Mongol Combat Tactics

by Luigi Kapaj, known in the SCA as Gülügjab Tangghudai

Philosophy & Mindset

  1. Strength vs Weakness - You want to pit your strength against your opponent's weakness in combat.
  2. Mobility - Being able to out meneuver your opponent allows you to control most other aspects of a battle.
  3. Advance & Retreat - There is no humiliation in retreat. Mongols frequently use retreat to create advantage in combat through ambushes and spreading out the opponent's forces.
  4. Discipline - Mongol soldiers were heavily trained in the planned tactics that they could work through a battle without the need to shout orders. Nor did they break ranks except when it was orchestrated. Unlike a temporary feudal service of European armies, Mongol soldiers used their hunting and herding skills in combat and thus were in training year round.
  5. Opponent's Morale - Mongols inflated stories of their battlefield prowess to intimidate their opponents, and used other propaganda and pyrotechnics to break the opponent's morale before and during the battle. Even the present meaning of the word Horde in European languages to be a large overwhelming mass of people, rather than a small campsite as it means in Mongol, is a continued result of such propaganda.
  6. Objective - Never lose sight of the overall object, even in the heat of battle. A charge may smash the unit in front of you while abandoning an important strategic position thus losing the war.
  7. Survival - Here is where Mongols differed most drastically from other cultures such as Europe or Japan. Mongols placed high emphasis on surviving at all costs. There was no glorious defeat. There were no suicide troops, no unit was sent on a mission they would not be expected to survive. The only glory was in winning.


  1. Position of commander - Mongol commanders would fight among their unit, small unit commanders in line with them, and generals at central positions among the battle group.
  2. Language / Terms - Some basic commands in Mongolian.
    • Morindoo - "Mount up" (get ready/battle cry)
    • Yavyaa - "(we) go" (the conjugated verb - if I yell this repeatedly, we should be at a charge) the more colloquial prononciation is Yavii
    • Uragshaa - "go forward"
    • Aragshaa - "go backward"
    • Zuun tiishee - "go left"
    • Baruun tiishee - "go right"
    • Zogs - "stop"
    • Odoo - "now"
    • Ereg - "turn around" / "about face"
  3. Signaling w/ banners - Mongols used banner signals when silence was part of the battle plan.
  4. Orders in verse - Verse was used for all orders so that verbal commands were not forgotten or altered through successive retellings throughout the military. Mongol poetry is alliterative, with repeating sounds on initial syllables, well suited for memorization in a mostly illiterate community.


Here are some direct SCA applications from known Mongol tactics.

  1. Choose point of engagement - Mongols would choose the time and place of an engagement so that it best suited their forces. If a pending engagement is futile or costly, relocate to a more advantagious position.
  2. Separate opponent - When fighting a numerically superior force, it is best to separate them and conquer them in pieces. One or two men on a flank can lead astray an entire bored unit.
  3. Retreat into ambush - SCA fighters like typical Medieval soldiers will happily chase a retreating opponent. You can thus retreat to a prepared ambush.
  4. Mangudai - The vanguard units of the Mongol army were not suicide troops. There jobs were to either attrition the opponent or entice them into a chase.
    1. Hit & run - A unit could initiate an engagement then withdraw in the desired direction you wish the opponent to go.
    2. Light archer vanguard - A more direct interpritation of the Mongol tactic which would be more effective in a better application of combat archery
  5. Filtration - SCA units should train in filtering through other units on their own side so to accomplish moves such as a retreating combat archery unit can be quickly replaced with a charging infantry.

These are actual tactics regularly used by Mongol armies of Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) and his successors.

  1. Moving bush - Repeated small skimishes intermittantly at different fringes to draw opponent into a more strung out formation.
  2. Lake formation - Successive waves of attacks along enemy front. Each line, or wave, attacks and withdraws filtering through the next wave on its attack.
  3. Chisel formation - Known as Boar Snout in the SCA. Concentrate your heavy combat units into a single point of attack after you got them to spread out their forces.
  4. Falling stars - Small units attack the enemy at all sides simultaniously so no part of their army can reinforce another.
  5. Seige weapons - Mongols adapted seige weapons to battlefield use through initial bombardments or a rolling barage as cover fire to protect advancing units.
  6. Dog fight - Feigned panic in the middle of the fight to entice the opponent into a fatal chase.
  7. 3 prong attack - Studied by Neopolean, attacking up the middle and on both flanks simultaniously. Sometimes a deep flank will actually be the main force of heavy units pitting their strength against the opponent's weak side or rear.

Further Reading

© 2006, by Luigi Kapaj, in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai (Puppy)
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