Fighting and Training with Spear


By Count Sir Arturus of Aranmore, known as Arlof (shown here with King Edward at Gulf Wars 2013). This position is a “full readiness” stance, where all muscles are tensed just before an attack.

Having  fought hundreds of melees and even a few tournaments with spear in many kingdoms, I’ve collected some of what I’ve learned in hopes you will put it to use, be safe, and have more fun the next time you pick up a spear. This article is an outline of a course I taught at Middleground a couple of summers ago, so you’ll have to fill in some of the detail with your imagination.

  1. Basic Offensive Stances
  • At Ease Readiness (slightly outside range)
  • Engagement (targeting and active)
  • Neutralizer
    You WILL run into spearmen who are stronger, faster, and have a lot more endurance than you. What do you do? Give up? Hah, no way. You can immobilize them to the point where they get so frustrated they make a ranging or timing error. Simply keep light contact with your spear upon his/her spear… It will totally ruin his swift attacks. Keep it up. He’ll either move down the line or you’ll open him up for someone in your group to tag him.
This is an at-ease readiness stance. Core muscles and hamstrings are tensed only to the point where they are slightly engaged. Breathe deeply through your nose and regain your energy. Make light contact with your opponents spear to deflect it if he is in aggressive mode.

2. Defensive Stances/Positioning (How Not to Die So Much)

  • Rear rank arrow defense
    Combat archery is becoming the worst threat to spears in most large melee scenarios. When in rear ranks, keep your spear vertical and angle your body sideways. Your spear will block a surprising number of stray arrows. Stay alert. Get behind a large shield if you want to talk.
  • Deflecting a sword and shield attacker.
    Learn to use your right leg as a pivot and keep spinning away in a counterclockwise motion from your attacker. As you move choke halfway up the spear. Drop the point heavily on his/her shield and thrust downward to sternum area swiftly and sharply, but without excessive force.
  • What to do when you lose a leg
    First, relax. Sit back on your calves..Do not cheat and rise onto your knees. You are now a dangerous cripple, especially on a bridge. Keep your spine erect. Defocus your eyes, to look for incoming attacks. You can do a lot of damage down here, mostly by striking shieldmen in their thigh or hip area. However, you MUST control your point to avoid hitting them in the groin. To do so, rather than do a full thrust from your hips, creep your spear tip closer to their shields. Time the strike so that you can push the spear shaft against a misaligned shield and use that shield to keep your thrust on target.
  • Also, watch out for polearms. Many polearms tend to WAY overpower their downward blows on kneeling foes, and can really hurt you…compressing your spine. Don’t fall over forward to make the kill. Be conservative. If a charge pulse on either side looks likely to leave you under a pile of heavy fighters, roll out of the battle. It’s not worth the knee injuries etc. you’re risking.
  • Dodge, duck and shuffle—the static defenses
  1. Ranging, Force and Safety
  • Lunge thrusts (spine alignment)
  • Face thrust vs. body v. leg shots—hand positioning and calibration
  • Peripheral Line engagement—courtesy touches
    When you get the drop on an opponent, especially in a static line such as a ravine or woods battle, drop the padded tip of your spear just over the edge of his shield, within a couple inches of his faceplate. When he sees it, make eye contact with him. Most people will nod and thank you and take the death. If they don’t, you don’t have to be as courteous next time.
  1. Melee Skills
  • Bridges: Support the pulse
  • Optimize chaos
    90 percent of successful spear thrusts happen immediately after the “death” of an opponent. As he steps out and the ranks adjust, typically he leaves a hole in the line where a spear can follow and do tremendous damage, sometimes taking out three or four unprepared adversaries. Breathe, control your point. Use only a light touch for face thrusts. Your foes will respect your restraint and skill, and are more likely to take your clever shots.
  • Open Field: Thin flanks
  • Pretend to be a Hero
    Crazy to run in front of the line with a spear, right? Wrong. You may look like you’re trying to be a hero, but what you’re really doing is trying to LURE OUT people on the other side who want to be heroes. The goal is to get a couple of their shield wall guys to break formation and go after you. When they do, take 2 steps back and let the people right behind you step up and crush the unfortunate attacker!
  • Shield Wall Hesitation
  • Rear Action—Tangled Sticks
  • Sweep Enemy Spears (good for one-armed spear fighters)
    You’ve lost an arm. Now what? It’s time to give your all for the good of your side! Timing is everything. Wait until three spears on the other attack at the same time. Step forward three steps so you’re almost face to face with them. Keeping your spear vertical, sweep all of their spears sideways. Let your teammates behind you know just before you move in so they can step in and make hay.
  1. Advanced Techniques
  • Shield hook and thrust—kneeling soldier
  • Bracing for a charge
Contrary to Old School ideas about spears, there’s no reason for all six or seven of these spearmen to “fade back” immediately when the enemy charges. Instead, the middle two should step back, allowing two shields to take their place. The outer four spears should take a wide stance and form a phalanx. trying to push the one edge of an attacker’s shield and send him spinning off balance. After this initial slowing, THEN, all spears step back two paces but continue attacking.


  • Slay the berserker
  1. Offensive Partnering
  • With polearm or great sword
  • With shield and sword
  • With another spear
Two spears working side by side, with one focused disruption and the other focused on attack, can easily stop a line of mixed weapons. As a footnote, however, two spears facing 4 or 5 spears is a NO WIN scenario, no matter how good you are. Your shield MUST “sweep” the enemy spears, or it’s just a matter of time before you go down.


  1. Training
  • Lunges, stomps and breath
  • Target practice
  • Figure eights
  1. Wrap-up
  • Thoughts on old v. new thrusting tips
    I tried the new thrusting tips and went back to the old 3.5-inch foam thrusters with a small shield hook. Why? Because those lightweight tips are lousy for SCA combat. They strike too quickly and do not have the significant “thud” of mass required for someone in a steel breastplate to call the shot good. Also, what happens is the users of the new tips end up hitting people where they have no armor, in order to get them to call shots-an unchivalrous and unnecessary adjustment.

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