Talhoffer 1467, Plate 4 – Zornhut vs vom Tag

In this action, we see two fencers thrusting from the guards Zornhut and vom Tag. This may seem rather unusual, but the reasoning becomes clear if we consider the options that come before it.

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The Oberhau

The play begins with a game of range. The fencer in Zornhut, the guard of wrath, has a longer tempo than the fencer in vom Tag because his sword has farther to travel. However, I have found through experimentation that an Oberhau, especially the vertical Scheidelhau (scalp cut), has a longer range when thrown from Zornhut than from vom Tag on the right.

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So given fencers of equal build, the fencer in Zornhut can throw a shallow cut to the face before his opponent can reach him.

Countering with the Thwart

For the fencer who is not caught unaware, the Zwerch can easily counter the incoming Oberhau. This merely requires remembering to take a wide step while throwing the arms high.

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The Deceptive Thrust of Wrath

We saw the Zorn Ortt or “thrust of wrath” in plate 3. Instead of an downward thrust, we will instead be using one that goes through Langort. The concept is the same, we start with a powerful high cut that mutates into a thrust in order to deceive the enemy.

Through experimentation we found that Zwerch is completely ineffectual against this thrust. At the widest measure, the point falls under the cross-wise cut and then up into the throat or face.

Countering a Thrust with a Thrust

The text speaks of a “crosswise point”, which I have been told means a thrust with crossed wrists. Looking at the picture, we see the body is turned to avoid the blow. We find a volta or turning step where the right foot moves behind the left to be most effective.

When done at a just distance the point will end right in front of the opponent’s face. If he doesn’t realize what’s happening, he will continue the long thrust an impale himself. A more alert fencer will interrupt his attack, but no matter. A small increase of the left foot is enough to seal the deal.

Where I practice, our thrusts tend to be lower and longer than shown here. Our training in Italian rapier does not permit us to end a thrust so upright. And this was causing the fencer throwing the crosswise thrust to get hit in the hands from time to time.

To fix this, we throw our arms more outward than upward. Just as in our discussion about the Squinting Strike vs Plow, this this forms an angle that protects the hands.

But Wait, That Doesn’t Match the Picture

If you look at the picture, the fencer using the “crosswise point” is not actually hitting with the point. Instead is looks more like a Zwerch to the side of the head. But that’s not the only problem. The fencers are way too close together for either of them to consider a thrust that doesn’t come from a bind. More importantly, our theory says this starts as a cut. And you wouldn’t even consider any cut from Zornhut at that distance, the tempo is way too long.

Now if move the fencers back a bit so that the point is at the face then things start to make sense. With a just distance for a long thrust, a volta-style void with a counter-thrust is the natural response.

So currently we believe that the figures are close together for technical reasons, specifically the artist needed to make them fit on the page and in general wasn’t too good at perspective.

Could we have it all wrong? Could ortt, which I hear is literally translates as point, not really mean a thrust? Maybe, but that has its own problems. If the fencer on the left is throwing a cut, not a thrust, then the fencer on the right has just lost his left arm. A fare trade in sport fencing, but not something that Talhoffer would encourage in an earnest fight.

Conclusion

With Talhoffer we simply don’t have enough material to interpret it in the strict fashion that we use for other masters. We don’t even know for certain what guards they were in before everything started.

So like the fencers of his day, we have no choice but to use his drawings and captions more as inspiration than as instruction. In this discussion we played with distance and space, thrusts and cuts, counter-measures and counter counter-measures. At the end of the day this was useful to my study group, even if the final interpretation isn’t an exact fit.

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One Response to Talhoffer 1467, Plate 4 – Zornhut vs vom Tag

  1. Pingback: Talhoffer 1467, Plate 5 | Grauenwolf's Study of Western Martial Arts

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