Donnerstag, 17. Mai 2012

Understanding Zornhau in Zufechten


Q: Master Talhoffer, why should I train the Zornhau again and again?
A: Because you can’t do a Sturzhau properly!
Q: But the Zornhau is just a simple peasant strike and I am of noble birth!
A: And you will be a dead noble if you don’t use your brain.
Q: So there is a hidden secret in the Zornhau?
A: Yes, go and think about the fact, that the only pressure you can feel is the one coming from you.
This dialog is fictive and you won’t find it in any old manuscript. Master Talhoffer never explained his fighting in the art of a dialog. But I took the freedom of an author to put his figure in the tradition of teaching dialogs. This very old way of reflecting the thoughts on a subject from different point of views is more amusing than the dry treatises and usually motivates the reader to think on his own.
The “Zornhau-Ort” is one of the essential pieces of fencing from the Liechtenauer system. It is based on the premise that a fencer hits the other enemy to  the head or the opponent’s right shoulder from the right shoulder of the attacker called “rechter Oberhau” (right strike from above) . The adversary generates a “Vor” (ahead, before) taking a tactical advantage by being the first who attacks a lethal point. It is in the act itself that the attacked must react in the “Nach” (after, behind), if he does not want to be seriously injured or killed.
To stop the enemy, he will fight with the same means. That is that the  strike from above is answered by a strike from above. And this is done with a great show of force and vigor. Thus this strike is called “Zornhau”.  Joachim Meyer describes in his 1570 book in the chapters on the fencing rapier and Dussak this action as “Wehrstreich” (armed strike) and gives the “Zornhau” a slightly different meaning. The principle to answer with same means is  included in each book of fencing.

The mechanics of the Zufechten with the Oberhau

The opponent presents a right strike from above against the head or the shoulders. He hopes to hit by chance and luck in the first strike. There are only three way of doing this strike:
1. It is a testing strike to get in contact
Restricted to vision only based reactions for defense is pure horror compared to the contact based reactions. If you are in a binding situation where the blades touch, you always know where the blade of the opponent is. For this a lot of the fencers try to “catch” the opponents blade in their first strike, making it long and straight. This strike ends in a Langort (long point) position where – if no blade is met – a stirring movement occurs or the fencer is jumping back irritated. The opponent is forced to nothing he can stand there and look amused at the “sword catcher” because in most cases these strikes are short of distance, or if the measure is correct has a lot of opportunities to answer this flimsy attack.
2. It is a killing strike to be the first to hit heavily 
The fencer has the same fear as the one who tries to fetch the opponents blade but uses very different answer to overcome this fear. He jumps forward and strikes first with a lot of power. He hopes that he hits or the other one will defend himself by just parrying. The opponent is forced to react to this kind of berserk attack, but has a lot of options for it: evade, block, answer with the same etc. He can answer with a variety of actions, but he must change.
3. It is a tactical strike to occupy the territory
Being the first who occupies the middle line while getting into measure is a tactic you find in a lot of fighting systems. From this line you can thrust without any problems and block some actions of the opponent to your body.  The opponent is forced to create a matching opposition or will be hit in the following action without having a chance to present a proper answer. He cannot evade, because there is nothing to evade. He cannot hit you on the head or stab you in the chest, because the way is blocked. He cannot stand there amused, because without any recognizable change of the attacker’s posture the strike will mutate into a hit by changing the distance using simple body movement.
There are a variety of striking movements from above the right shoulder. But only few who really aim at the head or body of the opponent. Doing a feint or trick or any other likewise movement is nothing that matters here.
A experienced fencer chooses the tactical strike, he aims ad the opponent’s body without forgetting his own, having his own protection always as priority number one. The simple offensive rule of the tactical strike is: if you do not meet anything get forward and you meet something (“Haw dreyn vnd hurt dar / rawsche hin trif ader la var ” GMN 3227a). If the opponent do not stop your blade, you got the ticket to continue. In the fight-books from the 14th century GMN 3227a to Joachim Meyer we find the recommendation to repeat these kind of strikes for several times until we hit or meet the opponent’s blade (“vnd vmermer eyns noch dem andern treiben / ab ym das erste vele / dacz daz ander das dritte ader daz vierde treffe” GMN 3227a).
As the Zornhau is the first lesson for the fencers, it is aimed to be an answer for all these kind of fencers.
1. Versus a testing strike
The “sword catcher” will get more that he asked for. The Zornhau is a powerful strike that will destroy every feeling while smashing the blade out of the way.
2. Versus a killing strike
The Zornhau blocks the way by sheer force while it brings the own weapons point into the position for a thrust.
3. Versus a tactical strike
The Zornhau presents a opposition by changing position of the body and bringing the sword between the fencers in a thrusting position (Pflug) or a hanging position (Wechsel, Ochs) depending on the change during the end of the striking movement. Usually the Zornhau creates a hard contact and displaces the other strike by force thus occupying the middle line itself ready for a thrusting movement.
So the Zornhau is the swiss army knife for fencing-beginners even if the Twerhau presents more options and is the better strike (“Hie merke vnd wisse / das of dem ganczen / swerte / keyn haw / als redlich / zo heftik zo vertik vnd zo gut ist als der twerhaw” GMN 3227a). But the Zornhau is the fastest to bring (“zo ist im keyn haw als bereit / als der selbe aberhaw” GMN 3227a) and thus is the best to change from the role of the defender to the role of the attacker. This change is done by the the strike itself using sheer force and by the point.
To become the attacker the defender must bring an immediate threat into the game. Using a great show of force is always a threat and because he is aiming to the head and the shoulders of his attacker, the Zornhau brings the point nearer to the opponents body. If the point is not showing to the opponent at the end of the Zornhau, the Zornhau is parried effectively or not done properly. Ignoring the latter we must know that by parrying the Zornhau effectively the formerly attacker has changed into the role of the defender already and we won this part of the game.
Having the point looking eager to the body of the opponent we should not hesitate to use it. And on this the opponent has to change himself or he will be stabbed. And by using this chain of attacks (strike and thrust) we changed from being the defender to the role of the attacker.
There is a signal that is given us by the authors of the fight-books, so we can recognize if we have successfully become the attacker. It is the lateral pressure of the defending blade simply called “wert her dir” in the GMN 3227a. In the 44a8 we find “wirt er denn orts gewar | vnd vor setzt starck | vnd druckt dir dein swert auf die seittñ”. The reason for this explicit naming of a strong displacement and a heavy pressure to the side is the use of the training equipment modernly named “Federschwert”. In the Messer Master Lecküchner reduced it to “wirtt er des ortz gewar” again but he uses the Zornhau in combination with a thrust in a different way high above.
But regardless which equipment used, it is the small or big pressure to the side that signals: you just won the tactical game, now make the best out of it. (It can also mean that the opponent just fooled you but this is sophisticated fencing and thus rarely to find). To feel any pressure of the defender there must be a resistance presented by the attacker. This “resistance” is the pressure done by the attacker. And this must always be directed to the head and body of the opponent (“czu koppe ader czu leibe / vnd mit nichte czum swerte” GMN 3227a). The movement of the Zornhau is supporting this kind of pressure in an excellent way.
Because of the lateral movement of the becoming defenders hand and blade and the crossbar of the weapons handle, the most obvious answer to that movement is moving the own blade upwards until it can switch to the other side of the opponent’s blade and do some harm.

Conclusion

The Zornhau is a tactical move to change from the role of the defender of a strike from above to the one of the attacker with the same strike and a thrust. To be the attacker gives us the advantage that we can hit with a  greater chance of success that the one who defends and tries to hit while defending.
To become the attacker we have two tools on our side: the show of force in the Zornhau and the point of the Zornhau. So training the Zornhau cannot be done without the show and using of force.
We are told how to recognize if we succeed in this role change by a lateral pressure of the opponents blade we should train to feel. All action followed by this signal is only there to keep this role until we successfully hit the opponent.

Solo Practice


Q: Master Talhoffer, is it true that long solo exercises akin to those of karate-do simply have no value whatsoever.
A: No.
Q: But our art cannot be learned without partners, however hard you try!
A: Sure, you can learn anything without a partner or teacher whatsoever.
Q: But I thought that solo exercises that can only be of some value for rank beginners in order to help them learn the guards of a system and to begin to learn how to move a weapon. Such exercises are relatively unimportant when it comes to understanding the techniques and the important underlying principles of the art, however, and can be of little long-term value; they should be set aside as soon as the student is ready for partner exercises.
A: And I’ll will tell you otherwise my dear scholar.
Q: But why do people think that solo exercises are worthless.
A: In martial arts, the wrong approaches and practices are almost always more appealing to people who don’t understand the art.
Q: And that means?
A: Ask Flavius Vegetius, he knows the answer.
This dialog is fictive and you won’t find it in any old manuscript. Master Talhoffer never explained his fighting in the art of a dialog. But I took the freedom of an author to put his figure in the tradition of teaching dialogs. This very old way of reflecting the thoughts on a subject from different point of views is more amusing than the dry treatises and usually motivates the reader to think on his own. In the writing of Flavius Vegetius the training of Roman Fighters is described. His description was copied and is the basement of the so called “Pell-Work” of sword fighters.
People constantly read a lot of interesting bullshit about martial arts, so why not read the following article about the my superior opinion on solo practice in historical western martial arts. That’s for the start, now let’s get on to the facts. Sadly some people never read in the manuscripts only the things they really like
GMN 3227a:
wen ubunge ist besser wenne kunst / denne übunge tawg wol ane kunst aber kunst tawg nicht wol ane übunge.
This sentence above from the so called Dobringer 3227a in the context of fighting for Schimpf is saying that “Training is better than art, because training is good without art, but art is no good without training”. In this manuscript we find the “physical virtues” of “Vbunge, motus, gelenkheit, schrete gut” – training, mobility, agility, and footwork. They are pretty much the same like in any modern martial art today. They are the physical basement of any fighting done with art. And most of them can be trained solo.

Not the weapon but the body is the weapon

Solo Practice in any kind of martial arts is for training body and mind. It is not about looking good or flashy it is about getting the body and the mind aligned with the purpose of your movement. Martial arts is using the body as a fundamental part of the weapon in a fight. So the body must be edged and formed. Essentially 80% of Asian martial arts forms are nothing else than training the body to be capable of being a weapon. In daily motions we do not stretch muscles or sinews to the positions which would be best to fulfill the perfect Oberhau. So if we present a Oberhau with just the normal partner training it will be not natural and it will be not on the shortest and nearest line. But the historical stakes are high as you can read:
GMN 3227a:
vnd das man im deñe eyne~ vadem ader snure an seynen ort ader sneyde des swertes bünde / vnd leytet aber czöge dem selben ort ader sneide off ienes blössen den her hawen ader stechen selde / noch dem aller nehesten / kortzsten vnd endlichsten / als man das nür dar brengen mochte
So if you are not capable to present any strike or thrust as if the point of your sword is drawn by a cord exactly to a very small target not bigger than a 10 cent coin, get into solo practicing you lazy bastard.

Surprise, surprise

In the manuals we find several hints that we have to train in solo practice constantly. Joachim Meyer constructed diagrams that trains the eye and sword arm to follow a pattern. This is based on the more “modern” systematic approach to training from Italy in the 16th century.
Joachim Meyer, Gründtliche Beschreibung der kunst des Fechten:
Damit du aber solches dester geübter werdest / so soltu mit dem ersten Hauw alwegen umbwechseln / also wann du einmal deinen ersten Hauw zur Lincken obern Blöß / und den andern zu seiner Rechten undern Blöß / und also fürtan wie oben gelehrt ( wie solches die ausserste ziffer in disem hiebey getrucktem Figürlein anzeigen ) gehauwen hast…

These diagrams are telling us mostly: we should train our body to get used to unnatural but safe movements. Safe because the include the shortest way to a guarding position again. And unnatural because such movements are not to be expected by your opponent. Everybody have a big knowledge created by perception and experience how a arm and a body moves. If you are able to break the expectation of your opponent by unnatural but safe movement and do that fast because of your solo training you will win the fight before it has begun.

Repetito est mater studiorum

You cannot do fast repetitions of the same movement again and again with a partner. Because the partner would not do the same again and again. He will alter his movement soon enough. But your body needs to do a every strike and thrust while your mind is sleeping. You must hit and recover without thinking about it. From concentrating on a movement to one subconsciously done there is only one way: repetition. Not 10times, not 100times, not 1000times, do more and do it often.

Long forms

Long forms have several good values. Most of them are listed above already because they chain together what can be trained solo. Another one is self triggering movements. In fighting there are triggers presented by your opponent and some presented by yourself. They have something to do with the presumption what will happen next when your do the movement before. In weapon fighting range, direction and movement are defining the room and lines you occupy with your doing, so the answers of your opponent are limited. That way you can train certain movements in a chain. This was already presented in the I.33 but not as a solo form. In several treatises we found these chains. If we are able to reconstruct them properly they will help us to understand and train us to become better sword fighters.

*** on binding.

Yes, there are people telling you that this solo practice has no value at all and everything has to be done with a partner because of the bind. But I think that they never understood the meaning of “treffe ader vele ” or “rawsche hin trif ader la[ss] var”. This “treffe oder vele” (hit or miss) is repeated often in the 3227a and is one of the central points of constant motion in Liechtenauers lore. So read the manuals when they tell you “vnd bis vmmermuedlich / motu / du treffest ader nicht”. Binding is only happening when the other one displaces. The big goal is hitting him without displacement or getting hit yourself. The big goal is not getting into engagement, do not get this wrong. There are good reasons why the “partner” or “opponent” is mentioned very rarely in some of the old manuals. It is because he does not matter. Only if you or he displaces anything, things get complicated. And one of the big rules in every fight is “simplicity is beauty”. Do not let it get complicated on intent. Train a lot to finish a fight without binding. That is a thing for solo practice and partner practice.

Stand and fall


Q: Master Talhoffer, did I well to improve my stance?
A: Yes, your standing firm and safe.
Q: I trained hard to be rooted like a strong tree. Standing deep, low and balanced.
A: Sure, like a tree waiting for the axe coming.
Q: The axe? What do you mean by that?
A: If tree stands firm, the axe will make it fall. Better you fall before the blade will reach you.
Q: We should fall down?
A: No, my dear Scholar. You should learn to fall on your feet.
Q: And how shall we do it?
A: Go and ask Master Kelly, he is a real expert in it.
This dialog is fictive and you won’t find it in any old manuscript. Master Talhoffer never explained his fighting in the art of a dialog. But I took the freedom of an author to put his figure in the tradition of teaching dialogs. This very old way of reflecting the thoughts on a subject from different point of views is more amusing than the dry treatises and usually motivates the reader to think on his own. The master Kelly, mentioned above is the extraordinary dancer Gene Kelly. His way of dancing was seemingly effortless like gravity let him fall his feet to any place he wants.
A lot of recommendations exists on the way we should stand and move in combat. Some emphasis that only a very deep stance gives you the protection and the stability others argue that your reach and agility is the best if standing high. Let us look, what is found in the old manuscript and what is feasible in fighting with weapons. This article concentrates on the longsword handled with two hands and the sword for one hand.
welcher fu vornn stedth, sey gebogen
der hynnter gestrackt, zyrt den leyb oben
hoch gefochten myt starckem leyb,
gewaltig possenn aus der lenge threyb,
streych unnd thrid mith eyn ander,
und sez deynn fues wyeder eyn ander,
wer thryd nach heyenn,
der darff sich khunst nichtfreuen,
 Hans Czynner (see also Egenolph)

Length and Modesty

To be aware of Length and Modesty is cited often in the manuscripts like in the Codex Wallerstein:
dy leng das ist dastu hinter deinem swert stest und reckst dich / 
dy mass ist dastu nider stest ...
mach dich klain mit dem leib so pistu gross in swert 

The Length is, that you stand behind your sword and stretch yourself /
the Modesty is that you stand low ...
be small with your body so you are large in the sword.
Length in the sword fight means to hold the enemy on its own. It does not mean to make the body long. But to keep the opponent far away of you. For it is not right to act with long and straight arms in Zufechten and to lash out (see GMN3227a 40r), but  in the binding you should raise your arms and extend to keep the distance and gain reach while still protecting yourself. It should be noted that a complete extension is just as wrong. It is a question of the correct measure (see Moderation/Modesty/Temperance in the article The Virtues of Fighting).
Smallness in the sword fight means to make yourself small by Moderation, using common sense and prudence, to present no options for the enemy to attack, to give him less opportunities to attack, to escape through foot work, and last what of his opportunities may be left should blocked by your own defense. Therefore, big wide movements you should avoid severe. This also applies to the stretching of the arms and the pushing forward of the shoulder, where you obtain the longest range, but also the greatest instability to lateral forces.

Present the front or the side towards the enemy?

In fighting on thrusts, kicks or punches it is generally possible to rotate the body so far that an opponent’s momentum can be weakened or even avoided by the turning of the hip. This is due the fact that any linear force directed toward a rotating object is deviated. As long as the force is not directed at the center point, the force can be lead off.
In more modern fencing with a bell, a basket, or a cage on the cross of the handle the function of increased coverage works. With this enhanced protection a purely lateral position makes sense. The fighter is able to “hide behind the weapon”. However in a strict lateral position the mobility of the musculoskeletal system is reduced to a more or less linear movement forward or back. Every bigger side-wise movement will cost extra time.
A cut has a momentum forward, sideways and up or down. To try to escape these impulses through a lateral posture is promising little success. You can also bring your second (eventually armed) hand hardly in action if it is completely backwards. Therefore place yourself to the enemy that you can move quickly and well to all sides and at the same time try hiding behind your weapon. Important for the attitude is the consciousness of three facts:
  1. That is not the head or the breast bone is the cornerstone for our fencing, but that the sword is “assembled” on the shoulder.
  2. That the center of your body is your spine. It is what is needed to be protected by your weapon. Because it needs the movement of the complete body to evade a thrust or strike directed to it.
  3. Everything extending your body will be easy to hit and hard to protect.
The exact stance is depending on your style and school. Some thrust oriented fencers tend to stand in a straight line but turn the breast more to the front to enable the second hand to interact, pushing, and displacing. Most of the cut and thrust fencers use a foot stance that is not in straight line.
From the point of coverage and own opportunities, it is the best in the fencing on cut and thrust that you present yourself not frontal and not lateral but in an angle.The extent to which angle you prefer depends on how your body is built, how flexible you are and how agile you are. It usually extends from 45° to 60° from the direct line of your shoulder to the shoulder of the enemy.
Should you stand high or low?
First of all: do not stand, because if you stand, you do not move and who is not moving is dead. Second the rule is simple: towards high guards move up and move down towards low guards. It is all like Philippo di Vadi states in your knees.
E chi queste chiave cum seco non averà /
A questo giuoco poca Guerra farà.
Le gambe chiave se po’ben diri /
Per che li ti serra e anche ti po’ aprire.
So move only in low stances doing strikes from above if you aim at low targets like the knee and when you are very certain, that your opponent is busy with everything else, but not with a strike from above to your head. Each strike from above develops a significant proportion of a downward momentum (not only thanks to gravity). It would be foolish to give that away, when it can be directed against the enemy. This requires that in the possible clash (between your own and the enemy’s masses) you are positioned in a way that the target is lower as the “mounting” of the strike (which is your shoulder). If you move around with the rear dragging on the ground this is hardly possible.
If you strike from below, this is a movement from the bottom up. This should be fought with all of your body, because it goes against the downward momentum of the enemy and must compensate this (GMN3227a 19v). In a strike a from below to a target below the hip level or in a strike across at a low target you remain low. If you thrust low stay low.
High and low positions serve to bring the weapon in an advantageous position but it brings danger. In a deep position, the knee is close to the enemy and must be protected by the weapon. In a high position the head is close to the enemy and must be protected by the weapon.
Commonly you always get a slap on the cap if you stand in a deep position. Thus you may think that the head is exposed. But the reason is more that one leans his upper body and his head forward in a thrust and thus presents the head to the enemy. These are attempts by greed to obtain more range than one is entitled. It fails woefully to keep the measure. So you should never thrust from below if you are not in a range that you can protect yourself simultaneously.

Stepping, one by one

To change the distance you need to step. There are several elaborated ways to step, but they all lead back to two versions (where the leading foot is defined as the one standing in the direction you like to get).
  1. Advance the leading foot in the direction you want to move and drag the rear foot next in the same direction.
  2. Let the rear foot pass the leading one. And by this leading and rear foot change their roles.
The first way of stepping has the wonderful feature that the dangerous moment, where both feet are unmovable, does not exist. But it is in the passing step. In passing there is the moment where the weight of your body moves from one feet to the other. During this movement you are not able to lift one feet from the ground or even move your body to evade something. Because the gravity center of your body is traveling, you usually need both feet on the ground. Most martial arts developed very special passing step strategies to avoid that problem. There are lot of tricks to help it or to protect yourself. But the effect cannot be nullified.
For this the first version of stepping is always to prefer. I like to cite Master Vadi again on this.
Tu vedi el sol che fa gran giramento /
E donde el nasce fa suo tornamento /
Il pé com el sol va convien che torni /
Se voii ch’el giuoco toa persona adorni. 
El pié stanco ferma senza paura /
Como rocha fa che sia costante /
E poii la tua persona serà tuta sicura
But I nearly forgot one of my words in the title and the dialog: The Falling.
There are to ways to get to a place: pushing and falling. By Pushing with the rear foot you shove yourself into the new position. Your weight follows the force of your rear leg. By Falling you move your weight first without moving the feet, see that it is safe or not, than lift the leading foot a bit and fall into the direction. There is nothing like pure pushing or pure falling in our steps. It is always a combination of both. But you are able to emphasis one of both and you do so in fighting. Most people tend to push in sword fighting.
While pushing can cover more range, falling is faster and helps you to avoid big movements. Falling onto your feet looks a bit like a drunken monkey if you drive it to the limit but is very effective. It is our natural way of walking. We lean forward and fall onto our feet. Now the only thing you  have to learn is not to lean forward to move the weight of your body. Sounds easy. But it isn’t.
Nearly all of the martial arts have some kind of Falling Step in their respective footwork. In swordfighting this kind of step should be trained hard and in any direction. It is one of the main keys of fast and safe footwork.

The strike in the Thrust


Q: Master Talhoffer, how do you get an opening?
A: By a strike!
Q: Is it always a strike? I mean, even if you thrust only, can’t you thrust without a strike?
A: If you thrust, you need to unfold your arm. It does not really matter if it is your shoulder, your elbow, or your wrist what was angled before the thrust. By unfolding you have made a striking movement with that part of your body. If that part of your body is blocked, you would not be able to finish that thrust. So if you are able to block the strike in the thrust, you do not have to fear the thrust anymore.
Q: And how should I do that?
A: Ask Master Lecküchner. He will show you. He is an expert in it.
This dialog is fictive and you won’t find it in any old manuscript. Master Talhoffer never explained his fighting in the art of a dialog. But I took the freedom of an author to put his figure in the tradition of teaching dialogs. This very old way of reflecting the thoughts on a subject from different point of views is more amusing than the dry treatises and usually motivates the reader to think on his own.
The basement of any thrust is a strike. Some parts of the combined weapon-body agglomeration has to accomplish a strike-like movement to gain the impetus for a thrust. The most irritating and less safe version of doing the strike-like movement is using the complete body for it. This means jumping with the straight weapon arm into the direction of the target. This may be a successful strategy in sport to be the first scoring in an advantage situation, but will surely get you stabbed or cut in a duel with sharp and pointy weapons. So the more appropriable form of a thrust occurs by unfolding a part of the body that is folded before. There are three main joints where the body may doing a strike from to accomplish the thrust:
  1. Defining the breast as point zero regarding the length toward the target, the shoulder is not only able to fold to null, but to a negative angle . You are able to rotate your arm to your back. By extending the arm to the target your shoulder creates a strike with the elbow as the point. The shoulder is able to present a full rotation, so the strike may come from above or from below.
  2. Using the elbow as the joint your possibilities are limited to an open or close movement. The natural unfolding is a strike with the underarm from above to the ground. Only by rotating the upper arm in the shoulder this movement may be changed to other directions. But this kind of rotating is very limited.
  3. The movement of the wrist is very weak and it is not an unfolding one. Furthermore it is limited in angle and in direction. To create a complete circle the wrist usually needs the help of ulna and radius. The strike of the wrist is rarely found in the swordplay of the 15th century. It is not recommended in heavier weapons but you can use it in foil or smallsword fencing. But you use the torsion of ulna and radius combined with the wrist as strikes in every weapon art. The power results from initial tension in the bio-dynamic system before the strike starts. In the unfolding movement of the thrust the wrist usually corrects the circular movement of the other joints. But in some cases like the thrust from high above, the arm is unfolded already and only the weapon in the hand is folded to a smaller angle in the wrist with the point of the weapon looking down to the target. In this case the wrist is doing a strike from below while the arm is coming down.
So if there is any kind of unfolding done to change the reach of the weapon plus arm there is a strike. Some old fencingmasters with more affiliation to the mathematical world had drawn circles at the joints of shoulder, elbow, and wrist. But if you look closer only the shoulder is able to do any circle at all. Wrist and especially the elbow are reduced to a very limited movement. So judging by the danger that each joint offers to your health the most dangerous joint is the shoulder and the least offending is the elbow. This is why you should look at the shoulder to see what your opponent is doing and not at the weapon, the wrist or the elbow. As long as the shoulder is not changing, there is no thrust or strike done that is not blocked easily. Because it will be only be hacking with the elbow.
Intercepting the striking movement in the thrust is an elemental part of dagger or knife fighting. By stopping the unfolding of the joints the thrust is stopped. This is done by catching, blocking, hitting the arm at any joint. The same is applicable in swordplay. One of the Masters of the intercepting of thrusts is Johannes Lecküchner. His methods of intercepting include the blocking in halfsword, the cutting of the arm and wrist, the Ansetzen, the usage of reach in the Langort, and the wrestling comparable to the dagger fighting. They all lead back to one principle:
What is folded must be unfolded to gain reach, what is unfolded must be folded before it can be unfolded again. If you are able to follow a folding movement, you win time enough to stop it unfolding again.

Addendum

There may be some misunderstanding regarding my writing on the Wrist Strike. There are several heavy and light weapons where a strike seems to be done with the wrist. But in fact it isn’t. In the English broadsword and the Italian sidesword there are circular strikes as they are in the Wunder of the German tradition especially shown in the work of Hans Lecküchner, who is mentioned above. It is a movement often done with single handed weapons which have some kind of hand protection like a basket or a bell or at least the Nagel (nail) of the Langes Messer. The reason for that is, that this kind of strike exposes the hand from the cross guard. With heavier weapons these movements are done with the full arm starting from a rotation in the shoulder, a torsion in the underarm, and by changing the angle of the wrist. They are designed to hurt or absorb power. So they have to be able to generate power themselves. You can easily do an experiment on the power generation of the Wrist Strikes. First let a partner fix your underarm, so that you can only move your wrist. Hack with a heavy weapon on a target. Next let him fix the elbow, so that your ulna and radius are able to move, but your shoulder could not help. At last do the movement with the help of an spinning upperarm that is rotating around his length axis in the shoulder. You will see the difference with ease.
But there are Wrist Strikes where the fingers or the wrist alone doe the work. This is mostly done with lighter weapons. Like the Battuta, the intention of the strike is not to hurt but to destroy the Fühlen, to get an opening or a start for a Zucken. While with heavier weapons the same effect is done with a sudden movement of the shoulder with lighter weapons it is done with the fingers or the wrist. Because to gain any advantage from the effect, the movement should be done very fast. The fingers and wrist usually are faster than the shoulder due to the different masses but not if the wrist is heavily loaded.
The interesting thing is, that that both kind of strikes are found in the work of the two handed weapons nearly regardless of the weight or length. This is possible due the fact that the leading hand is used as a pivot point and the rear end is used as a lever that is rotated by the other hand. So the power is generated by both hands and arms and can vary more without the risk of loosing time.

Montag, 29. August 2011

4th Lesson on the Poleaxe the First Binding


In dem Fechten mit der Stangen sind es acht Versatzungen, vier im Anbinden, oben zwei und unten zwei, und zu beiden Seiten eine in jeder Hand, und zwei mitten in der Hand (zwischen den Händen).”
As we can read in the Goliath Fechtbuch and other manuals, there are eight ways how the staff weapons can crush together.
  1. on your left side, above
  2. right side, above
  3. left side, below
  4. right side, below
  5. left side, on the side with the long point
  6. right side, on the side with the short point
  7. above between both hands
  8. below between both hands
Joachim Meyer has another opinion on the bindings. There is a great difference for both handed staff weapons between a bind near the leading hand and somewhere near the point. The section we know as strong in the sword is not half the length of the part of the staff looking to the opponent. It is a section very near to the leading hand. So Joachim Meyer divided the length of the staff weapons in four sections from back to front: rear end (short point, foot, spike), middle between the hands, strong near the leading hand, front end (long point, head, upper end). Reflecting those sections he defines a binding in every part of the weapon. So the four bindings result in one for each section.

The First Binding

Talhoffer’s First Binding with the  Polaxes  is different from Paulus Kal, Falkner and some other masters. Interesting to see that in the picture 79 of the 1467 book the left fighter seems to hit with the spike while the right one uses the hammer. This is nothing special, you can see the same spike favored strike on the plate 88. Both strikes on plate 79 are from above and are aimed at the head of the opponent. By stepping outside to the right, they both turn and end confronting each other in a distance, where they can’t reach each other without another step.
Paulus Kal does the First Binding with the rear end (hudß end = hat end as Falkner calls it) of the weapon. And Falkner asks us to continue working with the spike on the read end: a call for winding and thrusting, like we would do it in the long sword or in short spear. This needs further stepping and movement for bringing the head of the weapon into the play again. While Kal is bringing the rear end into bindinq with a strike in a rotating movement, Falkner is lifting the poleaxe into the upper guard in a combined movement of both hands. The common principle in both masters play is the to get a binding on the inside. The reason for this, is the window over both arms. This section is hard to be protected if the binding is done. So this is a good place to start thrusting, stabbing, and threaten the face. And over the arms begins the Reißen, and the a lot of levers for disarming or getting the shoulder under control. To achieve this goal Falkner and Kal prefer to construct an asymmetric situation where one fighter has the rear end in the leading hand and the other the axe head. But it has one drawback: the most dangerous part of the weapon is out of the direct action.
Talhoffer tells us that the first bind is with both weapon heads near the leading hand. And looking through all his poleaxe work we see that he does not favor the asymmetric situation that much. His preferred tool is the head of the weapon. Not only in a direct manner but for threatening too. So in the first bind leads in the manuscript of 1467 to an heavy strike-thrust with the rear end. What makes this piece very fascinating is the adaption of Zornhau-Ort to the poleaxe combined with a modification of the Wechselhau (here with the rear end) and a powerful thrust. So Talhoffer uses the poleaxe as he would use the long sword. Using the same principles as it is told in the GMN 3227a (aka Döbringer manuscript).
Note: There are more than one alternative interpretations of that piece (e.g Reißen with the head of the weapon). Despite that, the aim of this article is not to discuss interpretations. It is the 4th beginners lesson about training and exercise. And we are in the first bind and everything should be kept simple. The bind itself is difficult enough. 

And how shall you train and exercise now?

Try to use the Zornhau-Ort principle on the poleaxe. For this you attack with the head of the axe and step to your right and forward with your right foot. See if the binding is near your hand, that you are able to use the strong of your weapon’s leading hand. Press down a bit, doubling the strike and thrust lifting the rear end. If he gets aware of the spike on the head and reacts try to stay in the bind and thrust again and again, winding if you wish. He needs to be pressing up and to your right side. If you got him there protecting himself from the spiky head, hit him from below at the staff as hard as you can. If he does not let it go by the sheer force, you are in a good position for a lever to disarm him. Just thrust through his arms from below and get over his right wrist, then rotate and press down a bit.
So the real thing to train first is getting into the bind and stay there without letting him win the initiative. So this is what you have to exercise on every time. Strike from your right side, get contact, create a barrier that he cannot reach you and thrust. Let your partner test your barrier, let him check if he can reach you without stepping and without leaving the bind. As long as you can block him by just raising the arms, you are just fine. Thrust several times from various positions of your arms and body without leaving the bind. Train on a pole (pell) to thrust on contact as fast as possible by creating a barrier at the same time.