BOOK REVIEW. Viking Sword and Shield Fighting - Colin Richards

Posted by: Paul Waddington
Tagged in: reviews , books , battle , 2012

Viking Sword and Shield Fighting

This recently published book is of particular interest due to it being seemingly written specifically for helping train the re-enactment warrior to fight within the safe system used by most societies (pulled blows and limited target areas) rather than an attempt to understand the actual life and death combat of the period. Having said that though it is an attempt to recreate a safe form of combat that is as close as safely possible to how period swordplay might have been. 

The author has many years of experience of both Viking Age re-enactment combat and of the research and practice of historical European martial arts and uses both to create the system the basics of which are outlined in this book. Before going any further it is important to stress that any attempt to recreate ‘Viking’ combat  must of necessity lean heavily on either later medieval sources (fight manuals from the 14th-16th centuries),  practical experience,  a good deal of educated guesswork or all three due to the complete absence of sources for how warriors of the early medieval period actually used their weapons. This book is no exception and the author lists Giacomo di Grassi’s 1594 fencing manual as his primary source.

The book is well laid out, with plenty of photographs and takes the reader through the basics of footwork, griping and controlling the weapon and shield, the allowable target area and controlling blows before moving onto the meat of the book, namely stances, strikes and parries with a section at the end on common errors. I found the system of combat described to be solid enough, and while it contained some things I disagreed with (particularly in terms of aspects of shield use) the author certainly seems to have a pedigree that is worthy of anybody’s respect. The books biggest drawback is that it deals exclusively with single combat with a sword and shield against an identically equipped opponent, and contains nothing at all about group combat as part of an army which, makes up easily the biggest part of a Viking Age re-enactors combat experience, though as this is apparently the first book of a series that may be contained in subsequent books.

I will stress that this is a guide to the absolute basics and there is little that will surprise an experienced re-enactment fighter, while for the beginner it is no substitute for proper instruction from a reputable society, both though will probably find it useful and while perhaps a tad overpriced at about £20 if you have that much lying around I think I’d give it a tentative recommendation.

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