Woods Combat Part 2: Training

Written by Sir Kirk fitzDavid. Previously Appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004

I.  Introduction

To improve Calontir’s performance in woods fighting, our fighters must train specifically for what they will encounter there.  This means we must practice fighting in the woods regularly, with an eye toward eliminating our problems and improving our advantages.  I will describe a few drills with specific purposes, but I don’t have a drill for every situation.  Instead, I will try to lay out training objectives and the related problems so that you can design your own drills.

Since most of our training will take place in the local groups or at small events, with different terrain and changing numbers of fighters, try to come up with drills to take full advantage of what you have.  Drills should train you to fight better in the woods, but they need not involve trying to win a melee, or even, for that matter, fighting at all.  Games can teach as much as fighting.  Remember what works and what you had fun doing, and discard what doesn’t work.  In a few months, Calontir as a whole will have built up a useful batch of drills, and we can then use them to teach regularly.


II.  Moving in the Woods and on Trails

A.  Getting Prepared

Woods are a vast obstacle course when you are trying to move through them.  You must go around trees, over logs, up and down hills, and through clinging bushes.  To avoid distractions and delay, your equipment should be in top shape.  Make sure your leg armor works, you can breath, see and hear in your helm, and you can twist and turn easily in your body armor.  You will have to lift your legs up to step over things, and be able to turn in place as well as look around you.  Because sound doesn’t travel well in woods, your armor should be padded or muffled so you can hear things around you.  Fix armor that will snag bushes and hold you up.  Choose your weapons with care.  Do you really need that spear, or will you have too much trouble dragging it along?  Will your enemy use the trees to keep you from targeting on him?


  B.  Moving in the Woods

         i.  Objectives:  When you practice moving in the woods, you should be improving your speed, conserving your energy, and becoming sure-footed, maneuverable, and quiet.  At the same time, you have to keep in mind the vegetation, terrain, and safety.  Speed is paramount in a woods fight, since you can use it to attack or retreat at will, move to hit flanks, and react to enemy actions.  Conserving energy while moving stretches endurance, while saving breath for that burst of speed or fighting.  Sure-footedness keeps you from tripping or falling, maneuverability lets you use your speed well, and being quiet lets you hear orders or the enemy without being heard yourself.  Learning to use the vegetation and hills will let you pick the best path to move quickly, conserving energy by not snagging bushes or moving up and down hills too much, and keeping from tripping and injuring yourself.

ii.  Techniques and Drills:  The best way to learn to move in the woods is simply to do it and gain the experience.  Pick out a point to go to, the farther away the better, and strike off towards it.  Go as quickly as possible, but pay careful attention to where you step.  Do this in armor (without helm or weapons) to get used to the weight, snags, binding leather, and noise.  Use your hands to pull or push on trees, climb over logs, or move bushes.  Jog for short stretches in clearings.  Besides improving your speed, endurance, and sure-footedness, you’ll find out what really makes noise or hangs up on your armor.  If you do this before battle, you will also familiarize yourself with the battlefield.  If you take weapons and shields, hold the shields in tight to your body to reduce snagging.  Let long weapons drag behind you, holding spears or polearms by the head.  They will follow you along without hanging up.

After you’re familiar with moving about, competition drills will further improve your skills.  Tag in armor builds speed and forces you to use trees to move and dodge.  Armored foot racing improves speed and endurance.  Other simple games, such as follow the leader, can help endurance and ease of movement.  Hunts combine armored movement with combat, and bring all the movement skills into play.


C.  Moving on Trails

         i.  Objectives and Relavent Factors:  The primary advantages to moving on trails are that you can move fast to a known spot without getting tangled up or tripping.  The disadvantages are that your force starts spread out and will probably get spread even further, you are set up to get ambushed, and the trail may not go where you really need to go.  Drills, therefore, need to emphasize fast movement (while avoiding spreading or bunching) and awareness of surroundings (to spot traps).  You also should be able to leave the trail in an orderly formation.

ii.  Drills:  Anybody should be able to move quickly down a trail.  The challenge is in getting a group to do it together.  To properly encourage them, tie them together in a line, with a few feet of rope between each.  They will, of course, be wearing their armor.  After several groups get the hang of it, try timed races along a (safe) stretch of path.  The experience should be interesting as well as useful.  Another drill race, which is designed to increase fighter’s observing skills, is to send a group of fighters down a path looking for colored flags.  The one with the most flags wins.  The flags should be located 10-20 feet off the path, but visible from it.  To get a flag the fighter must leave the path, pluck the flag, then re-enter the path from the point he left it.  Fighters should be wearing their helms, so they get used to looking around while in gear.


II.  Combat in the Woods and on Trails


A.  Combat in the Woods

         i.  Objectives and Relevant Factors:  To succeed consistently in woods combat, fighters need to use the terrain to its best advantage.  Trees for shields, logs for skirmish lines, hills to hit from above, bushes for concealment, entaglement, or channeling enemy movement– use your imagination.  All these obstacles tend to break up the forces, so individual fights often break out.  The unit that can act as team therefore has a great advantage.  To fight as a team, each fighter should have a role such as point man, leader, or rear guard.  You can then devise specific drills for the team, such as attacking a unit, defending a point, screening, bugging out, etc.  To get the most out of the drills, each fighter should of course understand the objective.

ii.  Drills:  Woods combat drills can be devised for almost any number of fighters, but to teach teamwork and woods skills they should usually be for small groups of fighters.  To teach the use of trees and bushes, single sword hunts and single sword vs sword and shield  duels can be useful and fun.  Small group melees, with uneven sides (say 5-on-3), teach the smaller group to work together and the larger group to use its size for quick kills.  The small group in this type of melee should probably be defending a fixed point (to prevent chases), and success should be judged on how long they can hold out.  Rotating leaders will give everyone experience in command.  Another team drill is having several teams hunt each other down.  To make it more interesting, each team can have a different mission, such as killing a specific individual, surviving intact, gathering flags, or some other goal.

For larger groups, team barrier fights within a restricted area can simulate a meeting engagement in the woods.  The gauntlet drill in the woods also requires a fair number of people, but is an excellent tool to teach moving while under attack and keeping the objective in mind.  Another drill is to have part of one group act as a rear guard under attack, while the rest of the group must get away.  Killing from behind will give the rear guard the incentive to not get surrounded.


B.  Combat on Trails

         i.  Objectives and Relevant Factors:  If you are in a force moving on a trail, your objective should be to move as quickly as possible to your objective.  To do this, you may have to fight off ambushes, break through roadblocks, or have part of your force screen your sides or rear, then disengage with minimal losses.  Conversely, if you are facing a larger enemy column on a trail, you may want to ambush it, delay it by setting a roadblock, wipe out it piece by piece by chewing up its tail as it moves, or harassing it so much they must stop to chase you away.  Also, if you are using a trail, when you arrive at your target you must be able to deploy and attack quickly and in good order.

ii.  Trail Fighting Drill:  A single trail fighting drill can serve to train fighters on many objectives.  The forces are split into two teams, one much larger than the other (at least 3-2, and probably 2-1).  The large team will be moving on the trail, to a known point, and the smaller team will set up in the woods ahead of it.  Each team will have a specific mission, unknown to the other team.  Possible missions for the large team include moving out to the known point as quickly as possible while suffering minimal losses, hunting down and wiping out the smaller team after it is spotted, and protecting a specific item or person while moving.  The small team can chose from ambushing the head or tail of the unit and killing as many as possible, killing a specific person or stealing an item at any cost, delay by setting up and defending a roadblock, or screening the large force for as long as possible with few losses.  The large unit moves out down the trail when the smaller is ready, and events take their natural course.  Between melees, the fighters try to figure out what when wrong and who fulfilled their mission better.


III. Large Unit Drills

A.  Objectives: 

Training large groups of fighters (20 or more) brings special problems, along with all the challenges of teaching smaller groups.  Controlling and coordinating a large group’s movements and combat, and reorganizing it after a fight are particular problems.  The usual large Calontir masses are spread out and bogged down by woods, and can’t move easily except on trails.  By sub- dividing your large group into smaller, more manageable groups with their own leaders, you can control them better and more easily bring all your troops into play at once.  All fighters should be able to move in coordinated groups, quickly deploy for attack, reinforce nearby groups which fall under attack, and automatically move to surround and wipe out any small blocking force.


   B.  Drills: 

Something as simple as moving in parallel columns through the woods needs to be taught first, since most other drills will evolve from it.  Moving through the woods in three or four groups, all moving parallel and keeping up with each other, requires some practice to perfect.  Moving with the center group on a trail and the outside groups in the woods is harder, since the outside groups will have to work harder to keep up.  Deploying for attack will usually mean the outside groups will fan to the outside, while the center group(s) will move to link up each outside group.  All the while, everyone must take care to avoiding bunching up, and the fighters must arrange themselves to support each other (spears with shieldmen, etc).  When reinforcing outside groups under attack, groups should stick together, and not only head for the point of attack but move to extend your line and if possible wrap around the enemy flank.  Similarly, when your parallel columns run into a small group blocking the way, the outside groups should automatically head around the enemy flanks to catch them from behind while the center group attacks or screens.  After attacks the survivors need to quickly reform into their groups, and the leader may have to reorganize the subunits to compensate for casualties.  Large groups should also be drilled for many other situations, such as deploying for attack to the right or left, left or right wheel turns, one group breaking off to screen, etc.


IV. Leadership Training


Just as each fighter needs to be trained to use the woods to his advantage, leaders need to learn how to spot and use the opportunities that the woods provide.  The best teacher is experience, and leadings squads in small unit melees is an excellent place to start learning.  A good leader will keep in mind the objective of the melee, terrain, the condition, skill, and weapons of his fighters, and the quality of the enemy.  Large unit commanders will also have to keep track of where his subunits are, and how to keep in touch with them.


V.  Conclusion

For Calontir to improve its woods battle performance in the future, we need to develop a training program which will improve the skills of individuals, small groups, large groups, and leaders.  I hope that local groups will experiment with drills and let others (especially me or other members of the War College) know what works best.  I would like to develop a “how-to” book of woods drills incorporating instructions for drills for as many situations as possible.  By making our training as widespread, standardized, and as complete as possible we can  then put together a large and feared woods fighting force.

I am in debt to Lord Kalos and Viscount Sir Ternon for their suggestions, and to Sir Robert and Baron Charles for their encouragement.

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