Thursday, December 29, 2005

Edged Weapons I

In my last tactical post, I promised to speak on edged weapons. I thought about giving an exhaustive overview of knives, swords, spears, and other slicey/pokey things until it occurred to me that such a list, fun as it would be to make it, would be of very limited utility to our readers. For the most part, edged weapons require a fair amount of training. As the kids in Flock Hall can vouch, fighting successfully with even something as simple as a 16" dagger takes footwork, timing, and practice, practice, practice. All of these are commodities that will likely be in short supply when the dead rise, so I have decided to limit this discussion to the two edged weapons which are simplest to use, and most useful overall - the spear and the camp knife. We will cover the spear first.

The Spear
The spear is much like the game of chess; it takes an afternoon to learn the basic moves, but a lifetime to master. I selected it for our purposes because it is the simplest of the major edged weapons to use reasonably well, and the least likely to injure the inexperienced (you'd be surprised how easy it is to smack yourself in the shins with an axe or sword). Anyone with two hands and ordinary mobility can deal out lethal blows, and the long shaft affords the wielder a lot of room for error and second chances.

For our purposes, a spear shall be defined as a long stick (at least 4 feet) with a pointed tip. The non-weapon usefulness of such an implement should be readily apparent to horror movie watchers. How many times would the folks in horror movies survive longer if they just had a handy stick with which to poke and prod things? Don't stick you head up (or down) into that dark attic (or cellar) - use your spear. Don't push the door open with your hand - use your spear. Don't try the rickety stairs with your body weight - use your spear. Don't roll the monster over by hand to see if it's dead - use your friggin' spear!

If you have your doubts about the effectiveness of the spear against the undead, I would point you to John Carpenter's Vampires. Those guys were tearing up the suckheads with spears - until the big daddy vampire arrived. If it can work that well against intelligent, free-willed blood monkeys, it should be more than capable against the shambling idiots we will be facing.

The principle attack mode of the spear is thrusting, but many also incorporate edges sharp enough for slashing. Some spears (more appropriately called javelins) are balanced for throwing as well, but I do not advocate the throwing away of a perfectly good weapon, so you needn't worry about balance much. The spear can be used as a solo weapon, but it is usually best employed in teams - 1 guy with a spear, and from 1 to 3 or 4 with mass weapons. Don't go solo - you may feel that your teammates are a liability, but they will prove important when the action gets thick. At the very least, it gives the dead guys someone else to chomp on...

The spear may be improvised quite easily - any sturdy rake handle can be broken off and sharpened (using your camp knife) to a dangerous point. Although numerous replica spears can obtained on the internet, most are designed to be wall-hangers. Very few combine a quality shaft with a sharp, stiff head to make them worth their inflated prices. If you feel the urge to purchase one, take a look at the Cold Steel Boar Spear. It's not much to look at, but it's got a tempered head with crossguards to keep the impaled ravening undead from running up the ash shaft at you, and it's relatively cheap.

The best thing about a spear in combat is reach. With even a small spear, you should be able to stick any on-rushing brain muncher before he can come close to grabbing you. It does take a bit of training, but medieval armies used to go to battle with peasant pike levies that had no formal fighting training at all - they taught them how to march and how to hold a pike, but not how to fight with it. Just think of it; by reading this brief article, you will already be better trained than the brave men of William Wallace's schiltron! "They may take our lives, but they'll never take our BRAINS!"

Assume a basic fighting stance. (If you don't have a basic fighting stance, concentrate on making friends who do.) Place your rear hand, palm down, on the butt of the shaft, and support the rest of the spear in your forward hand, palm up. (If you do not understand "rear hand" and "forward hand" in this context, you do not, in fact, have a fighting stance. See above.) Employ the spear with a pool cue type motion, allowing it to slide smoothly on your forward hand as you thrust. Aim for the torso - anywhere in the rib area will do.

A lot of people miss completely when they try to use a spear for the first time. It is not as easy as it sounds; the rear hand has a tendency to push the tip off line as it comes forward. The trick that fixes this, is the touch and thrust. As the target approaches, reach out with both hands and touch his chest with the tip of the spear. Once you have made contact, just push it in with the rear hand. I know it sounds crazy, but this deceptively easy technique has worked on battlefields since the hoplites fought for their city states, and it continues to work even now on historical recreation battlefields every weekend. Once you master it, you can back off and try thrusts from greater and greater ranges, until you can thrust accurately with full extension.

Obviously, a poke in the torso will not end your opponent's unlife, but here is where the spear's other great advantage - leverage - comes into play. By lodging your spear in the deathpuppet's guts, you have effectively attached a long handle to his fragrant carcass. Using this new-found mechanical advantage, you should have little trouble pushing/pulling/tripping him to the ground. Once he is down you have many options, including flight, using a shorter weapon to finish him off, or holding him down while your teammates club him in the head (see, I told you they were important).

If you are alone or facing just one zombie, you can use my personal favorite, the heroic coup de grace. This last bit is risky (but very cool) and should only be attempted when imminent danger of further attack is minimal. Place your foot on the rotter's neck to hold him down, and wrench your spear free. Hold the tip just over his face and deliver a tough guy line - something like, "Let me help you see my point..." - then ram the spear into his brain through an eye socket. That's just beautiful, man.

In my next post, we will examine the humble camp knife, and why it should be in every zombie survival kit. Until then, sharpen up your broom handles!