Axes, Hammers, Maces

GoblinsI’m going to say something which may be fairly controversial: Axes, hammers and maces are basically the same thing.

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

On The Differences Between Battle Gaming And Historical Swordplay

Epic Empires5LARP, or Live Action Role Playing, is a popular pastime across the world. LARPs involve dressing in costume, getting into character, and playing out an adventure across the countryside – usually but not exclusively including mock fighting.

What the Hundred Swords does is best described as Battle Gaming – we take the mock fighting elements of LARP but leave behind the emphasis on costume and character. Since our focus is on fighting, rather than roleplaying, we have a particular interest in fighting technique and skills.

HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, is a method of recovering lost fighting arts by reconstructing them from period texts. There are many extant period texts to draw upon, dating from the late 12th century onwards, and dealing with a wide variety of different weapons and fighting styles. Some cover single-handed cutting and thrusting swords, others two-handed swords, and later manuals are dedicated to the rapier.

There is an obvious overlap between battle gaming and historical swordplay, but there are some significant differences that it is important to be aware of.

 1: The game.

Historical swordplay is almost exclusively illustrated by one-on-one situations. They are a very good resource for winning duels. On the other hand, battle gaming is usually (though not exclusively) done in groups, in the field. Group fighting is a very different situation from duelling.

Duellists are focused on their opponent, usually to the exclusion of all other potential distractions. In a group fight, such focus can be disastrous. Fighters will always need good battlefield awareness – the ability to perceive major events and flows on the battlefield – in order to achieve their objectives. Focusing exclusively on a single opponent is a good way to help your team lose.

2: The weapons.

Foam weapons behave very differently from steel ones. Steel weapons engage while foam weapons bounce. This bounciness necessitates changes in technique, since historical techniques relied on their weapons’ ability not to bounce. Techniques such as engagements, binds and winds usually require the swords to connect and ‘bite’ in order for the technique to work correctly. This is, of course, impossible when the weapons just bounce off one another.

3: The play.

Historical swordplay is all about killing or maiming your opponent. The techniques presented in historical manuals are brutal and effective at bringing your opponent out of the fight as quickly as possible. On the other hand, battle gaming is about fun and enjoyment. These two goals are basically incompatible, which means that if we want to adopt techniques from historical swordplay, we must adapt and change these techniques to be compatible with our goal of having a fun afternoon in the park.

In future posts on this blog, I will examine many aspects of how historical swordsmanship can inform the practice of battle gaming. I believe that there is a lot that we as foam-sword fighters can learn from historical techniques, as well as from modern reenactors and members of groups such as the SCA and AAF.

Ultimately, what we do will never be an accurate martial art. No, it is not necessary to study the techniques of martial arts before engaging in battle gaming. But we can still use these techniques as training tools, as long as we are aware of the differences. In the end, the enjoyment of the game is all that matters.