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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2008 9:02 pm 
 

Swords are great, but they also arguably get a disproportionate amount of attention. Given the space to wield it, a polearm typically has a distinct advantage over virtually any sword.

But that's beside the point. Polearms come in various fascinating varieties, from all over the world. From the two-handed Danish axe beloved by both the Vikings & their Saxon opponents, to the naginata of Feudal Japan, there's a polearm out there to suit almost everyone's taste.

My favorite polearms include:

The quarterstaff Although most commonly associated with England, the quarterstaff was also a national weapon of the Germans, who knew it as the halbstang ("half-staff"). The quarterstaff was praised by the Elizabethan English weapons expert, George Silver (who called it the "short staff"*), who considered it to be superior to all other melee weapons, aside from the dreaded Welsh hook (see below). In the early 17th century, an English sailor named Richard Peeke used a quarterstaff to defeat 3 Spanish rapier-and-dagger men, who attacked him at the same time (and when asked by the Duke of Medina Sidonia how many opponents he was willing to face at once, Peeke boldly replied, "Any number under six.")

The Welsh hook This was a variety of bill (the bill being a bladed polearm of agricultural origins, used originally for pruning trees), that featured a very narrow, almost scythe-like bill-hook, along with a long tine (spike) beside it. Opposing weapons could apparently be trapped and held, in the space between the bill-hook and tine. It was a very light-headed polearm, and thus it was very fast.

The sode garami ("sleeve tangler") This Japanese polearm featured several short, curved, and barbed tines on the end, and the upper part of the shaft was shod in pointed spikes--a very imposing looking polearm, just from all the blackened metal hardware. Its numerous barbs and spikes were useful for snagging an opponent's clothing, and thus controlling him.

The konsaibo and tetsubo These large Japanese war-clubs were among the comparatively few weapons of the samurai the relied on "blunt trauma". The konsaibo was a stout hardwood club with a long head of multi-faceted section (square, hexagonal, etc), reinforced with iron, and studded with iron studs and/or spikes. The tetsubo was the same thing, only the entire weapon was fashioned of iron.

The "Bohemian ear-spoon" A variety of the partisan (a polearm featuring a long, double-edged swordlike head, suitable for both cutting and thrusting), the "Bohemian ear-spoon" also featured a couple of pointed lugs ("flukes") at the base of the head. These could ostensibly be used by a clever fencer for engaging an opponent's weapon, and they likely functioned in a similar manner to the toggle bar found on some boar spears--i.e., they prevented the impaled boar from running up the shaft, and goring the hunter. The "Bohemian ear-spoon" also has the most bizarre name of any polearm I can personally think of.

The ahlspiess ("eel-spear") A wicked-looking polearm, that consisted of nothing more than a long (roughly 3.5') , edgeless, four-sided spike, and a shaft of roughly the same length (though some varieties featured a shorter spike and longer shaft). There was also a metal disc at the base of the spike, to protect the forward hand. It was purely a thrusting weapon. The English adopted it, and they converted the name phonetically to suitably descriptive "awl-pike".





How about the rest of you?

List your favorite polearms here.


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*At 8-9 feet in length, the "short staff" might not seem all that short, but we should keep in mind that Silver's "long staff" was a weapon the length of a pike, being around 16 feet long.
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Metaluis90
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2008 11:06 pm 
 

being a traditionalist, I prefer a sword over any weapon
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Nyaricus
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 12:50 am 
 

To just do a quick intro here, I loooove polearms. I should mention that there were two common types of hooked polearms - the bill hook or bill (a common British hedge-pruning hooked blade) and the guisarme (a pruning hook from France). It is also very important to note that basically ALL European polearms derived from common tools. I'll go into greater detail in each entry.



The Bill-guisarme was the name given to any number of a variety of weapons with a cleaver-like cutting blade, a hook (either of the bill or guisarme variety) and various spikes and such designed so that any surface you hit a foe with would injure them. It was one of the later "hybrids" of polearms, combining two earlier designs into something more potent and versatile.

The Fauchard-fork was actually a highly useless weapon. It was simply too light and flimsy to do any good. Derived from the Fauchard, a sickle at the end of a pole, the Fauchard-fork also had a spear-point which meant one could defend oneself from a charge, or keep a melee opponent at bay. However, the sickle-blade was far too light and very ineffective at tripping opponents, and the cutting edge was at an awkward angle for use at range, and thus this particular polearm was not widespread.

The Glaive-guisarme was derived from the glaive, a single-bladed longknife mounted on a pole-arm. Commonly, the knife blade was sharpened and shaped so that one might thrust with it like a spear, although it was not a true spear-head but rather a pointy knife-blade. The guisarme hook was very common later on, and made this a versatile weapon.

The Guisarme-voulge featured a cleaver-blade on a pole, with a rearward-facing guisarme-hook. Strangely, this was one of the few polearms which did not commonly have a spear-point at the top end, as the cleaver blade usually curved back for greater striking power, and thus took up much of the space usually utiized by a spear-point. It is also easy to mix up with a Halberd save for the Guisarme / Guisarme-vougle usually had a longer haft (the Halberd being more of a two-handed melee weapon) and the lack of the spear-point, which the Halberd has.

Speaking of which, the Halberd was a *very* common polearm. Now, the term polearm basically meant any weapon mounted on a pole - commonly, these weapons were for use at range. The Halberd, however, had a shorter haft than most, and was much more of a melee weapon. It featured a full-sized axe-blade (and, indeed, the name "halberd" denoted it's "bearded" nature; as in bearded axe), a backwards curving hook and a stout spear-point.

The Lucern Hammer shall be my last polearm for now. Despite it's name, the Lucern Hammer did not have a hammerhead, rather it had 3 prongs which were used to viciously puncture plate armour. It had a large back-hook which could be used in the same fashion, and could sport a spear-point to use against charging opponents. All-in-all, one of the most advanced forms of anti-plate armour technology the world has seen (besides from gun powder, but that's a whole different story).

Indeed, polarms definitely do not get the credit they deserve. They were likely the most common weapon on Europe's battlefields, and were so because they were effective and relatively cheap. Definitely an awesome branch of weapon tech.

cheers,
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 3:36 pm 
 

Metaluis90 wrote:
being a traditionalist, I prefer a sword over any weapon



Perhaps you should consider being a non-"traditionalist", then.


In the Paradoxes of Defence (1599), George Silver plainly stated:

"First I will begin with the worst weapon, an imperfect and insufficient weapon, and not worth the speaking of, but now being highly esteemed, therefore not to be unremembered. That is, the single rapier, and the rapier and poniard.

The single sword has the vantage against the single rapier.

The sword and dagger has the advantage against the rapier and poniard.

The sword & target has the advantage against the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.

The sword and buckler has the advantage against the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.

The two handed sword has the advantage against the sword and target, the sword and buckler, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.

The battle axe, the halberd, the black-bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle, are all one in fight, and have advantage against the two handed sword, the sword and buckler, the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.

The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target, and are too hard for two swords and daggers, or two rapier and poniards with gauntlets, and for the long staff and morris pike.

The long staff, morris pike, or javelin, or such like weapons above the perfect length, have advantage against all manner of weapons, the short staff, the Welch hook, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage excepted, yet are too weak for two swords and daggers or two sword and bucklers, or two rapiers and poniards with gauntlets, because they are too long to thrust, strike, and turn speedily. And by reason of the large distance, one of the sword and daggers-men will get behind him.

The Welch hook or forest bill, have advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever."




As you can see, polearms "have the advantage against" virtually all swords.
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rexxz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 3:39 pm 
 

Dreadnaught wrote:
As you can see, polearms "have the advantage against" virtually all swords.


Not to discredit the claims, but it's not a simple matter of "as you can see" just because you quoted someone saying so.

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josephus
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:04 pm 
 

As part of a battle formation, yes, polearms are pretty damned wicked. Of course there will always be situations where a Halberdier is buggered (fighting up a spiral staircase, or close quarters in general).
Oh, and I want to know, does anyone else here love books on the Medieval Martial Arts?
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:09 pm 
 

Nyaricus wrote:
To just do a quick intro here, I loooove polearms. I should mention that there were two common types of hooked polearms - the bill hook or bill (a common British hedge-pruning hooked blade) and the guisarme (a pruning hook from France). It is also very important to note that basically ALL European polearms derived from common tools.



What about the spear/half-pike? That was a purpose-built weapon, right from the paleolithic get-go.

Or what about the horseman's lance? And the infantryman's long pike?

What about the partisan--a stout, double-edged knife/sword blade, on a pole. What "common tool" was that derived from?



Quote:
I'll go into greater detail in each entry.



The Bill-guisarme was the name given to any number of a variety of weapons with a cleaver-like cutting blade, a hook (either of the bill or guisarme variety) and various spikes and such designed so that any surface you hit a foe with would injure them. It was one of the later "hybrids" of polearms, combining two earlier designs into something more potent and versatile.



Do you have a link to any photos of this supposed weapon?

In European Weapons and Armour from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, Ewart Oakeshott said that the guisarme is often associated with the bill, but that it's origins are actually totally different (it's derived from the axe, not the bill-hook).

And FWIW, the weapon we now know to be the "Welsh hook" or "forest bill" as described by George Silver, was originally misindentified as (and for a long time believed to be) a guisarme.



Quote:
The Fauchard-fork was actually a highly useless weapon. It was simply too light and flimsy to do any good. Derived from the Fauchard, a sickle at the end of a pole, the Fauchard-fork also had a spear-point which meant one could defend oneself from a charge, or keep a melee opponent at bay. However, the sickle-blade was far too light and very ineffective at tripping opponents, and the cutting edge was at an awkward angle for use at range, and thus this particular polearm was not widespread.

The Glaive-guisarme was derived from the glaive, a single-bladed longknife mounted on a pole-arm. Commonly, the knife blade was sharpened and shaped so that one might thrust with it like a spear, although it was not a true spear-head but rather a pointy knife-blade. The guisarme hook was very common later on, and made this a versatile weapon.

The Guisarme-voulge featured a cleaver-blade on a pole, with a rearward-facing guisarme-hook. Strangely, this was one of the few polearms which did not commonly have a spear-point at the top end, as the cleaver blade usually curved back for greater striking power, and thus took up much of the space usually utiized by a spear-point. It is also easy to mix up with a Halberd save for the Guisarme / Guisarme-vougle usually had a longer haft (the Halberd being more of a two-handed melee weapon) and the lack of the spear-point, which the Halberd has.



I have checked various well-known texts that cover polearms, including Oakshott's book mentioned above, The Halberd and Other European Polearms 1300-1650 by George Snook, M.D., and The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, by Sydney Anglo. None of these books mention the weapon types you list above. Do you have any links for info on & photos of these, as well?
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:11 pm 
 

rexxz wrote:
Dreadnaught wrote:
As you can see, polearms "have the advantage against" virtually all swords.


Not to discredit the claims, but it's not a simple matter of "as you can see" just because you quoted someone saying so.



It really is that simple, actually.

We're talking about an expert in the field, from a time when these weapons were actually used.

And Silver wasn't the only guy who offered opinions on this.
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rexxz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:13 pm 
 

No, it really isn't. Demonstrations need to be done, observations and analysis.

Those are truth claims, and like every truth claim they need to be studied to have any veracity.

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josephus
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:15 pm 
 

Hmm, I wonder if a grant would be offered for such a study? I think it would be a lot of fun to find out.
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:15 pm 
 

josephus wrote:
As part of a battle formation, yes, polearms are pretty damned wicked. Of course there will always be situations where a Halberdier is buggered (fighting up a spiral staircase, or close quarters in general).



In the Silver quote above, he is talking about single combat. He also writes about how things are different, when in a battlefield situation:

"Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offence and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill. The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler.

The morris pike defends the battle from both horse and man, much better than can the short staff, long staff, or forest bill. Again the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, and sword & target, among armed men and troops, by reason of their weights, shortness, and great force, do much better offend the enemy, & are much better weapons, than is the shot staff, the long staff, or the forest bill."







Quote:
Oh, and I want to know, does anyone else here love books on the Medieval Martial Arts?





Count me in. :)
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josephus
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:20 pm 
 

I don't want to derail the thread (too much), but this applies to polearms as well as swords and such. It always bothers me to see these weapons misrepresented in movies and games (though in some cases I can make exceptions, if it is not trying to be believable). The only movies I have seen that show spears and the like being used with grace and speed are Asian. Of course, perhaps I just need to see more of the right movies.
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:22 pm 
 

rexxz wrote:
No, it really isn't. Demonstrations need to be done, observations and analysis.

Those are truth claims, and like every truth claim they need to be studied to have any veracity.



Funny you should mention "demonstrations", "observations", and "analysis", since Silver's commentary has been borne out in modern sparring/bouting experiments.

In all seriousness, anyone with a background in functional armed martial arts and/or combat sports can immediately see the logic in this.
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rexxz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:23 pm 
 

Why is it funny? I have no knowledge on the subject, I am merely saying that by simply quoting a man saying something does not make it true, as you have implied earlier with the phrase "as you can see".

If you want to more properly prove your points, it is best to offer up writings of more substance than a simple "This is better than that".

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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:33 pm 
 

rexxz wrote:
Why is it funny? I have no knowledge on the subject, I am merely saying that by simply quoting a man saying something does not make it true, as you have implied earlier with the phrase "as you can see".

If you want to more properly prove your points, it is best to offer up writings of more substance than a simple "This is better than that".



The evidence includes:

1. Actual historical accounts of swordsmen being routinely bested by polearm users.

2. Commentary by various period fight masters, who argued convincingly about the advantages of polearms over swords.

3. The results of modern experimentation (i.e., pressure-testing the techniques shown in period treatises, via bouting). These truths transcend the actual fighting styles involved; therefore, we see the same thing not only in modern reconstructions of Medieval & Renaissance European martial arts, but also in currently existing Asian methods, like sojutsu. Classical Japanese weapons expert, Hunter Armstrong, has written about how a swordsman with a katana has "little chance" against the spearman with his yari.
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rexxz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 4:34 pm 
 

Just out of curiosity are there any of those test results online somewhere?

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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 5:05 pm 
 

rexxz wrote:
Just out of curiosity are there any of those test results online somewhere?



I don't know.
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Dark_Gnat
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 5:16 pm 
 

The main advantage of pole arms is reach. You can reach your opponent when he cannot reach you, provided you are on open ground, which is where these weapons were typically used.

Some pole arms were designed to be used while on horseback, to impale, slice or chop an enemy, or his horse. Others were designed to be used while on foot, against a horseman, by giving the user enough reach to wound the rider, or to injure the horse.

Here is a basic site that displays a variety of pole arms of European flavor.

http://www.retromud.org/weapons/polearms.html

This one features a few Asian weapons.

http://members.tripod.com/OniBushi/id26.htm


In sparring matches, I found that a simple bo/staff was a better defensive weapon than a sword, because I could keep the opponent away, and redirect his strikes with one end, following up with a strike from the other end. Opponents tend to be confused by a fast moving fighting staff, as it typically fills their field of view, and it is difficult to keep track of both ends.

In close quarters, the advantages are lost. Range of motion can become so limited, that such a weapon would be a liability.
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Metaluis90
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 6:10 pm 
 

Dark_Gnat wrote:
In close quarters, the advantages are lost. Range of motion can become so limited, that such a weapon would be a liability.


Therefore, and altough those advantages that have the pole arms have, a sword is more of an average weapon, IMO. And I mean average not in quality but in all types of combats. something that a polearm can't be
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Burzukur
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 6:21 pm 
 

A short spear (4 1/2'-5') with a longer head (8-12"). A viking spear, pretty much.
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Scorntyrant
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 8:22 pm 
 

I used to be in a steel-weapons combat group for years, and I agree that Silver is genreally a very good authority on the subject.

My personal experience is that polearms are not so great one-on-one, but extremely effective in groups. This being based on the principal that once you get past the point their effectiveness is gone.

I disagree also with the "Avarageness" of the sword as a weapon - I think one-on-one the half-sword and buckler is probably the best weapons combo.But what we're getting confused with is the difference between personal defense and battlefield combat. Certainly by silver's time the sword was quite ineffective, even in varients like the falchion or zweihander, at penetrating the heavy armour of the period - hence the growing popularity of maces, warhammers and other crushing weapons.
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 8:53 pm 
 

Dark_Gnat wrote:
The main advantage of pole arms is reach. You can reach your opponent when he cannot reach you, provided you are on open ground, which is where these weapons were typically used.



It's not simply a matter of reach--it's a matter of the polearm user having the ability, via use of the "slip-thrust", to control the distance, and deceive the swordsman.

The "slip-thrust" (known historically to the Italians as the punta slanciata or "flung thrust"), is a technique where the shaft of the weapon slides through the loose grip of the forward hand, as the weapon is driven by the rear hand (think in terms of using a cue stick). With this technique, it is extremely difficult for the swordsman to judge proper distance.




Quote:
In sparring matches, I found that a simple bo/staff was a better defensive weapon than a sword, because I could keep the opponent away, and redirect his strikes with one end, following up with a strike from the other end. Opponents tend to be confused by a fast moving fighting staff, as it typically fills their field of view, and it is difficult to keep track of both ends.



In my own bouting experiences, the key to getting the most out of the staff is not by "half-staffing" (i.e., holding the weapon close to the center, Robin Hood-style), but by holding it closer to one end, like a giant sword--this is how you make use of the weapon's greater reach. It's frustratingly difficult for a swordsman to close the gap on someone wielding even just a six-foot staff, let alone a longer one (8 to 9 feet).


Quote:
In close quarters, the advantages are lost. Range of motion can become so limited, that such a weapon would be a liability.



Well, that's why long daggers and/or short swords were common backup weapons, amongst polearm users.
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rexxz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 9:03 pm 
 

I've done one handed slip-thrust drills with the half-spear and shield. Very tricky to master.

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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 14, 2008 9:09 pm 
 

Scorntyrant wrote:
My personal experience is that polearms are not so great one-on-one, but extremely effective in groups. This being based on the principal that once you get past the point their effectiveness is gone.



But that's just it--getting past the point isn't easy, though this obviously varies with the type of polearm.

Silver plainly stated how a quarterstaff man can handle two sword-and-dagger men, and Richard Peeke took that even further, by defeating three.



Quote:
Certainly by silver's time the sword was quite ineffective, even in varients like the falchion or zweihander, at penetrating the heavy armour of the period - hence the growing popularity of maces, warhammers and other crushing weapons.



By Silver's time, full plate armor was largely a thing of the past, and was replaced in practice by 3/4 and 1/2 plate, brigandine and maille jackets, etc.
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Dreadnaught
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 19, 2008 12:57 pm 
 

Here are some various examples of tetsubo (all-iron) and konsaibo (wood-and-iron)--Japanese war-clubs:

http://sengokudaimyo.com/Tempstuff/tetsubo001.jpg
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pbirv
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:35 pm 
 

I love the mace and flail.

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Elksedge
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 30, 2008 12:32 pm 
 

Have you had a chance to read John Waldman's book? It's called "Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: The Evolution of European Staff Weapons Between 1200 and 1650" and was published in 2005. I obtained it through an interlibrary loan since at the time it was out of my price range at $175.00 new. I have Snook's work but Waldman's is a real monster of a book, so although it inevitably doesn't cover everything it's still essential.

As far as a personal favorite, the bardiche (berdysh) always appealed to me for purely aesthetic reasons, a huge Russian infantry axe with a blade as big as your arm.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 30, 2008 12:36 pm 
 

I thought this thread had bitten the digital dust too. My thanks go out to the technicians here at Metal-Archives, who prevented this from being the case.





Elksedge wrote:
Have you had a chance to read John Waldman's book? It's called "Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: The Evolution of European Staff Weapons Between 1200 and 1650" and was published in 2005. I obtained it through an interlibrary loan since at the time it was out of my price range at $175.00 new. I have Snook's work but Waldman's is a real monster of a book, so although it inevitably doesn't cover everything it's still essential.

As far as a personal favorite, the bardiche (berdysh) always appealed to me for purely aesthetic reasons, a huge Russian infantry axe with a blade as big as your arm.



That Waldman book sounds really badass. 175 bucks, though? Fuck...
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