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Medieval fight scene choreography: Please advise!

As an amateur filmmaker, about a year ago I came to this site looking for costuming advice on a little short movie I was planning, based upon medieval norman / norse visual and weaponry styles.

What I didnít expect was to be immersed in a vibrant and detailed world totally at odds with the Hollywood fantasies that I had envisioned. The past year, sitting at the myArmoury doorstep, has been a rewarding education for me, and Iím happy to say that as we enter into our first pre-production, this project is all the better for the wealth of information I have gained from you all.

Now I would like to ask for feedback on what is probably one of the most critical aspects of the film: the fight scene choreography: I would like this to be seamless, and fluid, demonstrating authentic martial movement and stances.

I enclose the current rough draft scene as a link: ( I hope this is OK for the site administrators).


If you have advice or comments to offer. then please do!

We can't afford a professional stunt coordinator. so I hope that you will use your imaginations and rip this thing to shreds: shape it, improve it and do your best to make it better. Please describe why you are improving it, perhaps by detailing examples.

Based upon your feedback, I hope this could be a definitive fighting sequence that I can then get a group of sword fighters to re-enact on film. (I'm aso looking for competent swordmen in the Oslo area!).

I hope this will be an interesting project for some of you - I am perfectly happy to give myArmoury a screen credit, and even if it only ends up as a small piece of YouTube entertainment, I will be proud of it :-)


What period is this? Norse-Norman crossover say 1000-1050CE? Why would the protagonist have all that gear and fight with a mace? Do you believe that D&D stuff about clerics not using swords? :\ Give him the sword and the parrying, deflection and half sword play will make some sense. A mace is too short to manage all that. Besides the mace is more of a backup weapon to use once the lance and sword are gone. If its the protagonist's preferred weapon when he has a sword: WHY?

Combat 2? Jamming the shield into the ground as a barrier to two spearmen? Can't they walk out sideways again after moving together? :confused: This would make more sense if Marshall managed to make one spearman move toward his partner then dodged to the opposite side to place one spear on the far side of the other. Marshall could compress the spears into each other as he shield pressed down the length of the spears. Whack the further guy as he retreats, elbow or pommel strike the closer one before he lets go his spear to grapple. The spearmen would have to be idiots to act that way. Their advantage lies in flanking a single opponent not standing together in front of his shield. Sorry but Combat 3 is silly and a bit painful to think about.

Combat 4 suffers badly from that "Christian" sword grip idea. One good whack in the hand and the sword is gone. Also parrying head blows from the right hand, the most powerful blow available, would be pretty tough with most of the weight of the blade pressing into the empty space in the palm near the little finger. Again, your bad guy is intensely idiotic. Not much of a fight really. Why doesn't Marshall just draw his sword and throw it like a spear into the goof's belly? That would be a smooth move. :p

The last fight would be much better without the mace. Even if Marshal had to pick up one of the fallen axes it would be better. If you have to use the mace for some plot device, don't pit it against an experienced fighter with a sword and shield. He should have a clue that he has the advantage at sword range and not jump in close where the mace works best.

Sorry to rain on your parade but you asked for input. Please reconsider your plan. This is exactly the Hollywood-esque silliness that make martial artists cringe.
I admire what you're trying to do, but there are a few problems here.

Getting the fairly blunt end of most kite shields to stick far enough into the ground to be a solid barrier is not a given. The small point of the kite may be too thick and too blunt to stick into the ground so quickly or easily, unless it's muddy. Even so, since the shield is rigged with straps at the top and is wider at the top than bottom, getting it to stay up will be difficult or impossible in any ground that would easily accept it: it's top heavy. Even if you could accomplish it, it may not be so easy for the hero to easily whip it out of the ground and into the spears later. Also, the shield is not so wide and/or tall that it would make a formidable barrier. Even if all that could happen, what would prevent the attackers from doing the smart thing and each going around one side of the shield or simply knocking it over?

Drawing a sword from the left side with the left hand to hold like a dagger isn't a given either. Depending on sword length, tightness of scabbard fit, and angle of the suspension, it might very well be impossible to the sword draw *right* handed without the left hand holding onto the scabbard for stabilization. Drawing it from the same side with your weak hand only seems unlikely. Did you test the concept yourself to see how easily it can be done?

I've never understood why groups of a half dozen don't attack a single combatant together and overwhelm him. The old, one or two at a time thing seems so unlikely.

How long is the "long-axe" tied to the belt? Could get in the way if too long. I'll leave the moves up to others to dissect.
Hi Kel and Chad.

Thanks very much for your posts.

I'm happy to say that I've actually done a bit of research with the fighting parts.. let me defend what i have written so far :-)

This combat scene is a veteran knight squaring off against a group of untrained thugs. I wish the sequence to demonstrate a huge disparity of skill between combatants. Even the senior Vargr don't really stand a chance. I think this is a valid starting point.

i'm happy to report that all of the currently described actions are authentic battle movements, as far as I've been able to determine from scouring websites and watching reenactments. Please remember that real combat is extremely rapid and messy, and like any martial art of great skill, a disciplined fighter should be able to put down an undisciplined fighter in sheer moments: its my intention to show this: step 3 in particular deals with the inexperience of the spearmen in facing a trained knight: A soldier that has spent his life training with his weapons., and taunts them with his shield after easily dispatching their two friends: If that doesn't make them want to huddle together I don't know what would.

From what I have read regarding norman foot combat, I believe Mace / shield versus axe spear is far more relevant than the typical cliched: sword on sword. Mace would be this knights go-to ground weapon against mail, and please note my knight only goes for his sword when facing another, and these would be extremely rare amongst the vikings (iron rarity). hence only the chief has a sword.

I have actually witnessed the shield maneuvers in a staged combat from Poland, including the shield-in-ground part. The tip of the norman kite shield is sharp enough in soft ground: It appeared a very effective way to equalise a spear fight, and was extremely impressive, although staged.
I really love the idea of the shield being used as a weapon in itself, and in an unconventional fashion, hence its inclusion. I feel that shield fighting is a mystery long forgotten, and I wish to demonstrate that those who mastered the technique could do things we cant easily consider.

The sword as left hand draw is very "conan" but I stand by it: I've understood that its an accepted practise for south paw fighters / ambidextrous fighters, as a way to take an opponent by surprise: again something I have seen as a fluid movement that leads to a Fools guard. Being left handed: I myself have sinisterly used this in my own ragged sparring practises, as my swords sheath to the left, conventionally.

Remember: we do want a sense of dramatic: whats not included in the script is the grunting groaning and taunting that will turn this into a realistic grudge match.

Please bring on your comments and criticisms! This is golden and I'm taking notes.



Last edited by Michael Mann on Sat 14 Aug, 2010 12:00 pm; edited 1 time in total
I just wanted to add that the intention is to show Marshall selecting his weapons, as he meets his oppponents, as I imagine a master craftsman selects his tools.

Facing axes, and later spears, he chooses mace and shield, for maximum protection.
Personally, I think a mace is a better choice of weapon than a sword against an axe wielding mailclad viking.

Losing his shield he uses his mace as a baton-like shield against a roundshield wielding opponent, as they approach sword on sword.

These choices should come across as deliberate surgical presicion: a master choosing the right tools for the right job.

Contrast this with the slowly growing fear on the part of the Vargr: Are they second guessing themselves? Do they realise they are going to die? What are the looks on their faces?


May I suugest you read the articles on use of the shield in Spada and Spada II? The shield is not a wall to hide behind, it's a defence to move, to block lines of attack whilst opening up a line of attack that can not be defended against.

Are we talking a flat kite shield or curved btw ?
Hi David!

Thanks for the tip I certainly will investigate the Spadas: Until now I've referenced Talhoffer and a few others. Ill never be an expert I know - I just want to be able to justify whats going on in a context that can be close to truth.

I've thought about a few other techniques: also about giving him a smaller, more mobile shield for the offensive methods you imply: In the end I settled on using the kite shield in the context of mounted knight: Large (1.5m) curved norman kite, intended for horseflank and back protection.

This is one heavy piece of wood: 1.5 cm thick, and not suitable for extended combat, beyond the "throw spear and ride away, with shield covering flank" mounted tactics of the battle of hastings for example.

This shield has a symbolic meaning through the film: It is a burden he carries everywhere (to the point of being mocked by his companion as a turtle). Like Obelisk in the Asterisk comics, he bears it on his back, wearily waiting for his horse.

Our protagonist uses it because its all he has; and he would not carry anything that couldnt be put to good use when needed, so he knows how to use it as a ground defense, however unconventionally: but in reality it's an unwieldy wall, given its primary purpose for mounted combat. He hasn't gained his horse yet, and would probably not use it now, except he faces a barrage of axes and spears., and an enemy of as yet unknown strength.

He has an awareness of the danger of thrown axes, so he selects it for extra protection.

Does this make sense?


1.5cm is about as thick as they go, but the shield would not be that thick across it's whole body. The total height is about right. The shield is not going to be ludicrously heavy thro, even for a miles militis.

I found these links which explains some of what I mean



The shield is not a wall to be manoeuvred around, the shield itself is manoeuvred to gain best advantage, even a kite shield can be used in such a manner.
Thanks David - big reply coming :-)

Regarding your point that "The shield is not a wall to be manoeuvred around, the shield itself is manoeuvred to gain best advantage". I respectfully disagree -- or rather I believe it best used by doing both skillfully. We can look at the roman tortoise, greek phalanx, or any modern re-enactment to see that even single fighters can use their shield as exactly that: an immobile obstacle in the path of the attacker. It is the unexpectedness of a shields mobility that seems to work best to its advantage as a defensive measure turned suddenly offensive..

Plus, for the purpose of the story - I want the shield to be heavy, burdensome and solid and justify this as follows:

I believe, from the varied designs I've seen illustrated (and handled), and the incredible range of sizes depicted, that mid-12th century kite shield size was a personal choice for its owner, and would vary depending on intended function and the role of its carrier.

Perhaps a knight would have had several shields for different functions, since we certainly know that a typical crusading knight was usually accompanied by squires, sergeants etc, and had a personalized armoury at their disposal.
Given that our guy is alone, but expecting a horse, I think its fair to assume he would have at least a single shield, a horsemans shield.

I've extrapolated that the kite shield of a mounted rider would have been considerably more heavy and massive than that of a foot soldier, as a horse could handle greater weight than a man, and protection was everything for a faster moving, higher profile, larger target, knight. I believe that if a horse soldier found himself on foot, his tactics with his shield would differ from a regular foot soldiers, to the point he would more easily discard it, or (more likely) use its unwieldiness to his advantage: less mobility, but more security (as with any weighty armour).

Keeping in mind that no-one can tell us with any great certainty what kite shield tactics were to begin with - For example I don't think much of I.33 or Talhoffer applies because we are describing a weapon designed for totally unrelated physical requirements: mounted combat - I think its ok to use our imaginations a little bit, and consider a few unorthodox combat methods, such as those employed by modern reenactors).

Also, having seen modern reenactments where both large-heavy and medium-light kites were employed, I don't think that a heavy riders kite is as maneuverable as a foot soldiers shorter kite for rapid ground combat, and I'd like to explain why:

The measurements I'm basing the kite shield on are a guesstimate from the shield von seedorf (or rather its original dimensions, plus a little, as it was later "decapitated" and converted for ceremonial use). This 12th century specimen sits an even 15mm thick with slight tapering to the edges.

i'm assuming most riders shields were equally thick (1.5cm), or thicker affairs, with solid plank or laminate, given that they were designed to provide protection for horsemen who were essentially charging 5- to 10-man-deep shield walls, and could expect a hail of rocks, axes and spears on their advance/retreat.

In my effort to replicate this sort of shield, I have made two attempts: The first shield was a flat affair made from an old pine door: 3 wide planks glued almost seamlessly, but alas it split apart during steaming / bending. It weighed around 14 kilos, pure wood. I am now using a 15mm thick 7-ply sheet, which is a tad heavier, but will certainly withstand a throwing axe.

When covered in linen and leather, I expect it will weigh in at over 15 kilos; which is not throwing around weight.
In my very limited opinion, its dimensions make it impractical for foot combat: something even 20% smaller is half as light, and 10 times more manoeuvrable.

Hence: a knight using his heavy shield as an immobile obstacle / but suddenly converts it into an ambush device in the face of two spearmen.

Does any of this make sense?


What did you have in mind for a mace? Maces from that era tend to be smaller affairs than later maces. Perhaps like this and made of bronze:

[ Linked Image ]

It would have a wooden haft, non-reinforced, and would be around 2 feet in overall length, maybe less. Does that fit with the reach and amount of force you're thinking of?
Michael, I am very excited that finally authors and (hopefully) production movie makers are taking notice of this esteemed community. However, if I were you, I would remember that some of the people here have been researching this for years upon years. No matter how much sense it will make to you, you have to remember that your vision is skewed by modern misconceptions, energy levels, fitness, and a million other factors.
It would honest to god (if you are going for historical accuracy) to forget about hiring fight consultants and choreographers. Those are the masterminds behind Deadliest Warrior and every other sword fight scene where practitioners of WMA are picking apart how bad the combatants SUCKED. There are enough guys on the site with links and experience to give you a good fight scene that would be VICIOUSLY functional and martially effective.
Some things to remember, re-enactors might have the best kit in the world, but that says nothing about weather they are using any piece of it correctly. When choosing equipment, look for paintings and imagery, not re-enactors. As helpful as they can be, we KNOW that something created back then is 100% period.
For very good info on sword and shield use, shoot a PM to Stephen Hand. The man has written books on the subject.
You could also try Bill Grandy.
For all things horse related, PM Gordon Frye.
I hate to name drop, but those are the first experts that come to mind.
I will try to post some more on individual points tomorrow.
Also, Give Hurstwic a good look. Theyre everything you will Ever need on Vikings. Period.

I have two mace heads (pics below): The one from getdressedforbattle is a little easier to use as a base for a casting in latex - with no sharp edges...axes, spearheads and mace will be cast in latex for safety where rapid moves are being executed ( i.e. actual mace-to-face scenes where real brass would be.. um.. problematic).

I think the other pointy one is more authentic - but perhaps a bit too late for mid 12thc? I haven't yet fixed on which to use.
Can I ask where you found the mace in your picture - it's very good!

Two feet in shaft length would be optimal I think.


Thanks a million for the names; I've been a little afraid to approach people directly to beg information from :-)

Who needs a fight consultants, when I have you guys?

 Attachment: 11.18 KB
from an australian maker on ebay

 Attachment: 5.34 KB
from getdressedforbattle
Michael Mann wrote:
Can I ask where you found the mace in your picture - it's very good!

I "found" the mace in a collection of antiques I got to photograph. I don't have much info on it.
Chad and Michael,

Tod (of Tod's stuff, of course) produces a mace very much like that one, cast in either bronze or brass, through his Tod's Foundry page. He calls it a Viking mace, and it does say that it's copied from a picture of an original, though you might have to ask him for his sources on that one! Anyway, it is a gorgeous little thing.

Also, I've been really interested in long-hafted bronze maces lately, and with some research I've found that nomadic Arabic types used maces extensively. Particularly the Sassanids made great use of relatively light, long maces from horseback, peculiarly against mostly unarmored foes. I have always wondered why the mace is only ever regarded as an anti-armor weapon, anyway. It seems like a solid hunk of knobby metal would do some serious damage to an unprotected face. Ouch!

Anyway, hopefully that helps. Here's Tod's mace:



Last edited by Connor Ruebusch on Tue 17 Aug, 2010 6:37 am; edited 1 time in total
I've been checking (and re-checking) out Tod's maces for some time. :) The one I posted is much more similar to Tod's "Early Medieval Mace #1" than to the Viking mace. For reference, Tod's "Early Medieval Mace #1" has a head that's a good amount smaller than A&A's Iberian mace. These things are not so massive as some people think, which was my point in bringing it up.

I agree they'd do a decent amount of damage to soft tissue, though. :) I wouldn't want to get hit with one.
Yeah, tell me about it... For some reason I can't seem to... stop... looking at them...! I think all of those knobbed cast maces he does are spectacular, and very simple. And kinda cheap, to boot. I might have to get one. :)

I just e-mailled Ryan at Kult of Athena and he is going to have the GDFB mace heads in stock in a few weeks.

These are available in brass or cast steel.

I really like these and they are small enough and rounded enough that they would make great heads of a walking stick or walking staff and I'm planning on buying a few for DIY projects.

One of these mounted on a 3 foot white oak 1 1/8" half should make a really neat walking stick.

Oh, and one can obviously make period maces also. ;) :p :lol:
Michael Mann wrote:
This combat scene is a veteran knight squaring off against a group of untrained thugs. I wish the sequence to demonstrate a huge disparity of skill between combatants. Even the senior Vargr don't really stand a chance. I think this is a valid starting point.

I keep coming back to this. Even dumb thugs can't be so dumb as to fail to realize that they outnumber the hero. This is a "classic" Hollywood cliche: sending one or two at a time to kill the hero. The reality is that the hero cannot possibly kill 7 people at the exact same instant. So, send everyone at once; he can't defend himself from that many people. If everyone is of equal skill (and you've stated they're not), the odds are 7:1 against the hero. If he's twice as good as they are individually, it's still 3.5:1 against. Three times as good as their best man? Still over 2:1 against. :)

Even so, if they all surround him and blindly rush him with no skill, but with brute force and overwhelming numbers, the hero stands little chance. If I'm the chief of the bad guys, I'd rather lose a few guys in a bum rush than all of them to single and double combat.

These send-one-at-a-time scenarios are staples of film, but not staples of reality. :) I understand you may need to have that in your story to prove the hero's skill or street cred, but it's just not that believable to me.
Chad Arnow wrote:
These send-one-at-a-time scenarios are staples of film, but not staples of reality. :) I understand you may need to have that in your story to prove the hero's skill or street cred, but it's just not that believable to me.

The one against many can work if he can position himself so that no more than 2 can attack at a time: Killing the first two in half a second would make the 5 others " pause " and have a problem finding the courage to be the next two to attack.

The crude and untrained fighters would still be street fighters used to killing and not completely unskilled but this is where the very skilled can take advantage of the flaws of self-trained or badly trained fighters who may telegraph their blows or follow through ( swing too widely ) and create openings for a killed fighter.

Skill is not only knowing " tricks " or techniques, although these are important, the high level skilled fighter can read the intentions of the less skilled, control distance and measure more accurately and it's often not what they do but when they do it at what distance.

A bit like a master poker player who is very accurate 90% of the time knowing if the others player(s) are bluffing or not. ;)

Now if you just buy some of the training books fro Christian Tobler or Hugh Knight you could have your " crude fighters " make the classic mistakes that the master strokes are meant to oppose and use this as your starting point in figuring out an interesting sequence of actions showing the competence of your hero !

As opposed to long and dragged out Hollywood fight scenes competence in a fight usually means a very short fight !

Have a look at some of the classic Japanese films like " The seven Samurai " and others by the same director and other top directors and you will see what I mean by giving the appearance of competence and lethality.

Another example are the early Steven Seagal films where he takes out opponents very quickly in a style that was surprising at the time these movies came out when the usual karate movie fight would turn into a long exchange of blows and blocks that never seemed to end the fight no matter how hard someone was hit.


His first film in particular was a good example of efficient competence impressing because the fights and techniques are brief as opposed to fast which may just not show what happened on film:

I think Bruce Lee had to slow down all his moves for a film audience to be able to figure out what happened since if he did it a the real speed it would just have been a blur.
Jean Thibodeau wrote:

The one against many can work if he can position himself so that no more than 2 can attack at a time: Killing the first two in half a second would make the 5 others " pause " and have a problem finding the courage to be the next two to attack.

Any position where no more than 2 can attack at a time would be one in which the hero would be cornered, right? Otherwise, while Untrained Dolt 1 & 2 attack, Untrained Dolt 3-6 would circle behind and knock him off while he was busy with UD 1 & 2. Would the hero leave himself without an escape route? Because any potential escape route he'd have is a potential attack route for the thugs. And it's their camp; they're more familiar with it than he is.

If the hero was smart, he'd either ask to negotiate for the return of the items and leave hastily if they get uppity or he'd simply wait till most of the thugs were asleep, take out any sentries still awake, take what he wants and leave quietly. Leave the possessed chick somewhere else as she just seems to cause trouble. :) (Why does she instruct them to fight her companion?)

Why don't the thugs capture the lady while the hero is distracted? Threaten to kill her if he doesn't surrender?

I get that these scenes kind of one (or two) vs. one scenes are littered throughout films. Most people don't seem to complain and they can be at least entertaining (though not compelling) when done well. I just don't see them as realistic. A good soldier shouldn't put themselves in that position.

I also get that none of my suggestions/scenarios advance your story very well. I'm just talking about realism vs. Hollywood cliche. I'd love to see a movie that finds a way to inject more realism into combat.
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