A Longsword Study Program for Groups without a Proper Teacher

At this point I don’t have access to a competent teacher for Meyer’s Longsword. I know of people who teach early German and Italian longsword, but not the latter stuff that I’m interested in at the moment. So to work around this I’ve been developing a self-study course to bootstrap my local group.

The first unit is an exploration of the guards and what you can do from them. Since I’m no master myself, I’m not going to lecture my study group about which cuts work from which guards. Instead I’m just going to present the guards and guide them through the process of discovering it themselves.

When the whole class, myself included, are comfortable with all of the primary guards we will move onto unit 2, which will look at some of the secondary cuts and guards in a similar fashion.

Unit 3 will focus on parrying the long cuts from every guard. My thought is that if you cannot parry all of the simple attacks from any guard, then you are not ready to start looking at the complex sequences.

If all goes well, unit 4 will start on the devices as described by Meyer in the order that he presents them. By then I hope Dr. Forgeng convinces the publisher to release a new edition of Meyer so we don’t have to pass around photocopies.

Below is our current outline for unit 1. This is a work in progress, as we learn things it gets updated with new notes and drills.

Meyer’s Long Sword

Unit 1: The Primary Guards and Strikes

Meyer’s text is not arranged in the manner of s self-study guide. Rather it is more like a textbook meant to supplement that which is offered by an instructor. As such, the early units are going to be bouncing around quite a bit more than one would like. Translations are by Jeffery L. Forgeng.

Lesson 1 – Parts of the Sword

The student must memorize all of the parts of the sword in English before moving on. The German names are rarely used in translations so a focus on them isn’t required.

·         Knopf: Pommel

·         Ort: Point

·         Creutz: Quillons / Gefeß: Hilt

·         Heft: Haft / Bint: Grip

·         Klinge: Blade

·         Stercke: Strong

·         Schweche: Weak

·         Lange Schneide: Long Edge

·         Kurtze Schneide: Short Edge

Lesson 2 – The Basic Cuts

The three basic cuts are:

·         Oberhauw – High cut (lines H, A, B)

·         Mittle – Middle or Horizontal Cut (lines G, C)

·         Underhauw – Low Cut (lines F, E, D)

The basic cuts may be performed with either the long or short edge. The students should practice cutting both through longpoint while stepping with the correct foot. That is to say, the right foot for cuts from the right and the left foot for cuts from the left.

Langort – Longpoint

Longpoint is mostly used as a transitional guard through which one passes on the way to another guard.

Introduce Longpoint, through which the student should cut all eight lines using both the long edge of the sword. Each cut should pass through Langort (Longpoint) on its way.

Stand with your left foot forward, and hold your weapon with your arms extended long in front of your face so that your point stands toward your opponent’s face; thus you lie in the guard of the Longpoint, as shown by the figure in Image A.

Note that either foot may be forward in Langort and that the blade will be rotated according to the cut. Focus on extending the arms as much as possible.

Drill 1: Long-edge Infinity Cuts

Starting with the left foot forward, perform the 8 long-edge cuts in the following order, being sure to step with each cut.

A – H – B – G – C – F – D – E

High High-left – High-right – Left – Right – Low-left – Low-right – Low

Drill 2: Short-edge Infinity Cuts

Continuing from drill 1, perform the 8 short-edge cuts in the same order, being sure to step with each cut.

Drill 3, 4

Use the infinity cuts moving backwards.

Lesson 3 – The Basic High Guards

A guard marked with a « is a leger in the Liechtenauer tradition. Meaning camp, a leger is a guard where one can safely lay in wait. The word hut, meaning cover, is mostly used for transitional guards but can be applied to any guard or ward.

Tag – Day/Roof «

Also known as vom Tag or “from the roof”. Shown here is Meyer’s version of Tag, Note that unlike Danzig and Ringeck, this is held overhead.

The guard of the Day, which is also called the High Guard [Oberhut], is executed in the following manner: stand with your left foot forward, and hold your sword up over your head so that the point extends right upwards, as shown by the figure on the left in Image C. Now any attack that is delivered from above is said to be executed from the Day or High Guard; therefore this posture is called the Day.

Exercise 1

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts.

Drill 1: Descending Infinity Cuts

With steps, use a series of infinity cuts along the lines B and H.

Drill 2: Ascending Infinity Cuts

With steps, use a series of infinity cuts along the lines D and F.

Drill 3: Long-edge Infinity Cuts

Starting with the right foot forward, perform the 8 long-edge cuts in the following order, being sure to step with each cut.

A – A – H – B – G – C – F – D

High High-left – High-right – Left – Right – Low-left – Low-right

Zornhut – Wrath Guard

Notice how the point is to the left, not he back. This allows you to throw a horizontal or diagonal cut from the left while standing in Zornhut on the right.

The Wrath Guard is so named because this posture displays a wrathful attitude. It is done thus: stand with your left foot forward, and hold your sword on your right shoulder, such that the blade hangs down behind prepared for a stroke. And it is to be noted here that all the techniques that are executed from the guard of the Ox can also be carried out from the Wrath posture, except that one uses different conduct to deceive the opponent in this quarter; and sometimes you can use this guard, sometimes the other. Concerning it, see Image E.

When in Zornhut on the left, the right hand must open somewhat so that the knuckles still face forward and the long edge is towards the neck. If you allow the short-edge to face the neck then some of cuts won’t work.

Exercise 1

Attempt to throw each of the primary long and short edge cuts from right Zornhut.

Exercise 2

Attempt to throw each of the primary long and short edge cuts from left Zornhut. Experiment with the long edge facing the neck vs. the short edge facing the neck.

Drill

From right Zornhut, perform a triangle step while throwing a rising cut cut along the line of D. Reset and repeat with C thru G working counter-clockwise around the circle.

Switch to left Tag and repeat working clockwise F thru C. 

Ochs – Ox «

Judging by the picture, Meyer’s prefers the long edge up for his version of the Ochs. Others have the flat up and the thumb underneath, but Meyer’s version makes the vertical cut easier.

The upper part of the combatant is allotted to the Ox, and as that has two quarters, the right and left, so one can divide the posture of the Ox into two parts, namely the right and left. The right Ox is done thus: stand with your left foot forward, and hold the sword with the hilt up by your head on the right side, so that your point extends toward your opponent’s face. For the left Ox, position yourself opposite to this, that is, stand with your right foot forward, and hold your sword with the hilt by your head on the left side as I have said. Thus you have both Ox guards or postures; this posture is depicted on the left side of Image B.

Practice transitioning from right ochs to left ochs and back using winds or cuts that protect the head. Avoid the helicopter cuts that bring the point behind the head.

Drill 1

Have the student stand on Ochs while another places his sword against the students quillon. The student raises and lowers his hilt to see what height is necessary to avoid getting hit in the knuckles.

Exercise 1

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from right Ochs. Review both long edge up and flat up.

Exercise 2

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from left Ochs. Review both long edge up and flat up.

Exercise 3

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from right Ochs.

Exercise 4

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from left Ochs.

Drill 2

Starting with right Ochs, perform a normal step while throwing a high cut along the line of A. Reset and repeat for B thru D.

Switch to left Ochs and repeat for A thru F.

Lesson 4 – The Steps

First is the concept of “right with right, left with left”, or in other words almost always stepping with the right foot when attacking from the right side and the left foot when from the left.

Meyer identifies these types of steps in Chapter 7.

A normal step is basically a passing step that is more or less straight forward or straight back.

Assuming the left foot is forward, a triangle step moves the right foot forward and out to the side. The rear foot should not move past the front foot, the goal is to move sideways to avoid an attack or to find a better angle for a strike.

A double triangle step begins with a normal triangle step. The left foot is moved behind the right, and then the right is moved to the opponent’s left again. The opponent’s actions dictate whether the last step is more forward or sideways.

A broken step is when you start to step forward, then instead step backwards.

Practice all of the high cuts using triangle steps until the students get used to stepping out instead of forward.

Lesson 5 – The First Three Meisterhau

The guards marked with a « are Meisterhau (Master Cuts) in the Liechtenauer tradition. While all cuts are useful at one time or another, these in particular were considered to be the corner stone of the early German system.

Zornhauw – Wrath Cut «

The term Zornhut is used generically to refer to any diagonal cut along the line of B. More specifically, it refers to a counter-time action in which one deflects an oncoming slice while at the same time performing an attack.

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 Father Stroke theory is idea that all master cuts begin as a Zornhauw that is mutated into the other cuts as necessary. This concept is not explicitly expressed in Meyer’s writing.

Scheitelhauw – Scalp Cut «

Meyer prefers to refer to this vertical strike using the generic term Oberhauw (high cut). It is also translated as vertex strike or parting strike, the latter referring the part in the hair.

The High Cut is a straight cut direct from above at your opponent’s head toward his scalp, for which reason it is also called the Scalp Cut [Scheidelhauw].

Drill 1 – Range Finding

1.     The agent starts in Tag on either side.

2.     The patient starts in Zornhut on the right and will not move from it during this exercise.

3.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Scheitelhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

Drill 2 – Parry with Zornhauw

1.     The agent starts in Tag on either side. The patient starts in Zornhut on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Scheitelhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient takes a triangle step to the right while throwing a Zornhauw at the head.

Repeat with the patient starting in left Zornhut, right Tag, and left Tag.

Zwerch – Thwart «

When performing this action it is especially important to use a loose grip. The right hand is going to open up while the left hand slips down to the pommel.

For the Thwart, conduct yourself thus: in the Onset, position yourself in the Wrath Guard on the right (concerning which see the previous chapter), that is, set your left foot forward, and hold your sword on your right shoulder, as if you intended to deliver a Wrath Cut. If your opponent cuts at you from the Day or High, then cut at the same time as him with the short edge across from below against his cut; hold your quillons up over your head, as a parrying for your head, and at the same time as the cut, step well to his left side. Thus you parry and hit simultaneously, as shown by the two figures on the left in Image H.

As you have done this Thwart on the left, so you shall also do it on the right, except that you shall hit with the long edge against his right.

There are two ways of throwing the Zwerch from either Zornhut. It can begin as a Zornhauw that mutates into a short edge cut by wrenching the sword around with the back hand while the front hand remains loose. Alternately, it can be a short edge cut throughout its entire life.

Experiment with both, but be sure to discuss the tactical advantage of mutating the Zornhauw into the Zwerch.

Drill 2 – Parry with Zwerch

1.     The agent starts in Tag on either side. The patient starts in Zornhut on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Scheitelhauw. [Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.]

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient takes a triangle step to the right while throwing a Zwerch at the head.

Repeat with the patient starting in left Zornhut, right Tag, and left Tag.

Concept: Verfliegen – Flitting

This happens thus: in the Onset or the middle of the work, when you cut at your opponent’s opening, and he goes against you to catch your stroke in the air, then do not let his blade connect with your sword, but pull the stroke back in the air with a single motion to another opening. This work is very useful against an opponent who is only eager to chase your sword and not to harm your body.

Drill

Starting in Zornhut, throw a Zwerch using the short edge along a flat arc. (Do not use the Zwerch that mutates from a Zornhauw.)

Imagine you opponent goes to parry it. Push strongly with the left hand while pulling with the right. This will cause the blade reverses direction and strike with the long edge along the line of G.

Lesson 6 – The basic Low Guards

The guards marked with a « are leger in the Liechtenauer tradition.

Pflug – Plow «

The lower part of the combatant belongs to the Plow, and as that has two quarters or two sides, right and left, so the Plow is called right or left. Both are in essence merely the position of a thrust from below. Execute the right Plow as follows: stand with your right foot forward, hold your weapon with the hilt by your forward knee, and am the tip or point at your opponent’s face as if you intended to thrust at him from below; thus you are in the right Plow. If you stand with your left foot forward and do the same thing, then you are in the left Plow. And the right Plow is also illustrated in the same image [B] on the right.

Note that Meyer’s Pflug is somewhat extended and the long edge is angled inward. Also not the placement of the rear hand on the pommel. For comparison see Danzing’s version where Pflug is pulled back, both hands are on the grip, and the long edge is (possibly) angled outward.

Exercise 1

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from right Pflug. Review both the extended and retracted version.

Exercise 2

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from left Pflug. Review both the extended and retracted version.

Exercise 3

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from right Pflug.

Exercise 4

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from left Pflug.

 

Kronhauw – Crown Cut

Some treat Kron as a transitional guard and thus refer to it as Kronhut. Meyer prefers to think of it more as a dynamic action, hence the term Kronhauw.

Drill

This is executed thus: when you stand in the Plow or else lay on up from below from some posture (concerning which I have spoken in the previous chapter), and your opponent cuts at you from above, then go up with horizontal quillons and catch his stroke in the air on your shield or quillon bar; and as soon as it clashes, push the pommel quickly upward and strike him with the short edge behind his blade on his head; thus have you correctly executed the Crown Cut.

1.     The agent starts in Tag on the right. The patient starts in Pflug on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing an oberhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient raises his sword in order “catch his stroke in the air on your shield or quillon bar”.

4.     As they clash, “push the pommel quickly upward and strike him with the short edge behind his blade on his head”

Repeat with both starting fencers using left-side guards.

Alber – Fool «

The Fool in my opinion takes its name from the word Alber, which is to say ‘simple-minded’, since from this guard no proper stroke can be readily achieved, unless one gathers for a new cut after the opponent’s cut has been caught by means of a parry, which is truly the part of a fool and simple man, to allow someone to strike him without a prepared counterstroke. It is performed thus: stand with your left foot forward, and hold your sword with the point extended toward the ground in front of you before your forward foot, such that the short edge lies above, the long edge below. Thus you lie properly in this guard, as you can see in the same image [C] on the right.

Drill 1

1.     The agent starts in Tag on the right. The patient starts in Alber on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Scheitelhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient deflects the cut with his short edge against the flat. This isn’t a static block, it should just nudge the path of the descending sword so it just misses to the left or right.

4.     After they clash, the patient follows up with a long edge strike.

Exercise 1

Repeat with the agent throwing a Zornhauw from either side. See if it is easier to deflect the attack by adding or removing energy from the agent’s blow by hitting the trailing or leading side.

Exercise 2

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from right Alber.

Exercise 3

Attempt to throw each of the primary long edge cuts from left Alber.

Exercise 4

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from right Alber.

Exercise 5

Attempt to throw each of the primary short edge cuts from left Alber.

 

Stich – Thrust

The Stich or Thrust is the second of the three wounders. Once very important to German fencing, by Meyer’s time it was considered to be rude and uncivilized. Though frowned upon in sport fencing (a popular pastime in the 16th century) and internal conflicts, Meyer sought to reintroduce it for use in earnest combat with foreigners.

Drill

1.     The agent starts in Plow on either side. The patient starts in Alber on either side.

2.     The agent raises his arms into Tag or Zornhut.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient steps forward and thrusts at the face.

Kniecheihauw – Wrist Cut

This is so called from the body part to which it is directed. Do it thus: After the initial Onset, when you have come under your opponent’s sword with your hands up above your head, and he holds his head thus between his arms, then cut with Thwart Cuts under his pommel up toward his wrist-bones or wrist-joints. If he holds his hands too high, then cut with these Thwart Cuts up from below toward the knob of his elbows; thus it is done.

Drill

1.     The agent starts in Tag on either side. The patient starts in Zornhut on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Scheitelhauw. [Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.]

3.     The agent drops into Alber. (This is to simulate someone accidentally setting up too close.)

4.     The agent raises his arms into Tag. As he doesn’t this the patient throws the Kniecheihauw with whatever step seems appropriate.

Concept: Nachreisen – Following After

The drill described above is based on the concept of Nachreisen or Following After. Meyer writes,

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. So that you may better understand this, I will explain it for you with this example:

If we were thinking in terms of Italian fencing, then we would say cuts require two tempi. The first tempo is to prepare the cut, the second to execute it. A Nachreisen occurs when a fencer interrupts the first tempo by rushing in, thus creating a new tempo his opponent wasn’t anticipating.

Lesson 7 – The Other Two Master Cuts

Krumphauw – Crooked Cut

This cut is executed thus: stand in the Wrath Guard with your left foot forward; if your opponent cuts at you, then step with your right foot well out from his stroke toward his left side; cut with the long edge and crossed hands against his cut, or across on his hands between his head and blade, and let the blade shoot well over his arm, as can be seen in Image D in the figures on the upper right.

Elsewhere Meyer writes,

The Crooked Cuts are executed in many ways, for all cuts that are delivered with crossed hands are called Crooked Cuts; thus the one Squinter is also reckoned among the Crooked Cuts. It also doesn’t matter whether they are done with the short or long edge, as long as you hold your hands crosswise.

There is much debate as to how to throw a Krumphauw and there are multiple ways of ending in the same position. These include:

A.    A long edge cut along the line of zornhauw that winds onto the short edge.

B.     A long edge cut along the line of zornhauw where the front hand rotates around the handle so that the knuckles are up. The ending position of this is indistinguishable from a short-edge strike.

C.    A window-wiper motion with either long or short edge.

Drill 1

1.     The agent starts in Tag on the right. The patient starts in Zornhut on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Zornhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient throws a krumphauw using method A with a triangle step to the right.

Exercise 1

Repeat drill 1 using method B. Each fencer should decide for himself which is better.

Exercise 2

Repeat drill 1 using method A and B, but this time the patient starts in Tag.

Drill 2

1.     The agent starts in Tag on the right. The patient starts in Pflug on the right.

2.     The agent takes a normal step while throwing a Zornhauw. Adjust the range until the blow hits the mask with approximately one palm’s width of blade.

3.     While the agent performs the cut, the patient throws a krumphauw using method C with a triangle step to the right.

Schielhauw – Squinting Cut

The Squinting Cut is also a High Cut, but is so named because it is delivered as if with a bit of a squint. It is done thus: Position yourself in the guard of the Day or Wrath (concerning which I have spoken in Chapter 3), with your left foot forward; when he cuts at you, then cut in return, but in the stroke, turn your short edge against his stroke, and strike in at the same time as your opponent, palm away from his sword; step with your right foot well to his left side, and with this, nimbly take your head out of the way. Thus you have executed it correctly against him, and you stand as shown by the large figure on the left in Image G.

Drill 1

1.     The agent starts in Alber on the right. The patient starts in Tag on the right.

2.     The agent transitions into Pflug.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient throws Schielhauw while taking a triangle step to the right.

Vier Versetzen – Four Displacements

Based on the master cuts, the four displacements are used to prevent someone from entering into one of the four leger guards. Though this concept is does not seem to take front stage in Meyer’s system, it is fundamental to the German  longsword tradition as a whole.

·         Krumphau (“Crooked Strike”) which defeats Ochs.

·         Scheilhau (“Squinting Strike”) which defeats Pflug.

·         Zwerchhaw (“Crosswise Strike”) which defeats Vom Tag.

·         Scheitelhau (“Parting Strike”) which defeats Alber.

Drill 1

1.     The agent starts in Alber on the right. The patient starts in Tag on the right.

2.     The agent transitions into Pflug.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient throws Schielhauw while taking a triangle step to the right.

Drill 2

1.     The agent starts in Pflug on the right. The patient starts in Tag on the right.

2.     The agent transitions into Ochs.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient throws Krumphau while taking a triangle step to the right.

Drill 3

1.     The agent starts in Ochs on the right. The patient starts in Tag on the right.

2.     The agent transitions into Tag.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient throws Zwerchhaw while taking a triangle step to the right.

Drill 4

1.     The agent starts in Tag on the right. The patient starts in Tag on the right.

2.     The agent transitions into Alber.

3.     As the agent does this, the patient throws Scheitelhau while taking a triangle step to the right.

 

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One Response to A Longsword Study Program for Groups without a Proper Teacher

  1. Pingback: A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts | ineffable correspondence

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