The Exiles - Company of Medieval Martial Artists

Le Jue de la Hache

Lesson Plan for AEMMA Ocober 2000

Table of Contents

Aim of Lesson:
To impart a basic knowledge of:

Students should by now have seen the effects of stepping into and out of cuts and deflecting thrusts and stepping to the side to avoid them. This should act as bridge to:
Technique 4, 5 and 6 - Tour de Bras from the opponents right hand side, move in to, stationary, move out of range.
Technique 17 - Voiding the thrust
Technique 12 and 16 - Redirection
Technique 9, 10 and 11 - using the queue to throw
Technique 22 variations A, B and C and counter 23 - which includes hooking
Display a technique from Talhoffer.

As a result of conversation held on the Swordforum, we tried out some other variations that ended up with one of our Axe shafts breaking - if you are interested then click here.
Broken Axe

What is a Poll Axe?

"La Hache" is the French word for the Axe. In the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries this referred to, what the English termed the pole axe or the poll axe, which literally translated means head axe, poll meaning head.
The term, poll axe, can apply to any weapon that has the following features:

A hammer head with a back spike, hook, or axe head, with a spike on the head, with or without a butt spike.

This description can apply to any bicuspid pole weapon with at least a spike on its head. Such weapons that can fit into this list include the Halberd, the Bec de Corbin, the Bec de Faucon, and the Lucerne Hammer only to name but a few.
The poll axe is quite distinctive from these other types of pole arm, however, as you can see from the pictures (Figs 1, 2 & 3).

There are essentially two types of poll axe that can be discerned from the surviving examples and period illustrations:

1 - an axe blade balanced by a hammer, spike or curved fluke

2 - a hammer head balanced by a spike or curved fluke.

The top of the head ends in a long metal spike, that is either rectangular in section, or shapped like a spear head or dagger blade.
The bottom end of the shaft, the butt, would be protected by a metal cap, which was often sharpened. This metal cap was often sharpened into a spike, which was called a "dague dessoubz".
The head was fixed to the shaft by metal bolts. These bolts, pyramid in shape, would project so far out as to be considered spikes in their own right. This can be seen clearly in Figure 1.
The manner of assembly can be seen from the diagram below, which is taken from Talhoffer 1459, Alte Armateur Und Ringkunst. It almost appears to be a mix and match assembly set that all screws and bolts together.

Most pole weapons would be fitted with long steel bands or strips, called languets, and poll axes were no exception to this. These would run down the shaft from the head on either 2 or 4 sides. These would strengthen the shaft and also help protect the wooden shaft from damage.
Often a rondelle, a metal disk, would be fitted to these languets, roughly a third to half way down the haft, with sometimes a second one fitted a little way up from the bottom of the haft. These were meant to give the hands some extra protection, which are very exposed when the axe is being used.
Some poll axes were fitted with a leather strap or ring. This might have been to prevent the weapon from slipping through the hands when being wielded and would have made it easier to recover the weapon if knocked from the hand. This feature can be seen on a poll axe preserved with its original shaft in the Bayerisches National Museum in Munich. The same feature can also be discerned in manuscript illustrations, though not very clearly.

Figure 5 - British Library, Cotton. MS Nero D.IX

The size of the pole axe is more difficult to determine. This is because very few of the pole axe hafts have survived through the centuries, and many have been re hafted, so there is no way of telling what their original sizes would have been. The museum in Munich is lucky enough to have one of the few examples of this weapon with it's original haft.
When looking at contemporary artwork and fechtbuchts it can be seen that the length of a pole axe would have fallen between 4ft and 7ft. In Talhoffer the length of the pole axe seems about equal to the height of the men wielding them, while in Flos Duellatorum the pole axes seem to be about 4ft to 5ft in length.
This is certainly seems to be reflected by later authors such as George Silver, who recommends a similar sort of length for this type of pole arm.

"In any of these weapons there needs no just length, but commonly they are, or ought to be five or six foot long, & may not well be used much longer, because of their weights, and being weapons for the wars and battle, when men are joined close together, may thrust, & strike sound blows, with great force both strong and quick."
George Silver - Paradoxes of Defence (1598)

In my opinion, however, I feel that the length of the pole axe should be no longer than the length of one's body. In this statement lies the truth of the matter. The length of a pole axe is a subjective issue, and what might suit one combatant need not necessarily suit another combatant. Le Jeu does not mention the length of the poll axe, though Pietro Monte states that the length, up to its hammer head should be one hand longer than the height of the man using it. This could place the length of the poll axe up to nearly eight feet, including the spear at the top. This coincides with Silver's recommended length of the short staff, which he considered to be a perfect weapon, length wise.

A Poll Axe Dissected

We have looked in general at what a poll axe is, and in general what a poll axe looks like, but to be able to understand the text of Le Jue de la Hache properly we need to fully understand the terms that are likely to be encountered. In general, throughout the document, I will be using the terms stated here rather than any modern equivalents.
The terms used by the medieval chroniclers to describe poll axes are unsatisfactory. The narratives for axe fighting tend to date from the middle decades of the 15th century and are mainly of Burgundian origin. These naratives unfortunately tended to be written by contemporary chroniclers who, it would appear, did not either know or understand the subtleties of the poll axe. They therefore tended to report only big sweeping blows. Whether this is an attempt to sensationalise the encounters or whether this is due to ignorance I would not like to attempt to say. I feel that the truth could well be a combination of the two.
Olivier de la Marche is the only author of this period that makes a serious attempt at writing detailed and accurate reports. In spite of this attempt, de la Marche, uses a wide range of terms for the parts of the poll axe including taillant, maillet, mail, bec de faucon, la teste, dague dessus, point de dessus etc.
The author of Le Jue is much more consistant with his terminology.

The following list has been gathered from a variety of sources.

Period Name Meaning

arret de la hache alternative to lower rondelle, leather ring or strap
bec de faucon curved fluke on backside of the head, Oliver de la Marche
la croix intersection of head and haft
la croisse bolts fixing head to haft, projecting so far as to constitute transverse spikes
dague dessoubz butt spike, Oliver de la Marche
dague dessus top spike, Oliver de la Marche
demy hache center of the haft, esp. when hache is used like a quarter staff
le gros bout the end of the poll axe furthest from the head, Angelo. The "Big End" - the end of the poll axe with the head, Rob Lovett
hache poll axe, with axe blade or hammer, the former balanced with hammer, spike or fluke, the latter with spike or fluke with a long spike on top, metal ferrule or dague on the bottom.
languettes Strips of metal that encase the wooden shaft of the poll axe for protection
mail hammer head , Oliver de la Marche
maillet hammer head, Oliver de la Marche
queue, la butt of poleaxe
rondelle circular piece of metal on the shaft to protect the hand from the axe slipping down the shaft
taillant axe head with cutting edge, Oliver de la Marche
teste, la head of the hache, per Oliver de la Marche

Figure 6 - Parts of the Poll Axe

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Observations of Period Weapon Technique

There are some major differences between period weapon technique when compared to that of Historical Recreational Hobbies (HRH) such as re-enactment and the SCA. This is due mainly to the difference in the ultimate end result. Modern HRH has two essentially different end goals:

  • To recreate an historic or fictitious battle or event for a gathered audience with the intention of providing an entertaining display
  • To gather together and fight mock tourneys or battles with the purpose of ultimately winning. This is not intended to be a display for the crowd.

In both instances the onus is on safety, both as a responsibility of the organisers and the participants of the combats. This type of event can be characterised by the saying, "We all have to go to work on Monday morning." This immediately means that the style of fighting is not authentique and neither is the weapon usage.

In spite of this, however, Historical Recreational Combat (HRC) is based on "experimentation" and the premis that "form follows function". This has essentially meant that study of weapon use has stopped there, and the primary sources that are avaliable have been largely ignored, either due to a lack of availability in the past or through a reluctance to change the already established ways of fighting. This is unfortunate as Professor Anglo has commented in the past,

"There is an immense corpus of materials which may be analysed to yield information on all chivalric combats, and broadly speaking these comprise five main categories; arms and armor; tournament rules and articles; narratives, both fact and fiction; pictorial records; and combat manuals which are themselves frequently illustrated".
All of these sources that Anglo refers to are important and necessary for the study of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Having said this though it is important not to forget the two central tennants that are part of HRC, "form follows function" and "experimentation".

Taking all of this into account, the biggest difference that can be seen between HRC and HEMA is the absence of grappling and wrestling. In HEMA, the medieval arts especially, the concepts and moves that lie behind the wrestling depicted in the manuals, seem to be the central tennant of this period of combat, where the same moves appear again and again whether armed with dagger, long sword or unarmed.

"Wrestling, which goeth much together with all weapons on foot."
From Castiglione, Baldasssare; The Boke of the Courtier;
Trans. Sir Thomas Hoby; London 1598:

This sentiment is reflected by various other contemporary sources, from Medieval Fechtbuchts to accounts of 15th century tourneys. The English Knight was advised "To wrestle all manner of wayes" or to fight "with Gripe, or otherwise" in his tournaments - up until 1507. Pietro Monte recognised this in the 1480's where he said that wrestling was "the foundation of all fighting". If one takes the time to look at the techniques displayed in Fiore's Flos Duellatorum you will soon notice that the techniques that he displays in the unarmed and dagger section, which is noticebly the first section, are repeated time and time again with all manner of other weapons.

This importance of wrestling is not the only difference between HRC and HEMA. With HRC movement is not so important as with HEMA. This can easily be seen when watching displays, especially between two combatants where quickly the combat settles into a very static combat that essentially boils down to a trading of blows. There is little voiding, redirection or binding that occurs.

This has a further knock on effect where the actual blocking tends to turn into very hard blocks that "stop" the action. Although a "stop" is certainly a technique that was used historically with blocking, it was certainly not a primary one. This has virtually become the main technique for defending one's body within HRC.

The reasons for these differences are easy to see and understand. The importance of safety and displaying to the crowd has really encouraged these differences to become the normal standard. With stop blocks it is easier to prepare one self for the next blow, it is easy to telegraph the blow and so it leads very much to an extended combat. A HEMA combat tends to be over very quickly and will not last more than a few seconds. For an uninformed public who wish to be entertained and who have been fed a diet of Hollywood combats this is the style of combat that they expect to see and would feel very much cheated if they did not.

However, this is not to say that the public should not be re-educated in this respect. This re-eductaion will take time and a family weekend display is not necessarily the appropriate place to introduce authentic combat techniques.

This seems all very much irrelevant to the study of period poll axe technique. However, I feel that it is important to recognise the differences between authentic medieval martial arts and modern HRC to do the study of period fight manuals, such as Le Jue de la Hache, any real justice.

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Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Poll Axe

The poll axe appeared more or less with the advent of plate armour and disappeared with its demise. The poll axe therefore seems to be a weapon that is born out of the need to beat the more advanced armour forms that were being developed during the 14th and 15th centuries. As the need for armour disappeared with advances in military weapons then the need for the poll axe also diminished and so led to its demise.
The poll axe appeared to become a popular weapon both on the field of combat and on the tourney field, and was probably used by Knights and soldiers both.
Much of the evidence of poll axe use comes from the many recorded tourneys and combats that occurred between Knights. However, this should not lead one to form the wrong impression that this is solely where the poll axe saw use.
It was noted by Professor Anglo that:

" is difficult to resist the impression that they (les haches) were designed principally for showy fights within the lists: a view borne out by accounts of fifteenth century combats where knights battered each other unmercifully, denting, puncturing and even knocking bits of each other' armor, and yet eventually emerged unscathed and often not even out of breath. This suggests that armour was very efficient, but that axes (les haches) were not."

I will stress what he says again - "…it is difficult to resist the impression that….". The poll axe was an extremly effective weapon. If it was not then it would not have seen as much use as it did on the battlefield. After all what would the point be in a weapon that would do little damage to your opponent.
The poll axe was a weapon with one aim in mind. That aim is to compromise armour and to deliver concussive blows if the armour cannot be compromised. This is achieved by piercing the armour with the dague dessus or the bec de faucon, hammering the combatant continually with the maill, and when the armour is finally compromised, if the poll axe is so equipped, to deal fatal blows with the taillant.
The effectiveness of the poll axe can be clearly seen in Talhoffer's Fechtbuchts where the armoured poll axe combatants can clearly be seen pouring large amounts of blood from the wounds that the poll axe made, at the same time as it compromised armour.

Figure 7 - 134 verso,Talhoffer 1459 "Alte Armatur und Ringkunst" - The Royal Library, Copenhagen

The poll axe was certainly not only regarded as popular within judicial combats and tourneys. It was a popular wepon of war. On the finding of a mass grave dated to the time of the Battle of Towton, which some people have poetically described as "The Bloodiest Battle" of British History, analysis was conducted on the remains found therein. This analysis of some of the skulls showed that they clearly bore damage that research has shown could have been delivered by the hammer of a pole axe.

Figure 8 - Skull from Towton - wound possibly made by Poll Axe

The poll axe was indeed a very popular weapon among the knight classes. It became the weapon of choice in combats on foot, both pleasance and outrance. Though some undoubtedly refused such combats as it was felt that the hands could never be adequately protected by gauntlets. In fact, this was the reason that Francois I rejected Henry VIII's proposal to fight at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The reason given was, "as there is no gauntlet made sufficient to protect the hands". This again can be argued as part of the effectiveness of the poll axe against armour.
Poll axe use has generally become associated with the great fetes d'armes of the cadet houses of Anjou and of Burgundy, though I feel that its popularity as a weapon was much more widespread, as certainly it saw much use from Scotland through to Italy.
In 1388, it was reported that a French Knight versed an English Knight in the company of the exiled Duke of Ireland. In 1389, combat a outrance included 9 courses of poll axe was held before the Duke of Burgundy. In 1408 and 1409, John of Cornwell challenged the Seneschal of Hainhault to fight with poll axe, but no combat took place. In 1435, the second day of combat between Juan de Merlo and Pierre de Bauffremont was conducted with axes. In 1439, Jean de Luxembourg fought "a Swabian knight of 65' who fought skillfully with the axe at the joust conducted for the betrothal of Charles the Bold and Catherine of France. In 1443, at the Pas de L'Arbre de Charlemagne a duel with axes as part of challenge and Pedro Vasquez de Saavedra fought Pierre de Bauffremont, chamberlain of Philip the Good with the visors of their helmets raised.
In 1446, Galeto Balthazar and Phille de Ternant at Arras fought with axes as the third part of their combat: It is interesting to note that in this account some technique can possibly be discerned.

"Tenant managed a sidestep as the Milanese squire came towards him in the first encounter, and nealy fell him with a massive blow to the neck"

This clearly states that Tenant voided the attack from Balthazar and managed to reply at the same time with a massive attack of his own. This attack is very typical of Medieval Combat, where the best form of defense is to be where the blow isn't, while at the same time making your own attack at your opponent. A similar technique can be seen within Le Jue de la Hache, where the agent attackes with a thrust and the patient agent merely voids the attack while at the same time gaining a more advantageous position - (Verse 17).
Jacques de Lelaing, a famous knight of the mid 15th century often choose to fight with poll axe, though this was by no means the only weapon that he used.
In 1445, Jacques de Lelaing, in his first feat of arms, fought an Italian called Jean de Boniface. This Italian knight had been making a reputation for himself travelling from the court of the Italian King, Alfonso of Aragon and Sicily. He had travelled through Lombardy, Savoy, Flanders and Burgundy distinguishing himself in combat. He reached Antwerp where Jacques took up the challenge. Pole axe combat was to commence after 6 lances had been broken on the other and after hurling spears and swords at each other. Early in the poll axe combat , Jacques knocked the Italian's axe from one of his hands, this features in many of the techniques of Le Jue de la Hache, but the Italian managed to quickly recover from this setback, again one part of Le Jue deals with this sort of event. Jacque continued to fight the Italian knight and struck him a blow that was powerful enough to nearly turn him around, which could give some impression of how powerful the poll axe blows could be. Eventually Jacques managed to disarm the Italian completely, after which Sir Jean then tried to close with Jacques, who kept the Italina at bay with the point of his axe. The fight was stopped shortly afterwards.
In 1447, Jacques de Lelaing fought in Castille against Diego de Guzman. The combat took place in Vallaloid on the 3rd Febuary. The combat on foot was to take place first and was to include poll axe, sword and dagger. It was reported that as Jacques and Diego fought with their poll axes, their blows were so fierce that sparks flew from their armour, which is a tribute both to the strength and quality of the armour but also to the strength of the attacks.

"Then Jacques de Lalaing, seeing how aggressive his adversary was, whirled the point of his polaxe around, and struck 3 blows on the eye-slits of Diego, one after another, in such a way that he was wounded in 3 places in the face...the first blow landed on his left brow, the second on the point of his forehead, and the third above the right eye."

The fight was soon stopped after Jacques disarmed Diego.
In 1449, Jacques travelled to Stirling in Scotland to fight with members of the Douglas clan before the King of Scotland. This combat took place on the 25th Febuary before a crowd of five to six thousand.
The combat was to be a combat of six. Jacques de Lelaing, his uncle Simon de Lelaing and a squire from Brittany named Herve de Meriadec forming one side, while James Douglas, brother of the Earl of Douglas, another James Douglas and John Ross of Halket were to fight to uphold Scottish honor. The combat was to take place on foot with sharp weapons, including spear, poll axe, sword and dagger, although the throwing of spears was not to be allowed. Jacques and his companions immediately dropped their spears and used poll axe against the Scots, the Scots however decide to retain theirs. Jaques came against James Douglas, the earl's brother, and was quickly disarmed of both his spear and poll axe. Jaques eventually won this combat.
Simon de Lelaing, also, quickly disarmed his opponent, John Ross, of his spear. The two then fought with poll axe. John Ross was a powerful man but Simon bided his time and waited for the Scot to tire himself, at which point Simon went on the offensive with both the dague and the dague dessoubz, which is a technique that is mentioned and advised by Le Jue.
Herve de Mariadec fought the other James Douglas. James made a thrust at Herve's face with his spear and missed. Herve stepped in at this moment and struck Sir James on the head so hard that he fell to the ground stunned. One might say he had been "poll axed". Which again is further evidence to the effectiveness of the poll axe in combat.
Later this same year Jacques was challenged by an English Squire known as Thomas Que. This time the combat took place in Bruges, Flanders. The combat this time was to take place on foot with poll axe and with sword. Before the combat began, Jaques lodged a complaint about the English man's pole axe saying that the dague and the taillant were too long and sharp. The Duke, who was judging the contest, declared that the Englishman would have to change weapons, but Thomas pleaded so much that Jacques capitulated and allowed him to carry his own poll axe. The fight started well for Jacques, who quickly forced the Englishman backwards, but unfortunately as he struck Thomas, Jacques bought his hand down on the spike of his opponent's poll axe. The point entering underneath the gauntlet and pierced entirely through, "cutting the nerves and veins, for the spike on the Englishman's axe was wondrously large and sharp."
Jacques eventually went on to win the fight by discarding his poll axe and grappling Thomas Que to the ground. Luckily the wound that Jacques suffered did not proove to be crippling nor did it end his career.
Also, Jacques de Lelaing fought Diego Guzman at Bruges. It was reported that

"Guzman wounded in the forehead & blinded with the bleeding, threw down his axe, wrenched Lelaing's out of his hands, siezed him by the throat & was tempting to throw him when the combat was halted."

Which goes to show how desperate and dangerous, these friendly poll axe combats really were.
In 1449, at the Pas de la Fontaine de Pleurs, the Passage of the Fountain of Tears, at Chalon sur Saone, anyone striking the white shield fought with poll axe against Jacques Lelain. Much of these combat that took place during this Passage was uneventful. However, it is interesting to note that combat between Jaques de Lelaing and Sir Jean de Boniface, who he had fought a few years earlier. In their combat with poll axe Jacques caught hold of the Sir Jean's poll axe, with his right hand and struck him three times in the face with the dague dessoubz using the left.
Jacques also did something similar with a Squire named Gerard de Rousillon. During the combat Jacques stepped in and grasped Gerard's poll axe with his right hand and with his left hand struck him with the dague of the poll axe. This is a very similar technique being used as in the fight with Sir Jean. Gerard, who by this time was bleeding profusely, wrenched Jacques' poll axe from his left hand, after which the combat was soon stopped.
Jaques also did this later in 1450, against Claude Pitois, who was a squire. Jaques took hold of Claude's poll axe with the right hand, however this time Claude also did the same to Jaques. The fight was soon stopped as both combatants started to grpple with each other, however, they both managed to retain their poll axes to the end of the combat.
This was obviously a successful technique as one of his later opponents,Jaques de Avanchier, a squire from Savoy, used this very technique of grabbing the axe with the right hand against de Lelaing. De Leliang's respons to this, however, was very different to that of Gerard de Rousillon. De Lelaing grabbed hold of the de Avanchier by the gorget and dragged him forward by three or four steps, and while the Savoyian was unbalanced disarmed him of his poll axe and threw him to the ground.
This technique is obviously one of some importance, as many people seemed to be both aware of it and had various types of counters to use against it. I find it reminescent of certain staff techniques that have been illustrated by Swetnam, and have since appeared in both the United Kingdom's Scout manual on Staff fighting and in Terry Brown's English Martial Arts.
Jacques de Lelaing died on July 3rd, 1452, aged 30. Unfittingly perhaps he was felled by cannon fire while taking part in the siege on Poucques as part of the campaign waged by the Duke of Burgundy against the Flemmish city of Ghent.
The last set of accounts also, open up some interesteing thoughs about both the effectiveness and the techniques of poll axe. They are centered around a poll axe combat that took place on the second day of an Anglo-Burgundian Feat of Arms held in Smithfield, sometime during June in 1467. This account deals with the combat between Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales and brother to the Queen of England and Anthoine, Comte de la Roche, The Great Bastard of Burgundy, bastard son of Charles the Bold. This fight was reported at the time as being the fiercest axe fight ever seen.
The Bastard also advanced resolutely holding his axe firmly with both hands. Lord Scales then marched out clearly intent in doing deadly execution with his axe which he moved about menacingly, carrying it on his shoulder, then brandishing it aloft, and all the while shifting it from hand to hand.
During the combat, Lord Scales used mainly the head of his axe whilst the Bastard used the "small end". According Le Jue, this would indicate that the Bastard was an expert fighter with an axe, though I think that the truth of that is probably more complicated.
Lord Scales commenced his attack with the Axe-spike driven at his opponents visor while the Bastard replied with a haft-stroke to the breast. Lord Scales at one point lost his grip on his weapon but was able to recover.
Lord Scales, with the point of his axe, broke through one of the "ribbes of the bastards plates". He went on to close and strike the Bastard "in the side of the viscerne of his bascinet" and had "the poynt of axe in the vysour of his enemyes helmett, and by force thereof was lykly to have born him ovyr".
Given the danger of the situation, the King threw down the baton. The combat, however, continued on. Lord Scales continued to aim blows at his opponent. The Bastard was forced to retaliate with "vng cop de tests de hache moult puissant".
At the end of the combat it was noted that Lord Scales armor was rent with great gashes from the spike of the Bastard's axe and was broken in several places, while amongst other things the Bastards third shoulder plate was completely hacked away.
From this small and detailed account there is the hinting not only of techniques and styles but also, more evidently is the effectiveness of the poll axe against armour.
Where Anglo says that "it is difficult to resist the impression that they (les haches) were designed designed principally for showy fights" and that "knights battered each other unmercifully, denting, puncturing and even knocking bits of each other' armor, and yet eventually emerged unscathed and often not even out of breath. This suggests that armour was very efficient, but that axes (les haches) were not", I would say that it is not only a salute to the skills of the obviously efficient armour that was made during the 15th century but also to the effectiveness of the poll axe and its past practitioner's that they were able to cause damage against not only the armour but also to those that were inside the armour.

With the decline of plate armours, the poll axe was soon forgotten, and by the middle of the 16th century was rarely mentioned in the Fechtbuchts and other manuals, a possible indication of change in not only in how war was fought but also a change in society as well, where the aim of the manuals was not so much for the battlefield, the tourney or for judicial combat, but for survival and self defense upon the street and skills of weapons that had fallen out of every day use, such as the long sword, and were now but weapons of the classroom.

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Poll Axe Technique

Le Jue de la Hache, like so many of the Fechtbuchts and manuals on combat were not written for the beginner unlike those written in later periods. This can be seen by the complete lack of explanation of any of the basic guards or principles that may underlay technique surrounding that of the poll axe.
If an understanding of the poll axe is to be gained it is necessary to first look at the basic principles that might surround a staff weapon such as this from another source that does explain the techniques. To this end I feel that it is best to look to George Silver, who wrote in simple terms about two handed weapon play, basing much of his technique on the staff.
In his "Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defense" George Silver says,

"Remember that at the Morris pike, forest bill, long staff & two handed sword, that you lie in such sort upon your wards that you may both ward, strike & thrust both double & single, & then return to your former wards slips & lie again & then are you as you were before. (AS IN THE FIGHT WITH THE SHORT STAFF) The like fight is to be used with the javelin, partisan, halberd, black bill, battle axe, glaive, half pike, etc.."

In other words, the nature of fighting with all of these weapons is based upon the short staff fight. That is not saying that you use this type of weapon as a short staff but rather the rules and principles that govern the nature of fighting with a short staff also governs the nature of the fight with those weapons that Silver lists, the poll axe most definitely falling into this same category.

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Guards and Wards of the Poll Axe

Holding the Poll Axe

There are many different ways to hold a poll axe, essentially depending on what you are trying to achieve with the weapon itself. The hands can be both up, both down or one up and one down. They can be positioned near la teste with the queue in front, half way down the queue, as with demy hache or at the end furthest away from la teste.

The easiest way to pick up a poll axe is to hold it like a staff. If you lay your poll axe on the floor, stand by the queue. Face the poll axe and with your legs about shoulder width apart, your left arm should be closest to the dague dessoubz and your right should be closest to la teste.

Move the foot that is nearest la teste, so that you are now facing la teste of the poll axe, both of your feet should now be pointed at the la teste. If you looked down from above you would see that you have created a right angle with the queue forming one length and your body forming the other. Now bend the knees and with your left hand take up the queue of the pole arm. You should have about a foot or so of pole poking out from behind your left hand. This part forms the queue properly.

Now move your right foot so that is in front of your left foot, still shoulder width apart, and twist the left foot so that the toes are pointed towards the shaft of the poll axe and the right foot is pointed towards la teste.

Now with the right hand grab the shaft so that your hands are roughly shoulder width apart and lift la teste of the poll axe so that it is roughly level with the height of your nose.

If you are facing someone it should be pointing directly at his or her mouth. The dague dessoubz should be roughly level with your hip. This is essentially the medium guard of the poll axe. Your weight should be distributed roughly 50/50 between the feet, or very slightly weighted towards the back foot.

Remember to keep your knees slightly bent as well, as the knees are "the key to movement".

This position is known as the Medium Guard.

Medium Guard from the Side

Medium from the Front

Guards and Wards

In my opinion there is a difference between a guard and a ward. Sometimes Wards and Guards do overlap but this does not get away from the fact that these are two very different things.

A Guard is a starting position. From a guard you should be able to either defend yourself or attack your opponent. A Guard usually shuts down a line of attack and invites your opponent to attack another line that appears to be less well protected.

A Ward is where you actively defend a line from being attacked by moving your weapon to that position.

Let me give you an example. You are standing in a medium guard, from here you are in an excellent position to attack your opponent with a thrust and you can move your weapon to protect or ward the inside and outside lines with little movement.


With poll axe there are essentially 12 guard positions that are possible (see pictures)

Low with head forward on left side of body right leg forward

Low with head behind on left side of body right leg forward

Low with head forward on right hand side of the body left leg forward

Low with head behind on right hand side of body left leg forward


Medium with head forward on left side of body right leg forward

Medium with head behind on left side of body right leg forward

Medium with head forward on right side of body left leg forward

Medium with head behind on left side of body right leg forward

Reverse with the head forward on rightside of body with left leg forward

Reverse with the head behind on rightside of body with left leg forward

Reverse with the head forward on leftside of body with right leg forward

Reverse with the head behind on leftside of body with right leg forward

I personnally think that there are only four true guards with a poll axe and this is the medium and the reverse Guard positions, with the head forward or back. Di Grassi, however, would unfortunately disagree, as he maintains that there is only one guard position, and that is the Medium.

The other guard positions I feel should be looked at as transitional states and can be viewed more as wards than actual guards. This is just my own personal opinion and I leave it up to the individual to discover the validity of that statement.

With the poll axe, Talhoffer in his Fechtbuchts, never explicitly states the guard positions. One might assume from this that he either did not think that the poll axe had any guard that you should assume, that he felt it was unnecessary to explain something that his audience should already know or that the sword guards could easily be applied to the the pole axe.

I think that the latter is most probably true. If you take a look at Dei Liberei he does exactly this and displays a set of 6 guards that are based on and named after the sword guard positions. There is Posta Breve Serpentina, Posta di uera erose, Posta de Donna, Porta di Ferro Mezana, Coda Longa and Posta di Fenestra.

Le Jue de la Hache, also explicitly states several guards. Among them are included a contra poix, garde de la croix, garde de la dague, garde de la demy hache and garde de la queue. We will concentrate on these latter.


According to Silver, every poll axe has either four or eight wards depending on the orientation of the head. There are four wards for the staff part of the weapon and four wards for the head of the weapon. This means that if the head is in the rear position the weapon only has four wards that can be used. These eight wards are as follows:

High Outside with Staff

High Inside with Staff

Low Oustide with Staff

Low Inside with Staff

Pole Arm Head High

Pole Arm Head Low

Pole Arm Head to the Outside

Pole Arm Head to the Inside

The Half-Staff (Demy-Hache) Technique

There is one set of wards that have not been dealt with in this section so far, and although it has been left to last is a very important part of the style that needs to be addressed. This is the Half-Staff Style, Le Jue de la Hache refers to this as Demy Hache while Olivier de la Marche noted it as a contra poix. This includes an extra Ward as well as including the other wards and guards that have already been discussed.

The Half-Staff style is where the hands are positioned in the centre of the poll axe leaving and equal amount of pole on either side. The obvious benefits to this style is that it is easier to bring either end of the poll axe into play, and this was one of the reasons why this way of holding a pole arm was advised by the past masters.

Although this style seems to give an advantage in that you appear to have two ends to threaten your opponent with youu infact only can use one at a time, the other end will be always widespaced at any given time.

Finally, when using this type of style your body will have a tendency to stand more square to your opponent which gives your opponent a greater target to aim at

In spite of all these disadvantages this style is very useful but only in the execution of certain techniques. Even when you are using a half-staff style within the execution of a technique you are only in the half-staff style for the time it takes to ward.

There are two extremely useful things that the half-staff style provides:

The St George Guard. This guard is an extremely strong guard against downward blows to the head. With this guard the whole body is behind the ward and it is virtually impenetrable. The problem with this guard is that the whole weapon is pulled into a high position that means that you are susceptible to a quick blow to the legs.

Allows the poll axe fighter to close distance between themselves and their opponent. This is not useful in itself and must only be done when a grappling technique is going to be performed.

The Guards of Le Jeu de la Hache

Although there is a lot of mention within Le Jue de la Hache about having the queue, la croix or la dague forward there are only two guards mentioned explicitly. These guards are la garde de la queue and la garde de la dague.

La Garde de la Queue

La garde de la queue is mentioned in Verses [12]. [53], [65] and [70].

"[12] Item aultre couverte de tours de bras, vous estant sur la garde de la queue sans vous bougier pouez receouir demy hache tant que vos bras se pouvront estendre en hault. Et incontinent le coup receu pouez de la queue de la vostre cueillier la sienne, ainsi quil la vouldra leuer. et tout dune venue la ruer en auant. Et se elle ne vole hors de sa main au mains vous lesbranleuez tellement que aurez temps pour donner coup ou estocq."

"[53] Item se il auoit retire sa hache sy a coup quil vous conuenist faillir retirez vous prestement sur la garde de vostre queue."

"[65] Item se il le vous faisoit deuez si prestement que vous vous sentez enferre baisser le gros bout de vostre hache en la tournant par dessoubz la queue de la sienne sans guieres la esloignier et tant que vostredicte hache viengne sur la darriere de sa queue. Et de la pouez esbranler tant que aurez loisir de desmarchier en arriere pour tourner en la garde de la queue car elle est plus auantageuse que celle de la dague."

"[70] Item se vostre homme vient a vous sur la garde de la queue et quil la tienne comme basse pouez frapper de vostre queue contre la sienne auant main pour la esloignier sur son deuant. Et se le pouez faire en suyuant lung pie apres lautre pouez vous mettre entre sa hache et luy et de la deuez mettre vostredicte queue entre ses cuisses iusques a demy et deuez subleur vostre homme sur ladicte queue le plus hault que pourrez. Et pouez faire cestedicte prinse de plusieurs aultres entrees ne plus ne mains comme est mis au Jeu de droittier a droittier."

In spite of this lack of explicit reference the importance of la garde de la queue should not be under emphasized. We have already seen this particular guard in use from various accounts of tourneys in earlier sections. This was the guard that was used by The Bastard of Burgundy in 1467.

Implicity the guard is mentioned more regularly and in fact features in roughly 56.5% of the verses of La Jue for the principle target of the piece.

One last thing to note and mention for this particular guard is that it is mentioned implicitly in verse [19].

"[19] Item se il est joueur de la hache et qu'il viengne la queue de sa hache…"

[19] If he is an expert axe-fighter, and he advances with the queue of his axe forward

Many people have argued that this in fact means that expert axe fighters prefer to use the queue of the axe. This I think is reading far too much into this statement. It is quite possible to be an expert axe fighter and advance using la dague, or to be an inexpert fighter and advance with la queue forward. This statement includes the use of the word "and". It is stating that if your opponent is an expert axe fighter AND if the expert axe fighter decides to advance with the queue forward then you may….. Clearly the author is not stating that an expert will use the queue over and above everything else. However, it must be remembered that this guard appears in over 50% of the techniques and it explicitly states in verse [65] to "step back to the guard of the queue because it is more advantageous than that of the dague.", though this could either be refering to the position that you are left in performing that particular technique or advice in general

If this was the case surely Lord Scales in 1467 would have used the queue in a similar manner to his opponent and Jacques de Lelaing would not have been striking sparks from the armour of his opponent with the head of the axe.

However, it is an important and versatile guard since many of the techniques do use it and show it coming against you. Also it is featured in Dei Liberi as well, and appears featured in some of the Talhoffer techniques though, as mentioned earlier, no guard for the poll axe is mentioned explicitly here either.

La Garde de la Queue, from my studies shows that this guard is simply one with the queue of the axe forward, whether in the medium position or in the reversed position.

La Garde de la Dague

La garde de la dague is mentioned explicitly just the once in verse [28].

"[28] Item se ile dessaisoit ceste prinse que luy aurez faite en la maniere dessusdicte et quil fust sur la garde de la dague pouez pareillement mettre la queue de la vostre soubz sa demy hache en marchant visage contre visage et passer vostredite queue par dessus son bras droit et donner bonne secousse pour luy faire perdre le gros bout de sa hache, et de le aurez loisir de donner coup ou estocq."

Implicitly, la garde de la dague is mentioned a further three times, by stating that the dague is forward for the principle character, which is roughly 3.6% of the verses of La Jue. This is a major drop from la garde de la queue, and was obviously not favoured by the author.

La garde de la dague is formed quite simply by standing either in the medium or reversed position with the dague of the axe forward.

If this is the case then further mentions of parts of the head of the axe, such as the croix, must mean that la garde de la dague has been assumed. The position of the croix is important however from the point of view that this is an area of the poll axe where much parrying and warding will be performed. If you take these additional mentions of the head into account then the percentage of the techniques that use la garde de la dague will rise to roughly 9.5%, barely a tenth of the verses advise you as the principle to use this particular guard position.

There are quite simply no more guards that are mentioned. This at first seems quite a shocking concept to take on board, until you begin to look at later writers for pole arm weapons. Di Grassi, Silver and Swetnam only ever describe a total of three guard positions - medium, low and reverse. Most of the writers in fact encourage use of only one of these guard positions - the medium. When one starts to consider the poll axe in these terms the lack of guards does not seem so surprising.

Other areas of the poll axe are mentioned, but never in the static sense that I would expect to see from a guard position, they are all being used in an active sense to either stop, parry, redirect, hook, or grapple the opponent.

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Attacking with a Poll Axe

As with all other weapons there are three types of attack:

  • Thrust
  • Cut
  • Slash



Thrusting types of attacks can further split into three distinct categories:

A thrust made be slipping the staff through the hands

A thrust made by keeping the hands in one position on the staff.

A thrust made with one hand.

Thrusting is the easiest attack to make with a poll axe in terms of the recovery. The reason for this is the force is being directed in a single line and can easily be bought back along the same line by pulling the rear hand back.

The thrust can be made very easily form the medium guard that was discussed in the "Holding a Poll Axe" section. There are three different ways to do this.

Loosen the grip on the right hand and push the pole through the right hand with the left hand, lean very slightly forward. When the thrust has reached its target then pull the pole back through the right hand until you are back in your starting position, also return the weight distribution to its starting point. This is a thrust made by slipping the staff.

Thrust the pole arm forward without moving the hands, at the same time shift the weight of the body forward. This is a very strong thrust. This can be further augmented with a slight gathering step

Thrust just with one hand, as you thrust forward release completely the grip with the right hand and step forward. This can be done either reversed with the right hand holding the staff or with the left hand thrusting forward.

The slipping thrust can be a very quick thrust and can be performed very rapidly but it can lack power and can also be very easily turned aside, and if you are not careful you can loose your grip with the right hand.

The second type of thrust is a very strong thrust and is not so easy to turn, the disadvantage of this sort of thrust is that you do lose some distance.

The one handed thrust is extremely powerful and can have an amazing range. This sort of thrust can easily be put aside but it is also extremely quick. The problem with this thrust is that you need to be very quick at recovering the weapon especially if the thrust did not land.

The main thing that should be remembered with poll axe is the maintainance of distance. This doesn't matter so much if you are facing other weapons of a similar length but is crucial when dealing with swordsmen and shield men. An accurate thrust is one manner in which you can help your maintanence of distance.

Direction of a Thrust

There are three different heights a thrust should travel in along two different lines. The heights are essentially low, middle and high.

  • Low - aimed below the waist most probably at the knee
  • Middle - aimed roughly at waist and chest height
  • High - aimed at the throat and face

The two lines that the thrust can be made on is either the Inside or the Outside of your opponents weapon. The Inside Line is to the right of your opponent's weapon, ie as you look at your opponent, to the left of his weapon. The Outside Line is to the left of your opponent's weapon, ie as you look at your opponent, to the right of his weapon. The position of the two lines of attack will change constantly depending on the position of your opponents weapon.

This gives a total of 6 lines that you may be able to thrust on.


Before discussing the cut and the slash, the swinging motion should be explained. This is very important. If the swing misses then it is vitally important that the poll axe man should recover as soon as possible to a guard of some sort. Surprisingly, this seems to elude some poll axe users.

Swinging a pole arm is very similar to the technique that you would use to swing a pickaxe or similar sort of implement. Do you swing a pickaxe just by holding one end and swing? No, this is not a very accurate way of aiming the pickaxe nor is it particularly efficient. What you do is hold the pick axe with hand at one end and the other hand at the other end and then when you swing it you allow the pole to slip through the hands which lengthens the pole and increases the energy and momentum of the head. After the swing you then return the weapon to the starting position by slipping it back through the hands. This is the essence of swinging a pole arm and is a technique that is important to master especially if you have missed the target you were aiming at.

The cut is made in exactly the same way as you would a pick axe in the example above. As you swing the poll axe you allow the pole to slip through the lead hand and when the poll axe starts to reach the end of the swing you pull the poll axe back and shorten its length with the rear hand. As you do this you should allow your shoudlers and hips to move round with the blow and if necessary to step forward with the blow as well. This sort of attack should not be done relying on the strength of the wrists and elbows, it requires, if done correctly the involvement of the whole body, driving from the rear foot forward.

If you should make contact with your target you should then drive the cut into the target with the chopping motion.


The slash is very similar to a cut. The difference comes when the dague of the poll axe comes into contact with your opponent. When this happens you draw the poll axe back in towards you, either with the hands, twisting the body or preferably with both. The actual cutting motion, the swing, which sets you up for the slash, need not be very big.

This attack has very little effect against armoured opponents.

Effects of a Spike.

Some poll axes are adorned with a spike or beak. This spike although ideal for piercing armour is also extremely effective at piercing people. This can work as a benefit, as obviously, if you manage to make the armour fail with this tool, you are likely to pierce the person encased within. Adversely, this can also be a disadvantage, the spike can lodge within the armour and can be problematic to remove easily, even if it has pierced the body inside the armour. There are many accounts of combat, both on the battlefield and in the tourney, where warriors have continued fighting after being pierced with this part of the weapon. This sort of occurrence, although seemingly incredulous, did actually happen and an example of which we saw earlier in the account of a Jacques de Lalaing.

It can be seen from this that though such a blow with the spike of a poll axe weapon would have most certainly been debilitating, it would not necessarily ensure that the battle would have been finished.

The Spike would also have been used for hooking the opponent.

Directions of Cutting and Slashing

There are eight lines of attack on which all blows must come. They are:

  • straight down
  • diagonally down from left to right
  • diagonally down from right to left
  • horizontally from left to right
  • horizontall from right to left
  • diagonally up from left to right
  • diagonally up from right to left
  • straight up

There have been a variety of names and numbering systems given to the eight cuts. The number system that I use is based on the method for labelling all forehand cuts with odd numbers and all backhand cuts with even numbers. This system became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The names are those used by the Italian Masters. Memorizing the names is not necessary but doing so will aid in your own research.

These are the eight directions of cut.

Figure 24 - Direction of attack

Fendente - A straight descending vertical blow.

Squalembrato reverso -- A diagonal downward blow that cuts from the right shoulder of your opponent to his left flank.

Squalembrato mandritto - A diagonal downward cut that cuts from the left shoulder of your opponent to his right flank.

Tondo roverso -- A horizontal blow that cuts from your opponents right flank to his left flank.

Tondo mandritto -- A horizontal blow that cuts from your opponents left flank to his right flank.

Ridoppio roverso or Squalembrato (montante) roverso - A blow that cuts diagonally upwards from your opponent's right flank to left shoulder.

Ridoppio mandritto or Squalembrato (montante) mandritto -- A blow that cuts diagonally upwards from your opponent's left flank to right shoulder.

Montante -- A blow straight up, usually made with the false edge.


Grappling or wrestling is an essential part of Medieval Martial Arts, and no less so than with the poll axe. Wrestling in my opinion is part of the essence of Medieval Martial Arts and appears in many of the techniques of Le Jue de la Hache, as well as other contemporary fechtbuchts and manuals.

This has already been discussed in an earlier section.

Attacks of Le Jue de la Hache

The attacks of Le Jue de la Hache can be are varied and show a high degree of sophistication. The types of attacks that can be seen within Le jue include blows, thrusts, slashes, disarms, levers, pushes and throws.

For the sake of this analysis I will split the attacks into three general categories, blows, disarms and pushes/throws. The blows will include all the blows, thrusts and slashes, the disarms will contain those that involve one or other of the parties being disarmed, while the pushes/throws will include all those moves that include someone being thrown, pushed or tripped.

The Blows


The first attack that we see in Le Jue de la Hache is a "tour de bras". This attack is a big swinging roundarm blow. This attack is featured in verses 4 X2, 5X2, 6X2, 7X2, 8x2, 9, 10, 12, 22, 26, 52, 54 and 55. This is a total of 18 mentions or 13 mentions out of 69 techniques. Although this attack must have been quite impressive to observe it is rarely recommended by the author as a blow to start with. This large round house is normally left to finish your opponent with after you have off balanced or widespaced him.

The next type of blow that we can see within Le Jue is one called a coup. This is a short string blow, that is normally delivered sideways. There are within Le Jue de la Hache several variations of this type of blow including a backhanded blow - coup darriere main, a blow with the hammer head - coup de mail, a blow to the head - coup sur la teste and a blow to the knee - coup de genoul. This types of blows are featured in verses 24 verses out of 69 and mentioned 36 time. Much of this might be argued that it is merely a generic term for a blow however it is was delievered as there are many times that it is used to describe a tour de bras. Taking this into account it is, in the majority of cases very different from the tour de bras.

The last type of blow that can be identified from Le Jue is the tirer. The tirer is a short blow. This blow is used in verses [46], [48], [60], [61], [66] and [67]. This word is more often associated with a pull or a push and is used as such in the majority of cases within Le Jue. Having said that, in these few cases it is refering to tirer as a short blow, that I would imagine is meant to be quick and sharp with the main aim of pushing the opponent or the weapon out of the way.


The next group of attacks that we should look at in this section is the thrust or, as it is termed within Le Jue, estocq. The estocq is used in a variety of different ways thrusting to the face - estocquer au visage, a thrust made by slipping the queue through one's hand - destocq de ladicte queue en coulant par la main gauche, a jabbing thrusting with the queue - lestocq de la queue, to mention but a few. This type of attack features in verses 4,5,6,12,13,14,17,23,24,28,30,34,43,44,48,49,60,67 - 18 out of 69 verses. The main target of this attack was the face, though the hands and the feet were also often target as well. In fact Le Jue advises you to thrust often at the feet as these are not well protected in the authors opinion. These thrusts are delivered both with the queue and with the dague, though the queue is preferred over the dague.

Percentage Blow Use
coup - 46.2%

estocq - 23.1%

tour de bras - 23.1%

tirer - 7.6%

The amount that the tour de bras is used can be viewed as somewhat misleading in the respect that this blow is most often used in conjunction with another attack and is really only used to finish the technique.


There are many disarms included within Le Jue de la Hache. A disarm is where either one or both hands are forced from either your own or your opponent's weapon without actively contributing to it as part of the technique.

Disarms are generally performed by pressure of the poll axe acting on the opponents weapon and their arm, or by tugging or pushing their poll axe in a different direction to what they were expecting, or by attacking the pole arm with a short sharp blow.

The disarm is not always successful, but the author of Le Jue has taken this into account by advising the reader on what the follow up action should be. Also the author of Le Jue has taken the precaution of advising the reader on what to do if this sort of thing is attempted against them in the majority of cases.

This form of attack is relatively important within Le Jue de la Hache as it appears in about 22 % of the techniques. Although this is not more than all the various forms of blows and thrusts taken collectively, it is still more than each of them taken seperately.

Falls, Take Downs and Pushes

This is by far the most important type of attack that is included within Le Jue de La Hache. Unlike Talhoffer and Dei Liberi where much of the grappling is performed with the body, the author of Le Jue recommends the use of the poll axe itself, there is only one technique where there is actual bodily contact.

Also, within these techniques the aim of some of them is to push your opponent from the lists. This, in my opinion, clearly shows that this document is describing moves that were primarily meant for use within a tourney. Therefore, when practising these techniques, you must remember this fact, as these techniques are clearly not meant for use on the battlefield, though many of them could easily be adpated as such.

As with the disarms, the author of Le Jue advises the reader what to do if the same move is attempted against them or what to do if the move fails.

This type of technique is clearly important within Le Jue, and that is in keeping with the flavour that is set by medieval combat in general. There obviously is an assumption of previous knowledge within these techniques of the nature of grappling.

These sorts of techniques appear in about 38.71% of the techniques and their importance cannot be over stated.


Thrust (19.35 %) Big Swing (8.06%) Disarm (22.58%) Fall/Push (38.71%) Swing (11.29%)

This summary is important to be able to both understand Le Jue de la Hache as a whole and to attempt to recapture the flavour of this style of combat that is presented with in the document.

Attacks are kept to a minimum, usually relying on a minor attack or a feint to attempt to open up your opponent so you can then enter to within a distance to push your opponent from the lists or to cause your opponent to fall.

The most favoured part of the axe to attack with, in Le Jue, is the queue, followed by the dague. The other parts of the axe are only employed when the opponent is redirected or widespaced either through a disarm, a feint or a grapple type movement. When such openings have been achieved then the hammer, the bec de faucon or the demy hache is employed to achieve a finishing move.

The most important thing to notice from Le Jue de la Hache, is that there is only one attack where the body is used directly against your opponent's body. This might lead one to believe that the author of Le Jue does not agree with engaging close to the opponent. This would be a mistake, as Le Jue, quite clearly uses a far, medium and close distance and shows the movement in and out and through the different distances just as clearly.

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Technique 4, 5 and 6
Passage 4
"[4] Item quant on vous donra de tour de bras droittier a droittier, se vous auez la croix au deunant vous pouez marchier auant du pie gauche en luy receuant son coup en cueillant de la queue de la hache dune venue ferez contre bas pour la luy faire cheoir a terre. Et de la pouez en marchant lung pie apres lautre en suyuant luy baillier destocq de ladiete queue en coulant par la main guache au visage, ou la ou bon vous samblera, ou luy baillier a tour de bras sur la teste."

English Translation:
"[4] When one would give you a swinging blow, right-hander to right-hander. If you have the croix in front, you can step forward with your left foot, receiving his blow, picking it up with the queue of your axe and - in a single movement - bear downward to make his axe fall to the ground. And from there, following up one foot after the other, you can give him a jab with the said queue, running it through the left hand, at the face: either there or wherever seems good to you. Or swing at his head."


Figure 25 - Plate 88 - Talhoffer 1467

"Der hat geschlagen. hier pariert der mit dem Schaft und will kampfen."

"This one strikes. - Here he has displaced that one with the shaft and means to fight."

This starts by mentioning "swinging blow right hander to right hander". This must be a right-handed swing to the opponents left side. I would also assume that the blow must be quite high.

It states that the croix is in front, so the head must be forward. Also, you must step forward with the left foot, so I think that the right leg must be leading in the initial part of this action. Also doing this allows the queue to be used, but only if the axe started off on the right hand side. The axe as well should be high. Thus when the step forward, with the left foot, occurs you swing the axe from the right hand side, thus satisfying "right hander to right hander", and will bring the queue into the position to block and force the agent's axe to ground.

This seems quite strange as you feel like you are striking in opposition to your movement, ie stepping forward with the left foot while striking from the right hand side.

The responses to this are either a thrust to the face or a swing. The quickest response is a thrust, after forcing to the ground, recover the axe by slipping through the hands, this should line you up to thrust back at the face. The swing, I think should be done with the axe head coming forward into the head region. The position that you are left in gives your body a nice torque to reply with this kind of blow.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Left foot forward.Axe ready to deliver a Squalembrato mandritto or Tondo mandritto towards the head. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in a high guard with the axe head forward, threatening a thrust towards face of opponent.
Swing blow the blow, either squalembrato or tondo, making sure that you are aiming at the P.A.'s head.
Step forward with left foot and ward with shaft with an inside guard. This will take the motion of swinging a blow in opposition to the Agent's blow.
When axes make contact on the shaft, push Agent's axe to ground and step forward with the right foot as you do so.
Recover axe and thrust with the queue at the face as you continue stepping forwards or swing the axe head at agent as a ridoppio reverso aiming at the Agent's head.

Passage 5
"[5] Item se vous auez la queue deuant le pouez pareillement faire sans vous bougier."

English Translation:
"[5] If you have the queue forward, you can do it the same way without moving."

This is obviously the same technique as that described in [4], though the queue is now forward and there is no movement required. This means that the stance is the same, with the right leg forward, while the left leg is back. The poll axe however is now held in a medium guard on the left-hand side.

The reply is more suited to the thrust with the queue rather than a swing, though obviously a swing is still easily achievable.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Left foot forward, Axe ready to deliver a Squalembrato mandritto or Tondo mandritto towards the head. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in medium guard with the queue forward, threatening thrust towards face of opponent.
Deliver blow at Patient Agent's head.
Ward with shaft along the inside line, there will be no swing this time.
When axes make contact on the shaft, push Agent's axe to ground.
Recover axe and thrust with the queue at the face and start stepping forwards to lend the thrust strength or swing the axe head at agent as a ridoppio reverso aiming at the Agent's head.

Passage 6
"[6] Item encore se vous auez la croix deunant comme dessus pouez receuoir ledict coup de la queue de la vostre en desmarchant en arriere. de toutes les trois couvertes pouez donner lesdicts coups de tours de bras et de lestocq de la queue."

English Translation:
"[6] Again, if you have the croix in front, as above. You can receive the said blow with your queue by stepping backward. From all three couvertes, you can give the said swinging blows and the jab with the queue."

This is obviously the same technique as that described in [4] and [5], the croix is now forward and a step backward is required. This means that the stance is the same, with the right leg forward, while the left leg is back. The poll axe however is now in a hanging guard on the right hand side.

The step backwards is obviously designed to give the Patient Agent distance, so maybe the Agent is coming in on this attack.

The right foot is the foot that steps backwards, and as you do so you make the ward.

I personally feel that this is the weakest of this set of counters, and feel that if you step backwards then maybe it would be better to void the swing entirely and thrust back as it passes. However, this is not the technique that is described here and so should be ignored on those terms.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Left foot forward, Axe ready to deliver a Squalembrato mandritto or Tondo mandritto towards the head. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in hanging guard with the axe head forward, threatening thrust towards face of opponent.
Deliver blow at Patient Agent's head.
Step back with the right foot and ward with shaft along the inside.
Push Agent's axe to ground.
Recover axe and thrust with the queue at the face, stepping forward with the right foot, or swing the axe riddopio reverso aiming at the Agent's head.

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Technique 17

"[17] Item plus se il vient a vous la dague de sa hache deuant pour vous baillier de lestocq et que vous ayes vostre hache pareillement auec la sienne, quant le verrez venir a vous pouez marchier sur son darriere le plus que pourres affin quil ne treuue rien deuant luy. en faisant ceste desmarche deuez boutter du plat de la queue de vostre hache sur son col pour le faire tresbuchier en auant. Et se faillies tournez prestement sur la garde de vostre hache."

English Translation:
"[17] Moreover, if he comes at you with the dague of his axe forward to give you a thrust; and you have your axe in the same manner as his. When you see him come at you, you can step behind him as far as you can, so that he finds nothing in front of him. As you take this step back, you must press hard with the flat of your queue onto his neck to make him trip forward. And if you fail, return immediately on guard."

This technique is simply beautiful because of its simplicity. This move could easily apply to all pole arms, though not necessarily to staff.

This is a full voiding action it is therefore important to pass behind the Agent.


Agent Patient Agent
3/4 with right leg forward. Axe in medium guard, with the head forward. Mirror agent's stance.
Thrust with the dague on a gather step.
Move to behind the Agent, making a large step.
Slip the axe as you swing at his shoulders with the queue.
As the Queue makes contact push hard on to the hache to force the Agent to ground.

Ideally the step that the Patient Agent makes should bring you level with the Agent as he steps in. The Patient Agent should be facing his back at this point, from there it is easy to push the Agent.

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Technique 12 and 16

Passage 12
"[12] Item aultre couverte de tours de bras, vous estant sur la garde de la queue sans vous bougier pouez receouir demy hache tant que vos bras se pouvront estendre en hault. Et incontinent le coup receu pouez de la queue de la vostre cueillier la sienne, ainsi quil la vouldra leuer. et tout dune venue la ruer en auant. Et se elle ne vole hors de sa main au mains vous lesbranleuez tellement que aurez temps pour donner coup ou estocq."

English Translation:
"[12] Another couverte for swinging blows when you are on guard with the queue. Without moving, you can take it on your demy hache as high as your arms can be extended. And the moment the blow has been received, you can pick up his queue with yours in such a way that he would wish to raise it. And all in one movement push it suddenly forward. And if it does not fly out of his hand, at least you make him stagger so much that you will have time to give him a blow or thrust."

This is the last counter for the swinging blows.

The guard is that of the queue. I would assume from this that we are in some sort of medium guard.

The important part of this technique is too meet this with the arms extended as much as possible.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Axe ready to deliver a blow Squalembratto mandritto or Tondo mandritto. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in medium guard with the queue forward, threatening a thrust towards the Agent's face.
Swing blow.
Block the strike -demi hache - your arms MUST be FULLY extended for this move. As you block move the left foot forward.
Agent will need to pull the axe back in order to free it so as to strike again.
As the Agent pulls back his axe the queue will be momentarily exposed for you to enable you to catch the Agent's queue with your queue.
Traverse Right, by slightly moving the right foot to the right as you catch the Agent's queue.
As you wrench Agent's queue to Patient Agent's left compase the left foot out of the way so that it is behind the right foot in a three quarter stance.

Passage 16
"[16] Item se vos haches sont iointes lune croix contre lautre et que il vous boutte pour vous reculler pouez desmarchier seullement du pie deuant a demy pout retirer vostre entre son becq de faulcon et sa main le plus pres de la croix que pourrez du coste deuers son bras droit en luy bouttant sa hache daultre coste en suyuant pouez marchier du pie gauche vers son darriere en le bouttant de demy hach contre ses espaulles et le ruer par terre."

English Translation:
"[16] If your axes are joined one croix against the other, and he pushes you to make you recoil. You can merely take half a pace back with your front foot, to draw your axe back to you. And immediately place the dague of your axe between his bec de faucon and his hand, as close as you can to the croix from the side toward his right arm, forcing his axe from the other side while following up; you can advance your left foot toward his back, pushing with your demy hache against his shoulders, and knock him to the ground."

The axes are bound as if both agent's have thrust at the same time and have caught each other up.

It is important to fall back a half pace so as to give yourself room to bring the dague into play.

As you start pushing the axe then you must step at the same time so as to bring the demy hach across the Agent's shoulders.

The stance for the Patient Agent and the Agent is 3/4 with the right leg forward and the left leg backwards.

It is also interesting to note that this is almost a full voiding action, the Patient Agent's axe is really only there to ensure that the Agent's axe travels far enough in a certain direction.


Agent Patient Agent
3/4 stance with the right leg forward and the axe already against the Patient Agent's axe. Pushing at each other with the axe's in a straight line. 3/4 stance with the right leg forward and the axe already against the Agent's axe. Pushing at each other with the axe's in a straight line.
Give sharp push against the P.A.'s axe.
As you feel the sharp push, rock with it and slip the right foot, so that it's new position is abouit halfway between the old position and the rear foot.
Use the same push to disengage your axe and shorten it slightly so that it comes nearer to you.
Push the axe out and catch the Agent's axe with your dague on the left side of the agents axe, as you look at it, as close to the croix as possible.
Force the axe to continue in the same direction and at the same time step forward with the left leg so you are positioned behind the Agent.
Bring Demi-Hache across the Agent's shoulders and force to the ground.

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Techniques 9, 10 and 11

Passage 9
"[9] Item se de rechief venoit a vous de tour de bras et que ayes la queue deuant deuez marchier a lencontre du coup le coste droit de vostre homme et de la receuoir de demye hache son coup. et tout d'une venue le plus pres que pourrez deuez marchier de lautre pie gauche et lassoir darrier son tallon bien ferme en luy sourdant sa hache qui est dessus la vostre. et mettre la queue de la vostre soubz son menton et de la donner une secousse en darriere pour le ruer par terre."

English Translation:
"[9] If again he comes at you with a swing, and you have the queue forward. You must move to receive the blow to the right side of your opponent, and from there receive his blow demy hache. And at the same time, as close as you can, you must advance your left foot and place it behind his heel really firmly, as you raise his axe which is above yours. And place your queue under his chin, and thus give him a jolt backwards to knock him to the ground."

You must have the queue forward for this technique. Also you must move to the right side of your opponent to receive the blow.

The strange part of this technique is once you have moved to the right of your opponent, you must put your left foot behind the left foot of the Agent. This leaves you in almost a vaulting position. In experimenting with this technique I found that I preferred putting the right foot behind the Agent's left foot. However, it can be done as stated in the text and with this perserverance I eventually managed to practise with someone who is the same height as me. I found then that if you follow the technique as stated your left knee will knock your opponent's left knee and this starts him falling even before you apply pressure from the queue and he will find it that much harder to resist. The important thing to remember is that as soon as you have the forward momentum to keep it going, so you must step with your right as soon as you have thrown your opponent.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Axe ready to deliver a blow squalembratto mandritto or Tondo mandritto. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in medium guard with the queue forward, threatening a thrust towards the Agent's face.
Step in and swing blow at Patient Agent's head.
Gather diagonally forward towards your left.
Stop the blow using the demy hache.

Step with the left foot so that it is behind the left heel of the Agent. You should find your left knee starting to nudge the Agent's knee and twist the feet at the same time so that you are not compromising your balance.
As you do so lift his axe upwards on your axe.

Move queue under Agent's chin and push, as soon as you feel the Agent start to fall backwards then you must bring your right foot forward so that you are standing in a more comfortable position.

Passage 10
"[10] Item se vous faillies vous deuez retourner sur vostre garde, et cela se doit faire presentement."

English Translation:
[10] If you fail. You must return on guard. And this should be down quickly.

This is the advice given if the technique of verse [9] fails. This is important as you are now very close to your opponent and unless you maintain the control of the situation at this range then things can become very uncontrollable and be easily turned against you.

To do this I would advise immediately slipping backwards and going into either a reverse guard.

Passage 11
"[11] Item sil vous faisoit ceste entree dessusdicte. vous deuez mettre presentement la dague de vostre hache soubz son esselle pour lesloignier de vous ou repasser la croisee de vostredicte hache par soubz son bras pour le pousser de dessoubz leselle de la demy hache en le suyuant pour le mettre hors de la lisse. ou donner bonne secousse de la force de vos bras seullement pour sentir se le pourrez getter par terre."

English Translation:
"[11] If he were to use this above-said opening on you. You must quickly place the dague of your axe under his armpit to push him away from you; or pass the cross-bar of your axe under his arm to push him under the armpit with the demy hache, following it up to thrust him out of the lists. Or give him a hard blow with all your strength, simply to see whether you can hurl him on the ground."

This is the counter to technique [9].

This move can be quite painful if you resist. It is also wise not only to push backwards but to give a little lift as well, just to put more pressure on to the armpit and shoulder region.

It should also be noted that the lists are mention by name here. The advice is to push the Patient Agent out of the lists. I would assume that the hard blow would be more suited for the battlefield. I feel that the push could be easily countered by using the off hand to pull your self free, though I must admit that this was the last thing on mind when this was done to me.

You are the Agent for this technique.


Agent Patient Agent
Stance: Axe ready to deliver a blow squalembrato mandritto or tondo mandritto towards the head. Stance: Left foot back, right foot forward, 3/4 stance, axe held in medium guard with the queue forward, threatening a thrust towards the Agent's face.
Step in and swing blow at Patient Agent's head.
Gather diagonally forward towards your left.
Stop the blow, demy hache.

Step with the left foot so that it is behind the left heel of the Agent. As you do so lift his axe on your axe
"Roll" your axe under the P.A.'s axe keeping opposition against his axe all the time, either with the shaft or with the fist.
Place Dague under P.A.'s armpit and push P.A. backwards.
(Alternative: instead of placing the Dague, swing the axe up under the armpit, aiming to hit with the axe or the spike. This should be effective as this area has little or no armour.)

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Techniques 22 variations A,B and C and counter 23

Passage 22

"[22] Item en quelque garde que ce soit vous pouez essayer a luy donner sur la teste. non pas que se vous faillies que vostre hache passast oultre. car il y auroit peril. Et incontinent ce coup fait deuez faire samblant de retourner sur la teste affin quil se queuure hault, et a dont luy pouez donner sur le genoul du becq de faulcon. Et se vostre becq de faulcon passe lescreuisse de son genoil deuez tirer a vous pour le ruer par terre. Et se il desmarche que vous ne trouuez rien gardez que vostre hache ne passe plus avant que vostre homme. et pareillement en tous vos coups de tour de bras et prestement tournez en vostre garde."

English Translation:
"[22] Whichever guard you are on, you can try to hit him on the head. Not so that, if you should miss, your axe passes beyond him: because that would be dangerous. And immediately this blow has been accomplished, you must make a feint of having another go at his head, so that he covers himself high. Whereupon you can give him one on the knee with the bec de faucon. And if your bec de faucon passes behind the plate of his knee, you must pull him toward you, to drag him to the ground. And if he steps back, so that you find nothing, take care that your axe does not pass in front of your man. And similarly with all your swinging blows. And quickly return on your guard."

The starting position does not matter. In this technique you are the Agent and thus are making the first attack.

In the description of the technique it advises to use the bec de faucon, which is the sharp pointy part opposite the hammer. If you are using an axe opposite the hammer then you should use the axe to catch behind your opponent's knee.

The author also give some good advice in general about axe play in this passage. Here it is suggested that you should ensure that swinging blows, if they miss, should not pass your opponent, and become wide spaced.

The author also supplies the counter to this technique within the passage, in the section where he says "if he steps back".

Technique (A)

Agent Patient Agent
Blow to head, Fendente.
Block attack.
Feint to head, Fendente
Block attack
Swing to knee and hit

Technique (B)

Agent Patient Agent
Blow to head, Fendente.
Block attack.
Feint to head, Fendente
Block attack
Swing to knee and miss, so that the axe head is behind the PA. Pull axe in behind knee to pull PA towards you so he falls over.

Technique (C)

Agent Patient Agent
Blow to head, Fendente.
Block attack.
Feint to head, Fendente
Block attack
Swing to knee
Slip attack to knee as blow starts to come in.

Passage 23
"[23] Item et se on faisoit ledict coup de genoul deuez marchier en auant le coste droit vers vostre homme en luy mettant le queue de vostre hache entre sa hache et vostre genoul, et de la vostredicte queue deuez essayer a luy errachier de ses mains en donnant darriere main bonne secousse contre la croisee de la sienne. Et se ne pouez de la approchies de luy en suyuant lung pie apres lautre. et luy donnez lestocq de la dague de la vostre au visage."

English Translation:
[23] If one tries the knee stroke. You must step forward to the right side toward your man, placing the queue of your axe between his axe and your knee. And with your said queue you must try to tear it from his hands, giving him a good back-hander against the cross-bar of his axe. And if you cannot: from there approach him, following up one foot after the other. And give him a jab in the face with your dague.

This a counter against Technique [22]. In [22], the author mentioned stepping back to avoid the blow or catch on the knee. In this technique you are deliberatly stepping forward into the attack to ensure that the blade passes your knee, so you can then use the queue to bind up the axe.


Agent Patient Agent
Blow to head, Fendente.
Block attack.
Feint to head, Fendente
Block attack
Swing to knee and hit
Step diagonally forward towards your right.
Slip queue to protect your left knee, back and down.
When P.A.'s makes contact bring the queue hard against the cross and try to wrench out of A's hand.
If wrench fails, step forward and thrust dague of axe into A's face.

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Talhoffer Technique Displayed
Talhoffer Technique - because I like it.

Plate 133 verso, 134 recto from 1459

This was originally just going to be a demonstarted technique, as I feel that this is a highly dangerous technique to attempt. However, because I like it so much I will share this with you. This is quite impressive if you manage to pull it off and relies much upon the strength of your armour and, I suppose, how much bottle you really have.

Patient Agent

Angent stands in a reverse guard with queue forward ready to strike a downward blow at PA. Stand in Medium Guard with the head forward.
Strike blow at PA.
As soon as blow starts to come in throw axe on the floor and cover your head with the right arm while the left comes down so that the hand covers the coddes
Time the blow so that you deflect the pole axe with your right arm and at the same time bring the left arm hard up the inside of the Agents Chest so that you catch him with the full arm across the chest. At the same time step forward with your left leg so that it come behind the Agent.
As the Agent starts to fall catch the leg with the right arm and lift.

I have found that the Agent either falls very heavily on his head or back from this technique. If you are able to lift the agent at this point you are in an excellent position to drop him, back first, on to your knee, this looks like a bit of a back breaker to me.

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Broken Axes

As promised the pictures of our broken poll axe.
This happened as a result of a full power blow testing out technique number 4 from Le Jue de la Hache.

I do not think that this happened due to the blow itself but rather from the fact that we have a rivet going through the shaft that holds the langettes to the side of the shaft. I think that this slightly weakened the shaft in that area and with repeated blows this weakness finally had an effect and the shaft spnapped around the rivet.

Anyway - here is a picture of the axes. One is in one piece and the other is in two pieces. as you can see from the pictures.

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Rob Lovett

Figure 1 - Royal Armouries, Object Number VII-1542

Figure 2 - Royal Armouries, Object Number XIV-5

Figure 3 - Royal Armouries, The Braybrooke Axe

Figure 4 - Poll Axe in pieces from Talhoffer, 1459