The Shieldmen's Basic Melee Skills

by Niall DunUlric

This work is meant as a guideline for novice melee fighters and a reference for intermediate melee fighters. There are many different styles and methods to achieve the goals of a shieldman. The basic instructions, although they lack some of the subtleties of actual combat, should provide a base from which to build a good shieldman and shield wall.


SHIELDS The most basic and sometimes misunderstood equipment is the shield. Shieldmen are the bulk of a melee unit and the most needed. There are three basic types of war shields: heater, scutum and kite. The war heater has a pointed or rounded bottom and a square top (see fig. 1). A scutum has a flat top and bottom (see fig. 2), and a kite shield has a very pointed bottom and a rounded top (see fig. 3). Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. I consider the heater shield to be the best all around shield as it offers excellent coverage and is fairly easy to move with. the scutum offers the best coverage, but is a little more bulky to move, especially when running. The kite offers ok coverage as it tends to leave a lot of gaps in the line open for spears and great weapons, but it is the easiest to move with. fig. 1 fig. 2 fig. 3

What to make the shield from? Well there are several choices: wood, aluminum, steel, and plastic. An important factor in a war shield is mass. The more mass a shield has the harder it is for your opponent to move it. Unfortunately, if the shield is too massive it will wear down the user. Wood is the best all around material, it is of variable weight ( you can make it as heavy or as light as you want ), easy to get a hold of as well as fairly inexpensive. Aluminum may be a good alternative provided if is of sufficient weight and thickness. If it is too thin it will bend fairly easily and will not last as long. Steel will also work although in order to make it rigid enough it may need reinforcing, thus adding extra weight. Steel shields usually end up very heavy, although they are more inexpensive than aluminum. Plastic is the worst of the choices. Although it is fairly easily obtained it does not have the rigidity and mass needed to make an effective war shield, nor overly cost efficient.

How should the shield be strapped? There are three basic methods of strapping shields. They are: at an angle, vertically, and horizontally. At an angle affords the shieldman the most control over the shield ( note: when strapping the shield at an angle make sure that the middle of the shield is in the middle of the forearm for a balanced and comfortable positioning ). Vertically lacks sufficient side to side control ( although it does make a sufficiently universal shield for left- or right-handed people ), and horizontally lacks sufficient top to bottom control. angle vertical horizontal

How big should the shield be? It should range somewhere between 24" and 30" wide and 40" and 50" tall. You want the shield to be large enough to provide good coverage and small enough to move and carry with relative ease. A good rule is from the knee to the nose when held in place, this will give you the best coverage. Do not make the shield too wide or you will loose side to side control to your opponent, nor too long as you will have a hard time moving with it.

My recomendation for a good all around war shield is a heater style about 28" x 48" and made from 1/2" plywood, reinforced at the top edge with a bar stock 1"w x 28"l ( steel or aluminum, if using aluminum use twice the thickness you would use in steel ) and an arm strap at an angle ( experiment to find a comfortable angle ). In the end the shield should be whatever you are most comfortable with.


Your sword is the next most important piece of equipment ( a good helm is a given ). You should pick a good stout piece of rattan, nothing too light and not too heavy. A piece about 1 3\4" to 2" in diameter would be a good choice, plane the sides down to 1 1\4" wide. It should be between 24" and 32" in length. Try not to make it too long or it will easily become entangled when fighting in large melees, altough you can use a longer sword if the melee is small and there is room to move around. For most people about 28" should be about right. Thrusting tips are at the user's discretion. Also a good quality baskethilt is recommended as your hands will take a beating.


Melee armour is an important consideration, as well as where the melee is. For the most part most melees are held outside during the summer months. This recomendation is based on that assumption. Melee armour should be relatively light but very protective. To start with, your helm should be of good construction, low profile, good vision and breatheability. Helms with grill faces and no high points or large combs are a good choice. The body can have a light gambeson ( preferably cotton or other breatheable fabric ) and a breast plate or at least a body bracelet ( make sure to cover the solarplexus as this is the spearmans favorite target ). The forearms and elbows should have good coverage, the bicep and shoulders do not have to be well covered but it is recommended to cover at least the shoulders. For the shieldman thigh protection is optional, but something for protection is recommended ( a shot an a bare thigh does hurt! ). Good knee protection. Shin protection is not a necessity. And a good sturdy pair of leather boots ( because when 250 lbs. of armored fighter steps on your feet you'll know it! ).



Your stance will be similiar to your tournament stance. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and about shoulder width deep with your feet in opposite corners. You will deepen your stance when accepting a charge or when pushing forward. note: lead foot is shield side.


The shield will be held in two basic positions. In the first position the shield is held in front of you with the shield parallel to your body. This is the defensive posture for war shields. In the second position the shield is held at your side, perpendicular to your body. This is the mobile posture. The only time you use the second position is when you need to move rapidly and there is a minimum of threat. By shifting the shield to your side you allow your legs to move more freely, but you become an open target. When holding the shield in the defensive posture remember to keep the top of your shield level with your mouth or nose, providing the most coverage possible without hampering vision. Lower the shield only when the threat level is low to nil. position 1 position 2


There are several ways to hold your sword. From shield position one I will describe the three basic positions and the correct placement of the sword in shield position two. The first position is to hold the sword horizontally to the top of the shield about 4 to 6 inches above the top of the shield. The arm should be perpendicular to the sword and be behind the shield. When held in this manner the target slots for the opponents are a few inches between the shield top and the sword, and a few inches above the sword. Blocking in coming blows from this position is quick and easy. Blows coming from the sword tip side are blocked by dipping the tip of the sword down, and blows from the pommel of the sword side are blocked by the baskethilt or gauntlet. Blows that come straight down are blocked by raising the sword up to meet the opposing weapon and once neutralized the sword is brought back into position quickly as this leaves a larger target slot between the shield and sword. The second position is to hold the pommel of the sword above and equal in height to the top of your helmet with the tip pointing down and at an angle accross the top of the shield. This leaves a large target slot to the side of the head as well as your arm. The third position is the opposite of the one I just described and that is with the pommel of the sword down at the corner of the shield and the tip pointing up at an angle accross the top of the shield. This is the most ineffective because it leaves a lot of the head open and it is hard to stop a downward blow with the tip of the sword. Pos. A Pos. B Pos. C

When in shield position two the sword should be held vertically with the pommel about waist level. This is in case of someone attacking your open side then the sword is already there to block the attack.


Now that you know which positions that your shield and sword are held in you need to know how to 'hold' the shield. When standing in shield position 1 you should have your shield-side knee touching the bottom edge of the shield, and your sword baskethilt or wrist should touch the top edge of your shield. Doing this will double the solidness of your shield when you are being charged or pressed backwards. Your shield will be more stable and less likely to move from one side to another. If someone tries to pull your shield down, your hilt is right there to help hold your shield in place or remove the weapon pressing the shield. Placement of arms and knee


Now that you know how to hold your shield and your sword it is time to learn how to stand in a line formation with the other shieldmen of your unit. While holding your shield in position 1, the right side of your shield overlaps the left side of your neighbor's shield about two to four inches. The shieldman on your left does the same to your shield. What this does is reinforces your neighbor's weak side of the shield with your strong side. You can hold down his left side if someone tries to pull it open. Now that you are all locked together, when someone moves the rest of the line can move with them while maintaining a solid shield wall. This is the basic shield line, variations exist but are not as effective without prior knowledge and use of this basic formation. This formation also promotes unity and working together. from behind the line top view of the line


One of the most important, and often forgotten, technique is the art of blocking for the persons on either side of you as well as blocking yourself. The technique involved is not difficult but recovery from it is crucial as you will leave yourself open briefly. If the blow is coming from in front or across the front of you towards the fighter on your right all you do is lift the pommel or baskethilt up an to the right hopefully slowing if not blocking the blow. If the blow is coming from the right to the left of you lift the sword tip enough to block the blow. Reverse this if you are left handed. It is harder to block when using the sword tip due to physics, but hopefully you will at least take the strength out of the blow. Remember to return to your initial defensive position, if you leave your sword out of position too long someone will take advantage of the opening. Blocking the Left Blocking the Right ( from your viewpoint behind the shield)


Another technique that is very important to the integrity of the line is the ability to work and control the end of the line. The fighters at both end of the line will need to work double duty. Not only do they have to block the opponent in front of them, but also the opponents that attack from the side. If the end man falls than the opponent gets an opportunity to destroy the integrity of the line by being able to attack or foul-up the next shieldman in line and so forth. Another important duty that the end person has is to maintain line integrity between your line and an allies line ( especially important in large melees, where a large gap between two units is not always a good thing ). When working as a single line the two end fighters will turn their shields back at an angle ( left handers make good right side ends ).

This allows the end fighters to more effectively block their own men as well as leaving fewer openings on themselves. If the end fighters did not turn at an angle then attacks from the side are a lot easier. Left handed fighters may find it easier to overlap their shield opposite of convention when fighting from an end postion.

The fighter on the end will find that the end of a line gets a lot of attention and they will have to hold their position so that they do not crowd the other fighters. The fighter at the end when used in large lines formed of different units will have pay attention to both units and be able to feed information to the unit leader. Such as if the unit on the right of your unit starts to fade to the right then the end fighter has to let the unit leader know so that the units can move together. In such a case the left side end fighter has to let the unit on the left know that his unit is moving to the right. If these lines of communication break down or are not used then the overall line will break apart leaving various units exposed to all sorts of counter attacks by the opponent.


In this section we will discuss the three basic movements a shieldman needs to know; moving forwards, backwards, and to the side. Moving forward has several methods each has there own place and use. In forward movement one start in shield position 1, Step forward with the shield foot about as far as is comfortable ( probably about 18" or so ). After planting the lead foot bring up the rear foot to resume shield position 1. The key is to maintain your balance so that if the opponent attempts forward movement against you, you will not be knocked off balance and disrupt the line. This is slow movement but maintains line integrity. In forward movement two, keeping your shield in shield position 1, walk forward normally keeping an even and constant pace. This is used when there is a lot of space between your line and the opponent's line. Unit integrity can be maintained and the ground between two units can be covered at a reasonable pace. Also you will do this same movement with the exception that you will move a 3/4 speed for charging purposes. In forward movement three, with shield in shield position two, walk forward at a constant and even pace as well as a pace that is double that. This movement is good for getting your unit from one place to another at a reasonable to fast pace. This should only be used when the unit is not being threatened with the possiblity of being attacked or already engaged. Foward move. 1

Moving backwards is essentially the same as moving forward except in reverse. Remember that when moving backwards you cannot see what you are going to step on or into. This is where help comes from your great weapons and your reserve shieldmen. If something is going to obstruct the backward movement then the reserve people should either clear it out or inform the front line to stop and/or move around it. Moving sideways is not very fast and if done too quickly line integrity can collapse rapidly. When moving to the right the lead foot is the right foot. While in shield position 1 step to the right with the right foot, when planted slide the left foot over and stop, still in shield position 1. When moving to the left do the reverse. The lead foot is the left foot.

As a last note remember to maintain your balance and position in the line at all times. Also your feet should never cross or come too close together, your opponent may take advantage of this by knocking you over, out of place in the line, etc..


Dying on the battlefield will, unfortunately, occur at some point. And when there are large numbers of fighters on the field knowing how to die without getting hurt is a neccessity. Once you are killed it is your responsibility to fall down. The easiest way to accomplish this is to place your weight on your rear leg and collapse the rear leg. Dying in this manner you will fall to the ground in a controlled fall with minimal jarring. Be aware that while you are collapsing you should cover yourself with your shield and sword. Once you are on the ground curl up under your shield with your sword near and over the top of your head. Little to no body parts should be exposed. You want to do fall down in this manner so that when on the ground you don't get kicked or hurt when someone else falls on top of you. falling down Top View of you once on the ground


From a standing position there are several ways to fill in the gaps in the shield wall. The first method is to fill the gaps made by shieldmen dying by filling them with shieldmen from the second or third ranks. Obvioulsly your unit will have to have reserve shieldmen for this to work. When the gap opens up ( that is when the shieldman has died and fallen down ) the second or third rank shieldman jumps forward to close the gap. This needs to be done in a very fast manner or the opponent will take advantage of the gap and work at killing more shieldmen. When filling the line the shieldman should not just plow into the front line but should snap shut the gap in an effective manner that will not disrupt the line. To do this effectively the shieldman will turn his shield to a forty-five degree angle ( roughly ) and slide his shield into the gap. When in position close the shield back into its defensive front line posture. When filling in the line be aware that you are exposed to several different attacks ( spear shots, head shots, etc. ) and you should fill in as rapidly as possible without disrupting the line. Moving into the gap Locked into position

When the line has a gap and your unit is all out of reserve shieldman than the gap can be filled ( actually closed ) by moving the two sides of the shield wall together to close up the gap. This can be done by the shieldmen themselves, but the great weapons should inform the two shieldmen to slide together. When in a line made up of more than one unit doing this may leave open gaps between units. The great weapons should inform the other unit(s) to slide in or fill in with their reserve shieldmen. Sliding the two parts of the unit back together


Charging a line can serve many purposes, and if done improperly or poorly the destruction of your unit can be hasetened. There are three basic types of charging the main seperation has to do with its purpose: Shock, Division, and Penetration. The first, and the simpliest is for Shock. What I mean is that your line hits the opposing line in such a manner as to cause them to stagger or even to push them back. To create this effect your unit must hit the opposing line at about three-quarters speed ( whatever is the fastest speed your unit can effectively move while maintaining unit integrity and strong defensive posture, then for a charge move at about 3/4 th's of this speed ) and with locked and front facing shields. Just before hitting the opposing line your unit should either raise their shields up to just above eye-level or they should lower them to about shoulder height and raise them up to the regular shield position ( shield position 1 )as they push forward. What these two techniques do is to knock the opponent off balance and hopefully push them backward at least a step or two. The reason you are doing this is that if your shield is a little higher than your opponent's then you will knock them off balance using the heaviest part of the body ( similar to pushing backwards on someone's head ). Using the other technique hits the opponent at or below their balance point and drive them up and back. To break someone's balance you must attack above or below the balance point. After pushing the opponent's line backwards there are usually a few moments of confusion and regaining of balance, at this time the great weapons should take advantage of the multiple openings to pare down the opponent's forces.

Charging for Division is to use your unit to spit the opposing line into two or more parts. The two most effective ways to do this is to form your unit into either a wedge shape or a column shape ( the two can be combined if there are enough people ). The intial charge is the same as that for charging for shock, but after the initial hit your unit must keep pushing forward and not worry too much about killing the opponent at this point. Once your unit has pushed through then they must reform into a unit to begin the attack or defend as needed.

Charging for penetration is completely different than the other two charges but has many useful and creative uses. The goal is to take your unit and penetrate the opposing unit and come out on their back side. Each shieldman rushes forward as fast as possible, just as he comes to the opposing line he should raise his shield up so the top edge is higher than his head. The shield should be held at 45 to 55 degree angle in front of him. His sword should come up and the hilt should be near the leading edge of the shield and held about chin level. When hitting the line the shieldman should continue to push forward but at a 45 degree angle from the direction he was facing. The shield and sword create a plow effect that should force open the opponent's shields. Once the initial shield wall is broken through the sword should raise up to the top and side of the head with the blade going down the back of the head and back. This should cover most of the passing shots of your opponent. Once on the other side of the opponent's unit yours should reform and attack as soon as possible. Moving forward Top view of proper positioning ( for penetration )

When charging remember to maintain unit cohesion and charge at the same pace so everyone gets there at the same time.


When an opponent charges your line your job as a shieldman is to stop or slow down the charge. To do this you will need to set yourself. While in shield position 1 lean forward a little and place most of your weight on your lead foot. Lower yourself about 2 to 3 inches lower than you normally would and brace your baskethilt on your shield.

As the opponent hits the line, ease the shield back slightly with your arms while slowly ( in relative terms ) shifting your weight backwards to the back leg. The second rank in your unit should at this point be great weapons and every other one should use their weapon to brace the backs of two shieldmen. This will help keep the front line from collapsing and give the shieldmen time to reset themselves after the initial impact. For a few moments the front line will be very compacted the shieldmen at this time should make sure they are covering themselves from the opponents great weapons, as this is the time to attack. Reserve shieldmen should be ready to fill in gaps after the charge has been stopped.


When engaged in a bridge or other restricted battle the need to be an effective shieldman while kneeling becomes necessary. The proper position while kneeling is to have your knees as far apart as is comfortable and facing a 45 degree angle to the face of your shield. The top edge of the shield should be about where your nose is and your sword should be in sword position A. When planting try to dig the botton edge into the ground slightly ( if possible ). If the opponent is trying to pull the top of your shield down use the sword hilt to help hold it down. If the opponent is trying to pull the bottom of the shield up then lean forward a little and drop your weight down on your shield arm to force the shield down. This is not a proof against pulling your shield up but makes it much more difficult. If either side is being pulled ask for help from your neighbor shieldmen.


Sometimes a well made hook cannot be discourged from pulling you, at this point knocking the hook off is the most effective thing to do. If the hook is on the top edge simply sweep your sword hilt accross the top of the shield push out slightly when you encounter the hook. This should dislodge the vast majority of the hooks. If it is really hard to dislodge than you can take your sword blade and put it under and just behind the hook and lift up. If the hook is on the edge of your shield you can knock it down with the sword hilt as well, and if you cannot get to it ask your neighbor to do it for you. If the hook is on the bottom then you can lift up suddenly and quickly. This may not work if it is not done fast and could possibly leave you open to attack. Remember when cleaning hooks from your shield, do it as fast as possible and recover quickly to protect yourself from other attacks.


Often in the course of a static battle you may want to change the shieldman on the front line for another. When this occurs the replacement is brought forward and stands the the rear and left of the shieldman to be replaced. The shieldman who is leaving stands up and the replacement places his shield in front of the shieldman who is leaving the line ( actually only about 2/3 of the shield is initially covered ). As the shieldman leaves the replacement steps up to take the position that is just left, once in position he then can kneel back down. Replacement waiting Replacement moving into Replaced shieldman leaving position

If a shieldman dies on the line the gap is filled in the same manner as when standing except that when the shieldman has locked into position he then kneels down. Be careful when filling the line from a kneeling position because there are more open targets on the shieldmen because of the different heights involved.

DISCLAIMER: Neither the publisher nor the author makes any representation, warranty or quarantee that the techniques and information presented in this work is safe. Injury may result from using any technique or information presented, neither the publisher nor the author is responsible for any injury that may result from the information presented here. As in any sport, consult a qualified physician before starting any physical activity.

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