Laird Colyne Stewart, June AS 38 (2003)
When reading over this article, keep in mind that it was written by a melee fighter with only two years of war experience under his belt.
1. How to Stand
Stand in a row putting the left edge of your shield under the right edge of the shield of the person to your left. This makes a rigid line of interlocked shields that makes it harder for enemies to break through. Go into a defensive stance and brace your wardoor against your forward knee. Hold your weapon perpendicular over the shield. You want the weapon to be high enough for you to see between the top of your shield and it. Once combat starts you need to be vigilant with your weapon. For a shieldman, a weapon is more for defense than offense. This will be covered in detail in a later section. Remember if you swing your weapon that if you hit your shieldmates, you can kill them. Be careful.
2. Setting up the Shieldwall
If you some of the shieldmen have tournament size shields, intersperse them with your wardoors. If you have at least one left-handed shieldman, put him on the left end of the line. More experienced shieldmen should be placed strategically in the line. If the line is short, put one in the middle (if you have more, on the ends as well). If the line is large and you have more experienced shieldmen intersperse them with those less experienced.
3. Placement of Polearms, Spears, etc.
Different commanders set up their forces in different ways. There are generally three oft-used starting position.
i. The polearms and spears are setup behind the shieldwall. This is the most common unit setup. Your polearms and spears will be fighting over your heads. It is your job to stay together and protect the people behind you.
ii. The polearms and spear fight in front of the shieldwall. This method is becoming more prevalent. Always be vigilant, for if pressed the polearms and spears will retreat behind you and you will have to defend them.
iii. The polearms and spears fight in the shieldwall. Some commanders like to place their polearms and spears between shieldmen in the shieldwall. If this is done you obviously cannot lock your shield with the other shieldman. You will be forced to move a bit more in this style as your sides will be exposed to enemy spears and poles. If the spear or polearm beside you dies, you should call out for the wall to close up. You and the shield on the other side of the deceased spear/pole should come together to close the gap. Be prepared for another spear/pole to eventually come and take the deceased spear/pole's place.
4. Moving as a Unit
There are some basic movements that all shieldmen need to know. (At present, Ealdormere does not have a concrete set of commands, but these are ones that I generally hear when in the wall.)
i. Shieldwall Forward! Move forward as a unit until you are called to stop.
ii. Shieldwall Stop/Halt! The shieldwall stops. If you are the one giving commands, remember to never use the word "Hold!" except as a stop command due to an emergency.
iii. Pivot/Wheel Left! The unit moves to the left, pivoting on the person on the left end of the wall, until ordered to stop.
iv. Pivot/Wheel Right! The unit moves to the right, pivoting on the person on the right end of the wall, until ordered to stop.
v. Slide Left! As one the unit slides to the left until ordered to stop.
vi. Slide Right! As one the unit slides to the right until ordered to stop.
vii. Charge! As a unit run right into the enemy line.
viii. Pulse Charge! Some commanders use this command to mean running forward two steps and then re-setting the line. Others use it as a command to break through an enemy line. Verify with your commander before entering battle.
5. Breaking Through an Enemy Line
If ordered to break through an enemy shieldwall you will break apart so your shields are no longer overlapping. Angle your shield about 45 degrees and use it as a wedge on the enemy shieldwall. You want to try and hit them where their shields are overlapping. Remember that if you break through, they will be trying to kill you, so protect your head with your weapon. Also remember that in melees when you attack a line, you are considered to be engaged with everyone in that line, whether you see them or not.
6. Shieldwalls in Combat
i. We are a team. There is one basic principle that all shieldmen need to learn and believe. It is not a shieldman's job to kill the enemy. It is his job to protect his allies. In a melee you are fighting as a team, not as individuals. Shieldmen who run off and leave their wall behind to try and get a bunch of kills usually end up dying themselves and leaving their wall, and their poles/spears behind the wall, vulnerable. You are not out for personal glory, you are out to get a win for the team. It is not unusual for shieldmen to never throw a blow in combat. Shieldmen do not number kills to judge how they did in combat, but rather how many of their mates survived until the end.
ii. Stay Together! When a shieldwall drifts apart it usually ends up getting wiped out. Stay locked against your shieldmates. If you die, call out "Dead!" as you fall so that the shieldmen on either side of you can hear you. They will then close the gap you've left. If someone dies beside you, you and the person on the other side of the gap need to come together. Call out something along the lines of "Gap left/right!" and slide towards the other shield. This lets those on your other side know you're going to be moving, and where you're moving to. You need to close that gap quick, because enemy spears and poles will be eager to take advantage of the hole in your defenses.
iii. Defending your head. Spears will be thrusting at your face, so don't let the gap between the top of your shield and your weapon get too big. Remember that thrusts will come from off on your left and right, not just from in front. You will often never see the blow that kills you. Polearms and axes can chop, so these will try to come down on top of your head. Try to angle your baskethilt up to protect you from these blows. You may have to move your weapon up momentarily to block a chopping blow, but get back into position quick or a spear will get you.
iv. Defending against hooks. Some spears and axes can be used as hooking weapons. They will try to do either one of two things. They may try to hook the edge of your shield and pull it out to expose your leg. If this happens, quickly flick out your shield to loosen the hook, and bring your shield back into place. You need to do this quickly, or enemy spears will come at you while your shield is out. They may also try to hook the top of your shield and pull it down. If this happens keep your shield braced on your knee and lift up with your shield arm. You can then either try to use your weapon to release the hook or catch the hook. To release the hook bring your weapon down under the hook and swing upwards to dislodge it. To catch the hook, bring your weapon down across it from above. Call out to your poles and spears to kill the hook/axe/spear and hopefully they will before you get thrust in the head. Those behind you can also grab enemy weapons and pull them behind your line.
v. Resurrecting. If the battle is a rez battle, run back to your rez point and then re-attach yourself to the end of your shieldwall. If there is a gap in the wall, you can fill that instead. Try not to get in the way of your other allies while doing so.
This is something you will have practiced for your authorization, but we'll go over it again here. If you die you will almost always fall dead to the ground. You should call out "Dead!" and curl up into a fetal position under your shield with your legs crossed above the ankles. (Above! If you actually cross your ankles, and someone steps on you, you risk a pair of broken ankles.) Be aware that you will likely be kicked, stepped on and perhaps even stood on as the melee continues around you. Wait until a marshal either taps you with a stick to tell you its safe to get up and off the field or until a hold is called. Marshals will usually call "Dead out!" during a hold to clear the field.
In some resurrection battles you may find that instead of falling dead you can just pull out of combat to walk back to your rez point. If you do this call out "Dead!" and quickly get out of the way. (This will likely not be possible if the fighting is fierce and there is a great press of bodies. In that case drop and cover until a marshal says you can get up.)
When walking to your rez point or off the field you can hold your weapon above your head to show other fighters that you are dead. This could save you getting killed a couple more times while you're walking back to rez.
Permission is given to print this article in any SCA publication as long as the author is contacted by email in advance, proper credit is given and the author receives a copy of the newsletter. Please credit the author as Colyne Stewart (mka Todd Fischer), who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org