Javelin- introduction to being a skirmisher

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After a long winter hibernation, it is high time for another post on the blog. This time, I am going to talk about a weapon which is not seen very often on the battlefield. It does however have a huge potential and is tremendous fun to use- the javelin.

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For thousands of years Javelineers were used in armies throughout the world and the dark age armies were no different. Javelins have been used by skirmishing units to harass the enemy, kill or encumber them and their mounts and in outflanking maneuvers. Mainline units also utilized the javelin, be it just prior to engaging in combat, or as a weapon of opportunity throughout the battle.

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Javelin is a very effective weapon, when used right. Heavier and larger than an arrow, but smaller than a spear, javelins could inflict some serious damage, even on an armoured foe. It did have it’s limitation: a shorter range and less power than an arrow or a sling, you could only take a limited number on a battlefield. It did have some serious advantages though, mainly that it was capable of rendering enemy shields near useless by getting stuck in them. It was good for killing horses, due to it’s superior weight. A man throwing a javelin could still benefit from a shield and fight in a shield wall, whereas an archer could not. Also, a javelin took a lot less practice than a bow and it did not require such strict maintenance, so it was easier to equip large number of warriors with them.

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But enough of a historical note- time to consider how a javelin is used in reenactment combat. The most important thing about it, is that a javelin IS NOT a competitive weapon. It is used FOR DISPLAY only and javelineers will never aim to “kill” their opponent- they will only ever throw their missiles against a shield. Why do they not use their javelins in competitive combat? The reasons for this are pretty obvious. A javelin is essentially a small spear, with a lot of weight behind it compared to an arrow or a slingshot. As opposed to reenactment arrow, it has a metal head. Even when used as a hand weapon it can cause grievous harm. In order to hit a target, a javelin must be thrown with a considerable force, otherwise it will fall short or loose direction. When thrown properly,  a javelin has enough force to easily break bone and pierce flesh. No one wants to be at a receiving end of a metal-tipped projectile, weighing some 2kg, moving at a speed approaching that of an arrow. In addition to that, a javelineer, once he has loosed the javelin, has no control over the projectile. This means, if anything untoward happens, there is no way to pull or stop the blow. It is for these reasons, that javelins are restricted as “display” weapons, only used against shields, in order to demonstrate a missile attack. It is also perhaps why javelins are seldom seen, as many warriors sadly deem them redundant.

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Despite the fact that it cannot be used in competitive battles (until the reenactors find a way to use a javelin safely, which we are working on for some time now and may eventually find an acceptable solution), a javelin is huge fun to use. It gives an extra dynamic to a fight, with a “missile” phase of the battle sometimes being just as exiting to watch and to participate in  as the hand-to-hand combat. Imagine advancing towards your enemy, as their archers loose waive after waive of arrows, and the slingers hurl their shots at your line. As you get closer, lightly armoured skirmishers approach and hurl javelins, which thud heavily against the shields in your line, only to retreat after discharging their missiles. Finally, as the lines are about to clash, more missiles come your way, with arrows flying high, slingshots going past your heads, or thumping warriors on their bodies and last of the javelins hitting your line, with maybe some even piercing weaker shields and getting stuck for good.

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It is a whole battle onto itself, never mind the combat! I know from experience, that a determined javelin assault can slow down, buckle or disrupt an advancing line, even though all those involved know that javelins cannot be used to score valid Kills. The sheer mass and force of the javelins, together with psychological effect of their use is enough, especially against less experienced warriors. Also, let’s not forget, that a javelin can achieve some impressive distances, up to even 25 meters (usually it is thrown from 4-7 meters) which is not that far off a small bow. Some of the best javelineers can even achieve longer distances, approaching those of actual athletes. Using a javelin is a test of skill, accuracy, daring and stamina. Not only that, you also get to show off some more, as javelineers often skirmish ahead of the main army and form a focal point of early stages of the battle. Javelin display is also one of the more impressive elements of a battle, with onlookers frequently excited (or frightened!) by a well done display. No longer are you confined to being just another shield in a wall! Instead you are a daring, dashing skirmisher, you dart in and out in front of your hapless foes, and pepper them with missiles, that often cause an advancing line of steel, wood and flesh to buckle, slow down or even retreat under fire. You get to be a hero for a short moment and you get the rush and the joy of standing out from the crowd, whilst performing some of the most dangerous and demanding tasks on a battlefield.

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So, now that I had have you hooked (hopefully!), time for some practical considerations. How does one use a javelin effectively? See some pointers below:

  1. Forget the usual stance and combat style. Whilst throwing a javelin, you will inevitably end up out of balance, not covered by shield, not facing the enemy the right way etc. This is fine. All you need to do, is be able to get away, or resume your fighting stance fast in things get too close and personal.
  2. Hold it right. Hold your javelin either like you would a dart (with tips of your fingers), or as athletes do, resting it on the palm of your hand. Hold the javelin at the balance point, or just behind. If throwing long distance, you might want to hold it slightly further back, this will allow you to generate more energy with same motion (try it as an experiment- hold the javelin close to its tip, then throw. With each throw hold it further back, until you hold it just a foot away from the end. You will notice, that the throw gets easier and the distance increases the further back you hold the javelin).
  3. Aim. Always keep eye on your target, but do not aim for too long, as this will throw you off. Just like with a bow- nock, draw, loose, no faffing about. Eye on the target, set and throw. Remember, that over distance javelin will tend to dip down, until it hits the ground, so take it into account (Personally I find it helpful to see the very tip of my javelin in the corner of my eye as I aim, but some find it distracting).
  4. Use the Force. A javelin must be thrown hard, in order to fly straight and true, otherwise it will fall short of it’s target, or change it’s course too easily. Do not be afraid to put some considerable force in the throw- after all, there is a plank of wood (also known as the shield) between you and your opponent, so they should be safe. It helps if you manage to put a spin on a javelin (especially for longer throws) as it flies more like an arrow, straighter and more accurately.
  5. Assess the risk. As a javelineer, you must be conscious that you can easily injure someone, especially if you take them unawares. ALWAYS make sure your target knows they are about to receive a javelin (usually a short moment of eye contact and a nod suffices). Do not throw, if you feel unsafe about it, if the target is too far, moving too fast, or does not know you are about to throw. Consider weather conditions, slippery grass, slope etc. and make your assessment. If in doubt- DO NOT THROW. And, just to reiterate, ALWAYS make eye contact with target before throwing. If your intended target indicates that they are not ready, or do not wish to receive the javelin, move on to someone else. Due to the nature of the weapon you could easily kill or maim with it, and each time you use it, you must use common sense and judgement. This is why javelin requires skill and experience and not many warriors choose to use it.
  6. Be like a flowing stream. By which I mean, move fast, with fluidity and try to avoid getting into sticky situations. Javelineers usually serve as skirmishers, so they move a lot, run fast, hit hard and retreat quickly. You are there to run around flanks, harass a main line, protect your archers, or delay an enemy. This is not the tank core! Welcome to the skirmishing world, where melee is avoided and keeping in line doesn’t matter. It is a different type of fight altogether and not suitable for everyone.
  7. Show some panache! Scream, make faces, shout insults and make as much noise as you like. Move fast and hit hard. You are there to make a show and to distract, so do it in style!
  8. Do not overburden yourself. Carry no more than 3-4 javelins, and do not bother with more than two other weapons. Not only does it look silly, it also impedes your own moves and effectiveness.
  9. Release the javelin at the right moment. Draw your arm back, stretch it out, then bring it forwards and throw. Release just as your hand passed your shoulders, and keep your arm straight as you do so. You do not want to send your javelin spinning to the side, but keep it flying straight, so make sure your arm moves in a straight line and not in a curve.
  10. Use your wrist. By giving the javelin a “flick” or a “push” with your wrist just as you release it, you add power to the throw. It is a hard move to explain, but see someone do it, or watch athletes compete in javelin throw and you will see what I mean.
  11. Aim at shields only. Never aim anywhere else than an opponents shield (ideally just under the boss) or just short of your opponent. Safety first!
  12. Make sure you have plenty of practice, to co-ordinate your arm and your eye. Just like when throwing a dart, the eye picks a target and the arm should adjust the height, angle and force of the throw to hit the intended target. Also make sure you practice in your wargear, as throwing a javelin while wearing a helmet, gauntlets and a shield is a lot different to what you may know from your sports class.

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Using a javelin is a demanding task, as it is actually a lot more dangerous than other weapons we use, due to the fact that it is being thrown and not directly in your control. It requires skill, co-ordination and practice, but it is HUGE fun to use. It is a different kind of a fight. Personally, I would like to see more javelins used on the battlefield, as they make for a great show and add great dynamic to any fight. The biggest reason why we do not see many javelineers, is the fact that a javelin cannot be used competitively- a fact that hopefully may change in the future. In the meantime, I would like to encourage everyone to give javelin a go and see for themselves what a great weapon it is to use.

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How to fight with a viking age sword

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After a long time without a post (life does get in the way every now and again) it is time for a new post, which will cover the most glorified weapon of them all: the sword.

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The sword was a weapon pure and simple, with no other utility. It’s purpose- to kill. It was an equivalent of a quality car back in the Dark Ages, and only the rich and the professionals could afford one. Swords were beautiful, efficient and glorious tools of slaughter. But how does one use a sword in reenactment combat?

“Hit them!” some might say- well, they are not far off… But sword is more sophisticated to use than any other weapons and allows a wide variety of techniques, most of which other weapons have great trouble duplicating. In this article, I will cover the basics of Dark Age swordsmanship, to give you pointers on how to get familiar with it, and what to avoid, when waiving your shiny piece of steel about.

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1. The principles

A Viking Age sword is a hacking weapon, first and foremost. It’s weight, balance, size and breadth all speak volumes about how it was used. This is not a fencing sword, or a rapier. You must keep this in mind when using the sword, as it will be rather different from swords from later periods, or indeed earlier ones. A sword must be held firmly, but gently, to allow flexibility of movement. Use hacking, rather than thrusting- and not just for practical reasons, but also for safety. A thrust carries a lot more force than a cut, therefore there is a greater potential for injury, especially with a naturally heavier blade.

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When attacking, same principles apply as with other weapons: eight areas of attack, and eight of defence. Blows to the head are forbidden in our combat system, but we teach how to defend against them just in case.

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A sword is different from other weapons in the fact, that it can be very effectively used as a defensive weapon, and is therefore better suited for less aggressive warriors. But, it can equally well serve as purely offensive weapon, and with (usually) double-edged blade, and between 30 to 40 inches of killing edge, there is a lot more you can do, than say with an axe, which can only “kill” with a short blade on it’s head.

When striking, a warrior uses the edge, not the point of the blade, and always pulls the blow to the body, to prevent injury.

2. The techniques, the tricks and some advice:

When using a sword, it is a lot easier to make feints and change direction of an attack, due to different balance of the weapon. Look the example below:

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A warrior can rapidly change direction and speed of an attack, thanks to more evenly spread balance. Sword point can travel a large distance with just a small move of a hand, at great speed, with less effort than a spear or an axe would usually require.

Cross guard of a sword is very useful in taking control of enemy’s weapons and performing circular parries. When in a bind, the closer the bind point is to the cross guard, the more control you have over it, thanks to better leverage. This is known as “strong” or “weak” bind, whereas “weak” bind means you have very little control over it, and must apply a lot of force, to force leverage, as oppose to a situation, when you can control the bind with little effort.

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Thanks to principles of “strong” and “weak” bind, a sword can be used to create openings in the opponent’s defence. In this photo, a combatant uses a bind to move opponent’s weapon out of the way, and then to attack as soon as a space becomes available.

In defence, a sword can parry effectively and hold a blow well, while being better at swift counter attacks, than most other weapons.

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Sword is great at medium-range, but becomes a lot less useful in close quarters. Be aware of it, and be prepared to either retreat from an advancing opponent, or deter them from advancing by putting up appropriate response, for example a series of attacks, or a side-step, or a dogged, unflinching defensive stance.

Using a shield in tandem with a sword is a great way to exploit openings in your opponent’s defence. Remember the active shield work, I have talked about in my other articles? How would you use a shield to take control of an enemy’s weapon? Can you use it to attack? Can you follow the enemy’s weapon and keep it in touch with your shield to make any attacks very hard to perform?

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Footwork, like with any other weapon, is key. If your feet and your balance are in a wrong place, your weapon will also be. Keep your feet wide apart, in an L-shape, with knees slightly bend, and adjust your stance as you move your weight center. Practice walking, stepping and waddling, to make sure you automatically keep your balance.

You may try to change your stance as you fight, to give yourself different options, and present your opponent with different challenges. How about a low stance? Aggressive sword stance? Can your conceal the blade behind a shield, and strike out unexpectedly, where the enemy cannot see the initial direction of the blow?

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When holding sword underneath the shield, you give yourself great way of striking at opponent’s legs and lower torso, or “sneaking” a blow under the shield. Trade off- vulnerable to being overrun, by a fast and decisive warrior, with little room to move the sword out of the way.

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Holding a shield at an angle, rather than straight on enables better active shieldwork, and puts more distance between warriors- but what about leaving sword arm more vulnerable, than it would normally be? How much extra effort would need to be put in, to parry incoming blows with a  sword, rather than shield? Is the advantage of having two “tools” to use in a fight big enough?

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3. A few words to sum it up:

The stuff I have talked about above, are just some more general and basic techniques, for using a sword using a sword. There are a lot of more advanced tricks and techniques, which will be explored later, in more detail.

Sword is an amazing weapon to use, and it is iconic, just as the axe is, for the Viking Age. It requires plenty of practice, but it is so worth it! If you haven’t had a go at a sword yet, try it out, and use the examples I gave above. And if you already are a swordsman, what would you add and how do you keep your opponents on their toes?

Until next time folks!

How to use a shield- single combat

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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Training Weekend!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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Yorvik Viking Festival 2015

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Hello and Welcome, to my account of the 31st annual Yorvik  Viking Festival which took place in York in February 2015.

This was the first reenactment show of this season, and will also be one of the biggest. In Yorvik, reenactors gather from across the UK and Europe, for w whole week of living history displays, markets, talks, lectures, workshops and battles.

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The numbers of people attending were in the hundreds- and that is not counting the public.

The event itself is a great one, with plenty to see and do- I myself only arrived for the last day of the festival (drat you work!) when the culminating battles and events took place.

My first steps after arriving, were to the market, where I purchased myself some new shiny things (shoes, spearhead and a pouch). So many pretty things and never enough money to spend!

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After the purchases, and a brief lunch, time came for the first battle of the day- a series of three competitive clashes, where the best side would win. Just look at the photo below, to give you the idea of the numbers of warriors involved:

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But I am getting ahead of myself! Before the battle, there was the muster, and a parade through the York town centre, with scores of Vikings terrorising the innocent bystanders, and occasionally stopping to take a photo with the kids (large and small and even some actual kids!).

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Only once we have all arrived at the battlefield, did the real fight begin. As you may be aware, an event of this size will draw many different groups, from different societies, or even countries. Each reenactment society will have it’s own rules and regulations- so the first order of the day was to agree upon a set of rules to be used (done of course well in advance of the festival by the organisers). As always with a large group of people, used to different sets of rules, problems will arise- I could go on for eternity about rules differences and attitude of warriors/groups. Instead I will have just a small grumble- mainly that the societies were not split evenly, leaving one side very outmatched, and that there were many safety, honesty and attitude problems from one side (which shall of course, remain nameless)- suffice to say, battle could have been organised better. Nevertheless, it was huge fun to be a part of and to see this many warriors clash and actually be in the thick of it was reward enough!

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After the competitive battles, came the time for a brief respite and a bite of food- before the main event of the day, a recreation of a mythical battle between the Vanir and the Aesir Gods from the Norse mythology, which focused on the events of the great war between these two factions.

Battle was played out at night, with torches and spot lights lighting the battlefield. It was fully scripted and purely for show, with warriors encouraged to make as much noise, clamour and be as “showy” as possible.

Result? The battle was amazing, lasted for a long time and with assistance of special effects, music, narration and many enthusiastic participants it turned out to be an incredible experience- easily the best show fight I ever took part in.

There is a series of videos on YouTube, showing highlights from the battle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrJiSDIo3ts

All credit goes to the user Jonathon Cox, who kindly uploaded the videos.

Once the battle was over, we got to see the wonderful fireworks display, before picking ourselves up and preparing to celebrate the night away with ale, song and laughter. First show of the season done, and I am looking forward to the rest of it!

Credit for photos goes to Allan Harris, Gina Self and Trudie Jayne Blade.

Until next time!

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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!