Why would I say such a thing? Well, it’s because of the weight. Specifically, it’s because of the weight distribution and balance. A sword’s centre of balance is usually close to the hand. Sword techniques take advantage of this fact, and include a lot of fast redirections. Axes, hammers and maces all have a large mass at the end of a stick. This changes its weight and the way it handles. From here on I will refer to axes, hammers and maces as “mass weapons”.
It is true that there are some kinds of mass weapons on the market which aren’t too different from swords. Most sword technique works pretty well with them. This is directed at the other kind – those with significantly different weight characteristics.
Fast redirections are much more difficult with this kind of mass weapon than they are with the sword. Where a blow with the sword might start aimed at your opponent’s shoulder and end striking your opponent’s leg, a mass weapon generally goes where it is pointed, and won’t deviate without some effort.
Mass weapons are usually best with a shield, especially a big one, as the shield takes care of defence for you. You can bide your time, blocking everything with your shield, then lash out quickly when you see an opening. The disadvantage here is that the mass weapon has more inertia than a sword, and can be slower to get moving. Learning to anticipate your opponent’s moves is harder than it sounds, but still generally necessary.
Using a mass weapon without a shield is harder. Choose a weapon for your other hand that is good for blocking. If your mass weapon is short, use it off-handed with a sword in your other hand. Use your sword for parrying incoming blows and again, look for openings with your off-hand. If your mass weapon is long, you’re still usually better off using it for blocking. You will need to be agile in either case, using voids and parries to avoid being hit.
I will mention hooking here. With an axe, people will always raise the idea of hooking your opponent’s shield or weapon. I do not recommend this for several reasons, outlined below:
- Getting the hook in is more difficult than simply making a hit. If you can get your axe behind your opponent’s shield, just hit them. You’re behind their shield!
- Once you have hooked the shield, you need to exert force on it to move it, and the shield user usually has better leverage than you.
- Foam and latex weapons aren’t designed with this kind of force in mind. Hooking exerts pressure on areas of the weapon that really shouldn’t be taking it, and reduces the useful life of your weapon.
- Now that you have hooked and moved the shield, what are you going to do next? If you have a shield, you can’t do anything, since your only weapon is currently hooking. You need to rely on an ally to exploit the opening, and allies usually aren’t quick enough.
- If you have the hook and you’ve made an opening, you can try attacking with your own secondary weapon, but be wary, because you’ve only hooked their shield – their weapon is still in play, and your attacking arm is vulnerable.
- I do not recommend hooking your opponent’s weapon at all – you tie up your own weapon as well as theirs, and this usually results in a tug-of-war, which can become dangerous. If you accidentally hook their weapon, call a halt and untangle yourself before proceeding.
Mass weapons are fun and extremely satisfying to use. Just remember that they carry a fair amount of kinetic potential, and can hit harder than you expect. Slow down, look for openings, and pull your blows and you will have a grand old time.
Do you regularly use mass weapons? Share your experience in the comments below!