Tag Archives: knights

Q&A: A Knight’s Arms

I’m writing a book in a fantasy setting and my main character is a knight. His main weapon is a longsword, with a shortsword as a sidearm. Do you think he should carry a bow as well, or would that not make sense as that is what archers are for?

Normally, a longsword would be the sidearm. The shortsword, or long knife (the terms are analogous) would be a backup weapon. This is more or less how knives are used today. Their primary weapon would probably be a spear, or another polearm of some variety. That said, this is all very dependent on the culture you’re working from, so I’ll loop back to that in a minute.

Mounted archers certainly existed. They would act as skirmishers, harassing enemy infantry at close range, while staying out of melee. It’s a distinct combat role, and not something you’d normally associate with knights. (For reference, mounted archers aren’t the only form of skirmishers. Small squads of archers or even specialized infantry units performed the same role.)

Normally (at least in Europe) the role of the Knight was cavalry. These would be mounted units that charged into enemy infantry to disrupt their formations, then they would either break contact and repeat or they would remain in direct combat against the disrupted infantry.

While charging, cavalry benefits significantly from polearms, (particularly spears and lances.) After the charge, because of the ranges that combat will occur at, a soldier will be better served with a sword. They’ll be stuck in close quarters surrounded by enemy infantry. The horse is a critical part of their armaments, providing a serious advantage, but they’re still attacking people next to their boots. At that point, a sword is a much better tool than a spear.

It’s fairly plausible that your Knight would know how to use a bow, and had received rudimentary training on one, even if they weren’t a master marksman, and didn’t carry one normally. This isn’t so much an endorsement of the idea that they’d need to carry a bow, so much as the basic suggestion that, yeah, these options would be open to your character.

So, that’s reality (specifically historical Europe, where we usually draw the model of a knight from), but, you’re writing a fantasy setting and that may differ significantly from the real world.

When you strip out the specifics of the training, a Knight was an elite, specialized, combatant. Real Knights were trained to do some of the most difficult jobs in Medieval combat, and as a result required substantially more time to prepare. Knights were, in some ways, analogous to modern special forces. This means it’s better for you to tailor your knight’s weapons to the threats they face, rather than suggesting a basic set of gear and asking if that makes sense. It could.

So, if your fantasy setting is “basically Europe,” with the serial numbers filed off, then, yeah, a longsword, shield, spear, dagger, and possibly some kind of ranged weapon like a shortbow, would make sense for your character. Especially if they’re operating on their own or with a small group of other knights errant.

If your setting is swarming with monsters, then a heavier, or more versatile polearm, like a halbard, poleaxe, or voulge may be more useful. Additionally, a heavier bow, and more time spent honing their marksmanship, would be appropriate.

If your setting is densely mountainous, with no real opportunity to use a horse, where most encounters occur in very tight spaces, then you’d probably get more value from the sword than the spear.

A knight’s role in society, their armor, their weapons, even their training, are all part of the larger world that they inhabit. If your fantasy world starts to depart seriously from the real one, you might want to go back and consider what else would change.

For example: if your setting is a volcanic archipelago, with tiny coastal enclaves on the islands, then that world’s knights would need to be equipped for travel by sea, and combat aboard ships. So, lighter armors would be far more useful. Swords (assuming there were sources of iron), would still make sense as a weapon choice, but aboard ship, you wouldn’t have room for polearms. Those might be used during amphibious assaults, however. Your knights would probably still benefit from some kind of ranged weapons, though at that point, thrown options would be better (salt water is not kind to bows, and you never want to get your bow wet.)

So, do your choices sound reasonable? Yeah, they might, if they fit with the world you’re creating.


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Going off the fighting with no pads+ live weapons+ sparring=death discussion, what would you suggest as an alternative? I’m working on a fantasy story where two of my characters are training in swordsmanship with the intention of becoming knights, but warfare is a lot different than using pads/dummies. What are ways I can have my characters realistically train for battle without mauling each other? Or should they just cross their fingers and hope they don’t die on the battlefield in real combat?

Well, for starters, they use training weapons. These are are weapons that are essentially what they’d be using and are blunted. The character gets the effect of training with the weapon and practicing their techniques against another opponent without risk of fatal injury.

This is a long standing practice in all martial disciplines and it is much safer than letting beginners murder each other. You never get to touch a real sword until you’ve reached the end of your training. They’re expensive, dangerous, and most knights aren’t going to have the money to replace all the weapons they’ve destroyed during training.

You start with wood, then move up to metal, then move up to the real blades.

You also don’t have your knights learning to joust each other with real lances either. It’ll be blunted lances like the ones used at tournament, and will use those at all times except on the battlefield. They’ll only be allowed to joust other students when their performance is satisfactory, and they will practice with a dummy first. They’ll keep practicing with that dummy for the remainder of their existence, because it’s safer than practicing with another knight and they can fine hone their skills. Then, they move up to a hanging ring.

They don’t just put you on a horse, thrust a lance in your hands and hope for the best.

They’ll spar with padded armor. When they reach a point in their training where the time has come for them to wear armor, they’ll be using older suits rather than new ones. If they spar with live weapons at all, at any point, the rules of the duel will be to first blood and will be watched very closely by their training instructors.

Training happens in stages.

You practice the pieces of the technique, broken down. You learn the stance, then you learn what you’re doing with your hands. How to hold the weapon. Then, you learn how to move the weapon. Then, you practice the technique all together incorporating your whole body. Then, you practice that singular technique with another human (drilling), then, you learn other techniques, then you learn to connect all those techniques together, then you learn the defenses against those techniques, then you practice them with your partner, and then… then you spar.

In between these stages, you condition. You drill. You condition more. Drill more. Learn more techniques. Sparring becomes a reward. As you go up in rank, the targets you are allowed to hit in sparring expand. The more difficult techniques you learn. You may then advance to other weapons, or you’ll be doing most of them at the same time.

Round and round we go.

Practice with the sword before you hold the shield. Practice with the shield before you hold the sword. Learn to wield the sword with one hand. Then with two. Then with a shield. Learn horseback riding. Learn the staff. Learn the bow. Learn the knife.

Then, once you have a base and you are lucky, you will spar against different weapon types.

If he is confident in your abilities and you have the time, he may hold a melee or allow you, his trainee, to participate in one. Or you may do so while squiring to a knight, depending on your master. What is a melee? It is a practice battle, like a real one without the death (usually).

Or, you may not get any of this. Be thrown into battle up front and be forced to learn as we go.

There’s a target point for what you want to have, and then there’s what you get. A medieval knight or squire or even a page may very well be forced into battle long before they’re “ready”. A page’s training also depends heavily on who is fostering him/her and if they care.

Knights were not given the same training. The concept of training, armed warfare, and mass conflict as we understand it today didn’t exist. They were dependent on which local lord took them under his wing, funded them, and how invested he (and his arms master) was in their training. If they got a sadist for a teacher then they got a sadist for a teacher.

The problem with the romantic “live weapon” idea most people have is that “live weapons” will better prepare you for real combat. They don’t, because nothing compares for real combat. These characters may also see combat long before they become a knight, as they’ll be squired out first and their experiences depend on what their knightly master will be doing.

Knights are a training investment of fourteen years. You don’t waste that lightly. It also costs way too much to outfit them with real shit that they will then misuse and break. Especially not when you can just give them the sturdier, more reliable shit that many others have used before them.

The same is true for the horses. They get the training ponies with the hard mouths before they ever approach a warhorse. They need to prove themselves worthy of the substantial investment which comes with equipping them.

Yes, even the sadistic masters do this. The only difference is the mind games they play while it happens.

And, yes, with the first battle it will always be “hope for the best”. Anything else, they’re kidding themselves. Training is about getting you as prepared as you can be for the real thing, but it is not the real thing and no amount of live blades in a practice arena will change that.

Which is why you don’t do it.

Besides that, there’s the injury risk. Students who don’t know what they’re doing have a greater chance of injuring themselves and others. Injuries are costly. Training relies on consistency. If you’re stuck in your room with a twisted ankle, a bruised collarbone, nevermind a serious injury like a broken bone, then your training will lapse. A student needs to stay active in order to remain viable. If they’re not then its a waste of money, equipment, and other resources like food.

You’ve got to feed them, billet them, and everything in between. If you want shock troopers that’s what the peasants are for. A knight is an investment. You push your investment. You do not break them. They then repay you with their service.

A single soldier in the United States Military costs the taxpayers around a million dollars. Their training is also among the cheapest things the military can buy. In terms of resources in the Middle Ages, the feeding, training, and equipping of a knight costs far more than that.

Think about it. And maybe do some more research.

Otherwise, you’ve got a trainer going, “I want to blow through fourteen years and nine million dollars to soothe my students’ egos!”


“Anything Goes” is a Hollywood creation. You train all combatants on the assumption they’ll be killed, you want to give them the tools to survive but they’ll probably die. For this reason, you need every single one. You can’t waste them on each other. That’s a major reason why tournaments came to exist, so you could have the war and the skill without the death.


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In a pseudo-medieval setting, my MC is learning to use a sword, and I don’t want her to be a prodigy or preternaturally skilled. Is it realistic for her to be able to win against knights – after she has grown proficient – or am I deluding myself?

Yeah, it’s the latter, unfortunately. We’ve gone over this a couple times, but European Knights were the elite combatants of their era. You’re talking about people that had been training intensely for somewhere between 7 and 14 years.

Again, they’d enter training as a page at 7, be advanced to a squire at 14, and by 21 their training would be complete and they’d be a knight.

If they’re training her, it’s not going to be about winning, or even impressing them. She’s not going to be able to keep up with them until she’s had a couple years training.

Can she impress them because reasons? Yeah, but that’s a massive cliche, and something I’d strongly recommend you avoid. Note that I did not say, “because she’s talented.” Being talented isn’t enough to get their respect. Can she beat them in sparring? No. Or at least not on her own merits.

If she started training at 8 or 9, and was now in her late teens or early 20s, then yes, at least on a technical level, she’d be their equal. But, you can’t circumvent that much training on a whim. She also can’t “catch up.”

You can’t catch up with someone who is training. If they’ve been training for ten years, and you start now, ten years from now you’ll have been training for ten years, and they’ll have twenty under their belt. When you have twenty years, they’ll have thirty. Unless they stop, they will always be ahead of you.

This applies for active combatants, as well. If you stop training and practicing, you’re giving your enemies a chance to catch up, which means dying, something that most of us want to avoid. So, you really can’t. If they’ve been campaigning, that’s training and experience, which is an even higher bar to hit.

So, no, basic proficiency will not give her the tools to overcome someone who’s spent most of their life practicing how to fight.

If you want to know how to actually impress an instructor in a martial art, the answer isn’t talent. It’s too common to really be held in high regard. Show up, pull your weight, prove that you want to succeed, work hard, and be reliable. Being talented just means your potential skill ceiling is higher, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever get there.

Being talented is just a promise on the potential of maybe, someday, never. Hard work is far more valuable.


I’m going to sign on with Starke and say that “preternaturally skilled” and “prodigy” are over hyped justifications in fiction for “kickass” characters, but the world just doesn’t work that way. A lot of writers (and people in general), who’ve never experienced any kind of combat, tend to approach fighting and training like a video game or a D&D game. You may start from behind and with a “prodigy” character, you get extra skill points that may help them level faster and eventually you will hit max level. In real life, there is no max level. There is no catch up.

There is just the accumulation of experience and the continual, necessary hard work to stay sharp. If we treat this like a game of rock, paper, scissors, then experience beats talent.

Talent is a dime a dozen. At best, you can use it as a justification for her learning quickly. All the talent in the world won’t help her against someone with real battlefield experience, the money to afford a top of the line charger and commission a blacksmith to make their sword and their armor. Medieval knights worked under a Patron-Client relationship, the ones with wealthy families, lands, and titles didn’t have to worry about finding a position. Other knights were not so lucky. They had to prove their worth through tourney and service, paying their dues, and in some cases were treated as little more than heavy infantry or cavalry until they could prove they were worth the time and money to incorporate into some greater lord’s entourage. If they didn’t already come with a name, then they had to make it for themselves.

A knight became a knight by virtue of their status at birth, but that doesn’t mean their road to success was easily paved. There were a lot of knights. Some were no better than mercenaries. Some were incredible warriors. Some were neither. Some were both.

Being Preternaturally Skilled Won’t Make Up For:

A good teacher. So, she’s training to fight with a sword. However, not all teachers are created equal. A talented student with a crappy teacher will end up a talented but mediocre if not outright crappy combatant. A good teacher makes up for a lot, a good teacher can turn the most talentless hack into a gold standard while a bad one can drive the most talented prodigy straight into a ditch. Most knights were trained by either their own family armsmaster or their liege lords.

All the Necessary Skills: You’re also saying she’s only studying the sword. It’s worth noting that European knights (like all professional combatants) studied the full range of martial disciplines from hand to hand, grappling, horsemanship, bow, the different varieties of long arms/pole arms, the different sword disciplines (including great sword), and other situational close combat melee weapons (such as mace, et all). They’d also be trained to fight in armor, fight duels, and fight in mass melee which require different skill sets. This is long before we get to the other necessary survival skills like social graces.

Lacking drive. Talent is nice, but hard work is what gets you places. This means getting up an hour or several hours before everyone else and being the last in bed. Working in the rain, in the mud, in the snow, in all seasons when everyone else is taking a break, continuing to strive for self-betterment even when others tell you that you’re already “good enough”. Good is not enough to be the best and if you want her to fight like the best then she has to train like one.

Lacking experience. Experience. Real battlefield experience. Real combat experience. Training is meant to supplement these in that it allows the practitioner to survive long enough to get some, but until she gets this she’ll always be behind. More, she has to be able to internalize and change, to accept that she still has more to learn and there may be something to be gained from people who are less technically proficient but have been at it longer. They’ve gone into the lion’s mouth and they have survived, time and again. Don’t discount that.

Talent doesn’t make you intelligent. It doesn’t make you smart. It doesn’t make you cunning. It doesn’t give you experience or drive. It may offer up a head start and a higher ceiling, but if she’s not proactively taking hold of it and making it hers then it doesn’t matter at all. It’s only one part of the package. The real ability to beat knights is going to come from her ability to assess them as a threat, to understand them, to learn their different styles, their different habits, to locate their weaknesses, and take advantage of them. All with the understanding that the truly skilled will be doing the same to her once they recognize her as a threat, if not before… just out of habit.

Lacking Access. If you want her to fight knights then she has to be in a position or put into a position in the story where she can get to them. You probably already have a scenario in mind. However, as a short review of Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale will inform you, if you want to compete in tournaments then you’ve got to have papers proving your noble status. The only other place she’ll encounter them is on the battlefield or when wandering about town. On the battlefield, she may lose if she’s not prepared and may lose even if she is. (This doesn’t necessarily mean death.) She may also be instructed by her commander not to kill them as nobles can be ransomed back to their families for a tidy sum and this is part of how most mercenaries made a living. However, not all knights were worth money and those without the ability to pay ransom were no better off than the common soldiers.

Outside of battle? Well, it’s worth remembering that killing the nobility usually comes with severe penalties because the powerful don’t like to die and don’t like the rabble challenging their authority. It doesn’t matter if they can’t find her. They’ll find someone and that someone will be made to pay. They also tend to travel in packs. If she fights one knight in a drunken tavern brawl, he’ll probably be joined by six or seven of his drinking buddies as she is not a noble and therefore lacks the right of dueling. Thus, she is fair game.

Don’t rely on honor to work in her favor if she’s outside the system. Without a patron to protect her, she may become very dead, very fast.

This all leads in to me saying: all things are possible, but only if you work for it and do your research.


I have a character who desperately wants to become a knight, but she’s 16 years old. If knight training begins as a page at 7, is there any way she can get around being too old, if she has a royal patron willing to advocate for her?

Probably not, and even if she could, she would still be an outsider surrounded by people who were either nine years younger than her or had spent the those years doing what she’s just now trying to start, and have a massive leg up on anything she’s attempting.

Now, if she’d started at seven, she’d still only be a squire, and not a full knight, so you could certainly write about her in training at sixteen, with the last nine years already spent in training, but it’d be a little late to start from scratch.

I suppose it’s possible she might be allowed to start as a squire instead of a page, which only puts her two years behind the curve, but that would create a lot of resentment from her peers, and still leave her playing catch up.

Unfortunately, with long formal training like this, part of the point is building camaraderie between the various participants through their shared experiences. You can see this with military training today, where the shared experiences from basic (and even later in their career) create a common context, and a sense of “us.” To an extent you can even apply this to public school or college. The shared experiences create an almost familial relation. Forcibly inserting a character into the system won’t automatically make them accepted, however, it could easily, permanently, brand them as an outsider or pariah. Being forcibly inserted at the beginning, would still have some resentment, but, ultimately, she’d be “one of them,” even if they weren’t completely thrilled with it.

Michi has a persistent and strong recommendation for Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series and it’s presentation of a girl going through the training to become the first female knight in her kingdom. So, I’ll defer and say, “yes, look at this thing.”

You might also want to look at Brienne of Tarth from the Game of Thrones novels. Though, that’s more of a blind recommendation from me, because that’s another series I’m only marginally conversant in.


Generally, how old would an experienced and well-regarded knight be? The character I’m writing is acting as the princess’s personal knight, but I want him to be fairly young as well. For that matter, when does a child’s knight training first start?

I know I’ve answered this one before, but according to Joseph Campbell, knights would be apprenticed as a page at 7, they’d be promoted to squire at 14, and finally be knighted at 21. (Michi thinks it’s from The Power of Myth, but she’s not 100% certain.)

From there, the question is just, how hard does he need to work to earn the respect of his peers, or to earn some kind of renown? I’d say something like 5 to 10 years beyond that (from 26 to 31), but that’s a mostly arbitrary guess on my part.


How difficult would it be for someone to change in weaponry fighting? Like going from fighting with a small battle axe to something like a long sword? It seems difficult if at all possible for the person to go from one to the other.

If you mean “pick up a weapon they’ve never seen before, in combat, and start from zero?” Very difficult. Actually, “difficult” might not be the right word, they would be fighting at a serious disadvantage. Without knowing the weapon they’re using, they’d be more likely to make exploitable mistakes when facing someone who’s actually been trained in that weapon.

If you’re talking about training in a new weapon, it varies. Some weapons transition easily into others, axes and hammers, or staffs and polearms. Even so, once you have a base, learning new weapons isn’t particularly difficult.

That said, swords are fairly difficult weapons to learn, and transitioning from an axe to a sword, or sometimes even between different types of swords, is non-trivial. Your character could certainly learn the sword, all it would take is time, dedication, and a willingness to learn new combat techniques.

Now, some of this might not be relevant, because combatants are rarely trained in one weapon exclusively. A medieval mercenary might favor an axe, but, depending on the quality of their training, they’d probably have a functional understanding of pole arms, maces, morning stars, crossbows, and most weapons, including swords, that were commonly used in their region. This was also true of knights (and their various counterparts), who would learn to use whatever weapon came to hand.

Low grade shock troops and basic infantry might only know one or two weapons, but for everyone else, versatility was how they stayed alive on the battlefield.







wat rings u got bitch?

Thus the myth of the knight lumbering around like Frankenstein is busted

This myth bugs me to no end, so let me clear it up here and now:

A made-to-measure suit of full plate armour is (and ergo was) less cumbersome to wear than, say, an ill-fitting all-weather coat. It was expensive as heck, but the movement it afforded was surprisingly non-restrictive. Also remember that the men who wore these suits were usually quite physically fit (medieval knights – who were among the few who could afford the armour – were trained to fight from around 6 years-old), and were accustomed to training while wearing them.

Plate armour was moderately heavy, granted, but the weight was optimally distributed over the body, meaning the mostly costly aspect of wearing it was increased fatigue. It’s not heavy in the same way a hiking backpack is heavy. Any accounts of a knight being unable to rise after being knocked down were most likely because he was injured, dehydrated, or just plain exhausted – all of which being common in battle anyway. Regardless, it’s unlikely that it’s because his armour prevented him from moving… and the fallacy of knights requiring cranes to get onto their horses is just stupid.

The idea that full plate was sooo impractical is ludicrous; if it were, people wouldn’t have bothered with it.

“But plate armor is increadibly heavyyyy! Only giant musclemen can even move in iiiit! It’s completely useless against agile unarmored foooooes! Women can’t even put it oooon, its sole weight will nail them in one placeeee!”

If it’s not “the distraction factor“ that people use to try to justify ridiculous female armor, it’s "agility”.

We’ve featured another video that dispelled many myths about field plate armor, but the performers weren’t as agile as the noble knight above.

Partially this myth survives I think because like Dungeons and Dragons always insist on selling up the idea that heavier armors come with heavier agility penalties.  And to a certain extent, there are certain activities I wouldn’t expect to be able to do while wearing plate armor.

  • Rock climbing without tools or ropes
  • High diving and synchronized swimming
  • Aerial gymnastics 
  • Dancing en pointe

Okay I don’t do any of those things but you get the point.

Practical armor is made to allow at least a fair amount of agility for it’s wearer for a simple reason: The best defense is not to be in the way of the attack, that way you don’t suffer any of the impact.

Or to put it a simpler way:  Lots of safety gear is uncomfortable and encumbering, but was the last time you heard someone propose that workers should just go without – that way if there’s an accident they’ll be able to get out of the way quicker?

– wincenworks

Hello! I’m writing a story where some of the characters have had training with weapons such as swords, spears and so on. The problem is, is that I don’t know how long it would take to go from being a novice to an expert. How many months or years would it take?

Traditional, European, knight training would last fourteen years. Starting when the prospective knight turned seven, and lasting until they were twenty-one. They’d spend seven years serving as a page before becoming a squire at fourteen. Obviously, that encompassed a bit more than just training on a sword, but it’s a good starting point. In a modern context, you can probably train to an expert level with a sword in five or six years.

For a spear, I’m inclined to say six months for combat proficiency. From what I know, polearms are a lot easier to train on. To actually become an expert? You’re probably still looking at years of training, but, and I could be wrong, in conventional combat, spears have a much lower skill ceiling than swords. So, I’m inclined to say the extra time and effort would be wasted.