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John A. Brown





Joined: 19 Feb 2015

Posts: 23

PostPosted: Mon 10 Apr, 2017 9:11 pm    Post subject: How come weapons play an equal role defensively to shields?         Reply with quote

My medieval buckler replica, made through old school blacksmithing by a HEMA group, just arrived by mail today. It reminds me of a statement I saw a HEMA practitioner made........

"Weapons are often used in tandem with shields for this reason. The shield bears the brunt of most the attacks, but even then the weapon does a lot of defensive work. If all you have is a weapon, it has to do double duty. Because contrary to what you might think, when you're legally justified to use a weapon, it's because someone is trying to kill you."

I am curious, why is the weapon just as important as the shield is in defensive action? I cannot tell you how people often think of using sword and shield as simple as "wait for the enemy sword to land on your shield, let the sword bounce from impact, and you immediately follow with a strike against your now defensive enemy who's still trying to recover his grip on his sword from the impact".

Seriously popular media portrays it this way from movies such as 300 to video games such as Legend of Zelda and live TV such as Deadliest Warriors. Even and educational sources and serious academic studies portray it this way. Can't tell you how many times I seen the History Channel have people test the effectiveness of a shield by banging swords, warhammers, and other heavy weapons against them and there are videos of university experiments you can see on Youtube where they test a shield's effectiveness in precisely the same manner.

So I am confused.What is meant by the above quote? I mean if scientists and historians with PhDs are saying a shield is enough for defensive action and the sword is pretty much a purely offensive weapon, why is there a need to learn parries, feints, blocks, etc as you stated in your earlier post? I mean real university experiments portray defensive moves with sword and buckler as merely "let it land, bounce off, than follow up with a sword cut or thrust) as universal standard when it comes to discussing about defensive actions!

Is there more to it than simply putting your shield to cover the area that you anticipate will be hit and simply awaiting to hit it while standing still like a stop sign on an intersection?
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Bram Verbeek





Joined: 27 Mar 2007

Posts: 217

PostPosted: Mon 10 Apr, 2017 11:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The larger the shield, the more it is the main factor in defense. Large shields do play a much larger role in the defense, bucklers simply cannot do it alone. That said, an equal role is disingenuous as well. the bucker is more on the defensive side, but if your weapon does not provide a threat, and does not also pose a defense, you will find your shield bypassed or simply eliminated.

I would advise I33: Fencing in the Style of the Walpurgis Manuscript if you have no book of it, it is quite well described and informative for someone starting in the style, and does not brak the bank.


EDIT: clarified


Last edited by Bram Verbeek on Mon 10 Apr, 2017 11:15 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 10 Apr, 2017 11:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The idea is that you use your weapon to bind another person's weapon to limit and restrict their freedom of movement. If I do not bind using my weapon, then my opponent has free rein to strike in at me with his, which will either result in fairly serious damage to my shield, or my opponent being able to bypass my shield by striking low, hanging his weapon behind the shield, etc. In other words, I put myself and my shield in far greater danger if I do not bind his weapon. By contrast, when the bind is achieved, I now have some measure of control over his weapon. If I can then sense how much pressure he has in the bind against me, it lets me know the sorts of techniques I can safely use to strike or thrust to the nearest opening.

You are right that one should not simply hold out the weapon to block. This is clumsy, and can easily be avoided by a feint. Typically, you actually use a strike to bind against your opponent's sword, because this covers the line and it makes it so he cannot feint, because you have a very short distance with your weapon extended forward to strike to his nearest opening, and you can reach him before he can feint to you. In the HEMA community, there are different ideas about how to bind with strikes; many people will strike in with a significant amount of force before the bind is achieved. Others, like Roland Warzecha, bind very delicately and gently, stating that it is much easier to quickly sense pressure signals with gentle contact.

The number one thing that people get wrong in movies and popular representations of historic fighting is the lack of binding. In fact, binding is so fundamental to most forms of European fighting that when you do film fights or video game fights that do not show binds, your combat is radically different. Even in cultures where binding may be less common, for example with the two-handed Chinese jian, you will use sweeping motions that still make contact with the opponent's weapon before displacing it aside. Such sweeping techniques are also found in the European tradition, too. Besides the fact that there is still some degree of ignorance about binding, the other reason I can think for not including it in a film is that it is much harder to practice and learn, and the techniques are subtle and easier to miss on camera. Thus far, games that try to do historical sword fighting have to distort binding, because there's too many techniques one can perform in real life, at least with a long sword, and to my knowledge video games have a hard time with creating the illusion of pressure signals in a bind.
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David Cooper




Location: UK
Joined: 27 Apr 2008
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Posts: 108

PostPosted: Mon 10 Apr, 2017 11:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The buckler or shield are not just defensive weapons. A cut to the face with the edge of a buckler can be a very effective offensive blow. In sword and buckler fighting you have an object in each hand, each can be used to deliver offensive blows and equally both can be used defensively. It would be folly to say ''I must only use this shield for protection, I must only use this sword for offence.'' This is an integrated fighting system , sword stronger in offence, shield stronger in defence but both capable of either role.
The journey not the destination
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Baard H




Location: Norway
Joined: 13 Mar 2013

Posts: 90

PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The same can be said for larger shields as well, even if they may seem more defensive than offense. While it's less strenuous to block a blow with a big shield than to parry with your sword, axe, mace or what have you, your shield may be too far from the endangered part of you to get in position in time, or it might be busy with another adversaries weapon (if you're fighting more than one person) but your weapon is (hopefully) close enough instead. Likewise if your weapon is bound up by the opponent, but your shield is free, you might if the situation allow for it simply strike your opponent with that instead. Depending on the strike, shield and what armour your opponent use it might be anything from merely distracting to completely destructive.
At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mćki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
ís, er yfir kemr,
öl, er drukkit er.
-Hávamál, vísa 81
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 945

PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 11:51 pm    Post subject: Re: How come weapons play an equal role defensively to shiel         Reply with quote

John A. Brown wrote:
I am curious, why is the weapon just as important as the shield is in defensive action? I cannot tell you how people often think of using sword and shield as simple as "wait for the enemy sword to land on your shield, let the sword bounce from impact, and you immediately follow with a strike against your now defensive enemy who's still trying to recover his grip on his sword from the impact".

Seriously popular media portrays it this way from movies such as 300 to video games such as Legend of Zelda and live TV such as Deadliest Warriors. Even and educational sources and serious academic studies portray it this way. Can't tell you how many times I seen the History Channel have people test the effectiveness of a shield by banging swords, warhammers, and other heavy weapons against them and there are videos of university experiments you can see on Youtube where they test a shield's effectiveness in precisely the same manner.

So I am confused. What is meant by the above quote? I mean if scientists and historians with PhDs are saying a shield is enough for defensive action and the sword is pretty much a purely offensive weapon, why is there a need to learn parries, feints, blocks, etc as you stated in your earlier post? I mean real university experiments portray defensive moves with sword and buckler as merely "let it land, bounce off, than follow up with a sword cut or thrust) as universal standard when it comes to discussing about defensive actions!

Is there more to it than simply putting your shield to cover the area that you anticipate will be hit and simply awaiting to hit it while standing still like a stop sign on an intersection?

Yes, there's more to it.

The model used in a lot of video games like any given Legend of Zelda, Mount & Blade and so on, where you hunker down behind your shield while the opponent flails at it (instead of at you!) and then swing the shield out of the way (often all the way behind you!) to flail at them in your turn really has no basis in real martial arts at all. It just wouldn't work in real life, on any level - the opponent, being an independent rational actor whose goal is to harm you rather than to provide an entertaining action sequence, will take one quick look at the situation, immediately reject the most obviously futile thing to do and simply strike where your shield isn't. They have zero intention, obligation or incentive to cooperate with you. And if, like video game characters, you almost literally throw away your defenses in order to strike back, that just means you have no control over the situation and no way beyond dumb luck to stop them from killing you even as you kill them - and IRL that's not a draw, it's a Game Over, terminal crash and hardware failure for everyone involved. No credits, no save states, no retry. One bad mistake and it's all over for ever. No one wins.

So what can you do, then?

You can try to control their weapons and create a window of opportunity where the opponent can neither hurt you nor stop you from hurting them, and exploit that brief window to take them down. You do this by manipulating the relative angles, distance and position of yourself and your weapons on one hand, and the opponent and their weapons on the other - you arrange things so that, for a brief moment, their weapons are entirely occupied while some of yours are free to act. In order to do this, you need to know where their weapons are and where they're going, and you need to discern this as quickly as possible so that you can get at least one step ahead of them. Eyesight is not enough for this, you need to feel it. So as you prepare to attack them, you seek out their weapons with yours, and since your primary weapon typically has a much longer reach than your shield, it will naturally make contact first; this can take the form of a parry, beat, feint or any of those various techniques you need to learn - a parry is not merely putting your weapon in the way of an incoming blow, it's making contact with the offending weapon, which in turn enables you to try and establish control over it; this is the basic idea behind what's called "binding" in HEMA.

In a sense, you can think of your sword or spear or whatever as a probe that you cast out there to feel out the opponent or to coax a predictable response out of them. You give their weapons a certain kind of push, and if you feel them resist it you continue in one way, while if you feel them yielding you go another way, or whatever action you judge to be the most expedient based on the feedback the opponent just gave you. You don't typically do this with your shield, at least initially, because its reach is so short: before you get to the distance where you can feel out the opponent with your shield, they will already have had several opportunities to attack you with their own much more far-reaching primary weapon.

It's sort of similar to why boxers tend to lead with jabs rather than throwing a strong, committed cross right off the bat, if you know what I mean?

I'm not sure if this makes sense, and am sorry if it doesn't. It's still early in the morning (for me) and I've only had one mug of coffee...

PS. Remember to doubt authorities. Always question authorities! People with a PhD are well versed in some thing, but not necessarily this specific thing - unless their PhD is in historical martial arts, specifically, they are no more likely to know anything about it than a random person off the street. Misinformation runs far and wide and no one is immune to it. And don't take me at face value, either! Happy

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Chris Friede




Location: Austin
Joined: 15 Mar 2014

Posts: 39

PostPosted: Thu 13 Apr, 2017 1:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In some systems, like I33, the buckler is held over the weapon hand and both are moved together as a unit. The first few times I tried it felt really awkward (coming from a sport fencing background), but with practice the advantages became clear.
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