The subject of shield probably admits of more variation of opinion than in any other aspect of armored fighting. The size, weight and shape of a shield is influenced by the style of fighting in which it is employed, the occasion (tourney, war, pas), the weather (it's too hot to wear much armor, so we use big shields), the size and strength of the fighter, happenstance (somebody left this shield, and ---), tradition (my knight uses one, and ---), recent victories (the Crown Prince just started using one, and ---), the quest for an advantage (if I really extend this point, then ---), and pure personal preference.
I have some strong preferences in shields, only some of which have to do with utility.
I prefer small shields because the use of one forces the fighter to become more involved in the fight, and thereby eventually to become a better fighter. I think that this is because the shield offers less static protection, and must be moved, requiring the fighter to fight with the shield, instead of simply from behind it. The shield becomes integrated into the flow of movements, influencing, and being influenced by the movements of the sword and body. Also, I think (again, personal taste) that the style becomes more elegant as a result.
I prefer a round shield to a heater because it supports the punch-blocking style that I use. With a heater, I have to worry about keeping the edges and corners in proper orientation. Actually, the basic style of punch blocking is similar with both shield shapes. This is a choice of alternatives. Those who prefer heaters or half-rounds like the extra protection offered by the corners. Wankels are another interesting possibility. I haven't seen them used much, so I won't offer any comments.
I feel that kite shields, long heaters, or anything else that offers complete static protection for the leg will inhibit a person's development as a technical fighter. They do contribute to success on the field, but in most cases they provide an obstacle to reaching the top levels. Those who manage, despite using the large shields, are rarely top technicians.
The position described here is for a small round. It will vary slightly for a small heater or half-round. In all cases, I prefer to hold the shield elbow as close to the body as possible. The elbow at rest is in a position that can be as far back as under the shoulder, or as much as several inches around towards the front. The forearm moves diagonally up and across the chest towards the sword side of the body. The bottom edge of the palm of the shield hand is tilted out enough so that if the thumb were extended, it would point at my mouth or chin. When holding a shield, the plane at which the shield is held is such that it is parallel to my line of sight, if I look down. In this way, the shield effectively disappears.
After the fight starts, I notice that the 'hand' edge of my shield moves out, and to the left. This is likely a personal peculiarity.
A punch block is one where the shield is moved out to meet the blow by extension of the shield arm. The forward edge of the shield is the main blocking area, although the top edge is used somewhat for nearly vertical strikes. I contrast this with a rotation block, where the shield is rotated up or down, in approximately one plane, to meet blows. I also contrast it with the block used by large, static shields, where the shield is not moved much at all, except to raise for head shots, without rotation.
The great advantage of the punch block is that when it moves out towards you opponent's sword hand, it obscures a greater part of your body than if it stayed close. This is vital in defending against techniques such as the rising snap, or wavy snap, where the sword effectively changes directions in mid-strike.
To perform the technique:
To Block: (Please see Figures 9a and 9b, above.)
- Open the shield moves almost as if it was a gate opening, while moving it forward towards the approaching blade.
- The target on the blade should be a point about six to eight inches up from the basket hilt.
- Your targeting should be such that if you were not holding the shield, you would block the sword with the base of your little finger.
- For blows coming straight down, or from over your opponent's head, aim the shield to slightly cross the blade, as if blocking with your extended thumb tip.
- Keep the palm of the hand (and the shield) in the same nearly vertical plane in which it started.
- As the shield opens and moves out, push forward with the shield hip, while pulling back with the sword hip.
- The shield leg should flex slightly, with the knee moving slightly forward, and more strongly towards the sword side of your body.
- Do not lean forward in the least. If you want to get lower, bend your knees, and perhaps lean a little bit sideways. (Don't bend back, either.)
- Withdraw immediately, keeping the top of the shield up, and moving straight back. If you allow the shield to drop on the return, you will have to lift it on the next block.
- If striking with the sword at the same time, the forward movement of the sword side of the body will complement the backward motion of the sword side.
- This may cause the shield elbow to move farther back than the 'rest' position. This is fine, unless the shield is allowed to drop down at the same time.
- Bring your shield hand in as close to your left collarbone as possible. In a slow practice situation, you can tilt your head to the shield side and 'sight' along the edge of your shield for the next block.
If you are blocking multiple blows without striking, the shield need not move completely back to the 'rest' or farther. The key is to move it back immediately after a block to a point where you can keep your opponent's sword hand in sight as the shield hip moves back to 're-cock' for the next block. The leading edge of the shield should follow the movements of the opponent's sword hand, using very small motions. This eliminates some excess shield motion, and focuses your attention on your opponent's sword.
You may notice that if your opponent is whipping his or her sword from side to side, with their hand staying in about the same position, your shield doesn't have to move much between blocks, since it follows the motion of the hand, not the blade.
The two main types of offensive shield techniques are the press and the hook. Each of these has two sub-types. Of these, I much prefer the "snatch" hook, but I have not had much success in persuading anybody to adopt the technique. However, all of them can be useful at some point.
Timing is essential when employing these techniques. If you press or hook too soon, your opponent will have time to counter by disengaging his or her shield, moving away, or blocking with his or her weapon. If you press or hook too late, your opponent will likely have already performed the block that you are trying to prevent.
In both cases, the objective is to either get the shield out of the way, or immobilize it so that a block cannot be performed effectively. This can be done either directly or indirectly. In the direct application, the opponent's shield is either hooked or pushed out of the way of your intended strike. In the indirect application, the hook or press caused the opponent to resist, and to try to move his or her shield back into the position from which it was moved. If you are not fast enough to use the direct method, you can time your opponent's effort to return his or her shield, and strike elsewhere while his or her attention is diverted to this effort.
These techniques should only be used against the shield or weapon of your opponent. You may not deliberately use your shield to strike or push the head, body, or limbs of your opponent.
Shield presses can be performed with either the face of the shield, or with the edge of the shield.
I discourage the use of this technique. Since the shield positions of you and you opponent are relatively the same, it becomes increasingly likely that your opponent will be successful in using the technique against you, rather than you using it successfully against your opponent. I prefer to use techniques where the odds are more in my favor.
It is never a good idea to use this technique if your opponent is significantly larger or stronger than you are. If you do, you are likely to be countered by what I term the "opening the gate" technique, where your opponent essentially swats you out of the way with his or her shield.
Basically, the technique is employed when the shields of the two fighters are touching with the entire faces of the shields in contact. The objective is to use the strength of your arm, or the weight of your body, to either move your opponent, or his or her shield, into a position where a target become available for your weapon, or to prevent the shield from blocking a strike.
The most effective ways of using this technique are to:
- Push up and in with your shield hand while extending your shield arm, and leaning along the direction of the arm. Generally this is followed by an overhead strike to your opponent's head.
- Push in and around with your shield elbow while extending the upper part of your shield arm. Generally, this is followed by a wrapping strike to your opponent's back.
- Leaning in and over the top of your opponent's shield, pushing with your shield shoulder. Generally this is followed by an overhead strike to your opponent's head.
This is my preferred use of shield presses. The technique is basically a punch block towards a point close to the edge of your opponent's shield. The punch is extended into a push, after contact.
Basically, the technique is employed when the two close enough that one shield can be reached by the edge of the shield of the other fighter extended in a punch block. The objective is to move your opponent's shield out of the way of a strike. With proper timing, it can also be used to move your opponent's shield into a position that will interfere with his or her strikes towards you.
Important points concerning this technique are:
- Aim towards points a few inches in from the edge of your opponent's shield. In this way, you will have a mechanical advantage, since you will be pushing along the length of your arm, while you opponent will be resisting at a right angle with the length of his or her arm.
- Don't use sharp, quick punching techniques. Instead, execute the punch quickly, but then extend it into a push once the contact is made with your opponent's shield.
- When you punch for the sword-edge of your opponent's shield, your opponent will be open for forehand strikes and wraps. However, an agile opponent can counter with overhead strikes.
- Conversely, when you punch for the shield edge of your opponent's shield, your opponent will be open for high overhead strikes. However, an agile opponent can counter with forehand strikes and wraps.
- The top or bottom edges or points of your opponent's shield are also good targets for shield punches. In either case, there is a possibility of a counter.
There are two types of shield hooks, positional and the "snatch".
Positional shield hooks can be performed while returning your shield after a punch block. This requires appropriate relative positions of the shields of the two fighters. It is performed as a later part of a series of movements, and is always preceded by a punch block. There are two main circumstances where this hook variation is most effective:
- When you extend your shield to block your opponent's forehand strike, if you extend it far enough, you can sweep it sideways, out from and across your body, catching the leading edge of your opponent's shield.
- This requires that you have enough time to extend your shield that far in the first place.
- It also requires that your opponent has left his or her shield extended sufficiently that you can catch the edge.
- It is generally followed by an overhead strike to the head or body.
- When blocking an vertical or nearly vertical blow, if you have time to extend your shield in a nearly horizontal position, you can sweep it down across the top of your opponent's shield.
- This requires that you have enough time to extend your shield in the horizontal position without compromising your defense.
- It also requires that your opponent has left his or her shield extended sufficiently that you could catch the edge.
- It is generally followed by a forehand strike to the head.
- It is especially effective when used against an opponent fighting from their knees.
This is one of my favorite techniques. Basically, it mimics the motion of a cat's paw when the cat is reaching forward to snatch at an object. It can be used either from a position where both fighters are immobile, or during a combination.
To execute the technique:
- Extend the leading edge of the shield as if performing a punch block towards a point one to two inches outside of the leading edge of your opponent's shield.
- Allow your shield edge to extend one to two inches past the edge of your opponent's shield.
- Quickly return your shield towards your body, curling it enough to catch the edge of your opponent's shield.
- Time your associated strike to be well on its way when your shield starts to return.
The motion of the shield hand, if it were not holding the shield, would be:
- Extend the fingers of the shield hand as it moves forward.
- Arch the wrist slightly back as the hand moves forward.
- As the hand passes the opponent's shield edge;
- Curl the hand slightly, but quickly, sideways to the inside, while curling the fingers closed.
- At the same time, quickly pull the hand back towards your chest.
As stated before, timing is critical on all offensive shield techniques. Also, the hooks tend to pull your opponent's blade forward, so look to your defense when using them.
If properly applied, with correct timing, both presses and hooks are difficult to counter directly. In both cases, once the technique is being applied, it is best to use less direct methods of opposition.
Rotate your body in the direction of the press. That is, if the press is to your sword side, rotate to your shield side, allowing the press to assist the rotation. At the same time strike in the direction of your rotation. Also, relax the forward push that you usually apply to your shield; allow it to go with the press.
This combination of movements will free your shield somewhat, allowing you to perform an abbreviated block with the edge of your shield not being pressed. At the same time, it will move your weapon towards the point from which your opponent will likely be attacking.
If the press is straight towards you, and possibly towards the top of your shield, the same maneuver works. In this case, it's usually more effective to rotate towards your opponent's shield side, since his or her direction of movement will tend to be more towards their sword side. If the press is strong, it may require you to move your body back somewhat while disengaging your shield.
If you are fighting in a line, in a war situation where movement is not possible, react to the straight, over-the-top push by bending your knees to lower your center of mass, then push forward and up, emphasizing the hips, rather than the shoulders. At the same time, use your sword to block overhead strikes.
As stated before hooks work directly or indirectly. In either case, try to allow the hook to move your shield as much as possible into some useful blocking position. If you are quick, this can take the form of a quick curl out, then towards your opponent's strike. If not, move your shield along with the direction of the hook towards either a high (usually) or low extended blocking position on your shield side, and use your sword to cover the rest. If you can back up at the same time, that is even better.