Redefining the Bind

Most videos show binding drills that start with both fencers throwing a zornhau to longpoint so that they are in a neutral bind. This has several problems.

In theory, it shouldn’t ever happen. If fencer A throws a zornhau and fencer B counters with his own Zornhau, and doesn’t land a blow, then fencer B probably screwed up his counter-cut by not stepping wide enough or not following through. The whole point of the zornhau as a parry is that it can be used as a single-time defense.

If the blades do clash in that manner while sparring, one or both of the fencers are going to get out of there. Usually that means a Zwerch to the other side, but there are a lot of good options here. What they aren’t going to do is bind.

Some people use full cuts. I know there are instructors out there that swear up and down that the zornhau, and really all descending cuts, should always stop in long point. But fight someone who studies Meyer, which instructs us to cut into Wechsel, and their blade isn’t going to stop anywhere near the neutral bind.

Thus it is really difficult to enter the bind. Your opponent has to be willing to bind swords with you or it simply won’t happen.

Winding against a sword while maintaining even light pressure doesn’t work. Sure it looks good in videos where someone is just standing there letting you do it. But grab an untrained fencer who doesn’t know that they are supposed to just stand there and something interesting happens: they over bind. As soon as they feel you pull back and rotate they drive your sword into the ground.

I want to stress this. When presented with any weakness a novice will instinctively over bind. This is pure reflex, they don’t know why they are doing it. And they can’t necessarily take advantage of the over bind. But that doesn’t change the fact that winding with even light pressure is really risky.

So what is the bind?

If what we think of as the bind is hard to achieve, and the techniques are problematic from it, there maybe our definition of the bind is wrong. Thus I make this proposal:

The bind is whenever the swords are crossed or otherwise in each other’s presence. This means everything from a hard bind, where the blades are pressing against each other, to a constraint where one blade is hovering just above the other without actually touching.

When you read the term “weak bind” think constraint. This isn’t light pressure, even if the blades are touching there is no pressure at all. But ideally blades are just near each other without touching at all.

Why shouldn’t the Blades Touch?

Fulen. If you touch your opponent’s blade, he can feel your intentions. He doesn’t even need to see it. Through the sword he knows exactly where your blade is and which direction it is moving in.

You may be thinking, “Ah, but if I touch his sword then I’m feeling where his blade is as well.” No, you’re not.  If you move your sword to touch his, the only thing you are going to feel is your own movement reflected back to you. His sword isn’t moving yet, it can still go in any direction at any speed. And when it does, all you can feel is that his blade is gone. Once you lose contact, you can’t tell which direction it went. 

When does the bind occur?

Constantly. Any time you and your opponent are in similar guards and the blades are crossed you are in a bind. Even if the blades do not touch, it is still a binding situation. Or as the Bolognese would say, when you are at half swords.

How should we train the bind?

With variety. Enter the bind with just a step while staying in ochs or pflug. Enter the bind with a cut. Enter the bind with a thrust. Enter the bind when both cut or thrust with a desire to enter long point. Enter the bind when both cut with intention to wound. Bind with the points up and with the points down. Bind close and bind far. Bind with the points online and bind with them too high or too low. Bind with pressure on the blade and bind with just a constraint.

I’m not saying the half zornhau vs half zornhau bind with pressure is a useless drill, far from it. But if that is the only binding drill that you use then you are missing out on huge parts of the system. Blade control wasn’t invented with the rapier, it is there for you with the longsword as well.

Likewise, practice fulen without touching. Put your blade close to your opponent’s and let him touch yours. Learn to react from the lightest brush of his sword against yours.

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