Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crusade Era Combat & Murphy's Laws

I love the TV Series, “the Vikings” and a fan of all manner of blades, spears, arrows, shields, helmets and horses in battle and duels of a more personal face to face era of closed order close combat.  Whether by Hollywood’s need for close in action or by virtue of a lack of experience to recreate close order of battle, Hollywood Combat wouldn’t last long back then, for a lack of knowledge of “ergonomic combat” i.e. a fit between weapon and body versus the other guy’s fit.   In other words, one could get killed wielding weaponry like in the flicks. 

This is a proper shield wall from the Bayeux Tapestry of the Invasion of England in 1066.  Shields were held in a “Norman Grip” to the left shoulder leaving both eyes to focus on the enemy. Overlapping shields were a wall over which battle was joined.  Spears held in a stabbing grip to stab over the shields.  The shield wall was developed by the Vikings and remained the European default until Pike and Shot made the shield obsolete by 1400. 

This is not any variant of a Shield Wall, Viking or not.  One does not kneel before thine enemies!

Or attack with wide gaps to meet a real shield wall.


Close combat, as in the combatants were at arm’s length or a few short steps away preceded the first rock and will continue until after the last.  Close order combat came to an abrupt end in the First World War when it was no longer practical to be too close to your buddy or be swept away in the next full burst of machine gun fire, or exploding shell.  Those that didn’t get far enough apart, not less than five yards, were seriously killed or wounded. Back in the days of close order combat, more than an elbow’s distance left gaps too big to cover. 

The Hollywood/Re-enactor paradigm on wielding shields (with spear, axe and/or sword) is contrary to the Bayeux Tapestry shown above.  Those mounted and dismounted on both sides, hold the shield with what looks like an arm wrestle grip to the shoulder.  Those on the ground in the shield walls overlapped their shields and stab down over the wall of shields.  This requires a left foot forward, with the right arm stabbing at an angle like chopping wood.  And most importantly during the final delivery of the blow, is to have the eyes on the “inside” (between the hands), and not with both hands on one side or the other.  With two handed weapons, the eyes must look directly over the grip and at the target as in “keep your eye on the ball”. 


But nothing is as neat as we would like them to be, hence:
 At the worst time and place.
The Startle Response, Murphy’s Revenge
Close Order battle requires strong cohesion as adhesion between those in front, flank and rear.  If that adhesion weakens, the enemy will attack to broaden the breach and pile on.  Once this happens, any one person who panics often triggers a startle response in which the feet move first and the rest of the formation scatters the formation like popcorn in a high wind.   This is true in panics in public as in burning restaurants, theaters, and in outside crowds on a startle response.

Consequently the decision to go to battle was carefully considered, given Murphy’s Law, and the chances of an adverse startle response.  The planning for battle was largely based on creating a startle response in the enemy force.  Once more, into the breach!


The Startle Response (Panic) can be replicated in training, as one of my Commanders did when I was a squad leader.  The company was deployed on the military crest of a low hill, when it was attacked by the First Sergeant yelling like fury.  One soldier leaped to his feet, tossed his rifle and fled, and the one next to him followed suit. The company scattered like popcorn in a high wind.  The gimmick: the one who yelled was in on it, the guy next was told to follow suit, and a hundred others fled.  After recovery, the CO taught us what panic feels like, what to do and what not to do. I have repeated this drill over the next twenty five years for the same reasons, and the same effect.

A “Tipping Point” is different from a “Startle Response” although the results may look the same. A Tipping Point is the result of a process of increasing pressure, while the Startle Response can occur in an instance regardless of how well the rest of the formation is doing.  


 Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg was like a Tipping Point where deadly fires from Union rifle and gunfire progressively reduced Confederate offensive power to the Tipping Point led to a withdrawal under fire.  The Startle Response can be attributed to Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack (in a mile across wall of infantry) at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 2, 1863) on the far right flank of Hooker’s Army after marching across the “nose” of the Union penetration south of the Rappahannock River.   One is a build-up, the other is a surprise, although a Tip leads to Panic.

The Biology of Panic

The Biology of Panic follows two paths in the brain to the switchboard of the Amygdala, Smell and Audio-Visual, which produces chemical changes to make things happen or not.  Training can reroute the stimulus to learned responses without the intervening inconvenience of thinking about it.  Using a multi-sensory battle simulation works best when Smell (olfactory) is added to Audio-Visual.  Smell is the oldest of senses and is routed through the Thalamus to activate the Limbic System while Audio-Visual is routed through the Hypothalamus which goes to the Cortex both by way of the Amygdala.  Smell (Stink) produces action without reflection.  So, in order for training to Stick, It Must Stink, however slight.

Fear Stinks and unsticks the cohesion of a startled or tipped unit.  We know that animals can sense fear, and in Vietnam, US soap on US GI’s could be smelled by the VC, likewise so could “Nguc Mam” (a fermented fish sauce) by the GI.  The effect of female pheromones on the human male is not identifiable as a smell, but reacts predictably, so is the reverse effect of the sweaty male on females. 

The nose knows.

Thunder and Lightning (Audio Visual)

As sudden Audio-Visual effect such as a bolt of lightning, or incoming round can be routed by the Amygdala to activate autonomic responses (panic).  I have seen this work in opposite directions while stationed at Ft Huachuca at the Intelligence School as an Imagery Interpreter. 

The Sonic Boom. I had been back from Vietnam about two years, the rest of my starting class had been back less than that. Ft Huachuca is next to the Mexican border where the FB-111 fighter-bomber was allowed to go supersonic. The double bang of the supersonic shock wave sounds just like incoming rounds.  Bang-bang and half the class was on the floor before the second bang.  The other case was no reaction at all when an ammo train blew up by I-10 near Benson, AZ.

Look and Listen before action even automatically, or immediately after. Once fear is on the wind, defense is provided by monitoring and comparing the sense of fear versus what can be seen and heard, objectively.  Such was the case of Crusader Shield Walls defending against charging cavalry which audio-visually is terrifying, but once trained the mind can set aside the sense of fear and focus on tactics, techniques and procedures.  That is also what the psychological effects of shock effect of tanks is

The Relaxation Response, Qiqong, and the Berserker

Another defense against the dark side of panic is to ignore it, bypass it, and let the body to the fighting leaving the mind for casual strategic analysis.   It has many names, but all depend upon controlling breathing from short and upper to long breaths and lower.  We do this every day during commuting time by whatever conveyance is at hand.  One does not get into a conscious rational internal debate over what angle and direction the steering wheel, gas pedal and the inter-vehicular spacing should be except when a strategic decision is required.  When one does get excited, the effective control of the vehicle takes more energy than just cruising.   Consequently when excitement tends to take over the automatic learned responses, the remedy is to calm down, and that is called “taking a deep breath”. 


In combat’s sharp edge, regardless of boot, track or hoof mounted, under stress, the internal stabilization mechanism narrows the field of view, shortens the breath denying the brain of oxygen, tightens up muscle responses and focuses the active part of the brain on specifics and not the strategic bigger picture.  And when hit, it hurts more than in relaxed mode. The trick is deep breathing, visualizing and shutting down the mind chatter. 

This is called “Zazen breathing” also called “Mushin”, (no mind) in Japanese Martial Arts derived from Indian and Chinese models.  It is also called the Relaxation Response in Bio-feedback, the Zone in athletics, the Lozanoff technique for learning foreign languages at UH Houston, Qiqong in Chinese Medicine and martial arts, but does not affect physical items like “The Force” in Star Wars”

The Viking Berserker is said to have gone into a state of madness, when such would have prevented him from effective fighting.  The state of relaxation of the mind, and quieting mental chatter, allowed the Berserker to fully maximize his physical strength, minimize tension, and let the trained body to do the fighting while remaining in a quiet state of mind.   The true martial artist calms down in order to fight, instead of the hopped up state so dramatic in storytelling. Bruce Lee did no one any favors by his scowling noisy self while Steven Segal, an Aikido Grandmaster, stays calm while demonstrating.

A trained knight or warrior stays alive on these principles, or dies without them.

Body, Armor and Acupressure

As it is in medical advances down through the ages, war brings out the greatest advances.  Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) was learned from battle savvy warriors who had learned that hitting, rubbing or pushing on certain parts of the body had some singular advantages.  This included disabling and joint, producing weakness and knock outs.  In traditional Professional Street fighting in urban financial protections and entertainment industries, debt collection was facilitated by a “clip to the back of the jaw” or in the Ring a knock out could be produced with a cross to the jaw. 
The West did not learn of the meridians, the yin-yang dichotomy, and the five elements until after the Korean War and by virtue of immigrating Orientals and returning US troops lead by Grandmaster George Dillman, 9th Degree Black Belt Ryukyo Kempo (Okinawa).

On the other hand, neither did the West start to learn about the nervous and circulatory system until Da Vinci’s ideas began to sink in.   While there was considerable interchange of knowledge between East, Middle East and West during the Crusade Era, but a premature exposition of said knowledge was often treated with an Auto-da-fe or axe.  That may have been a contributing factor in the machinations leading to the Burning.


In broad terms, the illustrations with the colored lines and dots are replication of the locations of the Meridians color coded by their respective “element” as used in the Cycle of Destruction (FIRE burns METAL cuts WOOD penetrates the EARTJ dams WATER puts out FIRE).  The location of the Points on the Meridians is normally where a nerve comes to an end, crosses or forks.

In order to work the pressure points must be in the order, angle and sequences and may involve a push, a hit, or a rub depending on the specific sequences.   The angle and directions required are contained in the prescribed forms, or kata used by any of the Oriental Martial Arts. In the Medieval images I have found one or two points being used to facilitate the collapse of an opponent’s ability to fight.

This is the chart I used from Grandmaster George Dillman, the first 9th Degree Black Belt to be made privy to that which had been kept secret by the Okinawan masters of connection of the Martial Arts to Chinese Medicine. It has many names such as Pressure Point Fighting, Tuite, and Torite.  While the Medieval soldier did not know of the system in any form, the images and training manuals from later medieval times clearly show they knew how to use some of them.

The student of the fighting arts or styles of any kind or time, can understand what the reasons for some moves that did not make sense in the sense of smash, grab, break, punch or kick went places not worth the treatment.

Defensive Armor and Acupoints.

Likewise in the history of combat down through the ages, armor protection has been developed specifically if not consciously to protect against the most sensitive of pressure points. These include greaves, gloves, arm guard, and helmets.


The Body Knows.

The dome of the skull is normally the first order of protection, and that today includes any sort of hat. Then any protection that protects the forearm, and shin (by extension the hand and foot) against any hit, push, or rub that releases the joints or confuses the head (eyes, ears, and brain).


Melee Not
The ever so popular melee on screen increases the “Murphy Factor” and the results become unpredictable.  The sight of one person moving away from the battlefield can trigger the panic by virtue of tipping or startle which are the handmaidens of Murphy’s Law.   A major percentage of the time spent by opposing forces was in shouting matches and combats between champions.   Such was the case at the battle of Yarmouk between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate in 15-20 August 636 southeast of the Sea of Galilei.  The battle is considered on the short list of decisive battles as it ended Roman (Christian) dominance of the Levant until the Crusades.  There were several days of taunting and champion combat until the cohesion of the Roman formation left too many gaps and not enough maneuver room.

Military planning and leadership on the battlefield, then and now, is to defeat Murphy’s Laws with forces in reserve, contingency planning, redundant communications and the whole of military science and art.  The timing of the commitment of a reserve is critical, too early gives the initiative to the enemy, too late the initiative stays with the enemy. 

Training, training, good doctrine, equipment and leadership2 if not focused on actions in confused situations absent information, and misguided instructions, is an open invitation to Murphy’s Laws.

Hometown Battle Drill

Defense against Murphy usually is encoded into the local customs of combat which often were highly specialized as archers (Welsh Longbow), crossbow (Genoa), light cavalry (Poland and the Balkans), pike (Swiss), two handed axe (Varangian-Swedes) and the Shield Wall (from the Vikings to the Crusaders).  In today’s parlance we use the terms doctrine, SOP, principles, procedures, and the current US Army TTP (tactics. Techniques, and procedures).  In order to fight effectively including sophisticated maneuvers such as a passage of lines clearly indicates a common “understanding” that functioned like modern doctrine.

In Medieval times, change came slower as local customs, values, beliefs, behaviors and norms were embedded in the body of the local society. What produced superb warriors in one century produced targets in another.  The knowledge was passed down in oral and in child raising and was impervious to change until literacy interfered.  Then the pace of change can occur in hours where centuries were required in the past. The legendary unit cohesion of US National Guard units is tied to community and traditions of long standing.

Included in the “doctrine” according the custom, were the formations, command, and signal such as by rank, file, and signals (pennon, flag, distinctive uniform appendages, music) and leadership from the front). 

Medieval Doctrine?

A common understanding (similar to doctrine, and TTP) existed in medieval combined arms and joint forces, logistics and deployment for combat is evident in medieval combat, particularly in the better trained units.  Yet these are not written down anywhere, nor do many remember what was done, as the latest thing blows the old away.   That these existed is evidenced by the sophistication of the march under Richard the Lion Hearted from Acre to Jaffa including the victory at Arsuf on September 7, 1191 AD. 
Ordinarily Shield Walls did not move, yet in the march from Acre to Arsuf, the shield walls shuffled along absorbing swarms of the rapid firing low velocity arrows of Saracen and Nubian forces under Saladin.  This protected the horses of the heavy cavalry from arrows, which now protruded from the infantry’s protective armor and padding.  When the Knights of the Hospital attacked the tormenting Ayyubid archers, Richard called for the Cavalry to charge, but to do so, had to do what is called today is a “passage” of lines and is considered the most difficult maneuver in modern times, especially when there is a passage from the enemy side.   

The Crusade Era infantry could do both.

Finem de Léctio

No comments:

Post a Comment