Copyright 2006 T. Sheil & A. Sheil All Rights Reserved
Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is why many myths are perpetuated about the Middle Ages, especially combat. The common one depicts Medieval knights and soldiers as brutes who slugged it out tactlessly. The myth regards them as ignorant boors who swung awkwardly with wicked-looking weapons. Devoid of technique, so the story goes, the warriors used strength, a lot of armor and overdeveloped weapons.
Medieval fighters had plenty of technique. Their methods were neither awkward nor boorish. Instead of slugging it out, Medieval fighters artfully ducked, dodged, parried and trapped. They used graceful footwork combined with equally graceful techniques. Fighting styles differed because of the weapons and nature of combat. Modern style fencing would have been folly in the 15th Century, just as Medieval fencing was inadvisable for 17th Century duels.
Many a miniature knight and Viking has suffered because of ignorance. Unrealistic poses abound! Knowledge of Medieval technique can only help miniaturists make better and more exciting figures. Here is a place where the reality is more appealing than the fantasy. A set of Medieval figures based on real techniques from the Middle Ages would be far more wonderful than the sword-clubbing lumps based on pure fiction.
There are primary sources of Medieval fighting techniques. They are called “Fechtbuchs” (German for “fight book”) by aficionados of the art. The books illustrate a host of weapons and tricks. Among them are several manuals of unarmed combat, as well. The stylized Medieval drawings look crude at first, but once you decipher the style you can perceive the technique.
My personal study of military close combat led me to recognize the techniques. In the Army, I learned bayonet and riot baton. A few years later, I had been schooled in the methods of Fairbairn and O’Neill, and the knifework of Biddle and Styers. Since then, I have done limited research on Military close combat. There is no surprise that on looking at fechtbuchs, I recognized some of the techniques. They were very similar to things I knew. A more thorough investigation was in order. Using primary sources, my own knowledge, and the information of others who have researched these arts, I got a good feel for Medieval fighting.
Medieval man-to-man combat is a brutal science. It uses techniques which are efficient and ruthless. The goal it to put the opponent down quickly. A Medieval fight would be brief. I doubt a combat between individuals would last more than 20 to 30 seconds, and that only if both were equally skilled fighters. A fight between a trained man and a semi-skilled one would rarely last ten seconds, and likely be over in five.
Medieval fighters strive for powerful attacks. They do not use light techniques. Every strike is made to do damage. The power is needed for two reasons. First, power puts a man down fast. Light techniques may hurt, but they also waste time. Second, a soldier would often have to attack an armored opponent. Whether the armor was a leather jack, chain mail or plate armor, it took added strength to cause harm to the man inside the suit.
As for defense, the main trick of Medieval fighters was to not be where the strike fell. They would sidestep, duck, dodge and slip. Backing this up were various parries, deflections and blocks. A fighter would try to deflect a blow, rather than block it by catching its full force on shield or weapon. Many a defense was also a counterstrike. Fechtbuchs show techniques that deflect the weapon and inflict damage to the adversary in the same motion.
The fighters might use shields or bucklers. These were not passive weapons or a wall to put up against an enemy weapon. Rather, they were used to deflect and parry. The shield could also be used to jam, block, trap and strike. In the hands of a trained fighter, it was as much as weapon as any sword or axe.
Looking at the real techniques, you see that they were very cunning and tricky fighters. A man might throw his sword, and then wrestle his opponent to the ground. He may use his weapon to trap, pin or hold an opponent. Any part of the weapon was dangerous. The blunt end of a spear shaft or the pommel of a sword was as much a weapon as the bladed end.
Medieval weapons were not sharp, in the modern sense. Only the three to five inches by the point of a sword or spear might be sharpened. The rest was dull, like a thin screwdriver. A sharp edge would lead to chipping the blade, but the slightly duller edge prevented it. Because they trained often, a Medieval fighter could cut with a dull blade almost as easily as with a sharpened one. He could even grab the blade and swing the weapon “backwards,” as it were.
By clicking the links below, you are about to enter a world of brutal combat. For your introduction, I chose illustrations from primary sources. The ones used here clearly depict the methods of fighting. They give you a feel for it. They are also good guides for posing your own miniatures. If I say so myself, I also took the opportunity to show correlations between Medieval and 20th Century unarmed combat technique.
This is all part of the larger research for a book being written for artists and military miniaturists. What you see here is a portion of what will be included in the finished work.
Can you help?
To help make this book better, I am looking for old combat manuals (reprints, digital copies or originals), from the Middle Ages to the present. I am lalso ooking for military resources describing Bayonet techniques, unarmed combat and basic miltiary skills. At this time, I am interested in items from the 19 Century and earlier. If you can help. pleaee contact us at the email address listed below.
Disclaimer: the fighting methods shown here are for illustrative purposes only. They are not intended as actual instruction in Medieval fighting and should not be used as such. Close combat training is dangerous. It can be as dangerous for the user as it is for the target. If you wish to learn close combat, seek a qualified instructor. One should never attempt close combat without the instruction and supervision of a qualified expert instructor .
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Historical Military Reprints : genuine military resources from World War II reprinted.
Shambattle Games ; classic rules for games with toy soldiers, knight and cowboys.
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