Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

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Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Roger N » Fri Jan 22, 2010 10:30 am

Here is a question that has kept me a bit puzzled after having read both Meyer and Mair.

From what I understand, they both describe the staff as preparation for the spear and also to some extent, for other polearms. However, reading Mair I get the feeling that it is very much quarterstaff-focused, although with a german touch. Meyer on the other hand appears to prepare much for the halberd. And Fiore, finally, seem to tie his techniques tightly to the longsword.

I have no proper evidence for this theory. It is more a feeling I have after having read these manuscripts.

On the other hand, another member here has been thinking of how many of the guards and techniques of the German longsword applies very well to the spear as well.

All this relates to the fact that there really is quite little material that deals specifically with the spear, at least in comparison to the sword & buckler, messer, longsword, rapier, pollax and halberd, which I find a bit odd. One could say that the staff is so similar, but I feel that the staff techniques does not take full advantage of the characteristics of the spear, especially when you compare to eastern styles.

What are your thoughts on this?
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Shay Roberts » Fri Jan 22, 2010 6:01 pm

Roger Norling wrote: All this relates to the fact that there really is quite little material that deals specifically with the spear, at least in comparison to the sword & buckler, messer, longsword, rapier, pollax and halberd, which I find a bit odd.
I also find that odd. It makes me think that spear in civilian use was largely ceremonial (the throwing of the spear at the beginning of a duel) by the time manuscripts were being produced. They also seem to be more of a knight's weapon, which is interesting considering the weapon's primitive origins.

My personal feeling is that staff/halberd/pollaxe are of one family and spear of another. At least in the German dueling tradition. The spears there are slender, able to be thrown, with good longitudinal strength but I doubt much lateral strength. To be used effectively as striking weapons they would have to be either thicker or shorter. Of course there were some spears like that, but rarely in the particular manuscripts I study.

How cool would it be to discover a Le Jue for the spear? :P
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Frederico Martins » Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:06 pm

agree with Shay.
they are very different weapons, I see the spear as a war weapon, for actual battle formations, you can see that specially in the greeks when the war was less complicated, before Philip of Macedon.

http://academicearth.org/courses/introd ... ek-history
in one of those videos the guy describes the application of the spear and shield in formation, don't remember which video (yeap ive listened all those videos at work, im crazy i guess... and never had real history at school..only art history:p)

in jogo do pau, people used to put a metal point for self defense. that make it look like a spear, but was still used like a staff.
http://www.jogodopauportugues.com/progr ... /staff.jpg
still with normal staff the thrust is a very respected strike, that you should never forget in between the rotational strikes. If your opponent has better distance notions than you, a thrust well applied can be your end.
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Roger N » Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:59 pm

Actually, I agree as well, but what I am trying to get at is that although the masters mentioned claim to teach techniques that can be used both with a staff and a spear, I have a feeling that Meyer very much is using the staff to prepare for lessons with halberd primarily.
Mair is basically teaching short staff and quarterstaff but with strong ties to his later chapters on the halberd and pollax.
In Fiore's case he ties his techniques tightly to the longsword and once again isn't really looking to how to use the spear the best.

It seems to me as if they are not really teaching how to use a spear. Fiore apparently does so, but with longsword techniques and in armour. Some of them seem awkward to me, but I bet they work well in armour.

Of course, tieing things together into a connected system was common not only within martial arts, and it doesn't really have to be optimal for the individual weapons. And, there is of course big differences between fighting for fun or for your life, in armour or without...
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Shay Roberts » Sat Jan 23, 2010 8:54 am

Roger Norling wrote:It seems to me as if they are not really teaching how to use a spear. Fiore apparently does so, but with longsword techniques and in armour. Some of them seem awkward to me, but I bet they work well in armour.
Roger, I haven't studied Fiore's spear. How did it compare to the spears of his contemporary Germans? Was it shorter? I can see a shorter spear being better for strikes. Or maybe a thick spear that wasn't meant for throwing? If you put a point on an English quarterstaff, you're halfway to a pollaxe. Ack, curse all those hybrid weapons that fall along a spectrum! ;)
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Hugh Knight » Sat Jan 23, 2010 9:37 am

Medieval spears tended to be tapered from the butt to the point. Go look at a high-quality source and you'll see it, as in this example from Talhoffer 1467:
http://mdz10.bib-bvb.de/~db/0002/bsb000 ... l?seite=74

There were probably two reasons for this: First, balance. By tapering the shaft you lighten the end you're going to put the steel head on, thus preventing the weapon from being tip heavy, which, in turn, makes for more accurate and better-controlled thrusts.

Second, there's a trick of physics that says that a rectilinear object tends to break about in the middle when pushed against a hard surface. Take a piece of dried spaghetti and push straight into a hard surface, such as the wall. Most of the time (barring material defects or other special situations) the shaft will break about in the middle, not near the ends. Thus, you can lower the overall weight of the spear by making the middle of the spear the thickness you want (for balance--see above) while making the business end thinner.

Of course, that means the spear is pretty useless for striking; they break too easily. That's why you never, ever--not in any source--see spears used that way. Spears are not staves, and they shouldn't be confused for each other. Spears are used for thrusting and, *very* rarely, for grappling (e.g., see Talhoffer's Ambraser Codex) at extreme close range, never for striking.

Oh, and the reason you see so few spear techniques in our source documents is that they weren't very efficient in single combat, which is the only kind of combat discussed in the Fechtbücher (this is because shorter weapons are so much more flexible once you get inside the spear's point, which is easy to do). Yes, tradition says some judicial combats were begun with spears, but it was normally expected that they would be thrown (as in the Talhoffer sources), not used hand-to-hand. Of course, there could be an advantage to using it hand to hand if your opponent isn't used to or expecting to fight that way, so the masters gave us a few such techniques, but they are very rare in every text and should be considered "gimmick" techniques. Look at Gladiatoria: There are 12 "spear" plates, and only 4 show spear-on-spear; the others show how to beat someone who holds on to his spear when you have thrown yours. And of the 4, only two show actual techniques (actually, two variations of the same technique); the others seem to be about general principles. Contrast that with the 50 halfsword and 36 dagger plates, and it becomes pretty clear which forms are expected to be used the most in the duel.
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Roger N » Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:59 am

Actually, it is not me that is confusing the two, but rather Mair and Meyer. :) But, I guess this means that you agree with my reasoning, basically.

Although I agree that the spears commonly appears to have been tapered, I am not so sure that they would break easily when striking. Looking at for instance Paulus Kal, it appears as if the spears used were nearly two thumbs thick at the forward point. It wouldn't surprise me if this varied a lot. Talhoffers Ambraser Codex also appears to have thicker spears. Of course, you can always argue that you can't really trust the manuscripts when it comes to measurements and distances, but that goes both ways, doesn't it?

I agree that the spear primarily shouldn't be used for striking, but not for the same reason, but rather because the thrust is so much faster with such long weapons, especially since you very quickly can thrust both high and low and switch sides, with the great leverage you get with a broad grip. But you can surely use some of the halfsword techniques with a spear and maybe, just maybe, there really was no use in teaching specific spear techniques to someone who already new the longsword, halfswording and halberd? Much of it can be applied directly to the spear and halfswording actually uses the two primary stances of the spear. In fact the natural position of a right handed halfsworder is exactly the stance I prefer with a spear, i.e with the spear on my right side. Something which is also recommended by certain masters. I can already feel your fingers start trembling here, eager to attack the keyboard, Hugh... Please be gentle with me... ;)

As for the spear not being effective in single combat, that really relates to the opposition, doesn't it? If used against a spear, it is certainly quite effective. Also, I wouldn't exactly say that getting inside the spear point is easy with a shorter weapon if you are out of armour...

Finally, I still find it odd that although the spear was such a common weapon and probably practiced by a broad range of soldiers, it is rarely portrayed in the fechtbuchen. Apart from Fiore you only really see it properly discussed in combination with other weapons. I can think of a number of reasons, including the theory mentioned above, but I have not heard any conclusive evidence either way. I don't believe that the fechtbuchen gives us the full picture of the medieval and renaissance combat traditions and applications and although it is a solid source I do think it can give us a somewhat false picture if we put too much emphasis on the material without looking to a wider context.
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Roger N » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:24 am

Oh, and the last one is a bit interesting when comparing to the goedendag and spiked jogo do pau staffs...

And is that a hairy wart that the guy on the right in the third image has on the nose? Isn't it odd that the men in Talhoffer's images often are exceptionally ugly, when compared to other masters? :)
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Roger N » Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:30 am

Shay Roberts wrote:
Roger Norling wrote:It seems to me as if they are not really teaching how to use a spear. Fiore apparently does so, but with longsword techniques and in armour. Some of them seem awkward to me, but I bet they work well in armour.
Roger, I haven't studied Fiore's spear. How did it compare to the spears of his contemporary Germans? Was it shorter? I can see a shorter spear being better for strikes. Or maybe a thick spear that wasn't meant for throwing? If you put a point on an English quarterstaff, you're halfway to a pollaxe. Ack, curse all those hybrid weapons that fall along a spectrum! ;)
I believe that at least the ones used in Fiore's manuscript were short with fairly small spearheads, which of course would affect the handling and durability. You can find the manuscript here: http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/01-polear ... oratum.pdf
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Re: Really spear techniques or preparation for other weapons?

Post by Hugh Knight » Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:28 pm

Roger Norling wrote:But you can surely use some of the halfsword techniques with a spear and maybe, just maybe, there really was no use in teaching specific spear techniques to someone who already new the longsword, halfswording and halberd? Much of it can be applied directly to the spear and halfswording actually uses the two primary stances of the spear. In fact the natural position of a right handed halfsworder is exactly the stance I prefer with a spear, i.e with the spear on my right side. Something which is also recommended by certain masters. I can already feel your fingers start trembling here, eager to attack the keyboard, Hugh... Please be gentle with me... ;)
I'm always gentle. I never get harsh until someone earns it, which you never have.

Why is it so hard to take the material at face value? If we're just supposed to use the spear very similar to the Absetzen with the point from the Third Guard of the halfsword (albeit apparently from a guard a little more rearward). A spear wasn't a longsword, halfsword or halberd, and so it had to be learned as a unique form (even when there are similar techniques in other forms). Occams razor says that the only reason any spear was taught in the Fechtbücher at all is because some forms of judicial combat required it, but that it wasn't widely used for anything but to cast at the opening of the fight (again, spear on spear techniques were probably seen as gimmicks).

Moreover, the chivalric literature supports this contention. Some fights with spears involved rushing in at one another and literally jousting on foot (a rope with measured knots was sometimes used to separate the combatants a set distance between each charge; see Dillon, Barriers and Foot Combats, The Archeological Journal, 1904, pp. 286-287), or aimed at the enemy's *armor* (not the gaps as you would in a serious fight) and used for a powerful push (http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/his ... annes2.htm).

Much of the time, however, "When at a reasonable distance apart, they began to hurl some of their weapons at each other and ... generally this first attack was without result other than disencumbering the two combatants of some of their heavy armament." (Dillon 1904 p. 275). Then, in Le Jouvencel by Jean de Bueil, we read advice on this: Speaking of combats with the lance (he means spear since they're talking about fighting on foot), he recommends "throwing the lance as quickly as possible so the knight can close with his opponent. Thus there may be opportunity to strike while he is encumbered and too close to throw his own lance." (after Anglo, S., How to Win at Tournaments: The Technique of Chivalric Combat, The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. LXVIII, 1988, p. 251)
As for the spear not being effective in single combat, that really relates to the opposition, doesn't it? If used against a spear, it is certainly quite effective. Also, I wouldn't exactly say that getting inside the spear point is easy with a shorter weapon if you are out of armour...
In single combat it's almost always pretty easy to do, armor or no. Look at the bare-handed deflection in Ringeck and von Danzig, for example. Yes, armored, but still the same. A thrust is *always* easy to displace (referring to the amount of force necessary) because it can't hit the way a "downright blow" can. Silver talks about this explicitly. And once you're inside a spear with a shorter weapon, I can tell you from personal experience you are in a tremendously advantageous position; your best bet is to drop your spear and attempt to grapple.
Finally, I still find it odd that although the spear was such a common weapon and probably practiced by a broad range of soldiers, it is rarely portrayed in the fechtbuchen. Apart from Fiore you only really see it properly discussed in combination with other weapons. I can think of a number of reasons, including the theory mentioned above, but I have not heard any conclusive evidence either way. I don't believe that the fechtbuchen gives us the full picture of the medieval and renaissance combat traditions and applications and although it is a solid source I do think it can give us a somewhat false picture if we put too much emphasis on the material without looking to a wider context.
It's not odd that it's so rarely shown in the Fechtbücher: The Fechtbücher only really show Kampffechten single combat, and they tell us pretty clearly the spear wasn't that useful in those carefully-regulated fights. Yes, the plates you posted from Talhoffer 1459 seem to show unarmored fights against spears, but can you seriously develop techniques from most of these plays? Can you build a system of combat out of these scant shots, most of which we can't even tell what the technique being used is? No one can, it's just another example of Talhoffer showing us something he doesn't explain well enough to be useful.

We don't have anything solid but the Fechtbücher to go by, so it's pointless to try to practice anything but what they teach us. There is *plenty* and more in the Fechtbücher to study--more than a lifetime's worth--without trying to do things we can't document. There's no need to try to use staff techniques with spears, or spear techniques with halberds, or trying to guess how unarmored troops on a battlefield might use a spear differently, we have plenty of material to work on without making anything up.

But where did all of this extra stuff come from? You were asking about the spear and the staff being used in the same way, and I showed they weren't. Why change the discussion in mid stream?
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