Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poleaxe Tactics

This is another of Tyson's requested topics, he requested that while many people talk about techniques, few give advice on tactics.

Well first off, I really don't have much experience to be talking from.  After all, I've only had 3 bouts with the axe.  That's it.  You can read about them here.

So instead of trying to bullshit ya'll with my "immense" knowledge and experience, I will simply repeat a few gems from the Anonimo Bolognese and Le Jeu de la Hache.

  • Aim for the weak spots in your opponent's armour - usually the armpits, insides of elbows, palms, throat, etc.
  • Use a stop-thrust to the face, throat, chest or arms whenever you can get away with it - when your opponent changes guards, telegraphs a blow, or enters into measure without covering themselves.
  • Use feints.
  • Use the head (hook, hammer, axe, whatever) to hook your opponent's haft, arms, legs, collar whenever you can - if you throw a blow at their head & overshoot, pull back HARD!
  • Don't forget the feet! Yours or theirs.  Queue thrusts to the feet can be very sneaky.
  • Keep whatever end you have facing your opponent moving, especially with thrusts to the face or feet.  This way they can't find it and put it aside
  • Control your weapon - don't open up too much space between you & your axe.  Don't let your blows go too far outside your opponent's silhouette.
With all these bits of advice, the opposites hold true:
  • Protect your own weak spots - don't give your opponent an easy shot to your palms or armpits.
  • Do not enter into measure without covering yourself with your axe & don't telegraph your blows.
  • Be careful of over-commiting yourself while parrying.
  • Whenever you can, use your axe to control theirs & set it aside.
That really about sums it up.

Why I love pole-arms

Every now and again I have a weak moment.

I look at all the gear I have/want and despair.
I look at my lack of sufficient training space and despair.
I despair and wonder "Why, oh why, can't I be into I.33, rapier, English backsword, messer - basically ANY single sword system - that requires a smaller weapon and thus less gear & less room."

After all, the basic weapon of Armizare is the longsword - you need a high ceiling to practice indoors.  I live on the bottom floor of an apartment - not gonna happen.  I could practice outdoors, but it turns out that my part of the communal backyard is the low spot of the lot.  And it rains in Portland.  A lot.  Which means I often have a lake for a backyard. 

And poleaxe? Oh boy.  The needed room is greater, the needed gear is greater.  Basically, everything needed is greater.

I will sit and honestly consider seriously taking up the rapier or single-hand sword in some form.  But then I pick up my axe and all doubts cease. 

When I first started down the WMA road, I thought (and still think) that the longsword is the most versatile weapon in the HEMA arsenal.  It plays close, wide, against armour, against no armour, one handed, two-handed, etc.  But I still remember the first time I saw the axe in Fiore's MS.  Sean had brought his copy of the Getty (or maybe it was the PD) and was doing a little show-and-tell with the class.  He got to the axe section and as I listened to his description of the weapon, I knew I was hooked on this Swiss Army knife of the knightly class.  I proceeded to find out any info I could about this weapon, including looking into other manuscripts and traditions to find out more.  But I really stayed focused on the poleaxe until, honestly, I got Waldman's "Hafted Weapons of Medieval and Renaissance Europe" and read his study on halberds, bills, vogues, poleaxes, etc.  I had an epiphany - I didn't just love the poleaxe, I loved pole-arms.  All of them.  I knew this, but I didn't "know" it.

So why do I love pole-arms so much?  Their versatility.  While the longsword is the most versatile single weapon, pole-arms are the most versatile class of weapons.  From the simple staff to the spear to the halberd to the poleaxe, no single weapon type has the amount of cross-over pole-arms do.  Train with the staff and you're 70% of the way to using a poleaxe.  And it's not just me saying so - masters like George Silver and Achille Marozzo agreed that techniques learned with one pole-arm would transfer easily to others.  You only need to adapt specific techniques to specific weapons - there are three attacks that can be made with pole-arms: Strikes, Thrusts, and Hooking actions - but not all pole-arms can make all three attacks.  It's tough to hook with a staff or spear, for instance.  There is also the versatility of pole-arms in regards to armour - all pole-arms can be used with or without armour, but some are more specialized to armoured combat (the axe). 

What is the point of all this rambling?  That while the longsword is the most versatile single weapon, pole-arms are the most versatile class of weapons.  Therefore, if you want to train with the poleaxe but don't have the armour or poleaxe, then train with a staff.