In today's video blog we explore how a targe or buckler made of mild steel or iron can be used to catch or bind the sword of an opponent. When a sharp sword strikes the edge of one of these shields it bites into the edge, creating substantial friction that can be exploited by the person holding the shield to move the sword off-line.
This highlights one of the ways that fighting with sharp swords is different from training with blunts. Blunt swords do not bind in the same way. It is also helpful in understanding why a softer material like ductile iron or even wood might be preferable to hardened steel for certain applications. Even though a softer shield is more likely to be damaged during a sword fight than a harder example might be, such sacrificial damage was probably intended to produce a tactical advantage for the combatant using the shield.
A plate from Giacomo Di Grassi's 1570 "Discourse on the wielding of arms with safety", demonstrating how one may peer over the shield while maintaining a guard.
This is important because it is contrary to the way that modern sword fighters often talk about the use and durability of training items as though harder steel is always better. This is a clear example of how the material needs to be matched to its intended function.
Square targe or buckler in Achille Marozzo's 1536 "Opera Nova"
Below are examples of two extant square target shields, from the Wallace Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of NY, respectively. An important design feature of these square shields is the wave-like profile which aids in capturing the point of the opponents sword and preventing it from sliding off and striking the body.
Arms & Armor Square Target with belt hook
Square Target with stop ribs and central hook custom by Arms & Armor Inc.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.