As you may notice in comparison to the picture before, the hammer head of the axe is now controlled by the left hand and the spike is now in the right hand and works like a rondell dagger. I named it the Change of Hands (not the correct historical term).
By the change of hands the rear end with the spike or the bottom of your spear becomes the front end, the new Ort (point) of your weapon. The strong (Sterke/Stärke) of your weapon stays at the same location but changed in the way you should use it. You changed in reach and that changes everything because the reach triggers any action and reaction of your fighting.The aim of the axe or hammeer head of your weapon is now reduced in reach and below breast level (if you do not let it fly over your head like Meyer does it). The window for your spike at the former rear end of your weapon is over the hip level (if you have not one of those brutal weapons with another hook on the rear end). Your fighting with your poleaxe is now very simular to the halfsword-fighting. With the movement of your feet you should mirror this change. The right foot is now leading all the time until you change your hands again or passed the weapon of your opponent on his right side.
The change of hands must be well exercised and trained so it comes fluently and easy to you in battle. There are several ways to accomplish it, nearly all are done in a rotating movement, let the right slide to the left hand in the moment of longest reach, release the left hand, which catches the shaft at the end of the rotating movement. One of the extraordinary movements is the flying of the weapon provided by Joachim Meyer. But we have to adapt it to Talhoffer because Meyer mostly keeps the right hand on the rear and. One way to do this is to start with the left foot forward and a blow from the right below cross to the left side up (Unterhau). At the end of the Unterhau rotate the weapon above your head around your back, let the right hand slip and grip the weapon near the left hand, release with your left, let the weapon rotate free in a wide single handed Oberhau down and catch it again on your left side by stepping forward with your right leg. Do not forget to rise with your right ellbow (like in the pictures, otherwise the head of your poleaxe will meet the ground). There are several other ways to let your weapon fly, read Joachim Meyer or do some experiments of your own.
Simular rotationg movement but in a smaller circle and without that much velocitiy is happening in nearly all other Change of Hands. You can do it by an Oberhau (ends in a kind of Pflug), by an Unterhau (ends in a kind of Ochs) or even with Mittelhau.
The change back is just the same thing played backwards. Slip the right to your left let the left go and catch. Step with your left foot forward.
Do exercise this heavily. There are a lot of variations to this. It must come very easy and fluent to you.
And why do you do this? You should never cross your arms in Poleaxe play. Poleaxeplax is Ringen armour in it’s most martial form, you better do not cross your arms in Ringen in armour if you do not want your opponent to control both of your arms with only one of his.
First thing to know about the Unterhau (blow from below with the head of your weapon) is: there is no Unterhau in the Poleaxe Plays of Hans Talhoffer – as you would do it in the Longsword Fighting with the right edge to cut your opponent.
There is a blow you do with the “false edge” of the weapon, the spike of the poleaxe like in Halfswording from the fourth stand / guard. But it is not recommended in the poleaxe part of the manuals.
There is an Unterhau from your right side which you do with the right edge with the axe or hammer. The aim of this Unterhau is the head and everything that is between this target and your starting point. But even this Unterhau is not really used in Talhoffers manuals with the poleaxe.
This is different from the works of Joachim Meyer. In Meyer’s treatise the right hand is mostly at the rear end the weapon and so he is able to do fancy things like the famous Kreuzhau.
Talhoffer uses the Unterhau from the left (which follows the crossing right Oberhau from your right side) only for bindings, or hooking, or the start of grappling. For this he changes the hands very often. If the right hand is leading, he prefers to raise the weapon in a thrust or a winding movement.
Talhoffer does not use the Unterhau from the right side in his manuals, if he is on the right side he always prefers the Oberhau (sometimes after displacing a blow), or starts thrusting or hooking or grappling.
Talhoffer changes the hands very often after the Oberhau from the right shoulder. Then he is starting something like an Unterhau, but not one that is harming directly the opponent, again it is thrusting, winding, hooking, or grappling that follows this kind of Unterhau.
The reason for this is not clear. It may have something to do with the fact, that even with the hook or spike you are not able to harm a opponent protected by a Gothic Armour by an Unterhau from the left. Every other blow is designed for building up enough impact to make the opponent stumble and reduces his capability to keep balance for at least a moment. A thrust or hook is more successful for this.
Another reason may be that if the head of the weapon is down, the rear end is up and this enables him to displace an Oberhau of his opponent and uses the impact of the recieved Oberhau to rotate to one of his own.
So if you exercise on Talhoffers Poleaxe play and do Oberhau crossing from your right shoulder down to your left side, do not raise the weapon in a blow, do never cross your arm in a way you would do it with the longsword, do thrusts to the knees, raise the weapon in a thrust, raise the weapon in winding, or let it rotate above your head. Or do a Change of Hands, which is covered in one of the next lessons.
This series of articles handles NOT the interpretation of poleaxe plays. It shows the use of a codex as a training curriculum for learning. It is true that if you want to learn the pieces shown in the codex you cannot pass by the valid interpretations. But this book is about learning the principles behind the pieces and not about the choreography.For this training manual I use mainly the Talhoffer book called Gotha Codex (Ms. Chart. A 558). Talhoffer started with this book in the early 1440ies and kept the book at least five years with him. It contains the very beginning of his art in the poleaxe, starting with simple blows and binds and ends with some more sophisticated tricks.
1st Lesson on the Poleaxe: The Oberhau
The Oberhau, the blow from above is executed in three ways: from the head, from the shoulder, and sidewise with the change of hands. Independent from the way of the Oberhau, you have one common problem: the exposure of the leading leg.
A) The first thing you have to do in every Oberhau with a two handed weapon is to make sure, that the leg in the front is not on the same side your hitting from. Because every inch of your body under your raised arm is unprotected and an invitation for your opponent.
To address the problem of the leading leg, you got some solutions like:
Retract the part of the body where you hew from by stepping with the leading leg back and lean a bit forward with your upper body (left fighter in the picture).
Step forward and to the side with the other leg.
Lift the leading leg in the air and put your body weight on the leg behind (found rarely in medieval European pictures – seen more often in Asian Martial Arts Staff exercises). It does not fit to armoured fighting very well.
Protect the leg with a blow or rotation with the rear end of the weapon (right fighter in the picture).
These are not exclusive solutions, there are others, or they may be combined, or you got a partner who shields you, or the opponent is unable to take the invitation (e.g. pressing sidewise), or anything else. As long as you are aware of it and take care, everything is fine. But you better exercise on this heavily. There are a lot of tricks you can learn to harm people who do not care about that fact.
B) The second thing is, that we blind ourself during the raising of the weapon. The picture above shows the right Oberhau and a way to avoid the blinding as much possible. But even in the best possible motion there is a short blink of blindness where a good timed thrust will hit us with suprise. This is effect is much greater in the Oberhau from the left side. That is the reason why Liechtenauer told us: “Ob dw linck pist Im rechten aug sere hinckes” – “if you are on your left (side), you are limping with your right eye painfully“. A lot of fencers raise the right arm in that way, that they blind themself on the right side. If you see somebody doing that, you have a victim willingly helping you to win the fight.
What to do against blinding is pictured above. Raise the arm in that way. It depends on your anatomic indivuality how you do this the best. Just make sure that in the end the ellbows will point as much as possible in the direction of the opponent without blinding yourself. You can’t completely avoid it, the arm and the weapon has to pass your sight. So see that you are not in reach or that your opponent is well occupied at that very moment. Exercise on the arm movement heavily. Get flexible in your shoulders
C) The third problem is the exposure of the arm. Everything that is raised (like the head) and moved toward the opponent is in the very danger to become wounded. It is the nature of the Oberhau, that the arms are raised and will go forward. So they are a lovely target for evildoings.
Hide the arms under your weapon. This is accomplished by aligning the left arm to the weapon’s arm and raise your right arm nearly stretched as pictured above. A lot of fighters tend to bend their leading arm. In my books are wonderful pieces that you can do if you see such behaviour. Doing it like above gives you cover and enables you to thrust very fast with the rear end of your weapon.
With these three major points in the back of your mind go and exercise on the mighty Oberhau. Do exercise on the…
…Oberhau from above the head crossing from left to right and vice versa covering a lot of volume in front of you hand having a lot of power and reach (left fighter in the picture).
…Oberhau from your shoulder crossing from left to right and vice versa but staying all the time in front of your body (right fighter in the picture). Good for fencing in short distance.