Thursday, 1 March 2012

Vier Leger - This is how they were recorded.

The 'Vier Leger' are the 'four guards', the fundamental positions of Liechtenauer's fencing. There are only four of them. Of course there are others (Langort/Long Point, Kron/Crown etc.), but those aren't that important.

Hans Talhoffer, the anonymous blogger, knows more about Medieval High New German than I do. He once explained to me:
 Guards are by no means a static position. The text is telling us, that the "vom Tag" is a way to lift your sword up over yourself. The misunderstanding in the old way of interpretations is the word "leger" where you stand still and be protected. But the guard is no protection but "to be on guard" is the exact translation from "auf der Hut sein" - to watch out for trouble coming. There is no much protection for someone on guard, he is the first one to be attacked in a battle. The translation "Leger" is probably wrong. There are two meanings in Middle High German: 1. lying in bed 2. lying in siege to a place, or bring yourself in a good position (to attack). You can choose the meaning that you like. But as these words has been made up by warriors, I would think the second meaning suites better.
So the saying "do not "leger" yourself but attack" by Liechtenauer makes much more sense. It means: do not try and wait for a better position, you may never get one. 
So anyway, let's get on with it. This is how they are shown/explained. I haven't bothered with much Meyer/Paulus Hector Mair, because I haven't got that far making pretty pictures yet. Same for Jorg Wilhalm Hutter and a few other outliers. I also haven't bothered to infer what I think these positions should be like here. I haven't posted pictures of what aren't explicitly described as one of the 'vier leger', I haven't looked at plays or techniques that refer to them (ie. worked out what Ochs is from the description of the zwerchau). This is just the simples.

Also, these pictures lack context (most often a line given to indicate the floor/horizon/perspective), or how crammed onto a page they were, take them with a pinch of salt.

Also also, these positions varied with time or what have you. What Hutter shows, for example, is nothing like what the early illustrations show.

Liechtenauer's poem:
About the Four Wards:
Four wards alone –
Hold onto those, and curse the vulgar.
Ox, plough, fool,
From-roof–there are no others for you.

The Doebringer gloss adds to this:

Liechtenauer holds only these four guards that come from the upper and lower hangings, and from these one can fence safely. This is regarding the four guards.
Four guards only, and leave the common ones alone. The ox, plough, fool, from above/the roof, these should not be unknown to you.
Glossa. Here he mentions four guards that are valuable. But before all things, remember that you should not remain too long in one guard. Liechtenauer has a saying “He who is still, is dead, he who moves will live”. And from these guards comes the understanding that you should move in swordplay, and not wait in a guard and thus waste your chance.
[...]
Also know that you break all guards and positions with the strikes. You should strike bravely at the opponent so that he must move away and defend him. Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike. 

Pflug:
MS 3227a/The Pseudo-Doebringer Gloss has Pflug and Alber a different way around. It describes this position as:
The fool [Pflug] breaks what (your opponent) strikes or thrusts. From the hanging strike and at once and follow by attacking after.
The third guard the fool [Pflug] is the lower hanging, and with it you break all strikes and thrusts when it is done correctly.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss describes it as:
The second guard is called the Plough and set yourself in it thus, Stand with the left foot forward and hold your sword with crossed hands with the pommel under you near your right side on the hip so that the short edge is above and the point stands against him in his face.
On the left side set yourself in the guard of the plough thus, Stand with the right foot forward and hold your sword near the left side with the pommel under you to the hip so that the long edge is above and the point stands in his face. This is the plough on both sides.
The Ringeck gloss describes it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forward, and hold your sword with crossed hands beside and slightly above your right knee, in such a way that the point is towards his face.











Ochs:
The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss describes it as:
The second guard is the ox, or the upper hanging from the shoulder.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss describes it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forwards, and hold your sword beside and slightly in front of the right side of your head, and let the point hang towards his face.






Alber:
MS 3227a/The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss has Pflug and Alber a different way around. It describes this position as:

The first guard, the plough [Alber], is when you hold the point (of the sword) in front of you aimed at the ground or to the side. After a displacement it is called the barrier guard or simply the gate.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss has it as:
Hold it like this: stand with your right foot forwards, and hold your sword with outstretched arms in front of you with the point towards the ground.







Vom Tag:
The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss says that:
The fourth guard is from the roof, is also the long point. He, who does it well with outstretched arms, is not easy to hit with strikes or thrusts. It can also be called the hanging above the head. 

The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss has it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forwards, and hold your sword at your right shoulder. Or hold it with outstretched arms above your head. And how you shall fence from these guards, you will find described in this book.







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