Friday, 25 November 2011

How to do 'not too bad' in a sword fight: 1. How to cut and thrust.

[Well, no real feedback from Monday's session. I ran the Scott Brown drill I had had planned for last week, and I think people were able to do it. Hopefully they also got something out of it. I'm out of town this weekend, so here's something else.]

Now, this post follows on from the introduction. Essentially it's a brief analysis of what the early sources of Liechtenauer's Kunst des Fechten have to say about how to cut and how to thrust. Now, I personally think that these things are taught best face-to-face - better still interspersed with test-cutting. This fits with the advice given in the documentary evidence. However, that's a tangential topic. Let's get on with it.

Firsty up we have MS 3227a, an anonymous collection of anonymous works. It’s normally dated to 1389, but that’s a bit iffy given that the date given for MS 3227a is based on circumstantial evidence such as a calendar copied into the same book, and the lack of a prayer for the dead when referring to Liechtenauer. The author begins their introduction to the Kunst des Fechtens by going into quite some depth on the subject of how to strike (with a side-rant on the subject of flashy fencers). Now, this text is pretty easy to read and common-sense-ical in its explanations, apart from some technical points to do with Aristotelian philosophy and the KdF. I began copying out the relevant sections, but truth be told it’s all bloody relevant. Go, now, to wiktenauer and read the ‘Anonymous treatise on the fundamentals of combat’ section. It’s 1,500 words of pure gold, and that's nothing major. Read it now. NOW. It's why Peter comes up with things like ‘Rule 1: Be efficient, and Rule 2: Stab him in the face.’

Look at the re-capitulations too, while you’re at it. The advice is to be confident, go for the first cut at your opponent’s head and body to seize the initiative and be ready to keep moving - so don’t overcommit! Do not freeze up, keep on looking for an opening and use the feel of the bind, for example saying:
‘Hence Liechtenauer said: "Do not hit at the sword always the aim to openings hold. At the head or the body, so that harm stays away. If you hit or fail, seek to aim at the openings. In all lore turn your point keen in his face. And who makes big movements, will be humiliated. At the very nearest bring hits and thrusts properly. And hurry, that the other will not be the first to arrive. So you may stand against a good fighter.’ - 65r
However, here are some other specific points from the gloss of the unarmoured fencing epitome:
‘Do not strike at the sword but wait for the openings.’ - 18r
‘Also when you want to fence strongly, then fence from the left side with the whole body and with full force to the head and to the body wherever you can hit – and never to his sword, but as if he (the opponent) does not have a sword or as if you cannot see.’ - 19v
‘He (Liechtenauer) also means that you should not step straight in with the blows, but from the side at an angle so that you come in from the side where you can reach him easier than from the front.’ - 19v

CGM 1507, a book from 1470 by Paulus Kal, contains illustrations of Liechtenauer’s unarmoured epitome.
‘The Wrath strike [Zornhau] threatens with the point.’ - 59r
The guy in pink has cut into a bind. Notice how he has ended up right foot forwards, his point threatenning the other guy, his hilt in line with his fore-arms and his arms not fully extended.

Mscr. Dresd. C 487 contains a copy of ‘Ringeck’s gloss’ of Liechtenauer’s epitome, the full explanation of which is available on wiktenauer ( The beginning of the gloss repeats similar themes - step with the cut. Because after all:
‘If you cut with an Oberhau from the right side, follow after the cut with your right foot. If you do not do this then the cut is poor and insincere, because your right side lingers behind. Then the cut becomes too short and cannot follow the correct arc down towards the other side, in front of the left foot. [...] In this manner you can perform all of your techniques correctly and with strength. And in the same way should all the other cuts be performed.’ - 13v-13r
‘It also repeats the theme to attack the other person with confidence, and to strike at their head and body and be ready to follow up the attack if it ends in the bind, for example saying:
'All fencers who are hesitant and wait for the incoming attack, and do nothing other than to ward it away, they gain very little joy from this sort of practice because they are often beaten. Always fight with the strength of the whole body! Cut close into him, to the head and to the body, so he cannot change-through in front of your point. And when the cut ends up in the bind you shall not hesitate but shall quickly and fluently make attacks against the nearest opening, using the five strikes and other techniques that will be described later.’ - 13r-14r
Equally, the author also advises you to begin the exchange with a cut from your dominant side, for example from the right if you’re right handed, saying:
‘When you come against him in Zufechten, if you are right-handed and want to strike him, you must not throw your first cut from your left side. That is because this is weak and cannot bring strength to bear if he binds the strong of his blade against you. Therefore, cut from your right side, so you can be strong and skillful in the bind and can do as you will.’ - 14r-14v

Finally, we also have the 'von Danzig' gloss. It first appears in Codex 44.A.8 from 1452, but a translation is most easily available from MS German Quarto 2020, the 'Goliath' manuscript from 1510-20. My folio references will refer to Codex 44.A.88, but the translation will be from Goliath. Don't blame me, this is how wiktenauer is laid out!
Much of the same advice is repeated again, but so instead of regurgitating it let's have a look at other ways in which the advice is presented. The glossa for the zornhau states that:
'Glosa The Wrath Strike counters all high strikes with the point. And it is indeed nothing other than a bad [or simple and straightforward] peasant strike. Deploy it thus: when you come to him in the pre-fencing: if he strikes to you from his right side high to the head, then to this also strike from high on your right (note in margin: in the weak on the sword) wrathfully displacing with him on his sword, if he is then weak on the sword, then aim to shoot ahead with the point and stab to his face, or attack the chest between the arms.' -  ff. 13r-v
In other words, a simple cut is from the right side to the head, at an oppening (the opponent's right shoulder), yet on this occasion simultaneously displacing his incoming cut. From the bind there's also enough room to extend into a thrust. Generally speaking though the advice when it comes to thrusting is to 'drive out' into it, or 'shoot' with a stab. Without adding too much personal interpretation, there's not that much more to say that won't be covered under 'how to cover yourself'.

It's worth noting that here I've picked the sections which illuminate the mechanics of simple cuts here. There are plenty of other sections that I could have chosen, and indeed I tried to ignore the 'hidden' strikes which have different cutting mechanics.

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