Guide: Intro to combat with the Cardiff Castle Garrison

Garrison members taking part in a battle at a show
Garrison members taking part in a battle at a multi-group show

In Cardiff Castle Garrison, you will have the opportunity to take part in medieval re-enactment fighting. You will be able to learn basic and more advanced combat skills in training sessions with us, and also take part in battles with various medieval re-enactment groups from across the country at some of our shows. The following is a brief overview of combat in the Garrison and more detailed information will follow in due course.

Combat with the Garrison is free-form contact fighting, fought with a variety of blunted steel weapons including swords, spears, knives and axes.

Battles and Shows

Cardiff Castle Garrison take part in combat displays for the public at several of our regular shows. These displays take various forms, from choreographed fights between two members to full scale battles with hundreds of participants from numerous medieval re-enactment societies.

Combat training

Cardiff Castle Garrison runs combat training every Thursday at Plasnewydd Community Hall, 2 Shakespeare Street, Cardiff, CF24 3ES, from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Anyone is welcome to come to these training sessions, even if you have had no previous martial arts experience, and if you are a new member your first session is free, otherwise training costs are £2.50 per session.

At these training sessions, you will be taught everything that you need to know to take part in combat at Garrison shows and battles. To take part, you will need clothes you can be active and move around comfortably in, and shoes that have grip and non-marking soles. Trainers are recommended.

Please note that you do not need authentic medieval kit for these weekly combat sessions.

Who can train?

Everyone over 16 is welcome at our combat training sessions, though if you are under 18 you need written permission from a parent or guardian to take part.

Note that women are more than welcome to join combat training sessions, and we have several female combatants, but if you are taking part in combat at re-enactment shows you will have to dress in authentic medieval male kit for the duration of the fighting.


Garrison uses several fourteenth-century weapons in combat. Here is an outline of the most common. New members do not need to bring any weapons to training sessions, as there are wooden swords available for learning basic strikes and blocks during the first sessions and an opportunity to borrow metal weapons from other group members later on.

Members are also welcome to buy their own metal weapons, if you are interested in doing this, please speak to the combat captain for advice because there are specific requirements for any weapons purchased, as to be used safely they need to be of a certain quality.


Swords are the standard weapon we train with. There are several types commonly used in the Garrison, from smaller single-hand swords to larger hand-and-a-half swords and heavier falchions.


These are another basic weapon that Garrison members use in combat, and are essentially a long knife. These work in a very similar way to swords except they are much shorter, tending to be circa 12 inches long and necessitate a different fighting style due to their shorter range.


Axes are single-hand weapons that can be used in a few additional ways to swords and daggers. Apart from basic hits and strikes, they may also be used to hook an opponent’s weapons and immobalise them, or hook open their shield, leaving them vulnerable.


Spears are a type of pole weapon and can either be long or short, with short (single handed) ones being circa 5ft and used either over or under arm in one hand. Long spears (double handed) are between 7 and 9ft long and can be used either individually or as part of a group or formation.

Basic Armour

There are some pieces of armour that are required as a minimum to take part in re-enactment battles or displays. These are outlined below. Please note that you can still come to and take part in training sessions without owning any of these, as the Garrison can lend you a helmet and gloves for practise.


A Gamberson (also known as an Aketon) is a long-sleeved padded jacket that normally goes to mid-thigh that gives protection from hits. It is the base-layer for any additional armour such as chain or plate, and the minimum level of protection required for combat at shows.


These can come in various styles with the most common including kettle helms (which look like a WWI British infantry helmet)  and the ‘secret helm’ formally known as a Cervelliere, which is a rounded skull cap type. You will be able to borrow one of these from the Garrison to practise with at training sessions.

Re-enforced gloves

These again can be borrowed from the group for training sessions but you will need your own authentic leather or armoured pair for combat displays/battles.

There are other weapons and armour types used in the Garrison and more detailed information on these will follow.

The basic strikes – ‘The eights’

There are 8 basic strikes with each of the weapons: A head shot (which never hits the target), to the right and left upper arms, to the right and left of the torso, the outside of the right and left thighs and an indirect thrust to the torso. These shots aim to make contact with the ‘hit zones’ shown in the image below:

The combat hit zones
The combat hit zones

All shots that are to hit the opponent must be made to look like a killing shot (i.e. fast and looking deadly) but must be pulled so as to not hit the opponent hard. We will train you how to do this effectively and safely.

As there are 8 basic strikes there are also 8 basic blocks to counter these. These will be taught alongside the basic strikes.

Basic combat test

If you wish to take part in combat displays or re-enactment battles with the Garrison you will need to pass the basic test with the weapon you intend to use when fighting. You can ask the combat captain to take a basic combat test when you feel you are ready.


Author: mikecorbett88

Hi I’m Mike. I have been a member of Cardiff Castle Garrison since 2007 and have previously been the Combat Captain. I am primarily interested in the martial side of re-enactment as I enjoy learning about the history of weapons and armour, and also love taking part in battle re-enactments. Having said that, I am getting more and more drawn into the living history side of things and am currently enjoying upgrading my soft kit to match the social status I portray when in my armour. If you have any questions about any of the posts I write, feel free to contact me.

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