Brandywine of Combat

Written by Duke Conn MacNeill. Previously Appearing in Online BoP Volume 8, 2003

The Way of the Body

You whole body should move your shield. You whole body should move your sword. Your arm and hand should provide only fine guidance to both. Your body has the strength to manipulate both simultaneously for an extended period of time. Your arms do not. Your body has the strength to help your shield withstand many heavy blows while allowing you to maintain your balance. Your arm does not. Your body has the power to throw crisp blows for several minutes. Your arm does not. The way of combat is the way of the entire body, not the way of the arm.

Don’t Fight Your Equipment

Find the right equipment for your body and your fighting style. Admit all your weaknesses, and while you are correcting them permanently through training, make up for them through equipment that does not challenge them. Rig your shield so that it is in good defensive position while your elbow rests against your side. Find a sword that best translates your particular generation of power to your opponent. Find armor that allows you to move freely. Think about how you can help yourself, and design your equipment appropriately.

Square the Stance

The more square your stance, the greater variety of offense you can generate. Standing in a linear “reverse fencing” stance will seriously limit your offense. Jump in the air and land with your knees bent. Your body will tell you, if you listen to it, what is the on-balance position. Now drop your sword-side foot back just a little, so that your sword-side leg is at a different range than your shield-side leg. Now you can block both legs and throw blows to both sides of your opponent. Your hips, legs, and torso are now free to move in any direction you wish. Free yourself.

Control the Range

Your weapon has a range which is made up of the length of the weapon and the length of your arm. In addition, the range may be manipulated by leaning back and forth, stepping, or drawing the elbow in during a blow. All these conditions exist for your opponent as well. Learn to manipulate the range of both your weapon and your opponents’ to gain an advantage.

Apply the Sweet Spot

Every weapon has a sweet spot. This is about three inches down from the end of the weapon, and runs for about six inches. This point delivers the most force of any given blow to your opponent’s armor. By reaching forward or pulling back the elbow, you can control your weapon so that the sweet spot always strikes your opponent. Take time to consider and learn this.

Step to Strike

Learn to drive your onside strike by stepping with the foot on the same side as the blow. Learn to drive your offside strike by stepping with the foot on the same side as the blow. This way, even when standing still, your hip will move forward appropriately and your blow will be crisp. Add walking and pivoting to your repertoire, and your attack will be flexible and strong. Remember, right strike/right foot: left strike/left foot.

Hands Move in Straight Lines

While the end of the weapon describes an arc as the blow develops, your hand should not. Hands should move in straight lines. Those straight lines should be directed at your opponent. If the hand is not moving toward your opponent, then it should not be moving in any other direction, but providing a pivot around which the arc of the sword is described. While executing a blow the sword hand should never move in any direction away from your opponent. It should always move in straight lines toward the opponent.

Falling Body

If you weigh 100 lbs. and I drop you on your opponent’s head, he will take that as a good blow every time. If you learn to bend your knees as you deliver blows which have as part of their trajectory any downward element, you will drop your body weight on the target. This will ensure a good blow every time.

How to Strike with the Tip

If your opponent has a defense which is difficult to penetrate, think about putting the tip of the weapon solidly in one of the small gaps which are there. By drawing the elbow back during a blow, or changing the height of your body by bending your knees as you strike, your can deliver the tip of the weapon inside a triangle of defense. The hand must grip tightly at the end of the blow, and you must rotate your hand so that the thumb moves toward the opponent and your little finger moves toward your body. You must be committed to striking solidly with the tip of the weapon. Using the body drop principle will add crispness to this blow.

All Things Move Toward Your Opponent

You cannot properly execute an offside attack without moving your body to the offside. Nor can you properly execute an offside attack if your offside hip or foot is not moving toward your opponent. Nor can you properly execute and offside attack if your hand does not move toward your opponent. All of these things are necessary to proper delivery of an offside attack. Make sure you do all of these things. Realize that all hold true for onside attacks as well, it’s just that we fail more often to do them all correctly during offside attacks.

Let Your Stance Be Your Defense

Learn to neutralize your opponent’s offense by taking a stance and position which cuts off their best and quickest attacks simply by the position of your body, shield, and sword. This reduces their possible viable attacks to one or two, and you know they are coming, so they are easy to block. Study your opponents to know which blows of theirs are quickest or best. Block them before the fight begins, and the fight will be much easier for you.

Blocking Is a Last Resort

There are many ways not to be hit by a blow. You can step backwards out of range. You can duck the blow so that it doesn’t hit you, you can move forward toward their arm so that their arm hits you and their weapon doesn’t. You can block the blow. Always do more than one of these at a time. Causing your opponent’s weapon to miss you is the most desirable. Causing your opponent’s weapon to glance off your shield or weapon so that it continues in its arc of movement is next desirable. Solidly blocking the blow is the least desirable. If you can keep their blade moving past you and cause them to become off balance, they will be vulnerable to your blow.

Movements of Vulnerability

During any combat, there are vulnerable moments for your opponent. Some of them are moments of thinking, shifting focus, confusion, fear, being off balance, starting an offensive technique, just after the lay on is called after a hold, or when their attack is over and they are in a transitional moment. During these moment they are vulnerable to fakes, will block their vision, and will not respond quickly enough to your attack. Study these and learn to recognize them. Attack decisively within these moments.

Practice SLOWLY

Practice techniques slowly. Think about them and how your body can deliver them. Do not be in a hurry. You can hurry later when your opponent is swinging at you. You have time to contemplate and analyze now. Use it. Employ whiffle bats, yardsticks, or light wooden dowels to practice as slowly as you can. Then find a partner with a shield, and move SLOWLY. The body learns techniques faster this way, and if you repeat the motions enough, they will become reflexive. Then you can turn the forebrain off while fighting, and let it send through only the information you need.

Think During Practice/Do During Combat

When in actual combat, use the forebrain as little as possible. You have an on-board computer that has been shaped to handle your body though millions of years of natural selection, and if you have practiced your fighting movements slowly and with enough repetition, your brain stem and body will execute the movements without your having to think about them. If you have successfully blocked your opponent’s blow while striking at him cleanly and crisply, and you don’t know how it happened, you have just experienced the incredible efficiency of this system. Trust it. Use it.

Basic Melee Skills (Fighter 202)

Written by Duke Chrystofer Kensor and Syr Lars Vilhamsson. Previously appearing in the Online Bird of Prey Volume 8, 2003.

Teaching Melee skills with a limited number of fighters


(Small numbers translate up)

The purpose of this paper is concerned with the training of melee skills to a limited number of fighters.  I address basic to advanced melee skills, and provide examples and training techniques you can use in your local group, with as little as three combatants.

I’d like to stress the symbiotic relationship between melee and fighting.  Melee is about achieving an objectiveFighting is about killing.  You have to fight to achieve your objective in melee, and to achieve your objective in fighting (winning) you have to kill your opponent.

I believe it is every Calontir soldier’s duty to be ‘melee-aware,’ (i.e., know how SCA melee works before you get out in the field).  New fighters are trained well above the level of training we ‘old timers’ had when we began fighting. This trend will continue to improve as long as we learn from new experiences.  With the level of training constantly increasing, I propose that there are certain melee aspects that need to be  ingrained in newer fighters.  We try to do this on a semi-annual basis, spending a couple of hours at war maneuvers to teach basic shield wall tactics, how to use a pole in melee, etc., but many more basic concepts of melee can be at least introduced, at the local fighter practice.

For the commander, consider tactical war games.  Each piece does not represent one soldier, but a whole company.  That is how you can think about SCA combat when you are planning command decisions, OR how you can train the small number of fighters in our local group to fight melee.  This mentality of training not only aids you in the development and implementation of new strategies, but gives your fighters important melee attacking  and defending skills which, when combined with the rest of the army, enhances the performance of the Calontir war host.

Lars tells us that we fight for four reasons – Safety, honor, fun, and to win.  Safety first, as we never want to hurt (just kill) our friends; honor, as that is a watchword of our Society and part of why we fight; fun, because why would you fight if you weren’t having fun, and finally to win.  Fighting is competitive, and winning is the conscious objective of the fight.

The paper is divided into four sections:  Weapons Use, contains basic information on how to fight in a melee environment; Engagement, covers when you are engaged versus when you think you are engaged; Movement, details repositioning yourself for better target opportunities; and Tactics, enforce some ways to quickly dispatch your opponents.

Much of the information contained within is the culmination of the war leaders of Calontir through the ages.  I must however, specifically attribute Sir Lars Viljhamsson with teaching me (and many of us) these basics.

This paper assumes that you are an authorized fighter of Calontir, with some experience in SCA fighting, be it melee of any size or just at practice.


Weapon’s Usage

Weapon’s use in melee differs from that of individual combat in the fact that you are presented with multiple targets on multiple opponents at any given time, and you are forced to recognize these targets and the threats. These targets are constantly changing, and decisions as to their effects need to be assessed on an ongoing basis.  The wrong decision made, and you are dead, or at best, a target is lost.  The melee environment is a fluid one, constantly changing until the last blow is swung.  In this part of the text, we discuss basic melee fighting concepts, taking advantage of combined arms.




In a line, you are engaged with all fighters in the other line, 2 or 200. Combined arms means that you and up to three of your buddies can strike one opponent.  A good way to accomplish this is by targeting different parts of a single enemy fighter, as a shield can only block so much.  In working with another fighter, single out a foeman, and tell your buddy to go high, or low (then you will strike the opposite).  This way, two of you are throwing two different shots, one at say the opponent’s head, and one at the opponent’s off side body, and it is likely they will not be able to block both.  This technique is often used with artillery, but can be used with any combination of arms.


Cross Shooting (a/k/a, Cross Firing)

In melee, you are generally not fighting the foeman directly in front of you.  You are fighting the line in front of you (i.e., that you are engaged with).  In this regard, the majority of your kills (and threats) will come from the foemen in the line that are within weapons range (spear range) from all around.  This is because when you are part of a line, there are many targets (for both sides) that you can not protect all at once.  Throwing shots at these targets (cross shooting) is optimal exploitation for killing.

When you are in a line, you need to be aware of the “make-up” of the enemy line (what is the placement of weapons, how is the unit organized, what is the unit doing, etc.), and look for openings.  Openings generally occur on the sides of fighters (that’s what makes cross firing so destructive). Targets to look for are AROUND shields:  at the base of shields, gaps where legs are vulnerable; shoulder/neck regions where the head is vulnerable; and side pockets between the weapon and shield where you might land an abdomen.

When cross firing, you need to be aware of the fight going on in the line in front of you.  Pay attention to who is throwing blows, and in what succession.  If a spearman is firing, then pausing, then firing, then pausing, you can see the pattern where they have just fired, then are about to recover.  That is the time to make your move:  at the point where their shot is about to hit your line.  They will be hyper extended, and not yet thinking about coming back to a guard position.  Be aware that this (when YOU throw your shot) is the time YOU will be most venerable as well.  Pay attention to people who are focused on another part of the fight.  The person looking over there is an easy target.  People who are not paying attention are asking to be gaked.

There are times when you can’t make the killing blow, but you can help your buddy by creating an opening.  Use these techniques for getting around shields.

Generally we don’t aim for shields.  Newer fighters have a tendency to do this, and we try to correct it.  There are times, however, when hitting a shield is called for.  Smashing down on a shield can be demoralizing and sometimes intimidating for a fighter.  It tires them out (careful, it tires you out as well).  Hitting a shield often opens up a slot for another target (cross firing).

When you have a shield someplace you don’t want it to be, you can use the cross-firing technique to open a slot.  Hook (or press) your opponents shield in one of the corners (or edges).  This will generally cause him to table his shield, and if you informed your buddy next to you, he’s wide open.


Leg them

If you can take the legs of a fighter in a melee, you have reduced their effectiveness enormously.  Sometimes you don’t have time to fight every fighter you encounter.  If you can take their legs, you have destroyed their ability to move around the field, and rendered them fairly useless.  You can come back for them after accomplishing your objectives.

The following two segments, “Wingman,” are exercises that can be done to train basic melee fighting.  For our example, each unit of two will have one each sword/shield (s/sh) and one pole-arm.  The one will be s/sh.




When are you Engaged?

Engagement is one of the trickiest concepts for most fighters to grasp and maintain in the heat of battle.  With constant movement and repositioning, flanks and attacks, engagement in a melee can change in a split second with little warning.  So how can you tell if you’re engaged?


The “Basics” of Engagement:

1. You are engaged with someone when you move within weapon’s range.  That is, the longest weapon’s range of the two of you.

2. To engage with someone you must have eye contact.  Eye contact should be established, before you throw a blow, and this generally means your opponent recognizing that you are an enemy.  Your opponent is supposed to “know” (realize, recognize, have “ample” time to defend himself) that the two of you are engaged before you swing at him.


Depending on the urgency of the attack, you may be so kind as to tap your opponent on the back of the shoulder to get their attention.  If they ignore you, move around to a better position where they can’t.  NEVER STRIKE ANYONE FROM BEHIND, EVER (see #5 below).

You may not feel like being polite.  Pushing, fouling weapons, and the like are perfectly legitimate ways to get your opponent’s attention.  At the least, you may tie him up where someone else can get a kill (cross-firing).

You may not have the time for such strategies.  I encourage yelling at your opponent.  A good blood curdling scream from the bad guy who wasn’t there a second ago, always brings out the feeling of a period moment.  You might even want to introduce yourself, “Hi, I’m a bad guy,” or some such verbiage, before you engage.  When he turns to acknowledge whatever you are talking about, give him a second to realize the nature of your business, then, lay-on (Some times you pick the wrong bad guy to sneak up on. There’s always the chance he could turn around swinging.  Always be on guard when engaging an opponent.  Even the ones you don’t feel threatened by.  They’re the sneakiest)!


3. Two facing lines are engaged when they come into weapon’s range.  When you are in a line, you are engaged with EVERYONE in that line (cross-firing).

4. Flanks are the worst.  More than likely this is where you will have engagement problems.  You’re at the end of a line, on a line that can fold in on itself.  You can be engaged from multiple angles, and armies.  The same can be said if you engage a flank.  The best way to avoid engagement issues is to be aware of EVERYTHING AROUND YOU.

If you are on a flank, and you get pressed from the side, don’t disengage from the fight you are in to engage the new threat.  If you do, you are now engaged on two fronts, and only quickening your demise.

5. Don’t turn around!  Once you are engaged, you continue to be engaged until you leave the longest weapon’s range.  You can be hit in the back if you turn to run, disengage, or just get confused or overwhelmed.  Once you are engaged, if your opponent turns, give him a firm slap on the head.  Just enough to let him know he wasn’t clear yet.  This is the only instance where you should think about hitting someone in the back.  They knew you were there, and they knew you might do it.  Just be friendly about it.

In that same regard.  If you charge through an enemy line, you are engaged with the front rank as much as you are they rank you are facing.  While it is unlikely you will get killed from behind, you will be swung at as you go through the ranks of your foemen.

If you are being charged, don’t panic.  Try to block the charge by killing the lead charger.  If you can’t, keep your wits and your guard, and try to kill others as they pass by you. Do not worry if some of the enemy get through the shield-wall.  There are generally a bunch of great-sword guys hanging out in reserve that welcome that kind of visitor.


Shade (The Buddy System)

Shade is the concept that, in line fighting, you are protecting your buddy as much as you are protecting yourself.  In that regard, you can stay more focused on the fight(s) more directly in front of you, and not have to worry about your flank(s).  Shade narrows your focus.  Again, be aware of everything around you.  If you loose your shade, something’s wrong.

Scutum fighters are a good example of shade.  As shade, they protect the pole-arm fighters abdomen and below, so the pole-arms can concentrate more on killing, and less on their lower bodies.  If a scutum fighter is killed, the shade is gone, and the pole fighter exposed.


Internal Timer (Have I been here too long?)

Important to pay attention to, although you may loose all sense of time when you are in a melee, is your “internal timer.”  This is particularly true when you are in a smaller group, or by yourself.  As the nature of battle can change in a moment’s notice, it is too easy to get wrapped up in killing, and fail to notice the unit closing on your flank, or your buddies running off.  You don’t have to “run and gun,” but be aware about getting too focused on what you are doing, where there are a number of other factors that may change without warning.


Charging (Through/Into, What is the Difference?)

Charging is generally organized by the commanders with one of two purposes in mind:  A heavy press into or the enemy line to push it back, or to penetrate through the line.  A charge can be a whole line charge, or a press through one side to weaken the enemy line/unit.

If you see an opportunity to make a hard press/charge, communicate with the troops around you.  The charge will be situational, and you may not have the support needed to make an effective strike.  Wait for the opportunity, and when the time is right, make the charge.  Tell, quietly and quickly, the people around you that you are planning a charge.  If you just shout out, “Let’s go!,” and run into the enemy line, chances are your buddies are going to watch befuddled as your run into certain death.  If you get a group together, you’ll have more support to make an effective charge.  Be prepared.

Generally, a charge will be INTO a line.  That is to say, with engagement and the intent to cause heavy damage in a short amount of time.  It may be a press to push the unit back, or away from a particular area.  It may be a last ditch effort of a loosing unit to break free, or cause serious damage to a bigger unit (think kamikaze) .  It may be a limited push to accomplish a task like breaking through part of the unit, or inflict other discord.

When charging, keep a high guard, and stay tight & covered until you get into the fray.  When you are all bunched up with the enemy, take advantage that the enemy is just as bunched up, and has less room to swing. With a higher guard, you can move a bit more freely than your opponents (and look at all the heads!).  Remember you’re engaged with most everyone around you, so pay attention to the difference between weapons striking you and incidental contact with shields and armor.

At times, you may be called to charge THROUGH a line (such as a “bug-out” situation).  The objective here it to get through the line/unit, to the other side, without being killed.  Keep covered up.  DO NOT STOP TO ENGAGE (if you do, a clotting effect will occur and the penetration is over).  Move through quickly and determinedly.  Pass through against the flats of shields.  Keep on guard, and get through as soon as possible without stopping to engage.  The gauntlet drill is a great exercise for this maneuver.


Gauntlet Drill –Line up a number of fighters in a row, offset from one another about 9′ apart on the diagonal.  The fighters in the gauntlet should be just within spear range of one another.  Have the person running the gauntlet run up to each fighter, throw a blow, and move on to the next fighter, without stopping to engage.  This teaches a focus on defensive movement, while still maintaining a threat.



Movement – flanking

Flanking a unit is the best!  Flanks are the sides of a line.  They can occur by accident when a line breaks, or naturally when a unit is passing by.  Natural flanks tend to be more supported, but all that changes quickly when the ‘big’ fight is in front of the line.

Flanking is done by engaging the end of a line.  You have the opportunity to run behind the enemy ranks, to break them up, or fight a smaller number of fighters then if you were engaging the front of the line.  A line that passes within weapons range is engaged.

Flanking is often best done when the unit being flanked doesn’t see you until you engage.  Wide flanks, sometimes really wide flanks, are required to make the best opportunity.  In these cases, you need to consider the amount of time it will take you to get to a certain location, and if you can spare that in the overall battle plan.


Passing Around (Small Circles)

Small circles repel big circles.  If you are pressed, pivot off of one of your heels, remaining on guard, and take a step backwards with your other foot.  If you are being pressed by someone going in a straight line, they will continue to go in a straight line when they don’t meet the expected resistance of your shield, and suddenly, their back is open.  This technique works best in the open field when facing a single or single line of fighters.




Who to Kill

In the front ranks of a line, your duty is to protect the artillery in the half rank behind you.  In that half rank, your duty is to protect the first rank, and kill the enemy.  Shields cover the poles, poles fend off presses and lay barrage/suppressing attack fire, and spears exploit targets of opportunity all around.  Look for these targets of opportunity:

1.  People who are not paying attention to the fight going on around them (for the obvious reasons).

2.  People shouting orders.  These people are doing what you don’t want – communicating.  People shouting orders are probably more experienced fighters, trying to get their unit (or section of unit around them) to do something.  Often, that something is motivating them to charge, or take advantage of a situation, you may not be aware of.

3. People wearing crowns/coronets/white belts/or recognizable heraldry.  People wearing recognizable heraldry (as described above) are likely commanders (they at lease advertise that they have some skill at arms).  In many units, the commander is the glue that holds the unit together.  Killing a commander can be demoralizing, and confusing for the enemy.  A lot of the time, more undisciplined units will go into battle with their only command being, “Follow me!”  If you kill that commander, the rest of his unit has to make up their next plan, and depending on the skill of the unit, killing that one commander may effectively take the threat out of that unit.

4.  Threats.  The spearman who has off-ed three of your buddies needs to die.  The first guy in a charge needs to be shown the errors of his ways (and hopefully some of his buddies will trip all over him and slow the rest down).  The fighter who is sneaking up on your right flank can’t be allowed to get away with that.  That sneeky combat-archer hiding behind that shieldman.  If you see something that is “bad” and you can do something about it, quickly weigh the options (Will it get you killed?  Will it save the unit?  Can this be done some other way?  Is it worth it?), and commit.  At the very least, let some other fighters know what’s going on.  Someone may have a better opportunity to correct the situation.


How to Confront a Shield-man Backed by Artillery

When closing with multiple opponents, there are two strategies that may be employed, both of which use your opponent as a shield.  For simplicity, let us assume you are a sword and shield (s/sh) fighter confronting a s/sh backed with a pole-arm.

One strategy is to circumvent the s/sh fighter and get the pole between you and the s/sh.  In doing this, you have placed the s/sh out of range, as he cannot fight effectively around the pole.  This turns the situation into a one on one with the s/sh.  This strategy works better in an open field, as you will have to constantly be aware of the s/sh and where they are repositioning to.

To avoid this situation, it’s best to work together and support each other with combined arms (see tactics-wingman).

The other version of this thought is more readily used when you are pressing a line.  If you can get so close to the s/sh that they cannot effectively fight you (i.e., place the flat of your shield on and above your opponent’s shield), you can concentrate your firepower on the artillery behind them. You can also cross-fire to other s/sh in the front ranks.  You will need to exert some pressure on your opponents shield.  At first he may think you are pressing him, but after a bit he will get annoyed.  Also, don’t succumb to the urge to kill the s/sh you’re pressing.  They are helping keep you alive.

If you are confronted in this manner, pivot on your shield foot (if you can) and let the force of him pushing carry him through to “fall” forward.  If he’s pressing your shield, and suddenly it gives away (moves back) he is going to “fall” the direction he is pressing.  (small circles)

Both of these techniques involve being very aware of the situation around you.


Wingman (2 on 2) (Teamwork)

The concept here is to play off one another.  The two of you will line up facing the two of them.  At lay-on, one of you will charge into the enemy line.  Your buddy will be a half step behind you, taking advantage of your attack, cleaning up.  If you are not successful in killing your target opponent, come quickly back around and engage the enemy that your buddy is struggling against.  Your buddy will then, in turn, disengage, and come quickly back around and engage the enemy that you just engaged, and so on.


Wingman (2 on 1) (Dispatch Quickly)

In a two on one, your objective is to kill the one fighter quickly and efficiently.  This is used in battlefield conditions when you can’t spend a lot of time in one given place.  The two of you close quickly and strike at different targets (high/low).

If you are the “one,” review How to Confront a Shield-man Backed by Artillery above.

Melee fighting isn’t about killing your opponents.  Melee fighting is working together to achieve an objective.  Often times that does mean a lot of killing, but at times it means keeping a cool head, and knowing the best way to accomplish the objectives set before you.


Lastly, here are some ways to improve your or your local group’s melee skills:

– War Practice – At least once in a while, have a fighter practice devoted to melee.  Two on one drills can be exponentially increased to accommodate any number of fighters.  Learn how to work with, and play off of one another.  Practice melee situations, especially engagement.  Practice fighting with unequal numbers.

– Take your show on the road – Get together with the next closest group and challenge them.  Have a local ‘war’ event between the two groups to determine who owns that river/road/pile of cookies.  Test yourselves.

– Go to war – The best way to experience what SCA combat is like, it to be there doing it.  Experience gives you insights no practice can.  Experience is our best recruiter, anyone who has been to a major war will urge others to go and share in the camaraderie.

– Focus on the weapons of war – Train in pole, spear, and shield.  These weapons are most effective in melee.

–  Take command! – Take turns in your small local unit.  Command gives you better insight on how things work.  When you have to figure out where to commit your troops in a heavy fight, you soon begin to learn what works and what doesn’t.  Even if you never command a large army, you will have a better understanding of why the generals issue the commands they do.

– Read, game and research – After the practice, hang out with your comrades-in-arms, war game together, play chess, read about tactics and strategies of wars and battles.  Practice thinking ahead.


These are just ideas to get you started.  Be innovative.  Continue to practice and learn from any source available.  When you see something that needs done – do it!  When you see a hole in the line – fill it!  Improvement of our army comes from each one of us, from the beginning shield-fighter to the veteran commander.   Tactical conditioning starts with the individual fighter, and spreads throughout the army with repeated training and exposure (to combat; to new ideas).  Take a leading role in the Calontir army and prepare yourself for the next time Their Majesties call us to arms!

Small Unit Fighting (Fighter 201)

Written by Duke Chrystofer Kensor. Originally appearing the the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 8, 2003

Small Unit Fighting

(Fighter 201)

Duke Chrystofer Kensor, EAldorman Calontir, KSCA,


April 20, A.S. XXXIII


When I originally wrote the outline for this class, I was under the impression, mistakenly, that I was writing about general melee fighting. My first outline was three pages covering everything from line fighting to battlefield strategies and tactics. Later, when I found that I only had 45 minutes to cover small unit fighting (what I feel that all fighters should know about basic melee awareness), my first problem was logistics. How to teach a seven-man unit to react to battlefield conditions – knowing that I would not have enough

combatants to simulate the environment that I wanted my pupils to be aware of. I needed a large area and numerous combatants to effectively teach small unit fighting. Dilemma.

I took my original outline, I purged the parts that I thought irrelevant and extrapolated on the remaining relevant topics. I presented my first draft to my squire, Gaius, and received excellent feedback. In that discussion, it dawned on me that the basics of small unit combat (any melee fighting, really) breaks down to three basic principals: awareness, efficiency; and mobility. I rewrote my lecture based on those principals. When I was reviewing my final draft with my squire, Hengest, he asked if I was going to use playing pieces to simulate combat. That insight was brilliant! Syr Andrew Lyon of Wolvenwood has taught us a melee-chess game that he came up with to simulate small unit combat and how fighters could use combined arms together in melee. It seemed only fitting to include.

This work you will soon be reading is the lecture copy that I presented at War College, April A.S. XXXIII. It has been augmented to include insights that came up during the two classes that I presented it to, including comments that I emphasized when speaking about specific points. It also answers some points that weren’t originally address. The response I received from the class was very positive, and I continue to welcome comment and discussion on the issues contained herein.

The drills I cite were taught to me by Sir Lars Viljalmsson; the picto-grams are from Viscount Ternon de Cearleon’s “Book of Rattan Death”, and the melee-chess game is the creation of Syr Andrew Lyon of Wolvenwood. The remaining comments of this work are mine, based on my observations, experience and philosophy regarding SCA combat. When writing, I primarily had Pennsic in mind, but the conditions are relevant throughout the Society’s wars. Feel free to distribute this work, giving proper credit to the respective authors. I challenge anyone reading this to improve their melee skills. I can’t teach you how to approach melee fighting, but I can tell you what I’ve seen work, and that can be a good jumping off point to develop your own command and leadership skills.

-the Falcon Flies -Duke Chrystofer Kensor, EAldorman Calontir, KSCA, OP, etc.


Awareness. Efficiency. Mobility.

The purpose of this class is to acquaint the fighter with the small unit and how the small unit can best react to different battlefield situations.

The small unit is a microcosm of the bigger army. Tactics used in a small unit can be translated up to bigger units or even down to the individual combatant. These tips are presented from a commander’s point of view. The thinking behind that is that if everyone is capable of taking command of a small group of fighters, then everyone should know what will be expected of them in a small unit scenario.

Small units differ from skirmish or cavalry units due to their purposes.

– Skirmish units generally are a part of the army that screens incoming stray fighters or delays an attack while the army forms up. At that point, they fade back into the main body of the army.

– Cavalry units are often called on to support the army when a hard attack is called for in a specific area.

– Small units are just that, a small group of fighters who may or may not have a specific purpose but who are on their own to survive for a limited amount of time (as long as they remain unattached to the main body of the army).


Small Units

Regarding the complement of the small unit:

When having the luxury of being able to compose a small unit, one formula is the “pyramid” method of building: for every two shieldmen, have one pole-arm; for every two pole-arms, have one spear. This formula keeps your artillery well covered by your

infantry a good balance of firepower and maintains the quick response and mobility of your unit. You might substitute a spear for the second pole, when a number of poles are not available (giving you range with less numbers). Any given situation will demand new reasons to increase the number of a particular weapon style. Adaptation to the needs of the objective is a crucial consideration in every case.

Generally in a small unit (for our purpose, we assume that a small unit is less than 15 fighters), you are trying to either accomplish a specific task or get back to the main body of the army. In any case, we assume that there is no way to gain the aid of a bigger unit, and you are faced with tactical and logistical situations. In trying to do either, you may be faced with challenges and opportunities that the unit will have to overcome to survive. How do you maintain cohesion of the unit to accomplish your task or make it back to reinforce the main body of the army? Three key concepts: awareness, efficiency, and mobility.


Always be aware of your environment. Look around at all times unless you are directly engaged. Look for tactical situations developing. Is the unit in front of you getting ready to charge or disengage? Is that a big unit on the move? Look around every opportunity you get to see what kind of opponents you are facing. When you encounter another group, know the size, make-up, and when possible, what they are doing/where they are going. Look to see if this is a major army with multiple companies/reserves or a small unit like yourselves. If at all possible, try to get an accurate estimate of numbers. If you run into an allied commander, you can act as a scout and inform them of those three elements of the unit you encountered. Saying that there’s a bunch of blue tape over there doesn’t help that much. The make-up of the unit you encounter is equally important. What is their balance of weapons? Look to see if the unit is armed with shields (and if they are war shields or regular shields) or artillery. Get an estimate of the ratio of shields to poles/spears if you can. This can give you clues to their potential assignment or where they could be a threat later. Also look for key targets. Kings, dukes and other command types of people that might have heraldry.

Knowing heraldry also gives aids you in determining what kind of unit you are facing. By recognizing the heraldry of a unit, you can begin to tell how specific units fight: the Black and Purple unit hits hard; or the unit with White Stages on a Green Field runs and guns, those guys with the fur and no armor are ‘crazy’. Knowing how a particular unit fights a particular way, and seeing them across the field, you will have a greater knowledge of how to react to them.

Banners or specific scenario objectives are good to know about. Specific units, like a roving pack of knights or Tuchux are hunter/killer groups sometimes assigned to just run around and kill off resurrecting fighters or other small units. You might run across a small, disorganized band of fighters coming from resurrection point. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POTENTIAL THREAT FROM ANY SIZE UNIT. Just because they don’t look nasty, doesn’t mean they aren’t.


It is equally important to know the make-up of your own unit, the skill level of those who will fight beside you (as well as their war experience), and what weapons you have to work with. This knowledge of your unit’s potential and limitations will aid your decision-making when decision-making time is a premium. Know also the physical health of your unit, as well as their morale. A group of fighters who just came out of a hard fight aren’t going to be able to run back and take a banner. Likewise, morale is equally important. Fighting should be fun, never desperate.

By a few moments’ observation (or just by passing by the unit encountered) you may be able to discern what the enemy is up to. They may be engaged on one side, and you’ve come across their rear/reserves. If they are defending a key target, they may have skirmishers to keep you at a distance. Keep at a distance and look past the skirmishers to see what they are guarding. They may be a decoy. If the unit is on the move, look to see if they are marching or are at a faster pace. Shadow them if they let you. They may be taking you to a desperate fight that one of you needs to win (or not).

Be aware of your physical environment as well. Know the lay of the land, including boundaries, hazards, marshals, chirurgeons, and bubble-holds. This knowledge will help you move from point to point faster and let you put the whole battle in perspective as you observe what is going on. Keep away from anywhere you don’t want to fight. Know where your best escape route is. A small unit can move through dense or even crowded terrain much faster than a big unit. Use terrain to hide in, escape, and deter your opponents.

Also keep an eye for the occasional ‘gonzo’ fighter who will charge you from a blind side. ALWAYS be aware of everything around you.



When you engage in combat as a small unit, you ideally want to do the maximum damage with the minimum effort, take little or no casualties, then leave the fight intact. With a small number of fighters, you need to do those things perfectly, of which your unit is capable. You can’t change that there is a unit of 30 combatants that you have to get through, but you can outmaneuver them, draw them out so another unit can take them more readily, string them out to kill them more efficiently, or hit their flank when they’re engaged so that you now face a smaller threat.

The bad thing is that when you take any losses, your unit’s strength is greatly reduced. When I think about the make-up of units/armies and trying to split them up, I think in percentages, as they better translate to any size unit. You need to quickly dispatch your opponents, or move rapidly to your objective, without interference. A small unit can do these things with mobility and focus.

The fighters in the small unit must work together to ensure survival. There is no reason you can’t maximize your killing potential by working together and devastating any small group (maybe even up to twice your size) if your shields and artillery work off of each other and remain fluid and mobile. Support each other by capitalizing on targets (just as in line fighting). DON’T belly-up fight (engage a unit head on), unless you can either disengage easily, blow through the line, or devastate your opponent quickly.



A good point about the small unit is that one person can generally command the unit without having interference from different stimuli (i.e., a small unit generally can only fight one fight at a time, unlike a company which can be fighting on two fronts at once). One commander can focus the unit’s attention. One fighter can readily give direct commands to everyone in the unit, without the confusion of a sub-commander. This greatly aids in quick, concise decision-making. Communication is much easier, and the small unit can hit harder, quicker, and disengage more readily than a large unit.

Due to the size of your unit, there are few tasks you can take on successfully in a heads-up fight. Mobility effectively changes the size of your unit. A small unit that faces a bigger unit, line to line, will easily get devastated by the large number of fighters in front of them. A small unit that is mobile can run and gun, hit the larger unit on virtually any side, or even penetrate through the unit, causing chaos in their ranks and possibly breaking it up. The best example of that tactic is a mad-dog1 type of maneuver. A small unit moves faster (a unit’s movement is generally limited to the movement of its slowest fighter). A small unit can move more readily through hazardous terrain. No commander of a large unit is going to follow a small unit through dense forest, or through a pass between other units, for fear of losing cohesion of the unit. Small units can also react quicker to a given situation. A large army takes longer to regroup, turn, and engage. A small unit can do all this in a fraction of the time. Fighting the Fight ATTACK WHERE THE ENEMY LEAST EXPECTS IT (they hate that!)

Tactical fighting generally isn’t directly in front of you. That’s the fun part of command – knowing what’s going on and how your unit can be the most devastating in regard to the situation. Sometimes you need to fight those guys behind the line, or in the second rank, that think they’re doing a great job killing your spearmen. Using a small unit’s mobility, you can easily create havoc where you want, and this aids in an overall control of the

battle.Have a small unit charge through a line and get in the backfield.

Do a wide flank – really wide (out to the edges of the hard boundary if time permits) – and get in back of their army. Get small or walk unassumingly, as people sometimes discount the fighters who look like they’re walking back to resurrection point (not paying attention to tape color or even that big golden falcon on your chest). Never lie when asked if you’re dead though, and don’t go out of your way to look dead (NEVER CHEAT).

Be prepared to run away. If a big unit is coming at you, maybe you should keep your distance. Know how to charge through a group of fighters without engaging. It’s hard but rewarding when you come out in back and see the unguarded banner (Getting back out is another problem.) Once in back, you can hang out and relax for a while (a while may be a fraction of a second or as long as you can stay unnoticed) and observe the situation to see where your unit can do the most damage. Look for corners/ends of lines that you can come up against or gaps where the enemy line is breaking up. Look for thin lines you can break through. Look for key targets, commanders, spearmen, or banners you can take out. Again, you’re running a lot and are under a great deal of fire often. Don’t ignore shots; expect to be hit from behind. Expect to be hit hard (Like I said, they really hate it when you’re running amongst them.)

Running through the back of the enemy line can cause chaos (We like a nice controlled chaos.) By crowding the foemen together where they can’t swing, pushing them (politely but firmly) out of ranks, or tying up their weapons or shields where they can’t swing or block you are creating a distraction that the enemy must deal with in addition to the front they are facing. If you are discovered and need to get back to your unit, they’re right in front of you. Be careful when you run through the back of the enemy lines to return to your company. You might be confused with a charge and be killed by friendly fire. If you

can signal to your friends that you’re either going to be a disruption; they can have time to monopolize on it, or that you’re coming through, and you’d like them to help you out of that situation you’ve put yourself in. Even those big purple tabards don’t indicate your intent when you’re charging out of an enemy line into the Calontir army!

When out in the field, distractions can be a useful tactic to promote killing also. One small unit can easily distract an entire wing of the enemy line. The more of their fighters

engagement you can control or detain, gives your army greater odds in the overall fight. You need to be aware here, that your unit is not needed elsewhere, that your unit is not holding less than 1:2, and that your army isn’t losing the fight altogether.

You might also have one fighter run past the line, maybe engage and break off quickly, then have the small unit attack while the enemy is focused on the running fighter. The same can be done by splitting the unit in two, having the first half of the unit do a pulse charge and disengage. Then, as the enemy is pulled out, the second half of the unit can hit them in the flank, and the first unit can reinforce the second attack. Do take into account

the size of the unit you’re engaging, and think about your alternatives before engaging.

Before committing to any situation, have a good idea of the outcome and what your next alternative might be if you survive.

Is this pulse charge into the back of the Eastern army going to do anything or just get your guys killed with no significant tactical achievements? Can you actually take that banner and have a good chance of getting out or just weaken the banner guard so that another unit can finish the task (check to see if there’s another unit who can back you up before such commitment)? Remember, once you’re discovered as a threat, the commanders will want to exterminate you. You need to move quickly to your objective, accomplish what you set out to do, and get out of the situation quickly! Remember Princess Leia to Han Solo, “When you came in here, didn’t you have a plan to get out?” Always think about what happens next.

In summary The keys to the best achievements in battlefield scenarios are awareness of the surrounding environment, quick purposeful movement, and efficient combat skills (quick and ‘proper’ reaction to the situation). Know who to fight for the best possible outcome of the overall scenario. Only put your unit in a situation that you can control and that will fit a key piece to complete the strategic puzzle of the battle.

Below is an outline of tips of what to look for and drills that can be done to train these concepts. The drills can be preformed with as little as three fighters.

Awareness can be trained best through  knowledge of what to look for. Keep in mind the following when in a battlefield situation:

– Know your unit. Know the complement of weapons available and the skills of the fighters with you.

– Be aware of changing battlefield situations. Expect the unexpected.

– Be aware of the enemy, the complement of their unit, how they stand, how they move, and what their posture is overall. Pay particular attention to key facts like number of fighters,

make-up of weapons, and if there are any scenario objectives they might be guarding. Look for heraldry that might signify kings, or other commanders.

– Be aware of your physical environment. Know the lay of the land. Know what the best routes are from strategic point to strategic point. Keep away from areas you don’t want to fight in, including hazards and boundaries.


Efficiency should, to an extent, already be part of a soldier’s basic knowledge. These are some basic drills that can be adjusted to accommodate any number of fighters greater than two:

– Practice two-on-one drills where the object is to knock out your opponent as quickly as possible. Use high/low and leg and leave techniques. Protect your friend while eliminating the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible.

– Practice two-on-two drills using movement and range to your advantage. Know how shields and poles best work together, and capitalize on efficiency.

– Practice running a gauntlet or breaking through a line without engaging. Get through alive and hit the enemy where they don’t expect to be hit.


Mobility is often the key to the survival of the small unit.

Being able to get to where you need to be, then getting out quickly ensures the survival of the unit. Practice:

– Movement to Control – In any combat, the unit having the control of movement, will control the fight. Be conscious of this when you fight one on one. See how much control you have over the fight when you are in command of mobility.

– Know how to use terrain features to your advantage. Fight down a hill (from on top), using trees as immortal shieldmen. Know the best escape routes.

– Know how to do more advanced maneuvers like pulse charges2, flanking maneuvers3, and how to bug-out4. Being able to disengage at a moment’s notice is stunning to an enemy.


Footnotes Regarding Terms used in this Work

1. Mad-dog – A flanking maneuver. Your army runs wide, left or right of the enemy army (mad-dog right/left), and continues to circle the enemy, just in range, throwing shots at any opportune target. The enemy will try to track you as you run by, only to

be hit by an upcoming fighter. The mad-dog maneuver continues until your unit has the superior odds, it breaks out into small melees, or a counter measure is taken by the enemy, splitting your line, and reducing your momentum.

2. Pulse Charge – A charge intended to push the enemy rank back and then disengage.

3. Flank (v.) – Moving out of range of the enemy, usually to one side, either to hit from the side or to pass by without engaging.

4. Bug-out – The situation is hopeless, you’re taking heavy casualties, you stay here, and you die. There may be times when survival is more important than holding ground. Bugging out is disengaging from a hopeless fight to regroup elsewhere.


Sir Andrew’s Melee-Chess Game

This is a game that Syr Andrew-Lyon of Wolvenwood created to simulate melee combat using readily available pieces.

Playing Pieces


Piece Represents Range Defend Move Special Rules

Pawn Sword/Shield 1 5 1

Rook Pole-Arm 2 4 2

Bishop Spear 3 3 2

Knight Duke (two weapon) 1 6 3 Gets

two attacks

King King 1 5 2 Reduces

defense –1

Queen Archer (Optional) 4 2 4

One Die

Initial Play

Each player rolls to see who gets initiative each round. The winner decides if they want to move first or not. The player who moves first, moves any number of their pieces (all, some or none). Then the second player moves any number of their pieces (all some or none).

Declare Attacks

Next, the first player declares his attacks. He may attack with any, all, or none of his pieces. Pieces may fire over one another from either player’s pieces the number of squares in their range. One piece may be attacked from multiple pieces (i.e. three

shieldmen in a range of one pole-arm, may each attack that polearm). However, when the target has been killed, the remaining pieces may not declare a different attack that round. The second player then declares his attacks in like manner.


The attacks are next resolved. The first player goes through his declared attacks one at a time, the defending player rolling the single die for results. If he rolls below the defend point, he successfully defends from the attack, and nothing happens. Should he roll the defend point or above, his defense failed and his piece is dead, and should be removed only after his play. Pieces killed during the first player’s turn get to make their

attack even if they are killed. This is to simulate concurrent combat conditions.

Special Rules

The duke gets two attacks per round. He may use them on the same target or two separate targets.

The king effectively gets a +1 to hit. He reduces his opponent’s

defense by one point.

Play Variations

You can play this game as a field battle using the whole board.

You can play as a limited front using only a few squares.

You can play different scenarios, like to the last man, or kill the


So, You’re a Sergeant, Huh? (Now What?)

Written By Sir Kirk fitz David, with Foreward by Sir Halvgrim. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 7 Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

Over the years I have been honored with various command roles within the Army of Calontir and have watched numerous others fill these rolls too. In general most folks seem excited about the prospect but then as the time for War roles closer these feelings of excitement often turn into ‘cold feet.’

Even though they may have been filling the roles in an “unofficial” capacity for years, when they get an “official” role some folks often start to wonder exactly what it is they are suppose to do and/or doubt their abilities to do the task at hand. These feeling are natural in my opinion. As humans most of us are competitive and are driven to succeed (ie want to do a good job and not mess up in front of our peers). 

Alot of folks have these questions build up inside them (and some even start to doubt their own ability) and for some reason feel if they ask, they will look bad and or stupid for asking questions. This is of course not the case. As they say “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” If this is the case with you, don’t give it a second thought, just ask any of the more experienced folks among the Calon Host and they will more then likely be glad to talk with you about it.

Last year several of the up and coming folks in the Army came forward and asked these questions on the War Council list. The following is a summary that Sir Kirk put together of that thread.

General Demeanor

  • Be calm.

  • Be confident–if not in the plan or the situation, then at least in your ability to scrounge fun wherever it is to be had.

  • Do not lose your temper, either at the enemy or your friends. (My personal rule is that swearing is reserved for moments of extreme provocation. Otherwise, you run out of emphasis when you need it most.)

  • Be open to suggestion from below as well as above.

  • Do not tolerate safety hazards–even if they are people.


  • Find out who is in the unit.

  • Attend war maneuvers. Make sure you know the skill level of people around you.

  • Try to ensure everybody some basic training–how to use a scutum, how to fight behind a line with a pole/greatsword, how to charge with a shield, how to stop a charge, how to walk in a line, what kind of pace to expect. You don’t have to teach them, there should be classes/groups they can go to learn.

  • Talk about traffic control, about the ‘Melee Truths (like “leg em and leave em”, 45’ing, high-low, communicating, gang killing big guns)’, etc. The more that people know in advance of war maneuvers and the war, the smoother things will be.


  • Make sure everyone has a falcon tabard and has their name on their helmet.

  • Find out the plan – as specifically as you can. Ask your commanders for information, and tell them what you are doing.

  • Make sure the unit know the job the army and your particular sub-command is expected to do in the day’s battles. Tell them everything you know before the battles, and remind them before each individual battle.

  • Get people placed right in your section of line. This includes making sure shields are properly supported by the right artillery, that you have the proper weapons mix for the intended job, and that each person knows what he is supposed to do and who he is supposed to support. Place experienced people with the newbies.

  • Coordinate with the other subcommands. Plan how you handle junctures between you – who covers what, and what happens if you get separated.

  • Let the unit commander know if you’re seriously short of something–no shields or spears, for example. He may not be able to help you, but he still needs to know so that he doesn’t ask the unit to do the wrong thing (full charge with no shields, skirmish with no spears).

  • Make sure your sub-command is aware of any special tactics that might be employed: Doors, pulse charges, spears in and out, etc. Make sure they understand what that means and how they need to react to make it happen /help it succeed.

  • Keep them together when moving. Keep folks from wandering off during waits or holds.

  • Make sure everyone is in place _before_ we have to be. Waiting till the very last moment to get into formation is dangerous. 🙂

  • Coordinate with your commanders. Stay up to date on the plan, tell them how you expect to fulfill the job they hand you.


  • Communicate orders to get your people moving. Echo commands. Listen for problems. Call people back if they’ve gone too far. Let your people know what’s going on and what to expect next. Talk, talk, talk; listen, listen, listen.

  • Keep your unit in its optimal formation for whatever we are doing. If they are becoming an amorphous mob while moving – adjust as you go. Make sure everyone has room to fight, and that any reserve is well positioned – traffic control.

In The Fight

  • Traffic control–bring up replacements, pull people out of line, keep enough room for fighting.

  • As a Sergeant you have a duel responsibility – On the one hand you must stay alive to command – but on the other you can’t stand behind and watch your guys die. These are hard to balance. Sometimes you need to be in the thick of things leading your troops. Some commands just don’t get followed well unless someone else is doing it first/too – and that someone just might have to be you.

  • Know when to sell yourself – and make the price high.

  • Change the formation if necessary. If we can’t charge anymore because there are too many dead, put the poles and spears out front to skirmish. Don’t leave shieldmen facing spears by themselves.

  • Keep your eyes open – watch the foe; watch your commanders; watch the unit and subcommnds next to you; watch your troops. Grow more eyes – you’ll need them.

After the Fight

  • Get people re-aligned during reforms. Play sheep dog. If fighters fall behind nudge them into place – if fighters get too far ahead call them back to the safety of the flock. When we break up make sure people reform – call your troops to you and make sure your moving towards the actual reform locations. Once you’re there – make sure folks are pointed the right way and ready to move. If necessary do this “on the move”.

  • Again, coordinate with your commander and your fellow sub-commanders. Find out what’s next and tell the troops.

  • The hardest part of being a Sergeant is knowing when to do something that no one discussed. Battle plans are only that – plans. Once the fighting comes there may be nothing resembling the plan left. Hopefully then your commanders will issue new orders on the fly – but if not you may have to just react. Or there may not be time for communication. There may be a hole you need to exploit – now, or a gap you need to fill – now. There is no good guidance for when to do this – its so situational. Experience will help.


  • Make sure everybody’s got their stuff. If somebody left injured, try to make sure none of their gear gets left behind.

  • Make sure everybody gets water, and rests if there is time. Discourage the young bloods from wasting too much energy doing pickups between battles (a few is fun, more than that just tires them out.)


  • Think about how things went, and how they could have been done better.

  • Ensure the people in your local group have the basics in melee training.

  • Tell good war stories.

Now, this all seems like a lot, But most of it is common sense answers to the questions of how you would like to be treated, what you would like to know, and what’s the best thing to do next.

As if this weren't enough, Rhianwen added.....

  • Be ready to assume command of your unit if the Captain falls. If you're a Captain, be ready to assume command of the army if the General falls. This includes being aware of the battle enough to know what the army as a whole (not just your unit) is doing, and knowing who of the command staff is left alive.
  • A leaderless army is usually a doomed army. (Of course, it can be argued that if the losses were bad enough that several of the command staff have fallen, it's probably doomed anyway.) But even an unwise command is almost always better than no command, and people like to die feeling like they're doing *something*. It's more satisfying, somehow. . . . 🙂

Exercises for Shield Grunts

Written by Lovag Karolyi Attila Laszlo. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 7, Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

Greetings Calontir! 

Sir Attila here, 

At Pennsic Drx came to me after suffering a slight case of “scutum shoulder”, after I took a look at it for him I showed him some exercises that would help strengthen that particular problem area. After doing so he asked me to suggest some exercises for the troops in the shield wall, thus developing a regimen to assist the brave fighters by increasing their strength and endurance. My qualifications for making these recommendations include degrees in Athletic Training, Exercise science, and a Masters in Physical Therapy. I am also a Certified Athletic Trainer. I hope these exercises are of some assistance. Let me know if you have questions pertaining to these specific workouts. 

In service to the crown, 
Lovag Karolyi Attila Laszlo

Level 1



Reps Comments
Push-Ups 10
Crunches 50 with your hips and knees at 90 degrees each
Pull Ups 3-5
Vertical Shield presses 20


Aerobic activity 

 30 minutes, 3 times a week running, swimming, biking, treadmill, stationary bike, ect would be examples of aerobic activity.

Level 2


Exercise Reps Comments
Push-Ups 25
Crunches 100-150 or 50 bicycle kicks
Pull Ups 5-8
Vertical Shield presses 40
Shoulder elevations with a light weight 3 sets of 10


Aerobic activity 

 30 minutes, 4 times a week

running, swimming, biking, treadmill, stationary bike, ect would be examples of aerobic activity.

Level 3


Exercise Reps Comments
Push-Ups 50
Crunches 250-500 or 100 bicycle kicks
Pull Ups 9-15
Vertical Shield presses 60
Shoulder elevations with moderate weight 3 sets of 10


Aerobic activity 

 30 minutes, 5 times a week

running, swimming, biking, treadmill, stationary bike, ect would be examples of aerobic activity.

Editors Note: Attilla says that he would be more than happy to give a presentation on the proper forms of all of these exercises with demonstrations. He also mentioned that he can give an even more advanced group of exercises if any of the Kingdom fighters desired.

Rock, Paper, Scissors; Or Analogies of a Mad Man

Written by HG Dongal Eriksson, Originally Published in the Bird of Prey Online, Volume 7 Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

See, I was going to go with The Backyard Napoleon’s Pocket Guide To Melee Tactics, but HE Fernando was SO gracious,

Basically it breaks down to the three basic ways of fighting in a fixed front battle.

Shield walls = rock.
Spear work = paper
Charges (including pulse charges) = scissors
Shield walls (rock) beat charges (scissors).
Spears (paper) beat shields (rock).
Charges (scissors) beat spears (paper)

This is generally true for any type of battle situation, and more so for controlled frontages (Bridges, Gates, etc.) It tends to hold true in more open situations, as well, ON A LOCAL LEVEL.

So you have this knowledge, now, how do you put it to use?

We can assume that the other guy also has at least an instinctive knowledge of the same rules of battle, so they will try to tear your walls down, pulse charge your spears, and crush your charges on a hard wall. The KEY is transitions.

You need to anticipate the need to transition from any mode to any other, and you need to do them as seamlessly as possible.
By anticipation I mean both: having the people tasked and in place to make the transition; and also getting a read on what the opponent is trending into. It is important as well not to telegraph your transitions. If your sergeants are screaming “spears out, spears out!”, they bad guys have time to line up the pulse charge they need to knock them down.

Another thing to remember about transitions is that even success in a given evolution probably means that you have changed the face of your opponent, so you should change up to take best advantage of the new situation. What I mean is, if you send a line of spears up and pull over the bad guys’ wall, you are then in a situation of either paper on paper, if they don’t have a lot of secondaries, or paper on scissors if they do, and sooner or later those secondary shield guys are going to tire of being targets and charge. Conversely, if you pulse charge (scissors) their spears (paper), what is behind that is probably a rock, which is why we’ve been drilling on a pulse charge being exactly that, go out, and come back.

Another point to remember is that there are optimal contact ranges for these transitions. If two walls are facing, there are three basic ranges they can be at. At the longest range, there is enough room for both sides to send spears out between the walls, and you end up with a pure spear duel. While you can win the duel, it is a manpower victory (either skill OR numbers), not a tactical one. It is also brutally boring for the majority of your army, so stay out of it as much as possible. At medium range, one side or the other has enough room to send out spears, but not both. If you are at this range, what you should do depends on whether you’re the side who can get your guys out there. If so, great, but if not, you need to either shorten or lengthen the range. The reason is, if they have just enough room to get their spears out, your pulse charges are going to be costly, because their spears have a wall to retreat into, and backup to hit the guys charging them. Moving under fire at this range sucks, but it is less costly than maintaining it with the opponent having the advantage. Take the fight to them, or back up so you have room to pulse. At close range, neither side has spears out front, though some are probably fighting between the shieldmen and over them. Again, your response is dictated by the makeup of your opponent. If they are a tight wall, with their spears and poles fighting mostly from behind their shields, you gain fire superiority by filtering a few spears and poles into your front rank. Conversely, If they are a loose mix of spears and shields, then get right up into contact, and let your polearm maniacs really go to work.

So, when does it NOT go like this?

Sometimes you, or the other guy, has a mission that precludes being able to transition to all of the forms, like having to stick to a certain piece of terrain. Sometimes time constraints limit your options. Sometimes you simply don’t have the manpower, or the weapons mix available.So there you go. It’s quick and dirty, but keeping these points in mind as a commander or sergeant will help you keep tactical superiority over your little piece of the battlefield.


“A Fyrdman’s job is…….” Part 2

The Roles of the Iren Fyrd in the Calontir Army from the point of view of Centurion (Sir) Rolf Eichman. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

Unto the Citizens of Calontir which at various times, all comprise the Calontir Army
Greetings from Centurion Rolf Eichmann, Primus Pilus,

I’ve been asked what, as a commander of the Calontir Army, are my expectations of the Fyrdman. This is, in fact, a very good question. Since there are a variety of commanders, there is no doubt some variation in the expectations of those commanders… When those differing expectations are interpreted by fifty (or one hundred fifty) Fyrdmen, the personal interpretation of those expectations probably varies widely.

To me, first and foremost, the Fyrdman is the workhorse of the army. The image of the land holding Anglo-Saxon farmer fits very well — not landless, ignorant peasants; but intelligent individuals who know how to maintain a smallholding, people who know how to get things done and don’t mind if they get dirty doing it. The Fyrd comprises the largest number of troops in the army, over 50% of the muster at Estrella. That means that there are more Fyrdmen than Knights, Huscarls, and men at arms put together. They breath the most dust, carry the most gear, drink the most water. And the Fyrdmen do the most dying on the field. Now, do not misunderstand, this is our vacation, so no one individual should over-reach their mental, physical, or mundane (e.g. financial) capabilities. But as has been said for as long as I’ve been in the SCA, the Fyrdmen are the backbone of the Calontir Army.

As the backbone of the army, I expect the Fyrdman to be able to confidently follow simple commands like “Everyone follow me”; or, “You ten guys go over to that hill and stay there until you die”. Now, I will admit, that there is no set of “simple commands” somewhere that someone could read. Therefore, I expect the Fyrdman to be confident enough and willing enough to ask questions like “Us ten guys are going to _Which_ hill? I see two hills, one with a tree, and one with the rock?”

There are indeed some times when questions like “Why are we going to that hill?” are appropriate, along with “Why don’t we go to that flat spot over there instead, whaddya think boss?” The Fyrdman will be able to tell, from his experience in previous battles, when the commander has the time and energy to chit chat about that stuff. Commanders love to debate and rehash what ifs and might have beens, and that is the most effective way for those who want to try their hand at command to learn. But of course there are times for debate, and times for action, and the Fyrdman will use his continually expanding battle experience to discern whether it is a good time for debate.

The Fyrdman knows his brother Fyrdmen well enough that he is comfortable asking the same questions of his brother, if he didn’t hear all the instructions from the commander. He knows that he wants his back to be watched, that he wants to be partnered with someone — he knows his brother, Fyrdmen well enough that, in the absence of other directions, he can create partnerships or teams of three or four in his immediate area of the battle. He knows his neighbors in the battle line from his shire or neighboring areas… or if he doesn’t know them, he gets to know them quickly to facilitate that team building, and to keep an eye out for the newbie, to make sure that the guy who is too new to dare to ask questions, gets plugged into a partnership with a fyrdman.

The Fyrdman understands his fundamental value to the kingdom. As I noted above, the Fyrd are very valuable because are the most numerous troops in our army — and therefore they do the most dying. The Fyrdman understands his value, he is neither the copper as, nor the gold aureus. The Fyrdman is a good silver denarius to be held in a safe place, then spent as necessary. No Fyrdman should be in a hurry to get killed in battle, but when the time comes to fight, they should sell their life willingly and with valor. It is a rare battle, in which a fighter finds himself fighting valiantly, and walking off the field alive at the end. That rare battle comes as a gift to the fighter (any fighter, King, Knight, Fyrdman, newbie). The fighter does not get to choose when he will have a legendary battle. The Fyrdman (and every other fighter worth his salt) knows that in most good battles, he ends the battle lying in the dirt — and he knows that we all appreciate his contribution the more for his dusty tabard at the end of the day.

The Fyrdman can be relied upon to intelligently follow basic instructions, and to ask prudent questions. He can be counted on to create some cohesion with his immediate neighbors in the battle line. He can be counted on to wait steadfastly in confusing battle situations, and to fight valiantly and sell his life dearly when the time comes. The Fyrdman understands that the above traits are what makes the Calontir Army unique throughout the known world. After 18 years of fighting, I am proud and thrilled every time I get to stand with you all in ranks — I still get butterflies before every battle. I’m looking forward to the next one. See you at Estrella!

“A Fyrdman’s job is…….” Part 1

The Roles of the Iren Fyrd in the Calontir Army from the point of view of Duke JoeAngus. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

IMO, the Iren-Fyrd are the most important part of the army. They are the rank & file soldier, as well as the NCOs. By motivating the Fyrd, a crown or general can dramatically increase the size & experience of the army at a given war. I will try to give examples of the roles I see the fyrd holding in the army, as well as what I would like to see from them.

I do not find it an exaggeration when the fyrd are referred to as the ‘backbone’ of the army. They provide a core of experience that allows the command staff to have confidence in themselves as well as their unit. Above all else a fyrdman should strive to be a good soldier. The basics of this are simple: Follow orders to the best of your ability, echo commands, keep formation, working together with other members of your unit. We try to instill these things into everyone. The fyrd should teach by example. The best way to do this is by being a good soldier & setting the example for our new fighters. I am not suggesting that the fyrd blindly follow orders. Fyrd should always be thinking of how to accomplish orders the best possible way. I think many people will tell you that you can be a good soldier & still have individual initiative.

The fyrd supply most of the army’s NCOs. The fyrd who want to learn how to command & take the sargeant position could someday be the general of the army. I don’t believe that everyone has the drive or ability for command, but if you are interested & feel you have a good grasp of how the army works I encourage you to volunteer to be part of the command structure. Without new blood, the command structure grows sedentary. The fyrd most often provide new & different perspectives that allows our army to grow & adapt. Without these qualities, our army will wither.

Returning to the good soldier theme. The fyrd should be aware of what weapons will be effective for the upcoming battle. If we need more scutums, the fyrd should pick them up instead of letting the same people do the same job over & over. This is the same if we need more spears, less skirmishers, more left-handed can-openers. When a call goes out for more X, the fyrd should be the first ones to step up to the plate.

Also, the fyrd should be aware of who is in there unit. Are they new? Are they a hotdog? Being aware of things like this will help you stay alive & realize where strong & weak points of your units may exist. Sometimes calling fire for another person is very helpful, regardless of rank. Overall, small things like these improve your unit.

In the end, I would just like to say that I am proud to be a fyrdman. I owe the success of most of commands to them. They are the largest part of the machine known as the Calontir army. I would like to thank Halvgrimr for allowing me to write this article. It is my hope that those who read it can find something useful.

–Earl JoeAngus, MSCA, Iren Hirth, Iren Fyrd, OT, AoA, QED(Chivalry)
“Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.” – Mark Twain

How to make a 6ft spear for use in SCA combat

Written by Hersir (Now Sir) Halvgrim Adalradarson. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

Since taking over the task of publishing the BoP I have asked for opinions on what sort of articles folks would like to see in it. At the top of the request list always seems to be how-to articles on building weapons. I have always wanted to feature this type of thing but couldn’t find anyone willing to write such an article. So, in hopes of inspiring some of the others to do so I have taken the bull by the horns and written this primer on how to build a 6ft spear.

The directions below are certainly not the only method to make a 6ft spear, but they were the way I was taught, and I continue to pass this on knowledge, as it seems to work well.  Until recently I have had the same spear for around 3 years.  Before I got it and converted it into a “slashing spear” it was one of Master Tristram’s weapons, and he had it for many, many years before I got it.

I know the images aren’t the best, but I have temporarily lost access to a digital camera, so I tried to do the best I could with the MS Paint program.

Materials needed

  • 1 stick of rattan near 6 feet long and with a cross section of no less than 1.25″ in diameter

  • Foam (I use the blue foam sleeping mats you can buy at Wally World)

  • Strapping tape (the more fibers in the tape the better!)

  • Scissors (or any other type of cutting utensil)

  • Red duct tape (some kingdoms allow any color as long as it is a contrasting color to the body of the weapon)

  • Duct tape (any color other than red, gray is most commonly used)

Legal issues

Per the Calontir Marshal’s Handbook (Revised Spring 1999): *


A. Characteristics of all thrusting tips must be:

1. All thrusting tips must allow at least 1″ of progressive resistant give, without bottoming out on the haft of the weapon.

                    2. Thrusting tips shall not penetrate more than ½” into a legal faceplate of a helm.

3. Thrusting tips shall not bend more than 45 degrees under the force of a normal thrust. The end of the rattan shall not be detectable at the point of the bend when pressing from the point of the weapon.

                    (As a marshal you should inspect the bend like it would be presented in the thrust, not pressing on the side of the weapon).

4. No metal or other rigid material shall be used in the construction of a thrusting tip. Materials such as trailer hitch covers, tennis balls, cool cups, etc. are not acceptable stand alone thrusting tip materials, they must usually be combined with foam to construct a legal thrusting tip.

5. All thrusting tips must be clearly marked with red tape or an equivalent material. A simple “X” on the end of the tip is sufficient

also note:

C. Two-handed thrusting tips (including buttspikes) shall be a minimum of 2″ in diameter, with 2 1/2″ of resilient material between the face of the tip and the end of the rattan.

*Curator’s Note: The Marshal’s handbook has been updated since 1999, and new standards for weapon construction exist.
Currently the Society Standard is the default for construction Per Revision 02 Nov 2008:
From Chapter VII Weapons Standards, Section 2 Two Handed Weapons, Paragraph 5:
“When thrusting tips are used, they shall be no less than 2 inches (50.8 mm) in diameter/cross-section and have 2 inches (50.8 mm) of resilient material in front of the rigid tip of the weapon, thereby providing progressively resistant give.”

On Beyond Scuta

Written by Sir Duncan Bruce of Logan. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

You may ask, “How does this tie in with the ‘Fyrd theme’ we got going?”

the answer is simple, Syr Logan wrote this waaaaaaaay back when he was a Fyrdman, you know back before dirt;)

I have noticed a trend among the ranks of newer fighter that I consider a bit disturbing. Many of them are taking up polearms as soon as they return from their first war. The stated reason is to “get out from under a scutum”” This disturbs me for two reasons, first, the scuta are what Calontir is known for and what makes or breaks our ability to use our tactics, secondly, wars should be fun, no matter what weapon system you use.

To address the first point, the whole “No Heroes” philosophy of the army depends on working as a unit, and the scuta are the base that our units are built on. There has even been discussion in there pages that scuta should be included in cavalry units. If we continue to act as if carrying a scutum is a job only for the new and/or unskilled fighters everyone will want to continue to want to get out from under it as soon as possible.

Many people with more knowledge than I have said that we need to practice with scutum toting units more, and I have to agree. Not just to get used to fighting around them, but also to learn how to fight with one strapped to your arm. This would not only increase our melee skills, but would get everyone more familiar with just how a scutum works best for them. 

If you are good with a weapon system you get more respect from your compatriots when you use it, which addresses the first point above, and it is more fun to use, which addresses the second point. Other things that would make a scutum more fun is better communication between the primaries and the artillery. Since it is Pavel’s job to harp on that, I won’t. Another thing is to adopt some of our tactics so that a scutum’s job is not always to “play anvil”” While we experimented with that a bit at Winter War Maneuvers, I think we stopped too soon. 

Granted the two battles we fought with the scuta purposefully worming their way through the enemy ended up with the attackers getting smeared, I don’t think the problem was with what the scuta were doing. Both times I was in the front rank, and when I was finally killed I was in the last rank of defenders. The same was true of the rank immediately behind me. The problem seemed to be that the secondaries and artillery stopped when they came in range and started dueling with the defenders, rather than following the scuta in. I think we should give this tactic more thought (and practice).

Another experiment that worked fairly well was conducted at Estrella this year. As you no doubt have heard by now, Calontir really shone in the last battle (broken field resurrection). While our basic job was the same as usual (take the banner and hold it against all comers), we were not alone in that task.

 As we died off and returned we were no longer a cohesive unit. Instead, we were spread out throughout the guardian unit, basically anchoring the fighters around us, and passing on an enforcing commands that came down the line. We didn’t have a static wall, but scuta ranged throughout the line providing the needed cover for artillery and dropping to hold a line when required. However, they were also involved in charges and flanking maneuvers that seemed to throw the attackers completely off guard. After all, a scutum never runs out of the line and attacks a spear, does it? I for one had a grand time at Estrella and carried a scutum the entire time.

So what do I think we should do? All I can suggest has been suggested before, communicate with the primaries and adapt new tactics to use them differently.

I don’t’ want people to think that I find scutum to be the greatest weapon system ever invented, and that anyone who abandons it is stupid. Nor do I think that knowing how to fight polearm is a bad thing. The more you know about the more weapons systems, the better.

I guess what I want to say is, if you haven’t ever fought with a scutum, or it has been a year or so, pick up one and use it for a while. Not only will you (re)gain respect for those people that have been providing all that cover, but you might, just enjoy yourself.

Having lots of people that can pick up a scutum and do more than just kneel behind it can do nothing but enhance our collective performance, and therefore our reputation.


Greetings to the Warriors of present-day Calontir. Many of my concerns addressed in the above article no longer apply, but I believe the basic premise still holds: humping a scutum is a vital, rewarding, and most of all FUN job in the Calontir army.

Scuta are even more important today than they were then. With the addition of a center-grip, they become a more flexible component of our overall arsenal.

If your local group has some, practice with them. If they don’t, why not investigate getting some? 

Scuta, they aren’t just for bridges anymore.

Sir Logan, Baron Bus-a-doon