Guide: Basic combat test

Anyone who wishes to take part in combat displays or battle re-enactments with the Cardiff Castle Garrison will need to pass the basic combat test before being allowed onto the field. Below is a copy of the official basic combat test document. The test is intended to ensure that anyone who wishes to fight is able to do so safely, but also in a convincing manner, making their displays look real while minimising the risk of injury both to themselves and to others. Anyone wishing to take the test please contact the combat captain, either at Garrison social or training sessions or by emailing cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com.

Though the test can seem daunting at first, it is not as difficult as it sounds, and the combat captain will teach you all the skills necessary to pass the test within Garrison’s Thursday combat training sessions, and will ensure that you have the potential to pass before testing you.

If you have any questions about the test then feel free to contact the combat captain.

The Basic Combat Test

Initial Notes

The Cardiff Castle Garrison (CCG) requires any members or guest members wishing to take part in combat displays or battle re-enactments to pass the Basic Combat Test.

This test aims to ensure combatants are physically and mentally competent and can produce convincing displays. This involves fighting safely whilst acting with ‘deadly character’ (i.e. they must look as if they are intended to kill / injure), both when giving and receiving shots. Thus, blows will look ‘real’ but the risk of injury to the combatant, their opponent(s) and any observers will be at a minimum.

The test will be administered by the CCG Combat Captain (CC) or an appointed representative. The CC may request the assistance and / or advice of other experienced fighters at his / her discretion.

The decision to pass or fail a candidate is made solely by the CC, though s/he may request the advice of experienced fighters at his/her discretion.

If the candidate passes the Basic Combat Test with their weapon of choice, they will be permitted to take part in any subsequent combat displays. This test is not an unlimited pass for combat with any weapon. If the candidate wishes to fight with a different weapon, or with a combination of weapons and / or shield, the CC may require the candidate to pass the Basic Combat Test with this/these weapon(s). Additionally, if at any later date the candidate’s competence at fighting falls below the standards required for this test the candidate may be barred from fighting in any combat displays or battle re-enactments at the CC’s discretion. The candidate would then have to re-take this test before being permitted to fight in combat displays or battle re-enactments.

If the candidate fails the Basic Combat Test with their weapon of choice, they may re-take the test after a 1 week waiting period. They may not retake the test on the same or next day. Failure of the test with one weapon does not affect any previous passes with different weapons.

The CC will score the candidates out of 10 for each of the sections outlined below. 6 represents a standard pass, 10 excellent, and anything below 5 constitutes a fail of varying degrees down to a score of 1. 

A pass or fail will not be announced by the CC until the end of the test. This is to allow a full and fair assessment of all of the candidate’s skills.

In the case of a dangerous situation, the test may be halted immediately by the CC. The CC’s decision on this is final. At one point during the test the CC will shout ‘hold!’ All combatants involved shout stop fighting immediately and disengage from their opponent by withdrawing a pace (if safe to do so). Failure of the candidate to do so in a length of time deemed reasonable by the CC will result in the failure of the test.

At any point and for any reason, the candidate is permitted to request an end to the test.

The Basic Combat Test

The basic test is comprised of a number of sections:

1.1 Kit

The candidate must own or be able to borrow the following:

1. Male soft kit

  • Shirt, braies and hose at minimum
  • These must fit well enough to not impede movement
  • 14th Century style leather boots or shoes which must fit well enough to not impede movement and the candidate must be able to move securely in them over all surfaces, including grass

2. Hand protection, options include:

  • Reinforced thick leather gloves, solid enough to protect against blows (≥3mm leather, thinner at the CC’s discretion)
  • 14th Century style steel gauntlets (at least 16 gauge, mild steel)

3. Head protection:

  • 14th Century style steel helmet (at least 16 gauge, mild steel)
  • Should fit well and not slip or obscure the candidate’s vision

4. Torso portection:

  • 14th Century style gambeson, thick enough to protect against blows (1cm thick, or thicker if worn without additional armour)

5. Weapons:

  • Must be 14th Century style
  • Blunt and round-tipped
  • Free from nicks, cracks, burrs and/or other damage
  • No blunt-force weapons (e.g. maces, flails, hammers, etc.), except at the CC’s discretion

6. Shield (if desired)

  • Must be 14th Century style
  • Free from nicks, cracks, burrs and / or other damage

All kit must be authentic, provide adequate protection against blows and must not impede the candidate’s movement unduly. For further information on authenticity, consult the authenticy officer and the CC.

All kit will be inspected by the CC before the test starts. Inadequate kit may result in failure of the test. If it is a minor issue, e.g. burrs on a weapon, the test may instead be postponed at the CC’s discretion.

1.2 Footwork

The candidate must be able to adopt a fighting stance automatically, without prompting, and use this stance whilst moving (forwards, backwards, circling – all with either foot forwards).

This aspect will not be tested separately but will be monitored throughout the test. An inability to consistently maintain good footwork without tripping or falling will result in failure of the test.

1.3 Standing 8s

The candidate must be able to demonstrate the basic attacks used by the CCG. These are aimed at the designated hit zones:

  1. The head (never directly struck, always pulled)
  2. The right upper arm (aiming for the meat of the bicep, avoiding the elbow and shoulder joint)
  3. The left upper arm (aiming for the meat of the bicep, avoiding the elbow and shoulder joint)
  4. The right side of the stomach / torso
  5. The left side of the stomach / torso
  6. The right thigh
  7. The left thigh
  8. Thrusts aimed at either the right left side of the torso or thighs

All blows must be delivered to one of these zones with ‘deadly character’, i.e. they must look as if they are intended to kill / injure. All blows must be strong enough for the opponent to feel but controlled enough to avoid injuring the opponent.

First the candidate will demonstrate the 8 attacks on a shield. Next, the candidate will demonstrate them on an unarmed opponent who will not block. Hitting other zones than those designated, hitting without control, hitting too hard or hitting without ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

1.4 Moving 8s

The candidate must next demonstrate the 8 attacks whilst moving. A good stance and footwork must be maintained, as must safety and ‘deadly character’.

1.5 Blocks

The candidate must demonstrate the defences for the 8 attacks using their weapon (and / or shield, if appropriate). They must also defend against additional attacks used by other groups, e.g. right and left calf / shin

First, the candidate will block the 8 attacks from an opponent wielding a sword. Next, the candidate will block attacks from other weapons, e.g. spear, single-handed axe, two-handed axe, etc. Failure to block an attack safely or act with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

Non-mandatory section, with permission and supervision of the Archery Captain:

If the candidate wishes and is armed with a shield or full plate armour, the candidate may receive missile attacks. This scenario may happen during a re-enactment battle. The candidate should be able to block the shots but should react appropriately if hit in a legitimate zone. Failure to do so will result in a failure of the test.

1.6 Free-form fighting against one opponent

Next, the candidate will fight the CC or another nominated experienced fighter for 2 minutes, or longer at the CC’s discretion.

For the first 90 seconds, both fighters must acknowledge legitimate hits by saying ‘hit’, stepping back from thier opponent, and ‘re-setting’ before continuing to fight (e.g. you cann just say ‘hit’ and carry on attacking your opponent). The CC will indicate when 30 seconds remain. From then on, both fighters will ‘take hits’: a legitimate hit must be responded to, with the one hit acting injured and the other moving in to ‘kill’ with ‘deadly character’. Mutual hits will be recognised but will not result in a ‘kill’ and the fighters should continue after ‘re-setting’.

This part of the test will be conducted in a designated area mimicking the ropes between the display/battle and the audience, testing the candidate’s awareness. The opponent will try to force the candidate and/or their weapon(s) out of this area. The candidate must use circling, etc. to prevent themselves, their opponent or either party’s weapon(s) from going outside of the area.

At some point, the opponent will, without warning, use incorrect hits (e.g. hitting too hard or hitting a non-designated zone). The candidate must react safely and appropriately to this: they must not respond with incorrect hits or act out of character but may acknowledge the hit as wrong (e.g. by saying ‘elbow’ when a hit was intended for the upper arm but hit too low), back off or (if safe) allow the opponent to deliver a ‘killing blow’ and act ‘dead’.

In ‘dying’/‘death’, the candidate must consider the surrounding battlefield and act to protect themselves and others, e.g. by keeping weapon(s) in hand, protecting themselves with their shield (if appropriate), etc.

Failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ throughout the ≥2 minutes, responding appropriately to hits and unsafe actions by the opponent, will result in failure of the test.

The candidate must demonstrate that they know the rules resulting in ‘death’ may change depending on the display / battle script, e.g. a select band of warriors may be ‘invincible’ until their leader dies in a scripted fight and thus these opponents will not respond to legitimate hits with ‘death’.

1.7 Free-form fighting against another candidate

The candidate will fight another candidate for 2 minutes in continuous combat. If there is only one candidate taking the test the CC will select a suitable experienced member as an opponent. If this occurs, the experienced fighter will not fight to the maximum extent of their abilities, but to a suitable level to test the candidate.

As above, this part of the test will be conducted in a designated area with hits in the first 90 seconds acknowledged by saying ‘hit’ etc. and hits in the last 30 seconds acknowledged with ‘death’.

As above, failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

1.8 Free-form fighting against multiple opponents

The candidate will fight the CC and / or other nominated experienced fighters for 2 minutes, or more at the CC’s discretion, to test their abilities to respond to multiple opponents. As above, this part of the test will be conducted in a designated area and excessive backing off / retreating as opposed to circling will be deemed to be failing the test due to the restrictions of space on a battlefield.

The first 90 seconds will consist of continuous combat against both / all opponents with fighters acknowledging hits by saying ‘hit’ etc. In the final 30 seconds fighters will acknowledge hits with ‘death’.

As when fighting a single experienced opponent, the opponent(s) will, without warning, use incorrect hits and will try to force the candidate and / or their weapon(s) out of the designated area.

As above, failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

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.

Weapons

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

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.

Daggers

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

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

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.

Gambeson

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.

Helmet

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.