The Vier Versetzen are Counter-Guards, not Attacks

Many questions are running through my mind, posed both by myself and others.

  • Why does the parting shot seem so dangerous against the suicidal fencer?
  • Why throw a Zwerch against high vom Tag when a simple Zornhut is so much faster and poses less risks to the hands?
  • Why is Zwerch so easy to parry form the low vom Tags?
  • Why is the squinting strike so hard to use successfully unless you treat it as a dui-tempi action?
  • How can you use the crooked strike reliably against Ochs when a difficult tip cut is needed to ensure that both hands are stopped?
  • Why is a crooked strike from the left against Ochs done without crossed wrists?
  • Why does Meyer use the master cuts but seem to ignore the Vier Versetzen?
  • Why to the master cuts of the Vier Versetzen seem to be more effective when someone is entering a guard when their supposed purpose is to displace someone out of one?

The answer to these and many others seems to be simply this:
The Vier Versetzen are Counter-Guards, not Attacks.

The basis for this idea comes in part form MS I.33, which features several displacements. Each displacement (literally siege) is a counter posture that threatens the opponent with both a thrust and a cut while protecting its user against the most likely lines of attack.

So the purpose of the master cuts in the Vier Versetzen isn’t to describe an attack, but rather to describe how to get into the correct position for an attack. (Though if you are really, really awesome you can do both the setup and the attack so fluidly they seem to be of one tempo.)

Alber and other Low Guards

Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck writes,

The parter is dangerous for the face and the breast. When he stands against you in the fool’s guard [Alber], cut with the long edge from the “long parting” from above and down; and keep the arms high in the cut, and hang with the point in against the face.

image

When you cut from above with the Scheitelhau and hang your point in his face, if he defends himself against your point by pushing it up and away with the hilt, then turn your sword with the hilt high in front of your head and stab him downwards into the chest.

Ringeck isn’t describing a magical single-time attack. He is telling you to threaten the face by putting the point right in front of it. Even a reckless or suicidal fencer is going to react to that in some way that you can safely counter.

But if you play the speed game, and try to land the parting shot in one tempo, the reckless fencer will panic parry into your hands or worse, ignore you entirely and thrust to the face. So this is very much a psychological game to get the other fencer to do what you want.

Pfluge and Long Point

Some people teach this as a dui tempi action consisting of a sweep followed by a cut. I thought this was crazy, but now I see its pretty darn close. It shouldn’t be a sweeping action, that gives away your intend too much, but it should have the same effect. Again Ringeck,

Mark well; to strike the Schielhau breaks the long point; and then do this: when he stands against you and holds the point with outstretched arms towards the face or chest, so stand with the left foot forward and search with the gaze against the point, and pretend as if you want to strike against the point; and strike powerfully with the short edge above his sword, and thrust with the point along with the blade against the neck with a step towards him with the right foot.

Note the key phrase “above his sword”. This is going to look just like a constraint done with the Italian rapier.

vom Tag

The Zwerch puts you in a position that looks like Ochs or Speaking Window that protects you from high attacks. Make sure your blade isn’t flat or your hands will be at risk!

Against high vom Tag you can snipe at the hands, thrust to the face or wrist. Against the low vom Tag your completely shut out the opponent’s sword while still having a clear line to the face.

Ochs (and probably Zornhut)

Step away from his point with a compass step while putting your point just under his wrist. Your sword will angle upwards as if it were in Iron Gate or an Italian Third. Your hands will be crossed if you stepped left and uncrossed if you stepped right. (If you left left but used crossed wrists then you don’t have Iron Door to protect your from counter-attacks.)

Answers

  • Why does the parting shot seem so dangerous against the suicidal fencer? – It should be a threat, not an attack, so that he knows the danger he is in and doesn’t attack recklessly.
  • Why throw a Zwerch against high vom Tag when a simple Zornhut is so much faster and poses less risks to the hands? – This is done slightly out of range so you have plenty of time. Also, don’t cut flat.
  • Why is Zwerch so easy to parry form the low vom Tags? – If you use it as a thrust to the face it will be very hard to parry.
  • Why is the squinting strike so hard to use successfully unless you treat it as a dui-tempi action? – Because that is how it is supposed to work.
  • How can you use the crooked strike reliably against Ochs when a difficult tip cut is needed to ensure that both hands are stopped? – If you place the point instead of directly cutting the hand, you can correct your aim when you actually thrust or cut.
  • Why is a crooked strike from the left against Ochs done without crossed wrists? – To ensure you have a solid defense.
  • Why does Meyer use the master cuts but seem to ignore or downplay the Vier Versetzen? – Meyer is teaching a system of longsword that doesn’t rely on thrusts because they aren’t allowed in many social situations.
  • Why to the master cuts of the Vier Versetzen seem to be more effective when someone is entering a guard when their supposed purpose is to displace someone out of one? – Because we are confusing attacks with displacements.

Experimentation is needed, but if this is correct I think it will radically change how I approach fencing.

Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck

MS Dresden C 487, circa 1504-1519, translated by Keith Farrell.

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6 Responses to The Vier Versetzen are Counter-Guards, not Attacks

  1. It’s a likely conclusion encapsulating the most basic of fighting tactics that Meyers suggests: open with a provoking action, then take the blade out and finally cut to the opening.

    • Grauenwolf says:

      I wonder how much of “and finally cut to the opening” is legit and how much of it is an artifact of Meyer avoiding the thrust.

      • Ben Halliwell says:

        It is curious how Meyer only “avoids” the thrust in his longsword but is happy to thrust in his Dussack, Rapier, Dagger (obviously) and Staff sections.

        Personally, I think Meyer is onto something by avoiding thrusting. Cutting in measure is, to my mind, more difficult than thrusting but it also has more benefits: such as being able to target more openings and reducing the opportunities to be bound.

  2. Grauenwolf says:

    > I think you’re on the right path with your thinking, but I’m a little wary of defining versetzen just as counter-guards – that risks implying static postures you would just move into and then wait in, whereas I think it is the continuous movement (both actual and potential) between postures and the control of line, time and space this creates that matters. I think this is more of a terminology conflict though, since if by ‘counter-guard’ you actually mean the way ‘obsessio’ seems to work in I.33 (e.g. the way Roland shows it), I think I like that explanation a lot more because it involves continued motion onward into an attack with distance closure. In fact, I’m going to give this a bit of thought over my end of year break and give it a thorough workout early next year. Thanks for the thought bubble.

    — Bill Carew

  3. Adamc says:

    Also, other things worth considering:

    Most of the manuals describe battlefield martial arts, or at least a martial arts that is as useful in the barriers as they would be on the battlefield. So, your representation of Historical Martial Arts should consider that. Even if you disregard it and focus on sports martial arts, there should be a strong understanding that a lot of what we do is completely out of context.

    Do you throw your hands out on a strike for maximum impact? Then how do you prevent people countering from short point (so they are warded), and making a true cross on your leading wrist?

    Do you bounce like modern fencers? What would you do on grass that is slick from blood and brains? What would you do in armour? What would you do after literally killing people all day?

    Do you bend over your leading foot like rapier fencers? Try doing that in heavy armour for a day or two and see how long it takes before you’re a cripple.

    Battlefield martial arts isn’t just designed for keeping yourself alive to score the first hit on some guy. It is how to brutally put down people, consistently, over the course of hours, while keeping yourself as safe as possible. I mean, a competent knight is someone who survives /battles/ with dozens, and dozens, of people (many including less competent knights) in a single day.

  4. cyrusjle says:

    Adamc, what manuals describe ‘battlefield’ martial arts? I’ve read 30-40 Fechtbucher that describe long sword fighting, but all the techniques that were discussed were for dueling.

    I think the rest of your questions are not really relevant here, the OP is about the Vier Versetzen, not a complete description of historical European martial art (HEMA). You should some of the topics we, including the author, discuss on this site here: http://www.hemaalliance.com/discussion/viewforum.php?f=3

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