Indes in the Onset

Meyer’s cutting patterns are bookended with opening slashes and a concluding Zwerch to cut away safely.

In the Onset when you come within a fathom [six feet?] of your opponent, then slash up from your right before him through his face, once, twice, three times; and in the third slashing up before him, come into the Longpoint, yet such that you remain with your left foot forward. — Meyer

Why does he have us do this? Here is my theory:


First of all, a matter of timing. When do you do this. The masters tells us,

When you come against him in Zufechten you shall not await his attack, and neither shall you wait to see what he is thinking about doing to you. All fencers who are hesitant and wait for the incoming attack, and do nothing other than to ward it away, they gain very little joy from this sort of practice because they are often beaten. — Ringeck

Because no blow can be thrown against which arguably there is some guard in which there is no risk, it follows that in the rising and falling from guards is shown the virtue of the players; on the great field the victory is seen to go to him, who assaults his enemy from the outset before he settles his weapons in guard, because standing caught in thought, he can be struck more easily. — Manciolino

But just throwing a deep strike from a guard is generally a bad idea.

{Why provocations are performed.} 
Said provocations, so that you understand better, are performed for two reasons. One is in order to make the enemy depart from his guard and incite him to strike, so that one  can  attack  him  more  safely  (as  I’ve  said).    The  other  is  because  from  the  said provocations arise attacks which one can then perform with greater advantage, because if
you proceed to attack determinedly and without judgment when your enemy is fixed in guard,  you’ll  proceed  with  significant  disadvantage,  since  he’ll  be  able  to  perform [24verso] many counters.  Therefore I want to advise you that you mustn’t be the first to attack determinedly for any reason, waiting instead for the tempi.  Rather, fix yourself in
your guards with subtle discernment, always keeping your eyes on your enemy’s hand more so than on the rest of him.

The purpose of the slash into longpoint is to act as that provocation that unsettles your opponent, unfixes him from his guard, and thus allows you to obtain the vor. So what you are trying to do is get him to move, however slightly. If he doesn’t, a second or third slash may change his mind.

If your opponent does move this gives you two advantages.

  • First, he is no longer in a guard waiting to counter your first strike. Since he is moving, he is giving you a tempo for attack.
  • Secondly, he has to deal with your sword before he does anything else. If he tries to strike the body he has to step well off line and make a large movement to cover the distance between his stance and your body. Meanwhile you the center line and a much shorter distance to cover.

Range control is incredibly important here. You need to be close enough that you provide a credible threat, but not so close as you expose you to a quick strike to the hands and arms.

Momentum is also important. You may pause in longpoint, but only until the moment of indes, the moment he starts to do something about your point at his face. If you hesitate while in longpoint there are all kinds of things your opponent can do. So as soon as begins to move his shoulder or lift his foot, attack. Don’t wait until you see what line he is committed to, he is going to abandon that anyways to deal with your attack.

Again, if he so much as flinches, move! ’This is your indes, tempo, your provocation, your proof that you are in the vor.

If he defends himself against this, stand with your hilt in front of your head, and work deftly with the point from one opening to the other, this is called “the NobleWar.” With this you will confuse him so totally that truthfully he will not know where he will find himself. — Ringeck

Meyer has four basic cutting patterns that correspond to the four initial openings. Each has four strikes, one for each opening. Use the patterns, they are designed to lure your opponent into larger and larger parries until he misses one. The only decision, the only moment of indes you have to make at this point is which opening to attack first, everything else is on autopilot.

Cut close into him, to the head and to the body, so he cannot change-through in front of your point. And when the cut ends up in the bind you shall not hesitate but shall quickly and fluently make attacks against the nearest opening, using the five strikes and other techniques that will be described later. — Ringeck

The cuts themselves are going to be small, mostly from the left hand while keeping the right hand stable. If you bring your arms back for a large swing then you’ll lose the center. In Meyer’s system the lower openings are the underside of the jaws and upper chest or arm. Don’t go for the belly or legs unless you are really close and can do so with the arms held high. Dropping your hands for the easy target leaves your head exposed.

In short, your hands should be shoulder high, plus or minus about a foot or so vertically and well extended throughout the exchange.

Circling back to the beginning, there is a chance that your opponent will try to attack you before you complete your slash into longpoint. If you have the correct range, this is to your advantage. In order to reach you he needs to step forward. Having closed the distance for you, you’re concern is in aborting your slash and responding with your own cut to his arms.

If you are too close, he will interrupt your slash without giving your sufficient time to redirect. If you make a large passing step forward, you will likewise not have enough time and room to redirect. That’s why Meyer tells us to keep the left foot forward. If you feel the need to take a step, take a small advancing step.

Storm forwards: Hit or miss; — Liechtenauer

Confidence is of the upmost importance here. From the moment you begin the first slash until the the final zwerch that allows you to break measure you need to believe that you are in control of the fight. If your confidence is shaken, if you start hesitating between strikes or waiting to see what your opponent will do then get out of there. Even if you just need to take a moment to think: break measure, calm yourself down, and then start over.

The Ende is the resolution, where one fencer shall withdraw without damage from his opponent and strike away if desired. — Meyer

And even if you think you hit your opponent, keep going. Don’t stop mid-fight and congratulate yourself. Get out of measure, safely, before you stop to assess the situation. The fight isn’t over if your opponent is still close enough to hit you.

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5 Responses to Indes in the Onset

  1. Ben F says:

    “Meyer has four basic cutting patterns that correspond to the four initial openings. Each has four strikes, one for each opening. Use the patterns, they are designed to lure your opponent into larger and larger parries until he misses one. The only decision, the only moment of indes you have to make at this point is which opening to attack first, everything else is on autopilot.”

    This is completely and terribly misguided. Look at Meyer’s stucke and find the many many times in the middle of the work when he advises to use various handworks to avoid blade contact and hit another opening. There is no such thing as autopilot in fencing.

    Just take this simple paragraph as proof of my point:

    “Now when two people meet with these cuts, the two chief elements, that is cuts and parries, produce a wonderful struggle, since everyone will be more inclined to strike than parry, so that now the one strikes, now the other; now the one parries, now the other; thus they both struggle over the Before with the simultaneous devices, and strive for mastery.”

    • Grauenwolf says:

      It was said to me that the expert fencer can think five or more moves in advance. Others have told me that there is no thought involved. Every attack, every feint, every parry made by the expert is the result of keen observation and carefully honed reflexes. They fight without form.

      But to fight without forms, without consciously choosing devices, one must first learn the devices or assaults.

      But the devices themselves cannot be understood until the simpler cutting patterns are mastered.

      And the cutting patterns are useless if one pauses to think before each cut.

      And that’s where we are. We, as in my club, have difficultly throwing more than a couple strikes without breaking measure to reconsider our options. And judging by the sparring videos found on YouTube and elsewhere, we’re no alone.

      So until they learn to use the first cutting pattern on autopilot, that is to say without thinking about each step, we can’t progress. And the progression is going to be slow. There are three variants of the first cutting pattern with feints. Each has to be mastered until each member of the club and can choose which variant to use mid-swing.

      Ten years from now, when every device is etched into our muscle memory, we can start talking about how this was really a lie and fencing from autopilot doesn’t exist. But that day is a long time away.

  2. Ben F says:

    The best option in that case is to have a stucke in mind, but if you want to fence well, be willing to change it as the situation demands. I always have a sequence I think might work he make a hit. However, it often ends up being something completely different. The ability to change your stucke is called Practick, or Craft. Read the parts where Meyer talks about it and it should help understanding how the stucke are intended to work. Just off the cuff, it’s possible Meyer doesn’t include what the other guy is doing in most of the stucke because it’s rarely the same. He does give options to what the other guy might do sometimes.

    Just food for thought.

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