Sword and shield of the Spanish
The Rodella had two uses, one being to protect the user and the second as an offensive weapon itself. Before looking further at this there is simply not enough room to fit a full explanation of the shields use from the 16th century to the 17th as its use changed with the fencing systems as they progressed. As such I will look at the rodela use from the perspective of La Vadedera Destreza in the 17th century wile pointing out some differences from the other systems in use (those systems being known as vulgar or common fencing at the time)
The guards and cuts
The shield in Destreza has three positons, the first being to hold it in front with a palms distance from the chest, the second is to hold it on the left side to protect the ribs and shoulder and finely, the third position is to have the shield held up to the left protecting the head.
The rodela should also only protects the left side of the body as the sword is used to protect the right. (In common fencing the shield would protect the right as well)
Example of the first guard (picture A) the shield is held against the body with a palms distance from the chest, this allows for a more square positon giving more strength but less distance as in the right angle (The right angle is a primary position used in Destreze, the body is profiled and the sword is held shoulder height pointing at the opponent)
Similar to the dagger the swordsman or woman fights with the sword and only uses the shield to help. It is important to move the blade around he shield and to always cover the lines (angles of attack that he opponent will use to thrust or cut you)
The shield should never obstruct your vision or be used to cross the arms limiting the movement of your sword arm or in fact the offence ability of the shield itself. Some masters do recommend fighting from under the shield (raising the shield above you and trying to see under the shield) however this is not recommended as any obstruction to your vision gives a great advantage to the opponent to capitalize on.
An example of this is having the sword bind with the opponents (two swords connect) and to use leverage to place the opponent’s sword onto your shield, in turn freeing your blade to attack the opponent.
The sword is also used to clear the shield at times, this is often done while performing a cut to the opponent (Picture B)
The shield is also never used (like the sword) to protect the legs, instead quick footwork and timing is used keeping the feet safe with slipping the leg and manipulating the distance. This frees the shield and sword to protect and attack at all times. An example of this would be to slip the right leg and counter cut to the opponent’s sword arm while protecting the left mid line (left side of the chest) with the shield.
To drop the shield or sword to defend the legs would open you up to a counter cut or thrust on that side, this also coincides with the principle that you never drop the hilt of the sword or shield hand below the navel. (Again this can depend on the style of fencing as some earlier masters of the Italian school or French schools recommend meeting the opponent’s blade with your own sword)
Using the shield to attack
This can come as a surprise to some people, but the shield, specifically the rodela, was a primarily offensive weapon. It is common to think of the shield as a defensive weapon with the common image of the Viking or knight wearing amour and holding sted fast against hordes of opponents as their comrades go on the offensive. This however was not the case, being overly defensive with a shield is not recommended. One of the main rules as taught by the master Thomas luis a Portuguese mater of fencing in the early 17th century, stated in his fencing treaties that you must always move forward or at the very least on the diameter line (circular around the opponent) There are many reasons for this however the man one being of safety, being close to the opponent allows for you to dominate the distance and cover more lines of attack, the further away you are the more areas you have to cover and the more vulnerable you become.
This leads into the second reason, and one that is very important and practice. This being of course the use of the shield in an offensive manner. The shield was often used to strike the opponent in the head or chest, to trap and pin the hands and arms or even (as recommended by an Italian master) to throw the shield at the opponent.
Thomas luis also recommends a spike be placed on the center of the shield in order to more effectively attack the opponent.
Like any weapon the rodela should be used to its full effectiveness, a novel way and one that is suggested in a few fencing treaties is that it is recommended to catch opponents thrusts or cuts allowing the blade or point to sink deep into the shield and getting stuck. This then opens the opponent up for a counter attack that often cannot be countered as the rodela is simple dropped taking the opponents sword with it.
Using the rodela with polearms
The rodela was also used with polearms, main examples of this come from Italian sources, such as the Italian master Antonio Manciolino’s treaties Opera Nova printed in 1531. In this treaties you can see the Rodella or (rotela) in Italian, strapped to the left arm while the swordsman holds a spear. This is also one of the treaties that talks about fighting against the same combination.
The rodela has also been used with the dagger and cape, with some masters stating you should hold the dagger in the same had as the rodela and wrap the cape around your arm and shoulder. The versatility of the rodela saw it become a main stay of many fencing schools even when it fell ut of use on the battlefields.
The rodela is my favorite accompanying weapon, its use throughout history has earned it respect and admiration throughout the known world. The use of the shield dates back far into antiquity and has seen a resurgence even today with riot and public order units implementing round riot shields in to their repertoire. The shield itself allows for a combination of weapons to be used, and an aggressive fight. It’s tried and tested, simple and effective and a combination that any martial artist with an interest in weapons should try.