General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

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Re: General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

Post by Roger N » Tue Dec 22, 2009 9:20 am

Hugh, I agree that it is both refreshing and interesting to discuss this with you. I often find your texts interesting even if I don't necessarily agree. I think both "camps" need to seriously consider the validity of the other's opinions. Otherwise I think we are both the weaker and risk losing important perspectives.

I know that you have taken a few undeserved and unfair punches at different foras. At times I feel that you do have a tendency to express your feelings quite strongly and paint pictures in black and white with rather few nuances of grey. This probably stems from your strong passion about these matters, but that can be a bit provocative. However, provocation can be met and handled in many ways without resorting to personal attacks. We are only discussing here.

Oh, and I am probably exhaggerating different arguments occassionally. Discussions tend to drift a bit when it gets heated. :)

It is a "can of worms" and I have said more than enough on the topic, but I have to make a few final notes.

In reality I think we may be not as far from each other as it may seem. I am most certainly NOT advocating inventing new techniques, which you seem to believe. I just think that some of the techniques that we are learnt can and quite likely have been used out of the context shown in the various fechtbuchen.

I also think that you constantly need to adapt your techniques to the situation at hand and that it may create some grey areas, like defining when a low angle zornhau instead becomes a mittelhau. The term does not matter as much as hitting the head from the side and high using the long edge, while keeping safe. For demonstration purposes it matters, I agree, but not for sparring.

Also, some techniques may be possible to perform in other situations that are not shown, like a specific type of attack or defense from a primary or seconday guard that is not actually mentioned in the fechtbuchen. Shit happens and you need to adapt and use what you know to make it go away.

So, if you only make demonstrations, then fine, I agree with you. However, if you want to spar, then I think another approach is more valid if you want to get closer to what historical combat looked like.

Also, I think you are attaching a bit of a "fact"-status to what in actuality are interpretations and extrapolations, like with your previous reasoning on footwork. You may be right, but the absence of material is not proof in itself, although you certainly can extrapolate logical conclusions based on that. The same thing goes for comparing different masters and Talhoffer to Jeu de la Hache. I think it is valid, but it IS frog dna. And leaving gaps in the combat dna is not the same as a complete art as it was done historically. How much frog dna and how large gaps in the code your path entails I really can't judge. I am sure that you are fine fighters. But I still maintain that both your and my perspective creates "new" arts with different, but no less values with regards to historical claims.

As for the fabrics comparison I think it is completely unfair, but it might stem from your thinking that I am advocating inventing new techniques, which I again am not. I am simply claiming that people fought using what they had learnt and adapted to the situation and context and that we should do the same.

Finally, the "knightly" spear. Of course it was a very, if not THE most common weapon for most warriors in history, including the vikings, the samurai and the knights. However, it was the most common weapon, period, and as such perhaps not as honourable a weapons as a, for instance, longsword. The spear was a cheap and very effective weapon for everyone and fairly simple to learn. These might be parts of the reason why we see so little of the spear in the fechtbuchen.

The reference to the Norse was just a pondering about the symbolical initiations of combat and I do find it interesting that it is used in similar ways, in two different contexts. The spear is, as I am sure you know, a symbol of Odin and he actually initiates the war between the Asa and the Vanir gods by throwing a spear over the Vanirs' heads, just as warriors do in many of the icelandic tales. The time frame and the geograpical spread isn't that far apart. But, it is just fun to ponder things such as these.

I think I will leave this topic for now, unless you come up with something completely outrageus that upsets me... ;)

Take care!
Roger Norling

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Re: General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

Post by Hugh Knight » Tue Dec 22, 2009 12:09 pm

Roger Norling wrote:Hugh, I agree that it is both refreshing and interesting to discuss this with you. I often find your texts interesting even if I don't necessarily agree. I think both "camps" need to seriously consider the validity of the other's opinions. Otherwise I think we are both the weaker and risk losing important perspectives.

I know that you have taken a few undeserved and unfair punches at different foras. At times I feel that you do have a tendency to express your feelings quite strongly and paint pictures in black and white with rather few nuances of grey. This probably stems from your strong passion about these matters, but that can be a bit provocative. However, provocation can be met and handled in many ways without resorting to personal attacks. We are only discussing here.

Oh, and I am probably exhaggerating different arguments occassionally. Discussions tend to drift a bit when it gets heated. :)

It is a "can of worms" and I have said more than enough on the topic, but I have to make a few final notes.

In reality I think we may be not as far from each other as it may seem. I am most certainly NOT advocating inventing new techniques, which you seem to believe. I just think that some of the techniques that we are learnt can and quite likely have been used out of the context shown in the various fechtbuchen.

I also think that you constantly need to adapt your techniques to the situation at hand and that it may create some grey areas, like defining when a low angle zornhau instead becomes a mittelhau. The term does not matter as much as hitting the head from the side and high using the long edge, while keeping safe. For demonstration purposes it matters, I agree, but not for sparring.

Also, some techniques may be possible to perform in other situations that are not shown, like a specific type of attack or defense from a primary or seconday guard that is not actually mentioned in the fechtbuchen. Shit happens and you need to adapt and use what you know to make it go away.

So, if you only make demonstrations, then fine, I agree with you. However, if you want to spar, then I think another approach is more valid if you want to get closer to what historical combat looked like.

Also, I think you are attaching a bit of a "fact"-status to what in actuality are interpretations and extrapolations, like with your previous reasoning on footwork. You may be right, but the absence of material is not proof in itself, although you certainly can extrapolate logical conclusions based on that. The same thing goes for comparing different masters and Talhoffer to Jeu de la Hache. I think it is valid, but it IS frog dna. And leaving gaps in the combat dna is not the same as a complete art as it was done historically. How much frog dna and how large gaps in the code your path entails I really can't judge. I am sure that you are fine fighters. But I still maintain that both your and my perspective creates "new" arts with different, but no less values with regards to historical claims.

As for the fabrics comparison I think it is completely unfair, but it might stem from your thinking that I am advocating inventing new techniques, which I again am not. I am simply claiming that people fought using what they had learnt and adapted to the situation and context and that we should do the same.

Finally, the "knightly" spear. Of course it was a very, if not THE most common weapon for most warriors in history, including the vikings, the samurai and the knights. However, it was the most common weapon, period, and as such perhaps not as honourable a weapons as a, for instance, longsword. The spear was a cheap and very effective weapon for everyone and fairly simple to learn. These might be parts of the reason why we see so little of the spear in the fechtbuchen.

The reference to the Norse was just a pondering about the symbolical initiations of combat and I do find it interesting that it is used in similar ways, in two different contexts. The spear is, as I am sure you know, a symbol of Odin and he actually initiates the war between the Asa and the Vanir gods by throwing a spear over the Vanirs' heads, just as warriors do in many of the icelandic tales. The time frame and the geograpical spread isn't that far apart. But, it is just fun to ponder things such as these.

I think I will leave this topic for now, unless you come up with something completely outrageus that upsets me... ;)

Take care!
Hi Roger,

There are lots and lots of things I don't find to be black and white at all--things I'm tremendously unsure about. I just rarely comment upon them, because, hey, I'm *unsure*!

And I never meant to imply no frog DNA went into a strict interpretive approach; we all use it, as you point out. I suppose another way of putting what I'm trying to say is that when I have a line showing me points A and C I will try to use frog DNA to infer point B, or even D. But when I have no data at all, I think it's a serious mistake to make an interpretation: If a source tells me to use a Nachresien when someone pulls back, then I think it's fair to also use the version that works when he cuts short. But when no source describes a Duplieren--a purely longsword technique--with a pollaxe, then I think doing a Duplieren with a pollaxe *is* making up a new technique. Does that make sense? Anyway, I shan't open this subject again, I just wanted to make that point.

As for your point about free play vs. demonstrations, this is why I don't believe students should be allowed to perform free play until they have practiced drills for several years: That way you can teach them to avoid undocumentable techniques. I also think it's important to stop free play when such techniques appear so you can counsel the combatants against using undocumentable techniques. (Harnischfechten free play, that is; I don't believe anyone should ever participate in Bloßfechten free play.) But, as you say, enough about that.

And I won't argue this point strongly (here the issue *is* one of the very rare grey areas), but I'm confused about your reference to the importance of the sword. I don't see it as much of a knightly weapon at all. A *symbol* of knighthood, sure, but not a terribly important weapon in most venues (except Bloßfechten, of course, but lots of commoners carried swords, too, in civilian settings). Some kinds of formal judicial combat relied upon the sword, of course, but mostly because that was the custom--you fought with spear and sword (or axe and sword), and the sword was more useful than the spear because the spear is a bit clumsy in single combat compared with the sword. But in war, which most knights saw as the highest expression of knightly worth (as Geoffrey de Charney tells us--"He who does the most is the most worthy!"), swords were somewhat limited, at least in the period in which most of the Fechtbücher are set. They were kind of like a modern Army officer's handgun: Not a primary battle weapon at all, and useful only in limited circumstances, but carried becuse that's what officers carried (although even that custom is going away, I understand). Even in single combats, the *primary* weapon in friendly deeds of arms tended to be the spear or the pollaxe, with the sword only coming out at need or to fulfill specific aspects of the challenge (e.g., "six strokes of the axe, six strokes of the sword and six strokes of the dagger").

I don't see commoners using the spear as much in late-medieval sources (which I focus on because that's all we have instruction for); they tended to be billmen, halberdiers or missle troops. Oh, sometimes there were commoners listed in rolls as "spearmen" (e.g., there was a large contingent of Welsh so described at Agincourt), but they were usually laborers, not active combatants unless things went very wrong. On the other hand, the majority of French men at arms at Agincourt--the cream of French chivalry--armed themselves with spears cut down to five feet in length to attack the English line. Note I distinguish between the spear and the pike; the latter was certainly a commoner's weapon. I believe the spear to be almost as closely associated with knighthood as the pollaxe in the 15th century, or perhaps more so.
Regards,
Hugh Knight
http://www.schlachtschule.org
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Re: General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

Post by Roger N » Tue Dec 22, 2009 3:35 pm

Part of our dispute probably also relies on the fact that I would like to establish a modern dictionary of terms and techniques used with various polearms, based on terminology found in the manuscripts, just as has been done with the longsword. It is hard to describe what is done in plays sometimes, since some of them often demonstrate both principles and techniques and sometimes with vague words or little proper terminology.
The duplieren, for instance, was a suggestion that you can move with a halberd or pollax, from a bind, directly to a another strike or to hooking the opponent's neck.

The technique would of course not be a proper duplieren, but works very similarly. For ease of discussion it could be easier to say "duplieren and slice, strike or hook his neck" rather than "thrust the rear hand inside of the leading hand, pull back and slice, strike or hook his neck". I can also think other ways to use the principle of duplieren from a bind, for instance binding with the false edge from an unterhau and winding into a mittelhau.

I will have to check the plays by Mair, Meyer etc but I wouldn't be very surprised to see something similar described. And it was just that, a suggestion, without any attached references... :)

I also think it is useful to see how various techniques are connected like with these fictional longsword "plays":

A "halted" krumphau can continue into a schielhau or into a wrenching with the short edge, or if he schnappens, be mutated into a schrankhut or hengen from which you do an eusern nym or move closer under the protection of then sword into a schielhau a zwerchau or even schneiden in some form. You can also continue into a hengen or pflug and thrust.

A krumphau that is winded forwards can instantly bounce into a long edge schneiden or a mittelhau/zwerchau.

A krumphau that is cut before the opponent can mutate into a hengen or schrankhut, from which you can do eusern nym, a schielhau, a zwerchau or a thrust.

A krumphau can also mutate into a low hengen or pflug from which one can thrust.

This way I can see relationships between the different guards and techniques. From what I understand this is not an approach you approve of, but I find it rewarding. Often similar sequences are described in a play, sometimes not. It is more a case of finding working combinations of techniques than actually inventing new ones.

Finally, regarding the spear I am speaking from a strictly symbolical pov when I speak of a "knightly" or "common" weapon, not of how it was used by the nobility. And I am just speculating. I really don't know why we see so little of the spear in the manuscripts. I do find it odd.
Roger Norling

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Re: General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

Post by Hugh Knight » Tue Dec 22, 2009 9:25 pm

Roger Norling wrote:I really don't know why we see so little of the spear in the manuscripts. I do find it odd.
I think the answer is really pretty simple: The books we're discussing only show one kind of fighting: Kampffechten. The custom of some kinds of judicial combats required them to be fought with spear and sword—no doubt a relic of earlier times. The spear is somewhat ineffective, however, at the ranges at which halfswording is performed (albeit deadly at proper range). That's why all the halfsword techniques designed for use against someone still holding his spear are strictly about different ways of getting inside his point—because the spear is close to useless at that distance. I think the norm, the "expectation" in such situations, was that the combatants would both throw their spears, then get down to serious fighting, as is shown in all of the Talhoffer and Kal MSS. Some combatants, however, thought it was effective to retain their spears to fight with, and my guess is they did this because they thought their opponent mightn't be skilled at fighting with a spear because people didn't expect spears to be used this way. Since spear fighting wasn't the norm in Kampffechten, this was almost a "gimmick" tactic.

Look at how Ringeck describes the beginning of such an encounter:
"If you are both dismounted from your horses, then stand with the left foot forward and hold the spear ready. And approach him in such a way that your left foot always remains forward. And wait so that you can throw before him. And follow the shot immediately with the sword, then he cannot aim a safe throw against you. And grasp to the sword. If you don’t want to shoot your spear, then hold him near your right side in the lower guard and in that manner approach him." (Ringeck fol. 90r)

Clearly, what we're seeing here is just as I describe—the normal expectation is that you will throw your spear and rush in with your sword while your opponent is displacing it. Or you could fight with your spear—almost an afterthought.

That's why there are so few spear techniques—because it wasn't a kind of fighting that happened much in the only type of combat addressed in the Fechtbücher. It's simple: They didn't do it much, so why write long lists of things to do?

Sure, the spear got used a lot in friendly deeds of arms, but in those cases the techniques of the Fechtbücher don't seem to have been used. Look at the spear duel between Little John and the Lord of Loysselench in the 15th-century novel "Le Petit Jehan de Saintré" by Antoine La Sale. Each of the combatants thrust to the breastplate of the other ("above the joint of his cuirass"), hardly a target Ringeck et al. would have approved! (La Sale, A., “Le Petit Jehan de Saintré”, tr. Irvine Gray, G. Routledge & Sons, London, 1931, p. 193)

Or look at Froissart's account of the Arms at Vannes (1380): "First, the lord de Pousanges and the lord de Vertain ... advanced towards each other on foot, each holding their sharp spears in their hands, with a good pace: they did not spare themselves, but struck their lances lustily against each other in pushing." Again, a push of spears, and aimed at the breastplate (although one spear slipped off and wounded Pousanges by slipping between his lames—probably his fauld), not at a target that would have done any harm in a serious fight.

Later in the same Arms there was another engagement that more clearly shows the nature of a "push of spears": “Sir John de Châtelmorant and Jannequin Clinton advanced. This Jannequin was a squire of honor to the Earl of Buckingham, and the nearest about his person, but he was lightly made and delicate in his form. The Earl was uneasy that he should have been matched with one so stout and renowned in arms as John de Châtemorant: notwithstanding, they were put to the trial, and attacked each other most vigorously: but the Englishman could not withstand his opponent, for, in pushing, he was very roughly struck to the ground: on which, the Earl said, they were not fairly matched. Some of the Earl's people came to Jannequin and said ‘Jannequin, you are not sufficiently strong to continue this combat: and my Lord of Buckingham is angry with you for having undertaken it: retire and repose yourself.’ "
(Taken from: <http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/his ... annes2.htm>

So in friendly Arms the spear was mostly used to hit the other's breastplate and drive the enemy back in the hopes of knocking him down or, perhaps, out of the lists. It was really a test of strength (although great skill must have been called for in spear placement). This is radically different from the instructions of the Fechtbücher to aim at the face and the armpits and to wind and displace; note that there’s no mention of any displacement in these accounts of friendly Arms.

So, there were three kinds of spear fighting in the middle ages: War, friendly Arms, and Kampffechten. The spear was used extensively in the first two kinds, but not in the third, and since we only have documentation for the third (in terms of techniques, that is), that explains why there is so little spear material in the books we study.
Regards,
Hugh Knight
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Re: General pinciples that can be applied to different polearms

Post by Roger N » Wed Dec 23, 2009 12:14 pm

Here's a quick speculative thought: How about the idea that the inclusion of halfswording díminishes the need for showing specific spear techniques, since so many similar principles apply to both, when fighting in armour? There are some bojutsu techniques that look fairly similar to half-swording, so it isn't that far fetched to think that similar techniques can be used with spears.

Also, Fiore's spear techniques appear to be deeply rooted in the use of the spadone, although I have very little knowledge of this.

Perhaps there was little reason to cover the spear, since you already new how to use it if you knew longsword, halfswording, staff and halberd? There is too little uniqueness about it.

But, your reasoning concerning the early fechtbuchen being primarily for the kampffechten is certainly very reasonable.
Roger Norling

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