Understanding Breaking Alber by Working From Alber

Breaking Alber refers to attacking someone who is resting in said guard with the intent of displacing them from the guard. A lot of ink has been spilt discussing what the person who is breaking the guard should do, with opinions ranging from a single, direct strike to provoking actions meant to lure or scare the opponent into leaving his posture.

What hasn’t been properly discussed is why someone is in Alber in the first place.

We know from Liechtenauer that Alber is one of the four legers or camps that you are supposed to fight from. At no point does he say that it is inferior to any of the other three, so we should just as thoroughly as we would the other guards.

Now generally speaking one does not rest in a guard, the exception being when you want to invite to opponent to perform some action that you can counter. So for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to assume that the person in Alber is intentionally inviting an attack. And since it is an invitation, he must have a counter in mind.

Kron

In Liechtenauer’s play for breaking Alber, it assumes that the patient fencer will parry with Kron. But is that what he wants to do or is that what he is forced to do?

Let’s consider the characteristics of Kron. First, it is not a single time counter. You need to have a follow-up action ready.

Secondly, it at best puts you in a neutral bind. At worst, it offers a significant advantage to the opponent. This is why many of the masters warn against over-using Kron.

Third, it is actually a very large movement. The hilt goes from the lowest possible position to nearly the highest possible position in a single tempo. There are a lot of other things you can do between those two positions.

Slicing

Slicing is a term used by Meyer to refer to an upwards attack with the short edge. The Bolognese would call it a Falso and they often use it to counter attacks to clear the the line, allowing for an immediate thrust or descending cut to wound.

In some ways using a slice is actually easier to using Kron. Slices cover a wide arc, making them less likely to miss. And they don’t attempt to stop the opponent’s sword, so it doesn’t become a test of strength. Instead they strike the flat, altering the opponent’s trajectory without affecting its momentum.

The downside of the slice or Falso is that it is still a dui tempi counter. Like with most weapons, we prefer to make single time counters with the longsword when possible.

Thrusting

Let us now turn to the thrust. Mair tells us how to use this against someone in vom Tag with the left foot back.

Then fly up with your sword with crossed arms in front of your head in the Versazung (Parry Position), step in with your right leg, and shove the point into the left side of his face.

image

Illustration of the Parry Position, but with
the point low rather than directed at the face.

Like an extended Ochs, using the Parry Position as a thrust serves as protection against a downward blow. By concentrating on the thrust to the side of the head (or throat if you prefer), your arms naturally fall into a strong position for absorbing the blow.

Like with the rapier, if you focus too much on the parry then you are likely to “chase” his sword and end in a weak posture such that your arms are supported by your body. This means that not only will your thrust not land, but your parry will probably collapse as well.

Note: If the opponent has his right foot back, use a Parry Position with uncrossed arms. This will again look like an extended Ochs, but on the left side.

Another feature that you should note about this technique is that the hilt is lower than it would be in Kron. Since the hilt doesn’t move as far, one can presume that the technique takes less time.

Schaitlerhaw and the Suicidal Fencer

Let us now return to the Schaitlerhaw (Vertex Strike), Liechtenauer’s means of breaking Alber.

A critical flaw in many interpretations of this action is that it leaves the attacker susceptible to a thrust to the chest or gut. This criticism is often dismissed by claiming the fencer in Alber is being “suicidal” because he isn’t using Kron.

The problem with that argument is that we’ve already established that Kron isn’t Alber’s goal. As per Mair, Alber was intending to use a thrust all along. If Alber is hit it isn’t because he made a tactical mistake, but rather because he failed to correctly execute the thrust.

As for the fencer in vom Tag, what else but suicidal would you call someone who makes an attack that he knows will draw a thrust without any plan for how to counter it?

Conclusion

Any interpretation for breaking Alber needs to account for the thrust that the fencer in Alber wants to perform. Rather than assuming the fencer in Alber is going to use Kron, the interpretation needs to force the fencer to choose that action instead of his original plan.

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Interpretation pages on Wiktenauer

I’ve started working on putting interpretation pages on Wiktenauer. I’ve chosen Figueyredo Greatsword Simple Rule 1 to preview the format.

In order to make the interpretations easy to find without being obtrusive, my proposal is to place a simple link at the bottom of the technique’s translation.

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The interpretation page itself will start with just a link back the to manual it refers to. Below that will be headings for written interpretations, video interpretations, and related forum discussions.

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As a reminder, this is rule for videos on Wiktenauer:

Technique interpretational videos will be included at the bottom of every technique page. Only post one video per group. Also note that videos are expected to be of reasonable quality. Be sure that you can be clearly heard while speaking (or include subtitles), that you are actually demonstrating the technique and not just atlking about, and that users can easily see what you are demonstrating.

I would like to finalize the format ASAP so that we can use it for the April video challenge. So please post your questions and suggestions right away.

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Straight Sided, Flat Bottom Wooden Bowls

For reasons I can’t figure out, the sacrificial wood method of mounting the bowl blanks that served me so well in the past just isn’t working for me any more. So I’ve begun to experiment with using chuck turning techniques instead.

Here are my first two attempts. Both were started using the sacrificial wood method where you glue newspaper (or something comparable) between the good and sacrificial wood. Both times they separated just as I started to hallow the inside. So I turned the blanks around and mounted them on the faceplate, then proceeded to turn a groove in the bottom.

The one on the left was my first attempt. The groove wasn’t deep enough so the chuck dropped it a couple of times and tore out a chunk from the bottom. The second attempt, right, was turned from beech and didn’t have any problems.

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I started the hollowing process using a round carbide chisel, then switched to a square radius to get the straight sides and bottom. In technical terms I’m happy with the results, but artistically I think I prefer having curved sides.

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For the outside, I like the half-circle on the bottom of the first bowl. The decorative groove near the top could stand to be a bit deeper, but I don’t have a chisel that can do that at the moment. The Multi-Tip Hallowing Tool with a 1/4” cove cutter looks promising.

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Neither bowl has been finished yet. I’ll probably use Salad Bowl Oil, but that takes forever  to apply because of the long delay between coats.

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Letter Opener

The acrylic handle was turned on a wood lathe at MakerPlace. Brass fittings are from a kit sold by Rockler.

Originally I made it using traditional chisels, but that led to the handle chipping. I cut off the damaged portion, and remade the rest of the handle using my new carbide chisels. The difference was night and day. I can’t see going back to traditional chisels when there is carbide option available.

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Sword Hilt with a Green Hot Patina

The hilt and pommel cleaned and prepared using a sand blaster. Then heated with a propane torch attached to a MAP-Pro tank.

To check the temperature, dip a chip brush into some water then dab onto the metal. It should steam and immediately be dry. If it visibly boils, it isn’t hot enough yet. If it is instantly dry without steaming first, it is too hot.

I used  Sculpt Nouveau Universal Green Patina. The cheap spray bottle that comes with it is horrible. The field of spray is too wide, the droplet size too large, and I’m overall very unhappy with it. It is no wonder that the training video produced by IMS shows them using a brush, high quality spray bottle, or professional paint gun instead.

Alternate between the torch and spray so that the metal doesn’t cool below the operating temperature. Universal Green doesn’t need to be washed off, but other patinas do so check the instructions on every bottle.

WARNING: Once you start applying the patina, don’t recheck the temperature using the wet chip brush. Water droplets interact badly with the patina, leaving crusty scars.

The patina itself worked great. It looks chalky at first, but some rubbing with ultra-fine steel wool fixes that and leaves a surprisingly deep luster for a base coat.

To protect the piece, I used Premalac. This already started to form a hard coating coating in less than an hour. I applied a total 3-4 coats, allowing it to dry completely between each one. The label says that it takes 24 hours to fully cure, which means I can test its durability tomorrow.

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If I can find some, my next step is to try Sculpt Nouveau Green Wax. This should further improve the appearance, offer more protection, and be easier to touch-up after heavy use.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Part 1, Divisions

Chapter 1: Divisions of the Combatant

Previous interpretation: Meyer’s Longsword – Divisions of the Combatant

Something I missed before was where Meyer mentions that it is now the fashion to primarily aim for the head. I think he is saying that since thrusting isn’t used, winding attacks from the bind to the head have become predominate.

This leads me to believe that earlier forms of German fencing concentrated more on attacks to the body. This would make sense given that a thrust to the body is more likely to strike true. That said, we are still talking about roughly the chest region, not the belly or legs.

Chapter 2: Divisions of the Sword

Previous interpretation: Meyer’s Longsword – Divisions of the Sword

I did a disservice to my readers and myself by not focusing on what the divisions of the sword are used for.

  • The first division of the sword is the hilt, pommel, and grip. This is used for: running in, grappling, wrestling, and casting.
  • The second division of the sword is the forte. It is used for slicing, winding, pressing, and similar things.
  • The third division or middle of the blade is used for… well anything that happens to come up.
  • The fourth division or foible is used for changing through, flicking, and slinging.

Though  easily overlooked, these divisions of the blade are vital for interpreting techniques from later chapters. Generally speaking, Meyer isn’t going to tell you which part of the blade to use for a given action.

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Meyer’s Longsword – Part 1, Divisions of the Fight

Previous interpretation: Meyer’s Longsword – Divisions of the Fight

Zufechten – Onset

The onset is the first intention, the first action taken from a posture to begin an  engagement. Unless you fall into the bad habit of “one-attack, one-counter, break”, very little actual fencing occurs during the onset. Yet it is vital to perform skillfully during the onset if you wish to be in an advantageous position for the rest of the exchange.

In the past I wrote,

Immediately it becomes apparent that Meyer’s system is more aggressive than that of the Italians. Whereas Fabris or Capo Ferro would start at wide measure with a series of small closing actions to gain control of the opponent’s blade, Meyer’s Onset starts boldly with a cut from one of the postures. While he doesn’t necessarily expect the cut to land, it does immediately move one into range for handwork.

I now think that I over-estimated the aggressiveness of the system relative to the Italians. While it s true that Meyer doesn’t try to “gain the blade” when using the longsword, many of his opening actions have the same effect. The goal here isn’t to rush in and hope for the best, but rather to simply keep moving to ever increasingly advantageous positions using whatever techniques are appropriate for the weapon and the situation.

Handtarbeit – Handwork

This is where the bulk of the fighting occurs, and thus is the most important part of the art. While opening actions shouldn’t be ignored, the bulk of ones training should be focused on this aspect.

The handwork is a bit difficult to classify in terms of other systems. Fiore and the Bolognese tend to divide the fight into wide and narrow (stretta) plays. Meyer doesn’t  make this distinction. His definition of handwork spans both wide and narrow actions.

Abzug – Withdrawal

I have nothing new to say on this topic.

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