hit your head or face, causing serious injury. Nor should you angle it downwards, as this will leave you vulnerable to hits on the shoulders and chest, and make it easy to hook your shield with an axe or force it open with a spear thrust.

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4. Using a shield in an attack

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When attacking in a formation, it is equally important- nay, imperative- to keep up your defence. One can parry incoming blows all day, but it is usually when one puts in an attack, that the killing blow comes in. When attacking do not expose parts of your body, keep your shield in front and locked with other warriors. Be aware of your surroundings, and always be ready to parry or attack as opportunity presents itself- but the golden rule is, keep your defence tight, and keep your shield in a good position, ready to parry.

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When advancing, same rules apply, keep pushing, stay in formation, keep the line and move as a unit- all the while keeping your shield in an optimum position, at a right angle and right in front of you. Important- do not press your shield tight against your body, but keep it away some 6-8 inches. In this way, you have better control over the shield and more freedom of movement, plus, should any blow penetrate the shield- and I have seen it happen plenty of times- the weapon will not strike directly at your body.

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Hopefully with the basic tips above you will have a better understanding of how to use a shield when in battle. Obviously there are some more advanced techniques, but these are best taught in training, with your fellow warriors. Remember- it is training that makes perfect, and shield training is one of, if not the most, important things you will do as a warrior.

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Hand Axe- a closer look

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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!

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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.

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Safety Measures

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This time, I am going to talk a little bit more about how we, the warriors keep ourselves safe on the battlefield. Viking and early medieval combat displays are very exciting events, that gather a lot of attention. The reenactors always ensure that the displays are dramatic, entertaining, competitive and as close to the historical combat techniques as practicable, whilst also remaining safe for all those involved.

It is fairly easy, when it comes to public safety- separate battlefield/fighting arena, double set of ropes, instructions from the organizers, signs etc.

But how do the fighters keep themselves from harm?

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1. The Equipment

Warriors use protective equipment, to keep safe. Some of it mandatory, some optional. Let us start with a couple of mandatory items:

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Gloves. Possibly the least authentic bit of gear we use, as the Vikings or their counterparts would not use them. A thick mitten or leather-reinforced gauntlet will not stop a sword blow cutting your fingers off. But it will stop a blunt weapon from breaking your fingers, by taking most of the force away from the blow. Without appropriately armoured gloves, a reenactor’s career would be very short and painful indeed, and finger/hand injuries are the most common ones seen on the field.

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Helmets. Although not every reenactment society makes them mandatory, the one I am a member of does, and for a good reason. Head injuries can be very serious, and face injuries are not uncommon. A helmet provides essential protection to a warrior’s head, and gives him extra safety when getting into closely-packed shieldwall combat, where it is very easy for a blow to go astray.

Now, onto the optional pieces of protection, starting with the most basic and obvious one- a shield. No explanation necessary, I trust, and although it is not mandatory, as some warriors are using  two-handed weapons, or maybe a weapon in each hand, each warrior owns one, because hand weapon + shield is the most common and basic weapon combination in reenactment.

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Arm-guards. Again, not every warrior is using them- but I can attest to the fact, that they are very useful indeed. Made of thick, hardened leather, and cut into an appropriate shape, they are great at taking the “sting” out of a blow. The protection they offer to forearms and elbows has saved many a warrior from bruises, cuts and fractured bones. Especially, when a warrior uses an aggressive style of combat, or likes getting close to his enemies, thus exposing himself to more blows. In that situation, arm-guard are just amazing.

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Padded armour. Otherwise known as gambesons. a gambeson will protect the warrior’s torso, legs and shoulders, as well as his arms. Made of multiple layers of batting and cloth, padded armour is amazing at absorbing kinetic force of the attack, and in doing so, preventing injuries. It is also a very good-looking piece of kit, and warriors wearing it appear more fearsome, and look more like professional warriors, ready for battle. The authenticity of padded armour in the Viking age is still disputed, but  so far no one has come up with evidence, that it was not used, and so, it is allowed, with appropriate materials and patters being used. And did I mention, it looks cool?

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Chain Mail. The best, most costly form of armour in the Viking age, mail offers supreme protection to its user. It is great at stopping cuts and was the dominant form of armour for many hundreds of years. Mail comes in many varieties, and a warrior may have a small “t-shirt”, or a full-length suit of armour, depending of his preference and availability of cash. Historically,  mail was very expensive and only the richest and the elite warriors could afford one. In reenactment, mail is used as an elite kit item, representing warriors wealth and status- but it also offers great protection from incoming attacks, by absorbing their force. Plus, it looks even better than padded armour, and make a warrior seem truly formidable!

Miscellaneous. Many warriors also use additional protective equipment, such as modern knee-braces, or elbow pads, even jaw guards. Whilst not really authentic, these items can, and do prevent many injuries on vulnerable parts of the body, and warriors with long years of experience will tell you, that they area very good investment.

But equipment is not everything! even with blunt and rounded-off weapons, helmets and all protection imaginable, injuries would happen everyday if not for the most important factor- the warriors and their training.

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2. The Warriors

Each warrior, who takes part in a combat display, must do so in a safe and controlled manner. It does not suffice to say “ok, I will be careful, not to take someone’s eye”. Each warrior must pass a series of safety and combat tests, to make sure he/she knows what they are doing. It takes skill and practice, to learn to use weapons in an entertaining, accurate and safe manner.

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For each weapon they use, a warrior must pass a competency test, to prove he/she is able to use it safely and with skill. Warriors train regularly, and training officers watch over them, to make sure safety rules are adhered to. Whilst in combat, there are rules by which warriors must abide. There are body parts, we may not attack (head for example), blows we cannot perform (like thrusts). Warriors must also “control” their blows and “pull” them, when making contact with another warriors body.

What does it mean? It means, that the blow is made to look like it can kill, but is actually very precisely controlled, and never hits the opponent at a full force, but only hard enough to make it look convincing. Warriors are taught techniques, that make their attacks look vicious and deadly, whilst remaining fully controlled.

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Warriors, and their training are the most important part of our safety system. It is a game after all, a hobby, and we want to make it safe for all those involved. Accidents and injuries do happen, as it is a combat sport. From common bruises, to serious injuries requiring hospital attention- but such occurrences are rare, and very seldom something actually happens, though many times warriors come close to an accident. It is because of our level of competency, safety rules and equipment, that we are able to enjoy our hobby, and share it with the public, for the benefit of all.

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