Howto - Mieczko Sword and Shield

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Mieczko Sword & Shield



A manual explaining the fundamentals of SCA heavy weapons combat using the "Lazy Heater" style of fighting, from the point of view of a fairly defensive fighter.

Surely there are other books that present the fundamentals of SCA combat, and there are certainly people who are better qualified than I to write one. The only other manual I came across, while very good, discussed an aggressive round- shield, "weapon-behind-your-head" style that I'm not comfortable fighting or teaching. I profess the Lazy Heater style of fighting! So... after spending a good chunk of time in the last few years training people to fight in the SCA, I figured it was time to write down what I know and do in the interest of keeping myself straight.

"Who is this Mieczko guy, and what does he know about SCA fighting?"

I am an ordinary fighter from House Ironwolf, the Household of Sir Osric Eisenwulf. We are located in the Middle Kingdom, near Detroit, MI. As of this revision, I have been fighting for about seven years, have been Sir Osric's squire for about four years. Seven years of fighting is long enough to learn a lot, but not so long that I can't remember the frustration of trying to learn how to fight. I'm a pretty good fighter, but more so than that I am a teacher. I have found myself teaching new fighters on a regular basis. I remember wishing that there was a book, or a set of instructions that I could read to help me retain what I was taught in practices. I realize that there is no way that book learning can prepare you for SCA heavy weapons combat, so this booklet is meant to be used as a supplement to "in armor" training. It covers what I would expect a reasonably competent beginner to master in about six months of steady practice. I tried to keep it mostly to the basics, with a little bit extra thrown in to give the fighter ideas about where to go next. It gives the new fighter something to remember the lessons by, as well as a written copy of how to perform the maneuvers they learn while fighting. Fighters who wish to work on their own between practices can double check the sections they were working on to help avoid learning bad habits. If you read carefully, you will notice my tendency to fight fairly defensively, but I don't consider myself to be a timid fighter. I do, however, win a lot of fights where I block many blows and throw only one. I hope this proves useful to you, whether you are a new fighter using it to learn from, or an experienced fighter using it to teach from.

Copyright 1996


I would like to thank some people who have been instrumental in the development of my fighting skills and style. Sir Osric Eisenwulf, my first and most innovative teacher Forgan Aurelius, who taught me the benefits of violence Earl Baron Sir Brannos O'Iongardail, who spends a lot of time teaching Sir Bran Cuillean Mac Muirchu, who taught me to throw inside shots and who, as my early nemesis, taught me how to win when it counts.

Comments, Complaints, Questions, Observations?

If you have questions or comments please feel free to e-mail me at: <redacted>

Also, check out the House Ironwolf Home Page at: <stale link>

Any updates to this booklet can be seen at: <stale link>



Let's take a minute and talk about a "proper stance. Your stance defines about 75% of your defense, and a good chunk of your offense as well! It is important that you train your body and muscles to be able to hold yourself in a good stance comfortably. This will not happen immediately! Don't be discouraged by the fact that what people tell you is "proper" stance feels uncomfortable and strained. Just commit yourself to learning how to get into and maintain that stance and it will become second nature fairly quickly.

My idea of a proper stance has the toe of my shield-side foot forward, and pointing directly at my opponent. If the toe is allowed to turn in to your sword side you are limiting your forward movement potential and turning the unprotected back of your shield leg to your opponent, who is likely to bruise it mercilessly! The feet are a little wider than shoulder width apart, and the back foot is perpendicular to the front foot. If you drew a line through your front foot, it would intersect the middle of your back foot. You will want to bend your knees to lower your stance a bit, probably a little lower than feels comfortable at first. This keeps you in a position from which you can move quickly, as well as bringing your shield down a little to help protect your leg. Your weight should be centered between the two feet, leaving you in a position where you can move quickly in just about any direction.

Your shield, and its position, is a major part of your stance. I like to think of a 3" rule. If I have to move my shield more than 3 inches to block a "normal" shot, I was out of position! This can be accomplished even with a relatively small shield! (mine is 25" tall) My discussion will assume the use of a "heater" type shield, i.e. one with corners at the top and a rounded point at the bottom. Usually, heater technique tends to be a little "lazier" than round shield usage. Your stance, therefore, needs to put you in a position where little movement is required to block most shots. If your stance is too upright, and there is not enough bend in your knees, you will have trouble defending your legs. Find a full-length mirror somewhere and observe yourself in stance. If there is a big gap between the bottom of your shield, and legal leg target area (1" above the knee) then you are likely to have trouble defending that leg! You will find that lifting your shield 3" above a "normal" position will block most "normal" blows to your head coming from the shield side. Trust your stance! Keep your shield close to your body. When you move your shield away from your body, your leg and body often become open to attack. Keeping the shield close to your body makes it harder for a shot to sneak around or under it.

Your weapon is the last major piece in your stance, and there are many theories on how the weapon figures into your stance. Remember, this is Mieczko Sword and Shield, so the ideas posted here are mine, and are not necessarily held dear by fighters everywhere! I usually keep my sword hand even with my shield hand, which should be just a little lower than your chin. I hold the sword vertically, which puts it in a position to block any blow coming in from my sword side toward my head. This forward sword position can make throwing an effective blow difficult, so your sword mechanics are extremely important. There are also times when I hold the sword hand directly on top of the shield hand, leaving the sword "posted" on the corner of the shield. This position allows you to block nearly all shots coming at your head with minimal movement. I will discuss these positions more in the Defense section.

What Your Basic Stance Should Provide

Remember that your stance defines about 75% of your defense. I will try to illustrate some of the ways that happens first, and then talk about some more general concepts. Your "base" stance should put you in a position from which you can block most blows with a minimum of movement, and from which you can move quickly in any direction. It should also put you in a position where your opponent has only very small target areas to shoot for. The hardest part of SCA combat for many people is to maintain their stance as they move and fight. Many fighters have a nice stance that is abandoned when the first blow is thrown, or the first step is taken. These are people who get hit in the legs a lot! You will find that a proper stance guards you against most possible attacks, so you have an idea of what areas you need to actively guard. Experienced fighters know this so they will try to get you to move your guard so that you leave an opening. How many times have you seen a fighter drop his/her shoulder like they were going for your leg and then hit you in the head? If you don't move the shield down to block your leg you would have plenty of time to block the shot coming at your head. Trust your stance to put you in a position where you can defend yourself with small movements, and don't jump all over when your opponent is trying to get you to move from your stance to create an opening.

Your opponent launches a quick shot to the side of your head, you move your shield to block and now you're out of stance. If you think about it, whenever you block, you put yourself out of stance, and for that matter you are out of stance when you attack too! There is no way to avoid this. The answer is to recover quickly. The key to quick recovery is to minimize the movement in the first place. Do you remember my 3" rule? If you only have to move a small amount to make the block, you should be able to recover your stance very quickly. This will help reduce the effectiveness of most combination attacks your opponent may try. Many times attacks are designed to get you out of your solid defensive position. Whenever you are out of stance your opponent will have more choices of where to hit you, and easier targets to hit. The trick is to move as little as possible to block the blow, and to return to your base stance as quickly as possible. This is true whether you block with the weapon or the shield, or whether you just move out of the way; the sooner you get back into your stance the less vulnerable you should be.

In my normal stance, I expect my shield to cover any shots coming from my shield side. I expect my weapon to block shots coming through my weapon side, and most overhead shots as well. If you try to block a shot coming straight down with your shield you may "blind" yourself. I try never to put my own shield in my face, as I like to see what's going on. I will use the shield to block a shot thrown at my sword-side hip/body, but these areas should not be too vulnerable if you are in a good stance, and these blocks still fall within my 3" rule.

Shield, How to Block

You should block shots at you head with the top-inside corner of your shield. I think of it as blocking with my fist. Think of the corner of your shield as an extension of your hand. You want to hold the shield with that corner a little higher than the other, and when you lift the shield, think of moving just that corner of the shield to make the block. Many people tend to leave the top of the shield parallel with the ground. When they lift the shield, they keep it parallel. These people leave a larger "slot" over the shield, and have to lift their shields higher to make a block than they need to. Draw an imaginary line on your shield that cuts 3" of the corner where your hand is. You should try to block most shots coming toward your head with that section of the shield. In the "lazy heater" school of thought there is no real advantage to blocking the shot way out in front of you, so be cool, and make the smallest move possible to block the shot. If you are blocking shots with the middle of your shield, either the shots are poorly aimed, or you are moving too much!

A leg shot should be blocked with the very bottom portion of the shield.

Think of this as an extension of your elbow. When you go to block a leg shot, drop the elbow just a little bit. Don't try to drop your hand! Your hand controls the top corner, but not the bottom tip of your shield. Try this: Hold a shield in your hand, and get in stance. Move your hand downward a little. What happens to the point of the shield? It moves backward, leaving more of your leg open than before!! Think of using your ELBOW to block a leg shot, this will allow the bottom tip of the shield to move down, covering the target area. This is an area where many newer fighters have trouble. My first set of leg armor had big plates to cover the back of my legs. Why? Because my toe moved out of stance leaving the back of my leg exposed, and I tried to block leg shots with my hand, which actually moved the point of my shield out of the way of the incoming bruise!! You will find that an awareness of your elbow as the controlling factor in blocking your legs will reduce the amount of movement needed to block most leg shots, and it will reduce the number of bruises you get as well!

Blocking With Your Weapon

Your weapon is an integral part of your defense. I understand that there are entire schools of thought that say, "Your shield is for blocking things and your sword is for killing things and don't get them confused!" but I don't buy into that. I use my sword to block more than most people I know.

This is largely because I fight a fairly defensive fight, waiting for the opportunities that come when your opponent commits himself. It may seem really defensive to block a lot of shots with your sword, but many sword blocks leave you in a prime position from which to launch an attack! The weapon is also often the best thing to block a wrap to the head. It can be very difficult to move your shield far enough, quick enough to block a good wrap, but moving your sword into position to the side or back of your helmet is usually pretty easy. If you do use your shield to block a wrap, you will break the 3" rule, as you may have to move the shield pretty far to stop the shot. This can be advantageous sometimes because an incoming wrap usually takes longer to develop than a normal shot. You can use this time to block with the shield and then throw a good counter blow and often take the arm or gain an upper hand in the fight this way.

Another defensive trick involving your weapon is the "Post Defense". In this defense, you put your sword hand pretty much on top of the shield hand, leaving the sword vertical. Now the sword becomes an extension of the corner of your shield and can be used to block just about any blow to the head except a wrap. When you are in a post defense, you simply turn your body a little toward the blow coming your way. This will bring your sword into a position to block the blow, meanwhile you have moved very little and are still pretty much in stance. The drawback is that it is tough to throw a good shot quickly from this position.


Range is very important in SCA combat. Most new fighters have trouble figuring out where they should be in relation to their opponent. There are three basic ranges, four if you want to get picky. The first of these is the range where the fighters are so far apart that neither fighter can hit the other. Second is the range where one fighter can land a killing blow, but the other is not close enough yet. The third range is where both fighters can throw killing blows. The last one is close-in or "belly to belly" range. Most new fighters can end up on the wrong end of the second range. New fighters are usually trained to fight with short swords, because it's easier to learn to throw your blows correctly and they encourage you to "get in there" and fight your opponent. This often leaves them in a position where their opponent has greater range than they do. Shorter fighters often find themselves in this situation as well. The trick for these people is not to stay in the position where their opponent can hit them and they can't hit back yet. More on this when we talk about movement, but remember that if you can't kill you opponent, don't be in a spot where they can kill you! Let's assume that you have gotten into your killing range. For most people the best range is when you hold your sword out and it just lays on your opponent's shoulder. This is a good place to be. You have your greatest selection of offensive blows, but your opponent has his/her best selection as well. When fighting at this range, I usually throw a lot of counter blows. I stay in my stance, not giving my opponent any obvious targets. When they move to throw a blow or combination they often leave an opening for an attack. You can't expect to do the same thing every time though, so you will have to be comfortable initiating the action from this range as well. When I'm feeling offensive I usually close to belly to belly range. This range limits some offensive options, but it also limits the options open to your opponent. Some fighters feel more comfortable trying to deal with a smaller number of possibilities from their opponent while trying to get aggressive.


Movement, especially when it takes you between the ranges discussed above, is crucial to both offense and defense. We start a fight outside of each other's range. If your opponent has greater range than you, your first task becomes getting into a position where you can hit your opponent without getting killed, and staying there! I always tell people that you should go from completely out of range, to in your range INSTANTLY. I realize that physics says you must pass through that second range for at least a moment, but you should be there as little time as is possible. Be aware that transitions between ranges give both fighters an opportunity. Don't be pressured into changing ranges prematurely. If your opponent goes into some weird looking shot that you aren't sure about, simply move away! The transition from "out of range" to "in range" is a prime killing opportunity, especially for the fighter with greater range. Don't let that transition happen until you are ready to use it to your advantage.

Likewise, the transition from "in range" to "out of range" is also fraught with peril. Expect your opponent to leave you with a parting shot as you break engagement. Which begs a question... If your opponent has greater range than you, why would you want to break engagement? Once you have left your killing range you have thrown away the work you did to get there! My favorite transition is to go into "belly to belly" range. Many fighters are not comfortable at this range, and many attacks become much easier to block. So, as strange as it sounds, I consider it sound defensive strategy to climb right up on my opponent. (Be careful if your opponent has a mace however!)

As you are moving, whether to change range, or to keep the range the same, it is important to take small steps. If you take big lumbering steps, you may move quite fast, but you will be unable to change direction quickly enough. Taking small quick steps allows you to move laterally and pursue your opponent as they try sneak away to one side or the other. It also lets you react to openings and incoming attacks more quickly. This is especially important if you have an opponent who is determined to keep you from getting into your range, like a pole arm fighter. Also, taking small steps helps reduce the amount that your body and shield move during your movement. It is extremely important to retain your stance, and the protection it delivers, while you are moving. Experienced fighters know to look for openings that are created because of movement. If you let your shield bob up and down while you move, your opponent will time it and it will sound like BANG! You also need to move without rising up in your stance. Find that mirror again, and get into stance. Practice taking a small step forward with your front foot and recovering with your back foot without allowing your upper body any up and down movement. Think of your body as sitting on the "table" of your hips. You should be able to move quickly without having the body jostle around on that table! Also do not let your shield "open" while moving. The tendency is to let the shield move further toward your shield side when you start your first step. This creates openings for your opponent that were not there before you moved.

As you move, initiate each motion with the front foot, then let the back foot recover back into stance. Even if you are moving very quickly make each step work this way. Do not allow your back foot to cross over in front of your shield-side foot! That opens up the whole sword side of your body to attack. Even if you are moving backwards you should move the front foot first. Practice this, a lot. It will pay huge dividends; many people are killed again and again because they lose their disciplined stance as they move, and an opening is created. This is especially true of your first step. The tendency is to raise the shield, ever so slightly, when you step off and then drop it as your rear foot moves forward. (That, by the way, often sounds like BANG! when it happens.) If you can keep your upper body stable like we discussed earlier, you will not have this problem, and you will save yourself from a good chunk of range based attacks.


This goes hand in hand with movement. You must WANT to be at the range you find comfortable MORE than your opponent wants to be at his/her range. Never let an opponent dictate range to you. Similarly, never be in a spot where you can be hit, but you cannot hit your opponent. Tenacity does not mean wildness, or being mean spirited. It means sticking to your plan and imposing your will on the fight. Another aspect of tenacity is developing plans to make your style work under less than perfect conditions.

Example: You are faced with the classic "Head or Leg" situation. Your opponent has greater range than you, and is very quick. You are likely to get hit on the way in, but you need to close to get into your range. Possible solution: You know that your likely looking targets are your leg and head, coming from your shield side. Start to come in, and just as you enter your opponents range, sell out completely to defense. Drop your shield to cover your leg, and cross your sword over to cover your head, leaving no gap between sword and shield. Block the expected shot and throw a counter blow. You're in!!

This won't work all the time, but it is an example of having to manufacture an opportunity. There will be times that your opponent has a distinct advantage in range, speed, experience or ability. It takes tenacity to compete and win despite these obstacles!

Know Your Opponent

The more you know about your opponent, the less learning you have to do during a fight. If you know your opponent's strengths and weaknesses you have a jump start on winning a fight. My favorite tactic along this line is to try to discover each fighter's best attack. Most fighters have one or two shots that they naturally throw effectively. If you observe a fighter for several bouts, you can pick up things like this. If you know a fighter's best shot, take it away from them. I often enter a bout thinking: "Joe Hotstick's best shot is the whippy-do fake head shot; I will not allow him to hit me with that! If he wants to beat me, he will have to beat me with something else!" This gives you something to focus your defense and thinking on, and also takes away your opponent's best shot. Many very good fighters become fairly average fighters if you take away their "bread & butter" shot.

If you don't know the individual fighter, try to learn as much about them from their appearance, their armor, the way other people speak-to/treat them and the way they carry themselves as you can. While you will occasionally come across someone who truly surprises you, you will find that you can come pretty close to guessing what a fighter's game is, and how good they are.

Defense by Offense

There are times when a good offense truly is the best defense. Recognizing when your best defensive option is to throw a few shots can help you out of some awkward situations. If you find yourself in a situation where you are out of stance, or your defense is compromised in some way, throwing a good hard shot may force your opponent to block. If your opponent is busy blocking, you stand a better chance of surviving until you can regain your stance. If your opponent doesn't respect your ability to hit him/her, they will feel very confident and press their attacks very aggressively. You need to throw enough, and good enough, shots at your opponent to let them know that you can hit them. Even fighters who are fairly defensive realize that if you are too passive, your opponent will throw the kitchen sink at you and eventually hit you with something!

This line of thought leads us to Aggression. In a normal situation, being overly aggressive is likely to lead you into a mistake. (Mistakes often sound like BANG!) Often, however, you will need to employ some aggression to exert your will onto the fight. There are many situations in melee combat where aggression is the best strategy, but I want to focus on individual combat. I find that aggression, combined with closing to "belly-to-belly" range can keep an otherwise dangerous opponent buttoned up long enough for you to win the bout. I also find that sometimes, when two fighters are evenly matched, that one fighter becomes very aggressive and sometimes "beats" his opponent into submission. Used with moderation, aggression can be a very effective weapon in your arsenal. I will often start a fight very defensively, probing my opponent to see what his/her strengths and weaknesses are. When I think I have found them, I attack relentlessly. The sudden switch from defense to aggressive offense will catch many opponents unaware, and many bouts are won this way.


Many fighters suffer from poor blow mechanics. Most of these fighter's shots are doomed to failure regardless of whether their opponent tries to block the blow or not. There are two major types of problems I see with a lot of blows. The first is the blow that is not thrown hard enough to be effective. While this is usually a problem with newer fighters, many experienced fighters occasionally throw blows that are not hard enough to score. The second is the blow that is not aimed properly. New and experienced fighters alike throw these blows. If you are throwing blows that land in the middle of your opponent's shield, your blow was poorly aimed, and therefore wasted. Both of these problems can be largely avoided if you use the proper mechanics when you deliver your blows!

How to Throw an Effective Blow

Delivering a proper sword blow is one of the most complicated actions involved with SCA combat. I will give a quick description of the mechanics involved, as well as a few exercises for you to work on. Often, fighters throw shots using improper mechanics. Some try to throw blows using only their arms, or even relying on the strength in their wrists to try to "snap" a shot in there. And while some of these shots may be effective, knowledge of how your body can most effectively throw a blow is essential for those who want to excel.

Pop quiz time!! From what part of your body should a blow start? If you guessed wrists, arms or shoulders you were wrong! A blow should start from your back foot. Think of yourself in your stance... now think of yourself in stance as a coiled spring, ready to release! The power from a blow starts as you push off your back foot. You push forward, not up! You should not rise out of stance when delivering a normal blow. The energy is then transmitted to your hips, you must swivel your hips a little to transmit that force, and add energy to it. The energy has started from your back foot, and has gone through your hips, gaining momentum there and is now about to reach your shoulders. Your shoulders accept the energy coming from the beginning of the blow, and by rotating into the blow, increase it.

Think of where your shoulders are when you start in your stance. You shoulders should be roughly square to your opponent by the time your blow is delivered, this rotation of the shoulders allows all that energy developed by the rest of your body to be transmitted into forward motion. Your arm & hand become an extension of the shoulder at this point. As your shoulder comes forward, your hand starts to move forward, and your sword actually will trail a little behind your hand. When your shoulder has reached it's full rotation, and you are roughly square to your opponent your arm extends adding the last bit of "pop" to your blow. Finally, when your arm is extended, you allow your wrist to aim the blow where it needs to go. For the most common blow, the one that goes over your opponent's shield and strikes their helm, your wrist moves in a way that leaves your palm facing up. The sword ends up parallel to the ground, with the EDGE of the sword striking your opponent.

This sounds like an awful lot of energy going into one movement, and it is! The object is not to hit your opponent as hard as you can though. The object is to throw an efficient, effective blow that doesn't over tax your body or your stamina. In review; the shot starts from your back foot. Power is transmitted through your hips up to your shoulders. You direct that energy, and add to it by rotating your shoulders until they are roughly square with your opponent. When your shoulders have reached their full rotation you extend the arm, and when the arm achieves its full extension you direct the sword with your wrist.

Get in front of your mirror again. Go through this sequence VERY SLOWLY and watch yourself with your most critical eye. Make sure that you do not rise up as you deliver the blow. Rising up takes energy, energy that could be directed into the blow. It is very natural to want to rise up when you push off your back foot, and also when you turn your hips into the blow. As you practice this make an effort to blend the separate parts discussed here into one, fluid motion. Also practice returning to stance as fluently and efficiently as you can. Go to the dollar store and get a plastic whiffle ball bat. Find a tree or a telephone pole, or a pell if you are fortunate enough to have access to one, and practice this motion until it starts to feel natural. You will eventually develop the "muscle memory" to make this motion happen without thinking about it.

The Five Basic Blows

Now that you know how a blow should be delivered, it is time to show you the five basic blows that come out of this motion.

  1. Over the opponent's shield, striking the helm. I talked a little about this one already. As your arm finishes its extension, turn your wrist so that your hand has the palm facing straight up, leaving the sword parallel to the ground. When you finish this blow you should look sort of like a waiter, ready to hold a platter on your outstretched hand. It is very important to get the sword parallel to the ground with this shot because this forces your opponent to move their shield more to block the shot.
  2. Under the opponent's shield, striking their leg. This may sound strange, but the only difference between these two shots is how your wrist directs the blow. As your arm finishes its extension, aim the blow downward instead of upward. Your hand will still finish palm facing upward, and your arm will be in roughly the same position it was in for the first shot we studied. The key to both of these shots is the "paralellness" of the shots to the ground. If the sword is coming down from the shoulder in a "chopping" motion, it is very easy to spot and block. When the sword comes from the side as in our motion here, your intended target is not easy to spot, and it requires more movement to block.
  3. "Cross shot" hitting your opponent's helm. Again, all that is different is how your wrist controls the direction the sword finally takes. With this shot, your palm should end up facing down, this will cause the sword to cross to your shield side. The finish position of this shot should look just like the finish position of the other two except for the position of the hand and sword.
  4. "Cross shot" hitting your opponent's leg or hip. The most difficult of the five basic shots. Your wrist ends up palm down again, but you aim the shot lower with the sword. Many people try to "sweep" down to the leg when they attack this target, but this shot does not "sweep" at all. It is just like the previous shot, only aimed down instead of up. The reason this shot seems difficult is that the target is usually your opponent's back leg, which is further away and therefore harder to hit than the other targets we have discussed. You will find this shot more useful as you gain experience.
  5. Straight down shot. This shot comes straight down, hitting your opponent's face-grille, or the top of their helm. As your arm reaches full extension, leave your wrist pretty much the way it is! Your palm should end up facing directly to your shield-side, and your hand should be straight up & down.

These are the five basic shots. Get your whiffle ball bat, and punish a telephone pole near you!! The more you practice these, the more natural they will become. The knowledge of how to throw effective, efficient blows will also help you fine tune new shots that you add to your arsenal making sure that each is fundamentally sound.

Return Blows and Combination Attacks

It is very unlikely that you will kill your opponent with the first blow you throw. With that in mind, I would like to bring up Return Blows. A return blow is a shot designed to take advantage of the position a previous shot leaves you in and, if possible, help "reset" your body back into stance. Eventually you will be using some of the basic blows to set up a return blow! I don't have very many return blows, but the ones I use are an integral part of my fighting style.

Basic Return Blow: The most basic return blow works off of the most common of the basic blows. Picture yourself having just thrown a solid blow toward your opponent's helm, trying to get over the shield. Your arm is outstretched, your palm is facing up, your shoulders are roughly square with your opponent and your hips are turned a little more square than normal. The trick is to use the motion that you would normally use going back into stance and focus it to throw another blow! The easiest of these is to throw a "cross-shot" to the other side of your opponent's helm. The process is almost the reversal of the first blow! Here's how: First you press off of your FRONT foot, the energy is transmitted to your hips which rotate back into the "normal" stance position. This passes the energy back to your shoulders, which rotate back to their "normal" stance position, focusing and increasing the energy. Now you turn the sword over, and snap it across to the other side of your opponent's helm. It helps me to think of pulling my elbow up and away from me as I perform this move. When the sword strikes your opponent, your palm should be facing down. The movement of the elbow forces the hand and sword to follow. Notice that when this motion is performed, you are very close to being back in your stance! This return blow also works after a shot to your opponent's leg.

Find your mirror, and your whiffle ball bat again. Practice the "normal" blow, then the return blow. VERY SLOWLY. Watch every movement you make in this combination of blows. Are you rising up out of stance? Is your balance moving out of center? Are your feet moving? The answer to all three of these questions should be no! Don't take this to mean that you shouldn't throw a blow while moving, but you should be able to throw those blows from a stationary position without moving your feet or upsetting your balance. Since the blow has very nearly returned you to your normal stance, guess what? Right! It might be time to throw another blow! In any event, one principle behind SCA combat, and offense in general, is to not put yourself out of position either with an attacking or defending move.

Another return blow is one that often follows our first return blow. (Does that make it a return-return blow? Or a Return to Sender blow?) After the return blow we just illustrated, you are very nearly back in your stance. The main difference is in the position of your hand and elbow. Your elbow is "cocked" behind, and higher that its normal position. Your hand has its palm facing down instead of to the left as in your normal stance. This return blow takes advantage of the position your hand and elbow find themselves in. From the starting position described, start a "normal blow as far as the movement of hips & shoulders is concerned. But, have your hand move at about a 45-degree angle across the front of your body. Whenyour arm reaches its full extension, your hand should be in front of your shield shoulder. Imagine an opponent in front of you for a moment. It is likely that your hand is now past the corner of his/her shield! Now let your hand direct the sword just a little to your sword side of straight down. This blow is designed to sneak around the corner of a shield and land right in the middle of the face of your opponent. Your wrist has to bend a little more than normal to get the proper angle on the attack. Again find your mirror and whiffle ball bat. Practice this slowly, eventually graduating to a telephone pole or pell. These two return blows, in addition to the most common basic blow, make a potent 3-shot combination, that should be in everybody's arsenal of attacks.

You will discover that knowing several different combination attacks will open your offensive options us a lot. As you learn more advanced shots, think of how they can fit in with your existing shots to help you create even more combinations. Having a combination of 2 - 4 shots "hardwired", so that it can be thrown without thinking about it leaves your mind more time to look for openings and react to your opponent's actions.


Wraps can be used as a "first" blow, or as a return blow in a combination. Many people refer to a wrap as a Thumb-Leader, and here's why. Think of a "normal" shot. Keep it the same all the way through the extension of the arm. Get into stance and start a normal shot, stopping at the point where your arm is fully extended. Instead of letting the sword simply smack into your opponent's helmet, turn your hand over, leading the sword tip in an arc away from you. Now let the sword "wrap" around behind your opponent, striking the back of the helmet. To make sure that you strike with the edge, rather than the flat of the blade, make sure that your thumb is the first part of your hand to make it around, and that your palm is facing downward when contact is made. Notice that you are striking your opponent with the "inside" edge of the sword, instead of the outer edge. Wraps are also effective when targeted against the side of an opponent's head, as this allows the shot to be thrown from a little further away.

If you have ever seen someone throw a wrap before, or if you have thrown them yourself, take a second and picture what it looked like. How far did the arm move away from the body? Many people try to deliver a wrap by throwing the sword out to the side and swinging it back toward their opponent. Have you ever seen someone do this? Have you ever thought to yourself "If he does that against ME, I'll chop his arm off three times before he can get halfway through the shot!"? It is important that you keep your arm straight in front of you. Re-read the description of the wrap above. Notice that the arm motion is exactly the same as in a "normal" shot. This keeps your arm in closer to the body, and doesn't leave it hanging out where it can get hit. Getting a hard shot to the biceps muscle is not fun, especially since most of us do not have armor there.

Wraps can be particularly effective when used in a combination with other shots. They do take a little longer to throw however, so practice the combinations with your whiffle ball bat to get a feel for how the timing will differ. Since your hand is moving back toward you at the end of the wrap, you are usually in a position to throw a "normal" blow quickly after a wrap as well. Try throwing wraps to the body and leg as well. The infamous Butt Wrap is the subject many SCA combat horror tales. There are times when moving laterally can be beneficial. Taking a step to your sword side as you throw the wrap often gives you a better angle at your opponent. More on this in the chapter on movement. In any event, don't leave your arm out to be hit, as this is a particularly tender spot!

One more fairly popular wrap shot is the "scorpion" shot. In this shot, your arm extends nearly straight up and the blow is thrown over your opponent to the top, or back of the helm. This blow is tricky to master, but can be very effective after throwing a lot of shots that approach your opponent from the sides. Remember to follow the basic beginning of a normal shot, pushing off your back foot, rotating your hips then your shoulders, but when it comes time to extend the arm, send it mostly upward instead of straight forward. Once your arm reaches it's full extension, turn your hand over and strike your opponent's helmet with the inside edge of your sword. Again, your thumb should be the first part of your hand to make it around. You palm should be facing your sword side when this shot makes contact. Practice it a few times, if it feels natural use it, if not...

Thrusts & Thrust Feints

The threat of a thrust makes your opponent have to consider more things when trying to defend against your attacks. Thrusts can be very effective attacks, and the threat of a thrust can scare your opponent into moving his/her defense so that you can hit some other spot you were looking to hit! Even more so that with a "normal" blow you are unlikely to hit your opponent with a sword thrust if you line up in a "thrusting" position and throw an undisguised thrust. In general you will use thrusts as part of a combination.

Before getting too far into when to use a thrust, let's talk about how to throw a proper thrust. Your hand needs to be at your side, with your arm cocked back a little. You will start the thrust motion in the same way that you would start a normal sword blow. Push off your back foot (don't rise up!), turn your hips, then your shoulders. Your shoulder may come a little further forward than with a normal shot however. Once your shoulder has rotated, extend your arm directly at your target area. Be certain to keep your thumb on top as you complete the thrust. Keeping your thumb on top keeps your sword tip aimed where your arm is aiming. If you leave your hand in it's normal position your thrust will start to drift upward as you approach your full extension. These thrusts look ugly and don't hit the target you are aiming for. Even if you live where face thrusting is legal you still want to keep that thumb on top so that you have greater control of where that sword tip is going. There are some other fairly useful thrusts, but getting used to the most basic one will provide you a foundation to build upon when the time is right.

A common combination-thrust is when you throw a "normal" blow, then a return blow. After the return blow, bring your hand down into "thrusting" position instead of letting it go back to normal. From here throw the thrust at your opponent's belly! This works very well, especially if you execute the motion quickly and don't exaggerate the movements. You will find other times where a thrust is the proper blow to follow up with!


Feinting a thrust to set up the next shot is often more successful than thrusting! (Remember it is illegal to feint a thrust if you do not have a legal thrusting tip!) My favorite is when you actually throw the thrust, expecting it to be blocked. Your body is extended like after a normal sword blow except that your arm is crossed a little in front of you and your hand is down near your waist. From there, lift your sword hand straight up, allowing the sword to dangle down. Think of this upward motion as being directed by your elbow. When your hand gets up to about shoulder height (your dangling sword should be pointing straight down now) you are in a position to throw a good return blow! Since your hand is to your shield side the return blow should go to your sword side, or straight down. Find a mirror and practice this a few times. Throw the thrust, lift your sword hand allowing the sword to dangle. Does the sword get pointed straight down? It should! Once your hand reaches about shoulder height, start the return blow, turning your hand over to add extra snap to it. This blow can be targeted at the head or leg equally effectively. You can, if you like, exaggerate your sword's path through the air, hoping to make your opponent react to that too, and sometimes get them far enough out of position to take the body!


Movement is as important to offense as it is to defense. Picture yourself in stance. There shouldn't be any really inviting openings. The same is usually true of good opponents. Their stance covers most of the blows you would like to hit them with! This leaves you with two options. The first is to throw blows and feints in an attempt to create an opening, and the second is to move to a place where the angles of attack are better. Of course you still need to move in order to change the range to your liking, or to keep it to your liking. All this calls for a lot of movement, let's examine a couple of cases now.

If you are interested in creating new angles of attack, you must be able to move well laterally. A step to your sword side & a little forward opens up all sorts of possibilities for wrap shots. A quick step to your shield side should open up angles to the body and your opponent's back leg/hip. Lateral movement is also necessary to prevent your opponent from creating these same angles against you!

If you are looking to change ranges, you need to move mainly forward & backward. Your opponent is likely to react to your movement, so be prepared to move laterally as well to get into the position you want. Refer back to the Defensive Movement section. Re-read this and pay special attention to the passages on taking little steps. Little steps are essential when changing ranges. They give more opportunities to change direction and react to your opponent's movements. They also help keep you in better balance and stance. Be aware that you will need to quickly react to your opponent's movements. If you intend to close in on your opponents, you may have to pursue them. You have to want to close in more than they want to stay away. Similarly, if you want to get out of close range, do it all at once. Don't sneak away a little bit, then linger at the edge of your opponent's range.

As you move out of range is a good time to make an attack. Sometimes opponents will relax just a little bit, or think that you can't reach them anymore. Punish them for their lack of discipline, and teach them respect for your range!

Movement during a combination of blows can be particularly effective. Let the first shot or two "button up" your opponent and then take that little step to the right to open up your wrap. If it happens quickly it may go undetected. Likewise, a hail of blows provides good cover to let you close in. If your opponent picks up the movement, he/she will probably try to make a counter move. Try to take advantage of any areas left open when they move! Any time someone moves they run the risk of losing the protection given them by their defensive stance. Look for openings created by movement. Does their shield pop up just a little when they step off? Does it come down a little too low when the front foot lands again? Do they pull their shield open just a little when they step off? Does their sword go behind their head as they prepare to throw a blow? All of these are prime opportunities for a good blow. Look for them and learn to take advantage of them.


You want to be the fighter dictating the range and tempo of the fight.

Imposing your will on a fight can be difficult, and often it will be an accomplishment just to keep your opponent from imposing his/her will on you! This is where tenacity comes into play. Have you ever heard someone say: "I just couldn't get in close!" What really happened is that the other fighter controlled the range of the fight, imposing his/her will on the disgruntled gentle who couldn't close in. I like to think of tenacity as the ability to manufacture an opportunity in the face of adversity. The ability to get in range, AND STAY THERE, is the most common use of tenacity. Staying in your disciplined defensive stance, and returning to it after movement or an attack. Fighting within yourself, and not trying to do things that aren't part of your game. Being patient and hanging in a fight until your opening comes. Notching up the aggression a little bit to overwhelm an opponent in a close fight. All of these things require tenacity.

Another aspect of tenacity is not shying away from fighters you think are better than you. Knights will tell you that some fighters give them an extra foot of "scared" space. Not scared like they will be injured, but scared because they don't know what this obviously superior fighter is going to throw at them. Don't be intimidated by an opponent's size or skill. If you don't have the tenacity to get yourself into a position from where you can hit your opponent, you cannot win! Fighting a very good fighter doesn't call for you to move more slowly & cautiously! It means that you have to be very determined to keep your fundamentals sound, your stance good and your sword swinging. Most very good fighters are experts at the range/transition game. Don't give them extra shots at you in transition. Get close to them, and stay there! No fighter unbeatable, get in there and give yourself the best opportunity that you can to get the victory.

Shield Work

While you cannot strike your opponent with your shield, do not think that it cannot be used to help your offense! There are times where using your shield to control your opponent's shield or weapon can be very useful. Some of these moves go against the grain of my "Lazy Heater" school of thought, but you have to have a few tricks up your sleeve sometimes!

A very common offensive use of the shield is to intercept your opponent's incoming blow early, then use your shield to push their weapon out and away from their body. This leaves you an opportunity to shoot at the weapon arm, and often will force your opponent to give up the attack and regroup. This tactic works best against shots to your helm, coming from the shield side, and is particularly effective against wraps. The trick to this is to recognize the blow early enough to act quickly. In the normal "Lazy Heater" school of thought, you react at the last second, and block the blow just before it hits you. To do this maneuver, you must see the shot coming, and aggressively "punch-block" the incoming shot. Try to catch the incoming sword as close to the hilt as you can with your block, and push to the side. Your elbow shouldn't move too far away from your body here, but your forearm should be perpendicular to your body, leaving your shield way open, at the end of the block. Once you have pushed your opponent's weapon to the side, you should be able to strike your opponent's weapon arm. The two movements, block and strike, need to happen quickly. You will not have time to think about the shot once the block has been made. Practice this combination as a "single move" with the shot following up on the block.

Another offensive use of the shield is to use it to immobilize your opponent's shield. You have to be more careful with this one though! The previous tactic happens when you know what your opponent is doing with their weapon, allowing you to take advantage of predictability. This tactic needs to be used when you don't think a good blow is coming right away. I have two different ways to immobilize my opponent's shield with my own. The first is to punch out quickly with the corner of your shield, hoping to pin your opponent's shield to his/her chest for just a second. This has to be paired with an immediate shot, usually to your opponent's helm, over the immobilized shield. This works well if you catch your opponent by surprise, but you really have to punch that shield out there. If you just set your shield on your opponent's shield, it will not do the trick, and your opponent will have a chance to take advantage of the fact that your shield is out of position. (This sounds like BANG.) The second way I do this is to use my shield to hold my opponent's shield in front of him/her long enough for me to close and pin the shield there with my body! This leaves my opponent's shield between the two of us, but my shield gets away and can still be used to block! I normally follow this move with wrap shots to the helm or body of my opponent. This is a "safer" maneuver because you can cover shots to your head with your weapon until the pin is effected, and then you still have your shield mobile while you rain death upon your foe.

If your opponent likes to keep his/her weapon hand near the shield you can try to sweep both the weapon and shield away in one maneuver. This is a difficult trick to pull off, but it can force your opponent into a more defensive position. Assuming that your opponent's shield and weapon are close together, let's take a look at how this would work. Think of using your shield fist to sweep away the weapon and shield. This will make the corner of your shield get there first. Push the weapon into the shield, and push the whole mess down and to the side. Then throw a 'cross shot' over your own shield, striking your opponent in the helm. People have done this effectively against me when I was in a "Post Defense", and while I wasn't killed with the shot, it did ruin my confidence in that stance, and I had to change to a different one.

The last bit of shield work I want to discuss is what I call a "shield crab". This is where you use the corner of your shield to pry your opponent's shield open a little bit so that you can sneak a thrust in. If you are in "belly to belly" range you will use the upper (fist) corner of your shield. This usually works best as a combination with a straight down blow. The straight down blow can leave your hand down where it needs to be to throw a good thrust. As soon as the sword is out of the way, reach out with the corner of your shield and hook your opponent's shield, forcing it open a little bit. This should give you enough room to get the thrust in. If your opponent figures out what you are doing they may over-react and pull their shield down to cover. If they move the shield too far, abandon the thrust and hit helm instead! If you are a little farther apart you can still do this maneuver, but you use the bottom tip of the shield instead.

As the downward blow gets out of way, think of reaching out with your elbow, and hooking the shield open a little. This is unnatural feeling at first, but it is a sneaky shot that works pretty well. You can do this at closer ranges if you lean back a little bit before trying to hook your opponent's shield.


Aggression and tenacity go hand in hand. When I say aggression, I don't mean wildness, or anger. I have stated that aggression can be a good thing several times in this booklet, but aggression always needs to be controlled. There are several instances where you may want to use aggression as a key part of your strategy, even if you are a fairly defensive fighter.

One of those instances is when you find yourself against a fighter who is very comfortable in the "transition ranges" and tries to keep the fight at the very limit of your range. When you finally get into where you feel comfortable, take advantage of it! Throw a lot of blows and keep your opponent on the defensive. An opponent who has a wide variety of shots is another person that you may want to try to overwhelm. If you stand around, this gentle will hit you with some whippy-do shot or other. Attack early and often. I fit this into my defensive style by attacking my opponent's weapon and weapon side a lot. This forces them to either block with the weapon (which means it isn't killing me for a second) or to block with the shield and risk blinding themselves. A determined attack to your opponent's weapon side can slow down his/her offense a lot. Be careful not to be too predictable though. If your opponent can guess your pattern, you will find yourself in trouble.

If you don't think that your opponent has any particularly good shots, or if you think you know where your opponent is going to throw his/her best shots, you have a big advantage. These are situations where aggression can help minimize the chance of getting hit with a weird shot and losing a bout you think you should win. If you know where your opponent's best shots come from, press them in ways that take those shots away! This is similar to what I talked about in the "Know Your Opponent" section on defense. Making a good block is not the only way to take a shot away from your opponent! Forcing them to block or move in ways they normally don't can put them in a position from where they can't throw their best shots effectively.

Facing Other Weapons Systems

Facing an Opposite Handed Fighter

All of the shots and movements I have discussed assume that you are fighting someone who uses the same hand as you. I have avoided words like left & right, and used words like shield side & sword side. Facing an opponent who throws shots with the other hand presents some interesting consequences. Let's take a look at the vulnerabilities and opportunities that are opened up.

Get into your normal stance. Your opponent's "normal" shot is going to come from your weapon side instead of your shield side. This makes your back leg, and your weapon-side body and hip vulnerable. You counter this in two ways. First, move your back foot a little toward your shield side, turning your body nearly perpendicular to your opponent. This takes that back leg & hip out of danger. Then move your shield a little to your weapon side so that it is centered on your body. This allows you to block your weapon side better.

Your opponent will also probably look to throw a "cross-shot" over your shield to take your head. You can block this shot with the shield, but many people prefer to block it with the weapon. In this situation, I like to leave my shield where I know it will protect my legs and body. I will block any shot to my head with the weapon. This eliminates the chance that I will blind myself and lose track of my opponent's weapon. (Which, of course, usually sounds like BANG) Your opponent may also look to throw a wrap. If you see the wrap coming, it is easy to block with your weapon. You may have to rotate away from the wrap a little to get your weapon in position to block however. Opposite-handed opponents often count on the fact that you can lose track of their weapon when you throw a shot. This leaves them free to step in and throw that nasty wrap! Try not to lose track of your opponent's weapon!

When facing an opposite-handed opponent, there are usually two or three ways to take advantage of the situation. Remember the places you need to cover from the paragraphs above? All of those places are also targets for you! The "cross-shot" to your opponent's helm over their shield should be a staple shot in your arsenal. You may be able to snipe a leg, but if you are right handed, remember that you opponent will probably have more experience fighting opposite-handed people than you, so don't over commit to that leg.

My favorite tactic is to close in hard to my opponent's weapon side and throw a good wrap shot. If that wrap shot is thrown to the body, it will often tie up your opponent's weapon, or take his/her weapon arm. This allows me to throw a good offensive shot, and still account for my opponent's weapon.

Facing a Florentine Fighter

A good florentine fighter will present you with all of the problems mentioned above, and will also be hitting you with their other sword too! Most florentine fighters rely mostly upon one hand or the other. You need to find out which one in a hurry! If the fighter's "good" arm is the same as yours, you can stay in your normal stance and operate fairly normally.

Most florentine fighters have a good lead thrust. They will set up one sword in a position to thrust, and use it to control range. If you bring your shield over like I mentioned above, you cut off nearly all of the angles you can be thrust from. This allows you to close secure that you will not be impaled on your way in.

If the fighter's "good arm" is the opposite of yours, you need to stand as if he/she were an opposite handed sword & shield fighter. In this situation, I try to attack the stronger weapon. My first shot will often be to the body of the good arm. The florentine fighter must block this, and it is unlikely that they will block it with the off hand if you target the body. Once I have tied up the dominant arm's weapon, I close and throw a lot of blows.

Many florentine fighters have trouble fighting in close. Don't assume that once you close in you have won the fight, but most florentine fighters prefer a range/transition game. If you close in on them, putting your shield on one sword, and your sword on the other one you can often force an opening and win the bout. Remember that you have two things too! Your weapon and your shield. Florentine fighters will often move into what I call a 'defensive cross guard.' They keep one hand low, with the sword pointing up, and the other hand crosses over the top. This completely blocks attacks coming to one side of their body. If you see a florentine fighter do this, do not throw attacks onto the guard. You need to throw a cross shot, or better yet take the arm of the upper sword. Wraps can also be effective against florentine fighters. Re-read the section on tenacity, especially the parts that deal with range, and not allowing your opponent to dictate range. Then think about what you need to do to close in on a good florentine fighter and win the bout.

Facing a Mace Fighter

While there aren't that many good mace fighters wandering the tourney circuit, a good mace fighter has strengths and weaknesses you should be aware of. Most maces are fairly short, so you will probably have a range advantage. Don't let the mace fighter get into their range without paying for it. Throw some transition blows, and always be ready to move to keep the range to your liking.

A mace fighter can hit targets that are very difficult to hit with a sword. A mace is guided by the mass of the striking head, and this changes the angles from which the weapon can hit you. Also, maces have no "flat" site. My favorite targets when I'm fighting with a mace are the back of the helmet (wrap), the face grill (several ways) and the top of the helmet.

Cross shots are particularly effective. If you are in the "normal" stance described at the beginning of this study, your facegrill, and the top of your helmet can be vulnerable. Think of the standard combination of head shot, then "cross-shot" to the other side of the head. Easily blocked if being thrown by a sword. A mace can alter the second shot to land completely inside your guard. You must be more active in blocking "holes" in your defense. Maces also have a habit of sneaking a little bit "around" a shield block, so you need to overblock just a little bit on wrap-type shots.

Facing a Pole Arm, or Great Weapon Fighter

Most great weapon fighters rely on controlling the range. Sometimes they will simply not let you close in. Sometimes they will allow you to think that you have achieved your range, block one shot, then move or push off and try to kill you in the transition. Few great weapon fighters feel truly comfortable fighting at close range though. But! Most great weapon fighters run backwards extremely quickly, and use lateral movement to keep you guessing. The trick is to try to guess where the attacks are going to come from, seal off that side of your body, close, and be ready to use lateral movement to keep your opponent from sneaking away. Re-re- read the section on tenacity.

Pole arms are probably better equipped to deal with sword & shield than great sword, and I'll talk a little about them in particular. The Pole Arm fighter has the advantage of being able to adjust his/her grip to match the situation. Pole Arms also can have butt-spikes, but if you keep in a good stance you should not fear these. Picture yourself chasing down a Pole Arm fighter. You are throwing shots & wraps to both sides their head, but they are blocked easily. Eventually you make a mis-step, the range changes and you are smoked on the transition. (I hate it when that happens.) Picture that Pole Arm fighter's stance, and where they hold the weapon as you try to pursue. They hold it vertically in front of them, a little away from their body. They barely have to move sideways at all to block your shots, and they become very confident waiting for you to make a mistake. Limit yourself to two or three shots to the head, if you don't get the first two or three you won't probably won't get the head before you make a mistake.

After those two or three shots, target the ARMS. Have a pole arm fighter stand in a defensive stance with the pole arm vertical in front of their body. Have them show you how easily they can block blows to the head. Then have them show you how much further they have to block if you are targeting their elbows! If you can take the arm you will win the bout because a one-armed pole arm fighter is not very lethal. (The 'shoot for the arms' trick works against great swords & bastard swords as well.)

In Closing

I hope that this information proves useful to you. This is intended to show you the BASICS of the Lazy Heater style of fighting from my fairly defensive point of view. It can provide you a very sound defensive platform from which you can add bits and pieces from all over! I do not profess this to be THE WAY, but it is A WAY! You can, and should, learn from every encounter. Building your repertoire will allow you to develop strategies to deal with any situation, and will allow you to mold these and other techniques into your own personal fighting style.

Try to learn from every fighter you encounter, novice or Knight! When I'm in a fighting situation I try to learn about the other fighter, and I try to learn from the other fighter. I put a number on it and say that I will try to learn two things (It can be difficult to remember more than two things, so I stick to two.) from each situation. Likewise when I am teaching someone, I usually limit my instruction to two main points. This keeps me from overwhelming the student with more information than they can handle. Keep the "rule of two" in mind as you learn and when you teach. It will help you, and those around you to learn and instruct better.

Duane Roberts, aka Mieczko the Swift

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