Could one find a more Polish weapon than the Hussar szabla? Literally, when someone thinks of a saber from Poland, he probably thinks of this very specific weapon, that is (not fully accurately) attributed to the famous winged hussars. It is the katana of the eastern Europe, often considered by many modern users to be one of the most efficient battle weapons of all.

It is largely a belief based on pop culture, yet there are no doubts that the weapon was, and still is, very magnificent. Although, contrarily to many weapons of other countries, we have no direct accounts about its use.

Specific design, unspecific system?

Would people design such a complicated type of weapon and never use all of its constructional feats to their advantage? The answer is quite obvious. Yet to find out the exact method is not so easy. This article is created to analyze the possible sources and methods that will allow the reader to solve that problem.

Anatomy

First and easiest step is to look at the structure of the weapon itself. As you can see in the picture below , the typical hussar szabla consists of a blade, a specific almost straight handle, closed knuckle-guard and a heart shaped thumb ring.

husarka

Picture nr 1: Hussar szabla of the 2nd half of the XVIIth century. Author of the picture is Andrzej Mikiciak. Weapon was forged by Andrzej Mikiciak.

For the sake of analysis we must note, that the blades were often taken from many other sabers both earlier and foreign, so we cannot focus on this part of the weapon1.
Handle, contrarily to the earlier types of szablas is very straight, only bent slightly at the end. While the earlier anatomically curved handles promoted a very high surface of the grip, here we cannot use a similar grip. This is the first difference which does not allow us to efficiently utilize techniques of the earlier types of weapons in the same fashion..

szablahus vs polwegr

Fig.1: Hussar szabla (nr 1) and the earlier Polish-Hungarian szabla type(nr2). Notice the angles of the knuckleguards, and the level on which the thumbring is placed in contrary to the crossguard position. Picture from the W. Zabłocki book “Cięcia Prawdziwa Szablą”

The thumb ring is again different than those in the earlier types of szablas. It is heart shaped, positioned underneath the crossguard level and is far wider than those of its predecessors.
Knuckleguard seems a direct descendant of the earlier half-closed models or it may as well be coming from the chained models as was indicated by Cz. Jarnuszkewicz2.

Sources

There is one contemporary source speaking about sabers (A coltelaccio is presented in the pictures of the source) from the period when the hussar szablas were in broad use. It is Francesco Antonio Marcellis Delle Regole Della Scherma3  from 1686. It describes a way to deal with a saber with a sword and vice versa.

We can read there:

In order to have the necessary speed, for such feints, one must remember the universal rule regarding cuts: they are to be delivered with the wrist only, without moving the whole arm ,or they become wide and slow movements.4

What is more:

Single time actions, which are so important with the sword, are very dangerous with the sabre, because, being this a weapon that hurts with the edge only, it is not the case that it can hit the opponent with the edge and set aside his point, in a single time: the first action doesn’t have in itself the second, the defence, so you cannot offend in single time.5

tomak

Fig. 2: XIXth century illustration depicting men playing Tomak. Notice different ways of gripping the thread. Picture from the book about Ottoman Turks by Franz Taeschner.

What we find is that most actions with the saber should be performed with swift use of the wrist while retaining a continuous repetition of actions. The only fencing action that comes to mind is a moulinet.
It is even more accurate once we reach for earlier but more distant sources. Matrakci Nasuh6, a Bosnian Janissary wrote his treatise in Ottoman about the use of the Turkish bow, kilij and battle tactics. He also designed sparring methods for Janissary to practice their martial art - Matrak and Tomak Sporru. While Matrak is designed to be performed with stick and leather singlesticks, Tomak is a very interesting creation. It is a leather ball placed on a thin rope. The idea of the practice is to hit your opponent in the back with the ball. This makes a good szabla mechanics practice. It is even more interesting once we take a closer look at the most often used technique. It is done by performing a circular whirlwind like movements with our ball to hit the opponents back.

How then should we perform a moulinet with a Hussar Szabla? Later sources introduce us to methods to perform a moulinet with a weapon. There are generally two types of those actions that can be found thoroughly explained in those sources.
First one is: Rules and Regulation for Sword exercise of the Cavarly by John le Machant7. The book introduces us to a moulinet that can be very often seen in western saber systems. The moulinet is performed through opening the hand and letting the weapons blade fall down and then through closing of the hand a leverage is put to the handle and a strike is performed.

marchant

Fig. 3: An illustrations from the Le Marchant Regulations8

The second source is Theorie sur l’escrime a cheval9 written by Alexander Muller, a French cavalry treatise. Muller on the contrary shows a very firm but extremely maneuverable grip that allows for good rotation of the wrist. The strike is performed by simple rotation of the wrist sometimes with aid of elbow.

meuller

Fig. 4: Two plates (3 and 10) from the Mullers book10 presenting the method of the moulinet

Both moulinets can be very efficient and if properly managed may be used with the Hussar szabla effectively. Yet they differ in the aspect of durability. Le Machants moulinet is rather a sudden single striking action that allows for sudden change of direction, while Mullers moulinet allows for great speed of multiple strikes and a sudden changes in motion.

What is more, Muller's grip directly matches the slight bending of the handle of the hussar szabla. The firm grip allows for actions that are easily matched with the Tomak manoeuvers. According to the Jarnuszkiewicz suggestion11 the knuckleguards were created based on the chain guards, which were, as Kwaśniewicz indicates12 a form of swordknots.

Jarnuszkiewicz

Fig. 5: An illustration from Jarnuszkiewicz book13 presenting the evolution of the hussar szabla.

Considering the fact, that it was the basic strike that could be performed with this szabla, an important question arises: why would Poles develop such a complicated thumb ring? Especially when it is far more protective and decorative than the earlier models.

Answer to that query may be found within its anatomy. The thumbring is positioned well beneath the crossguard, which allows for very easy swap of the grip to a shallow sword grip, which allows for a great surface of the grasp and a far better stopping power. This allows to support the fencing action with majority of earlier techniques without disrupting the Muller moulinet potential.

This type of grip gives us opportunity to deliver a stabile cuts , that allows us to what Marcelli stated:

... the first action doesn’t have in itself the second, the defence, so you cannot offend in single time.14

pchanieEnabling the user to enforce an exchange with enemy while retaining the ability to suddenly swap to moulinets or thrusts15.

Fencing actions - Stance

The topic of stance is far more problematic, as it may be even more diverse. Marcelli presents us with footwork according to the method of use against an enemy armed with a sword:

Footwork must support the cut, giving it more power and strength, but it must always be fit to the natural movement of the strike. You can step forward and backward, to the left or to the right, but always making short steps, with body upright and well centred (between the feet).16

Marcelli

Fig 6. An illustration from the Marcelli book, probably made by his uncle, who served in Poland for some time, thus came Francesco knowledge about the weapon.

Here we have the typical Italian style of movement, which is strongly based on ground, mostly utilizing the 90 degree foot angle. It must be stated here, that to effectively perform cuts the stance must be non-linear. Yet we have no information about the stance once we meet a cutting weapon such as another szabla.

Earlier systems present us with the German longsword method of footwork17, which may be a good cooperation with the thumb ring grip. They allow for better close-up distances and are well presented by Marcelli18 when he explains the ways to get to wrestling with szabla.

smeyerAn interesting proposition would be to use the French stance19. Especially considering the fact, that they used a weapon that may be a direct descendant of the hussar szabla20. The foot position is like the Italian stance, but wider, allowing for better torso and hip rotation and using a different, smaller angle. An example is presented beneath in the book by Eugene Chaperon21.

chaperon

Fig 7. Presenting the training of cavalry unit in the art of saber fencing, by Eugene Chaperon. Notice the way they stand, positioning the mass center in the middle while retaining partially frontal position.

Beneath are presented the footwork diagrams for each of the supposed stances that could be used for the Hussar szabla system.

nogi

1) The Marcelli stance allows for great forward/ backward mobility, short lunges and quick short steps are very natural. It is very good for stabile moulinet actions and thrusts, which makes it great against thrusting type weapons, as stated in the Marcelli treatise. Similar situations can be observed in Michael Hundt22 treatise, where he explains how to cope with a rapier.

2) The Eugene Chaperon stance gives a greater diagonal mobility and more freedom of movement for torso and hips, which gives better defense and stronger cuts, but still allows a good forward yet little less backward pace. It is due to the fact, that they were a joining of the tradition of French smallsword and heavy saber, that is most probably a descendant of the Polish and Hungarian szablas.

3) The Marozzo stance gives you the most freedom of movement, being good in most of the cuts, moulinets, but giving less stability of the steps, though being a good basis for swapping to the other stances.

4) The Paulus Hector Mair stance and foot position is the least manoeuverable with short steps, but gives a great potential to get into complicated short distance techniques, grappling and many others . As has been shown, there are three possible ways of putting the rear leg in that stance, which improves, control and stability at the cost of the hip freedom. This stance gives the most diverse possibilities of actions, yet in longer distance may be promoting single-time actions, which are not preferred by Marcelli.

Fencing actions – guards

mairmarozzo

Fig.8 Two figures from the earlier treatises. Achille Marozzo Opera Nova((Marozzo Achille,Opera Nova, 1536, scans from Raymond J. Lord Collection)) and Paulus Hector Mair.It may be an interesting clue to use those techniques with the Polish Szabla.

In this aspect Marcelli23, our main source, explains that once we are faced with a smallsword (or rapier) armed person, we should perform moulinets in front of ourselves, keeping a tight defense against eventual thrusts thus enabling us to catch the enemy blade with one of our cuts. Yet he presents us with no clue against a szabla armed person. Yet in his treatise we can read that his predecessors were focused on the cut, and needed to defend from the cut, as the main attack of the enemy. When he speaks of them, he refers to Achille Marozzo and his cutting diagram.

In his works, Opera Nova, Marozzo explains many cutting guards, which are all the more interesting as they are directly connected to typically cutting weapons such as Dussacks. Above are presented two examples of such common guards of the Paulus Hector Mair24 and Achille Marozzo25.

Fencing Actions - techniques

For this topic we can again reach for Marcelli help. As he explains in his text, we should never perform single time attacks4, so that we never get out of balance if our strike misses the target. It is important to clear away the opponent's blade and get close to enemy to perform another attack or “get to wrestling”26. As Marcelli suggests this weapon “can hurt with every part of its blade” so cuts made at short distance are very efficient and dangerous for the enemy. To make them properly with moulinets we must utilize the off-hand, often grabbing the opponent's armed hand.

The typical way of using the moulinets allows us to perform a series of strikes. This technique is based on the existence of the specific construction of the knuckleguard. It gives us an opportunity to perform a quite efficient and quick cut to the opponent's hands while he performs strikes or other fencing actions.

Third possibility is the use of the thumb ring. Thumb ring-based techniques allows us to strike hard with stable cuts performed to secure enemy response, which can be very good actions against both heavier blades and other cutting attacks.

Conclusion

The hussar szabla gives us a diversity of possible actions, as its anatomy fuses both Polish, Oriental and Western systems. There is no direct way to tell which actions were most often utilized, yet many of them have been transferred within different fencing systems.

This is of course a speculative way to interpret given sources, and the author has no intention to make final claims, as there may be many more sources which could indicate more clearly the ways to proficiently utilize this magnificent weapon.

NOTE. For the sake of the fact that there were a couple of hussar formations in our history, the article will be using the Polish word for saber writing hussar szabla instead of Polish hussar saber or Polish winged lancers saber.

***

EDITOR'S NOTE. In order to assist the author with certain grammar and choices of words and to clarify the intents of the author, I have made some small edits to the text here and there. Any misunderstandings caused by such edits are of course the responsibility of the editor.

 

  1. Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Dzieje szabli w Polsce, Warszawa 1993, p. 53 – 74 []
  2. Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Szabla Polska, od XV do końca XVIII wieku, Zielona Góra 1988, page 74 []
  3. Marcelli Francesco Antonio, Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, scans from Raymond J. Lord collection. []
  4. Marcelli Francesco Antonio, Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 101 -102, translation by Carlo Parisi []
  5. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 103, translation by Carlo Parisi []
  6. Nasuh bin Karagöz bin Abdullah el-Bosnavî, Tuhfet-ul Guzat, Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi []
  7. Marchant John Gaspard le, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise for the cavalry, Whitehall 1796, scans by Will Mathieson []
  8. Marchant John Gaspard le, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise for the cavalry, Whitehall 1796,plates p. 15 – 17, scans by Will Mathieson []
  9. Muller Alexander, Theorie sur L’escrime a cheval, pour se defender avec avantage contre toute espece d’armes blanche, 1816 Paris, scans from Gallica Biblioteque Numerique []
  10. Muller Alexander, Theorie sur L’escrime a cheval, pour se defender avec avantage contre toute espece d’armes blanche, 1816 Paris, plate 3 and plate 10, scans from Gallica Biblioteque Numerique []
  11. Jarnuszkiewicz Czesław, Szabla wschodnia I jej typy narodowe, London 1973, p 59 []
  12. Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Dzieje szabli w Polsce, Warszawa 1993, p. 62 []
  13. Jarnuszkiewicz Czesław, Szabla wschodnia I jej typy narodowe, London 1973, []
  14. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 103, translation by Carlo Parisi []
  15. It is good to mention here a thrusting type of gripping in the modern Polish cavalry regulations, REGULAMIN KAWALERII cz.IV 1933r. which presents us this picture, where we can see a clear analogy to the Muller moulinet.  []
  16. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 104, translation by Carlo Parisi []
  17. Paulus hector Mair, Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica, Knight and Hunt, 2008 []
  18. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, scans from Raymond J. Lord collection. []
  19. Chaperon Eugene, La science des armes dans les cavalerie, France []
  20. This is can be seen among different books, e. g. S Meyers' Typology of sabers: []
  21. Chaperon Eugene, La science des armes dans les cavalerie, France []
  22. Michael Hundt, Ein new Kůnstliches Fechtbuch im Rappier,1611, scans from the sources of www.wiktenauer.com []
  23. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 101 -102, translation by Carlo Parisi []
  24. Paulus hector Mair, Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica, Knight and Hunt, 2008 []
  25. Marozzo Achille, Opera Nova, 1536, scans from Raymond J. Lord Collection []
  26. Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 104, translation by Carlo Parisi []
Jerzy Miklaszewski
Jerzy Miklaszewski started his 19 years of martial art experience with the first Polish branch of ITF (International Tae Kwon Do Federation), studying under Marek Lech, one of the precursors of the Polish Tae Kwon Do.

He then continued his education under Sifu Andrzej Szuszkiewicz from Wing Chun Kuen Kung Fu, where he learned a different understanding of martial arts, visited multiple seminars, special classes, meetings and met masters of Ju Jutsu, Tai Chi (both Chen and Chuan style), Tang Lang Men – he also studied the same martial arts in Melbourne and France under master such as William Chueng (Ip Man Student) or Didier Beddar . After few years, he was one of the first students of Soke Toshimichi Takeuchi in Bujutsu Kan school, which was created in Cracow.

His studies brought him towards different Japanese styles like Kenjutsu, Aikido, Kyudo, Judo, Ninjutsu, Kendo, Aikijutsu and many others in numerous seminars over entire Poland. Yet a true renaissance of his martial arts way came when he met a group of European martial arts enthusiasts, where under harsh, unyielding and implacable training conditions, he started to use all his previously gained knowledge. After a few years of sparring, Jerzy started winning at tournaments. That is when he, with his fellow senior instructor, decided to create a school created upon diversity of approach towards martial arts, where they started teaching people the ways of old, but still efficient and uncompromising European martial arts till this day.

Through this experience, Jerzy has created an initiative called the Silkfencing team, which is developing even more, through scientific and practical research. His cooperation with many worldwide specialists has made his research and his knowledge develop, he is cooperating with many important organization, such as HEMA Alliance, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie , Stowarzyszenie Miłośników Broni i Barwy and many other institutions. His school is one of the only seven Polish schools that are in official cooperation with Polish Fencing Association. He is as well a member of Polish Knight Fighting Cadre, with which he achieved World Vice Championship in Armoured Group Fighting on IMCF. His unique research of the Polish Szabla has been brought by him to many places in the world, as he already conducted seminars in Japan, England, Scotland, US, Slovakia, Czech Republic and many other places.