Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fighting with an axe: What Olaf does.

So this will come as a surprise to folks... but I sometimes fight axe. I know... SHOCKING! But, it's true (though there are those who would question the characterization of what I do as "fighting")
I have been asked to do a follow up to my blog on making an axe about fighting with one, so here goes.
To begin, let's discuss what an axe in our game is and what it isn't.
First off... it's not a real axe. It will not have the same destructive power that it's real life steel inspiration has. It will not break a shield. It will not cleave a leg to the femur. As we are fighting our friends... this is a good thing. The weight and balance will never be quite the same, nor the way it moves. It can be similar... I have taken pains to try and get my axe to be close in weight and size... but it will never be steel.
It is not a standard SCA unpadded polearm or glaive. There is a very defined edge... when you hit flat, you REALLY hit flat. The balance is different... there is more weight at the tip (there is more weight, period) and it does not swing or recover the same. It is generally considered to be slower, and due to the head there may be issues with people taking shots from it.
No on to what it is. It IS the best approximation of a Dane axe that I have found in our game to date. Maybe there will be a game changing technology in the future... but right now, this is what works.
It is lighter than you expect. My axe is 3.5-4lbs... and that is actually within about half a pound of the steel axe it was based on. The heaviest period Dane axe I can think of was close to five pounds... and that was really the upper limit.
It is FASTER than you expect. If you use good mechanics, and let the weight aid you instead of fighting it, you will find the axe to be responsive and fluid.
OK, so you have read my post about making one and have your shiny new axe. You take it out to play. What next? Well... start by just swinging it about a bit. No really... find yourself some space and let the axe move. Wide sweeping cuts and short chops, strikes from short distance and from a high guard. See how it responds when you change direction mid cut, and when you try and pull it back from a strike.
What you will find is that when an axe starts to move, it likes to keep moving. You can guide it... turn it in it's path, change the angle at which it strikes... but pulling it back is a bit of a losing game.
I capitalize on the axe's  love of continued movement to cut through and continue through an arc. If I miss a blow, I can shorten the arc I am swinging through, pass in front of the target, and continue through the circle, coming back into a guard ready to strike again.
Changing the angle that a shot come in, like with any weapon, is very important. The fact that the axe striking surface is six inches in front of the haft of the weapon can make that even more crucial... a shot that would have been blocked if it were a glaive will connect with an axe if you alter the angle slightly. I use the placement of the back hand to change the angle easily, firing a shot to set up a block, then firing a follow up but changing the angle slightly.
Use the intimidation factor if you can. Not everybody will be wary of the axe, but starting with a high guard and menacing them with a strung down cut, firing a couple of stiff shots into their guard, can make them flinch or move when you want them to. Using that high guard can also be a good way to set them up for a strike with the butt spike of the axe, if you use one.
Below is a video of me fighting with Erland at one of our practices. You can see some of the things I talk about at various points.

From the rules of the list section IV on use of weapons and shields: 
D. A shield or weapon may be used to displace, deflect, or immobilize an opponent’s shield or weapon, so long as such use does not endanger the safety of the combatants. A shield or haft may be safely placed against the opponent's body to restrict his ability to strike or defend.

Do not neglect the haft of your weapon. It is the only shield you have, use it well. Try and redirect bows with it instead of static blocking, and fire shots from each block you make if you can. You can defend with your axe... but it is primarily a tool for offense.
You are not permitted to strike with the haft, but it still can be used to your advantage in a fight. You can strike another weapon or a shield with it, though care should be taken not to strike your opponent. And while you cannot strike the body or arms, you can place the haft of your weapon on your opponent to manipulate them. Use that to turn them, push them aside as they close, or to manipulate the arm as they strike or recover. Put them where you need them, and then strike. Be aware... people may object to this practice in some places. Some people may object STRONGLY. Check the rules of the list in your Kingdom. Check with senior marshal's about tradition on practices like these. It is legal at society... but you may end up pissing in somebody's cheerio's, and it's your call how you deal with that.

I know this isn't alot, but... there is only a certain amount that is going to work for you. You need to fight it to get it. I dedicated a year to the axe... from one Pennsic to the next, I fought the axe as my primary weapon at EVERY practice for the year. It was the first weapon I picked up every practice, and while I did fight with others, the axe was my main focus. It showed. So if you're serious about it... practice. And practice against every weapons form, not just other axes or swordsmen... against two weapon, sword and shield. Be prepared for resistance. It's an inferior weapon, it's slow, you are handicapping yourself, it's not really an effective weapon for your game... these are all things that folks far better at the game will tell you )and have told me). It is up to you to play your game. If you don't like people telling you it's an ineffective weapons form... prove them wrong.

There are lots of people better at this than I. One of these is Duke Eikbrandr of the Middle Kingdom. Here is a link to his class on fighting axe. You will see many similar things to what i have talked about, and some other things I am still trying to work in.

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