Meyer’s Longsword – More Thoughts on the Kurtzhau or Short Cut

This is useful against someone who understands the Krumphau and doesn’t throw his whole body into the initial attack.

Imagine someone who fights in True Time, which is to say he starts his cuts with just the arms and then, if he hasn’t changed his mind, completes the cut with a step.

You start to throw what appears to be a Krumphau.

He sees you start and hesitates. Nine times out of ten this is the right response. While your sword goes wide, he chooses a new opening and finishes his attack by following you to the right. Look at the left-fencer in the illustration, he is well over the left foot. There is no reason to be there if he didn’t think you were going in the same direction.

http://grauenwolf.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/meyers-longsword-the-short-cut-or-fake-krumphauw/

But you don’t go to the right. Instead you finish your cut with a step to the left.

Why is the pommel so close to the face? Because you initial brought your right shoulder forward to fake the step to the right. When you instead took the step to the left, your arms get bound up and you can’t fully extend them.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Another Device for Tag (part 1)

There is a lot going on in this device, so I don’t want to rush through it. This device is different than the ones we’ve seen before. So much so that Meyer writes of it,

This is indeed quite a serious and strong device, that no one will be able to ward off once you have the Vor.

Before we get into the opening sequence, let’s talk about what’s not there.

  • There are no provocations.
  • There are no threats with the point.
  • There are no feints.
  • There are no master cuts.

Instead of complexity and trickery, you are relying on speed, precision, and sheer force of personality to maintain control of the fight. This is not a subtle device; this is is pure testosterone.

Context

The context is as with the other devices, which is to say you have both come into Tag and one fencer hesitates just long enough for the other to start his device.

Opening Sequence: Three Long Cuts to the Head and Neck

You begin this sequence with a long, horizontal cut to the left neck or temple. As soon as it clashes, immediately flow into a long horizontal cut to the right neck or temple. When that clashes, follow with a long cut to the top of the head.

All three cuts have to be done in one continuous action with no hesitation. Don’t recover to a guard when performing these, make sure each attack immediately flows to the next in one continuous motion.

Something to note is that the horizontal cuts with the long/true edge are unusual, especially in German longsword with its slightly rising and descending Zwerch.

Theory: Vor and Headshots

Part of my theory about Vor and Nach is the psychological aspect. It is not just enough to the constantly attacking, that just leads to inartful flailing. By specifically targeting the head and neck the opponent constantly sees the blade flashing before his eyes, triggering the fear response that interferes with more sophisticated counters.

And then there is the concussion. Even if they are wearing a helmet, three strong whacks to the head in different directions can’t be good for the brain.

Stop and Practice

Usually I try to present the whole device in one go, but I don’t think that is appropriate here. Before we move on to the second half of the device, I need to get to the point where I am consistently offering one attack with three cuts.  Not just against a pell, but also in drills and light sparring.

Next Time

The second half of this device uses a clearing action to make room for yet more cuts to the head.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Device 4, Breaking Tag

Nearly everyone who has picked up a longsword has heard about the neigh mythical vier versetzen and how a Zwerch can easily break vom Tag. The problem is, there is nothing in the Liechtenauer tradition that tell us how to actually do that. The Liechtenauer manuals assume that you already know the initial steps for breaking vom Tag and instead focus on what happens next.

Fortunately Meyer does offer us an elegant way of dealing with someone who is lingering in Tag. The opening for this device can easily lead into the plays we see in Ringeck, etc.

Context

In the first three devices, we saw ways to counter someone who is trying to break you out of Tag. This play starts the same, except you have the initiative and the opponent is waiting for you to strike.

This makes sense, because after three devices the student of Meyer should have a firm understanding of how difficult it is to safely attack someone who is waiting for you.

Opening Threat and Indes

With both of you in Tag, wind your point to the face as if you wished to thrust with crossed arms. From your opponent’s perspective this may look like a Zwerch to his right, but it isn’t really a cut.

Marozzo calls this Guardia di Croce or the Cross Guard.

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In Mair we have Versazung or the Parry Position

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If your opponent hesitates, step and thrust. A threat is meaningless if you are not prepared to follow through with it. If instead you opponent appears as those he wants to beat your sword away, proceed to the next step.

This is what Meyer calls Indes, the moment when you need to make an instant decision. Your options are wind and thrust or wind and Zwerch. Staying in this position with the threat of the point is not an option, it isn’t safe to give your opponent time to think.

Zwerch to the Left Ear

As soon as you perceive movement, the guard is broken. You now have to take advantage of it. Given the arms are crossed and you are weak in the direction you wound from, your opponent is probably going to beat your sword down and to your left.

This is good because you can either run from the beat or take its energy to power your Zwerch. Either way, this is done with a step with your right foot.

Note: The text is unclear if the step should overlap the wind to thrust or not start until the cut starts. Currently my club is leaning towards starting the step as soon as the wind ends.

This is one of the few times Meyer specifically calls for a powerful stroke. And with good reason, this cut is your protection and you need to be sure to beat away any oberhau that may be coming in as a response to your attack.

Claiming and Redefining the Centerline

This device illustrates the concept of claiming and redefining the centerline. At the start of the play, neither fencer has the advantage. Moving just the point , not even really the hilt, you establish control of the centerline. At this point you have an overwhelming advantage and the opponent must do something immediately or they will literally eat a point.

The second component is the step to the right which moves or redefines the centerline. By moving the centerline at the first hint that you are about to lose it, you maintain control of the fight. Which of course plays back into the concept of the vor.

Feint a Long Zwerch then Short the Left Ear

The second attack is a feint to the lower-right opening with a Zwerch. Being a feint, you pull back before the blades make contact. This puts the opponent one tempo behind you, as he is still trying to parry the Zwerch when you begin the next attack.

As in the first three devices, the touchstone is a short-edged cut to the left ear. He doesn’t say, but given this follows a long Zwerch you probably don’t want to cross the arms for this one. Instead end in left Ochs.

Short to the Right Ear

As soon as you complete the cut to the left ear, repeat it with a short edge cut to the right ear. This one is explicitly with crossed arms, supporting the theory that the one before it used uncrossed arms.

A New Withdrawal

Until now our only withdrawal has been a Zwerch or three. With this device we get a new withdrawal to add to our toolkit.

As soon as the blow to the right ear lands, throw the left foot back and follow with a rising long-edge cut to the left arm.

And for the first time in this series, we have an illustration that is specifically mentioned by the author.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Third Device for Tag

In the second device we looked at the parry against a rising attack on the left, today we look at the rising cut on the right.

Initial Parry: Krump

No real change here. The attack is against your right, so you step away from it to your opponent’s right while parrying with the long edge against his forte.

First Counter-Attack: Short to the Left Ear

This is where things get really interesting. Rather that attacking to the other side, Meyer once again tells us to use a short-edge cut to the left ear. This sounds like a typo at first, but Meyer specifically says that your sword will be beside or above his sword.

Meyer says that in doing this short-edge cut you push the pommel under your arm. This means that the cut must be with crossed arms, which again puts us in an Ochs-like position.

The Parry and Second Attack

Given where his sword is, the only parry the opponent has is a to push your sword to the right. That’s cool. Just let it run off along his right (your left) side, step well to his left side, and hit him with the long edge on the top of the head.

This illustration is close, but the right foot should be forward.

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Zwerch to the Left Ear

Finally we get to use the trademark German Zwerch to the left ear. This is done with “a backstep on your left foot”. Not sure exactly what that means, given the right foot was forward, but the basic gist of it is that you’ve started your withdrawal with one last wounding attack.

Immediately after the Zwerch cut away as you see fit.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Second Device for Tag

Meyer’s first device was a counter to attacks from above. This is the most basic attack from Tag, and the most easily countered. So students of Meyer will often start with a rising cut from Tag to the left or right arms and flank. This device concerns itself with attacks to the left.

Context

The context for this device is any time both you and your opponent are in Tag and you see that he intends to strike before you. This can happen in the onset, but it is just as likely to occur in the middle of an exchange when you both pull back to make a strike.

Initial Parry: Krump

When you see your opponent throwing the blow from below to your left side, step out wide to his left side and cut his forte with your long edge.

Parries are normally against the weak of the sword, with the exception of the Krumphauw or Crooked/Arc Cut.

Note: We believe that this is known as a “Traversato” in the Bolognese sources.

First Counter-Attack: Short to the Left Ear

The first attack against the opponent is done using the short edge against the left ear. In this passage he explicitly says “down with the short edge”, but it is our belief that all of these short edge cuts to the ear always nearly vertical in nature. When Meyer wants us to cut more horizontally, he tells us to use a Zwerch (Thwart) instead.

Note: We’ve seen this before. In the first device, we counter-attack with a rising cut to the right arm, then immediately follow with the short edge cut to the left ear.

A weakness of the Krumphauw is that it leaves the opponent’s blade near the left leg. If not dealt with, you are susceptible to an afterblow in the form of a cut against said leg or a thrust to the belly.

Meyer’s way of avoiding this is to tell us to further step to the left when performing the cut to the left ear. This moves away from their blade, encouraging them to parry rather than retaliate.

The final position of this attack is Ochs with crossed arms and the right foot forward. Somewhat like this illustration from Ringeck.

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The Theory of Vor

When talking about the Vor, it is easy to believe that it merely means you are attacking and your opponent is just responding. But it is more subtle than that. To truly be in the Vor, your opponent must respond in a way that is favorable to you. If he is free to do whatever he wants, you are both operating in the Gleich or “simultaneously”.

One way to maintain the Vor is to perform actions that the opponent will desire to parry. Attacks to the head are a good way of doing this because your opponent will see it coming. Conversely, it is hard to establish the vor using attacks to the low flank or legs. Even if your opponent can see them coming, they are hard to parry so he’ll probably try a void (moving the leg/body out of the way) while striking you in the head.

Note that it really doesn’t matter if the parry is successful or not in Meyer’s system. Because the longsword is well suited to combination attacks, you should be well on your way to the next attack before you consciously determine whether or not the last attack landed successfully. So long as your opponent is still trying to parry, you will eventually land a blow or three.

Note: In the Italian treatises, the concept of the Vor is sometimes referred to as putting your opponent into “obedience”. The theory is the same, you perform actions that have a correct and obvious response, but none the less still leave you in a better position.

Second Attack: Long to the Right Ear

As I implied above, Meyer expects the opponent to try to parry the cut to the ear. As soon as he does, step well to his right and cut him in the ear with the long edge. When doing so, keep the hands high and the quillons over your head.

Given this description, the attack resembles this Scheitelhauw, but probably with the left foot forward. I say probably because Meyer doesn’t specify which foot to step with.

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Note: I need to figure out where I got this illustration from. Anyone recognize it?

Controlling the Fight by Slicing the Arms

At this stage your opponent may be eager to make his own attack. In order to prevent him from doing so, as soon as he cuts around push your blade into his arms. You may end up in a position like this from Mair:

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However you do it, maintain contact when he tries to escape. Then when he is least expecting it, cut to another opening and then cut away.

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Training Rondel with Rondels

One of the issues that we’ve been running into is that our training daggers is that the lack of a rondel causes them to not behave like real daggers.

With a real rondel, the rondels prevent you from straightening out the point in line with the forearm. This makes the forward grip nearly useless compared to other styles of dagger.

Another difference is the firmness of the grip. We found that it is harder to disarm someone who is using the real dagger because of the way his hand is jammed into the grip between the rondels. Even when he has lost control of the weapon and wants to let go, the rondels sometimes prevent him from dropping it.

Extra will be needed when drilling or sparring with this design to prevent the breaking of fingers during a disarm.

Construction

The new rondel is made from a solid piece of ash that was originally sold as a “baseball bat blank”. I used by reproduction dagger for approximate size, but increased the grip slightly to allow room for heavier gloves. The finish is friction polish, applied while the part is still on the lathe. The ends were then rounded off with a belt sander, hence the burn marks.

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WP_20141016_001 WP_20141016_002 WP_20141016_003

Dimensions

Tip: 22 mm long by 28 cm wide
Blade: 297 mm long, taper from 19 to 28 mm
Front Rondel: 12 mm thick, 70 mm  wide
Grip: 112 mm long, taper from 30 to 25 mm, excluding decorative elements
Rear Rondel:10 mm thick, 60 mm wide
Rivet: 13 mm high, 28 mm wide

Note: The grip is comfortable bare handed (perhaps even a little too big), but barely fits a lacross glove. Next time I may increase the grip length by another 10-15 mm.

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Context Matters

Often missing in descriptions of techniques, both historic and modern, is context. This is a problem because context matters a lot. A technique that works brilliantly at one measure may fall apart one pace closer or farther apart. An attack that is designed to work against an opponent who is stationary may not work against one in motion and vice-versa.

These are some of the factors that go into the question of context:

Measure or Distance

The most obvious example is grappling. Clearly a technique that begins with a wrist grab won’t work when you are three paces away.

Less obvious are provocations and invitations. Most provocations are based around the idea that you have enough distance, and thus time, to deal with whatever reaction your opponent makes. If the measure is too small, the provocation won’t work

Basic Terminology

  • Out of measure: Can land a blow even with a passing step
  • Wide measure:  Can strike with a step
  • Narrow measure: Can strike without a step
  • Corps-a-corps: Can touch the opponent with the hand or foot

Action or Inaction

When the text says “the opponent is Tag” what does that mean? Is the opponent entering Tag? Or are they already in Tag?

If entering the guard, are they doing so in preparation for an attack? Or as a recovery for an attack they have just completed? Are they slipping the sword in anticipation of an attack against themself? Or are they merely shifting their guard for a tactical reason?

If they are already in the guard, what are they doing there? Are they in an aggressive  posture, ready to pounce at the first opening? Or a defensive posture, expecting to parry and counter-attack. Perhaps they have hesitated, unsure of what to do next.

The effectiveness of a given technique depends a lot on the answers to these questions.

Terminology

  • The opponent is static (unmoving) or dynamic (moving)
  • If static, the opponent is attentive or inattentive (i.e. laying in wait or just catching their breath)
  • If dynamic, are they beginning or ending their action

Height and Reach

Size matters. Not all the time, but there are definitely techniques that work better or worse depending on the relative height and reach of the fencers.

Be careful to not fall into the trap of believing that taller is always better. A tall person may not necessarily have proportionately longer arms, so when reporting findings consider the arm length separately from how the height changes the angles.

Armor

We like to talk about armor as a binary question: either someone is fully dressed in tournament plate or not armored at all. But historically the question was far more nuanced. Manciolino explicitly talks about choosing which part of the body to armor for a duel based on relative heights. Meyer tells us to practice in and out of armor, though it is hard to imagine his middle-class students owning full plate and he doesn’t offer the specialized techniques for it.

Real or Play Swords

Historic fencing is not just about life and death fights. The ability to spar in friendly matches, fight seriously but not lethally in tournaments, and display feats of swordsmanship such as solo routines and test cutting were all very important parts of a fencer’s repertoire. No one is going to hire a fencing master who kills his students and outright thugs aren’t invited to tournaments. And if a duke whose patronage you seek asks for a demonstration before the court, you damn well better be able to perform.

So arises the question of real or play swords. Some masters explicitly call this out, saying a technique is suitable for one, the other, or both. You see this in Manciolino where he talks about the play sword with the small buckler and the real (literally “edged”) sword for the large buckler.

For the modern student, the factors involve are steel, wood, or synthetic. If steel, sharp, blunt, or feder. If synthetic, low-grade (i.e. Rawlings) or high-grade (Pentii, Blackfencer) with or without taped edges.

Blade length and Guard Style

And since we are on the topic of weapons, guards matter too. I know from experience that trying to perform Marozzo’s small buckler assaults with a complex hilt rapier is an exercise in frustration. But switch to a simple crossguard, with or without finger-rings, and its elegance is revealed. And don’t forget, the schilt on a feder longsword is part of the guard characteristics.

Likewise, the length of the blade matters. The techniques in Capoferro make a lot more sense with a 45” blade than they do with a 35” blade.

Is this all?

No. There are lots of other things I haven’t talked about such as whether the weights are shifted forward or back, if each fencer just stepped closer or farther from his opponent, how you are lined up laterally, are you both facing the center line, etc. etc.

It would be impossible to list every last detail of context, let alone try to explain how and why each factor does or does not affect the technique in question. But at least try to hit the highlights when introducing a play.

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