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Tips for using a spear
uta-pri - tokiya
featherfire wrote in little_details
My MC grew up in a modern city. He's never been in so much as a fistfight, let alone used any weapon. Now he's stuck in an alternate universe, about to face a bunch of enemies. I've given him a medium-length spear (I figured it would be lighter and easier to handle than a sword, have more range than a knife so he won't need to get all up in his opponent's face, and take less skill than a bow and arrow... feel free to correct me if I'm wrong or anyone wants to suggest another weapon), and he's had about... four days of practice with it. He has friends with him... he's human and they're quadrupeds, but they're much more skilled at fighting than he is. His boyfriend will likely have given him a few tips on how to hold and carry the spear... he doesn't use weapons himself but he has some knowledge of their use. So my question is... what pointers (no pun intended >>) might the boyfriend have given him? What tips would be useful for a city boy scared out of his mind with next to no practice at fighting with a spear?

I've googled "using a spear," "using spear in battle," "battle reenactment spear" and various other related searches, but google keeps wanting me to go spearfishing or buy replica spears for RP. >> The one thing I have found is to keep the point lowered, toward the opponent's chest, and to avoid letting it point up and aimed at their face... is that even accurate? I don't know. Halp?

Edit: M'gawd, you guys, I think this is the most comments I've ever gotten to a post here. XD You guys have given me SO much good info and a lot to think about... though I'm still no closer to figuring out my issue. XD I'm considering giving him a mace... possibly a shield, and possibly sticking him on the back of one of his friends (not their main fighter, but the younger guy who's never seen any actual battle).

A spear is a complicated and unhandy weapon. A sword is much easier to use. Even without any practice, he'd have some chance to do damage, simply cutting/slashing at random; a spear they would probably just take away from him before he even takes aim. (That's also the one and only pointer I would give him - try not to lose it.)

I agree that the spear is not the best of weapons. It only has a small part that can cause damage (I can't imagine it doing much harm if he uses it to bludgeon someone).

This wiki article has some info re: how the Vikings used spears in battle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_spear#Spear .

http://www.lloydianaspects.co.uk/weapons/spear.html Here's some quite detailed information on how to hold/use a spear in battle but I'm not sure of it's accuracy.

If his opponents have bows...well, any impact weapon is likely to be useless. A crossbow needs far less skill than a long bow, and four days' practice might make him some help to his own side. And a spear has only one cast.

If it's impact weapons on both sides, then if he uses a halberd or naginata-like weapon, the shaft can be used in defense, and I should think giving him an effective defense would be the best they could do.

(I've read some temporal castaway copying the retarii, andusing net and boar spear with both surprise and effect. Would that be practicable?)


Ah, no, I should have mentioned... his opponents don't have weapons either. They use magic and the fact that the oils in their skin are caustic (if they get hold of you, you're in trouble). The fact that he has a weapon is just for... sort of insurance, I guess, so he doesn't feel like a burden to his companions. I thought about a crossbow, but I thought loading it would take too much time? and he'd also need some sort of aim to use one... maybe he would surprise me by having good aim, or maybe by the time he was shooting arrows at anyone, they'd be close enough that bad aim wouldn't matter...

you might try searching javelin - I spotted a bunch of you tube videos. No doubt they're more focused on the athletic event, but the throwing mechanics should hold

Unless it has a fairly large blade on it to slash with, spears are an actual pain to use correctly, especially against a fighter who's trained and knows how to get in close against one. He'd be better off with a mace of some sort - heavy blunt sticks are pretty simple, even when you add spikes or flanges. There's also something to be said for a handaxe.

Is he facing these enemies alone? Are the enemies quadruped or biped? And what sort of weapons (and armor) are they wearing?

Aren't maces heavy, though? He's not all that strong... he's sort of a wimp, so he might not even be able to lift it. XD

The enemies are both quadrupeds and bipeds, but their only weapon is their magic, the corrosive oils in their skin, and I suppose hooves and teeth for the quadrupeds, but they don't tend to use those when they fight. They're expecting to fight magic, so it's doubtful they'll be wearing any armor. He's not alone... though only one of his companions (the aforementioned boyfriend) has seen any actual battle. Him having a weapon is mostly so he doesn't feel like as much of a burden as he is... he's hoping he won't have to do any fighting, since he has no idea what he's doing... and the others will be trying to protect him as well.

(Reference notes: I've done some spear fighting in Belegarth and I've done a few drills with SCA fighters. I am not an expert. Not even close.)

A spear is most effective when you're in a group and the guy next to you also has a spear. Then you can defend each other and poke each other's enemies and generally be pointy battle-buddies. It's more difficult when you're by yourself, but not still not too bad.

The big thing is that a spear stops being useful the moment the enemy gets closer to you than the point end is. Someone fighting with a spear will probably spend a lot of time retreating to make sure that the person they're fighting doesn't get past the tip. A spear's best advantage is the range. Therefore, he should have his dominant hand as far back on the haft as he can, in order to fully utilize that reach. His other hand should be used to help stabilize it.

If someone does get past the pointy end and close enough to threaten, he can lift the end of the spear so the haft is helping him block any attacks (while he backpeddles furiously).

If he really wants to surprise someone, he could lunge forward (letting go with the non-dominant hand) and extend his dominant hand. (I had a MS paint demonstration, but my computer decided it hates photobucket and imgur. Argh...) However, doing so will make his grip on the spear much weaker.

If they have four days, his boyfriend might have him just practicing drills. Specifically, he'd be practicing hitting what he aiming at. Maybe have a few spots at head/torso height painted on a wall. Tell him to practice hitting those spots until what he's trying to hit is what he hits.

Movement mechanics: A spear is heavier than it looks. He'd probably be swinging both arms forward and up (possibly while taking a step forward). Mechanics for making a solid hit with a spear are easier to learn than mechanics for hitting someone solidly with a sword. (I'm not sure how solid a sword hit needs to be to kill someone, though.)

As a note, someone who's attacking him will probably try to rush him. If they have a shield, they'll use that to push the spear to one side while push past it. If they don't have a shield and do have a free hand, they might try to grab the haft and grapple or pull the spear away from him, but that would be very risky for them.

Something that will absolutely help he stay alive in the battle is to stay close to an ally. That way, if someone does get past his spear, there will be a friend nearby to help kill them while they're busy tripping over the haft. (A formation I see in Bel a lot is a spear-fighter/swordfighter duo. The spear pokes at you, and the sword stays back as insurance that you won't jump forward and kill the spear-bearer.)

(I tried to do MS paint illustrations, but my computer decided it won't let me upload photos to the internet. Stupid adobe crashes.)

Edited at 2013-02-05 05:33 am (UTC)

Ah, so much detail, thank you! I'm reconsidering the spear idea and he might get a sword, but your advice will be quite helpful if I do decide to stay with a spear. His enemies won't have weapons or armor, because mostly they fight with magic, but they'll definitely be rushing at him. And he'll be as close as he can get to his companions, without getting in their way. They know how to fight. >>

My experience is fairly limited, in terms of using a staff and spear in Aikido for two years. Which might actually be a good thing for this specific situation, as I can remember the absolute n00b stuff:

1. Grab firmly with the ring and little finger. These are far more important for gripping than index finger.
2. Twist while thrust.
3. Oil the wood often, or enjoy picking out splinters.
4. It takes forever to be able to do the "whoosh".

The other random note is, what surprised me most is how much it vibrates when I block with the staff. You get used to it soon enough, but the first time it happened was quite mindblowing.

Dang, I didn't even take splinters into account. Duh, it's made of wood. I'm reconsidering the spear idea, I might give him a a sword... but if I do go with a spear, 1 and 2 are definitely good, thank you!

In ancient and medieval Europe, spear use mostly fell into these categories:

1. On horseback for stabbing (either downward or as a couched lance) or throwing (as used in the Petrinos manoeuvre, originated by the Gauls but used by the Romans)
2. For throwing (this included the Roman army and the Anglo-Saxons)
3. Really long ones (sarissa, pike) as part of a defensive/offensive line (the entire line moves forward slowly in unison). Shorter spears could also be used as part of a shield-wall, but there still need to be a significant number of similarly armed men in the line.

I can't think of any group who used spears in the manner which you have in mind, so I'm afraid I can't give you any help from my historical knowledge. If he came from a rural community, including a modern one, I would recommend an axe, but in the circumstances I can't think of any weapon that he could become sufficiently skilled with in that short a time. If he is using a spear, a big thing to remember is the weight of nearly all weapons, and their reach; if he is using a shorter spear than the people he is up against, he is in trouble.

I figured the spear would be for thrusting/stabbing. Not too long, and not thrown (cause if he threw it, he'd lose it, wouldn't he?). But I'm really considering getting him a sword now... a sword is apparently lighter and easier to learn with such little time.

My advice to him is "Run away". Or failing that, stay at the back and let his skilled friends do the work, not getting in their way.

Running away isn't an option unfortunately... but he is going to try his damndest not to get in the way. The weapon is only for insurance, so he has something in case he gets caught with no one to protect him.

I've used spear and sword in limited reneactment environments - free fighting, but blunt steel not sharp, and all blows pulled.
A spear is NOT light. It's quite a bit heavier than most swords, and harder to handle. The advantage it has over a sword is economics: it's cheap. It's basically a bit of wood, after all, and that grows on trees. Swords take a skilled smith months to make.
If his friends can get him a sword, give him a sword, it's much better and easier to use for a beginner (though still not "easy" in the sense of modern firearms).
One alternative you might want to consider is quarterstaff. Even cheaper than a spear, but designed for one-on-one use rather than the close formation miiltary use of spears that others have described. It's still harder to use than a sword, but IF you know what you're doing, possibly even more effective. Good as a purely defensive weapon, if you want him to just keep the enemy from hurting him while his friends finish them off. He won't be killing anything (it can be done, just not by him), but he probably won't be killed, either.

I figured a stick with a hunk of metal on the end would be lighter than a weapon made entirely of metal, but this is why I come to you guys... you all know a hell of a lot better than me. I do see how it would be unwieldy, though. I might give him a sword... they can get him a sword. Any tips on what kind of sword? He's really not a strong guy, so he needs something lightweight.

A better set of weapons might be a sword and a buckler - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckler.

But if he has no experience and he up against skilled fighters, he's screwed. I took some fencing lessons with an SCA group and the experienced ones could just win because they had serious skills.

God no. That style is very hard to use properly - google I33. Tiny little buckler has to be coordinated with sword. Mostly when I met people like that on the reenactment field I hit them lots. Not a beginners weapon.

A spear in two hands, however, at least has the possibility of keeping the other guy at bay.

If you want to research this further, they keywords you are looking for are HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) and WMA (Western Martial Arts)

Youtube is potentially your friend: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hema+spear&oq=hema+spear&gs_l=youtube.3...2142.3939.0.4042.10.10.0.0.0.0.122.648.9j1.10.0...0.0...1ac.1.ebUC6-keGvo

Four days of practice is not going to make him effective with any pre-modern weapon (especially being trained by someone who isn't actually an experienced fighter either). If he's a big strong guy, some kind of stick/club/staff is probably the best thing for him to use -- it's going to be mostly a defensive weapon, but he may be able to fend people off with it. A sword would also give him some chance defensively, even if he's probably not going to kill anybody with it.

But best would be to stay out of the fight. If his opponents are experienced with their weapons, he has very little chance of coming out of it in one piece.

He's about the complete opposite of big and strong. He's a skinny white boy. >> He's going to be doing his damndest to stay out of the fight... the weapon is mostly for insurance, so he doesn't feel like a burden and in case he gets caught with no one around to protect him. But from your and other comments, I am really considering getting him a sword instead of a spear. His opponents are using magic rather than weapons, so if he can connect with some sort of pointy object before they can touch him, he'll be okay. I just figured a spear would be lighter (wrong) and easier to learn (also wrong).

If he can't lift a spear ( a six foot lump of hardwood) or spear like weapon then a sword is also going to be out of the question, plus a sword is not a pick up and use weapon in anything other than a hack away kind of way. There is a reason they were nobleman's weapons. They were expensive and showed you had the kind of money to blow on something expensive and the free time to practice using it. Four days, even of intensive training, is not going to (excuse the pun) cut it.

Unless you've had sword training then any picking up of a sword, which are heavy too, is going to result in hacking away as if it were a very unwieldy and expensive axe. And axe, or mace would probably be a better option, because at least they are designed for exactly the type of fighting style that a newbie fighter would be doing (all hack and smash). I know you are worried about weight, but they aren't so heavy that an average teenager, even a wimpy kid, couldn't pick up and use. Maybe not use for prolonged periods, but lets face it, against a halfway competent opponent any fight is going to be over in ten minutes one way or another.

What tips would be useful for a city boy scared out of his mind with next to no practice at fighting
Get drunk so you don't feel scared. Everyone pisses themself in their first battle, don't worry about it. Aim for the centre of mass (or aim for the belly if handling a blade weapon) it's easier. You're probably going to die. Blood is slippery, try not to step in any. The next time will be easier. If you get them down, ffs don't stop hitting them until you are sure they are beyond dead, then hit them a few more times because mercy will get you killed. Whatever you are going to do, do it fast before you lose your nerve or they work out you've no clue. It is going to hurt when they get a blow in, try not to wince. Everything you saw on tv or in a video game will get you killed. No, really, get drunk.


Honestly though if he has friends with him who are more experienced at fighting, then the advice should be "stay behind us and don't get in the way" because if he has never even been in a fist fight and has only four days of practice, he is going to die. Worse, if the people who he is with are used to fighting, he might get in their way and get them killed too.

Lol, getting drunk isn't really an option, unfortunately. He's encountered these enemies before, so he's not completely unprepared, he's just never had to actually fight them before. He is going to try his best to stay out of the battle, but he needs something in case he gets caught with no one to protect him. Only one of them is actually experienced at fighting... the others are actually a little kid (though she actually has a few battles under her tiny belt) and a teenager who has had training, but no actual experience. I'm actually honestly not sure how I'm going to get them out of this alive in a realistic fashion. XD

I might consider an axe, or maybe a mace... if they are, as you say, not too heavy for a skinny kid to use... doesn't take much skill to swing one of those around, right?

I forged and put a spear together with a lot of help when I was about 16... all I can tell you is that if you ARE throwing a spear, it's based on an overhand throw, and I was really awful at it. I am female and not particularly coordinated, and no one had bothered to ever have me throw overhand before, because basically, in sports and life, I only really barely need to throw underhand.

Holding a weapon gets tiring after a while, I did fencing classes two times a week for two hours at a time, and my arms got stronger really from just holding a foil, which is not particularly heavy.

ETA: It really could have even been just from holding my arms up all the time during fencing.

Good luck, it looks like you are looking for something other than spear throwing anyway.

Edited at 2013-02-05 02:09 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I never wanted the spear to be thrown, I wanted him to keep hold of it and thrust with it. But thank you!

The Zulus did a lot of close fighting with spears http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impi#Weapons_and_shields. I have no idea how much training or ability it took to use them, but I suspect it was a lot. I also remember seeing a diagram on spear vs. sword in Japanese fighting, and the spearman would go for the enemy's feet and legs a lot.

I have to agree with all the others who said a spear is harder to use and less useful than other weapons; some kind of polearm would work better, having thrust/slash/stab capabilities-halberd, naginata. It can be used as a quarterstaff in close fighting, also difficult, but a metal clad butt can give you another bludgeon or stabbing weapon.

But if you want something he might pick up quickly and actually do some good, what about the atlatl-shorter, lighter spears(aka darts) with increased throwing power, and it's common to keep several darts handy. Powerful- in trials, a stone spear point can actually be thrown through plate armor. A friend runs the local throws, and I've seen noobs come in and score high at throwing competitions after just a little practice. eta to add the links *headdesk*
http://www.youtube.com/user/atlatlwy
www.youtube.com/user/atlatlwy
copperculture.homestead.com/Atlatl.html
www.ilovehistory.utah.gov/fun_stuff/how_to_make_an_atlatl.pdf
http://www.worldatlatl.org/WhatisAtlatl_HowtoThrow.html

Edited at 2013-02-05 03:04 pm (UTC)

The other problem I don't see mentioned a lot here is that of actually hitting somebody, getting on target--and then having the weapon trapped in the wound. Literally, without skill to get it free, it will hang up in that enemy's body. Then the other guys pile onto you while your weapon is hung up. It's a serious consideration in sword work, and it would be more so in something like a spear. Quarter staff might be better, although if you can poke out the end of it, it can have the same risks of getting trapped and held up. His biggest problem, honestly, is to stay out of the way of his friends during the fight without getting in their way and getting them in trouble. He'd do better to hang back and keep an eye out to watch for the sides and back of their position, and draw their attention with signals of some kind--now that would be useful.

Ah, that definitely is something to take into consideration. He's definitely going to be trying to stay back and out of the way as much as possible, but he'd probably freak out if his weapon got stuck and he couldn't get it out... then he really would get in the way. Thank you very much!

I don't know how feasible would be for you, but I thought throwing a random idea out might not hurt.

I'm a fan of a certain series of books whose grew up in a (medieval-era-type) city. He is a knife fighter and decent at hand-to-hand combat, but when he leaves the city and engages in actual battles, these skills aren't nearly as practical. One of his friends gives him a pouch of small objects comparable to throwing stars, which I think could be useful here. They are given to him specifically because they require very little training or skill to use.

A throwing star is essentially a flat disk cut into the shape of blades, which means that it requires some training and skill to hit the target with one of the points instead of the flat side, and to learn to aim it well. These objects I'm describing are more like balls of spikes (like a sea urchin), which means that they will always do damage, no matter how they hit their target. If your MC played ball, or even was just good at skipping stones on the water, he would likely be competent with these without any practice at all. Even if he isn't, he can easily practice by throwing rocks, even while on the move. Dipping them in a fast-acting poison would make them even more dangerous, but he would probably want to wear leather gloves to keep from accidentally cutting and poisoning himself.

The drawback to this is that, being made of metal, they would be a bit heavy, so he probably wouldn't be carrying more than a pouch of 10-20 at a time. This would also mean that he'd probably have to retrieve them from dead bodies after use. Since aiming them is much less precise than with a bow and arrow, he would also have to be very careful about not hitting one of his friends

Hm... it's a fairly good idea, though the retrieving part would be quite difficult. But I'll give that some thought. He's not into sports at all but I'm sure he's played some baseball or softball, so he'd have at least some experience throwing stuff like that. Thank you!

For someone with no prior training, neither spear or sword is a good idea.

Between the two, swords are the worst. You have to be aware of {zero, one} point and {zero, one, two} edges, on offense both the distance and where your hand is on defense. (Yes, the weapon _will_ be an active part of the defense even if you have a shield.) There's a reason knights in the Middle Ages started training at age seven.

Spear (and quarterstaff) ... on the one hand, you have the possibility of reach, and you can use both hands to generate power and speed for either stabbing or smashing. On defense, two-handed blocks are moderately intuitive and can stop pretty much any smashing/cutting attack. On the other hand, as was mentioned the reach thing is also a liability; when - not if, _when_ - they get inside you're in BIG trouble. (Yes, there are _really_ cool things you can do with spear/staff. They take years - sometimes decades - of training and practice to get to the point where you can rely on them as your first choice for staying alive.)

The traditional set-up for a complete novice is a small/medium shield and either a club or a hatchet-sized axe. The shield will make up for a lot of defensive errors, and using clubs and axes is pretty much hard-wired: hit with the far end.

Bringing a shield with him, even a small one, where they're going would be kind of a pain in the butt... but plenty of people have suggested a shield... so maybe they'll have to just suck it up and give him a shield, and maybe a club. So if someone gets behind his shield he can swing at them with the weighty end.