Throughout history going all the way back from at least medieval times up until modern military bayonet training a diagram typically depicting four crossing lines with seven or eight directions of cutting or striking have been used. The fact that it has changed little is of course not very surprising as it is tied to human physiology, both that of our opponent and in how we are capable of using our weapons in striking.
This week we will look briefly at this and how we can categorize the various types of cuts and reflect a bit on their forms of applications.
To begin with, early on, the diagram in question appears to be more common in the “Italian” or therefrom inspired fencing treatises. We see it in e.g Fiore dei Liberi (ca1404), Codex Wallerstein (early 1400s), Philippo Vadi (ca1485), Achille Marozzo (1536), the Kölner Fechtbuch (ca1550s), Joachim Meyer (1560/70, 1600, -10, -60), Heinrich von Gunterrodt (1579), Salvator Fabris (1606), Jakob Sutor (1612), Bonaventura Pistofilo (1627), Theodori Verolini (1679) and Francesco Antonio Marcelli (1686).
As can be seen from the list, most examples are Italian or partly influenced by Italian sources, which puts the third and last part of the Codex Wallerstein in an interesting light (1).
The concept of cutting lines was possibly used throughout the fencing traditions we study and the possible links between the Kölner Fechtbuch and the Marxbrüder fencing guild, and with Fechtmeister Joachim Meyer likely being a Freyfechter of the Marxbrüder, we may here perhaps see indications that it was commonly used among this guild as well, at least from the mid 1500s and onwards.
However, these diagrams are rarely shown in the older combat-oriented treatises which only show the actual techniques – Rare, that is, until Meyer’s quite unique pedagogical efforts at showing not only how to fight, but also how to train fighting and the learning thereof, partly through the use of a whole series of cutting diagrams in his first Von Solms treatise, and simplified in his 1570 treatise.
Continuing, there is also a subgroup, from the mid 16th cent. and onwards, with highly evolved diagrams, at least in part tied to the notion of the Vitruvian Man and the cosmografia del minor mondo or human geometry as related to the design of the Universe and used in architecture, art and more, striving for perfection and harmony through following the example of God’s greatest design; man. This we see examplified by e.g. Camillo Aggrippa (1553) and Gérard Thibault d’Anvers (1628).
The disappearance and the return of the cutting rose
With the more thrusting oriented use of the later Renaissance civilian rapier and smallsword etc, the cutting diagram naturally becomes less relevant and we don’t see it much in the treatises. However, the mental image of this diagram we instead see transformed and expanded into application of footwork for rapier in many sources, primarily Italian and Spanish, but also in the Lowlands as in Delineatio Lvdi Pvblici Gladiatorii Vrbis et Academiae Lvgdvnensis Apvd Batavos, by Jan Cornelisz, dated to 1610, depicting fencers at the University of Leiden, where mathematician and fencing master Ludvig van Ceulen taught, and of course again in the works of Gérard Thibault d’Anvers (1628).
However, as a tool for learning cutting drills we see it return again in the cutting oriented military fencing, for example in John Gaspard le Marchant’s ‘Broadsword Exercise’ of and W. Pepper’s ‘An abridgement of the new Broadsword Exercise’ both of 1797, John Taylor’s ‘The Art of Defence on Foot with the Broad Sword and Sabre’ of 1798 and continued with Antonio de Brea’s ‘Principios universales y reglas generales de la verdadera destreza’ of 1805, The Artillerist of 1821, ‘Cavalry Exercise’ of 1824, Alfred Hutton’s ‘Cold Steel’ of 1889 and Allanson-Winn & C. Phillips-Wolley’s manual on Quarterstaff, broadsword, single-stick of 1898.
However, this is only one of several possible ways of grouping cuts together, a topic we will look closer at shortly. For example we can group them according to:
- Cutting Angle
- Blade Angle
- Tactical Function
So what defines the cuts when we categorize them according to these groups and what are the further implications of these groupings? Returning to the first, we have…
This is the simplest possible grouping, where we look at the directions of the cut, although note that we are not talking about where to place or target the cut, only at what relative angle to the opponent the weapon moves. All cuts will follow these lines although at different heights and angles relative to the opponent’s body, limbs and weapon.
Examples of this categorization would be defining the cuts as cutting along the Ober (Upper), Unter (Under), Zwerch/Mittel (Across/Middle), Scheitel (Scalp/Vertical) and Zorn (Wrath/Diagonal) lines, marked in the diagram on the right and shown in the image below as well.
This diagram is taught both for the longsword, the dussack and rapier, but is also used “in spirit” with the dagger and polearms. Meyer uses it to describe how you use the cuts and cut from one guard to another.
As he describes it:
… 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.
Firstly when you execute the High or Scalp Cut, you find three postures: for in the beginning you lie in the Day, in the middle in the Longpoint, at the end in the Fool; thus in the straight line down from above from A to E you have three guards or postures… (2)
He then continues to describe the transformation of all guards via the cuts, using the letters to describe the cuts and their directions (upwards/downwards, left/right).
However, although this is the common and most basic way of describing the cuts, it doesn’t give us all the characteristics of the cut, thus a need for further division.
The next categorisation is defined by what edge we use and how we extend our arms when making them, dividing the cuts into Straight or Reversed.
The Straight Cuts are according to Joachim Meyer done with the long edge and extended arms, or as he puts it himself:
They are also properly called the chief or principal cuts, since all the others arise from them, and none can be imagined or found in the world that is so strange that it cannot be conceived properly under the heading of one of them. (3)
Examples of the Straight Cuts are: Oberhauw (High cut), Zornhauw (Wrath Cut), Scheitelhauw (Scalp Cut), Mittelhauw (Middle Cut) and Unterhauw (Under Cut)
The next category, the Reversed Cuts are mostly defined by cutting with the short edge or the flat, but some of them can be done with the long edge as well, when done on the “other” side. Meyer describes them as:
The reversed cuts are those where one reverses the hand and sword in the cuts, so that one does not hit the opponent with the full or long edge but rather with the short edge, flat, or some angle… (4)
Examples of the Reversed Cuts are: Schielhauw, Krumphauw, Zwerchauw, Stürtzhauw, Prellhauw, Glützhauw, Kurtzhauw, Kronhauw, Blindhauw, Windthauw, Kniechelhauw and Wechselhauw.
Our third categorization is done according to the type of action they perform, i.e. their function. Here we have several subcategories, which Meyer briefly describes with the following words:
… one shall use some cuts for provoking, to bring him out of his advantage; some 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 some for hitting. (5)
Cuts that parry and hit simultanously
Meyer is rare in being quite explicit about which of the Meisterhäuwe (Master Cuts) that are the best for this type of action. He says;
Now the other parrying is when you simultaneously parry and hit; it happens with the reversed cuts, such as the Squinting Cut, Clashing, Crown, and Thwart Cut. (6)
So the examples we have here are thus: Zwerchhauw (Across Cut), Schielhauw (Squinting Cut), Kronhauw (Crown Cut) and Glützhauw (Clashing Cut).
Displacing cuts (Nehmen)
Given the above we find the other Meisterhäuwe to be regular displacing cuts primarily, although several of them can also be used in way that parries and hits simultanously, under certain conditions, albeit at a larger risk of getting hurt oneself. Consequently these cuts primarily displace after which one can strike again or thrust as a counter-attack.
Examples of these cuts are: Oberhauw (High Cut), Zornhauw (Wrath Cut), Scheitelhauw (Scalp Cut), Mittelhauw (Middle Cut), Krumphau (Crooked Cut) and Unterhauw (Under Cut)
Provoking Cuts and Feints (Reitzen & Fehler)
Another category not discussed much by most masters, although described briefly by some, like Ringeck and others, are the feinting cuts which can be done singularly or as a sequence of feints. They can be done either from Zufechten to lure the opponent to try to parry and thus reveal an opening that you are really aiming to hit or after having lured the opponent into a pattern of parrying where you suddenly break the pattern before the blades connect and cut to another opening.
Now so that you may better understand this, I will distinguish the cuts into three uses: that is, firstly they are used to provoke; secondly to take or parry; thirdly to hit. The Provoking Stroke is what I call the cut with which I goad and provoke the opponent to go out of his advantage and to cut. (7)
Here we find e.g. the Fehler (Failer), Kurtzhauw (Short Cut) and Blindthauw (Blind Cut) designed specifically as feints, but most other cuts can be used as feints just by halting or redirecting them before the opponent binds with their intended parry.
Harassing cuts are cuts that are more intended to disturb and distract the opponent than actually hurt him badly, and are therefore quite close to the feints, albeit done with a somewhat different purpose. Meyer examplifies this with for example, the Schneller (The Flick) and the Zeck-Rur (Tag-Hit):
The flick or Tag-Hit is not actually delivered as a cut, but is rather flicked; it is executed in the middle of combat when one has occasion, namely when you make your weapon snap at your opponent from above or from either side or from below with the flat or foible of the blade, or flick it in an arc over or under his blade. (8)
There are several cuts of this category, for example: Verfliegen (Flitting), Schlaudern (Slinging), Schneller (Flick), Zeckrur (Tag-Hit) & Prellhauw (Rebound Cut)
Withdrawal Cuts (Abzug)
These cuts only aim to threaten the opponent and are in this aspect more similar to feints, but instead of drawing him or her out of a stance to reveal an opening it is mostly intended to scare the opponent so you can withdraw safely without being attacked or followed. Simple and straight long edge cuts are usually good here, but any cut is good depending on the context.
The end I call the Withdrawal [Abzug], which is how the combatant may cut away from his opponent without harm. Meyer 1570, Foreword to the reader Now it is particularly to be noted that after every device has been executed, you must always withdraw in one of these three ways: either first, before your opponent; or last, after him; or else at the same time as him. (9)
Therefore see that you so crowd him in the Middle-work that you come to the Withdrawal before he realizes it (something I will teach much about in the individual devices); or entice him to cut away from you, so that you can simultaneously cut at him above over his sword as you step out, and suitably take your withdrawal and recover. (10)
So, to summarize we have Displacing Cuts, Cuts that Parry and Hit at the same time, Provokers & Feints, Harrassing Cuts and threatening Withdrawal Cuts which make up our arsenal of cuts to use tactically in different stages of the fight. However, do not mistake this for a set sequence of actions. Meyer expands on this advice with the following words.
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 [Reitzen], Taker [Nehmen], or Hitter [Treffen]. 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. (11)
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. (12)
Various craftiness is called for with this cutting in the Before, for you can easily see that since you can neither cut nor thrust without making yourself open, he will have positioned himself in this parrying so that when you [he] sees you make yourself open by cutting, he can at once crowd in at your opening. Therefore if you will cut or thrust against him in the Before, then you must use the first cut more to provoke and goad him than to hit, so that when he cuts at the opening that you have offered with this cutting, you are positioned to strike and take it out; at once after you have weakened him and made him open, you will thirdly rush to the opening, actually completing the attack this time. From this arise the three cuts that one shall truly consider a test of a master.
These three cuts were greatly valued by the combat masters of old, since the five” arose from them. This is not to imply that no other cuts are worth reckoning, but rather that all cuts are divided into these three types, namely that some are used to provoke the opponent out of his advantage; others to parry and send away your opponent’s cuts; and some are used to hit, chiefly to harm the body. And it doesn’t matter if you use one or two or even more cuts for each one of them, or with what cuts this is executed. (13)
The topic of targeting the opponent’s body isn’t discussed in any detail in most treatises and while Meyer touches upon the topic here and there, even he isn’t very explicit about where to aim our cuts. However, looking at the three Roman statues on the left in the image below we see some very interesting lines depicted, the first showing four vertical lines (one obscured by angle), the second showing three diagonal lines and the third and last statue showing three horisontal lines.
It is my belief that these statues are showing not only cutting angles but also where to aim one’s cuts at a body, pointing to the very weakest areas of a human body. Looking closely we see the first statue showing vertical cuts against the shoulder joints and the neck on both sides, the second showing cuts against the neck, below the ribs and above the knee, although only cut from upper right, and the last and third statue showing horisontal cuts against the throat, the lower gut and the knee cap.
These particular areas are again depicted in a particular image of a rapier fencer as shown on the left, where we are shown diagonal cuts from both sides, again aimed at the very weakest areas of a body.
This type of diagram we also see returning some 100 years later in Ettenhard’s illustration in Compendio de Los Fundamentos de La Verdadera Destreza of 1675, as seen on the right, and returning again in 1805 in Antonio de Brea’s ‘Principios universales y reglas generales de la verdadera destreza’ as seen below.
This diagram bears a remarkable similarity to Meyer’s statues if we consider what targets these lines actually point our attention too, with the exception for no lines over the legs in Brea’s version.
In his last unfinished Rostock Treatise of 1571 Meyer himself claims to have studied rappier under “Italians, Spanish, Neapolitans, French and Germans” (see Meyer’s Masters), so it seems likely that he would be familiar with the tradition of Verdadera Destreza and possibly the teachings of Meyer’s contemporary Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza or other like-minded early sources in this tradition, or in the older Spanish Esgrima Común (common fencing). If that also means he was familiar with this type of diagram is harder to tell, since these targets are also aimed at in regular fencing illustrations even earlier in history, but it is interesting to note how Meyer adds these statues and it is quite possible that all these sources borrow from an earlier source. However, it could also be a result of the type of common thinking of the time, where fencing aims at being regarded as a science, rather than as before; as an art. This we see with e.g. Camillo Agrippa and his school of fencing, which more explicitly adds geometry into the fencing theory of the time.
So what other evidence do we have that these lines actually point to targets and not just show directions? Well, Carranza’s student Pacheco de Narvaez’s ‘ has the master questioning the Diestro:
What is the purpose of all this lines, circles and squares in Destreza?”
The Diestro’s answer is:
They are used as touching places for the wounds/hits, and in each of them should be executed [the wound/hit] without alteration. To do it in different manner would have known risk, and each wound/hit takes the name according where it is executed. (14)
– Translated by Jorge Luis Pacheco Ancheyta
This appears to confirm that these lines aren’t placed on a whim, but indeed placed at particular points on the body with the aim of hitting on those specific spots. The evidence is of course not inconclusive as it is separated with 55 years from Meyer but it is quite intriguing and comparing Meyer to early Verdadera Destreza or to the older Esgrima Común should be an interesting topic for further research.
Finally, this does not necessarily mean that these targeting points extend to the use of other weapons, but given Meyer’s other advice and how he appears to teach principles that are applicable to all weapons, but in the order of which the weapons were taught and trained in the fencing guilds, with constantly increasing complexity and lethality as his treatise progresses, it is at least a distinct possibility. After all, these points are all quite weak regardless of what weapon used.
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 Mentality and tactics.
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)
12. The Line and protecting the hands
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!
1. See also Codex Wallerstein – A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the Longsword, Falchion, Dagger and wrestling, by Grzegorz Zabinski, page 13:
“As it can be seen from the above comments, the Bloßfechten section in part A of the Codex Wallerstein bears several similarities to other swordsmanship manuals, with special regard to that by Fiore dei Liberi;46 however, it cannot be determined here whether it was caused by a direct influence of this work, mutual contacts and analogies between German and Italian swordsmanship, or by merely solving similar problems in a similar manner.”
2. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.9.V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
3. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.10.V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
4. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.10.V) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
5. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (Foreword to the reader) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
6. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.16R) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
7. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (2.18R-2.18r2) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
8. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.19r1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
9. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.23R) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
10. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (1.26R) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
11. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (2.18R-2.18r2) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
12. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (2.67R-2.67v1) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
13. Meyer Joachim (1570): Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens (2.99R) Translation by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng
14. Pacheco de Narvaez (1625): Modo facil y nuevo para examinarse los Maestros en la Destreza de las Armas. Translation by Jorge Luis Pacheco Ancheyta