Everyone is aware of the fact that a sword blade vibrates, at least anyone with a basic level of knowledge of swords. This is especially true for medieval European swords. Pages upon pages have been written about the properties of swords and how to interpret the vibration nodes of the sword. While this is all very interesting and certainly leads to a deeper understanding of the sword, it is only half of the story.
As a swordsman I am interested in the practical side, the applicability of these vibration and its nodes and amplitudes if I may use this term in connection with the vibration of the blade.
In every system of sword fighting known to me, there are techniques which rely upon controlling, levering and manipulating the opponent’s sword and then there are techniques which rely upon the opponent losing the control over his blade, if only momentarily.
These two concepts can never be fully understood without an understanding of the fundamental concept of the vibration of the blade and how to apply it in combat.
Levering and manipulating your opponent’s sword.
Being a practitioner of the German school of Liechtenauer I will refer here to techniques from this particular system. I am quite sure that in other systems, such as the Italian, similar techniques exist.
There are a lot of techniques that build upon manipulating the opponent’s blade, usually through leverage. In the German system of the long sword, the main technique of this type is the so called Winden (winding). In this technique one pushes the blade of the opponent to one side while bringing one’s own point in an thrusting at the face or chest. The opponent’s blade is pushed away using ones own strong of the blade (forte) against the weak of the opponent’s blade (foible). The I.33 as well is full of such techniques where the opponent’s sword is to be controlled.
The question that almost never gets asked is: where exactly shall the swordsman push on the opponent’s blade? The answer is simple: preferrably at the vibration node. The node is a direct connection to the hand, where the second node lies. Also, all the force is transferred into the blade almost without any vibration taking place. Therefore the sword behaves almost like a rigid piece of steel which is what we look for with this type of technique.
Whenever one wants to control the opponent’s blade, this is where one wants to go into the „bind“.
Making the opponent lose control over his blade.
The other end of the spectrum are techniques wich are designed for the opponent to lose control. The split second that one’s opponent needs to recover is enough to place a solid thrust into the face, cut his neck open or get into grappling distance to start wrestling. All these techniques rely on one simple idea: the opponent is unable to react because his blade is no longer under his control. This concept is equally found in all sources known to me.
This is achieved by combining two things: move his blade as far out of the way and giving him as much of a hand shock as possible. Both is achieved by hitting the blade at exactly where the peak of the vibration is. In other words, one wants to hit the blade where the vibration is the biggest, the strongest. This of course is done with one‘s own weak (foible) because this is the part that is fastest and therefore creates a maximum transfer of energy into the enemy’s blade.
Whenever one wants the opponent to lose control of his blade, hit him at the peak of the amplitude.
The concept of this is quite simple and obvious yet still a lot of sword practitioners are quite unaware of it. The effect is huge and overwhelming. There is not much strength needed, just good timing, correct distance and the knowledge of where to hit the blade. The effect is especially felt when striking so that the opponent loses control – striking at the peak of the blade’s amplitude.
This of course holds true for the one handed sword as well as for the long sword or the two handed sword.
Looking at period manuscripts with this idea in mind it is often surprising how well the blades are placed in these illustrations.
So, nothing new in this article, and yet it would be nice to see this knowledge put more to practice.
Editor’s note: Images have been added by the editor.