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At LARP I mostly see people who focus on Sword and Board (or Sword and shield as it's sometimes known) holding their shield in their left arm, sword in the right.

I'm sure I've heard some historical text, and sound reasoning that you want your strongest arm to stop yourself from getting killed by using a shield. Any attack you make is a bonus.

  1. Is this at all historical?
  2. Is there a precedent or reason to take this logic (flawed or not) over to a LARP system?
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Both sword and shield are weapons. They are employed for both offense and defense. The sword benefits more from precision, so it makes most sense to put it in your dominant hand. –  Alex P Sep 6 '12 at 23:38
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Whether or not it's historical would be a great question for history.stackexchange.com. –  AceCalhoon Sep 6 '12 at 23:41
    
@alexp not in every Larp system they aren't. –  Pureferret Sep 6 '12 at 23:52
    
If you plan to use the shield to block your opponents sword attacks, you should wield it in a hand that maximizes that benefit. (if they are swinging hard with their right hand, you need your left hand holding a shield to block) –  Colin D Sep 7 '12 at 14:16
    
As far as I know, historically, the shield was carried on the left arm. That's also why many castles have a right-wise turning path leading up to them...the right side carrying the sword would be exposes to the defendants. –  Bobby Sep 8 '12 at 20:07
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Every historical manuscript we have today on medieval sword fighting techniques describes and depicts the shield being used in the left hand, which is the off hand for 70–90% of the modern population (which is reasonably extrapolated to historical populations).

As Alex P notes in a comment, the sword is actually a tool of finesse and control, not a blunt instrument, and benefits greatly from the precision available to the dominant hand. However, this doesn't translate to LARP combat unless you are (for no good reason†) using a fairly historical fighting style, which is fairly far from "theatrical" sword fighting that most people are familiar with. Historical styles frequently rely on using parts of the opponent's blade, shield, and body as the fulcrum to position the last 1/3 of the long blade for relatively force-less slices and pulling cuts, with only the occasional full-on swing into an opportunistic or deliberately-created opening in the opponent's defenses.

As a result, most people who aren't trained in a historical style will benefit from strength more than finesse, and then the point of using the dominant hand is much reduced. If your opponents are more of the "swing for the opening" style of theatrical sword fighting, then the difference becomes marginal. The greater dexterity from the dominant hand for interposing a shield might prove useful, but whether it balances the loss of dexterity for strikes is going to depend on the individual.

† A LARP boffer doesn't have an edge to either take advantage of or to protect from being damaged, so the constraints around which historical fighting styles were developed simply aren't part of LARP weapons.

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Unfortunately the only images from these manuscripts which are available in the public domain are from the Novati manuscript of the Flower of Battle, which is missing the sections on sword-and-shield techniques, so I can't include the pretty pictures I'd like to. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 7 '12 at 1:23
    
To piggyback, unless you are using a smaller shield, like a buckler, you won't need much dexterity in your shield arm. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Sep 11 '12 at 15:29
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There are good reasons why historical treatises show the shield almost always in the left. One is practical - defenders in castles have an advantage by havin the shield on the left hand. One is religious - the left hand was considered to be inferior for religious reasons. The term for the left hand is the sinister hand... while the right is the dexter hand. The third is social, in that reactions to non-conformity tended to be more extreme than present societies, sometimes fatally so.

Combine this with the very practical difficulties of blocking a right hand weapon with a right hand shield - you can't block the fairly easy outside sideswing without taking your own weapon out of threat. While you can parry, you also have made it much more likely you yourself will both hit and be hit.

There is also the unit issue. In melee units, each man's shield protects both himself, and to a lesser amount, the man to his left. If you have a shield on the right, not only does the man on your left not benefit from your shield, but your shield binds into the man on your right's shield, making both less useful, and further, denying you benefit from the shield to your right.

The reasons for using a shield in dexter (right) hand are primarily of use against less experienced fighters, or when the right hand is incapable of holding a weapon (due to injury or disability). A man who has no right hand (but still a right forearm) can still bear a shield on the stump; better to have the shield than not. Likewise, against lesser fighters than oneself, the ability to parry them off can make up for the open side, and if they don't think fast, they can be thumped quickly enough for the unfamiliarity to turn the bout.

Still, in general, it's ahistoric and not sufficiently worth the benefits for any but the most severely left-dominant folk to do so consistently.

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