Stretta Means Close

When looking at the stretta plays of Manciolino one of the most common mistakes is for the fencers to be too far apart. So I wish to present some signs that you are too far apart.

You can thrust

This is the most reliable of all the indicators. If your point is within the silhouette of your opponent, don’t even bother trying to perform a stretta technique. Just push the point into your opponent and call it a day.

When we first started experimenting with stretta plays, we found that most of them were trivial to counter with a thrust. You don’t even have to try, a panicked response is enough to land the point.

Once we started getting into true stretta measures this ceased to be a problem.

You can’t kick

One of the plays in Manciolino involves kicking your opponent with your right foot. If you are not close enough to plant your foot in their belly then you aren’t close enough. (Or you  are really inflexible and need to do some yoga.)

You can’t wrench

In this play by Talhoffer we see a parry followed by wrenching with the pommel over the wrist. Manciolino has two versions of this technique, one for the inside and one for the outside, with accompanying counters.

Notice how high the points are. You have to be this close or you will be wrenching over  their blade rather than their wrist.

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You have to dive to grapple

Many of the stretta plays involve dropping one or both of your tools and grappling. My current favorite has you drop both sword and buckler, push your head under his right arm, and throw him over your shoulder.

Can you do this from range? Certainly. But if you opponent is aware then he can easily hit you on the back of the head as you dive forward. At thrusting range this technique requires a step or two, which means you give him multiple tempos to work. At proper measure I can pull this off in a single fluid action.

True vs False Edge Binds

This was really confusing for awhile because the terminology is more of a convention than  an explicit description of what’s happening in the bind.

True edge plays are binds on the inside. For right-handed fencers, that means the opponent’s blade is to the left of  your blade.

False edge plays are binds on the outside. Experimentally we found that these may be done with either the true or false edge.

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Meyer’s Forward – General Advice on Parrying

The second chief element of fencing is parrying.

Extend your arms

First, when you are being crowded with cuts and thrusts you must “catch and bear the off with an extended hilt or weapon, that you are quickly ready for counter-striking”.

Meyer isn’t the only one who thinks this way. Manciolino says the exact same thing in his rules of fencing.

In defending his person, a man must always hold his arms well extended, not only so that he will come to drive the blows of the enemy to the outside at a distance from his body, but it also makes him stronger and swifter in striking.

Contrast this to Hutton’s sabre, whose parries are quite close to the body.

Employ the First Element as a Single Time Defense

Parries should employ the first element. Which is to say that you should use your cuts and thrusts as your defense and as a simultaneous counter-stroke.

In Italian terms we would call these Stesso Tempo or Single Time actions.

Example Parries

Cuts that come across can be parried with a Oberhau (Hugh cut, a.k.a. vertical cut) that suppresses it and hits the head at the same time if you step out appropriately. Likewise a Oberhau can be taken out and sent away with a  Mittlehau (Middle or horizontal cut).

We see the second example in the First Device Against Tag. Note that in this case the Mittlehau is in the form of a strike using the outside flat.

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Our Next Workbook for Independent Study Groups

We’ve completed the final draft of our Meyer’s German Longsword Level 1 workbook.

There are three books on our list for quarter 1, but probably not enough time to do them all. So which would you like to see next.

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Meyer’s Forward – There Are Only Four Cuts

And the whole art of combat rests especially on two elements. The first consists of the cuts and thrusts with which you intent to harm and vanquish your opponent. The second element is the parries, which teaches you how to turn aside or strike out these cuts when they are sent in ay you or directed against you by your opponent.

Note that he writes “cuts and thrusts”. Neither is given supremacy here, you are expected to know both.

There are only four cuts

The next passage is incredibly important. Meyer says flat out that there are only four cuts: High, Wrath, Middle, and Low. That’s it. Every other cut that you are introduced to is embodied with one of those four.

This has important ramifications in regards to how we think about these cuts. In earlier German traditions such as Liechtenauer there is a common belief that a Zornhau (Wrath cut) isn’t just any diagonal cut, but one that has a specific purpose and thus must be used in a specific fashion.

That may be true, in Liechtenauer. But in Meyer, that is the wrong way to think about it. For us, Zornhau is any diagonal cut. Without context, you can’t say anything more about the strike. You can’t even say that one of those cuts is performed with the long edge.  He cites the fact that the Sturtzhauw (Plunge cut) is a Oberhau  (High cut) as an example of this.

Another example he offers is Wechselhauw (Change cut), which is a Zornhau (or Underhauw) that changes from one side to another. When he says Wechselhauw, he means “use a Zornhau for the purpose of changing sides”. It isn’t a different cut, but rather a specific use of a cut you already know.

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On the format of our new Workbooks for Independent Study Groups

We are nearing completion revision 7 of our longsword workbook so I thought this would be a good time to reiterate the core principles behind our training manuals.

First and foremost, we’re looking for ways to improve retention. It doesn’t matter how good the instruction is if the student forgets most of what he learned from one class to the next. To this end, we are using a combination of several learning styles:

Written Lesson Plans

While it can be hard to gauge how much material is going to be covered in any given class, there is little reason to not have a pre-planned lesson plan. Even in research focused classes doing preliminary interpretations you should know up front what plays you intend to look at and in what order.

Without access to the lesson plan, students are unable to take charge of their own studies. All they can do is make it to class on time, try to pay attention, and hope they don’t miss anything. And woe be the student who misses a week.

With a syllabus in hand, the student knows what to expect before they even show up for class. They can read about the topics to be covered ahead of time, reducing the amount of direct lecture needed. And it will help jog the memory when

Written Instruction for Drills

A failing of many students is that they don’t practice on their own between classes. But it is hard to blame them, as they often can’t reconstruct the exact drills from their hastily written class notes.

To remove this barrier, we are putting in all of the drills that we intend to cover in class directly in the workbook. Not only will this allow students to review the material at home, it may also make it easier for them to follow along in class.

As new drills of pedagogical importance are discovered we will have to update the workbook, but this should at least provide a core set for the student to use in the mean time.

Experimental Drills

Students have a natural desire to experiment. They don’t want to just blindly follow instructions, they want to experiment. They want to see what works for themselves, often exploring well beyond the confines of the drill.

If you don’t provide an outlet for this curiosity the student may become combative. They’ll interrupt lectures and try to counter the technique being demonstrated before the technique is fully explained.

Our method of dealing with this is to provide experimental drills. Some of these drills are designed to lead the student to a particular conclusion. Think of them as a “show, don’t tell” style of instruction.

Other experimental drills are open-ended, allowing the student to find their own answers to questions such as “How would you counter this attack?”

Writing Assignments

In any other class, students are well aware that they need to take notes. But put them in a martial art class and many of them forget to even bring a pencil.

This is problematic because writing is a really good way to reinforce the memory. Many students never refer to the their notes, it is merely the process of writing them down that makes the information stick. Other will regularly refresh themselves by consulting their notes.

To encourage the taking of notes, many of the exercises have spaces in the workbook to record their findings. This is especially important for experimental drills where the knowledge the student gained cannot be easily recovered if lost.

Open-Ended Discussion Questions

Just as students like to experiment, they often like to debate. Providing open-ended discussion questions allows for debate to occur in a controlled manner at an appropriate time.

Discussion questions also promote active learning. It requires the student to be engaged, rather than just passively going through the motions.

Drawing Assignments

Another way for a student to reinforce his memory is through the use of drawings. While artistic skill is preferable, even stick figures can be sufficient for illustrating the placement of the feet, the bend of knee, and the incline of the body.

Drawings are also useful for the instructor. They reveal what the student considers to be important about the guard or technique. Verbal verbal confirmation often fails in this regard because the student is tempted to just parrot what the instructor wants to hear.

Reading Assignments

It isn’t feasible to include all the information the student needs to learn in the workbook. To even attempt to would entail basically copying the entire historic manual. At the same time, you can’t spend the entire class on just lecture. And eventually you’ll want the students to learn to read the historic text on their own.

So for this aspect, the workbook includes optional reading assignments from the manual.

Future Plans: Offline Verbal and Visual Instruction

Since these manuals are meant to be used by independent study groups, we need to augment the workbook with videos. As they are recorded, they will be added the Scholars of Alcala Channel on YouTube.

Example Workbook

You can see a preview of our new Meyer Longsword 1 workbook in the link below. If this works out as well as we hope, we intend to eventually produce comparable workbooks for each of the topics we research or teach.

Final Draft

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Nachreisen means Contra Tempo

For those with an Italian background, it is important to understand that a Nachreisen (following or chasing) is nothing more than an attack in Contra Tempo (counter-time).

Consider these quotes,

Ridolfo Capoferro

Contra tempo is when at the very same time that the adversary wants to strike me, I encounter him in shorter tempo and measure; and one needs to know that all the movements and all the reposes of the adversary are tempos, although at measure

Mezzo tempo is when at wide measure I strike the adversary in his advanced and uncovered arm, either that of the dagger or of the sword, with a thrust or cut, or alternately when I strike the adversary at narrow measure, as he moves himself to strike me or perform some other action; redoubling of blows is usually done in mezzo tempo.

Joachim Meyer

This is a particularly good handwork, and he who is very skillful in it and knows well how to use it may properly be praised as a master. And chasing is executed thus: if your opponent cuts with his weapon either too far up or down, or too far out to the side, then you rush after him at his opening and thus prevent his cut coming to completion; for this may properly be used against those who fight with their cuts sweeping wide around them.

You can’t prevent a cut from coming to completion unless you are using a shorter action, which is what Capo Ferro refers to as a blow in mezzo tempo (middle time). And your arm won’t be exposed unless your weapon is “too far up or down, or too far out to the side”, a requirement for the use of a Nachreisen.

So while the German masters aren’t always clear on when to use a Nachreisen, but we can use this analogy and the writings of the later Italians to fill in the blanks.

Specifically, a Nachreisen requires the following conditions:

  • You are fencing in measure, which is to say one fencer can wound the other with (wide) or without (narrow) taking a single step.
  • Your opponent has exposed himself by either
    • moving his sword too far away from his body in any direction.
    • taking any action without a tempo
    • using a large action while in narrow measure
  • You can respond with a shorter action

So lets consider a play from Meyer,

When an opponent is fighting with you, then observe in which part he holds his sword. Now if he holds it in the right Ox, that is in the upper right quarter, then the moment he takes his sword away from there to change to the other side, or simply pulls up for the stroke, you shall cut in quickly and skillfully, using those cuts and techniques from which you can at once achieve a parry.

We know that cuts from Ochs are slow, as one has to unwind in preparation for an attack. But to take advantage of this you need to be in a position where you can attack directly without likewise performing a preparatory action. This could mean you could be in Tag with a cut, but a slice from Langort or Pflug is also viable.

In terms of measure, you need to be fairly close. Definitely within range of a passing step or there is no chance of getting there before the cut is completed. Ideally you are even closer than that, so at most all you’ll need is a small increase of the lead foot.

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What can you parry?

When my club was founded two year ago an important tenet was that we would focus on the basics before even touching the manuals. For what good is it to know all of master strikes and dozens of complicated plays if you still can’t properly defend against a simple attack?

That lasted quite a while, but eventually we lost our way and started getting too involved in reading and interpreting the manuals. So as our knowledge increased, our core skills atrophied. A situation that, once recognized, is easily correctable with a return to the basics.

Basic Attack and Parry Drills

The most important drill in our club is the basic attack and parry drill. This is pretty simple: you stand in a guard and defend against attacks along each of the eight lines in turn. Then repeat for the four thrusts.

The idea behind this drill is that you should be able to easily defend yourself against any simple attack at wide measure. If you can’t do that, then you haven’t yet mastered the guard and aren’t ready to move on to studying the plays.

I do want to stress the term “simple attack”. The manuals will cover combinations, feints, and other provocations designed to upset your guard and expose you to an earnest attack. But you can’t honestly expect to fully understand those until you can defend yourself against someone just throwing one swing and then backing away.

Building on the Drill

This drill is quite flexible in terms of the skill level of the fencers. Once they have mastered the basic exercise, you can allow the agent to cut along any line rather than just the one the patient has asked for.

Or the agent can be permitted to use a combination or device of his choosing. This allows him to put the lessons from the manual into practice outside of a scripted drill or free sparring environment. 

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