Well, you must admit that this is unusual. People have often asked me what my favourite weapon is and my response has always been “Whatever I have in my hand when I’m attacked.” It’s axiomatic that you don’t always get to choose with what you defend yourself and I suppose if two farmers ended up contending in the hay field, this might be an option. (I assume that the rather high-end clothing in which the combatants are depicted is just an artistic convention)
First, a little background on the commissioner of this work:
Paulus Hector Mair (1517 – 1579) was a civil servant in Augsburg. An active practitioner of the martial arts, he was also a passionate collector of Fechtbucher and set about to compile a sort of Grand Treatise – a collection of all the knowledge of the accumulative fighting arts of his day. To help with this ambitious project, he commissioned Jorg Breu the Younger as artist, and engaged two experienced sword practitioners who were charged with testing and validating all the techniques prior to their being painted. This process (since this monumental work included two volumes, the first encompassing the Longsword, Dussack, Staff, Pike, Halberd, the sickle, the sythe and wrestling, and the second volume expounding on the Dagger, the Spanish Rapier, Battle Axe, mounted combat and tournament combat, plus judicial combat and fighting in armour – shield, spear and longsword) took roughly four years to complete. Three versions of this treatise plus one later-published and lesser explicit manuscript are known to exist.
Unfortunately, this process consumed most of his personal and family fortune. Equally unfortunately, Mair apparently had a somewhat extravagant lifestyle which included lavish and frequent entertaining. This led to the imprudent embezzlement of city funds, and when this was discovered, he was hanged for theft at age 62. Not the most glorious of endings.
However, his manuscript is the most inclusive single source of contemporary combat styles, a sort of one-stop shopping for the practice of fighting skills of the day.
So: the sickle.
First, physically, this was never intended to be a fighting weapon. As a result, there are certain limitations in its design. Obviously, it has a point, but its position doesn’t allow for the maximum concentration of force such as is inherent in the comparable Japanese sickle, the Okinawa Kama. It does, however, have rather nasty ripping ability. Some of his techniques definitely depict a point attack to the face.
The edge, naturally, is restricted to the inside curve of the blade. It is because of this curvature (and the relatively light weight) that the sickle doesn’t cut very well percussively. To cut at all, at least in terms of inflicting a cut of any significant size, it’s necessary to strike, then pull back towards yourself, inflicting a tearing wound or pulling the weapon upwards in order to involve the upper third of the inside edge nearest the point. Another way would be to strike with the central area of the inside edge (which would allow maximum impact) and forcefully rotate the weapon towards or away from yourself, depending on the target being struck, in order to involve the greatest degree of moving edge contact. There are a few pictures that depict what appears to be a cut being delivered by the back of the sickle. This, of course, would be futile since the sickle’s back is similar to the spine of a single-edged sword and not really capable of being sharpened.
Naturally, it is also capable of hooking, which, as the treatise demonstrates, can be used to stop and re-direct a blow by targeting your opponent’s sickle-arm, executing a hook behind the neck to drag him towards you (which could easily involve the carotid artery utilizing a left or right rotating drawing action) or hooking him behind the knee and pulling him off balance.
There is also a rather horrendous depiction of directing the sickle in between his legs and inserting the point up the rectum – definitely an attention-getter.
Mair also advocates a stance that leads with the right foot with the sickle in the right hand. He also describes several techniques in which one uses the left hand to seize your opponent’s sickle arm to block a blow, and to deflect it way. He also advocates, in some positions, to hide your left hand under your sickle-arm, and also to displace your forward foot to the outside of your opponent’s forward foot, or, in some cases, depending on your opponent’s stance, to hold the sickle low in the manner of some Dussack positions with the left hand on the left hip. He also advises passing forward on the left foot for defense-attack combinations as well as combination left-right foot passes to press your attack once the incoming sickle arm has been seized or deflected to the left or the right, depending on the nature of his attack. He also instructs that if your opponent has managed to hook your weapon arm and pulls, to follow the pull by passing forward.
In some circumstances, he advises to control your opponent’s weapon arm from the elbow on the outside of the arm. Many of his strikes are to disable the weapon arm, including one that cuts the triceps muscle just above the elbow which would disable the entire arm.
There are also depicted techniques which place the left foot, after executing a pass, in direct contact with your opponent’s forward right foot on the inside, ostensibly to hinder further movement. And, as one might expect, there are techniques showing the use of the sickle to directly parry and hook your opponent’s weapon. This particular technique should be executed more as a deflective beat to prevent your weapon, due to the curvature of the blade, from becoming ensnared on the opposing blade which would inhibit a quick and decisive counter attack.
I could go on, but this site isn’t specifically intended to teach technique, especially something so esoteric, but to expose to aficionados of historical Western European combat techniques to both mainstream and unusual combat forms. This is certainly the latter.
Examine the pictures included in this post with regard to the text I’ve provided. And if you are going to attempt to reproduce any of the techniques, it should go without saying that you must proceed slowly, use dull or edgeless reproduction weapons with completely rebated points and should wear a fencing helmet and full neck protection.