Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!

The King has decreed that the next Crown Tournament will be contested without shields. We are now two weeks out from Crown and it is looking like one of the largest Crown Lists we have ever had. Why is this?

I know that the crown is trying to encourage people to try different weapon forms. We are a very sword and shield oriented kingdom. While this may be one way of encouraging people to try new things I am not convinced it is effective in the long term. Changing what people do is something that often requires a long term approach. In this case it is getting out there and running classes on different weapon forms. It is providing gauntlets so people do not get hurt. It is the quiet voice of encouragement between rounds. This is only my opinion, but I think we will have a number of people take up glaives, two sword, spears and other things for this one event and then go back to what is familiar and supported.

 This aside, why are so many people (myself included) entering?

I am sure that some see it as a challenge. It is time to test your ability, stepping away from what you have trained in for years to see if you can do well with the unfamiliar. This is a good challenge to prowess and I am going to admit I have not in any real way trained at all for this.

I also wonder if some of the attraction to this is the equalising effect of the no shield rule. With this one decision many of the top tournament combatants are denied their chosen tools. Many consider this Tournament is wide open. Gone is the challenge of having to overcome those who have put in years of effort and commitment to their art. A little bit of luck and a good spear thrust may get you to quarter finals.

This is a big draw card and I will admit that I see their point. I also wonder if this is such a good thing. Why deliberately handicap some of your best people? How does this advance the combat arts? Is making people leave their shields at home really going to improve what we do?

I am sure the Crown Tournament will be exciting and full of surprises, but is this just the draw card of novelty? The playing to this places notions of decrying the tall poppy? The dumbing down of what should be the pinnacle of our tournaments?

On the other side of this coin is the challenge to be a master of all the arms of the knight.  Sword, spear, poll axe and dagger. No matter the situation, the knight becomes the master of the field. While we may focus on a particular weapon form is not the purpose of this training to be yourself the weapon? Maybe I should have practiced more…

A hit, a very palpable hit.

The purpose of any martial art is to strike your opponent while not being struck yourself. This is a fairly straightforward axiom. So the question does now arise, how do you exactly manage to make your attack strike home?

The basic techniques of making a successful cut is something we all practice and can reasonably execute at will against a static target such as a pell. Making that same cut work against an opponent who is defending and well as trying to cut you is a very different set of skills.

One approach we often see on the tournament field is to just go in swinging, ‘all guns blazing’ as you will, hoping that one of your attacks get though the defence. This probably works for many people as long as your opponent is not very good…

How then to defeat a good defence?  Start by looking at your opponent. What weapon are they using? What is their measure? What shield do they have? How do they stand and move? Watch their performance on the field. What is their most common attack? Do they have a favourite move?

One example of this was in the tournament watching a very high ranked competitor.  I saw that he often would use a rising thrust from the very edge of measure, the thrust coming up along the line of the shield and into the face.  They would drop their sword hand to the hip, looking relaxed and releasing any offensive pressure. This would cause his opponent to also relax just a little and not be aware of the incoming thrust.  Anyway, I eventually had to face this person and was very aware of this tactic. Every time he dropped his sword down I knew he was setting up for the long range thrust. The response to this was to simply step away and maintain my awareness of the possible attack.  While this is a defensive example, it still illustrates the idea of knowing how your opponents move and what they will do.

Being able to counter incoming attacks is a useful skill; it will keep you in the fight so you are able to do something positive.

So you do need to gain an understanding of the people you are sparring with. You also must seek to understand were the opportunities to attack lie.  Are you able to fake one way and then reverse direction because they are slow to reset the shield? Do they use their sword to block a head cut but will be open to you tuning the cut into a thrust?

What is their timing? Do they have a three cut attack and then get out of position? How can you use this to your advantage?

Can you make a successful cut from a different angle? What do you need to do the get to that angle? A common technique I use is to tempt my opponent into making a cut to one (head) while I cover this by moving my sword into fore guard thus allowing me to counter with a molinet to their body or head. Such an opportunity would not be available until they extended out to attack.

Can you move their shield out of the way? Remember tilts and hooks are very effective in making a gap in peoples defence. Centre grip shields are particularly vulnerable to these techniques. Like everything you must work in the time of the movement. Pinning their shield with yours while they are ready to strike will just get you hit. Block their attack and use the time of their recovery to tilt their shield so your sword can go sailing though the gap.

Making a successful attack is hard. There are many ways to achieve this goal and you will need to keep working on all of your options. Armoured combat is a game of chess were you can hide your own moves,  lay traps and sometimes more your opponents pieces.  The only problem is they can do the same to you…

Draw up the shield-wall, oh shoulder companions

A matter of shields.

An interesting conversation started up a while back on the matter of shields. The question came to ‘what is the best shield’. Like many of these questions the answer is ‘it depends’…but as that is a rather unhelpful answer let explore this a little more.

The first thing I will mention is that I am not a big fan of the large lightweight shields. I think they are a form of cheating. Before the advent of the large aluminium barn doors you almost always had a weight issue if you wanted to use a large shield. Seeing some folk with an enormous centre grip shield that they can flick around just does not seem right. However, aluminium shields have a place. For some small framed combatants they can get a shield that will last and is not too heavy. They can be made to fold down for transport. You can have a shield that will last and last.

So what are some of the things to think about when deciding on what shield to use?

Type of combat:

Wars generally call for the largest shield you can carry. War combat is normally on of working as a unit, with the shield wall being a principle component of this. A large shield allows you a solid static defence and is good for covering you and your friends against pikes and arrows. A bit of mass in the shield is also useful in dealing with charging and being charged. Centre grips are sometimes a liability as they do not work well with resisting a solid and determined charge.

Tournaments are mostly about personal preference. Every sort of shield will have advantages and weaknesses. It is critical to be aware of all of these. The type of shield will also depend on the style of combat you do and this is probably reflected in the time and effort you put into training. For many people starting out or unable to commit a great deal of time to training and practice, a large shield can be an attractive option.

Size

Small shields are easily manoeuvrable and are given to an aggressive style of combat. They allow you to use many of the offensive shield techniques such as tilts and hooks. I feel you are more ‘in the fight’ with a small shield and you are able to see what is happening and make your attacks without a large board getting in the way. On the weakness side, the small shield does require you to be precise in your defence as they do not allow for a lot of errors.

I would define a small shield as anything under 18-20 inches in any length. Of cause this is not an exact definition and depends on how big the person is using the shield.  I currently use a 18 inch half round. It is not that good at defending the low line of attack and does require me to use my sword too much to add to the defence.

As shields get larger the way you employ them  changes. The shield becomes more static and your defence becomes more passive. While not bad overall, I think in using a large shield you rob yourself of some of the offensive options and render yourself too passive in the fight.

So what is a large shield? Anything that is getting to the two by three foot range is probably getting too gig to use effectivly. Having said this, it also depends on the size of the person using it.

Shape is also a consideration

There is a wide variety of shield shapes out there, but you will note that things basically come down to rounds and heaters. While these are tested and tried forms, it sometimes will not hurt to try playing with something else such as kites etc.

I personally do not like squares as they just look wrong. There is also a few folk here using wankles to great effect.

Again, each shape will have its advantages and disadvantages. You need to be aware of these, not only for your defence but also in understanding your opponents weaknesses.

Another small personal thing, madus, just say no. They are a cheat and I feel the same way with crusiform great sword.

Centre Grip?

Centre grip shields are growing in popularity in this Kingdom and are the dominate form in some places. While they do give you a number of defensive advantages I find that they are weak offensively (think about hooks, tilts etc) and are in turn very open to your opponent controlling your shield. So if you like using a centre grip you will need to be aware of these weaknesses.

I have noted that some lighter build folk find a centre grip much to their liking, so this may be something to explore.

So in the end the type of shield you use is mostly up to you. There is no perfect shield. Everything has advantages and weaknesses and it is up to you to decide what you are willing to compromise on or take advantage of.

Remember that no shield will do the work for you. You need to train and practice constantly to master weapons and whatever shield you use.

Gazing at Ones Navel

The Tournament that Was.

I thought I would share some thoughts on my last tournament outing.

Over Easter is the Rowany Festival. Several days of wars, combat, parties and fun. As a part of festival is run the Fighter Auction Tournament. This is normally the biggest list held annually in Lochac with approximately 80 entrants this year.

In the end I won the tournament but I am not at all happy with my performance.

On the day of the tournament I was having a lot of difficult finding any focus. My first two bouts was just me going through the motions. I was unable to excerpt any control on the encounters. By the fourth round my squire finally started to try to get me to focus and get my game brain engaged. Thankfully this mostly worked and I was able to make it though the next few rounds.

The last few rounds I was up against two Counts and a Duke. I dropped one bout here as my opponent was able to capitalise on my loss of concentration. A silly mistake on my part but used ruthlessly by my opponent. A lesson here that I hope not to forget.

The bout against the other Count was one I was happy with. He had just returned from the West and was fighting well all weekend. Anyway, after a little circling at measure he attacked strongly stepping forward with each cut. This had me completely on the retreat and I managed to take his leg. Once on the ground he lost his height and movement advantage and I was able to exploit a timing gap in his attack.

The other bout was against another Duke. He uses a very large aluminium heater and a very long sword. As he is also tall he had a massive range advantage. I actually do not recall any of this encounter except that I did manage to take his leg despite the huge shield.

So I go to finals against the Count I had dropped a bout in earlier. During the first encounter I was not controlling the range and being sloppy. I basically just sat in his effective measure trying to throw the occasional direct attack. This ended badly for me as he managed to time a nice cut to the side of my helm.

The second bout was again me not controlling anything. I ended up being legged and at this point decided that as I was unable to get passed my opponents defence I would see if I could last long enough for him to get tired and make a mistake. Apparently this bout went for eight minutes with my hunkering down tactic eventually working. The final bout was mostly a repeat of the second, me on my knees defending until my opponent was too exhausted to keep their defence active.

I was unable to get into the fight. I am not sure why I was so hesitant to commit. Maybe a fear of failing. Maybe not being able to focus and use good technique.

So I need to work on some aspects of my form. Once I encounter a top end opponent I tend to become too cautious, unwilling to take the risks I need to take to ensure an elegant victory. I am thinking of how to organise my own training of the next year to move beyond this but I also need to work on my ability to focus and do what I need to do when it is needed.