This is a guide on sizing a shield for Amtgard combat using measurements and combat experience. I am going to focus on round designs, as they are the most common and available, and will cover some things to help you become accustomed to your new equipment. I have been bouncing ideas off several notable fighters in the Amtgard community. I want to thank them here without name dropping; without their input I would not be confident in putting all of this on paper.
I’m going to take a moment to introduce myself; I like to know that I am getting information from a credible source, and I assume that you do as well. My Amtgard name is Kay-Ef'Em; I live and fight in San Antonio. I started with foam combat playing HFS, a game similar to Amtgard. I started playing Amtgard in 1998 in Austin and was quickly taken under the wing of the fighters there. I played a lot of Amtgard in a very competitive environment between 1998 and 2001, fought mainly in San Antonio for a year, and then moved in 2002 to south Texas and stayed until 2006, training up a couple local fighters there. From 2002 to 2006 my fighting was very good: I placed in most of the kingdom level tournaments in the Celestial Kingdom during that time when I was able to enter. I was well rounded with sword and board, two swords, and polearms. I never won the big one, but I stayed competitive. During this time there was change happening in the game, change that I did not keep up with. This was really the end of my competitive fighting days.
Fast forward to present day: I am a re-entry fighter who has not fought regularly in roughly six years, has very little useable equipment, and whose skill set has been outpaced by the modern game. Much of the information in this article is the result of my trial and error while rebuilding my equipment as well as my skills to compete with the best fighters in the game. I hope that you can learn from my experience and take away something that helps you find your Perfect Shield.
Shield: a broad piece of defensive armor carried on the arm: one that protects or defends : defense
There is no end to the variations that you can find in both shield use and construction when it comes to recreating medieval style combat. Many people have a very specific way that they set up their equipment, and without that precise setup, they are uncomfortable. It is very likely that if you merely copy what works for another, it will be less than ideal for you. As you read through this article, realize that you will likely have to make adjustments to dial in any piece of equipment for your personal use.
I started the process of choosing a better shield by analyzing my current gear. I had a large, poorly constructed round shield. This was built years ago as a joke to use at an interkingdom event. Having no desire to fight with bad equipment, I decided to start from scratch. I looked around at what other local fighters were using. The majority seemed to have either a flat or concave round design. The snowsled shields were roughly the same size; the flat style varied. I decided to go with the readily available Warlord Sports 28” T. This is a heavy duty solid foam core that comes with a pre-made cover and straps. For comparison, I rebuilt my existing large shield into a 36-inch diameter round.
I wanted to be as objective and methodical as possible when testing the shields, so I devised a plan. I would spend some time to get comfortable with each shield before starting any real data gathering, and then I would set up a test where I fought the same people a set number of bouts with each shield. During my initial testing with the 28, I had difficulty defending myself at times. Though the shield felt good on my arm, I was falling prey to my opponents’ fakes, particularly on my shield-side hip and shoulder. This struck me as odd, since shield-side defense is normally my strong point.
While using the 36-inch shield, I was not having the same issue with fakes. In fact I noticed that I could largely ignore fakes since anything thrown toward the shield was unlikely to make it past. The comparison here brings us to a core issue when it comes to shield work. As a shield becomes larger, it provides increased passive defense at the cost of getting in the way of your offense as well. Considering that there are many different ways to fight with a shield, finding the proper balance is challenging at best. One thing I was sure of at this point was that neither of my shields hit that mark.
I normally fight with my shield foot forward, placing a premium on passive defense from my shield since it is presented as the closest target. During testing I found the need to increase the diameter of the 28 to 30 inches. This increase in size gave my shoulder and hip the protection they were missing. Two inches doesn't sound like much, but it is actually a lot of surface area: an extra 90 square inches in fact. With the shield foot forward, a little extra size can show big advantages; with sword foot forward, I feel like you can do without the added material.
Center grip versus Forearm strap: this debate continues. Choosing one or the other will net you a host of opinions from fighters. I will put some facts on the table, and then I will share my opinion and preference.
Center grip shields are more maneuverable: as they are held in the hand, the center of the shield can go wherever you can place your hand. A fighter can place the shield at different distances from the body, changing the angle required to strike. The mobility and positioning options mean that you can cover more of your body with less surface area, as long as you put the shield in the proper place.
Center grip shields place all of the weight of the shield in the hand. If your arm is extended from your body, any force exerted on the shield is transferred into your arm. Most shields used in this manner are constructed to be light enough that fatigue is not a major concern; however, the lack of mass means less resistance against outside forces. This makes a center grip shield a poor tool for equipment manipulation in most planes, the exception being straight ahead toward the opponent.
Forearm strapped shields are less maneuverable and more stable. At minimum, the shield is attached to the forearm, giving it more support along that axis. Many fighters place their shoulder or hip against the shield as well, adding support. The strapped shield’s mobility is generally achieved by swinging the hand toward the hip or face, with elbow position remaining static. If the elbow moves away from the ribs, this causes the shield to table the edge away from the user depending on hand position. If the hand moves away from the body while the elbow remains close, the edge can swing out to contact the opponent. The added support of the straps gives the shield the ability to move an opponent’s equipment away from their body. The weight of the strapped shield is carried closer to the body, with shoulder involvement, so impacts to the shield generally are absorbed by the torso.
I see the value in both styles; my preference is to use a strapped shield to manipulate equipment aggressively. I also like to use heavier equipment to resist movement from outside sources. If I were to use a center grip shield regularly, I would want it to be smaller and lighter than my strapped setup. In addition, I would likely fight sword foot forward to take advantage of cross body angles as well as denying my shield side as a target to a certain degree.
Brennon recently put out a short article about shield sizing, and it contains some excellent guidelines, as well as his opinions on strapping and stance. I agree with him on some points and have differing views on others. If you are using a strapped shield, in your normal guard your shoulder and hip on your shield side should be covered at the same time. It should require an angled attack to strike either of these areas. This will give you adequate passive defense from your starting position. A good baseline for sizing is a diameter of .35 to .45 times your height if using a flat shield. Most domed shields measure at 25 to 26 inches on the back side, with the shoulder being inside the curve, providing more coverage than an equal size flat. The Warlord Sports 28-inch flat will fall into the suggested percentage range for most people up to about 6 feet in height. This will vary based on the size/length of your torso.
To test the two shields, I traveled to Austin and got the chance to face off against a variety of opponents. I asked people to come to the side and fight five throws against each shield. The results surprised me in that the large shield actually seemed to intimidate with its size, while the 30-inch shield proved adequate defensively and was easier to fight with overall. At my height of 76 inches, the 30-inch diameter is quite good while the 36-inch is certainly a bit oversized. Both shields are usable and hold up fine against warlord caliber opponents. I want to stress that I took lots of time to fight with each shield over a period of about two months. You will need to evaluate your own fighting skills honestly during this time: if you keep building your shield bigger and bigger thinking that this will solve all of your issues, you are mistaken. The goal is to find the right balance, not build the thing so big that no one can hit you.
Short version: To size a round shield, a diameter of 35 to 45 percent of your height is a good baseline. If you prefer a center grip or sword foot forward, you will be comfortable at the smaller end of that figure. If you fight strapped with shield foot forward, you may approach the upper range. The real test is to make sure your shoulder and hip have coverage, then get out there and fight.
I polled a lot of the best sword and board fighters in the game, and their answers back up my findings as far as shield size. Feel free to contact me through email at Elbigsam@yahoo.com any time if you have questions or comments you want to share.