Longsword – Cutting to the Ochs and Pflug

When examining the illustrations in Ringeck and other older manuscripts, I was told something to the effect of “if we used a zwerch like the illustrations, we’d be hitting with the flat”. While flat strikes do exist, they don’t look like this:

image

He didn’t say which illustration was bothering him, so here’s a few more that likewise seem problematic.

image imageimageimage image

While some of them could be read as coming in at an angle, a lot of these look like they are coming nearly straight up.

And why not? Who says that a rising Zwerch, or any cut, has to come in at a 45 degree angle? Meyer’s cutting diagram implies it, but it’s easy to dismiss that as broad classifications of cuts rather than specific recommendations.

image

Theories

Lets assume that the illustrations are correct and that under some circumstances it is more appropriate to cut very steeply when using the Zwerch.

An obvious benefit is the protection it offers to the hands. We know that a flat Zwerch is a danger to the fingers, and generally speaking the steeper the angle the safer the hands. (I’ll need to test this further to see if there is a point where that no longer holds true.)

Mark, thus strike the Thwart strike to the Four Openings:

Mark, when you come to him with the pre-fencing, then stand
with the left foot before and when you are near him, then
spring well on his left side with the right foot against him, and
strike the Thwart with vigor against his left side to the lower
opening. That is called striking to the Plow. If he parries, then
strike him quickly to the upper opening on his right side. That
is called to the Ox. And then drive the Thwart strikes quickly,
always one to the Ox and the other to the Plow, crosswise
from one side to the other, that is to the head and to the body.

Note that this passage concludes with “to the head and body”. A shallowly rising Zwerch is generally aimed for the head or maybe the upper arm. But a steep one, as shown in the illustrations above, truly does go for the body.

It also makes sense in regards to terminology. The lower openings are referred to as the Pflug/Plow. A shallow rising Zwerch would go over and behind Pflug, but a narrow Zwerch would strike where Pflug naturally covers. This mirrors the Ochs/Ox openings, which are clearly protected when standing in Ochs.

The word cross-wise is also important. The shallow rising Zwerch is usually followed

Zwerch into Pflug and Ochs

I can’t find the passage now, but somewhere I read that one should cut rapidly between into Ochs and Pflug. That may be a confusion with the above passage, but if it’s not then here’s my theory.

If you cut a steeply rising Zwerch followed by a steeply descending Zwerch (almost a squinter), you naturally fall into Pflug. This works on both sides equally well (though some may object to a left Pflug with the long edge up). And the next cut, another sharply rising blow, returns us to Ochs.

Note that this is not just any old Pflug either; it lends itself specifically to the retracted Pflug we see in the earlier manuals.

Conclusion

I’m one of those who normally uses horizontal and 45 degree rising Zwerch cuts. Had someone not complained about the illustrations it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to cut so steeply.

Now that I see them, I can think of many plays that would benefit from their use. Not all of the Zwerch plays that I use, but enough of them to make it worth investigating further.

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2 Responses to Longsword – Cutting to the Ochs and Pflug

  1. Grauenwolf says:

    Since writing this, I’ve had a chance to try it out using Meyer’s Example Device. I’m really liking the results, especially for the second zwerch. I need to re-read the text, but the way the blade lays on the right arm just feels right. And the steeply rising zwerch is a lot harder to parry than shallower one.

  2. Pingback: Scholars of Alcala Class Notes – May 4, 2016 | Grauenwolf's Study of Western Martial Arts

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