On Fighting Small Creatures – Lessons Learned From My Son

When I was in college, Nerf™ released their first swords and bow and I quickly had a makeshift armory hanging in my dorm room. A few years ago, they started their N-Force™ line, which includes swords, a mace, a battle axe, and other goodies. I have most everything in this line and my son and I go outside and play with them. As he has grown, Nerf™ weapons proved to be a bad choice for our style of play – the foam on the swords are not thick or dense enough to protect against the plastic core. I’d rather let him swing as hard as he can, so we have moved to full contact swords like those found at Forged Foam . I hope to make some swords of my own (he wants an axe) and share those projects here.

During our battles, I made some observations about fighting smaller opponents. Before my experience, I thought that the primary factors in a combat like this would be reach and target size. What I hadn’t considered is the effect of angle. Your opponent is not just small, but is also low, and that changes a lot. If you are using a long weapon, like a spear, the angle isn’t so bad; but most of my observations are based on using a sword. Before continuing, please understand that I’m just some random guy with no particular authority on historical combat – take my ideas with many grains of salt and feel free to add your own observations and ideas.

The Head is Almost the Only Target

Obviously, I’m not trying to club my son on the head, but it takes a lot of effort to swing at any other part of the body.  You have to swing very low in order to hit any part of the body other than the head or maybe the shoulders. In real combat, this isn’t a bad thing, the head and neck are excellent targets. However, it does mean that any helmet worn by the small opponent matters alot. A kettle helm would act similar to a buckler, providing a cone of protection against downward swings. Your swings are also easier to block, since many will be coming downward.

Your Reach Isn’t as Good as You Think It Is . . .

Your sword is at maximum reach when you are holding it straight out from your shoulder. As you aim downward, you are effectively shortening your reach. You may still have the advantage over your opponent, especially if he has a proportionately shorter blade, but it’s just not nearly what you think it is.

. . . Unless You Take Advantage of Footwork

You can cover a lot more distance in a single step than your opponent. You can engage and disengage your opponent easily. You can use your stride to your advantage to control the combat.

Your Shield Might Be Useless

I like shields. There is a reason why they are so prevalent throughout history – they work. Your shield design matters. Most shields are designed to primary protect the upper body and the upper legs. If the shield is strapped to the arm, instead of using a boss grip, then it is very difficult to drop your shield enough. This makes it very difficult to block a low, horizontal swing – which is exactly the way you are being attacked.

This requires a longer shield, but you don’t want anything that hampers your ability to maneuver (see above). I just built a boss-grip long shield with the grip up towards the top. We haven’t tried it out yet, but I am hopeful. Until then, I have found that an off-handed sword, carried in a low guard, seems to work the best.

 So what are the best tools and approaches?

For the larger combatant: You need to protect your lower body. Note that most plate and scale armor overlaps top-over-bottom. Against a small opponent, this creates gaps that a small opponent can exploit unless you have additional armor underneath, like mail under a suit of plate. For weapons, I’d go with bashing weapon that is likely to dent an opponent’s helmet.

For the smaller combatant. The helmet is the most important line of defense, a kettle helm will really help. A long weapon is useful, but I’d use a slashing weapon, like a glaive, instead of a thrusting weapon like a spear.

These are just my thoughts on the subject. Let me know what you think. The way my son is growing, my size advantage won’t last for long 🙂

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