The Secret Weapon

I finally watched all the Lord of the Rings films for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend. For those few of you more stubborn than I am, the story is a good vs. evil epic set in a fantasy world based vaguely on medieval Europe, and as you might expect, there are lots of battles complete with swords, bows, and horses charging into lines of lowered spears.

Somewhere around the 30th of these battles I began to wonder, “How did anybody ever survive in the days of hand-to-hand combat? No matter how great a fighter you are, there’s no way to maintain a 360° view of what’s going on around you and defend yourself from multiple attacks from every angle.”

But if you pay attention the question answers itself. The answer is, quite simply: have a lot of friends.

I don’t know how accurate these fight scenes are, but in almost every one, one of the main characters is saved from imminent unsuspected death by a friend who has conveniently just killed their assailant and is able to run to the rescue. And this does tie in with various historical records of great enemies fighting their way across the battlefield towards each other – in the sense that the good fighters were not only absorbed by their own immediate fight, but were keeping an eye on other people of importance to them. So the more friends you have, the more close-knit you are, the more likely you are to escape alive from battle.

“Oh, very useful,” you’re saying. “I’ll keep that in mind the next time I run into an angry band of Visigoths and Huns.”

But of course battle can be anything: for instance, the political maneuverings at a company, when the victor is usually determined by how many impressively-titled fans they have. In a lesser and looser sense, it could simply be those times you need a favor. It’s nice to have a close group of friends to choose to ask it of.

Nor is this advice as self-centered as it sounds. Aragorn, arguably the most popular guy on the battlefields of Middle Earth, earned that loyalty by taking up a fight that was not his own, fighting at the front line of every battle, and offering support, rescue or encouragement to others many more times than he received it. You have to be a friend to have friends – advice most often given to teens looking for someone to hang out with, but which actually has a much wider application.

4 thoughts on “The Secret Weapon

  1. I clicked on one of the categories–that’s why I’m so far in the rabbit hole I just found Trix, Peter, Bugs, and Robert playing poker.

    I think one thing you can do to get a sense of this is watch the “Battle of the Nations” medieval combat reenactors. I also know several folks (male and female) who participate in the SCA armor fights. As these are based on weight class of armor, you see different techniques. I can put you in touch with some of them if you want.

    Basically the accounts of the real badasses state they seemed to have a sixth sense. Modern military folks call this “situational awareness,” and I do think some people are gifted with it. Also in most ancient warfare you usually only had to worry about frontal arc even when the battle was joined. That’s why getting enveloped (see Cannae) was all bad–there is almost literally no way to “check six” in ranks while wearing armor.

    1. In this context I’m seriously ticked I live in Topeka. In LA there are three different HEMA groups I could have joined. In the middle of the country… not so much. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of SCA; I nearly joined in college. Probably something to check out now.

      I get that having friends is not the only or even the chief way to survive. Fighting skill, the strength of the opposing army, reasonably sensible commanders, luck and, yes, sixth sense all play a role to varying degrees. (All of which add up to: I have no illusions that I would survive battle for more than about 6 seconds.)

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