The Point of Bayonets

Reams have been written about the bayonet in the last one hundred years. Several US Army manuals begin by talking about “the Spirit of the Bayonet”. Much is written about the psychological effects training and using the bayonet is supposed to induce. We are even told “the bayonet is irresistible”.
As I noted in an earlier post, the practicality of the bayonet as a weapon was being questioned as early as the introduction of breech-loaders. Once machine guns became common, one would think the matter had been settled. Not so.

The Bayonet en Mass

Part of the problem with examining this topic is that many writers fail to distinguish between the use of the bayonet in massed charges and its use in personal combat.
Many bayonet manuals do not give much space to how a massed charge is to be actually conducted. Perhaps this was covered in other manuals. A US Army manual from 1916 informs troops that they should walk most of the distance to the enemy position so as not to unduly tire themselves. At 30-40 yards distance they may begin to move at double time, and rush the last few yards. A British manual from 1942 urges troops to approach the enemy position using all available cover. When reaching 20 yards distance, the unit was to form up for the charge and rush the final distance. When conducting massed charges it was felt important that a line formation was maintained. Given the effects of adrenaline and irregular terrain, this may not have been practical in many cases.
If one can approach to within 20 yards of an enemy position, there were probably better options than a bayonet rush. The position could be attached with multiple grenades, and automatic weapons used to sweep the visible sections of trench, for example.
Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart said:
“There are two thousand years of experience to tell us that the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old idea out.”
The conventional military mind seems to have retained its fascination with the bayonet charge long after such tactics should probably have been retired. Certainly bayonet charges have been used since the Second World War. Charges were used in the Falklands War, and in Afghanistan.

Hill 180 Korea

One of the last great bayonet charges, for American forces at least, was the bayonet charge by Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, against Hill 180.
“Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51” by SLA Marshall has a chapter on the utility of bayonets, and the following observations about the attack on Hill 180:
“The tactical omissions, which accompany and seem to be the emotional consequence of the verve and high excitement of the bayonet charge, stand out as prominently as the extreme valor of the individuals. . . The young Captain Millett, so intent on getting his attack going that he “didn’t have time” to call for artillery fires to the rearward of the hill, though that was the natural way to close the escape route and protect his own force from snipers who were thus allowed a free hand on that ground. . . His subsequent forgetting that the tank fire should be adjusted upward along the hill. . .The failure to use mortars toward the same object. . .The starving of the grenade supply, though this was a situation calling for grenades, and the resupply route was not wholly closed by fire. . .The fractionalization of the company in the attack to the degree where only high individual action can save the situation, and individual ammunition failures may well lose it.

It cannot be argued that bayonet charges have not worked. And yet, one cannot help but wonder just how many lives have been needless expended because a massed bayonet charge was attempted rather than other more practical options. For a young officer the bayonet charge seems a gamble between a medal or a court martial. If they survive.

Individual Bayonet Use

Let us move to the more practical topic of the use of the bayonet as a personal weapon. In the second edition of “Crash Combat” I suggest that the use of the bayonet, or other close combat means are only attempted if the threat is within three body lengths. If the distance is greater, seek cover, reload and shoot, or some other tactic.
Older manuals recommend the bayonet be used for night combat where muzzle flash might expose your location. It is also to be used in close quarter situations where any firing might endanger comrades.
Three to four kilos of rifle does not make an ideal spear handle. It is, however “what you got”.
To use a bayonet, you must have a bayonet. Most modern bayonets are overweight supposedly multi-purpose tools of little actual utility. Understandably, many soldiers have discarded them in favour of more useful blades.
I won’t discuss techniques for unbayoneted weapons, since these are covered in my books.

When to Fix Bayonets

Assuming you have one, when should you fix your bayonet? Wartime British manuals require the bayonet to be fitted whenever the enemy is within 300 yards. Sights for shorter ranges were set to compensate for the changes the fitted bayonet made on point of impact. The Russians took this further. During wartime the Mosin-Nagant was always fitted with its bayonet. A fitted bayonet is necessary to zero the sights.
In a more modern context, it may be prudent to fix bayonets if engagement range is less than 50 metres.

The Indoor Bayonet

A fixed bayonet may seem a handy thing to have when sweeping a house. As well as its defensive use it can probe under beds or into other dark places. Bert Levy comments that within a building, bayonets are more a hazard to comrades and likely to get frequently caught on furniture. Levy was probably referring to sword bayonets mounted on relatively long bolt-action service rifles. Experiments need to be conducted to determine the best ways for teams to move with modern bayoneted weapons within building interiors. Since shooting will remain the primary offensive mechanism, this will probably be a low-ready position, rather than the high-port usually required for moving with bayoneted weapons.

À la Bayonet

Recently I read an entertaining and informative paper on the bayonet. Unfortunately the author devotes a big chunk of his discussion to perpetuating the bayonet wound fallacy. Later in the paper he graphically describes how visceral and final an encounter involving bayonets may be. It does not occur to him that this may be related to why there are so few bayonet wounds in the field hospital. Most victims never make it that far! Near the end of the on-line version of the article he states: “The Military Manual of Self-Defence (55) offers a series of aggressive alternatives to traditional bayonet fighting movements, its focus more on disabling the opponent than parrying until a clean point can be made. While not necessarily offering a full replacement to classic bayonet training, it does show that more options exist.”
This did amuse me. Firstly, The Military Manual of Self-Defence (Anthony Herbert) unashamedly copies entire sections from other works. Most of the bayonet section is taken from “Cold Steel” by John Styers USMC. The illustrations even still look like Styers! Styers, in turn, drew directly from Biddle (“Do or Die”), who was an instructor for the USMC. This “untraditional” system was that taught to most marines.
There is also an amusing irony here. During his military service, Herbert was wounded fourteen times. Three of them were from bayonets!


Handcarts: AfriCart

Today I am going to talk a little more on handcarts. Researching something quite different, I found myself on a page on USMC TOEs and once again encountered the following illustration. Each machine gun section was provided with a MC-1942 handcart. Each 81mm mortar section was provided with two. The 60mm mortar sections, however, had no handcarts!
Looking for more information on the MC-1942 I instead found myself on this page on US Army handcarts. Notable was the information that such handcarts were intended for motorized troops. A pair of loaded carts fit between the seats of a 212 ton truck. When the truck could go not further, the infantry advanced with their handcarts.

US Army handcart with cover. Note detachably hauling ropes with handles.

Given the bulk and mass of some modern weapons and their ammunition, handcarts could still prove useful.


The marine and army carts use a T-shaped handle. Is this the best configuration? I wondered. A quick look at rickshaws and similar devices suggested that a rectangular arrangement might be better. That, in turn, led me to the following interesting blog:
Note how the bicycle wheels are supported on both sides. Also not the easily adjustable handle and the folding stand legs. The cart bed is 24 x 32″ area, exactly the same as used in the US Army cart.
I am sure many of my readers could construct similar carts for their own use. Don’t forget attachment holes for lashings or bungees and drainage holes. A wire-mesh base is a possible option if you can source a suitably sized piece. Non-pneumatic tires may be a sensible investment.

Stepping Back

Today I will look at another illustration from John Clements’ book on Medieval Swordsmanship.
This sequence shows how a downward strike is accompanied by a step forward with the right or rear foot, and the text describes how to resume the initial position (left). What I like about this is that if you view it right-to-left it equally illustrates a downward strike that follows stepping back with the left or lead leg. For example, an enemy targets your lead leg, so you step back to avoid the strike and simultaneously strike at his head. Striking low may have exposed the upper part of his body.
Medieval Sword and Shield describes a similar sequence, although this time the defender is in “half-shield” guard (above, left). Again, if the enemy strikes low, the targeted leg is brought back and the sword is brought down on the attacker.
Clements’ book makes a lot about the prevalence of leg wounds among the remains of the Battle of Visby. The above sequences suggest that attacking the legs was foolhardy, at least with shorter weapons such as swords. Some context helps us understand the discrepancy. The victorious Danish forces were mainly composed of professional soldiers and mercenaries. The Gutnish forces were primarily farmers, and only partially equipped with armour. It seems likely that professional fighters would readily exploit the defender’s lack of experience and equipment and target the legs. Whether such tactics were common in other battles against experienced fighters is open to debate.
The “step back while striking” drill has obvious applications to modern combat. If we do not hold a sword it can be adapted to other weapons or empty-handed techniques. In a previous post I have mentioned that the leg raising actions so typical of Scottish Highland dancing may have been training to take the leg out of the way of low strikes.
Many years ago I wrote about a very silly sequence that appears in some knife-fighting manuals. It should be apparent to readers that when an attacker threatens your leg, a more practical response will be to withdraw the leg and simultaneously strike at any target available, such as arm.

Selecting a Handgun

When choosing a handgun it is easy to be swamped in opinion. If you wish to be logical about your choice, there are several strategies that you can adopt.

Choice of Model

Hollywood, video games and even some writers often tell us one model of pistol has a superior performance to another, despite that in real life the two may use the same ammunition! The chambering of your handgun is probably the first aspect that you should consider. Once this decision is made, you can select a model based on size, mass, capacity, budget and other factors.
Ideally, you want an automatic pistol of about 7″/ 180mm overall length. As a primary weapon for concealed carry, you want a weapon of small bulk. As a secondary weapon for overt carry, a weapon of low weight is desirable, since you probably have a rifle or shotgun and enough other things to carry. Hence the recommended handgun is of compact/ sub-compact size.


If you are shooting someone in defence of your life, you want to make a big, deep hole in them. Yup, size does matter!
The optimal pistol round for this is the .45 ACP. The .45 ACP is compatible with a semi-automatic action, allowing for easy and fast reloading. There was a time when it was hard to find a .45 that was not a large, single-action weapon with a single-figure magazine capacity. Now we have a variety of compact and sub-compact double-action weapons, with useful magazine capacities. Thanks to US military aid, .45 ACP ammunition is reasonably easy to find in many parts of the world.
The standard load of the .45 is subsonic, making it a good choice for general military applications that may include the requirement for weapons to be suppressed. A .45 round that fails to mushroom will often make a wider wound channel than many 9mm and other medium-calibre rounds that do mushroom. .45s that do mushroom make very big wound channels.
The Textbook of Small Arms, 1929 notes:
“Rapidity of fire is an essential in pistol shooting, and though the double action of a revolver may well be ignored when it is considered as a target arm, it is of the highest importance when the pistol is considered from the active service point of view as a weapon…
“The value of the calibre of self-loading pistols and revolvers has been much obscured by theory, but practice of recent years has amply proved that small calibre plus high velocity, although developing many foot-pounds of energy, yet lacks stopping or shocking value. There have been many attempts to substitute a high-velocity cartridge of ·38 calibre, as a Service equivalent to the traditional ·455. In practice it has been found that the small calibre sometimes fails to stop its man and that the large-diameter leaden plug of the ·455, moving even 300 or 400 feet a second slower than the high-velocity, small-calibre projectile, is yet far more effective. Recent experiment has, however, developed a new experimental ·38 cartridge [.38/200 of 200gr] whose efficiency is, so far as ballistic tests can ascertain, not less than that of the ·455.
A hit with a ·455 anywhere literally [sic] knocks an adversary over. This quality of efficiency depends to some extent on the massive soft-lead bullet and the relatively low velocity rather than on any inherent magic in the calibre, for the ·455 or ·45 self-loading pistol firing a lighter nickel-covered bullet at a higher velocity cannot be depended on to produce equal shock effect.
The efficiency of the ·455 revolver cartridge is due to combination of the large calibre with the soft material, the mass, and the relatively low velocity of the projectile. These combine in such a way that the adversary experiences in his body the maximum development of shocking as distinct from penetrative effect. This is just what is wanted in an active service revolver. ”
It is interesting that nearly a hundred years later, this passage remains a good account of the issue, superior to many things written since. I am well aware some readers will get distracted by the semantics of some of the terminology used. Perhaps the most significant change since this was written has been the creation of jacketed hollow-point (JHP) ammunition that will feed reliably through an automatic. This has narrowed the gap in terminal effect between large-bore revolvers and self-loaders. Advances in bullet design intended to improve the performance of light, medium calibre, high-velocity bullets are even better applied to heavy, large-calibre rounds.


You may regard logistic considerations over effectiveness. The most common combat pistol round is the 9mm Luger, also known as the 9 x 19mm or 9mm Parabellum. This is the NATO standard pistol round, but its military and civilian use dates back to the 1900s. It was the round of the German, and other armies, for two world wars. The majority of sub-machine guns are chambered for this round. There are very few countries in the world where 9mm Luger cannot be found.
The medium-calibre 9 x 19mm is not as effective as the large bore .45, although many try to convince themselves it is. If you have very small hands, a 9mm model may offer a slimmer grip without compromising magazine size. Guns like the Berretta M9/92 are too big for roles other than as a primary overt weapon. As for 45s, a compact or sub-compact model is preferable.
In nations that have received Soviet or Chinese military aid, the 9mm Makarov round, aka 9 x 18mm, may be more readily found than the 9mm Luger. The 9mm Makarov is designed to be the most potent load that can be accommodated by a light, blowback-action pistol. Velocity and bullet weights are lower than the more powerful 9mm Luger. The 7.62 x 25mm round may also be common in countries that use Soviet or Chinese weapons. Most Soviet sub-machine guns, and their Chinese copies, are chambered in this round. In handguns, it is usually found in the TT33 Tokarev/ Type 51/ Type 54 and a few other Warsaw Pact designs, such as the Czech vz.52. Some of these weapons are still in use in certain parts of the world. The round is effectively identical to the 7.63mm Mauser round, so may be encountered in countries where the C96 Mauser “Broomhandle” was popular. The 7.63mm Mauser/ 7.62 x 25mm/ 7.62 Tokarev is a high-velocity round noted for its high penetration and flat trajectory. The small calibre creates a narrower wound channel than many other combat pistol rounds. W.E. Fairbairn was familiar with the round from his time with the Shanghai police. He suggested that the round was more effectively used if aimed at shoulder level, where the high-velocity round was most likely to shatter bones and create secondary missiles. This is fairly good advice for any pistol round.



The gun you have with you will always been more effective than the one you left at home because the latter was inconvenient to carry. There are some lightweight, low volume automatics in 9mm Luger. The 9mm Luger round requires a locked breech. Many smaller automatic pistols are simple, blowback weapons and therefore use cartridges other than the 9mm Luger. If you opt for a pocket automatic, the best choice is a weapon in either .380 ACP or 9mm Makarov. Pocket pistols in 9mm Makarov are fairly rare, but many duty weapons, like the Makarov PM/ Type 59, may be compact enough. A wider choice will be found in .380 ACP, also known as 9 x 17mm, 9mm Short or 9mm Kurtz. The .380 is slightly weaker than the 9 x 18m. Like the Makarov round, it is well suited to small, blowback pistols and is a better choice than smaller calibre options such as the 7.65mm/.32 ACP and 6.35mm/.25 ACP. Having less energy and momentum than a 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, hollow-point ammunition in .380 or 9 x18mm may be less reliable. 


Many small-frame models of revolver such as the Smith & Wesson J-frames and Colt Detective weigh under a pound, but only have five or six shots. Small medium-calibre revolvers in .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger are preferable to smaller-calibre weapons in .32 or .22. The 9mm Luger has the edge over the .38 in velocity, but the merit of revolver rounds is that they can use rounds that would not reliably feed through an automatic. The .38 and .357 cases can be loaded with wide-mouthed, soft, malleable, hollow-points, ideally of 200gr or more, that are likely to be more effective than any medium-calibre round an automatic can fire. If fired in an emergency from within a pocket, a pocket revolver has no slide to catch in the pocket lining. For similar reasons, models with concealed or internal hammers are preferable.

Special Purpose

.25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9 x 18mm and .45 ACP are all subsonic in standard loadings. The smaller rounds are sometimes preferred since they allow the use of a smaller weapon and suppressor.
Most .22 rounds are subsonic when fired from pistols, so are also suited to suppressed applications. .22 weapons are useful for target practice or for foraging. .22 revolvers often offer the option of switching between .22LR and .22 Magnum by exchanging cylinders. Some .22 revolvers can chamber more than six rounds.


Other than the exceptions already suggested, revolvers are not recommended. After more than a century of military service it is finally being accepted that claims that revolvers are more reliable than automatics are more theoretical than practical. Possibly, only in the instance of a misfire, does a revolver offer an advantage. This is offset by the greater ease in reloading and the usually larger ammunition capacities. For a given calibre, an automatic tends to be lighter and more compact than the equivalent revolver. You may be adept at quick wheel-gun reloads on the range, but under the stress of real combat it is better to keep dexterous actions as simple as possible.
Rounds such as the much hyped .40 S&W, .375 SIG and 10mm Auto are not recommended. These are all medium-calibre rounds, most loads trying to emulate the performance of the .357/125gr. Essentially just faster 9mm Luger. Unsurprisingly, performance is inferior to the .45. Logistically, ammunition in these chamberings may be difficult to find outside the US.
If a big deep hole is better, why the .45 ACP and not rounds such as the .44 Magnum or .50 AE you may ask? The answer is that we need control as well as power. For many shooters a quick follow-up shot with a .44 Magnum or similar may be difficult. No round can be guaranteed to always neutralize a threat first hit, or to always hit, for that matter. Another reason for using the .45 ACP is that most of the loads that exceed the .45 ACP in power are primarily revolver loads. For many reasons, not least its mass and bulk, the Desert Eagle is not recommended as a defence gun. The .45 Long Colt and .44 Special are more manageable, but usually found in revolvers, so the .45 ACP remains the best choice.
Both “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” have advice on the use of firearms.


Recently I have been reading about the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union. Finland could muster around 300,000 soldiers, while the Red Army was to commit more than a million men. The initial assault of roughly 120,000 infantry supported by 1,500 artillery pieces, 1,400 tanks and roughly 1,000 aeroplanes was faced by Finnish forces amounting to 26,000 infantry with a mere 71 artillery pieces and 29 anti-tank guns.
Finland had 32 tanks and 114 aircraft, which like their artillery were mainly aging and obsolete. Some of the Soviet equipment was equal to any in the world. The Red Army expected operations to last ten to twelve days. The Finns had other ideas. As one Finnish soldier astutely summarised the situation on the eve of the war: “We are so few and they are so many. Where will we find the room to bury them all?” (Finland in the Winter War 1939-1940 by Nenye, Munter and Wirtanen p.64
The following may interest readers.
The caption reads: “A Finnish patrol resting in Viena (White Sea) Karelia. The men have built a traditional rakovalkea. This kind of fire is made from two long, deadwood trunks, which are placed on top of each other. The fire is then kindled in between the two logs. This helps to keep the fire off the ground, and provides intense, near smokeless heat for hours with no need to add more fuel. (SA-kuva)”

Under a Waning Star

Recently I came across some information that the star rating on Amazon was based on sales, and how recent they were. How does that benefit the customer? It certainly does not benefit an author! Most people seeing a low rating will assume it means the book is no good, and move on. So I have a low star rating because I have made few sales, and I am unlikely to make more sales because I have a low star rating? How could anyone think that was a good system for a business? I am at a loss on a solution. What is the point of me writing? Sometimes it seems the only way to win is not to play.
It seems unlikely my novella will ever see many readers. If you are interested, click on the link below and judge for yourself. The ebook version costs less than a good beer.

Shields and Angles

In the previous blog I noted that some of the techniques seen in I.33 and “Medieval Sword and Shield” were not suited to shields larger than bucklers. This suggested that a blog on larger shields might be useful. What might the Middle-Ages teach the modern riot shield user?

Talhoffer: Judicial duel with long shields. Note that Right is in inner ward and attacks past the left edge of his shield.

One of the first documents I found was the paper “Reconstructing Early Medieval Sword and Shield” by Hand and Wagner, the authors of Medieval Sword and Shield. I was surprised to learn that there were no surviving medieval fechtbuch on shield use. The oldest known texts on shield use are from the Renaissance, when shield use was already well on the wane. Medieval artwork showing shield use is less than ideal, due to lack of perspective and other factors that affect realistic, accurate depiction. While there are no manuals on battlefield use of shields, Talhoffer’s 15th century fechtbuch does show the use of very high duelling shields used in judicial combats. This has supplied Hand and Wagner with some suggestions on how shields could have been used.
Hand and Wagner quote the following passage from Giacomo Di Grassi (1570) on how to use a round shield (“target”):
“Of the maner how to holde the round Target
If a man woulde so beare the rounde Target, that it may couer the whole bodie, and yet nothing hinder him from seeing his enimie, which is a matter of great importance, it is requisite, that he beare it towardes the enimie, not with the conuexe or outward parte thereof,… Therefore, if he would holde the said Target, that it may well defend all that part of the bodie, which is from the knee vpwardes, and that he maie see his enemie, it is requisite that he bear his arm, if not right, yet at least bowed so little, that in the elbowe there be framed so blunt an angle or corner, that his eyebeames passing neere that part of the circumference of the Target, which is neere his hande, may see his enemie from the head to the foot. And by holding the saide conuexe parte in this manner, it shall warde all the left side, and the circumference neere the hande shall with the least motion defend the right side, the head and the thighes.”

Di Grassi: Square target and lines of vision.

Renaissance swordsman with shield

Points to note are that both the surface of the shield and its circumference (rim) are used to protect the user. The right side of the rim is used to protect the right side of the user. The shield should be held so that it does not obstruct one’s view of the enemy. The least motion of the hand is needed to move the shield to defend the strong side, head or thighs.
I also had a look at the sword and shield chapter of John Clements’ “Medieval Swordsmanship”, a comprehensive work, although I have some issues with Clements’ writing style.
Clements shows a variety of ways a shield may be moved to counter attacks from various angles. Given a shield may mass eight to twelve pounds or more, there is wisdom in using a hold that minimizes any extraneous movement.

Fighting with a Shield

Some description of how a sword (or other weapon) would have been used with a large shield will be helpful. Clements describes three guards (or wards) for use with a shield and sword: high, middle and back. Similar techniques are used for axes, maces, spears and other weapons. Cycling from one of these positions to another is simple, and they allow strikes to made with little shield movement.
From the high guard the sword can make vertical, horizontal and diagonal cuts, thrusts and parries to either side of the shield. It can even deliver rising strikes from some angles. The hand is held just above forehead level, with the pommel just within peripheral vision. The blade slopes 45 degrees upward and inward so there is no clue to which direction the attack will take. The ochs (ox) position is similar but has the point directed forward. High guard is called high cocked guard in Attack, Avoid, Survive.

Frontal view of high guard.

Middle position is well suited to thrusts and is less fatiguing if maintained. Cuts are best made by shifting to high or back position.
Back position is also known as “tail” or nebenhut. It allows cuts or thrusts to be made from a wide range of directions, and the weapon hand is hidden from the foe. The position is, however, poorly suited to combat from close formations where comrades may be behind and beside a fighter. A similar position, with a club or mace held vertically, is shown in figures 35-37 of Hand and Wagner’s paper.
Typically we see shields used with the face towards the threat, and they are depicted as chiefly protecting the left side of a fighter. The shield may even be moved to the left for an offensive move to be made!

How shields are usually shown used. Airspace to outside of left arm is covered by the shield, but right-side of torso is exposed.

Angling the Shield

The passage from Di Grassi got me thinking. If you can defend your right side with the right side of the rim, why not position the shield so that it covers the entire torso and as much of the right arm as practical? Hand and Wagner suggest an “open ward” with the shield sloped at an angle around thirty degrees. Conceivably, a shield held at such an angle could cover most of the torso while presenting an angled face that is more likely to deflect attacks. A turn of the waist would increase protection to the right side, or create the “inner ward” Hand and Wagner describe. A drop of the hand would deflect low strikes.

Angled shield at inner ward.

If we look at the illustrations that Di Grassi provides of round and square targets it is plausible that what it is showing is the right edge of the target on a line close to the outside of the right shoulder.

Di Grassi: Illustration of holding the round target.

Torso fully covered, with room to conceal right arm when in middle guard.

Against missile fire the shield was probably held perpendicular to the threat, for maximum cover. The angled position would prove more useful for close combat. This is essentially the open ward that Hand and Wagner describe, with the variation that the right edge extends to the outside of the right arm. The shield might even be angled in two planes at once, which might improve visibility.
This concept of angling the shield addresses several elements of the conventional (“forward”) depiction of shield use. A human male is around 20 inches wide, so why are most shields 28-32 or more inches wide? To the left side of a user the shield protects an area of empty air, meaning non-functional mass to carry. If the shield is sloped vertically more of its width is used to defend more of its user. I.33 and Medieval Sword and Shield illustrated how vulnerable a sword-hand was without a correctly used buckler. Fighters using larger shields must have had some means to protect their weapon-hand. With the shield angled, middle-level thrusts might have been made without the weapon-hand passing beyond the forward rim of the shield. Similarly a sword-hand in high ward or tail ward would be some distance behind the protective zone created by the shield. The forward rim of the angled shield can be used offensively, and has more impact than striking with the flat. It is possible that both sword and shield were sometimes thrust forward at the same time, in a technique similar to “stab-knock”. The forward edge of an angled shield may hook the inner edge of the foe’s shield. The fighter may then swing his sword across the face of his own shield to cut behind the enemy’s shield.

Frontal shield and angled shield. Right could cut to Left’s sword arm. Left has effectively blocked his own view.

There is no evidence shields were used this way, but neither is there any that proves they were not. It is likely a variety of techniques were used, varying with the user’s skill, understanding and situation. It would be interesting to conduct some experiments.

Shields and Vision

Many years ago I watched an interesting demonstration by a pair of Roman Legion reenactors. “A” thrust at “B’s” eyes, so B raised his shield. In the moment that the shield blocked B’s vision, A stepped in and slammed his shield against B’s, knocking him off balance. The attack to the eyes was repeated. This time B parried upwards and outwards with his sword. As the sword was swept to A’s left, his sword arm was extended so B struck it with his own shield.
A nice demonstration of the offensive applications of shields, but also of one of their liabilities. The Scottish fencing master Donald McBane (1664-1732) notes:
“This Target is of great use to those who rightly understand it, but to unexperienced People is often very Fatal, by blinding themselves with it, for want of rightly understanding it.”
Certainly there are numerous period illustrations that appear to show a shield blocking a user’s vision, although lack of perspective makes any interpretation open to question.
Clements argues that it is inefficient to parry with a sword if one has a shield. The shield frees the other weapon to attack while a defence is conducted. The Roman demonstration illustrates there are times when the parry with a sword or other weapon is preferable to movement of the shield. Perhaps raising of the shield should be accompanied by an outward swatting movement to open a new line by which to keep the enemy in view? This might incorporate a simultaneous cut to the enemy’s attacking arm.

Shield and Buckler and Long Har Chuan

Recently I read a very interesting book called “Medieval Sword and Shield” by Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand. The generic title is a little misleading, since specifically the book covers the fighting system shown in I.33. Royal Armouries Ms. I.33, which is the earliest known surviving European fechtbuch (combat manual) and addresses the use of the sword and buckler. The book “The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship” by Jeffrey L Forgeng has a very nice reproduction and translation of I.33. The above volumes sit side by side on my bookshelf.
I.33 is not an easy work to understand. Medieval conventions on artwork make is uncertain as to the actual postures of the fighters, and the text is often less than clear and has some probable errors. It has been suggested that the manuscript was written for readers already familiar with the system described. Perhaps there was once an earlier “beginner’s course” manuscript, since lost to history.
If you read I.33 you will appreciate what a sterling job Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand have done in interpreting I.33 into a realistic fighting system. The book is comprehensive and logically laid out. Nearly every technique described is illustrated by a photo sequence, and in most cases the text is on the same page as the photos. As I know from personal experience, the latter is often much harder to achieve than one might think!

Stab-Knock and Shield-Knock

I.33 only deals with the use of sword and buckler, and the way these are used is distinctive. The buckler is seldom used independently. If the sword is held back in a cocked or charged position the buckler is advanced towards the foe. When the sword is forward the buckler is kept near the sword hand, and moved so that it is always between the sword hand and the likely approach of the enemy’s blade.

“Half-shield” counter and “Underarm” ward. Core techniques of I.33

Two of the core techniques of I.33 are “stab-knock/ thrust-strike (stichslac)” and “shield-knock (schlitslac)”.
A stab-knock is made when the buckler contacts and controls the opposing blade. Since the fighter is to keep sword and buckler together the stab-knock is both an attack and defence in single time. While the term thrust or stab is used, the attack may actually be a draw-cut or push-cut (aka “file”). Contrary to the tired old myth that medieval swords were only swung, I.33 shows a number of thrusts. Often the line of the sword obstructs the threat from the foe’s blade. This is reminiscent of the Long Har Chuan variant where an arm punches over an inward parry, simultaneously taking the parry over and striking. Addressing another common myth; in I.33 a parry or bind with the blade often precedes the involvement of the buckler.

A stab-knock (or possibly a shield-knock and strike). Hands would be closer together at the beginning of a stab-knock.

Shield-knock generally refers to binding the foe’s bucker with your own. Ideally this pins the opponent’s sword and buckler against his body, allowing the fighter’s sword to attack independently. The latter assumes the enemy has his sword-hand and buckler close together, as recommended by I.33. Shield-knock is sometimes seen applied to a buckler alone, or sometimes the sword-hand. If the enemy has not protected the sword-hand with his buckler then striking his arm with the buckler, preferably edge-on, is suggested. Shield-knock differs from stab-knock in that the sword may be wielded independently when a shield-knock is used.

Right stays too long in fifth ward, so left shield-knocks his buckler and strikes. A strike in the other direction would inhibit right’s sword-arm from making a late attack. Left probably stepped to right’s weak side, but this is not shown by medieval art.

Right shield-knocks both buckler and sword. With no opposition to his blade he strikes the head.

Distance, Wards and Counters

I won’t attempt to discuss most of the techniques in Medieval Sword and Shield since they would be hard to understand outside the context provided by the book.
A useful concept that the book describes is that of close distance, wide distance and out of distance. Close distance is when the fighters can strike each other without moving their feet. Wide distance is that where a stepping movement is needed to move into striking distance. Out of distance is where more than one stepping movement would be needed to reach striking range. Such terminology is fairly common in sword fighting circles but often not so clearly and simply stated in other martial arts.
Another useful concept is the book clearly distinguishes between the terms “ward (custodiis)” and “counter (obsesseo)” as used by I.33. A ward is a position you adopt before making an attack, while a counter is a position adopted in response to a ward. It is stressed that one should not “lie” in a ward. This echoes my own frequent comments about positions and stances not being static and being transitional.

Modern Applications

What can Medieval Sword and Shield teach the modern serviceman or prepper? More than you might think! For example, several of the core techniques show elements of Long Har Chuan, and I will deal with that topic further in a moment.
In Crash Combat I advise the baton and machete user to become familiar with rising and horizontal strikes. The two most versatile wards of I.33 are “underarm” and “priest’s special longpoint”. The bucker is held in a similar position for that recommended for the unarmed “alive-hand”.
While we have machetes and other long blades, a buckler is unlikely to be used. Some of the buckler techniques are not suited to larger shields such as a riot shield. In two of my books I describe using a helmet of entrenching tool in the weak hand to defend from a blade. The I.33 principle of keeping such a defence between your weapon-hand and the threat is directly applicable.
I.33 shows very few attacks to the hands or arms. The implication is that if the buckler techniques described are used such attacks are highly unlikely. In combat without bucklers the hands and forearms will often be targeted, whether a machete, baton or smaller blade is used. This is why you must keep your hands and yourself moving.

Long Har Chuan and Weapons

As I mentioned already, we can see the core principles of Long Har Chuan being used in some of the fundamental techniques of I.33. Long Har Chuan boils down to two ideas: When we make an inward parry, we take over with an outward parry. When we make an outward parry we simultaneously make an action with our other hand, either a strike or the beginning of another parry. If we parry a foe’s right hand with an outward parry from our right hand we would move left and hit him with our left hand.
Using a machete or baton has some influence on how Long Har Chuan is applied. If you have a long weapon in one hand you will likely favour its use. In offence the weapon has more reach and inflicts more damage. For defence it has more reach and is less vulnerable than your empty hand.

A bind. Note how bucklers cover the sword hand.

Suppose your enemy has a machete in his right hand, and you are configured the same. Your first move will be to bind his blade. “Bind” has a number of different meanings in blade fighting, and is used here to mean a sustained contact between blades, usually to exert control. Contact his blade on the outside, with your own, remembering that the strongest part of a blade is near the hilt, so attempt to bind “forte to forte”. Press his blade to your right and step in to your left. Make contact with his weapon arm with your left hand at the wrist, forearm or inner elbow. This hand controls, checks and monitors his weapon arm. This frees our weapon hand to unbind and strike at the foe’s neck. Rather than a broad swing, this may the a thrusting action, resulting in a thrust, draw-cut or push-cut. If we instead sensed his weapon arm reacting we might instead strike down at it with our blade. The procedure is similar for a bind on the inside of his blade, but in this instance his other hand is a potential threat and your should be ready to strike at this if necessary before attacking the neck. As can be seen, both inward and outward parries/ binds are taken over by the free hand to free the blade for use.

Roundhouses and Side Kicks

Over Christmas I made some changes to the Global Editions of “Attack, Avoid, Survive”. These were mainly changes of font or tweaks to improve readability. The sort of things that nobody but the author are likely to notice. Due to the caprices of word processors, this took way longer than it should have, minor changes throwing dozens of illustrations out of position. I may have finally learnt my lesson, so do not expect any further modifications in the near future, if ever!

The Mystery of the Muay Thai Roundhouse

Of course, during this I did add some more content. Mainly paragraphs or sentences clarifying existing sections. The book is now a couple of pages and several hundred words longer.
As I added some extra text to the section on roundhouse kicks a memory stirred. Some reference to the roundhouse kicks of Muay Thai being different and “the leg swung like a baseball bat”. I consulted a few references on Muay Thai that I have. There is no doubt that Thai boxers make very effective use of roundhouse kicks, but I could find no difference in the description of methods. I realized that the origin of the half-remembered quotation may be Wikipedia. Reading the section on Muay Thai roundhouses, I was informed that the leg was straight on impact and that power came from rotation of the body. That is exactly what I had always done, and I cannot see any other way to do it. How could I execute a circular kick without involving the hips or waist? I consult the “Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks” from Tuttle Press. There is a section on “Straight Leg Roundhouse” and a mention of its use by Muai Thai. I am told that it is no longer a whipping kick but a “momentum” kick. I presume this refers to kicking with a follow through. The description could be read to mean the leg is forced to keep straight, but such would cause tensing and is contrary to increasing momentum and good kicking technique.
I will explain here that I originally learnt my kicks in Karate, polishing my technique with Capoeira. Roundhouse kicks were taught by adopting horse stance and kicking through 180 degrees to one side from the other. In Capoeira roundhouse kicks were snapped off from ginga. The rear foot left the ground and struck out in front of you, following a course that was effectively a horizontal snap kick. With either, your leg finished straight if your kicking leg was properly relaxed. It was impossible to not use body rotation with this kick, and probably dangerous to try!

The Solution

It was only when I began to read about how other styles performed roundhouse kicks that I solved the mystery. For me, a roundhouse began when the kicking foot was still on the ground. For others, it started once the knee was raised up in the air. Hip rotation might be used for a kick from the back leg, but there were a variety of other kicks considered roundhouses. The raised knee position could be used to throw either a roundhouse, side kick or hook kick, so was useful for competitions. My Karate style had not been interested in sport and competitions, so the roundhouse I had learnt was closer to the powerful form used in Muay Thai. Of course, it is possible that the Wiki writer fell into the trap of over-specificity, looking for differences where few actually exist.

Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks

The “Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks” is worth a look, if you keep in mind it is primarily concerned with sport, tournaments and competition. All the kicks include an example of a self-defence application, but some of these will be more applicable or practical in the real world than others. The authors comment that most hook kicks are relatively new, implying they are something that has evolved more for competitions than actual combat. I was also intrigued to see crescent kicks were highly thought of. Personally, I am quite fond of crescent kicks, but have some reservations about their use in real combat. They are, however, a very good training aid for certain modes of footwork and maneouvre. The authors suggest that the broad striking area of a crescent kick is compensated for by the unexpectedness and variety of targets that it can attack, which is worth pondering. While the book has an emphasis on Karate and Tae Kwon Do, some attention is given to variations used in Savate, Capoeira, Chinese and Indonesian styles. A number of the Capoeira kicks and tactics seldom encountered in other styles are included, but I would have liked to see more Capoeira and Savate.

Side Kick Variations

Duck away from threat and two side kicks.

Evasion by turning, and side kick to outside gate

Side kick to outside gate preceded by body turn and back-fist.

Duck followed by side kick with hand on ground.

Drop to one knee to avoid attack, then side kick as rising.

Side kick from the ground. Attacker’s knee is an alternate target.

Well worth a read is the chapter on side kicks. Side kicks are a very useful real world technique, and this chapter illustrates side kicks thrown from a number of unconventional positions or combined with evasions. Some of these may be considered hybrids of side and back kicks, and many of the above positions may also be used for a back kick instead. One of the setups illustrated resembles the start of an outward crescent kick from the lead leg, and can be used to attack an aggressor on the outside gate.

Pec-Knives and the Gerber Strongarm


The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in Survival Weapons, and their use in Crash Combat. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in Attack, Avoid, Survive are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.

Gerber Strongarm

A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!

The Sheath and Extras

An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.

The Knife

The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.

Making a Chest Rig

There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.

Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!