Although not originally planned to be included in this series, I decided to add an article on a topic that deserves special treatment, since to best understand several of the core teachings of this whole article series it is vital to understand this particular topic. That topic is “deception“.

Mess with the mind first, then with the body

Fighting is like sex1. First you try to seduce and woo your opponent trying to stir emotions and ideas, using any means at your disposal; physical features, moving confidently, display of skills, your voice and your wit. In your exchange you give off an impression of courage & self-reliance and you may even lie and deceive with your actions. Once those emotions and ideas are stirred, then you can more easily and safely manipulate your opponent to reach your goal. Sometimes the seduction is quick, or not even necessary, sometimes it takes more work.

The importance of being capable of deceiving one’s opponent is described as far back as the oldest known longsword treatise, ie the Hs.3227a of ca 1389AD2, where e.g. the following is noted.

Oh, all fencing
requires the help of the righteous God
a straight and healthy body,
a complete and well-crafted sword
before, after, weak, strong,
indes the word you must remember,
strikes, thrusts, cuts. pressing,
guards, parries, shoves, feeling, pulling,
winding and hanging,
moving in and out, swipes, jumps, grabs, wrestles
wisdom and bravery,
carefulness, deceit, and wits,
measure, concealment,
sense, pre-anticipation, skillfulness
practice and positive attitude,
movement, agility, good steps.

These verses should be your foundation principles and these should permeate the whole matter of the art of fencing. You should carefully observe these and later you will especially hear or read about these, and what each of these principles mean and contain.3

The actual tactics and techniques used for deceiving an opponent are many, but can be divided into two main groups that both rely on provocation. These two groups are: Overwhelming and Baiting.

Overwhelming – overloading the senses

This is an old tactic, but still used even in modern times, as advised e.g. around the Korean War by Col. Rex Applegate:

The most basic fundamental of all is that of balance. Mental balance, or stability, is a state of mind that is necessary before physical balance can be achieved. In exciting circumstances, such as vital combat, the mental balance of the opponent can often be upset by the surprise of the attack. The use of yells, feints or deception; throwing dirt or other objects in the opponent’s face; or the use of any strategy that he does not expect forces him to take time to condition his mind to a new set of circumstances, The time necessary for the mind to adjust itself varies with the individual, but it is during this period of adjustment that the attacker can destroy his opponent’s physical balance and undertake offensive action. Surprise is as effective in man-to-man combat as it is in the strategy of armies. That is why the successful fighter conceals his true intentions, so that he never “telegraphs”  his intention. He always strives to do the unexpected.4

The keys to this tactic are surprise and dominance, which naturally leads to taking the initiative by attacking first and then keeping it throughout, through the use of continuous attacks. This tactic appears to have been the most commonly advised in the early fencing treatises of the Liechtenauer tradition, even if the baiting was advised too. In fact, it could be argued to be at the very core of the early Germanic fencing style, with the concepts of Vor, Vorschlag, Zucken & Verfliegen to the four openings of Ochs & Pflug.

Step in close in the bind
the Zucken (Pulling) gives you good findings.
Zuck! If it hits, pull again.
Find openings to work: it hurts.
Zuck in all hits
If you wish to fool the masters.5

The idea here is to overload the opponent’s senses by constantly giving him input that he must manage, which here means threats to his physical integrity.

Overwhelming the opponent by attacking two targets simultaneously, pressing against the neck with the halberd while kicking the knee sideways with the foot. From Meyer's 1570 treatise.

Overwhelming the opponent by attacking two targets simultaneously, pressing against the neck with the halberd while kicking the knee sideways with the foot. From Meyer’s 1570 treatise.

In several fencing treatises we are also advised to keep in frequent or constant motion, frequens motus, which here means to keep moving around your space in relation to your opponent and to keep changing guards.

This tactic of disturbing and overwhelming the opponent can be examplified by, for instance, the Krawthacke, described in the Hs.3227a

One technique is called the Krauthacke (herb hoe) and comes from the iron gate and is practiced by striking upwards from the ground directly to the man and down again. And it is a strong method for those who can do it correctly, with steps directly forward and with one upstrike with each step.6

This technique is very similar to how Meyer often initiates an attack by slashing up and down before launching the “real” attack.

In the Onset when you come within a fathom of your opponent, then slash up from your right before him through his face, once, twice, three times; and in the third slashing up before him, come into the Longpoint, yet such that you remain with your left foot forward. From there, let the foible of your blade run off toward your left, and while your blade is dropping, pull your haft up at the same time; step and cut the first from your right at his left ear…7

Additionally, you may also shout, stomp or make short or halted thrusting or cutting motions to further disturb the opponent.

While keeping yourself and your weapon in constant motion, you aim to confuse your opponent rather than outtime, outmanouvre or overpower him. Keep in mind though, that a confused opponent can be a very dangerous thing, since he will often do stupid things, like attacking you without protecting himself. Likewise, you also need to be constantly aware of your own weaknesses as they change through your transformations, so the opponent does not surprise you by exploiting those very weaknesses.

So, if the opponent is too confused or inexperienced and thus perceives no threat, then this tactic also commonly fails, which also explains why “double-kills” are so much more common in fencing with much protective gear and among untrained fencers, as both cases mean there is commonly less fear or sense of actual danger among the fencers. In that respect this is a dangerous tactic to use against unknown opponents as you don’t know their character, training or experience level.

That said, against an opponent that shows at least a minimum of concern for his own safety this is still a perfectly good tactic, as again described in the Hs.3227, the so called Döbringer treatise.

And the foundation of the teaching needs at first the principles of courage, quickness, carefulness, deceit and wits etc. And before these, control, so that when he wins the Vorschlag, he should not do it too fast so that he may recover for the Nachschlag.

And because of this one should well take his time with considering what he can do against his opponent and then move in quickly, going for the head or the body but never to the sword. Because if one strikes surely to the head or to the body – that is to the four openings – then it often happens that he gets to the sword anyway, if the adversary protects itself by using his sword.

This is why Liechtenauer says: Never strike to the sword, always aim for the openings. To the head or to the body, if you wish to remain unhurt. May you hit or miss, aim for the openings.8

Note here especially how, as long as you are covered by your strikes, it matters not if you actually hit with your strikes. The important thing is to keep the initiative and overwhelm the opponent. Sooner or later you will break through his defense.


Deceiving your opponent is however not necessarily the same as confusing your opponent. Quite the contrary, with baiting you want him to be as little confused as possible. You want him to be sure and feel very confident in how he should respond to what you deceptively reveal to him. And as he responds you are already prepared to counter or change into your “real” attack. Kurtzhauw, Stürtzhauw, and Felen are all techniques that rely on this concept, but the concept is much larger. Baiting with Langenort, so common in tournaments today, is also counted into this category. Even Fiore dei Liberi speaks of this:

This is the Extended Stance [Posta Longa] which is full of deceit; she probes the other guards to see if she can deceive a companion. If she can strike with a thrust, she knows well how to do it; she voids the blows and she can wound when she is able. More than any other guard, her tactic is deception.9

This type of deceiving can be done in two ways, basically.

Appear to do one thing, then do another

This is the combat equivalent to the magician’s sleight of hand, misleading with one motion and acting with another. This can be examplified by attacking an opening and then, as the opponent moves to parry your attack, transform your attack into targeting another target, as with the Felen. Alternately you can move to parry in one way, then parry in another, so you can unexpectedly attack an opening, like with the Kurtzhauw, which initially looks like a Krumphauw. 

Sneaky unexpected thrust behind the back, from Meyer's 1570 treatise.

Sneaky unexpected thrust behind the back, from Meyer’s 1570 treatise.

Finally, you can also appear to cut one way, but then change your cut so it reaches farther in, as when transforming a Zornhauw to a Stürtzhauw or by changing your grip in the cut so your reach is extended.

Achille Marozzo uses this principle repeatedly, e.g. here:

That is, you will feel him out first with a rising falso dritto to the enemy’s hand while not moving your legs. In this regard, if he does not move, I want you to step forward with your left leg in a gran passo while making a feint of turning another falso dritto but then you will deceive him a with a ponta in falso impuntata that goes strongly finding his left side. But watch well that when you make the deception that you do so to the outside of his right side, that is, over his sword in falso.10

In a way, Winden, both Auswinden and Inwinden rely on this concept too, just as Duplieren, although they can also be done reactively, i.e. as a follow-up attack when the opponent parries your attack and remains with a weak or strong bind, respectively.

Seduction – Come here, big boy!

The other type of baiting, in Meyer’s terms Reitzen, is where you reveal an opening and thus plant an idea, a plan, inside your opponent’s head, thus putting you one step ahead of your opponent in what is happening in the fight. The latter tactic is very much like bull fighting, where you wave a red flag but hide a sword underneath it, ready to kill as the bull comes charging. This way it bypasses the whole issue of whether the opponent senses danger and responds correctly.

This is the safest way of fighting as you are in good control of not only your own actions, but also that of your opponent, manipulating him like a glove puppet. An example of how to do this is standing in Langenort with your sword extended before you, luring the opponent to try to use a Krumphauw or Schielhauw to displace your blade, but as he does so you let your point drop down, with a Dürchwechseln, so he misses, and then you thrust straight in.

Another way of doing this is by exposing a body part, e.g. the flank by standing in Zornhut and as the opponent cuts in, you lift your sword above your head into Ochs and parry the attack on your flatmaking a Verschieben, cutting in from the bind.11 or as advised in the “Ringeck” treatise, MS Dresd.C.487.

When you stand in the the Nebenhut out to the left side and one cuts against you down from above, sweep [Streichen] firmly from below up into his sword with the short edge. If he holds strongly against you and is not too high with the hands, double between the man and his sword with the short edge to the left of his neck.12

Here, the open stance of Nebenhut is used to lure the opponent into striking from above. He is then further deceived by the defender striking and binding from below and then counter-striking from above to the attacker’s left side of the neck with a Duplieren from the bind.

The exact same solution was advised by John Styers in his “Cold Steel” of 1952, where he states

“Footwork and fencing” they will insist, “are the foundations on which bayonet fighting is built!”
No one will discount the value of these two fine aspects of bayonet technique, but their value was based on the one great doubt which has always haunted bayonet wielders:
“On which side of my blade will my opponent’s blade fall? My correct parry depends upon where his blade falls.”
But this doubt can be eliminated by furnishing your opponent with ONLY ONE TARGET. The position in which you hold your piece will determine the direction of his weapon; you know where it will be; when it comes within your range, one deft move of your body will remove instantly the target he thought he had. In its place he will find your blade, pointed directly at his throat  – his own weapon sawing the thin air.
YOUR thrust ends the engagement.13

This is a very fundamental teaching at the core of the US Marine Corps bayonet training around WW2 and the Korean War. Simply put; you can use your openings to control your opponent and thereby minimize the inherent randomness of fighting.


However, using baiting against a skilled opponent you may thus also have given away the initiative in the fight. And a skilled opponent won’t likely be falling for the easy traps and consequently much subtler and quicker seduction will be needed. As Paulus Kal puts it:

I have eyes like a hawk, so you do not deceive me.14

Such subtle manipulation of a fencer with experience and strong perception Meyer examplifies with.

Remain a little while in it, as if you intended to wait for his devices; but then go back up from the lower guard, and act as if you intended to change into the High Guard; when you almost have come into the High Guard, then rapidly turn your weapon for the stroke; before he realizes it, cut through rapidly to the nearest opening with extended arm, so that you make yourself open again. Without doubt he will quickly cut at this opening, since you have presented it to him thus with a sudden stroke.15

The key here is to appear to make subtle mistakes, not being overly obvious in exposing openings.


Clearly, deception (and perception) is a hugely vital component in the fighting arts we study, both knowing how to do so, but also learning to counter it, something which Meyer repeatedly advises us to do throughout his treatises.

Both tactics of Overwhelming and Baiting are equally valid and were advised in the fencing treatises, although a shift from mainly promoting the former to the latter seems to have taken place in the 16th century, perhaps as people more and more commonly became well trained in the arts, thus making it more difficult to overwhelm the opponent.

A single fight can also include the use of both tactics, as in the example with “Ringeck’s” Streichen above, and one may even probe the opponent using the baiting first, only to realize that overwhelming is the only option available against a specific opponent. Joachim Meyer advises us

Now as the first ones are violent and somewhat stupid, and as they say, cultivate frenzy; the second artful and sharp; the third judicious and deceitful; the fourth like fools; so you must assume and adopt all four of them, so that you can deceive the opponent sometimes with violence, sometimes with cunning, sometimes with judicious observation, or else use foolish comportment to incite him, deceive him, and thus not only betray him concerning his intended device, but also make yourself room and space for the opening, so that you can hit him that much more surely.16

While saying that he takes on all four character roles as needed in fighting, Meyer also says that he mostly adheres to the third kind; the Judicious and Deceitful fencers.

The third will only cut to the opening when they not only have it for certain, but have also taken heed whether they can also recover from the extension of the cut back into a secure parrying, or to the Defence Strokes [Wehrstreich]; I also mostly hold with these, although it depends on what my opponent is like.17

Here Meyer appears to confirm the idea that fighting with deceit is mainly a matter of adding another layer of safety for oneself, by controlling the opponent’s actions through mind games. This is also how old fencing masters and great fencers often appear to be reading the minds of the less experienced fencers. In reality they are not only reading them, but also speaking directly to them without the young fencers realizing it.


With that I conclude this week’s article and I sincerely hope you found it interesting and useful. Next time we will begin to cover the topic of Stances.

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)
11. Cutting
12. The Line and protecting the hands
13. Leaning
14. Stepping
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!

Roger Norling


  1. I am sure you agree, Anthony []
  2. The so called “Döbringer” treatise []
  3. Hs.3227a. ca 1389AD, 17R. Translation by Thomas Stöppler <> 17 July 2014 []
  4. Applegate Col. Rex, 1958, Kill or get killed, 3d edition,  p11-12. The Military Service Publishing co, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, USA []
  5. Codex Ringeck, MS Dresd.C.487, early 1500s, 41r-41v. Translated by Roger Norling. []
  6. Hs.3227a. ca 1389AD, 47r. Translation by Thomas Stöppler <> 17 July 2014 []
  7. Meyer Joachim, 1570, Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens, 1.27v1. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng. 2006, The Art of Combat. Greenhill Books, London, UK []
  8. Hs.3227a, ca 1389AD, 64R. Translation by Thomas Stöppler <> 17 July 2014 []
  9. Fior di Battaglia, MS M.383, before 1404, 12 v-a. Translation by Michael Chidester <> 17 July 2014 []
  10. Marozzo Achille, 1536, Opera Nova, 3d book, Cap. 163 5th part . Translated by William Wilson <> 17 July 2014 []
  11. Meyer Joachim, 1570, Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens, 1.22r, 1.34v, 1.58r. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng []
  12. MS Dresd.C.487, early 1500s, on “Streichen”. Translated by Keith Farrell <> 17 July 2014 []
  13. Styers Col. Rex, 1952, Cold Steel, 1st edition, p1-2, Leatherneck Association, Washington DC, USA []
  14. Paulus Kal Fechtbuch, Cgm 1507, ca 1470AD, 6R <> 17 July 2014 []
  15. Meyer Joachim, 1570, Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens, 2.99v2. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng. 2006, The Art of Combat. Greenhill Books, London, UK []
  16. Meyer Joachim, 1570, Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens, 2.99R-2.99V. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng. 2006, The Art of Combat. Greenhill Books, London, UK []
  17. Meyer Joachim, 1570, Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens, 2.99R-2.99V. Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng. 2006, The Art of Combat. Greenhill Books, London, UK []