(ig)A treatise: stances and tactics of a shieldwall fighter

One of the biggest myths perpetuated by older fighters, and directed at those new to shield work, is that the primary mission of a shield person is to simply stay alive and slow the enemy’s advance. I believe this to be a misconception, as in my opinion, shields are much more than a distraction, spell magnet, or a momentary cause for pause; they are the foundation upon which victories on the field are built.

It is my belief that the primary goal of the shield person should be to compliment the use of the great weapons, spells, alchemy, and archery. This is best accomplished if the shields are in constant movement: killing and disabling (or shattering) enemy shields, stunning limbs, and destroying enemy support types.

Knowing when and how to accomplish these tactics and feats are of primary importance to the effectiveness of your unit. In order to understand your place in your unit, you must first familiarize yourself with the basics of your role, the methods of training, and the equipment you will use to achieve victory. Once you have learned the basics of shield wall fighting, you can then advance to an understanding of the unit’s role in the formation. Understanding the value and purpose of your unit in its formation grants insight into the nature of the battle, and understanding the nature of a battle can help you win the war.

It is recommended that you practice the material in this treatise for at least two hours a day, four times a week. After two weeks, if you are still alive, you should have noticed a marked improvement in both fitness and skill. After a month of sticking to your new training schedule, even a novice will fight with the competency of a veteran.

Training is intended to be conducted in groups of at least four, though I caution against limiting your development by pinning your ability to practice on the availability of three others. To see true improvement, dedication is required... few can find it within themselves, let alone another. Do not pin your success and survival on the commonplace shortcomings of others, if no partners are available, practice on the Pell for a few hours.

Any “adventuring” township will offer you plenty of opportunities to find training or practice groups, but be wary of those who “claim to know.” He who knows says little, he who does not, says much. Many students of arms have tried to pass themselves off as instructors or masters, and attempt to draw funding from a pool of earnest students. Eager to learn even the most basic concepts, they are blinkered to the fact that they are wasting their time with a charlatan. All too often, a student tries to instruct before they are ready, trying to impart understanding of a concept they are unable to execute, or one they do not truly comprehend. It is a classic blunder, and one that unfortunately earns my opprobrium only from harsh experience.
A treatise on the stances and tactics of a shieldwall fighte

I have taught many of my students that there is a cycle to martial artistry, the wheel of understanding. First, one “learns to learn”. This step represents the basics of throwing blows correctly, and using stances, tactics, and equipment correctly. Established schools or reputable instructors are in ready supply, and there is always the option of joining a branch of the Andarian military if you want advanced or specialist instruction.

Once the basics have been grasped, the student may now “learn to teach”, which is as it sounds. The Student learns how to avoid all the teaching errors his instructor (and so on, through the ancestry of instructors) made, and later recognized as mistakes in their teaching process. These errors can cause more than just obstacles to achieving training goals; improper wrap technique can fray tendons in a way that makes swinging a sword hurt as much as one striking you and improper footwork can destroy your ankles and knees in much the same way.

Overcoming these “hereditary” errors in instruction is difficult, but these must be corrected before moving on to the next stage in the wheel of understanding. The most common way of accomplishing this is simply to train with as many people as you can, and train under as many instructors of as many different styles as you can find.

As you further develop, you will eventually “teach to learn”, the meaning of which is twofold: First, you are teaching your student to “learn to learn”, and second, you are learning from your students in ways that will help you become a more proficient instructor by using the previous stage “learn to teach” yourself.

Next is what many misguidedly call the final stage, learning to “teach to teach” meaning that you have reached a level of martial and instructional skill that allows you to teach others to “learn to teach”. If this were indeed the final stage, the aforementioned wheel would instead be referred to as a line. However, those who continue on in their studies will once again find themselves “learning to learn”.

Each trip through the wheel brings us closer to the truest martial understanding, a pure expression of our own desired movement, and a state of effortless grace in battle...
A treatise on the stances and tactics of a shieldwall fighte

~Concerns regarding armour selection~

As a building starts with a basement and foundation, so shall we. Blows fall from the top down, like raindrops, as the head, shoulders, and torso are primary targets. Because of this, when you wear an armour, you begin at the Sabotons (Plate foot defenses) and work your way up, the same way roof thatching is applied in the Human “cottage”. The same applies to your training; it starts from the ground up.

Another concern when choosing equipment is handedness: Not all warriors are blessed with ambidexterity. Most opponents on the shieldwall opposite your own are going to be right-handed, and therefore, it will be easiest to attack your left side. The gauge or thickness of material on your left side should be a step above the material used in the components of the right side defenses.

As you improve in speed and skill, you will be struck less and less often. Also, as you improve, the weight and thickness of your armour should decrease proportionately.
I recommend simple peascod or globose breastplates with very few flutes (raised hammer-hardened lines which strengthen an armour) because they are easy for a novice to obtain, and simple to replace (if a bit expensive). These types of defenses provide protection against piercing attacks (such as those from pikes, arrows, and daggers) in areas that new fighters are prone to being hit.

The head and body are primary targets for piercing attacks, and so the armour worn on those locations should have a strong central ridge, faulds to protect your abdomen and floating ribs, and should be constructed to slide thrusting or piercing attacks to non-vital or more heavily armoured areas. By contrast, limb defenses work best for beginners when they are heavily worked pieces. Generally, slashing and blunt-force weapons are much less effective against armours which have been heavily fluted, hammer hardened, or had the appropriate edges rolled to increase their durability.

I highly recommend hybridizing your armour in this fashion during the initial stages of your training, but you will need to adapt your kit to suit your individual needs as they develop. As is mentioned later in this treatise, stagnation is death, and the saying holds as true in regard to developing your equipment as it does to developing your swordplay.

The best armours ever made strike a delicate balance between toughness and hardness. An armour that is over-hardened is brittle, and very tough armour will not shatter, but will deform or dent easily. If you wish a deeper understanding of the relationship between toughness and hardness, I highly recommend an in-depth study of inorganic chemistry and advanced metallurgical techniques.
A treatise on the stances and tactics of a shieldwall fighte

~Getting started~

While it is advisable to become as proficient as possible in as many weapons and styles as possible, everyone has to begin somewhere. Many fighters stay with their first styles or weapons out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or because they mistakenly believe that it is a superior weapon type or style.

Just as the ideal armour strikes a balance between toughness and hardness, an ideal weapon or style strikes the compromise between utility and familiarity. It is the balance between your own skill and its usefulness against your opponent.

If you rest on your laurels with regard to weapon and stylistic choices, you can expect similar results to those mentioned above with regard to upgrading your armour. In order to thrive, which suggests survival, constant adaptation is necessary.

When allowing my students to select the weapons they will begin training with, it is important not to overspecialize. Learning the graceful techniques of using a Chamichar, known outside of Adgyptia as a “shamshir” or “scimitar”, before you have even learned the basics of using a standard sword is ill-advised. A foundation understanding of the dry, boring fundamentals must be established in order to support such stylistic flourish.

Dagger is an excellent style to begin with: as it is the shortest extension of your body movements, you will have a greater degree of control over any precise movements you must make. This allows for more repetition, and establishes muscle memory for movements which will later be supplemented with brute strength when using other styles. As you practice, be sure to begin with these small, controlled movements, with the dagger held in a point-out grip.

When you have started to warm up from these fine movements, shift the focus of your drills to larger, more brute strength movements your technique requires. Many of these will require an underhanded point-down grip. Make sure to practice switching between the two styles so that you can do so quickly and reliably on the battlefield.

Once you have accustomed yourself to the slight rigors of daily practice with a short blade, you are ready to begin your sword training. Practice with the sword not as an evolution of your dagger style, but as separate and complete style to itself.

Learn to approach the sword not as a dagger stylist, but as a martial artist seeking understanding. Continue onward in your skills with the dagger, as training concurrently with multiple weapon styles will only serve to reinforce the efforts you have made thus far.
Beginning Stances

High Guard-
For both defense and offense as a member of a shield unit, my stance preference is what is commonly referred to as a high guard. This position is attained by gripping your sword and placing the hilt over your shoulder, roughly parallel with the ground. This presentation of sword allows you to rest much of the weight of your sword, basket hilt, quillions, or arm harness on your shoulder, increasing your arm’s endurance in combat dramatically.

Make sure to keep your elbow in close to your waist, so that your forearm and elbow are not exposed to any nasty enemy strikes or fire, and your floating ribs on your weapon side are protected by your arm.

This stance provides a reasonably good defense against downward slashing weapons, especially pole arms trying to take out your sword arm. It also works well as a passive defense (meaning one that requires little or no effort) to attacks being thrown parallel to your weapon. By throwing your weapon forward, similar to throwing a punch, you can use your blade or quillions to halt the momentum of a strike, or control a shield surface.

It should be noted, however, that when in this stance, you should actively block downward pole arm strikes as they will likely blow through (or around) a passive defense. I recommend using a more active defensive stance than high guard against great weapons, as even shields can be ineffective at blocking strikes fuelled by both muscle and gravity.

The high guard stance provides one of the best offensive platforms you can take in a melee. A small amount of flex inwards with the elbow is enough to generate killing force for flat snaps to the sword side, and if you are striking correctly, you are already wound up enough to throw reverse-momentum strikes to your shield side (such as an offhand snap).

If the enemy to your sword side presents you with a vertical opening, a minor upward movement with your fist is all that is needed to generate the necessary movement to roll a good drop shot into said opening if you are particularly practiced.

High guard works very well in tight spaces, whether in a narrow defile, or the press of a war-order shield formation. It is a versatile stance that allows you to trade your freedom of movement for tight-focused killing zones; compact areas that, while limited, are dangerous ground for opponents to enter or contest.
Beginning Stances

Tower Guard-
Another stance I’ve used to good effect in indoor spaces is known as the tower guard, where the sword hilt is held near the base of your ribs, level with the ground. The elbow of your weapon arm should be tucked near the back of your ribs, but take care that in doing this you do not expose your weapon arm; the closer you keep your hand to your side, the better.

By moving your hand further from or closer to your body while keeping your sword tip in place, this defense creates an A-frame or steepled guard. Skilled swordsmen will often use this defense to turn the rebound impact of their parry into momentum for a counterattack; I recommend that you practice this with wasters until it is second nature.

This stance is very well suited to melee situations where rising thrusts are prevalent, such as Florentine or Glaive fighters (or when defending a tower stair). However, this guard is much more vulnerable to downward strikes. As these tend to be more prevalent than horizontal strikes in close-packed melee situations, tower guard is rarely used while part of a War-order shield wall. While the name implies a certain confinement with regard to movement, the tower guard is a stance that also lends itself to a strategic withdrawal.

Many times, this stance has allowed me a chance at a fighting retreat after becoming cut off from my comrades, my shieldwall having collapsed under the pulse-charge of our foes.

With regard to offense, the tower guard works best for horizontal strikes, but makes it rather difficult to use any vertical strikes unless you move your sword considerably out of position. As you grow in skill, you will learn to turn this seeming liability into an advantage as you develop an understanding of the movements needed to switch between stances without wrong-footing or overextending yourself.

As this stance is used very frequently in tower defense, it is best to practice on uneven ground, or stairs, if you can. Though it is most often used in a confined space, practicing this stance ironically provides a keen understanding of footwork that will serve to keep you moving out of harms way, rather than having to parry.

A favored tactic while defending a stair is to use footwork to draw your opponent up the stair, parrying or drawing them off balance. Once set up in this fashion, your opponent is extremely vulnerable to your counter, especially since gravity will be a constant hindrance to them; a great aid to you.