Breaking Alber refers to attacking someone who is resting in said guard with the intent of displacing them from the guard. A lot of ink has been spilt discussing what the person who is breaking the guard should do, with opinions ranging from a single, direct strike to provoking actions meant to lure or scare the opponent into leaving his posture.
What hasn’t been properly discussed is why someone is in Alber in the first place.
We know from Liechtenauer that Alber is one of the four legers or camps that you are supposed to fight from. At no point does he say that it is inferior to any of the other three, so we should just as thoroughly as we would the other guards.
Now generally speaking one does not rest in a guard, the exception being when you want to invite to opponent to perform some action that you can counter. So for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to assume that the person in Alber is intentionally inviting an attack. And since it is an invitation, he must have a counter in mind.
In Liechtenauer’s play for breaking Alber, it assumes that the patient fencer will parry with Kron. But is that what he wants to do or is that what he is forced to do?
Let’s consider the characteristics of Kron. First, it is not a single time counter. You need to have a follow-up action ready.
Secondly, it at best puts you in a neutral bind. At worst, it offers a significant advantage to the opponent. This is why many of the masters warn against over-using Kron.
Third, it is actually a very large movement. The hilt goes from the lowest possible position to nearly the highest possible position in a single tempo. There are a lot of other things you can do between those two positions.
Slicing is a term used by Meyer to refer to an upwards attack with the short edge. The Bolognese would call it a Falso and they often use it to counter attacks to clear the the line, allowing for an immediate thrust or descending cut to wound.
In some ways using a slice is actually easier to using Kron. Slices cover a wide arc, making them less likely to miss. And they don’t attempt to stop the opponent’s sword, so it doesn’t become a test of strength. Instead they strike the flat, altering the opponent’s trajectory without affecting its momentum.
The downside of the slice or Falso is that it is still a dui tempi counter. Like with most weapons, we prefer to make single time counters with the longsword when possible.
Let us now turn to the thrust. Mair tells us how to use this against someone in vom Tag with the left foot back.
Then fly up with your sword with crossed arms in front of your head in the Versazung (Parry Position), step in with your right leg, and shove the point into the left side of his face.
Illustration of the Parry Position, but with
the point low rather than directed at the face.
Like an extended Ochs, using the Parry Position as a thrust serves as protection against a downward blow. By concentrating on the thrust to the side of the head (or throat if you prefer), your arms naturally fall into a strong position for absorbing the blow.
Like with the rapier, if you focus too much on the parry then you are likely to “chase” his sword and end in a weak posture such that your arms are supported by your body. This means that not only will your thrust not land, but your parry will probably collapse as well.
Note: If the opponent has his right foot back, use a Parry Position with uncrossed arms. This will again look like an extended Ochs, but on the left side.
Another feature that you should note about this technique is that the hilt is lower than it would be in Kron. Since the hilt doesn’t move as far, one can presume that the technique takes less time.
Schaitlerhaw and the Suicidal Fencer
Let us now return to the Schaitlerhaw (Vertex Strike), Liechtenauer’s means of breaking Alber.
A critical flaw in many interpretations of this action is that it leaves the attacker susceptible to a thrust to the chest or gut. This criticism is often dismissed by claiming the fencer in Alber is being “suicidal” because he isn’t using Kron.
The problem with that argument is that we’ve already established that Kron isn’t Alber’s goal. As per Mair, Alber was intending to use a thrust all along. If Alber is hit it isn’t because he made a tactical mistake, but rather because he failed to correctly execute the thrust.
As for the fencer in vom Tag, what else but suicidal would you call someone who makes an attack that he knows will draw a thrust without any plan for how to counter it?
Any interpretation for breaking Alber needs to account for the thrust that the fencer in Alber wants to perform. Rather than assuming the fencer in Alber is going to use Kron, the interpretation needs to force the fencer to choose that action instead of his original plan.