By Tristan von Eisig, Tarrach Alfson, Kitakaze Raito
Warshield and Sword
Carry a shield that is comfortable. You should be should be able to run (at a quick trot) without your knees hurting from banging into the back of the shield. You should be able to move the shield around in front of you. You should be able to carry your shield throughout the day's fighting. This may involve running up and down hills, or holding it in front of you for long periods of time. Physique and conditioning play a part in this. Larger fighters and/or fighters with more stamina can carry larger shields.
Make sure your shield is *just* big enough to cover you. It isn't necessary to have the largest shield on the field to be effective.
Various shield shapes give different advantages. The heater, oval and kite are maneuverable, and don't bind your buddies in the line. The large round overlaps well if your neighbors have them also, but are a bit wide for charging through the enemy. The scutum covers a lot of area, but is less maneuverable and heavier. Fit the shape of the shield to your fighting. For our purposes, we are going to build our army on maneuver and mobility.
You may be quite comfortable with your normal tourney shield for use in melee. This works well for more mobile fighters, who generally aren't going to be holding static front line positions. You'll likely be able to move faster, so it's more likely you'll get assignments that require running such as chasing spears, attacking exposed flanks, or providing small pulse charge or rake support to a static line. Because you are less likely to be blocking for others, and running around with less armor weight, this may be for you if you are a shorter, lighter fighter.
Just like the shield, match the sword to your fighting. Longer swords may cause problems in a melee that they don't cause in tournament. There's usually less room in a melee for longer swords. A shorter, somewhat heavier sword is usually more useful, particularly to get a heavily pressed opponent to notice a blow they might otherwise miss. A thrusting tip (and the accompanying authorization) is very useful too. A simple face thrust is easy to land without risking yourself too much.
Make sure your sword is short enough that you can comfortably wield it with two people right on top of you. We don't need swords for reach. Long reach will be the jobs for our polearms and spears. Besides, you can always get one step closer before throwing a blow.
Not all spears are created equal. When you purchase your fiberglass, know that there are different wall thicknesses of the pipe. The white, red, and yellow are thinner walled and will be light but not very durable. The blue/grey, green/grey and black pipe is thicker and more durable, but heavier.
One of the things some people do is tape the shaft. This adds weight (especially with duct tape) and slows thrusts that go through your hands by increasing the drag. I wouldn't recommend taping the shaft.
Hooks are absolutely invaluable and (if made correctly) are no detriment. They are only problematic if they are large and obvious. The best hooks are small enough that they cannot be seen behind the thrusting tip, from your opponent's viewpoint. The hook should be just big enough to grab a shield edge. With the hook only on one side, a twist of the wrist will release it if caught.
Make sure that your spear has some sort of grip on the back end. Abrasive step tape, friction tape, cord wound around the shaft and taped all work well.
As for length, the 9 foot spear is the standard, and legal society wide. Here in the Midrealm, 12 foot spears are legal. Longer spears have an amazing advantage, but at a cost. A 12 foot spear is very slow and quite unwieldy. A 9 ½, 10, or 10 ½ foot spear are almost the same weight as a 9 foot and nearly as maneuverable. If you love fighting spear, consider getting a long spear.
This point can't be stressed strongly enough - 7 or 7 ½ foot polearms are the most versatile and powerful offensive weapon on the battlefield. They can be used in fairly close quarters, and can still duel with spears. They can exploit shieldmen in the open very well. The support they give the shield line is incredible, much greater than a spear.
To construct one, rattan selection is important. Try to find a piece that doesn't whip or flex too much. Flexibility is determined primarily by the rattan's density. It shouldn't be exceedingly heavy, but a very light polearm will be (or become) too whippy.
As for whether to pad the blade or go with unpadded, unpadded has become a society accepted norm. With the exception of Calontir, they are used pretty much universally. Unpadded polearms are easier to get blow acknowledgement with, and easier to control power with.
Make sure that the haft is not so large in diameter that you have trouble gripping it. Your weapon does you no good laying on the ground.
Buttspikes are handy, but only if you are prepared to fight in close with it AND have room to turn it around. It can't hurt to have one on there.
Great axes are the most effective weapon for working over shields when defeating a charge. They are slower, but tend to hit harder which is often needed to inform an adrenaline hyped, charging opponent they have been struck. They also are the only weapon likely to score a hit on well disciplined close ordered opposing shieldmen.
Use stiff rattan and construct the head out of leather padded with closed cell foam. A thrusting tip on the point of the ax is a good addition.
They have their strength, which was more pronounced before the 7 ½ foot polearm and the unpadded polearm. Their use was primarily to give more 'umph' on a blow when someone was having a hard time feeling a padded blade. Since a greatsword can only be 6 feet long, it's usefulness is not as prominent as it once was. It also takes greater skill to wield effectively, and the quillions easily get in the way.
We are beginning the age of dominance of archery in SCA combat. Having an archer disadvantage (not as many as the opponent) can spell our doom. With combat, equipment is important. A craftsman's ability is limited by the quality of his tools. If you use a very poor bow, expect to get poor results. It is worth spending a bit more on decent equipment. You don't need to take a new $300 bow onto the field, but get a decent $80 used one. It won't take as much abuse as you suspect it will.
Crossbows are good if you can get good accuracy and rate of fire with them. Be choosy on what you buy. Also, consider making a pavise to use as cover while you reload.
As for ammunition, only golf tubes or siloflex are legal in the Midrealm. Of these two, siloflex is far superior to golf tubes. Range, accuracy and velocity are MUCH greater. All of these are very important with archery.
Also currently, the Midlrealm is permitting the use of fiberglass arrows made to society standard to be used OUTSIDE the Midrealm borders. It will require some expense, but if you travel to Pennsic, Gulf Wars, Estrella, Lillies, or any other foreign war, invest in some. They are markedly superior in performance to siloflex/gulf tubes. Without them, it will not be possible to be competitive against fiberglass arrows.
Bastard sword, two weapon, madu and other such styles are in this category because they perform similarly. While allowing the fighter to run quickly without tiring, they aren't as good in the press. If you are excited about taking one into battle, by all means, do. But expect to get assignments appropriate to the weapons, which will not likely include a full charge at a close formation.
Capital weapons (spears and polearms) should give serious thought to carrying a short sword, mace or even dagger with them as a backup. They can be invaluable when things get ugly. Working out a carrying arrangement can be tricky. The style depends on your habits and preferences. There are many examples out there to look at. As well, they come in handy when you lose an arm, or someone loses a weapon.
This may not seem completely obvious, but too often harness is overlooked for combat. If you are not comfortable and flexible in your armor, you'll not enjoy fighting. You have enough to focus on without having to fight with your gear.
Remember that armor for war can be lighter than for tournament. This is the opposite of what you would think. In melee the blow to the head and the thrust to either the face or body are by far the most common. You'll be fighting for more time in a melee than in a tournament. Getting tired just by wearing your armor isn't fun, and doesn't help your side win.
Wear enough armor so that you are confident against injury, but keep it as comfortable as possible. Wear armor light and flexible enough that if you get knocked over, you can get back up quickly.
The important thing with your helm and gorget arrangement is being able to turn your head to look around. You gorget shouldn't act like a neck brace, restricting your movement. Your helm should be padded for comfort that will allow you to wear it for two hours without giving you a headache.
It also helps to have it strapped in such a way that it doesn't take ten minutes to get in and out of. You should also be able to drink with it on. Dehydration is both the most likely and the most easily avoided problem fighters face.
Because your body uses your head and neck to dissipate heat, try to give yourself some breathing room up there. Design the padding on your gorget to allow air to your neck. Use a football helmet type of padding arrangement for your helmet. If you have trouble with the heat, these are things that will help immensely.
Make sure your chin strap is strong enough to keep you safe from even very hard face thrusts.
Make sure you can bend over easily. Your body armor should allow you movement and flexibility. You should be able to twist your torso (if you can without your armor on) and feel confident in it. Make sure any armholes or shoulder armor will allow you to raise your arms over your head. Your arms do most of the work of protecting you; make sure you aren't restricting their movement.
Kidney protection is required and, given that body thrusts are common in melee some kind of lower rib/sternum protection is highly recommended. If you overheat easily, be careful about HOW you armor your lower torso. If you wrap it tight with foam and then rigid material, then you will probably have problems with the heat. Most of your body heat dissipates around your head and neck, but a great deal of it also dissipates around your torso. Looser body protection will be much cooler in hot weather.
Bruises to the arm are not fun. However, don't go too crazy with arm harness. It's easy to armor up your arms, and add weight. If you are in good muscular shape, this is fine. Most people aren't in good enough condition to lift their arm harness up and down a couple hundred times.
Look into boiled leather or plastic as an alternative to hitting the gym or suffering with not being able to lift your arms. A good set of reinforced hockey elbows often provides cover nearly to or overlapping with your gauntlet, thus reducing the need for a heavy and restrictive vambrace.
The importance of good functioning leg harness cannot be stressed enough. Weight is not as much of a concern as is fit. It should not bounce around on your leg and should allow full leg movement. This should include being able to move on your knees and rise from a kneeling position. Just walking in poor fitting leg harness can bruise your knees. There is always much walking to be done outside of battle, much less during.
Make sure your leg harness cannot accidentally lock together when you are running. This can be catastrophic for your whole unit, not just for yourself.
Finger mashing is also very common because of the misconception that hockey gloves are acceptable hand protection. While they are legal, they aren't as protective as gauntlets. They are bulky, and limit the wrist range of motion. If you are going to wear them, reinforce them with rigid protection over the fingers. Additional padding with thick felt is also encouraged.
Do the legwork to find or make good gauntlets. There are decent ones out there, including plastic.
Again, this is often overlooked for the sake of the look. After two hours in attractive looking boots, you can be miserable. Make sure your footwear is comfortable. If you can find (or make) a shoe or boot that is both medieval looking and comfortable, then do it. If you have to choose between good looking and having no foot pain, take the painless route. An event can seem to go on an eternity when every step hurts.
There are some excellent alternatives to mundane footwear that are period looking and provide arch support and good grip. Investigate them, you're feet, knees and back will all thank you for it.
There are things that are very handy to have. Here is a short list of things it's helpful to bring along in your armor bag:
o Authorization card holder
o Water bottle
o Colored duct tape
o Repair kit (small hammer and anvil, rivets, etc.)
o A shoulder bag for your helm and gauntlets
o Shoelace, cord or heavy string
o Zip ties (used for electrical work)
o Extra foam
o A few chunks of heavy leather
o Marshal's gauge