Time for part 3 in the Onion Article Series, this time taking a closer look at the parts of the weapon and how it relates to handling of distance and tactics. Simply put there are two ways of approaching the issue of controlling the opponent; either physically or mentally. But more on that later.
3. The Schweche, the Mittel and the Stercke
Physically controlling your opponent and his/her weapon can be done either with your body, or with your weapon and its features. To better understand this we need to look at how a regular longsword is divided into different parts. It has a hilt with a grip, a cross and a pommel. All these parts can be used for striking and hooking both the opponent and his weapon. More common, of course, is to use the blade, which is further separated into a long and short edge, some times also refered to as the true and false edges. The long edge is the edge that is held down for the right-handed fighter and up for the left-handed, when the point is extended straight forward. The blade also has an outside flat and an inside flat. If you again stand with your sword aimed straight forward and the long edge down, then the outside flat points to the right, for a right handed fencer. Both edges and flats can be used for parrying as well as striking.
The reason for the use of this terminology is so we can communicate which of the two edges and flats that is used in cutting, both when making specific cuts, but also when cutting from one place to another, thus making the body mechanics more logical and clear in instruction. Furthermore, which edge or flat you use is also relevant for deflecting and parrying the opponent’s attacks.
Nearest the cross of the fechtschwerte we also see a flared ‘schildt‘, meant to protect the hands by moving the bind further away from the hands along the direction of both the blade and the cross. At the opposite end we see the point, used for thrusting and cutting at soft targets, but also, and quite importantly, for provoking and feinting cuts.
The blade can also be divided into first two more parts; the Schweche (Weak), the Stercke (Strong), and then there is a third, the Mittel (Middle), which is actually divided into a strong and weak part too.
Meyer himself describes this with the following words:
Now the blade has two distinct divisions, of which the first is into the forte [Stercke ] and foible [Schweche]… The forte of the sword is the part from the quillons or haft to the middle of the blade, the foible from the middle to the point or end, from which arises the division of the techniques…
– – –
From these divisions of the sword arise the proper full divisions, which are very useful in combat…
The first is called the grip or haft; it includes the pommel and quillons, and is useful for running in, wrestling, grappling, casting, and other work.
The second is the forte as I have said, useful for slicing, winding, pressing, and other things that are executed from the forte.
The third part is the midpart; it is taken equally from the forte and foible around the middle part, and pertains to various work that may be used according to the opportunity.
The fourth is the foible, appropriate for changing through, flicking, slinging, and such things that are executed at a distance, of which you will have plenty of examples later. (1)
All this is of course also very nicely illustrated in this ‘colour enhanced’ piece of art from Joachim Meyer’s 1570 treatise (2).
As described, the different parts of the blade lend themselves better or worse for particular techniques and the most common core principles that all these techniques are based on are two:
either gaining better leverage by moving your strongest part of your blade (‘blue/green‘) close to the opponent’s weak (‘orange/red’), thus becoming stronger in the bind. This can be done directly in your first attack, with a thrust (Absetzen) or a cut (Versetzen), seeking the bind, or after a parry or displacement where no one successfully lands a hit (e.g. Zornort & Duplieren). In German terms, this is the Winden (Winding), part of the Mittel/Krieg (Middle/War).
- or using the opponent’s greater leverage or power against him by “giving in” and moving one’s blade into another opening, like with the Schnappen (Snapping) and the Zucken (Lifting back).
Simply put, you ‘meet strong with weak and weak with strong’, as the quoting of Liechtenauer in the Hs.3227a says:
Because when it is strong against strong, the stronger one will always win. That is why Liechtenauer’s swordsmanship is a true art that the weaker wins more easily by use of his art than the stronger by using his strength. Otherwise what use would the art be? (3)
However, there are more options too, e.g using cuts and thrusts with the furthermost part of the blade, at longest distance, for:
- Provoking the opponent to respond in a desired way, giving you a new opening that it will be difficult for him/her to return to and cover quickly enough.
- Feinting, so he/she will over-extend trying to seek control of your blade with parries or Versetzen, thus giving you an even bigger opening.
- Harrassing as with the Verfliegen (Flitting), Schlaudern (Slinging), Schneller (Flick), and the Zeckrur (Tag Hit), where you make quick non-lethal cuts that are more meant to put pressure on the opponent, to overwhelm him/her while you push for the proper ‘killing’ blow, thus maintaining the Vor.
Of course, with all these three, you should land the attack if you have the opportunity to do so.
All three examples given above are as much about controlling the opponent mentally as they are about controlling him/her physically, being more of mindgames playing on the opponent’s experience (or lack thereof), fear and/or over-eagerness to attack.
Note also that is perfectly possible to deflect a blade using the middle or the ‘orange‘ part of the blade as well, cutting hard against the ‘green‘, as described several times by Meyer himself. Furthermore, although one can parry and get great leverage in the ‘blue‘, parrying in the ‘green‘ is safer for your hands, while still giving you good leverage. This latter aspect is important and something one notices more clearly when fencing with no gloves.
All bladed and staff weapons have rotation points around which you rotate them in different circumstances, particularly after your first strike, the Vorschlag, has been parried, as you move to make your second strike, the Nachschlag, or if you start from an extended stance like Pflug, Ochs or Langenort. These points are not fixed and for some weapons, like a staff, vary broadly, while on shorter weapons it is less apparent, especially if they have some form of cross, since that naturally limits your possibilities of working with varying rotation points. Using these rotational points make it easier and quicker to move the point to where it needs to be (in the opponent’s face), regardless if you are in or out of a bind, but it can also mean that you lose some power in the strikes, thus making such actions more suitable for harrassing cuts like the Verfliegen, Schlaudern, Schneller and Zeckrur.
This happens thus: in the Onset or the middle of the work, when you cut at your opponent’s opening, and he goes against you to catch your stroke in the air, then do not let his blade connect with your sword, but pull the stroke back in the air with a single motion to another opening. (4)
– – –
If he will also parry this, then pull that away too; and thus let it flit from one opening to another until you can find an attack that will hit. (5)
– – –
let it flit, begin with it, and send the hits to all four targets. (6)
The Flick or Tag-Hit is not actually delivered as a cut, but is rather flicked; it is executed in the middle of combat when one has occasion, namely when you make your weapon snap at your opponent from above or from either side or from below with the flat or foible of the blade, or flick it in an arc over or under his blade. (7)
This is simply when you let a cut fly with a fling against your opponent’s head… This Slinging Cut shall fly just as a stone is thrown from a sling. (8)
Or as Paurñfeyndt describes the Schlaudern:
Slinging is taken from the high guard, hew against him with the long edge to his left ear [hitting with the short edge], if he displaces you, then make like you will pull, but remain with the short edge on his left ear, pull and sling from below with the flat to his right ear. (9)
Note in particular how Paurñfeyndt here, some 50 years ahead of Meyer, actually advises us to strike the opponent with the flat of the blade.
For a longsword, the most ‘natural’, but not only or even most commonly used, rotation point is the same as the balance point found when you try to balance your sword horizontally on your hand and in fighting, it should be kept near ‘the line‘ (the ‘middle line’ between you and your opponent’s intended target), thus setting the hands and the point of the blade on opposite sides of the line.
Finally, a short note on intentionally using the cross. Meyer has several examples of this, e.g;
… then go up with horizontal quillons and catch his stroke in the air on your shield or quillon bar. (10)
– – –
Wrench his arms to the side with your shield and quillons (11)
– – –
Push him away from you with your quillons and shield before he recovers (12)
Oftentimes in the older treatises, we see the cross used for hooking or pushing the opponent’s sword away, but seldom do we see as clear advise on parrying with the cross and wrenching the opponent’s arms.
Next time we will begin to cover the topic of power and leverage.
1. The stages of a fight and distance (Published)
2. Vor, Nach & Nachreissen (Published)
3. The Schweche, the Mittel and the Stercke (Published)
4. Fuhlen, Indes, Hard and Soft, Weak and Strong and if you like; just fuck it all. (Published)
5. Kinetic energy, leverage, Versetzen and distance (Published)
6. Types of cuts (Published)
7. Mentality and tactics (Published)
8. Mess with the mind, then with the body (Published)
9. The point of stances (Published)
10. Shifting Grips (Published)
12. The Line and protecting the hands
15. The Zwerchhauw, the Wechselhauw and the Verfliegen
16. Flow and Combat application
17. Solo Exercises
18. Partner Exercises
Until next time, thank you for taking the time to read this and feel free to comment and share your ideas! Have a great weekend everyone!
1. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.4V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
2. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
3. Hs.3227a. 22V. ca 1389AD. Translation by David Lindholm
4. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.18V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
5. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.28V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
6. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.45R/B) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
7. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.15v1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
8. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.19r1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
9. Paurñfeyndt Andres (1516): Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey (52r) Translation by Kevin Maurer
10. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.14R-V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
11. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.52v1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
12. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.59r1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng