Usage and History
Pole-arms were in use through much of the Middle Ages but became increasingly popular toward the end of the Medieval period, when heavily armored knights would fight one another with pole-axes. Though this is the best documented form of pole-arm combat, we know that other forms of pole-weapon such as halberds and bills had been in use both on the battle field and in single combat for centuries and we have renaissance masters instructing on their use.
When knights would battle with pole-axes, the object was rarely to injure or kill, but to force their opponent to yield. A pole-axe can bash plate armor into ruin and pull off individual plates exposing vulnerable body parts. When attempting to kill with a pole-axe, it was used to facilitate throws and the back end or queue could be thrust into the weak points of armor.
Halberds were more commonly used as battle field weapon and with their long reach were very effective verses swordsmen and other opponents with shorter range. They can be used to deliver dreadful chopping blows or employed to threaten with the spiked head like a spear. Bills were common Medieval England and functioned similarly to halberds during times of war. They were also used in single combat between unarmored foes, where they are used like a staff, but with a deadly striking head.
Components and Construction
Though there are many types of pole-arms, they all share certain characteristics. Pole-arms all have a head, a shaft and a queue. The heads are made of a combination of hooks, hammers, blades and spikes and often would have a variety of each. Halberds normally have an axe blade with a spike on the top and another on the back edge. A pole-axe commonly sports an axe blade with a spike at the top and on the back edge, either a hook for grabbing opponents or a hammer for punching through plate armor. The shaft is built of wood, reinforced with steel and often has a hand grip protected by steel rings. The queue is a sharp steel spike on the butt of the pole-axe, though when used for duels between knights, the queue was often left unsharpened.
At Sword Academy our training is focused around the two weapons we currently study: poleaxe and halberd. Our training with polearms involves drills with wooden weapons, sparring with foam padded pole-axes and test striking with replica weapons.