Your shield is an important part of your defense. It is, however, far from the most important part. What is the most important part? Your feet (followed very, very closely by your hips). Defense is the skill of not allowing your body to be struck by a weapon. It is not the skill of blocking blows with your shield.

I'm going to talk about shields in this chapter very generally. Of all a fighter's equipment the shield is most often the most personal and idiosyncratic. It is often easier to lend out or borrow a helm which will work than it is to do the same with a shield.

But I have very particular ideas about shield specifics. My shield is always a curved heater. I recommend that it be no wider than shoulder width and no longer than from chin to crotch, slightly smaller actually. To install the strapping system I begin by attaching a rigid handle (I use a trusty 6 1/2" door handle) as close to the leading edge of the shield as possible and parallel to it and as close to the top as I can. I put it right in the dexter chief corner. I want my hand to be immobilized in the handle so I leave little or no slack between the shield and my gloved hand.

Then I pick up the shield by the handle and hold my forearm straight up. The elbow will be right at the shield's center of gravity. I mark where the strap should go at the widest part of my forearm. After the drilling and bolting, only microadjustments are made until I am happy with the shield. This system allows the user to let his elbow rest on his ribs. The weight of the shield is carried by bones, not arm muscles. My shields are 3/4" ply. With the various bits of metal and rimming, they come to about 14 lb.

But for now, whenever I say "shields," let it mean your own particular shield, be it heater, round, kite, wankel, buckler or any of the shield's multitudinous varieties. I hope most of what I say about shields will be applicable. Those of you who use very small shields or single grip round shields will have to sift and weigh what I say more carefully.

Shield principles are fairly straightforward. You want to move it as little as possible. You want to move it to as few regular locations as possible. That's it.

There are two ways to block with a shield. Either you meet the blow as quickly as you can, as far from your body as you can, or you let the sword get as close as it likes.

The first method is called "punch blocking" because you punch your shield at the incoming sword. The other method is called "static blocking" because you place your shield statically and wait for the blow to arrive.

Personally, I punch block above the waist and static block below. Of course, I start with my shield very open so that the shield edge is already about 30 inches from my helm.

Open and closed shields are not the same thing as opening up your swordside shoulder, but the concept is similar. "Opening up" means moving your shoulder forward. You determine whether a shield is open or closed by the gap between the shieldside hand and the swordside shoulder. Your shield is more closed the closer your shieldside hand is to your swordside shoulder. Typically, my shieldside hand is in a line with my shoulders. This is as open as possible.

Sometimes (not often, regularly only against a certain left-handed two sword fighting knight who is a half a foot taller than me) my shield is right against my shieldside shoulder. This is very closed, but because of my stance, my swordside shoulder is still all the way back.

Put on your shield. Have someone stand as though they have just hit the top of your helm with a sword. Lift the sword off your helm with your shield. This is how far you have to move the shield the majority of the time. It's usually a lot less movement than the beginner is making to block his helm.

I have only four places I put my shield:

  1. For head blows in front of my ears on my shieldside, I do nothing. My shield's already there.
  2. I have a leg block for all shieldside leg blows. I place the bottom tip of my shield against the center of my knee while bending my knees.
  3. For deep head blows on the shieldside, I begin a blow. I start to bring my hips forward and drop my spine. I often finish this blow. It disturbs my opponent.
  4. For blows to my swordside, so-called offside blows, I cock my swordside hip further back. My shoulders no longer are in a line with my feet so that my sword shoulder is behind the heel of my swordside foot. I am now even more cocked to throw a blow than usual. Guess what I do?

My shield is held up by my skeleton and moved by my hips. My bones are better and stronger hooks than my arms. My hips are stronger than my puny arm muscles. Hips. Let me repeat that. Hips. Not arms. Let me repeat that. Hips. Not arms.

But that's it. Four places. No blow I've yet encountered hits me if I'm in proper stance and I react to my opponent's blow normally. (Big ifs.) Find the fewest number of places which block all blows for you. Do the minimum of heavy lifting. And you have your shield work down pat.


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