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Close combat with a spear and knife

Discussion in 'Research' started by JohnKPatterson, Aug 9, 2012.

  1. JohnKPatterson

    JohnKPatterson Dreamer

    I have a man in the books who has been a soldier for a few years, trains often, and approaches weapons and combat with an attitude of versatility ("always have a way out," he thinks). In a fight scene early in the book, he has to face enemy soldiers with the army he's joined, and he has an eight foot spear and a long knife (almost long enough to be a shortsword). Does it sound kind of feasible that he could use the knife in close combat in one hand, and fend off or kill distant attackers with the spear?

    I should mention, he dodges and strikes more than he parries. When in combat, he tends to move around the enemy's attacks and then rushes in with a brutal strike of his own.

    Thank you so much for your time!
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    My main question with that is the feasibility of using an eight-foot spear in one hand. My understanding is that those were not generally one-handed weapons, but I'm not certain. Using it to fend off distant foes while actively engaged with a close attacked using a long knife seems pretty risk, but if the character is skilled enough I don't think it is out of bounds for fantasy. Depends on where you want to fall between realism and heroic action.
  3. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    An 8 foot spear would be extremely cumbersome to maneuver. Spears of that length had one purpose: stab forward. A sweep of the spear would clear space, but anything after that would pose an obstacle against the protagonist. When you see spears used in close quarters, it's usually around 5 or 6 feet and used with both hands. If you've read Wheel of Time, think Mat Cathoun or the Aiel (although their spears were shorter).

    A single spear with a weighted end would be a better weapon than an 8 foot spear and a long knife.
    Steerpike likes this.
  4. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Not with an eight-foot long spear, no. A spear of that size is A) Unwieldy in one hand, unless used entirely for stabbing motions and B) entirely dependent on keeping your enemy at a distance.

    A man who possessed of both these weapons would not fight with both at once under any circumstance I can think of. He would use the spear to keep his opponents at bay, and once they managed to either damage the weapon or get too close he would draw the short sword.

    The problem with trying to cover both his "ranges" at once (having him fight close enemies with the knife and farther-off enemies with the spear) is that the weapons are too dissimilar in their action and do not complement each other. In trying to do both at once he would almost certainly fail miserably at everything.

    I would suggest this alternative: Give him a shorter spear and let him have the knife as a backup, but don't try to have him use both as once. A staff or spear of about the same (or slightly less) height than a man can be quite agile even in one hand, and if he is skilled with it he should be able to threaten opponents further away with the spear point while simultaneously defending and attacking opponents who try to slip inside that range by parrying their weapons with the spear's haft and using open-handed techniques (striking with hands, elbows, knees, etc) against them.
  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    A spear of that length is approaching the length of a pike which started around ten feet long (some well over 20'). Weapons of this length were generally used by soldiers in formations that moved together. The weapons, used in unison, we're very effective but limited to stabbing forward (hence the need for formation use).

    Th primary advantage of a spear is obviously reach. The longer the spear shaft the more unwieldy the weapon and the more it's successful use depended on teamwork in a formation. For your uses, as a single fighter, I'd recommend a 6-6.5' length, good reach while not too cumbersome to move quickly.

    There are a ton of different types of spears. I'd suggest researching those differing types to settle on a weapon design that fits the combat system you have in mind for your character.
  6. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

  7. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    Oh, meant to say as well...

    Those red things they tie below the tip... is to stop the blood running down the shaft...

    (I shiver at the thought...)
  8. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Roman Soldiers and Spartains used spears and shields with a short sword (Gladius) as a backup. But the spears were not 8 feet in length. Go to a lumber yard and pick up a long dowel rod of about 1 inch diameter, that's about 8 feet long. Try to maneuver it one-handed and you'll percieve the difficulties.

    It also depends on the type of combat, but army on army, there'd certainly be a lot less dodging and charging individual enemies with brutal attacks of his own with a very long spear one-handed, unless they were small group/skermishes. And a long knife against someone with sword, shield and armor, he'd be at a disadvantage--especially if the opposing soldier(s) knew what they were doing. Even without armor, rapier vs. knife would leave him at a disadvantage.
  9. Dan

    Dan Scribe

    You could change the spear to a one of about 6ft and have a small, but heavy shield.

    The spear can be used to stab, swing, and deflect other spears, while the shield can be used for deflecting spears and swords, as well as being used a heavy-blunt weapon to either unbalance the enemy, or knock them down.

    Allen teaching Hoplite shield and spear - YouTube

    P.s. I am not sure of the quality of the video content, apparently the moves are from a book 'The Cutting Edge: Archaeological Studies in Combat and Weaponry', so I'd suspect them to be solid reference to work from.
  10. FireBird

    FireBird Troubadour

    I can honestly say that if I read in a book that a man was using an eight-foot spear with one hand I would stop reading because the realism would have died for me. If you are using a standard spear with one hand stabbing is easy to do and sweeping takes practice. Parrying is incredibly hard with a spear in just one hand. I would believe the scenario more if he was using a regular spear with two hands or a spear and shield. Most people don't seem to know this but using two weapons at the same time takes years if not decades to master. In the middle of a battle it doesn't seem plausible at all.
  11. Kit

    Kit Maester

    Yes, spear with one hand is implausible. If being used as a staff (for parrying and striking) you also need two hands (for best results), and the staff is generally sized as tall as the fighter.

    I like staff, but I am not a fan of a spear for one-on-one combat. If it was a melee-ing army, you might be able to run around and stab people in the back. On a horse, charging- okay. But facing down a single opponent on foot- you really get *one* stab at him, if that, you have to telegraph it terribly, which means he has about a year to get out of the way- and then if he has half a brain he's going to get inside range (which will take one step) and then the spear is useless (as such).

    If it were me, I would fight with the spear in both hands, and have it be as long as my height so that I could also use it for staff strikes and parries. I wouldn't use a heavy metal tip- that will mess up the balance of the staff. I might just sharpen one or both ends of the wood. I would have the long knife in an easily-drawable sheath- or maybe in my teeth- to resort to in need.

    Just *AT* arm's reach, you can have your hands shoulder-width apart on a staff and thrust it straight-arm at the opponent on the horizontal, vertical or diagonal to strike. Those can be nasty strikes. Aim for the face or throat. If you can't get those, aim for the centerline of the body.

    You can also rotate a staff at that distance and get decent force into a strike that way (there are plenty of strikes possible that do not involve the END of the staff).

    Any closer than your arms' length... if you're really strong, you can use the same straight-arm thrust that I just described to shove him back... but that's also going to depend on what weapon(s) *HE* has waving in your face. You can also do that rotation even if you're at smooching distance, if he's not skilled enough to know how to inhibit the motion of the staff. That can parry or disarm a weapon- or you might be able to clock him in the noggin.
  12. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Well, having seen people fight in close combat with nine-foot spears, I wouldn't say that fighting with an eight-foot one would be "impossible." Nearly all of them kept a short weapon on a lanyard–a "dangler" in SCA parlance–so if (when) an opponent closed range, they'd raise the spear to block with and whip the weapon, generally a mace, up into their grip. Most do this when fighting with six-foot long polearms as well.* The reason the mace is preferred is because it doesn't have a direction to it, and thus can be brought up from a dangle without having to make sure the blade is going the correct way… though turning the grip slightly is a minor adjustment most experienced fighters could do automatically anyway.

    One important thing to keep in mind about spears, polearms, etc. is that they are very rarely extended to their maximum range, and then only to strike. The rest of the time, one hand (usually the user's off-hand) rests close to the center of balance of the shaft; the other will be near the butt. (This, obviously, doesn't apply if the weapon is more than about ten feet long.) Rather than thrusting forward with both hands gripping tightly, the normal practice is for the forward hand to aim, the back to provide the power; the shaft slides through the forward hand, which both makes it easier to keep the thrust on a straight course and makes attack and recovery much faster. This also allows you to thrust out to the maximum length of the weapon, bringing your back hand up to the front one, whereas if you kept both hands gripping, they'd be at least a foot and a half to two feet apart, reducing your total range.

    Conversely, if you're compelled to fight with the weapon in one hand, that hand (again, usually the off-hand, unless you're trying to fight spear and shield) will be halfway up the shaft, allowing for reasonable balance, attack and recovery time… and will still likely give you a longer weapon than any single-hand weapon you'd face, though in this case it will limit striking force and will probably only allow for thrusting attacks. I say "only," because even spears can be used for more than just thrusting. Apart from being able to do anything a staff can, it's a bladed weapon, not a pointed one: it can be used to slash as well.

    As for parrying one-handed, yes, it's less efficient than with two, but in many cases all you have to do is interfere slightly with the oncoming blow: you don't have to meet it with force. And if you interpose a stick taller than you are at arm's reach from your body, the only options your opponent has are to aim for your hand or try to get around the stick. If he does the former, it's simple enough to yank the hand back; if he does the latter, you move your hand laterally–and as minimally as possible–to brush his blow to one side, keeping the weapon vertical.

    Your opponent's proper move in this situation is to charge in and try to pin the spear against your body… closing range is the only effective tactic against anyone with a significantly longer weapon, no matter what it is, and unless the other guy is an untrained rookie, he'll know this. Your only good defense against this is your feet. Here, though, the length of your dangler becomes far less of a factor: if anything, you want it short rather than long, since the other guy's doing his best to put himself inside its range anyway. Still, trying to counter opponents wielding sword and shield with a blocking stick and a long knife would tend to be a mistake you only got to make so many times. Developing it into a deliberate style, where you intentionally make use of both on a regular basis, is unlikely; the shorter weapon is an emergency measure, not a primary tactic. "Fending off" opponents with a spear is not the correct way to use one: the whole point [sic] of the weapon is to take advantage of its length, and if you aren't using it as your primary weapon, you're better off with something else instead. A spear wielder should never be "rushing in" for a kill: that's what the other guy wants to do… the spearman should be trying to maintain his distance.

    As for fighting with two weapons in general: yes, it takes a lot of practice, but a lot also depends on what you're doing with that second weapon. If it's something you use primarily to block with, and is only used offensively for the occasional opportunity shot, it becomes a lot easier than if you're trying to coordinate attacking with both. And some people are flat-out better at it than others: I'm so severely right-handed I was never any good with anything other than a shield in the off-hand, but many people have greater off-hand dexterity, and left-handed people tend to develop such dexterity with their right hand that they become effectively ambidextrous (not to mention throwing opponents off if they choose to present their stance in a left-handed manner–this can be amazingly difficult to adjust to). Fighting with two weapons of equal length is very difficult, and largely belongs to the realm of fantasy. But even using a shield requires thinking about it and moving it around, unless you're standing in a wall, and using a second weapon isn't much harder than using a buckler… easier, sometimes, since the opponent has to take it into account.


    * Note: the lengths are the maximums for SCA weapons of those classes. Historical examples varied.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  13. Kit

    Kit Maester

    My left hand tends to be pretty clumsy, but I always practice everything with both hands. I'm always worried about what would happen if the right arm/hand/shoulder took a debilitating injury.

    I find that it almost always takes opponents by surprise during a knife fight if you quickly switch the knife to the off hand and immediately strike at them. Your focus gets so fixated on that knife hand- it's very jarring.
  14. Lawfire

    Lawfire Sage

    Mastering one weapon can take years (or more). Fighting effectively is not necessarily the same thing as mastering. I would think it would be more of a matter of natural skill. If someone is ambidextrous, they would be able to fight with either hand, and therefore should be able to fight with both better than someone who is not. It would also depend on the weapons used. There is a difference between having a dagger in each hand and having a sword in each.

    The rise in popularity of dual wielding (in both book and film) does make the act seem less impressive. There is no doubt that it would have been a lot harder to do that Hollywood would have us believe, and if that is the point you are trying to make, I agree wholeheartedly.
  15. lovecow

    lovecow Acolyte

    I think it would be to much to use a eight foot spear and a knife at the same time.
    You'd need 3 hands :) .
    How about he start's the fight with just his trusted spear, but in the battle it get's cut in half. Forcing him to use his long knife with the remains of his spear. That way the reader can see he's proficient with both weapons.
  16. FireBird

    FireBird Troubadour

    Even if you are ambidextrous, fighting with two weapons at the same time efficiently is very difficult. The problem is that you need complete control when using both. Most examples in history of dual wielding weapons are ritualistic practices that were rarely used in actual combat. A good example is the rapier and main gache, but even in that case the gache was primarily used to just parry.

    You need incredible manueverability, control, and skill to make two weapons work. In a fencing situation, sure it is plausible to use two weapons like the rapier and main gache or even a spear and a dagger efficiently. However in a battle I don't see how it is possible. There wouldn't be room to manuever and half your skill would count for nothing in the press of bodies.

    I also completely agree Lawfire; Hollywood destroys almost everything it touches.
  17. Kit

    Kit Maester

    A weapon is an extension of your body. When you are using (for example) a sword, There's just so much going on with your balance that one can't begin to comprehend until you've trained for years with the weapon. Your stance, where your center of gravity is, how you turn, the movement of your off arm to counterbalance each movement of the sword arm. It is a very complex whole-body dance. Having a second weapon in the off hand would change all of that. Not saying it couldn't be done, but it's not a simple matter.

    You could certainly put two weapons in the hands of same untrained big peasant, and he could flail around and possibly hit some people, but there's a big difference between that and a trained fighter who uses the weapon as part of the body (and spirit, I would personally argue).

    It always makes me roll my eyes when I read stories about farm boys going on a journey and being taught on the road by some guard or retired arms master, and in a few weeks the kid is fighting and winning battles. I have been training sword for over a decade, and I would consider myself intermediate at best. It's HARD. It's not just waving a sharp stick around.
  18. Lawfire

    Lawfire Sage

    Quote of the day, by far.
  19. Ivan

    Ivan Minstrel

    Plutarch recorded an incident from Sparta's most desperate days, where a man joined the defense with a spear and a sword - and no clothes as it happened - and fought well. He was both honored and fined (for fighting without armor). The hoplite's spear tended to be around eight feet. Do keep in mind the kind of regimen that Spartiates took; in tune with the general concert of the thread, experience is everything.
  20. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Actually, far and away the biggest problem is you need two brains. Most people can't think about doing two different things at once, so even for those who use shields, one hand is trained to be largely "automatic," and the bulk of concentration is given to the other. (You might be surprised at how often it's the offense that's automatic—see the opening, hit it—and the defense that is given priority of thought, even among people who normally fight using sword and shield.)

    A couple examples from experience: (1) When trying out sword-and-dagger fencing after years of SCA heavy weapons fighting, I had one reaction I never did manage to break—every single time I saw an opening for a dagger thrust I took it, and nearly always hit. Sounds great on the surface… but in the style I was learning, the dagger was exclusively a parrying weapon; attacking with it wasn't allowed. Which was a real shame, because I scored way more hits with it than I ever did with the weapon I was thinking about. :p

    (2) One of the regular nearby events featured a "boar hunt": teams of three fighters, each with a single weapon, were sent out after lone "boars," fighters wielding two swords (there were a lot in that area who specialized in this…). Killing boars scored points; dying deducted them. (Plus, having to return to "Resurrection Point" slowed down your hunt.) One of my friends, who had just passed his authorization to become a fighter, was going, so I told him what to do. Next time I saw him he thanked me: he, along with two other rookies, had won the tournament, over a dozen-odd teams featuring far more experienced fighters.

    What was my winning advice? It was about the brains. The "boar" had one brain to think about two weapons of his own, and three opponents. The hunt team had three brains, each focused on a single weapon and a single opponent. So far, so good, but that was true of every team. The key, I told them, was for the guy on the left to fight only the boar's right hand (actually, what was in it, but you get the idea), the guy on the right to fight only his left hand… and only the guy in the middle tries to hit the boar himself. That meant that each of them was using one brain and one weapon against one target… whereas the boar could only devote one-third of his brain against each of his targets, and even that was split by trying to coordinate two weapons.

    Don't ask me why this was apparently such a novel idea: it seemed obvious to me. But none of the other teams knew it, and the second-place score wasn't remotely near theirs. They never even took a casualty.

    This, by the way, should also indicate to you that in any three-on-one situation, the one loses, no matter how good he is, unless his opponents are incompetent. This doesn't even take into account that in the SCA, you aren't allowed to strike from behind: all three had to stay in their opponent's field of vision in order to engage. Real-life combat doesn't work that way.

    Depends somewhat on the "battle." Normally, yes, armies fought in formation (well, the effective ones did…), and the spearmen would either be in packed ranks to present multiple layers of pointy things to the enemy, or would be behind a packed rank of shieldmen. Formations do break up, though, and not all cultures were highly fond of them to begin with (think of the Scottish "Highland charge"—a "formation" only on the most generous of readings). It would still strike me as somewhat contrived if the spear-and-knife guy only ever fought in loose, disorganized battles, and/or against opponents who nobly if foolishly chose to confront him only one at a time, however. So, no, I don't see it as being especially practical. Not impossible… just not practical.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2012

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