Medieval Combat Methods and Styles

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Popeyesays

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Some writing about combat with melee weapons may find this web page useful:
http://www.thortrains.com/getright/Medieval%20Combat.htm

Pay particular attention to the use of the two-hand sword pictures and text. Not many people have much grasp of the real method of using the weapon and this stuff is very good and taken from period weapon manuals developed by instructors of the weapons to sell their services.

Regards,
Scott
 

newmod

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Good link, thanks for posting. Just had a quick look but seems very useful, I´ll be sure to check it in more detail in the future.
 

MattW

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Those are good links, but....

The time period most of the extant fighting manuals is Late Middle Ages (if not later), which would provide a very different view of weapons, armor, and techniques in use for different periods.

Plus, these are techniques in use for individual or scattered combat. Formation fighting of the period would have looked very different for some weapons.
 

Popeyesays

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MattW said:
Those are good links, but....

The time period most of the extant fighting manuals is Late Middle Ages (if not later), which would provide a very different view of weapons, armor, and techniques in use for different periods.

Plus, these are techniques in use for individual or scattered combat. Formation fighting of the period would have looked very different for some weapons.

Exctly! Pike blocks and Glaive men, archers with fields of sharpened stakes to protect them from cavalry require careful use. Pikes in particular were there in blocks to stand of cavalry. No horse in its right mind is going to run itself on a pike point if it has anything to say about it.

It is the tendency of melee combat to have the formations intermingle and for fights to assume paired combats (even though those combats are brief and constantly interrupted by attacks from other combatants.) It takes on the appearance of a dogfight where the aircraft are often shot down by attackers they never even saw.

Regards,
Scott
 

Popeyesays

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By the by, SCA combats don't allow use of the point, only the edge. This is because one of those rigid blades jabbed in the wrong place can cause serious injury.

Regards,
Scott
 

Evaine

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I do medieval re-enactment in the UK (my group is called Drudion, and we're Welsh mercenaries). We don't do choreographed fighting, as some groups do, but we do have to use the weapons differently from the way they were used originally - because otherwise we might seriously injure each other.
For instance, we use spears with the point kept well down, away from any possibility of going in someone's face. We don't aim for the head, even when wearing helmets (there was a case last year when one of the best swordsmen in the country got hit very hard in a melee, was unconscious before he hit the ground, and spent months in hospital with brain damage).
One of our members has had his nose broken eight times (never put your shield up over your face....). Another has broken her thumb and her wrist, on different occasions (with the thumb, she had it strapped up by the St John's Ambulance men and went straight back to the tournament).

Personally, I die a lot (you take your hit, you fall over) but I've only once been really hurt. It was an accident - someone's sword slid along the edge of a shield and hit me in the face, but I didn't even get a bruise from it.
 

Vincent

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So it's not just whacking the other guy with something heavy or sharp?
 

zornhau

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beezle said:
So it's not just whacking the other guy with something heavy or sharp?
No. There's stabbing and slashing as well.

SCA is fun, but they fight with sticks and don't stab each other, which is probably authentic for friendly bouts, but totally changes the shape of a fight.

Western Martial Arts (WMA) at their best use steel swords, mordern protective clothing and authentic techniques. (Teh protection is only so good - I'm typing with a bruised elbow, caused by taking longsword thrust, while attacking rather too enthusiastically during the DDS AGM)

The big difference between us and Evaine's (hi, I'm sure we've crossed swords) battle reenactment, is that we wear fencing masks, thus enabling stabs to the face.

The pages at the link are great, with the caveat that most WMA recorded techniques are designed for unarmoured combat - v common in an era of faction fights, brawls and murder.

The earliest known manuals date from the 1300s. You can see a selection here: http://www.schielhau.org/. There's a good armoured duel sequence here: http://www.schielhau.org/talhoffer1459_ac_duel.html

The best source of authentic WMA publications is here: http://www.chivalrybookshelf.com/ A good jumping off point is Guy Windor's book.
 

Evaine

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zornhau, I see you're in Scotland. Do you know (or know of) Keiran of the DDS? His was the bad accident I mentioned.

You may have crossed swords, or spears, with Rowan, one of the leaders of Drudion (but we don't have leaders, except that someone has to organise things and drive the van....).
 

Evaine

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Sorry to double post, but I just had an embarrassing thought - you're not the chap with the longsword who was at Nottingham a couple of years ago, when I forgot how to parry, are you?
(I went down in the first moments of the battle, and heard a voice from the crowd saying very clearly: "That girl's not very good, is she?")
 

MattW

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Oh, another tidbit for mass combat - lots of cultures espoused the buddy system once masses of footsoldiers intermingled.

Something I saw being researched was from biblical accounts of "shieldbearers." They weren't just servants that humped your gear, they might have been servant-soldiers attached to a higher up to work in tandem. The shieldbearer carried a larger than average shield and tried to confound their opponents. He focused strictly on blocks, parries, screening, (occasional bash to the face), and creating openings for his mate - a guy who had a long spear.

Facing off 2X2 with traditional oppoents with spears and shield, the guys who have both each have to be a generalist, and fight against specialists. Seems great in theory, but multiply out the numbers, and it becomes less practical as one or other of the pair is lost, and one is left to fight without a vital element of the tactic.
 

zornhau

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Melees and mass combat

MattW makes a good point. In a mass combat, the person you are trying to kill is very rarely the only person trying to kill you, especially if there are polearms around. So, some sort of teamwork is required. If you want to do a Conan, then you need good situational awareness.

Evaine said:
you're not the chap with the longsword who was at Nottingham a couple of years ago, when I forgot how to parry, are you?

I'm the one with the very very long two handed sword, and the plate armour. Give my love to Su and Si. I've pretty much retired from reenactment.
 

MattW

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zornhau said:
I'm the one with the very very long two handed sword, and the plate armour. Give my love to Su and Si. I've pretty much retired from reenactment.
Reading your journal entry gave me a nice insight into a character I have - one who has no interest in marching for 6 days just to fight for a few hours, no matter what the cause. :Thumbs:
 

RTH

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There are some modern analyses of those medieval treatises that should be good references for a writer interested in ways people used to kill each other with swords and other objects. I think they should be required reading for anyone who includes a sword or spear in their book... The trouble is, there's a lot of crap out there, too, and it's hard to tell what's what unless you're experienced.

Cheers,
RTH
 
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SJAB

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RTH said:
The trouble is, there's a lot of crap out there, too, and it's hard to tell what's what unless you're experienced.

Cheers,
RTH

Very true. The net is a minefield for any one looking for information. I was lucky and got to know Rob Lovatt from the Exiles and Matt Easton's group Schola (mad the lot of them ;) ) in person a few years ago. Watching a training session is superb help in getting to know how a body moves in such situations.
 

RTH

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One should hope so! Though only if there's increased exposure -- it's amazing how many authors I've read who seem inclined to do no research into the middle ages whatsoever, let alone as to how the swords they put into their characters' hands are actually used. I think those type of people are going to be around for a long time...

For comparison, I wonder if Japanese "fantasy" fiction has the same problem, considering how much more well-preserved their traditional swordplay is?
 

zornhau

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If I flog my current work, I intend to have the choreography for the main fights posted on my website :)

There is a challenge in writing authentic combat, but without using the technical terms, except as a sprinkling for verisimilitude.
 

RTH

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That's a pretty cool idea -- just watch out for those chandeliers! :)

But it is darned hard to be "just technical enough." Which is one reason why I've steered clear of writing about swords. With all the time and thought I put into my own fencing, I know I'll end up thinking about it way too hard, and get overly-didactic with the whole thing. I'll want the reader to see all the nuances, hence I'll want to describe every little detail. Consequence: it'll end up boring as all hell.
 

Kentuk

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Swords just aren't for fantasy anymore.
My science fiction features them, only they've been modernized to stun rather like a stun gun at short range. It turns the pistol versus sword conflict around.

Kentuk
 

zornhau

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RTH said:
That's a pretty cool idea -- just watch out for those chandeliers! :)

But it is darned hard to be "just technical enough." Which is one reason why I've steered clear of writing about swords. With all the time and thought I put into my own fencing, I know I'll end up thinking about it way too hard, and get overly-didactic with the whole thing. I'll want the reader to see all the nuances, hence I'll want to describe every little detail. Consequence: it'll end up boring as all hell.

I think the trick is to choreograph a scene authentically, but to pull back and use non-technical words.

E.g. If the sequence is Zornhau X Krumphau>Unterhau then the barebones of the first draft might read:
Peter whirled forward, throwing a diagonal cut at Eric's shoulder. [ZORNHAU]

With a sidestep, Eric windmilled his sword across his body, deflecting the attack. [KRUMPHAU]

Peter's blade cut empty air. He began to raise his hands, drawing his weapon up to block the inevitable upswing. [ABORTIVE UPPER HANGER]

Eric's blade swished past Peter's rising pommel. The back edge caught Peter in the mouth. [UNTERHAU] Teeth shattered. Blood sprayed.
 

MadScientistMatt

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At least the technical terms are one of the few problems I don't have writing my fight scenes. :) I've got a copy of Tallhoffer's manual, and looked through a couple other fechtbucher, but I haven't quite learned all the terms, and I don't have the same level of experience at WMA as many of the others in this thread, just some epee fencing (which, I've learned, definitely isn't the same thing!). So mostly I've tried to think of a logical combination of moves, and then just taken my best stab (no pun intended) at describing the move based on how it looks in the drawings.
 
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