The humble spear is one of the oldest and simplest weapons in existence. The spear's ease of production and ease of use has made it a ubiquitous fixture in all forms of warfare from those waged by nomadic tribes to civilized armies of every culture and level.
Properly employed, a polearm weapon can be used against a variety of targets from infantry to monstrous beasts and mounts. The following section shall be a primer on the basics any soldier will need to start their journey with this weapon type.
While all melee combat shares certain characteristics and motions, as with all weapon types, there are basic strikes, defensive maneuvers, and training regimens applicable to the polearm weapon type. In the following pages the reader will find an overview of the Guards, Strikes, and Training employed specifically by those that seek to wield a polearm weapon.
Close Guard Edit
Close Guard is one of the two primary stances when employing a polearm. This stance is affected by standing with the lead foot about six inches forward; the lead foot shall be the same as the hand which is positioned closer on the polearm’s shaft to the head of the weapon. The weapon shall be held at such a distance from the front of the bearer that they are balanced, usually between six and fifteen inches forward, and the weapon shall be positioned such that it diagonally bisects the neck and lead shoulder. This stance is primarily defensive in nature and most useful when needing to defend, especially where grappling may be employed or an enemy is able to effectively maneuver inside of the Long Guard; in the event of enemy bypassing the Long Guard, the soldier should fall back to Close Guard until the range needed by Long Guard can be reestablished. The most common tactic here when not advancing into a thrusting attack is to use this position to parry an incoming strike and counter with a buttstroke or haftstrike to knock an enemy down or back and leave them vulnerable to a follow up thrusting attack seeking a kill.
Long Guard Edit
Long Guard is the second of the two primary stances when employing a polearm. This stance is affected by standing with the lead foot about six inches forward and facing the enemy while the back foot facing at a perpendicular forty-five (45) degree angle and the lead shoulders roughly in liner with the weapon pointing to the enemy; the lead foot shall be the same as the hand which is positioned closer on the polearm’s shaft to the head of the weapon. The weapon shall be held at such a distance from the front of the bearer that they are balanced, with the point extended towards the enemy. This stance is primarily offensive in nature while combining the ability for defense by keeping the enemy at optimal striking distance by the weapon extended between the combatants. In this way, by proper foot movements and utilizing parries and buttstrokes the enemy may be kept at a distance favoring the polearms’s strikes while impeding the enemy’s ability to close to attack range.
Long Guard is the default stance that should be employed whenever possible to maximize the polearm wielder’s primary advantage, that being the reach of the weapon and controlling the spacing and pace of the engagement.
Fly Exercises Edit
Fly exercises are a type of strength training exercise wherein the upper body is worked by motions with the arms extended at their maximum possible leverage away to the side of the body.
Because the arms are extended at their maximum leverage less weight is used but these exercises are crucial for building up the muscles and stability necessary to properly employ a polearm, which by the definition of its reach will frequently be weighted away from the user’s body. Developing these muscles and the distance-stability is crucial for being able to control a weapon that will be striking further away from the wielder than other weapon types.
Care should be taken not to use too much weight when working these types of exercises as the leverages of the arms being used reduce the weight that can be born. Overloading weight in these motions too quickly can cause damage to the shoulders and elbows.
Ring Drills Edit
Ring drills are a simple type of exercises involving a set up of rings at various heights that are used for training accuracy.
The rings should be set up at different heights and staggered down a straight path such that the person undergoing the drill must thrust up or down and/or towards different sides depending on where a particular ring is placed in relation to them. The rings themselves should have a hole with enough space for the head of a polearm to pass through with only a little extra clearance
The effect of this exercise is to familiarize the trainee with the motions associated with thrusting their polearm in different directions and at different angles. It is also an accuracy exercise that allows the trainee to work on the precise placement of the thrusting head of their weapon that is required for such an attack to strike effectively and with minimal risk for deflection. The drill may be completed slowly while they familiarize themselves with the feeling of the motions and then sped up as they hone their skills.
Footwork, that is to say the proper and effective placement and movement of one’s feet during an engagement for maximum leverage, is crucial in all aspects of combat. This is doubly so for the polearm that relies specifically on its reach to control engagements.
The concepts behind moving in combat are generally simple but must be mastered through both repetition and aided by a keen instinct. The most important techniques are the “Crab Walk” sidesteps and the “Rock” front and back steps.
The key to both steps is moving in short steps, usually measured around twelve to fifteen (12-15) inches, such that the trainee is moving in response to their changing positioning relative to their opponent while not moving too far too quickly and sacrificing their leverage, balance, and defensive posture. These motions may be practiced by a solo trainee but it is typically easier for the purpose of the motions to be demonstrated and understood when done by training pars moving in concert and response to each other.
Armor Utilization Edit
Armor is an important tool for any combatant. While this is usually a defensive item, when wielding a polearm it is especially important for a trainee to start thinking of the armor plating as also being an offensive tool.
The primary weakness of any polearm weapon is that while the head of the weapon being on the end of the pole gives it a reach advantage, it also means that the ‘business end’ of their weapon will also be further from their body and thus less able to be used in close defense. This means that a competent enemy will focus their efforts on trying to get inside of the polearm wielder’s guard, a state that is affected by the enemy being too close for the polearm to be chambered for a strike with the head but where the enemy may strike around, over, or past the spear’s shaft and strike the wielder.
In a situation where the enemy has closed the melee distance and gotten inside a spear’s guard, the wielder must rely on their hand to hand skills and utilize either strikes, buttstrokes, haftstrikes, or grappling to get the enemy down or away to a distance where the spear may once more be effectively employed. Pursuant to that, armor will both provide in-close protection and augment the hand to hand strikes needed to reestablish guard distance. It would be very foolish indeed to underestimate the effectiveness of a punch, a knee, a headbutt, or a shoulder-ram with the added impact force of metal plating included.
Basic Strikes Edit
The thrust is the most simple and basic of all polearm strikes. It involves stepping towards the target and using the force provided by movement of the feet, knees, hips, shoulders, arms, and elbows to drive the spearhead of the polearm forward to pierce the target.
The thrust relies on the forward momentum to propel the head of the weapon into the target for maximum penetrating power. The thrust of a spear when landed solidly will cause immense tissue damage and inflict deep wounds that will cause massive blood loss and hemorrhagic shock (the condition of the body losing too much blood too quickly and shutting down, resulting in death) with varying effectiveness depending on the placement of the strike and whether major arteries or organs were struck. Generally speaking, any strike in the area from the groin to the face is guaranteed to cause death, with the time necessary for death depending on the severity of the strike. A solid thrust to the head, throat, heart, or lungs will very likely result in instant or near-instant death. Strikes that penetrate the stomach or other abdomen or groin areas will also result in death but may take longer, up to a few minutes. A strike to the legs, arms, or shoulders will tend to be more debilitating and thus opening the target up for a more definitive strike, unless this ancillary strike severed an artery, which will then cause the above mentioned death from blood loss over time.
A solid thrust will penetrate all but the heaviest and sturdiest armors. Plate armor will tend to deflect or blunt the thrust from a standard spear head such that it will not damage the enemy wearing it. Only a specialized armor-piercing headspike typically found on a halberd or other specialized/advanced polearm weapon will directly penetrate these heavier armors. Other armors from maille down to clothing will be penetrated by a solid strike, with the heavier armors of maille requiring a more direct strike and more strength behind the blow to negate its deflective properties (see above and the importance of accuracy afforded by ring drills).
When faced by an enemy in heavier armor, the spear-wielder will likely need to rely on combinations of grappling and buttstrokes to debilitate an enemy and open up their defenses for definitive strikes to weak spots where the armor is weak, such as behind the knees, the throat, or face.
The cut, while less naturally suited to a primarily thrusting weapon, still remains a viable method of attack. The spear’s head has sharp edges leading to the point that may be used to deliver a slashing or cutting attack when the position is proper.
It is important to note that heavier armors are almost completely resistant to this type of slashing or cutting motion. Any armor stronger than boiled leather will likely render this type of attack ineffective, however, it may still be useful against exposed skin. A deep cut to the neck or throat will almost certainly be fatal, while a similar cut to the face will be immensely distracting if not deadly.
In most other cases a cutting strike to the torso, arms, or legs will be used as a debilitating or distracting injury to open the enemy up to a more definitive and fatal strike.
Buttstroke and Haftstrike Edit
Some of the most underutilized striking methods of the polearm are the buttstroke and haftstrike. These blows, while rarely fatal, can be employed to great debilitating and distracting effect during the back and forth of a melee to allow for a more definitive strike to be set up.
These types of strikes will most often be used as a riposte/counter-attack maneuver after a parry due to the nature of the spear and where the butt (bottom) and haft (middle shaft) are on the weapon.
A buttstroke is a blunt force impact delivered with the bottom of the polearm’s shaft. This will typically be done following a parry or during a weapon deadlock. When an enemy is close enough to attack the polearm-wielder such that the attack must be stopped with the polearm as opposed to avoiding it with foot movement, the polearm wielder will find themselves too close to the enemy and with the head of their weapon pointed too far up to return with a thrust. At this point, the butt of the weapon can easily be shifted to strike the enemy around their guard before they can act. In other situations, the butt of the weapon can be driven straight down to impact a less armored foot. Such a blunt impact to the enemy’s foot, knee, abdomen, head, or groin will typically be a very debilitating/distracting blow that, if it does not knock them down or unconscious, will knock them off balance and leave an opening to strike them again before they can recover. The placement of the buttstroke will depend where the butt of the spear is in relation to the enemy after the parry or deadlock.
Similarly, when an enemy is in close following a parry or especially a deadlock, a haftstrike may be performed. The haftstrike is affected by suddenly and with great force driving the shaft of the spear forward to strike the enemy with the cross section for a blunt impact strike. If this strike is landed against the face or throat it will cause significant distraction to the enemy (if it doesn’t knock them out or down) and allow for a follow up attack. A haftstrike to the torso may be used to drive the enemy back and off balance so that the trainee may resume guard or follow up for another attack.
Basic Blocking/Parrying Edit
Regular blocking techniques that apply across all weapons shall be in effect with a polearm. However, it is important to consider the qualities of the polearm you are using when determining appropriate defensive techniques. The shaft of a polearm may be used to block and absorb a strike, however a simple wooden shaft is in danger of breaking under the weight of a significant blow, therefore parries should be used unless it is absolutely necessary to block. A polearm with a sturdier shaft or one that has been reinforced with metal will have more leeway in this regard.
The Right Parry is a motion to check and deflect an incoming attack towards the trainee. The Right Parry shall be used if an attack is coming in to the right of or below the spear. This shall be affected by shifting the polearm such that the shaft of the weapon impacts the incoming attack and causes it to deflect down and/or away.
Left Parry Edit
The Left Parry is a motion to check and deflect an incoming attack towards the trainee. The Left Parry shall be used if an attack is coming in to the left of or above the spear. This shall be affected by shifting the polearm such that the shaft of the weapon impacts the incoming attack and causes it to deflect up and/or away.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Weapon Type
Strong Thrust, Low Cut Edit
As indicated above in the section regarding the basic strikes, polearms are generally categorized by their emphasis on strong thrusting attacks while having less effective cutting/slashing options. There are more advanced or specialized polearm type weapons that do not follow this rule as heavily but these weapons are less commonly seen than the standard issue spear. As such, anyone wielding a spear should bear these characteristics in mind and prepare to adjust their fighting style as necessary to take advantage of the weapon type.
Long Reach, Exposed Guard
As indicated above in the sections on the two most common Guards, footwork, and the sections on the types of strikes, polearms enjoy a reach advantage over other weapon types because of the length of the weapons and the forward-motion of a thrust delivering the full power of the strike at the long end of its impact. However, because the head of the weapon is usually further away from the body, there is a defensive vulnerability against enemies that are successfully able to get past the head of the weapon and to stay inside of the polearm wielder’s guard by keeping themselves too close for a thrusting attack to be chambered. As such, the techniques for stunning an enemy and getting them away from the wielder should be studied carefully so that they don’t find themselves defenseless.
Versatile (Shield or Two Hand) Edit
While the sword has replaced the spear as the main weapon of choice for the standard infantry line, the spear remains an option for those that seek to switch between wielding their weapon with two hands or using it in conjunction with shield. This trait allows the spear to fit into either a main attack weapon role or to be used as a support weapon from behind a shieldwall, interchanging as necessary.