Capoferro: Retiring in Quarta

An often overlooked aspect of the first play (plate 7, paragraph 35) is the final passage,

and in such a conclusion would retire into a low quarta

Far too often people just end the play when the opponent is struck. And why not? It feels great to pull off the attack as described in the book.

The problem with this thinking is that it doesn’t take into consideration what happens next. Maybe your opponent has a mortal wound, maybe they don’t. And if they do, maybe it will stop them immediately and maybe it will take weeks to succumb to an internal infection.

Not wanting to take chances, Capoferro has us retire in low Quarta. On its face, this seems wrong. The opponent’s sword will almost certainly be on the outside, implying that Seconda would be preferable.

But the low Quarta has a trick. You can completely dominate the opponent’s sword simply by moving your point to the right. The weight of your sword in your opponent’s will usually be enough to keep it trapped.

If the opponent does flee to the other side beneath your blade, simply move the point to the left to maintain control. No further movement should be necessary.

If you were to instead start with Seconda on your right, then you would have to not only move your point but also turn the hand into Quarta to protect the left side. And that’s a rather large movement for such a short tempo.

Terminology Sidebar

In German fencing, this part of the fight is known as the Abzug or Withdrawal.

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Vier Versetzen: How does the Zwerch Defeat Tag?

There are two ways the Zwerch (Thwart cut) can defeat Tag (High guard). The difference is not so much in the action itself, but rather the timing and distance.

When Given a Tempo

There are several ways an opponent can give you a tempo, a time to act. These are summarized as,

  1. After you have parried your opponent’s attack
  2. After your opponent’s sword has traveled past your body
  3. When your opponent lifts his hand in order to strike
  4. When your opponent injudiciously changes his guard
  5. When your opponent steps forward (with his front foot)

In our first scenario, numbers 3 and 4 both refer to the opponent lifting their sword into Tag. As they do so, you may strike with either Zwerch while taking an off-line step. Begin this action as soon as you see them start to move so that your strike lands as they complete the transition into Tag. So not allow them time to begin their next action.

Scenario 5 usually occurs when the opponent steps into wide measure. As a reminder, “wide measure” is the distance from which they can land a strike using a step. If they could land a blow without a step, they would be in “narrow measure”.

If someone steps into wide measure without cutting or otherwise presenting an immediate threat, step at the same time as them and counter their inaction with a Zwerch.

Likewise, if they are in measure and shuffle their feet or otherwise perform a non-productive action, attack before they settle into their new posture.

As a Provocation or Siege

If the opponent is already settled into their posture, their Leger (Camp), then the situation becomes more-tricky. A direct attack should not work. If it could, then they are not in a true guard and you are just punishing them for doing something wrong.

But let’s assume that they properly formed their guard. They know what attacks you are likely to make and have practiced the counters for each. So we need to provoke them into leaving the safety of their guard. This is where the word Versetzen (Displacement) comes into play.

To displace them from Tag, we use the Zwerch. The arm motions are the same, but the step is made shorter and possibly more to the side. The goal is to give the illusion of a deep cut, when actually you are just lining up the point with their face.

This will put you in a posture that resembles the below composite image, though the footwork will not necessarily match.

Composite Image from Mair

This is known as a “counter-posture” or “siege”. Once you are in this position, your opponent may hesitate. If that happens, thrust. Your point is already on-line and the completion of your attack will support your parry if they later decide to cut from above.

If your opponent does not hesitate, then the most likely response is to parry your sword with a high cut. Since you are effectively in an extended Ochs, this cut should not threaten you. Though it should be noted that your hands may be jeopardy if you stepped too narrowly, so ensure that initial Zwerch was made with an off-line step.

The opponent is now in the Nach (after). Another way of saying this is that they opponent is in “obedience”, meaning they are forced to respond to your actions rather than attempting their own devices.

As their blade makes contact with your sword, you can begin the customary second Zwerch to the other side. If you are certain the opponent is attacking your sword, rather than your head, you may even begin your second cut before the blades make contact. This is a type of feint known as a Fehien (Failing) because the blades fail to connect.

Alternately you may remain in the first counter-posture and thrust from the bind. Or use any other technique that you see fit. The point is the opponent has left their safe space and is now a tempo behind as they try to respond to your actions.

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What Part of the Sword to Cut With

In Suiō-ryū class, we were told that the older styles would begin their cut at the Yokote, or transition from straight to curved part. As it slices, the point of contact will move towards the Kissaki or tip.

Katana Yokote
Yokote
Katana Kissaki
Kissaki

Source: Katana Parts and Components – Medieval Swords World

The reason we are to do this is that we intentionally want a shallow cut, somewhere in the half-inch to two-inch range. Basically, just deep enough to cut the throat.

More modern styles cut with the Mono-Uchi, the “third of the blade that is closest to the Kissaki”. This makes it more effective when cutting tatami mats, but results in more of a ‘hacking’ action and a slice.

Additionally, the deeper you cut, the more likely you are to strike the wings of the Sode. The goal is to shallow enough to avoid the Sode, but still deep enough to injure the neck.

Of course, if someone is wearing a Nodowa (neck armor, like a gorget), then you wouldn’t target the neck at all and look for another opening.

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Footwork Starts with the Shoulders

As we have covered many times in the past, most steps should be made with the balls of the feet rather than the heel. The heel, if it touches the ground at all, should only do so lightly.

Stepping in this fashion may feel awkward, especially in modern shoes. Though the problem isn’t always with the shoes, or even the feet, but rather the shoulders.

In Suiō-ryū class we did an experiment where we stood normally, hands hanging just before the legs. When we walked across the room normally, most people stepped heel first unless they were consciously trying to avoid it.

Then we pulled our shoulders back such that our hands rested at our sides. This pulls the back into a more upright posture. Contrast this with the slightly forward lean when the shoulders are relaxed. With this one change, everyone was defaulting to a ball-first or flat step. (By flat I mean the ball and heel strike the ground simultaneously.)

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An Introduction to the Master Strikes

Meisterhau – Master Strikes

In the manuals, the Meisterhau or Master Strikes often have an air of mystery about them. For example,

Mark well, the teaching verses present five secret cuts, which many swordmasters do not know to speak about. You will learn not to strike any other cuts when you come from the right side against one who stands against you in defense.

Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck

This is an exaggeration. While some of the master cuts are indeed interesting, others are so obvious that one can’t help but stumble upon them the first time they pick up a sword.

Joachim Meyer has a more grounded approach to the master strikes. In his treatise, they are used as normal strikes on their own and as broad categories from which all other cuts derive.

The actual number of master cuts vary depending on the author. Here are some excerpts,

Note the recital lists five hidden hews about which many that name themselves master do not know to say: That you should not learn to hew differently from the correct side against them, when they position themselves against you in defence and if you select one of the hews from the five, then one may hit with the first strike. And whoever can break the hews without his harm and especially whatever work thereafter goes with it, that will be praised by the masters of the recital, thus his art shall be accredited to him better than another fencer that cannot fence against the five hews. And how you shall hew the five hews, you will find that in those very hews in the recital hereafter written and taught.

Hans Medel

The Main Strikes are Over, Under, Middle, and Wrathful. The Secondary Strikes are Short, Glancing, Gliding, Arcing, Bouncing, Winding, Dazzling, Cover, Knee Hollow, Plunging, and Changing Strikes.  Master Strikes are: Wrathful, Arc, Traversing and Vertex Strikes.

Jacob Sutor

Beyond these strikes come the proper Master Strikes, which we shall also name, from which all masterful and artful moves with the Sword are made and accomplished with varying grips, these are Wrath, Arc, Traverser, Glancer and Vertex which are all used when wanting to conclude and complete, and which I will describe to you. Just as I introduced pre-fencing, so I have clearly spoken and introduced the Strikes to you.

Joachim Meyer

The seven master strikes: The Zornhaw, the Krumphaw, the Halbhaw, the Kreizhaw, the Zwerchwechselhaw, the Schaittelhaw, the Kronhaw

Nicolaüs von Augsburg

Six strikes learn from the right hand with good grace to the arms which we masters vow to be worth in our art.

The High Cut, the Wrath Strike, the Crook Strike, the Cross Strike, the Squint Strike, the Parting Strike

Peter Falkner

Mark well, the teaching verses present five secret cuts, which many swordmasters do not know to speak about. You will learn not to strike any other cuts when you come from the right side against one who stands against you in defence. And try if you can to hit an opponent with the first strike using one of these five cuts. The one who can counter with these against an opponent without being hurt will be praised by the master of the markverses, and his skill shall reward him more than another fencer who cannot fence with the five cuts. And how you shall throw the five cuts you will find hereafter recorded in the verses that talk about these same five cuts.

The first cut is called the wrath strike,
the second is the crooked strike,
the third is the crosswise strike,
the fourth is the squinting strike,
the fifth is the parting strike,

Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck

Vier Versetzen – Four Displacements

The Vier Versetzen (Four Displacements) is a closely related topic. The basic concept here is that there is a Meisterhau that defeats each of the four primary guards or postures.

You have earlier heard that you shall only fight from the four guards. So you shall now also know the four displacements. These are four strikes.

The first strike is the crooked strike. This breaks the Ox guard.
The second strike is the crosswise strike. This breaks the Roof guard.
The third strike is the squinting strike. This breaks the Plough guard.
The fourth strike is the parting strike. This breaks the Fool’s guard.

Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck

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.

In the section on the Meisterhau, it talks about hitting someone directly. And that’s certainly a possibility if you can catch them as they enter into a posture. But once they are safely in their guard, they cannot be so easily defeated. The whole point of a guard is that it’s a defensive position. If you could simply strike someone in a guard with a high expectation of success, then that guard is useless.

Let’s look at the term again. Note that it is called the “four displacements” not the “four instant wins”.  This is telling us how it is meant to be used. Each of the strikes is meant to displace the opponent, move them out of their guard and into an unstable posture that you can deal with.

If we were to use Bolognese terminology, we would call them the “four provocations” because they provoke the opponent to act in a predictable manner. In MS I.33, they would be referred to as an Obsessio, which is translated as “siege” or “displacement”. I go into more detail on their use in The Vier Versetzen are Counter-Guards, not Attacks.

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Meyer’s First Dussack Drill

Starting Posture: Stier (Steer)

For all of these drills, the starting posture is Stier (Steer). At first glance, this looks like a one-handed Ochs (Ox) with the off-hand gently resting near the blade. But look closely at the hand. See how it is really pushed through the hilt so that the back of the hand is visible.

image

The only way to make this happen is to shift the grip so that your thumb sits alongside the flat of the blade. Contrast with the illustration of Langeort below where the thumb is along the back of the blade. This grip change is important for the plunge cut, which is used extensively in the next second drill. So practice it a few times before performing the drill proper.

Other things to note include the slightly forward lean, the right elbow at eye level, and the left hand slightly higher than that. The point sinks down to roughly the level of the chin.

First Drill Example 1: Half Cuts

image

Meyer’s first drill for the Dusack is designed to teach you how to parry. Two types of parries are actually taught with these. The first is the parry that occurs by making a half-cut into Langort that intercepts the opponent’s sword. This can be used to setup a thrust or, as Meyer says, for a simultaneous counter-cut.

The second parry is Hangetort, which you use after throwing your own cut while also preparing your next attack. If you were to use full cuts then you wouldn’t have enough time to parry your opponent’s next blow.

  1. Stand in Stier (Steer) with the left foot forward.
  2. Increase Right Foot while cutting an Oberhauw (High Cut) into Langort (Long-point)
  3. Gather left foot forward into Hangort (Hanging Point). The blade passes by left side. Repeat first two steps several times
  4. Step back with left foot while cutting an Oberhauw (High Cut) into Langort (Long-point)
  5. Gather back right foot near the left into Hangetort (Hanging Point). The blade passes by left side. Repeat these two steps several times

This drill is repeated for the Zornhuaw (Wrath Cut), Mittlehauw (Middle Cut), and Underhauw (Under Cut).

image

Note how the arm is slightly bent, the hilt is at shoulder level, and the point is just barely above eye level. There is a lean forward, but it is conservative.

First Drill Example 2: Full Cuts

image

The second example uses full cuts. Meyer does not say while these are to be drilled, but one can surmise that they teach how to follow through with a cut. They are also good for teaching posture.

  1. Stand in Stier (Steer) with the left foot forward.
  2. Increase Right Foot while cutting an Oberhauw (High Cut).
  3. Gather left foot forward into Wacht (Watch). The blade passes by left side. Repeat first two steps several times
  4. Step back with left foot while cutting an Oberhauw (High Cut).
  5. Gather back right foot near the left into Wacht (Watch). Blade passes by left side. Repeat these two steps several times

This drill is repeated for the Zornhuaw (Wrath Cut) and Mittlehauw (Middle Cut). Full cuts for Underhauw (Under Cut) are discussed below.

image

In this guard, both elbows are at eye height. The left hand rests on the wrist.

As you practice this drill, focus on the left hand’s placement. It goes to the hip for the cut and returns to the wrist as the arm comes back up into Wacht.

First Drill Example 3: Full Cuts with an Underhauw (Under Cut)

image

The use of Wacht is implied as this is a clarification of example 2.

  1. Stand in Stier (Steer) with the left foot forward.
  2. Increase Right Foot while cutting an Underhauw (Under Cut) into left shoulder.
  3. Gather left foot forward into Wacht (Watch). The blade passes by left side.
    Repeat first two steps several times
  4. Step back with left foot while cutting an Underhauw (Under Cut) into left shoulder.
  5. Gather back right foot near the left into Wacht (Watch). Blade passes by
    left side. Repeat these two steps several times

The left shoulder position should not be thought of as a Zornhut, as it is held higher so that it may pass through Wacht, over the head, and into position for the next cut.

For videos, play summaries, and notes see HEMA Drill Book – Dussack Drill 1.

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Practice Notes for July 18, 2021

Meyer Longsword

We learned some new terms today. The first is the Zornhuaw (Wrath Cut). Meyer describes is as…

The Wrath Cut is a diagonal cut from your right shoulder at your opponent’s left ear or through his face and chest, diagonally through as shown by the two crossed lines that pass through the vertical line. This is the strongest of all cuts, and embodies all the might and virility of the combatant against his opponent in dueling and combat; therefore it is also called the Strife Cut [Streithauw] or Father Stroke [Vatterstreich} by the combat masters of old. Concerning these lines you will find hereafter, etc.

The next term we learned was Zucken (Pulling or Twitching). Ringeck describes is as…

When you come against him in Zufechten, strike powerfully from above from your right shoulder in against his head. If he binds against the sword with a parry or suchlike, step in closer to him in the bind and twitch your sword up and away from his and cut back down against him on the other side of the head.

The word Zufechten means “onset” or the “initial stage of combat”. Note that Ringeck adds a step during or just before the twitch.

Meyer offers an option to make it even more tricky. Instead of going to the other side, you stay on the original side and hit with the back-edge of the sword. We will look at this variant in a future lesson.

You can deceive your opponent masterfully with pulling, which is a very good handwork. You shall do it thus: After you have bound your opponent or cut in at his opening with the long edge, then quickly pull back up as if you intended to cut at the other side; however, do not proceed, but quickly complete the cut with the short edge back at the spot from which you have gone away.

As you can see, each basic technique has numerous variants. And the Zucken is just one of several responses to a hard bind from your opponent.

Fiore

Here are the images we mentioned during the book session.

image

image

Scholars of Fiore speculate that the beards represent the difficulty level of the technique. Basic techniques are presented by a clean shaven fencer. A simple moustache and beard represent the next level. A short golden beard comes after that. The most difficult techniques, according to this theory, are indicated with a long golden beard that splits in two as shown above.

Opportunities

On Sundays and Wednesdays the local branch of the SCA practices at Allied Gardens Park. For more information see https://www.calafia.org/activities/practices.html

I will be hosting craft sessions for woodworking, metal working, leather working, blacksmithing, copper smithing, etc. on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. This is not a Scholars of Alcala event. If you wish to participate contact me directly at grauenwolf@gamil.com.

SoCal Sword is now taking orders. We generally use Blackfencer swords. https://socalswords.com/collections/all/blackfencer?sort_by=title-ascending

We also use Pentti swords, which are imported by Purpleheart Armory. https://www.woodenswords.com/category_s/2170.htm

Next Week

After warmups, we will start with Agrippa’s Prima. This will include both attacks and defensive actions. Handouts on this material will be provided in class.

image

Then we’ll look at the longsword equivalent known as Ochs. Again, we’ll be looking at a mix of offensive and defensive actions from this posture including the thrust. This material can be found in chapter 2 of your Meyer Longsword study guide. Bring your study guide so you can take notes.

image

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Practice Notes for Sept 21-27

L’Ange Rapier

Beginner

Review the basic footwork, alone and while in guard. Introduction to the guards.

Intermediate

Review the basic footwork, alone and while in guard.

Practiced lunges, focusing on off-line steps and putting the off-hand in the correct location.

Meyer Longsword

Reviewed Chapter 11: Fighting from the Postures, Tag plays 1 thru 4. The emphasis during this session was working the sides and avoiding staying on the central line.

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Meyer: Rethinking Footwork

In longsword chapter 10, there’s an exercise informally known as Meyer’s Cross. (Or “Meyer’s Square” for those people who don’t know what a square looks like.)

image

The default footwork for this is alternating passing steps to the left and right. Taking the first (red) or second (blue) pattern, it would look something like this:

image

Notice the line down the center. This is the danger zone, the place where the opponent can most easily attack. And every step keeps you on that line. For a drill that just teaches you to perform combination attacks, that ok. But in a real match that’s the last place you want to be.

So taking the advice of Colin Richards, I’ve rewritten the footwork for the drill. First, the passage that forms a cornerstone of this theory.

Also know that one should move to his right side with his
attacks instead of moving directly in from the front, because
when one knows of this method, and practices and succeeds in
doing this in all fencing or wrestling, he certainly is not a bad
fencer.

–Ms. 3227a, Translated by Thomas Stoeppler

Mr. Richards calls this “working the right”. With it in mind, this is our new way of doing the drill. (This is a rough sketch, the actual foot placement doesn’t look exactly like this.)

image

The first two steps are the same, but on the 3rd cut you take a cross-step to the left. This brings you completely clear of the original line and puts the opponent in the position of having to try to reestablish his orientation. But as he turns, the fourth cut bring you even further to his right. In such manner you may find yourself beside or even behind your opponent.

For the patterns that start with a cut from the left, you’ll end up performing two cross steps. Otherwise it works the same way, always moving to the opponent’s right.

The specific cuts used are going to be a little different. Because the off-line steps change your blade relationships, you gain the ability to perform some actions that would have been too dangerous otherwise.

For example, consider the sequence that begins with a rising cut form the left. After binding with a descending cut from the right (2nd cut in the pattern), you can quickly turn a rising cut from the right to the left arm. Your right-hand doesn’t move in this action, it is driven purely by the left. Besides allowing a bonus hit, this chambers the sword for the descending cut from the left (3rd cut in the pattern).

If you were to try this with the normal footwork, you would get hit as soon as you left the bind. But because you are so far off the line by this point, the opponent doesn’t have a direct attack.

Further research is needed to see how we can apply this concept to other drills from Meyer.

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L’Ange: Changing our Rapier Footwork

Up until now we used this footwork pattern for obtaining a constraint. (Only the right foot is shown.)

image

1: Patient stands in guard of Tertia. The Agent stands in Quarta on the inside. Start far enough apart that the swords are not crossing.

2: The Agent steps forward with an advance, the front-foot moving forward no more than two foot-lengths. At the same time, constrain the weak of the sword as shown in the illustration above.

3: The Agent steps forward with a compass step to the left, rotating the body slightly to redefine the angle between the fencers. At the same time, sword is repositioned so that the cross is low on the Agent’s sword while still high on the Patient’s sword.

4: The Agent extends his sword forward into Quatra, with a lean of the body and a slope step of the right foot to the left. The final position should look like illustration 8 on the previous page. Note the use of the left hand for added defense.

This pattern is based on the idea of shifting the line of engagement so that you can form a strong constraint without touching blades. And it works more or less, especially when your opponent likewise insists on not making blade contact prior to the lunge.

I didn’t invent this pattern, but I’m not going to reveal the source in case they are no longer teaching it this way or I misinterpreted it. I will say that I learned it in the context of Giganti.

What changed?

After attending some lectures and classes at the SoCal Swordfight, I no longer like this approach. The constant theme across all of the classes I took was “Move! Get off the center line!”. This was expressed in a variety of ways, but the core idea of not staying where you can be hit is paramount.

In the Myles Cupp’s Fabris lecture, one of the footwork options was to step towards the opponent’s blade. You don’t have to push hard against it, in fact you shouldn’t, but by shifting the line slightly to the left you close out the straight line. Here’s the actual quote,

As you advance into misura larga, [do not] place that first step into misura larga along the straight line that you have been following – that is, not towards his body or in the line of his point – but rather on the side on which you place your sword to shut his out… with this you will be doing two things. 1. The step with which you enter into misura larga will not be on the same straight line along which you advanced towards him, so that his point will not be in your body’s presence. This allows you to shut out his point and be safer.

Vienna Anonymous, p.45. trans. Tom Leoni 2019.

Using this advice, we modify the footwork pattern to be:

image

1: Patient stands in guard of Tertia. The Agent stands in Quarta on the inside. Start far enough apart that the swords are not crossing.

2: The Agent steps forward with an advance, the front-foot moving forward no more than two foot-lengths. At the same time, constrain the weak of the sword as shown in the illustration above.

3: The Agent steps forward-left with a slope step. At the same time, sword is repositioned so that the cross is low on the Agent’s sword while still high on the Patient’s sword. Apply no or light pressure to the Patient’s sword.

4: The Agent extends his sword forward into Quatra, with a lean of the body and an increase of the right foot. The final position should look like illustration 8 on the previous page. Note the use of the left hand for added defense.

When applied to L`Ange’s Chapter 7 drill, we found this technique to have a higher attack success rate without compromising defense. And it just felt more natural.

I’ll end this post with another quote from Vienna Anonymous,

While you lift your foot to enter into misura larga (and before you place it again on the ground), you must gain an advantage by doing one of the following five things. Choose depending on what the opponent is doing with his sword.

  1. Gain his sword.
  2. Shut out his sword.
  3. Remove your body from his sword’s presence while shutting out his sword even more.
  4. Aim your sword at his sword-hand.
  5. Place him under the obligation to parry.
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