Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Monkeysphere.

           Last night I was thinking about some aspects of organization. One of the questions I was looking at was what is the optimum size for a task-orientated team? The correct answer to this depends on what the task is, and also who is making up your team. A grouping of individuals with self-discipline and a concept of duty are likely to achieve much more than the equivalent number of hippies. There is an allegedly Muslim trope I once read that explained why four wives are necessary. One is not enough; two will fight and if there are three two will gang up on the third. That does actually describe some social and working groups I have had to deal with. Answers about optimum team size vary:- “no more than five”, “between five and seven”, “four to twelve”, “never more than nine” and so on. It does depend on the situation and the “materials” you are working with. Incidentally, army squad size is usually less than fifteen since this is about the limit of people one leader can co-ordinate with his voice before personal radios etc. For similar reasons, military companies tend to be 150 or less since this was the practical number that an officer could control with drums, bugles or flags.

           Following these lines of thought I recalled a section in Simpkin’s “Race to the Swift” that mentioned “packs” and “tribes”. This is on page 216 and attributes the idea to an Anthony Sampson. The pack may be up to a dozen and the tribe several hundred, according to Sampson. Simpkin's own observations were that a soldier’s loyalty seems to revolve around more immediate small units such as a tank crew, gun detachment, fire team etc. He also states that for the junior ranks of the British Army the key object of loyalty in achieving coherent behaviour under fire seemed to be the company.

           This obviously brought me back to the idea of Dunbar’s number and I finally got around to reading the “monkeysphere” article by David Wong. It is worth a read.

The Books

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pimp my Fighting Staff!

           Regular readers will know that I am fond of the occasional silly action movie. Pure escapism and sometimes that is not a bad thing. Some of these movies have a plot where someone (usually with a history of special forces service!) drops through a dimensional gate/wormhole/timewarp/magic portal and finds themselves in a medieval/magical/fantasy realm. Now, if I found myself in such a scenario what weapons might I request from the local armourer or blacksmith?

           I would hope there was some local equivalent comparable to my kukri, of course. A machete or similar short sword such as a hanger would be welcome too. Many of you will have said a bow, but if I am honest my skill with one is unlikely to be sufficient. Even if it is, one is going to need close combat weapons too.

           In other posts I have discussed the merits of a staff weapon of less than my height. Something of about five foot long, or between armpit and brow height. I have a fighting staff of these dimensions at home and this would be one of the first weapons I grab should I need one.

           A good solid five foot wooden pole is quite a formidable weapon in itself if you know what you are doing and have studied the techniques in my book. It is possible, however, that we can make the weapon harder hitting.


           A number of options suggest themselves here. One is for a short variety of naginata. Effectively a sword blade with a pole handle. It is tempting to add a hook or two to the blade to let us pull an enemy’s shield aside. The blade begins to evolve into something like a welsh hook or English bill (above). A drawback of cutting weapons, of course, is that they have to hit a target edge on. Weapons like the naginata have an oval section haft to orientate the blade correctly. Similar weapons have a groove cut down the back of the haft to allow the user to determine the correct grip by touch. My favourite ready position with a staff is a hanging guard, which means that any blows made start from low down. Making a cutting edge arrive correctly for me would require some extra movement of the wrists for some angles of attack, which goes against my usual KISS approach to most things. Also, if I have to grab the weapon in haste do I want to worry about hitting the foe with the back or flat of the blade?

           Today I am going to explore another option of “pimp my fighting staff”. Some of you will have encountered the Japanese weapon known as a kanabo. Kanabo come in many shapes and sizes, the most familiar resembling studded baseball bats. A while back I came across this charming image of a samurai.

Wikipedia describes his weapon as a kanabo. This particular version of a kanabo looks like a studded fighting staff. It is higher than his armpit but shorter than his brow. Some sources claim his weapon is all metal but some ambiguity in translation might exist here since kanabo means “metal stick”. Some kanabo were all metal, while in some cases the word metal might just allude to the strength of the weapon, much as we say someone had “iron will” or a “fist of steel”.

           A studded fighting staff sounds good to me. Note that the butt of the samurai’s weapon has a useful short spike. The shaft also broadens at the butt to so the hand is less likely to slip off. This allows a weapon to the “darted” through a hand to increase reach quickly. This part may need to be made of metal to counterbalance the head end of the staff.

The studded section could probably use some langets to resist sword blades. The main addition I would like is something like a spearhead or stabling spike at the top end. This picture of a medieval weapon gives an idea of what is practical. Perhaps something simple and functional resembling a boarding pikehead with langets and a triangular section blade?

A crossguard or “arrest” like a boarspear would be prudent, and if one tine is turned up and the other down like a manji sai /nuntebo I am sure that such a feature will serve numerous uses, both martial and mundane. Such a hook can be used like an ice axe to slow a slide down a snowy or muddy slope. We might as well add a tassel just below the crossguard. A tassel helps divert rain from running down the shaft and can be used to distract an enemy or aggressive animal. A small guard or vamplate between the studded and grip section would be a nice feature too. Among other functions this would help divert rain or blood from making the handle slippery.
The Books

Monday, 25 January 2016

Sword vs Pike

           A good friend of mine grows increasingly frustrated with facebook. I can sympathise with this. If it were not the only means I currently have of communicating with my girlfriend I suspect I would be spending much less time on it too. On the other hand it does occasionally inspire posts to this blog. Recently I saw an illustration on facebook showing swordsmen fighting against hoplites. Below there were many smug comments about “bringing a sword to a pike fight”. That is exactly what you do do!

           The history of swordsmen beating pikes goes back at least to the Romans. Many of the enemies of the early Roman army used the phalanx and the signature fighting method of the Roman legion grew from combat with such adversaries. Fast forward a few centuries and you have the Spanish “sword and buckler men” or “Rodeleros”. Like the Swiss halberdiers and German Zweihändermen they were used to attack and disrupt pike formations.

           To understand the mechanism here imagine you are holding a spear a couple of metres long. If an enemy steps a pace beyond the point of your spear you can bring your point back an equal distance by moving your hands back. Now suppose you are holding a long pike of five or six metres. The enemy slips past the point of your pike and takes a couple of paces. He is beyond the distance you can easily withdraw your point to stab him! You can try stepping back yourself or shortening your hold on the pike. However, pikes were used in massed formations so the comrades behind you will prevent you being able to make these moves.

           This is exactly what the Romans and Rodeleros would do. Shield and sword allowed them to deflect or block the thrusting pike points and close the distance. Allegedly some Rodeleros would throw themselves to the ground and roll under the points. Halberdiers and Zweihändermen used the same basic idea but different weapons. Some claim the Zweihändermen would simply chop through the pikeshafts before laying into the pikemen.

           To resist such tactics a pike square would include its own contingent of swordsmen or halberdiers.

The Books

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Simplicity and Omelettes

            For today’s blog I will make some observations about how some people approach problems and also give you a simple recipe for when you need quick and simple.

            I have had the misfortune to work with certain individuals that are quite incapable of doing things simply. Some have even been considered “negative manpower” in that when they were involved in a job we needed more people to compensate for all the speedbumps they threw in our way and spanners they cast in the works. It is quite incomprehensible to them that equal or superior results may be achieved by simpler means. If they were in a fight and their attacker fell down they would probably go to ground themselves and try to apply some fancy holding technique. Simply stomping on the attacker's leg and running away would never occur.

            I am reminded of this since the other day I remembered that we had some eggs that were due to be used up. An omelette would be nice, I decided. I recalled that somewhere in my collection of recipes was directions to make an omelette. There was something about waiting 30 seconds and then bringing the edges into the centre, waiting another 30 seconds and doing something else, then another 30 secs and so on. Sitting at work I decided to see if I could find this method on-line. I websearched “30 second omelette” and to my surprise got methods for cooking omelette in only 30 seconds! Much mumbo-jumbo seems to have been written about the difficulty of making perfect omelettes! The following may not be perfect or the best-ever, but I doubt you will be disappointed!

            The basic method is this. Add salt, pepper and three eggs to a bowl and beat with a balloon whisk or fork until mixed evenly. Heat your frying pan good and hot. I use oil but add a blob of butter if I have some. Let the butter melt and wait until it just browns (or a few moments before!) Give your eggs a final whisk and in one smooth, quick action pour the mix into the pan. You now just swirl the mix around the pan and shake the pan to spread it evenly. Mine seem to take a little more than 30 secs but I am a little cautious with the heat. Watch for when some of the egg is still liquid but cannot be sloshed around over the rest of the omelette. Underside should be golden brown. That is when to add the filling and fold the sides over. The remaining “wetness” helps glue the flap over and will cook from residual heat while you are sliding the omelette onto the plate.

            I like to use garlic salt rather than plain salt. Some herbs or Worcestershire, soy or tabasco sauce added to the mix is not bad either. I had a single rasher of bacon to use up so shredded this and fried it in the pan bottom before adding the omelette mix.

            While I was writing this I came across a method for cooking an omelette in a bag claimed to be a “kitchen hack”. “Only” takes 13 minutes!

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