Saturday, 3 December 2011

How to do ‘not too bad’ in a sword fight: 2. How to cover yourself.


How to do ‘not too bad’ in a sword fight: 2. How to cover yourself.

The last post in this series was looking at the earlier surviving evidence from the longsword fighting tradition associated with Liechtenauer, the Kunst des Fechtens. This post will do the same. However, where the last post was cherry-picking evidence about 'how to cut and thrust', this post will concern itself with 'how to cover yourself'. Simples? Then let's get on with it...

First up, let's start with good old MS 3227a. Now, the anonymous description of the fundamentals of combat, before the gloss itself, contains gems of wisdom such as:
'For in this righteous fencing do not make wide or ungainly parries or fence in large movements by which people restrict themselves.' - 14r
'Many Masters of play fighting say that they themselves have thought out a new art of fencing that they improve from day to day. But I would like to see one who could think up a fencing move or a strike which does not come from Liechtenauer’s art. Often they want to alter or give a new name to a technique, all out of their own heads and think up wide reaching fencing and parries and often make two or three strikes when one would be enough or stepping through and thrust, and for this they receive praise from the ignorant. With their bad parries and wide fencing they try to look dangerous with wide and long strikes that are slow and with these they perform strikes that miss and create openings in themselves.' - 14r-v
Now, I don't want to jump the gun here. But I think that it's reasonable to say that the anonymous author behind this seems to value covers with are tight; - from which it's possible to step through and stab someone in the face as easily as possible.

Another point which is emphasised in this 'fundamentals of combat' is that you should keep moving. This applies to covers too - it's not good to defend yourself and then stop and see what your opponent does next:
'When you fence with another, then in this you are well taught, and remain fast in movement, and do not tarry when he starts to fence with you.
Then make without limit and end that which is skillfull. Be quick and steady without faltering, at once so that he cannot strike. That is fortunate and he will be hurt, when he cannot strike away, as the other cannot part without being beaten. And after the teaching that is here described, I say truly, that the other cannot defend without danger. If you have understood this he will not come to strikes.' - 17v

Now, some people have interpreted this as saying that you should attack, attack and attack again. Personally, I don't think so. Instead, I believe that it is emphasising the importance of siezing the initiative in a fight, not hesitating and letting your opponent dictate how you act. In fact Hans Talhoffer (the anonymous blogger) has pointed out that it might mean that an opponent is dangerous when defending!

The other point it's worth making before we get onto the gloss is that the evidence so far supports 'Be Efficient' and 'Stab him in the face', even when making covers.

Moving onto the core Zedel, or Epitome of the art, and this Gloss, the subject of making covers first comes up in the section concerning the Zornhau:
'And also know that from two strikes alone come all other strikes that are possible to name: these are the upper strike and the lower strike from both sides. [Mike's note: That is to say rising and descending cuts, from the right and from the left hand sides. I tend to bastard-gerlish them as 'oberhau-s' and 'unterhau-s'.] These are the main strikes and form the foundation for all other strikes. They are in themselves basic and come from the point of the sword, which is the centre and core of all other pieces that is well described to you. And from these strikes come the four displacements from each side with which all strikes or thrusts are broken and also all guards, and from them you come into the four hangings and from these one can do fine art as you will hear later. No matter how you fence always aim the point at the opponent’s face or breast, then he will always have to worry that you will be faster since you will have a shorter way to go in to him than he has to you.' - 24v-r

Congradulations, we now have the hanging guards - Ochs and Pflug, on the left and the right hand sides. Now, where was that picture?
Picture? Singular? Why, I made a whole album of them!

Oh, and for the sake of completeness, that section carries on with:
'And if it happens that the opponent wins the first strike then you must be sure, precise and quick in the turning and as soon as you have turned in to him you shall move at once with speed and your point should always desire his breast and turn and seek its way there as you shall hear later on. And as soon as the opponent binds your sword then your point should not be more than half an ell [30-40cm] from the opponent’s breast or face. You shall be careful and note if you can get in behind and always go the nearest way and never too wide, so that the opponent does not come before you in case you hesitated and again find yourself to be left hanging or that you defended too weakly or defended too wide and with too much force.' - 24v
The next real mention of how to cover yourself (apart from using the hidden strikes), comes a fair bit later in the text:
'This is regarding the four displacements
There are four displacements that also hurt the guards seriously.[...]
Glossa. Note here that there are four displacements to both sides, to each side one above and one below. They break all guards, and no matter how you set aside a strike or thrust from above or from below, this can well be called a displacement. If he displaces you, then no matter how he does it, leave (his sword) and strike quickly at him. If it happens that you displace the opponent’s strike or thrust, then you should at once step in and follow at the sword so that he cannot move away from you. And if the other does the same when you are hanging again and gather yourself, then you will get hurt. You should also turn well and always aim your point at his breast so that he must consider this.' - 32v

In other words, you should displace the opponent's thrust or cut, keeping your own sword pointing at the other guy, and step into the incoming attack. Normally this involves adopting one of the hanging guards. From the 'Ringeck' gloss:

Or, from the 'Pseudo-Peter von Danzig' gloss:

Read those images. I won't bother to copy them out again.

Now, onto the other glosses to see what they have to say. We'll start with the 'Pseudo-Pete von Danzig' gloss since that tab is open. Folio references are to Codex 44.A.8:
'There are four hangings, the Ox above on both sides, these are the upper two hangings, and the plough below on both sides, these are the lower two hangings. From the four hangings you shall deploy eight windings, four from the Ox and four from the Plough, and you shall deploy these very eight windings, so consider and judge that you shall deploy the three wisdoms from every winding, that is one strike, one stab, and one slice.' - 37v

It then goes on to describe the various windings from each of the hanging guards.
The 'Ringeck' gloss, on the other hand, has this to add (folio references are to MS Dresden C 487):
'Mark, that which is called "After".
Mark, that if you cannot come in the "Before", wait for the "After". This will defeat all techniques that he does against you. When he comes at you so that you must defend yourself against him, so work deftly "in the Instant" with your defence against his nearest opening, so strike him before he can finish his technique. Thus you win the "Before" and he is left in the "After". You shall also know how you can use "the Instant" against his "weak" and "strong" parts of the sword.' 15v-16r
'These are the four displacements, which obstruct or break the four guards.
The displacements are four,
that also greatly trouble the four guards.
Beware, for to defend,
it becomes very difficult for you. [...]
And beware of all displacements, when they are used by poor fencers. When he cuts, strike also, and when he thrusts, you thrust too. And how you shall strike and thrust, that you will find described for the five cuts and in this section.' 34v-35r

Now, in conclusion it's probably worth spelling out that the sources I've quoted and used reflect how the author(s) imagine their art, their Kunst des Fechtens, rather than 'common fencing'. But then again it's better to have lost the initiative with a wild parry than to have been struck by a sword...

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