The Buckler: Small And Effective

The Buckler: Small And Effective

The buckler, a small yet formidable shield, stands as a symbol of martial skill and ingenuity across various cultures and epochs. Predominantly utilized from the 12th to the 18th century, this compact armament carved its niche in the annals of military history, not merely as a means of defensive but as a significant component of offensive strategy. Its versatility and efficiency rendered it indispensable in the intricate dance of classical rapier play and the disciplined formality of I.33 sparring, the earliest known fencing manual that details the use of the buckler alongside the sword.

Types and Cultural Variations

Buckler Manual

The buckler's design is marked by its size and manageability, typically ranging from 6 to 18 inches in diameter. It was crafted to be light enough to be manoeuvred with ease, yet sturdy enough to deflect blows and, in skilled hands, to disrupt an opponent's balance and control. Across different cultures, variations of the buckler were developed, each reflecting the unique martial traditions and aesthetic preferences of its people.

European Buckler

The quintessential buckler most are familiar with originated in Europe. Made of wood, metal, or a combination thereof, it featured a central boss that protected the hand and could be used offensively to strike an opponent. The European buckler was a staple in the arsenal of medieval knights and soldiers, facilitating a fighting style that balanced offence and defence with precision and agility.

Indian Dhal Shield

Eastern Variants

In the East, similar small shields were used, though often with distinct characteristics suited to the regional martial arts. For example, in India, the dhal (a small, round shield) was employed not just for defence but as a weapon in its own right, often paired with a sword or sabre in the other hand.

African Influences

African shields, while generally larger than the traditional buckler, included smaller variants used in personal combat. These were often made from animal hide and decorated with symbolic designs. They served both as protective gear in combat and as cultural emblems.

The Art of Buckler Combat

The buckler's true value lies in its application in combat. Unlike larger shields, the buckler was used not just to passively block attacks but actively to create openings, control the flow of the fight, and enhance the wielder's offensive capabilities. The techniques varied greatly, from simple parries and deflections to complex manoeuvres that involved binding the opponent's weapon or arm, allowing for counterattacks.

Buckler Combat

In rapier and sword play, the buckler served as an extension of the arm, moving in harmony with the blade to form a cohesive unit of defence and attack. It allowed fighters to engage at close quarters, providing protection against slashes and thrusts while offering opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the opponent's guard.

The I.33 manuscript, also known as the "Tower Manuscript" or the "Walpurgis Manuscript," is a comprehensive medieval fencing manual that details the use of the sword and buckler. It describes a variety of guards, strikes, and counters designed to provide a comprehensive fighting system. Here are some examples of the techniques and positions outlined in the manuscript:

Guards (Wards)

  • Underarm (Underhut): A defensive position with the sword held low and to the side, point directed at the opponent's face or chest, allowing for quick upward strikes or thrusts.
  • Priest's Special Longpoint (Pfaffe Spezial Langort): A guard where the sword is held out straight towards the opponent, with the buckler positioned in front to protect the hand and forearm, ready to thrust or to defend against incoming attacks.
  • Half Shield (Halbschilt): In this guard, the sword and buckler are held in front, with the sword's point angled up and the buckler positioned to protect the lower body, preparing for defensive or offensive actions.
  • Iron Gate (Eisenport): A lower guard with the sword held vertically down in front of the body, offering a defensive stance that can quickly transition into an attacking move.
Buckler Shield Battle


  • Oberhau (Descending Cut): A powerful downward strike aimed at the opponent's head or shoulders, often initiated from a high guard position.
  • Unterhau (Ascending Cut): An upward strike from below, targeting the opponent's lower openings or rising to the upper body, typically launched from a lower guard like the Underarm.
  • Zwerchhau (Thwart Cut): A horizontal strike across the opponent's body or head, executed from the side to bypass their defences.
  • Stich (Thrust): A direct thrust aimed at the opponent, precise and quick, capable of targeting gaps in the opponent's defence.


  • Binding: Engaging the opponent's blade with one's own to control their weapon and create an opening for a counter-attack.
  • Disarming: Techniques designed to force the opponent to drop their weapon, using leverage and positioning to twist the sword out of their grip.
  • Winding: Rotating the sword around the opponent's blade to gain a more advantageous position for a strike or thrust, often while maintaining contact with their weapon to control the fight.
  • Counter-thrust (Gegenstich): A counter-move to an opponent's thrust, redirecting or blocking their attack with the sword or buckler and responding with a thrust of one's own.

These techniques and positions form the core of the combat system depicted in the I.33 manuscript, emphasizing the dynamic interplay between offence and defence. The manuscript shows that mastery of these guards, strikes, and counters, along with an understanding of timing and distance, was essential for a fighter to be successful in combat with the sword and buckler.

Q&A for the Avid Collector and Historian

How was the buckler carried when not in use?
The buckler was typically carried on the belt or, in some cases, hung from the wrist, allowing for quick deployment in combat situations.

Were bucklers used in duels or battlefield combat?
Bucklers were versatile and used in both contexts. In duels, their small size allowed for precise and agile combat moves. On the battlefield, they offered soldiers a lightweight defence that did not hinder mobility.

Can the buckler be considered a weapon?
Absolutely. While primarily defensive, the buckler's design, especially the protruding boss, allowed it to be used offensively to strike or push an opponent.

Are there any famous bucklers?
The most famous bucklers are those depicted in combat manuals and treatises, such as the aforementioned I.33 or "Tower Manuscript," which is the earliest known fencing manual that extensively illustrates the use of the buckler in combat. While the manuscript itself does not highlight a specific buckler, the techniques and depictions within it have made the concept of the medieval buckler famous.

The buckler, though no longer a fixture on the modern battlefield, continues to fascinate collectors, historians, and martial artists. Its legacy endures, a testament to the ingenuity and skill of those who wielded this compact yet powerful shield through the ages.

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