To begin with, just for clarification, this is not a typical article per se, but rather a text sorted under the Meyer Research Project, thus a more reasoning and speculative piece of text, posted for the sake of discussion and sharing of ideas concerning Meyer's teachings.
I am developing a series of exercises derived both from Meyer's well-known Kreutz diagram as shown above, and from things I think are similar in other historical fencing traditions like various forms of Bolognese, sabre and Jogo do Pau. The reason for choosing these three are that I think they in some aspects bear a certain resemblance to Meyer's fencing style, even if the different weapons also lead to somewhat different solutions in application.
Concepts shared here I think relate to Meyer's thoughts on Vor, Nach and Indes, as well as his concept of Reitzen-Nehmen-Treffen (Provoking-Taking-Hitting), which I will explain later.
Vor, Nach & Indes
To begin with, the concept of Vor & Nach (Before & After) continues to confuse us and what they really mean to our fencing still is hard for us to fully grasp and yet alone utilize well. This gets further complicated by the "German" displacing cuts, the Versetzen that both parries and hits simultanously. The common idea is that it is a concept of having control and having the initiative, and both fighters fighting for dominance over these two aspects. I think this is correct, but I also think it is a quite subtle feeling that we often forget in the heat of the fight, and instead other tools are often used in its place.
Meyer himself talks about these topics in his 1570 treatise with the following words.
Now when two people meet with these cuts, the two chief elements, that is cuts and parries, produce a wonderful struggle, since everyone will be more inclined to strike than parry, so that now the one strikes, now the other; now the one parries, now the other; thus they both struggle over the Before with their simultaneous devices, and strive for mastery.
Although this Craft is very difficult to write about, namely when or where every cut can be laid upon the opponent and executed at the right time, yet I have been so diligent about the Before and the After with all devices, that I hope the diligent reader will be able to have a meaningful introduction to the Craft, since no separation may be found between the three divisions, that is between Before, Simultaneously, and After.
For whenever the two will go together with weapons, one of them cuts before, that is at first; from this it follows that the other will cut after, or both will have to cut at the same time. Now he who will execute the first strike will do well to consider if he does not somewhat put himself into danger with it, and so, if he cannot derive some advantage from it, will be taken and overcome in his own cut.
The last sentence here is quite interesting, as it actually warns you to not do your first strike carelessly.
Constant motion & types of cuts
Furthermore, Meyer is quite clear on teaching us to not stand still in guard. Basically only a top-notch swordsman or a fool may stand still in guard. The rest of us should keep in constant motion, always switching guards. All his guards are found inside of the movements he teaches for the sword and this I think is for a reason. It is a matter of economy of motion, and about flow and dynamics. Through these movement patterns you learn to always move in a dynamic and simple way in any situation. More on this later. It is noteworthy though, that Meyer consistently teaches us to counter an attack from above with a strike from below and vice versa. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the actual counter-cut ends from below, just that the hands move from below, up towards the bind, like with a regular Zornhauw Versetzen.
Meyer tells us:
Now as regards the postures, I would not have you remain long in any of them, since they are not invented or devised for this purpose, but so that when you draw up your sword for a strike, and it is time for you to cut in the middle of pulling up as you gather your joints, you will know how to send your sword at once quickly back against him when you reach the furthermost point in drawing up your sword.
- - -
However, this is the reason that even experienced fighters sometimes linger in a guard, namely that you not only should undertake no cut or strike thoughtlessly, but also that after you have pulled up and gathered yourself for this strike, and at that moment shall send the strike forth, you shall linger in that furthermost point for just a bit, almost only for the blink of an eye, to reconsider whether it is worth completing your intended strike, or whether in the mean time a better opportunity has arisen for you, so that you should change it at the furthermost point to another cut, and complete the High cut, for which you have pulled up, with a Thwart.
This is the chief cause of the invention of the postures, and therefore he who sometimes lies in a posture should see what the intention of the other one is, so that he may know better how to catch him in his own devices.
- - -
Now since in all combat, whatever you should cut, work parry, or execute by way of work you must not remain in one guard, but always move from one to another and transform one into another, it will behoove you to pay good attention to how these guards follow from one another, which I will briefly explain with cutting through the lines or routes.
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Further there follows thirdly a contingent element which is properly called the Craft. The Craft is this: when you can well send your cuts from the guards to all parts of the opponent, which is the first element in combat that must be carried out in the Before, but your opponent is also quickly ready to send away or hold off your cuts in the After with the second element of parrying, so that you cannot attain your intended goal with these cuts, therefore now comes the third element, which is called the Craft, which is the art that teaches you, when you realize that your cuts are futile or useless in one place, how you may quickly pull that cut back before it hits, or allow it to go past without hitting, and send it to another opening. 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.
- From the Longsword
I wanted to present first the devices from the side postures that I have just taught, so that when you come into one of them at the furthest point of striking, thrusting, or parrying, you will better know how to recover again; also you will better know how to conduct yourself in the subsequent devices, since with these long weapons as with the previous weapons, you always come in the course of combat from one posture into another, and you must not then spend a lot of time in them reflecting on what to do, but push onward with the next techniques that arise.
- - -
In conclusion, you shall know that in none of these weapons, whether in the staff, halberd, or pike, should you lightly come out of your advantage, nor shall you allow yourself to be provoked out of it, unless you not only can get him for certain, but have also diligently reflected whether you can bring your weapon back into your control without harm, and can in timely fashion spring out and parry his counter-rushing, if your thrust should fail.
Now if you find your opponent in his advantage in a posture, then do not thrust to his opening without particular opportunity, but see how you can provoke and incite him out of his advantage with knocking, jerking, changing through, and pushing and sometimes with pulled thrusts, and as soon as he goes up or away, or begins to work, then lay on and begin your device.
-From the Staff
The taking or retaking of the Vor is done through two methods primarily, out-timing the opponent, ie striking first, striking when he has over-extended in a strike etc, or by using displacing cuts, the Versetzen. The latter is quite important, but can also be dividided into different sub-categories according to Meyer; the provoking, parrying and hitting cuts. This he elaborates extensively on when teaching all weapons.
Likewise there is another consideration in the countercutting, and another advantage with the cuts that take place at the same time, so that the combatants do not both hit one another, as often happens. Therefore (as I have said before) in all cuts and devices, I have laid out and particularly taught with diligence and at length this distinction: that one shall use some cuts for provoking, to bring him out of his advantage; same for taking, that is when through this provoking you have goaded him to cut, you put it off with a countercut, or catch it with parrying; and thirdly same for hitting, as you will see throughout in the treatises on the dusack and rapier.
And indeed the true art and Craft is found here above all, in which the combatant's reason, acuity, shrewd consideration, judiciousness, skillfulness, and manfulness can be seen and manifests itself, since here the art depends upon the person, so that a poor device will be executed by an ingenious mindful person much more usefully in the work, than the best one will be executed by a fool.
- From the foreword
I have now explained at length the postures and cuts, as well as the openings at which the cuts are directed. But it is not enough to have learnt how to deliver the cuts against your opponent well and long from you: it is also necessary to be equally able to send away and parry these cuts when they are delivered at you by your opponent. Therefore although I have written in the treatise on the sword concerning parrying in general, yet I must discuss parrying somewhat more particularly here in the the dusack as with the other chief elements of combat.
It is therefore to be noted that there are two chief types of parrying, namely one from above, the other from below. From the first, which comes from the High Cut, the posture arises named the Slice or Straight Parrying. The second parrying comes from the Low Cut, from which the Bow derives its origin. These two parryings are each executed in two ways, firstly by catching or intercepting the stroke, secondly by cutting away. Now catching is simply when you intercept and hold off your opponent's strikes with parrying, whether it be with the Bow from the Low Cut, or with Straight Parrying from the High Cut.
However, you shall not understand this parrying as some do it, namely that they merely hold out their weapons and let them be struck upon; but if you want to catch and parry an opponent's strike, then you shall send your parrying up from below with extended arm against his High Cut in the air; for the higher you catch his cut in the air, the more you weaken it, and you can not only lay your countercut on your opponent that much more usefully, but also execute it that much more safely.
Likewise if you wish to parry the Low Cut, then you shall go from above against the cut, and fall on it with extended arm. Both these parryings end in the Longpoint.
- - -
Now so that you may better understand this, I will distinguish the cuts into three uses: that is, firstly they are used to provoke; seeondly to take or parry; thirdly to hit. The Provoking Strike is what I call the cut with which I goad and provoke the opponent to go out of his advantage and to cut. The Taker is what I call the cut with which I cut away and take out the cuts to which I have stirred and goaded him. The Hitter is what I call the cut when, after I have first goaded him to strike, and secondly taken out the strike to which I provoked him, then thirdly I cut quickly to the nearest opening before he recovers from his parried strike.
- - -
Further you shall also know and note that one always changes off with the three cuts, such that sometimes the first, sometimes the second, sometimes the third will be a Provoker, Taker, or Hitter. Therefore when you can hit with the first, you shall use the second for parrying; but if you hit with the second, then parry with the third. For if you want to fight soundly with one-handed weapons, then you shall accustom yourself always to send three cuts quickly one after another; nor should it be just a single kind of cut, but always vary and change between the High, Middle, and Low, in such a manner that always one of the three hits, either the first, the second, or the third.
- From the Dussack
And you shall use and learn all this against those who stand firmly in their parrying and will not work, to wait until you are fully extended with cutting or thrusting. You must thus incite and provoke him out of his advantage, since you cannot attack without some opportunity, for you must worry that he will overreach or catch you in your own device. Therefore you must see how you can bring him out of his advantage. So that you can better understand this, I will briefly repeat the provoking, taking, and hitting, which I have presented previously.
- - -
Thus you have provoking, taking, and hitting, which is to provoke the stroke, to parry or set off the stroke you have provoked, and at once to countercut back to the opening. And I do not mean that you should not hit with the Provoking Cut or also with the Taker if you can; it is so named only because the chief intention is either to provoke him out of his advantage or to take out and bear off his cut-whether you can also hit him with this doesn't matter.
- - -
Also this order is not always followed, since you can just as well provoke, then hit, and finally take. Now since generally experience must teach these techniques, which can be learned only through daily practice, I will just let it pass with this example...
-From the Rappier
Combining all that I have read about Meyer's teachings of different weapons, I believe that to Meyer, the difference between Vor&Nach was much more subtle than at least I myself have thought when reading other masters. Basically, I believe it is no more than a feeling that can only be sensed by the two fighters, but which is really quite undiscernible to a spectator watching the fight. With both fighters cutting & counter-cutting with the very same cuts, always striving to keep the point aimed at the opponent in all cuts, there would be little room for any spectator to perceive what is really happening and who is in actual control. This is an area I believe we should explore more. Consequently, we are working on a series of exercises that I hope will help us learn to bridge the gap between Vor&Nach and attack&defense.
The whole purpose of Meyer's Kreutz diagram is to teach and train us to become as dynamic as possible. In this, Meyer is seemingly a little bit different from other masters, as he is less focused on striking first from your strong side. In fact, he even suggests you strike from above with your short edge at the opponent's right side as your first strike, much like Marozzo.
The ingenious thing about the Kreutz diagram is that it teaches us how to, through the seven striking lines, cut from any opening to any other. Meyer here also teaches us how to double our strikes to the same side (not the same opening), thus completing the variation of targeting. And not only that, he teaches us to use the two edges in three different ways to all four openings apart from the opponent's lower right that can only be cut in two ways. Adding striking with the two flats, this gives us 19 different ways of striking. Finally, the accompanying text also teaches us to use Reitzen, the feints, to provoke the opponent into moving to parry thus revealing a new opening which was our real target.
This small diagram and the few short paragraphs of Meyer really are quite cleverly designed with the purpose of making us as dynamic as possible, and I strongly suggest you take your time experimenting with it and reading the text that elaborates on it.
Speed & Power
Speed, power and control are all very important factors not only as directed at the opponent, but also in order to keep ourselves safe. This gets much more obvious when you train with little or no protection, where you are less eager to strike in fast, and much more focused on doing it safely. Of course other factors also come into place in "naked" training, as we for practical reasons have to strive to threaten the opponent, but not actually hitting him, but still, there are important values in practicing this way too, not least since you learn to keep your hands more safe and your whole mindset is shifted somewhat.
The question of speed and power is particularly interesting, since for many, not all, too much speed and/or power also means a certain loss of control. Interestingly Myamoto Musashi talked about this specific topic with these words:
Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.
- - -
Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. From this example, the principle can be seen.
- - -
When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm. You must not be influenced by the opponent. Train diligently to attain this spirit.
- - -
An attack must be executed with quickness, not speed. Attack with power, not strength. There is a great difference between speed and quickness, power and strength. Think this through carefully. It is the essence of strategy.
- Myamoto Musashi
Here, and in other similar sources we can see that speed is not just a matter of physical speed, but also a matter of perceived speed. Our training, and the level of flexibility and dynamics we possess, make our analytical and response time smaller, thus also making us faster and the opponent to appear less fast. This is quite obvious when comparing a trained fencer against an untrained fencer.
So, how do we train to learn to become more dynamic?
Flow drills in various ways I believe are very important. Learning how the guards, stances and attacks and defences connect come from experimenting both in single and partner drills at varying speeds. Here are some things I and a few friends are experimenting with:
- Start with single drills. Experiment, try weird things. Shift things around and see how they connect and not. Look for patterns, both in the texts, the images and just through testing things. Try the Meyer Kreutz diagram, cutting through all seven lines using all edges and flats in any way thinkable, adding in double cutting to the same side and feinting.
- Work with partner drills. At first you can work statically, standing still, so you just focus on the actual hand and blade movements. However, this can lead to some artefacts which should be balanced with other types of exercises. Make sure that your counter-cuts or parries cover you properly and that you primarily end with the point in the direction of the opponent.
This is more like pell work, only with a living pell that is striking back in dynamic and "random" ways.
- Working without protection can be a good learning experience, but shouldn't be done too early and not with partners you don't know or trust completely. Make sure that you are never too tired to stop your cuts in case the opponent misses his parry.
- Work with protection and good power, speed and intent, as well as the whole range of techniques, including thrusting and duplieren. Also use leaning and footwork. Don't stop for the hits that actually land. This is obviously where we get closer to sparring application, although I would suggest this is at first done at 75% speed or thereabouts.
As an example of #2 & #3 we shot this short clip yesterday. It is lacking in certain ways, but at least it shows a bit of how fluid the free striking and counterstriking can be. All strikes are random and although our styles are quite different, with my partner not having trained Meyer at all and thus moving his hands quite differently, you can actually see me doing both Zornhauw, Schielhauw, Zwerchhauw, Krumphauw and Unterhauw in this clip. To this I add a few parries from Schrankhut/Hengen that are continued into a Moulinet-like Schnappen counter-strike. Also note how I constantly change position of my hands, often keeping them high, with certain "lasso"-like and "wall-painting" striking motions that I believe are typical of Meyer.
Again, this clip isn't very good, as it is just the second time we try this particular exercise together, but it gives you an idea about what we try to do. We will continue working with this, expanding into more dynamic exercises based on the same ideas expressed here.
Do note though that this exercise shown above is just one way of training flow with switching from/through guards, strikes and parries. It is not meant to emulate sparring or be proper technical training. In actual sparring or fighting, one would quickly break out of the pattern and continue with a step or working with Winden and thrusting & duplieren.
In this particular exercise thrusting and actual cutting to the head or hands is of course not allowed, but there were plenty of instances were we instead could have chosen to follow through with a cut or a thrust. The aim was to constantly keep the point aimed at the opponent, apart from in some special stances like Schrankhut or with the Krumphau. Also, we are not working at full speed or power, staying at about 75% speed, and not aiming to cut through the opponent's cuts, more working with what Meyer describes as Reitzen or Nehmen.
Initial response from some of the fencers who have tried this have been quite positive, saying that they noticed an instant improvement in their sparring, with regards to their defense, even from the simple exercise shown in the clip.
As a little bonus clip, I am also adding a clip of some Jogo do Pau exercise, where we practice just out of range, for safety, as we aren't Portuguese trained since childhood, and since these are actual "sharp" weapons that could maim and quite likely even kill with a proper hit.
I will continue posting things about this as we progress, hoping that this continues to prove valuable in sparring.
Thanks for listening!
All translations of Meyer are taken from Dr Forgeng's excellent translation in the printed book "The Art of Combat".