A Modern Gloss: The Zornhau and its Techniques II


A Modern Gloss: The Zornhau and its Techniques II

The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.


The Zornhau and its Techniques


The Zornhau or Wrath-hew is the first of the Five Hidden Hews to be described. It is the most powerful of all hews, and it goes diagonally downwards from the shoulder along the same trajectory that an angry unskilled fencer would most likely strike at his target, hence its name. The simple yet powerful execution of the Zornhau makes it easy to employ once understood, and therefore highly useful in combat. The ingenuousness of this hew is not in how it is physically executed, but in how it is tactically implemented. Used in the correct manner, the Wrath-hew counters all hews from above, which are the most common type of attack encountered, and is particularly useful against quick attacks from the opponent.

Pedagogically, the purpose of the Zornhau section of the zettel is to teach a fencer starting out in Liechtenauer’s art how to control the fight by inviting an anticipated attack and breaking that attack with a counter, which is a technique that protects and causes harm to the opponent either in the same motion or nearly the same motion. The plays of the Zornhau are not true invitations, but they do contain elements of inviting attacks which allow the student to learn such invitations through fencing without consciously attempting to do so. For example, in the approach, lifting your sword to your shoulder invites an attack, being as how it is not a point forward defensive position.

The lessons of the Zornhau teach you how to fight from the lower bind, and include teachings on counter-attacking, binding, Feeling, fighting in close combat, and attacking the openings on the opponent, forming a foundation upon which the other teachings stand.


A Lesson on Binding

This precisely mark,
Hew, stab, Leaguer, Soft or Hard,
Indes, and Before, After,
Without haste. Your War should not be rushed.

This is a lesson of the Zornhau that deals with the Binden or binding of the swords, and the Winding that follows therefrom. When your opponent has bound with you from any attack, whether it be a hew or a stab or something else, then do not act with haste and quickly leave his sword without first assessing the bind. If you act thus with undue haste and leave his sword when it is not appropriate, then this may place you in great danger because you open yourself to his attacks, especially if his sword is nearer to you than you must travel with yours to reach him. Instead, when the swords initially clash upon each other, before you make any other action, first determine if the opponent is Soft or Hard in the bind, that is, if you can reasonably move or manipulate his sword or not. As soon as you determine this, then Indes, that is, at the right moment, while he is still giving the pressure that you have assessed, use the technique that is appropriate against his Soft or Hard pressure, working against the Weak or Strong of his sword, and always attacking the closest opening, as you will be taught in more detail later.



When your opponent has bound with you on the sword when he cuts or thrusts or otherwise, stick to his sword for a moment. If you leave the bind prematurely you will be struck, most likely with a thrust. Instead, stick to his blade a moment and actively feel the strength of his pressure. This is easiest with two sharp blades, which actually stick to one another, but even with blunts or feders you can feel a great deal if you apply "active feeling" by pushing, prodding, and groping a little bit with your sword. Do not stand and wait passively, seeing what he will do, for such a fencer is often defeated, but rather test his pressure with your own. If he yields, thrust into the next opening. If he leaves the bind, stab him. If he pushes past, yield and wind or leave the bind and strike to the next opening. Fencing without attempting to employ feeling to make decisions is counter to the system described throughout this work.

It is important to note here the words hard and soft. To reiterate, hard does not necessarily mean that your opponent is moving your sword. It could simply mean that their sword is unyielding to your pressure, rather than yielding to it.


The Krieg


This section is on the middle phase of the fight, called the Krieg or War, which occurs after the initial attack has been made from the Approach, and consists of Winding and subsequent techniques which attack the Four Openings of the opponent’s body with the point, ending when a withdrawal from or sufficient stifling of the opponent is made. This phase is called the Krieg because while in it you are actively engaged in fighting against your opponent at close distance, as in a War. The following teaches you how to attack one opening after another in succession until the opponent is struck.

Who enters the War
above, he becomes ashamed below.

This is a lesson on attacking your opponent above and below in the Krieg.

  1. When your opponent hews at you from above, and you respond with the Zornhau, if he then parries your sword somewhat, so that you may not immediately stab him with your point and leaves his sword in control of the center, then Wind up on your left side with your short-edge on his blade, moving your strong to his weak, and stab above into his upper opening on his left side.
  2. If your opponent parries this high stab of yours away from his opening to his left side, then remain in the position into which you have Wound, with your hands high and the hilt before your head, and move your point down to his lower opening on his left side, stabbing him there.
  3. If your opponent then follows after your sword to parry you again, move your point to the lower opening of his right side, and stab him there.
  4. If he follows after your sword once again to parry, then raise your blade up on your left side, and hang the point in above to the upper opening on his right side, on the inside of his sword, and stab him there.

In this sequence, you have attacked him high and low on both sides with the Winding, responding to his parrying by attacking from one opening to the next. It is important to remember to never skip an opening, but always attack the nearest in the most direct way possible in order to take the most advantage of time. Attacking quickly in this way keeps the opponent in the Nach, and allows you to keep attacking in the Vor, until the opponent is outmaneuvered and eventually hit. Be sure to drive ever forward towards his openings with your sword with the Winding, never hesitating and giving him an instant’s opportunity to attack you.



It is important to note here that there is an alternative interpretation to the order of steps listed above. The interpretation above was selected due to the associated image in MS CL23842, shown to the right. In Step 1, the instructions of the original glosses may be read as if the attacker should wind up to the right instead of up to the left. This drastically changes the movements through the play, as winding up to the right necessitates further winding through all of the hangers to get to the end as you continue to seek the openings with your point instead of just moving the point around their defenses.

It is possible that this play could be acceptable in both ways, depending on how your opponent parries the initial Zornhau. If the opponent parries in such a way that their point is threatening you, winding up to the right is too risky, while the wind up to the left will clear their threat and allow you to continue through the instruction. If they parry you but are not threatening you with their point, the wind to the right is both safe and easier to perform due to the relationships between the weak and the strong.

The sequence of attacks, meaning, which openings are attacked and in what order, are significant here. The student has not yet been introduced to the four openings, which are not an arbitrary division but rather a map of quadrants that dictate the manner and order of your attacks against your opponent. This will be described further under the section on the four openings.


Three Wounders

In all Winding,
Hew, stab, slice, learn to find.
Also shall you with
Proving hew, stab, or slice.
In all hits
You will trick the Masters.

This is a lesson contained in the Zornhau which applies to all Winding with the sword, and it should be very well practiced so that you will be able to execute it correctly and quickly when the situation arises. When you employ the Winding from the Zornhau, as has been explained previously, or from any other binding of the swords, then know that each Winding may employ one of three particular types of attacks, or Wounders; namely, a stab, a hew, or a slice. You should utilize the one of these that is most direct, quick, and appropriate for attacking the target to which you are Winding.

Stabs are useful against all of the opponent’s openings; hews in the Winding are not as powerful as when they are free, and so should be limited to the head, face, or neck; and slices must be drawn across bare flesh to be most effective, and so they should be limited to the face and the neck, or hands and wrists in the case of an over or under slice. Do not recklessly attack with one of these techniques if another would have been more appropriate, but train yourself to recognize and quickly employ the best one for the circumstances. If you master this skill and utilize these techniques at the appropriate times whenever you bind with your opponents, then it will be very hard for even experienced fencers or masters to defend against you. A more complete explanation of the particular attacks in Winding will be discussed later in the Conclusion of the Epitome.



Engagement distance can help determine which of the three wounders you should employ. If you are at a distance where your point can comfortably be brought to bear, usually a further distance, you should consider the thrust. If you are slightly closer, at a distance where a cut can comfortably be made from the bind, you should consider the cut. If you are at a much closer distance, or if your opponent's structure is collapsing, you should consider the slice or press. In a following section, the Duplieren is described as a cut. However, in following plays where the opponent ends up closer, the same motion is described as a slice across the mouth instead of a cut. Alternatively, the Winding action described in a previous section can employ a thrust, a cut, or an under slice. If at at a further distance, it works as described with a thrust. If slightly closer, the wind may result in a horizontal cut to the left side of their head. At a closer distance, and with some collapsing from your opponent, the same motion may place the edge on their wrists, employing the under slice.


A Modern Gloss: The Zornhau and its Techniques


A Modern Gloss: The Zornhau and its Techniques


The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.


The Zornhau and its Techniques


The Zornhau or Wrath-hew is the first of the Five Hidden Hews to be described. It is the most powerful of all hews, and it goes diagonally downwards from the shoulder along the same trajectory that an angry unskilled fencer would most likely strike at his target, hence its name. The simple yet powerful execution of the Zornhau makes it easy to employ once understood, and therefore highly useful in combat. The ingenuousness of this hew is not in how it is physically executed, but in how it is tactically implemented. Used in the correct manner, the Wrath-hew counters all hews from above, which are the most common type of attack encountered, and is particularly useful against quick attacks from the opponent.

Pedagogically, the purpose of the Zornhau section of the zettel is to teach a fencer starting out in Liechtenauer’s art how to control the fight by inviting an anticipated attack and breaking that attack with a counter, which is a technique that protects and causes harm to the opponent either in the same motion or nearly the same motion. The plays of the Zornhau are not true invitations, but they do contain elements of inviting attacks which allow the student to learn such invitations through fencing without consciously attempting to do so. For example, in the approach, lifting your sword to your shoulder invites an attack, being as how it is not a point forward defensive position.

The lessons of the Zornhau teach you how to fight from the lower bind, and include teachings on counter-attacking, binding, Feeling, fighting in close combat, and attacking the openings on the opponent, forming a foundation upon which the other teachings stand.


Zornhau Ort

Who Over-hews you,
Wrath-hew point threatens him.

Perform the Wrath-hew thus:

When you come to the opponent at the onset of the fight and he acts Before you by hewing to your head from above on his right side, then go After him by hewing wrathfully against his sword with your long edge, also from above your right side. With this hew you defend yourself against his attack, but in doing so you should not parry his sword widely by letting your point go up or out to the side, which would not threaten him, and therefore leave you open to another attack, but instead always direct your point towards his face or chest as you bind against his sword, so that you have a shorter path to your opponent with your weapon than he has to you. Do not make any concessions towards a parry—do not turn your edge against his hew, do not move your hands out to the side, etc. Hew to the centerline and not past it, or you may fall victim to a failer. As you bind, you must be sure to remain centered with the sword by using proper structure and body mechanics, as you have previously been taught. If when you bind on his sword with yours you then perceive that he is Soft on the sword, that is, if he allows your point to get on target by yielding in the bind and allowing you to take control of the centerline between you and him, then Indes shoot in your point long out before you, using your core to drive the action, straight into his face or chest, where you stab him. This stab must follow your hew as quickly as you perceive that the opponent is Soft and susceptible, lest you give him time to attack you once more. This counter-attack sequence of hew and stab is called the Zornhau Ort, or Wrath-hew Point, sometimes also referred to as the Lang Zornort or Long Wrath-Point due to its full extension of the point with the stab.

As with all techniques, footwork facilitates sword-work, placing your body in the proper position in space at the correct time. With this particular technique, since the opponent is closing the distance, you may step to switch which foot is forward and which is back while remaining in place or you may choose not to take a step at all, and instead turn the hips with the strike. Alternatively, you may find it necessary to step a little forward or backward and to your right with the right foot while hewing the Zornhau, immediately following the hew with the left foot quickly behind you, a bit out to your right side, which brings your body back into a proper stance against your opponent. This will provide an advantageous angle slightly out to your opponent’s left side, with the stab following this step.


Oben Abgenomen

Becomes he aware of it,
Then take off above without danger.


This is the description of the technique which follows the Zornhau Ort, if it is defended against by the opponent. If you have executed the Zornhau against the opponent’s attack, as described previously, and he perceives your stab and parries it widely to his left side with his Strong on your Weak and his point upwards or outwards away from you, then as he does so, pull your sword’s blade up and over his, keeping pressure along his own blade, going no farther up with the blade than it must travel to clear his point, and then strike down to his head on the other side of his sword, along a similar angle to which your sword first ascended over your opponent’s. This action is called Taking-Off Above, or Oben Abgenomen, and may be performed whenever your opponent parries your sword widely in this way. Be sure to not only use your arms to provide power for this technique, but the whole body, as you have been taught.

You may employ Oben Abgenomen without danger because while you are attacking your opponent he is preoccupied with only defending himself, instead of attacking or counter-attacking you. In order for your opponent to most effectively parry your Zornhau Ort, if you have performed it correctly with adequate force, he must parry your Weak with his Strong, well out to his left side, thus defending one opening only to expose another, which you may immediately attack. This technique should be performed quickly and efficiently so that the opponent is struck before he realizes what you are doing, and does not have an opportunity to parry you once more.

The Oben Abgenomen is an illustration of the concept of using Weak against Strong. When the opponent realizes that you have taken the center away from him with the Zornhau and panics when he sees the Ort shooting towards him, he naturally overcompensates in his defense, crossing the centerline with his sword by defending against your Weak with his Strong, positioning his blade harmlessly away from you to the side. Instead of attempting to fight against his Strong dominant mechanical advantage, you wisely leave the useless bind with your Weak, giving into his misguided action, and strike him to the other side where he has widely exposed himself. It is important to remain in the bind as long as possible, and thus keep pressure along his sword as you drive up and over it. In this way, you deprive him as long as possible of any feedback indicating that you are looking to leave the bind.

This technique is a counter to the Oben Abgenomen. If you have mistakenly parried widely out of fear, and your opponent takes off above and will hew down upon your head, as was previously described, then as his sword comes down towards you, hew also strongly against his head from above on your left, binding against his sword and deflecting it off to the right. Afterwards, whether you have hit him or not, work against him with attacks as you determine if he is Soft or Hard on the sword with the techniques that you see fit, as you will learn later in the teachings. With this counter, you have successfully defended yourself and taken back the Vor using the Nach, after having initially lost your advantage with a wide parry which did not threaten the opponent.



The Oben Agbenomen represents one of the four ways Liechtenauer presents to get to the other side of an opponent’s sword. The four ways to get to the other side of an opponent's sword are:

1. Oben Ab Genommen (Taking Away Above), which goes over the parrying blade.

2. Durchwechseln/Durchgehen (Changing through), which passes under the parrying or attacking blade

3. Zucken (Pulling), which is a pull back towards yourself to break or prevent the bind of a parrying blade, letting it pass by)

4. Umbschlagen (Striking around), which comes away from one side, goes around/behind the head, and strikes in from the opposite side ]



Be Stronger against,
Wind, Stab. Sees he, then take it down.


This is a lesson on what to do if, when you hew a Zornhau against your opponent’s Oberhau, you feel that he is Hard in the bind rather than Soft. In this situation, instead of being Soft and allowing you to take the center with your sword and stab into his face or chest with the Ort, your opponent is Hard and resists your pressure, holding strongly with his sword directed against your head or upper body. In such a situation, you may not stab his face as with the Zornhau Ort, since your point is not on line, and you may not safely leave his sword as with the Oben Abgenomen, since he is threatening you with the point or edge of his blade. Instead, you must use a technique called Winding or Winden, which allows you to remain safely in the bind while using your Strong to gain a mechanical advantage in order to manipulate your opponent’s threat away from you and simultaneously offend him with your Weak.

To do this, when you bind with the Zornhau against his Oberhau and he is Hard and unyielding with his sword, then remain firm in the bind with your sword, and drive high up with your arms and with your sword along his sword so that the Strong of your sword is in contact with his Weak. Simultaneously Wind or turn your short edge underneath and then against his sword, positioning your grip so that the pad of your thumb is below, in contact with the inside flat of your blade, and direct your point against his face from above, making sure to keep your hilt before your head to defend yourself against his blade, and then stab into his face. Winding this way, on the inside of his sword, protects you from his threatening blade while dominating the bind, overcoming his strength by using Art to gain superior leverage, and giving you control of the centerline so that you may attack him with your point. Be sure not to be feeble in your Winding, but utilize strong mechanics, keeping your wrists and elbows from being overly bent and collapsed in toward you. Note that whenever you Wind, you shorten your reach with the sword because your hands must travel away from the centerline where you have the most extension with your sword towards your opponent. Therefore, when employing Winding, you may find it necessary to adjust your body’s distance from your opponent in order to reach him, which you should do as necessary, being sure not to compromise the structural integrity or leverage advantage of your sword’s position.

If your opponent notices that you are stabbing at him in time to defend himself, and does so by lifting his arms up and parrying with the hilt above his head, which does not threaten you, then remain in the position into which you have wound, with your hilt before your head, and Indes leave his sword with your point by moving it around his hilt to the right side, and in the same motion, take it down below to stab his throat or chest between his arms, which is the nearest opening. This action is the quickest and most efficient means of defeating his high defense against your stab from Winding, and should be executed with economy of motion, moving only the point of your sword around his hilt to the target. With your sword and hilt still over your head, you are protected from any desperate attack he makes while you stab him. As with all such techniques, it is best if you stab him while he is still in the process of defending himself from your previous attack, because his sword cannot travel in two directions at once.




The majority of Zornhau plays, up to mutieren and duplieren, deal with attacks out of distance, whether these are long and free hews, the sort of cut to center and press with the point attacks discussed in the general teachings (which Zornhau counters quite effectively) or the result of a manipulation of distance by the person being attacked (the one executing the zornhau). Some of these same principles apply to a committed attack, but the Zornhau offers dedicated ways to deal with that in duplieren and mutieren. Since so much of the Zornhau deals with out of distance binds, we can also assume that creating that distance, or anticipating it—i.e. working from that distance in Krieg—is an important element of KDF fencing. The Oben Abgenomen is a second oberhau delivered as a nachschlag (After strike), and thus must be performed at an effective cutting range. The Winding is a re-orientation of your point to the centerline by gaining superior leverage, which must be done at a range in which your point can effectively and quickly be brought back to the center line. If your point ends up past your opponent’s head or body, generally due to the fighters being closer together and almost cross to cross on the swords, the Duplieren and Mutieren options that will follow later would be more appropriate.

The Winden play above is the beginning of a concept we will see a bit later in the Edel Krieg, or "Noble War," which emphasizes constantly seeking the openings and keeping your opponent under continuous pressure. Here we start with an attack to the upper left opening, but having been parried we seek a thrust to the upper right opening through the use of the "first winding," or a twisting motion into left ochs when bound on the inside. Should that thrust fail, we seek the upper left opening (the neck) or leave the bind altogether to seek the breast between the arms and under the opponent's raised hands, fulfilling the maxim, "He who parries above is ashamed below."


Training Tip


When drilling the Zornhau or any of its derivatives, make sure that neither partner is over-exaggerating their cuts so to pass over or across an opponent instead of driving at the opponent. A Zorn-ort, especially, will never come to fruition against an oberhau pushed far to the right of it's target, for example. This is a common drilling problem with the Zornhau that we tend to look for first.


A Modern Gloss: The 17 Hauptstuecke


A Modern Gloss: The 17 Hauptstuecke

The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.

The Techniques of the Epitome

This section teaches you about the core pieces of fencing within Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art of the Sword, including how many there are and what they are named.


The Seventeen Hauptstuecke

Wrath hew, Crooked, Thwart,
Have Squinter with Parter.
Fool, parries,
Travelling-after, Over-running, Set hews,
Changing-through, Pull,
Run-through, Slice-off, Press hands,
Hang, Wind, with openings,
Blows, grasp, strike, stab with thrusting.

This is a listing of the Seventeen Hauptstuecke or Chief Techniques of the Epitome of the long sword. These are the particular techniques or categories of actions used in the Art of Fencing, each given a name so that they may be more easily remembered. You shall learn how to fight with these Seventeen Chief Techniques later on in this text, one following after another according to the order which follows.

The first five are the Hidden Hews:

  1. The Wrath-Hew
  2. The Crooked-hew
  3. The Thwart-hew
  4. The Squint-hew
  5. The Parting-hew

Next are the Twelve Techniques:

  1. The Four Guards
  2. The Four Forfendings
  3. The Travelling-after
  4. The Over-running
  5. The Setting-off
  6. The Changing-through
  7. The Pulling
  8. The Running-through
  9. The Slicing-off
  10. The Hand Pressing
  11. The Hangings
  12. The Windings

These Hauptstuecke are used to illustrate both broadly applicable lessons and specific technical actions, and to provide examples of applications of the principles described by the Five Words. They are the physical manifestations of these principles, which are presented in concrete forms in order to help you better learn the nature and use of the Art. Although each technique is usually presented with one or more specific examples, they should be applied freely in any situation in which the required stimulus for their use is met. Any such extrapolation of the techniques should always be guided by the principles of the Five Words in order to be congruent with the Art. You must learn how, why, when, and against what to use each technique before your fencing will be effective. You will find all of these things written in this book, but should know that it is much easier to learn with the hand under the watch of an experienced teacher than it is to be taught from a book; so study these words well and practice often if you wish to learn this Art.

Of the 17 Hauptstuecke, first are presented the Five Hews, which provide a series of structured set plays, consisting of techniques and counters, containing practical examples of all the following 12 Hauptstuecke. This section gives you an introduction to the use of the Art, and functional lessons on how to apply its core lessons in an orderly manner. The nature of these examples is that most of them are interchangeable between the Five Hews. As a result, the first hew, the Zornhau, contains a great number of plays and largely describes the actions that may be taken from a lower, inside bind. The second hew, the Krumphau, is more specialized in its use and contains a limited number of unique plays; however, because it often results in an inside bind, a failed Krumphau can quickly become an exercise in Zornhau’s plays from the lower inside bind. The third hew, the Zwerchau, like the Zornhau, is fleshed out with a wide array of additional movements, relevant techniques, and opportune principles. Many of these techniques do not so much belong to the Zwerchau as they are most easily illustrated from it. Thus the plays of the Zwerchau describe the actions that may be taken from an upper, inside bind. The fourth hew, the Schielhau, like Krumphau, focuses on its more limited applications; however, like the Krumphau, a failed Schielhau benefits from the many plays of its predecessor—in this case, the Zwerchau. The final hew, the Scheitelhau contains a very limited number of extended play, as most other probable engagements from it have been previously covered.

Following the Five Hews are the other 12 Hauptstuecke, which detail the main components of the Art in isolation. These too are described using practical examples, but are also explained abstractly, allowing you to understand in detail all of the separate components inherent in the earlier section on the Five Hews, and also how they may freely work together in different ways than the examples given. All of these lessons together present a highly adaptable system comprised of various individual components, which is grounded in the practice of several set illustrative techniques.

You should know that, although each fencer who studies Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s teachings learns the same Art according to the Zettel, since everyone thinks differently from everyone else and has different physical abilities, the Art may be applied in varying ways accordingly. One fencer may be aggressive, another wary, one quick, another slow, according to their temperaments and physiques. As long as a fencer follows the principles of the Art, he will hardly be defeated. Learning to apply these principles takes a great deal of training and practice with the techniques which manifest them.

It is also important to know that there is a difference between fencing in play and fencing in earnest. He who is stronger and makes much use of his strength often has an advantage in play, but in earnest it is the fencer with the greatest skill who has the advantage. Fencing in play must be done as realistically as possible in order to be useful for training; otherwise it is done only in vanity, and may teach bad habits.

Know also that fencers are not weighted down with the burden of trying to adhere to these teachings before they begin learning the Art, and so they act easily and freely when they fence, but do so ignorantly, according only to their natural abilities. While learning the Art, students become knowledgeable and skilled, but often act slowly, incorrectly, erratically, unconfidently, or dangerously, due to the fact that they are attempting to inexpertly act in accordance with the teachings, but cannot do so easily or freely. After having internalized the Art, masters act with great skill, correctly using all manner of techniques freely and easily. These masters do not need to actively think about the actions that they take, but effortlessly follow the teachings in everything that they do. Although they do not consciously consider each technique, they freely and fluidly use them based on opportunity according to the teachings.


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - The Five Words


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - The Five Words

The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.

General Lessons

The lessons contained in the following verses form the tactical framework for the Art of the Sword. Within this section are teachings on hewing, seizing the initiative, how to attack your opponent, from what side to attack, strategic principles, and special hews; making up the commonly applicable lessons of Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art.

The Five Words

Before and After, these two things, 
Are to all Art a well-spring. 
Weak and Strong, 
Indes, that word therewith mark. 
So you may learn
Working and defending with Art. 
If you readily frighten, 
No fencing ever learn.

This lesson is on the fundamental principles of fencing, encapsulated by Master Liechtenauer in Five Words. The first two of these words, Vor or Before and Nach or After, describe the timing of actions made by yourself and your opponent in relation to one another. These words are to be understood before all other things, because they contain the most basic lessons of attack and defense. The next two words, Swech or Weak and Sterck or Strong, describe physical parts of the blade, and their relation to each other while in the bind, which in turn determines what actions may be made therefrom, according to leverage. Finally comes the word Indes or Meanwhile, which applies throughout the fight, utilizes the other four words, and relates to acting at a time within your opponent’s or your own actions. The lessons contained by these Five Words are the foundation of actual combat, and if they are not understood, then no skill can be achieved. These principles are not limited to fencing with the long sword, but are eternally applicable to all weapons and disciplines, so study and learn them well.


The Before (Vor)

If the opponent does not act first, then you should act Before him by attacking his head or body with your sword, whether it be with a hew or a stab. It is safe to launch an attack against your opponent in this situation because you are acting Before he makes his own attack against you. This situation can come about for many reasons; if the opponent hesitates, if the opponent does not understand proper distance, if the opponent waits for you to act, etc… Always be sure that you are indeed acting in the Before when you attack, otherwise you may be struck due to your mistake. It is a great advantage to act Before your opponent, and you should always do so when possible, because doing so forces him to be defensive and not take control of the fight. Once you have ascertained that you may act in the Before, then attack him bravely and quickly, and the opponent must parry this or be struck. If he does manage to parry, then do not tarry after your attack, with your mind and body hesitating where you’ve struck, but work Indes within his actions, continuously attacking him with skill while staying in constant motion, so that he must always attempt to defend himself and not be allowed to attack you. Examples of utilizing the Before will be described in detail later.


The After (Nach)

If the opponent acts Before you by attacking first, then you must go After him by defending yourself. Therefore, the After consists of the defenses you employ against your opponent’s attacks when he goes Before you. The opponent may force you to go After him if he rushes upon you with great speed, better utilizes distance, you hesitate, etc… It is best to not be forced to go After the opponent, but if you must, then defend yourself well, and with your parry work Indes within his action, counter-attacking him with skill, so that you defeat his attack and take the Before back for yourself, so that he is then forced into the After, where you further work Indes, within his actions, and stay in constant motion with your attacks, as was explained before. Examples of employing the After will be described in detail later.


The Weak (Schwech) and the Strong (Sterck)

These two words describe the upper and lower halves of the sword’s blade, and how they interact with those of your opponent’s. From the hilt of the sword to the middle of the blade is the Strong, and further from the middle of the blade to the point is the Weak. These names refer to the amount of leverage these parts of the swords have when bound against another sword. With the Weak of the sword, you are not physically able to hold against the opponent’s Strong. When he pushes your Weak harmlessly away with his Strong, then Indes freely leave his sword and attack him on the other side where he has exposed himself. The Weak of your sword is used primarily to attack your opponent, since it has the most reach and velocity while attacking. With the Strong of your sword, you may manipulate the opponent’s Weak. Use the Strong of your sword to force his Weak out of the way and Indes attack him where you may. The Strong of your sword is employed primarily to defend yourself against your opponent’s attacks, since with it you may forcefully oppose your opponent’s hews or stabs. Specific examples of using the Weak and Strong of the sword will be described in detail later.


Meanwhile (Indes)

Indes refers to the time within another action, after it has begun, but before it has ended. Acting against your opponent in this time results in a great timing advantage. Its proper use is written about above in the description of the other Words, since it is present in all of them. You may act Indes with prudence against your opponent, both at long distance when you approach him, before your swords have bound together, and also at close distance, after you have bound upon his sword. Indes is essential to the concept of Feeling or Fuehlen, which is the act of sensing your opponent’s Hard (Hert) or Soft (Weich) pressure in the bind, allowing you to then act accordingly with the correct techniques against the Weak and Strong of his sword. In order to properly utilize Indes, one must correctly internalize each technique, through training, to the point that they may immediately utilize it once properly stimulated through Fuehlen. This makes use of the subconscious mind, which does not rely on conscious cognition before acting, thereby circumventing the slower processes involved in such, and allowing the fencer to make instantaneous, almost mechanical, reactions. The use of this word will be described in more detail later in this book.


When you have truly learned and understood these Five Words, then you will have great skill with the sword, and in all the Art of Fencing. However, be forewarned that those who frighten easily should not learn this Art for use in earnest combat, for in such a fight with sharp swords, he who has a despondent heart will be defeated regardless of all his skill. This is because it takes a brave fencer who is confident in his abilities, who trusts his sword and the Art, to enable him to defeat his opponents, otherwise he will not utilize the Art correctly, but forget its use and succumb to his opponent’s attacks.



The five words revolve around determining, maintaining, and retaking the initiative. Vor and Nach describe your state and determine if you should be immediately concerned with striking your opponent or defending against his actions. The relationship between strong and weak helps you determine who has the advantage in leverage within any given bind, and Indes is your mechanism for making decisions based on your state, your advantage or disadvantage, and the feeling (fühlen) you are perceiving from your opponent. Fühlen is a critical component of the art, and fühlen comes before the next action. It is not incidental to the action, nor is it merely noticing the success or failure of your action after the fact, but must be perceived before a decision is made Indes.

The Five Words allow a fencer the ability to determine if they have the right to attack. Not just the ability to, or if they could, but straight up if they have earned the right to attack. Are you in or can reliably claim the Vor? Do you have the advantage in the bind you are in? Can you make the correct decision indes? If you answered yes to all three of these, you have the right to attack. Otherwise, assume you're about to get attacked, and focus on dealing with your opponent's weapon first, ideally in a way that allows you to reclaim the Vor and earn the right to attack.

Vor and Nach can be traded back and forth many times over a single exchange. If Fencer siezes the Vor in the onset by striking left Oberhau to Opponent’s right Vom Tag, Opponent is forced to respond. Opponent is responding in Nach. If Opponent defends themself with the strong of their sword and with the point upwards, Opponent has a leverage advantage in the bind, but Fencer is likely still the fighter in the Vor. Fencer may choose to perform a zeckrur Indes to the other side after determining that they are in the Vor but that the bind is disadvantageous, but not threatening, to them. Opponent, having not yet presented a threat, remains in the Nach and must defend against this zeckrur. Instead of performing a simple defense. Opponent, also Indes, determined that Fencer was leaving the blade to strike to the other side. Instead of performing a simple parry against the second strike, Opponent decides to parry while moving the point in front of Fencer’s face. Opponent was forced to defend in Nach, but instantly retakes the Vor if this defense with an advantageous bind an immediate threat is successful.


Additional Comments: Jake Norwood

The following video, beginning at 58:15, is a more in depth explanation of the five words and how they fit into Liechtenauer's system.


Training Tip

Learning what the Five Words and their definitions are is a good introduction to Liechtenauer’s system, but internalizing the use of these words is critical. Slow sparring at speeds, somewhere around 30% where it’s likely no one will ever really get hit, becomes incredibly useful when focusing on these concepts. As you move through exchanges slowly, occasionally freeze mid-action and talk about who is in the Vor and Nach, who has the advantage in the binds, who may be pressuring more than the other, who is moving in or out of distance, etc. This exercise will help you learn to make these decisions, and then apply the same orientation and decision making skills at higher speeds.

Note: Slow sparing in itself is a difficult skill to learn. The fighter who is defending needs to be as honest as they can with their defenses, as it is natural for the defender to speed up just enough to ensure a defense is successful. Fighting in this way requires that both fencers approach it as if the fight is full speed. Once an action is committed to, it should not be altered in a way that wouldn’t be realistic at full speed just because you’re more clearly able to determine what your opponent is performing mid-action.


The Five Hews

Five Hews learn
From the right hand. Who they defend,
They we vow
in Arts to reward well.

There are Five Hidden Hews or Fuenff Verporgen Hau, sometimes called the Master-hews, which are not commonly understood by those fencers who have not learned Master Liechtenauer’s Art. Some of these hews are simple to perform in themselves, their chief hidden use being found in their implementation rather than their basic execution. Others are executed in more specialized and strange ways in addition to their ingenious implementation. All of these hews are initially executed at the beginning of the fight from the fencer’s strong side, and if performed and utilized correctly, are very difficult to counter. They are used to either defend and counter-attack, or attack the opponent in a safe manner, or both, depending on the given situation. Whoever understands how to fight using the Five Hews, and against those who use the Five Hews, has a great advantage in their fencing, and will be greatly rewarded in their endeavors. How to execute and fence with these Five Hews, including the techniques which subsequently arise from them, will be explained in detail later in this book.


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - Attacking Your Opponent


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - Attacking Your Opponent

The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.

General Lessons

The lessons contained in the following verses form the tactical framework for the Art of the Sword. Within this section are teachings on hewing, seizing the initiative, how to attack your opponent, from what side to attack, strategic principles, and special hews; making up the commonly applicable lessons of Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art.


Taking the Initiative

Who goes after hewing,
He deserves little joy in his art.

This is the first tactical lesson that you shall learn with the long sword. When you and your opponent come near each other in the Approach or pre-fencing (Zufechten), that is, the phase of the fight in the onset before you lay on against your opponent, then you should not simply stand still and wait to see what techniques he will use against you, or try to only defensively parry against those techniques. Master Liechtenauer had a saying to this effect, “Who lies there, he is dead; he who moves, yet lives”. Assuming a passive role in the fight allows your opponent to dictate the action, which gives him a great advantage, because he will force you to parry him or be hit yourself. He may attack too quickly, strongly, or deceitfully for you to be able to defend against him properly with a counterattack. When you defend this way out of fear, then you have won no advantage, because you have not stopped your opponent from attacking you once more, but have only created another opening in yourself. In this case, your opponent may fail with his attacks many times with impunity, but you need only fail one parry to be struck, and if you never strike back, you will never win. Instead, fencing should simply be the circumvention of your opponent’s attempts to stop you from killing him.

Therefore, it is best to not even give your opponent a chance to attack you, but you should be the first to hew or stab at him, if possible. You must be sure to only do this at the right time and distance, because no amount of hews you make before you can reach your opponent will avail you if you then hold back and miss your chance to attack him when the time and distance is right. Instead, when you see that you may properly reach your opponent with your attack, and that he himself is not already attacking you, you should quickly lay upon him with Art, as you will learn hereafter. If, however, he attacks you first, then be sure to defend yourself with a counterattack, as you will learn later in the lessons on the Five Hews, etc…


Attacking your Opponent

Hew near what you will,
No Change comes on your shield.
To the head, to the body,
The lighter-strikes do not shun.
With the entire body,
Fence so that you most strongly drive.

This is another tactical lesson with the long sword, in which you are instructed how to initially attack your opponent in a safe and reliable manner, so that if you do not hit him with your first attack, you then constrain him to parry and open himself to your subsequent attacks or be struck. Do this as follows: When you and your opponent come to each other in the approach, and you perceive that you may attack him, then prepare your attack, as you have been taught before. When you see that you may reach him with a step, then do not hold back, but hew at him with the entire strength of your body, closing into him with a sure, quick step, so that he may not easily escape out of range.

This closing-step of yours should be somewhat out towards your right side, instead of directly towards the opponent, because you take him better and more strongly from the side than from straight on. This is because you come in at a slight angle toward your opponent that simultaneously allows you to fully utilize both of your arms for power and reach, and takes you away from his weapon side. Hewing thus with a quick closing step ensures that you only come into range of your opponent while presenting the threat of your attack, and if you do not do this, then he will be able to easily hit you with an attack of his own. You should also be sure to keep your sword before you as a shield by always using proper hewing mechanics, so that you bring your defense with you as you attack, keeping your opponent’s sword safely away from your body.

With this initial hew, you should attack directly to the man, aiming for the deep vital targets of his head or body, and never towards his sword, but as if he does not even have one. Attacking him so constrains him to protect himself by parrying against your attack or otherwise become struck by your hew. The concept of constraining an opponent in this way to act in obedience to your attack or be hit is called Zwingen, and is a vital aspect of many techniques. Zwingen allows you to create openings in your opponent, which you may then safely pursue and hit in a timely fashion, since he is preoccupied with defending himself and not attacking you. Ensure that you always remain with your point directed toward your opponent’s face or chest when you attack, and do not let it go far up or out to the side, so that he is ever threatened by your sword and must defend against you. In this way he is not allowed to Change-through before you, as will be explained in detail later in the section on Durchwechseln.

This first attack of yours is referred to tactically as the Vorschlag, or Fore-strike, and it is a great advantage against your opponent. With the Vorschlag you either hit him with your point, or compel him using Zwingen to defend against you. If when you attack him thus with the Vorschlag he then parries your sword, in doing so he creates new openings in himself. You should then quickly attack the nearest of these with lighter-attacks, called Zeckrur or Tap-touches, against which he must further defend or otherwise be struck. Each of these following attacks is referred to tactically as a Nachschlag, or After-strike. You should attack him continually thus with one Nachschlag after another, whether you have hit him with your Vorschlag or not, staying in constant motion until he is hit, so that he will be incessantly preoccupied with defending himself, and not be free to attack you. It is important to remain at the close distance which you have entered while pressing the advantage which you have achieved by forcing him to parry your initial attack. By pressuring him at this close distance with repeated attacks, you do not give him the time nor space to recover that he would have had if you had pulled back after your initial hew.

You will learn more about the specific ways to apply the Vorschlag and Nachschlag later in the Five Hews, but a basic example of these is as follows: When you hew near to him from above, and remain with your point towards his face or chest in the bind, if he parries strongly with his sword against yours, and lets his point go out from you on the side, then lift your sword quickly up over his blade and give him a Zeckrur on his right arm. Or, if when he parries he does so by strongly driving his arms up high, then strike him with a free hew to his left arm, or below to the left side of his body, and then step quickly backward away from him, so that he does not hit you after you’ve struck him.

When hewing, attacking with Zeckrur, or otherwise employing the sword, you must always utilize proper body mechanics, engaging your entire body in order to give proper strength to your actions. Remember to derive your power from the core of your body, moving your various parts in conjunction with your center, not acting in a disjointed and disconcerted manner. Whenever you act with the sword, you are attempting to physically perform that which you will with your mind. Therefore, it is important that you ensure that your mind, body, and sword are in accordance, working together in the most efficient way to perform your intentions.


This lesson covers the most simple and least effective way that Liechtenauer’s art uses to control the fight. While more complicated and more effective ways will be introduced later, this lesson is important for someone who is starting out in Liechtenauer’s system, since more complicated methods require additional foundational training. Controlling the fight is essential to achieving victory, and the easiest way to achieve control is to seize the Vor and force your opponent to react to your attacks.

Liechtenauer advises you to strike to the centerline and threaten with the point, rather than executing a proper hew, but still striking close enough to the opponent that he cannot distinguish your attack from one that would hit, nor can he afford to ignore the threat of the point so close to him if he can. To do so, strike just short of your opponent and keep your point threatening either his face or his chest. Thus, your attack cannot be countered easily and provides an effective motivation to your opponent to react defensively and allow you to keep the initiative. This does not mean that you strike a series of hews to the centerline. You strike one hew to the centerline and then pressure with the point. Doing the former is ineffective and your hands will be struck.

There is yet another purpose, and that is to prepare the student for the Zornhau, which is the defensive/counter application of this type of hew. In order to correctly execute the Zornhau, you need to be able to cut to the centerline and not past it. Here you are taught to do that without opposition, laying down the foundation for the Zornhau.

In regards to the portion of this lesson on body mechanics, Liechtenauer states that everything you do must be done with the strength of your entire body. The language here is important because it does not say all the strength you are capable of, but the strength of the entire body. This is a universal concept in weapon arts from every culture in every part of the world.

Additional Comments: Mike Edelson

This serves an additional purpose, and that is transitioning common fencers to fight using Liechteanuer’s philosophy and principles. Common fencers use long and free hews, meaning they attack out of distance and their strikes are not tied to any artful purpose or technique. This method for controlling the fight allows such fencers to adapt their fighting method, to which they are accustomed, to Liechtenauer’s way of doing things. Thus this is a transitional method of fighting that can be adapted to more advanced techniques down the line as the student of KDF progresses in his or her studies.


Fencing from your Strong Side

Hear what is bad there.
Fence not above left, if you are right.
If you are left,
With the right you also sorely limp.

This lesson is directed towards two types of people, right-handers and left-handers, and it teaches how you shall hew the first hew so that the opponent does not weaken you. When you come to the opponent with the approach, if you are a right-hander, then do not hew from the left side, where you are weak. Instead always hew the first hew from your right side, so that he is weak and may not hold against you when the swords bind on each other, and then work as you see fit on his sword. Likewise, if you are a left-hander, then do not hew the first hew from the right side, since it is dangerous for a left-hander to fence from the right side, as it is for a right-hander from the left side.


The advice for fencing from your strong side does not change when fighting an opposite-handed fighter. For instance, if Fighter 1 is right handed, Fighter 2 is left handed, and both fighters are standing in their dominant side guards at the shoulder, they are mirrored. Fighter 1, who is right handed, may be tempted to strike from his left to Fighter 2’s upper right opening. This essentially gives Fighter 2 an immediately advantage in the bind, as Fighter 1’s hands are crossed and weaker than Fighter 2’s uncrossed hands.

Instead, continuing to use a simple oberhau to an upper opening as an example, Fighter 1 would be better served by attacking Fighter 2’s upper left opening, where the sword is. If Fighter 1 strikes to Fighter 2’s upper left opening, and Fighter 2 parries, the handedness of Fighter 2 no longer matters. This bind is the same bind as the one offered if a right handed fighter had parried Fighter 1’s oberhau. Except, now, Fighter 1 has not given up striking from the stronger side.

As do most rules in Liechtenauer's system, this has exceptions. Additionally, this is more applicable to the Five Hews and how to enter than it is to a simple oberhau. This will be expanded on in the Zwerchau section.


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - Hewing


A Modern Gloss: General Lessons - Hewing

The Modern Gloss is a project created by, written by, and edited by Cory Winslow (MEMAG), Jake Norwood (CKDF), Mike Edelson (NYHFA), and Ben Michels (BP). It is a modern take on Liechtenauer's zettel documenting our understanding of the early Kunst des Fechtens system for fighting with the longsword. This is a living project and, as such, the posts are subject to being updated or added to as we move forward. The posts themselves should not be taken in isolation, but as part of the system as a whole. All currently available posts will be catalogued on this page for easy reference.

General Lessons

The lessons contained in the following verses form the tactical framework for the Art of the Sword. Within this section are teachings on hewing, seizing the initiative, how to attack your opponent, from what side to attack, strategic principles, and special hews; making up the commonly applicable lessons of Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art.



Will you show Art,
You go left, and right with hewing.
And left with right
Is how you most strongly fence.

The first skill that you shall learn with the long sword is how to hew properly, since this is the foundation for all strong fencing. Whether medieval common fencers had a tendency to fight with right foot forward as is intuitive in modern day fighters attempting to use a two handed sword, or whether they tended to stand with the left foot forward and strike without passing, this lesson corrects these mistakes and establishes the correct way to attack the opponent with a hew.

Hewing is the act of striking forcibly with the edge of the sword in order to cut a target, and is used as either an attack or defense, or both, as will be explained later. To utilize your full reach and power with a hew, a swift engagement of the core muscles of your body is utilized to drive a step with the foot on the side from which your hew originates forward. Doing so allows the blade of your sword to travel in a full arc from one side to the other without hindrances from your body.

Hews are best performed from a balanced stance or Wag, from which you may move quickly. To position yourself in such a stance in order to prepare a hew from the right, set your left foot forward with your toes pointed ahead, and place your right foot comfortably behind, about shoulder width, and slightly out to your right side, the toes pointed roughly 45 degrees to the right. Bend your left knee and stretch the right to prepare to hew. Be sure to keep your balance centered and low at all times, especially during your hew. Your spine should be straight and erect, your shoulders should be relaxed, and your chest should be open. Your feet should not be in line with your opponent, but instead they, along with your hips, should be open somewhat in his direction. This is the basic stance with the long sword, and may be performed with either leg forward as appropriate.

It is important that you grip your sword correctly on the hilt between the cross and the pommel while hewing. Do not hold or pull the pommel with the hew. Gripping between the cross and the pommel allows for proper structure of the arms and body, allows the pommel to act as a counterbalance, and allows the sword to swing through its arc unaffected by shifting forces. Your little finger should grip the tightest, with each finger gripping more loosely in succession down to your index finger and thumb. The handle of the hilt should be held canted forward in your hands  as if shaking another hand, not straight up and down as if holding a hammer. This allows your sword to extend farther from your body while maintaining proper edge alignment with the plane of your blade’s travel. The handle of your sword should lie in both hands beneath and against the thenar eminence, which are the muscles beneath the thumb on the palm. To grip your sword in this way, wring both hands inward until you can push the sword forward with this area of your palms. This grip should not change when performing basic hews with the long edge, but special grips will be utilized later for specific techniques. Do not allow your wrists to flex forward, but keep them straight and strong. When you hew from above with this grip you will not be able to touch the ground with a normal length long sword unless you inappropriately flex your wrists, or loosen your grip.

To prepare a hew, first begin with your sword drawn back away from your target in the opposite direction that your sword will travel. This allows space for your sword to swing and build speed and inertia towards its target. When you initiate your hew, be sure that the motion of your sword is led by the tip towards your target. While hewing, you should use the core of the body to power the sword, not only your arms. It is the turning of the hips which drives the hew, usually accompanied by a step. Using your core in such a way also hides your intentions, preventing any telegraphing. The sword should rotate around the core of the body, giving it the largest arc and power. Both arms must be utilized equally, with each arm equally well extended to utilize maximum reach and structure. One arm should not be bent any more than the other, so extend both arms equally far, and remain with your sword’s hilt moving along your body’s centerline, which runs from your scalp to groin, throughout the entire arc of your hew. This method of hewing centers your sword to your body, and ensures that neither artificial weakness in structure nor shortness occurs. Be sure not to arbitrarily tighten the muscles of your arms, shoulders, or body with the hew, since this does not increase power, but only slows the sword down and negatively affects your edge alignment.

The point or tip should lead the sword in the hew in a wide arc, long out from your body. To aid in this, tighten your grip when you first begin your hew so that the point comes forward first. The edge of your sword should be aligned with the trajectory of the arc of your sword’s swing in order to ensure that the sword cuts cleanly and does not twist while passing through the target, or hit with the flat of the blade. Make sure that the edge is oriented appropriately with as little divergence as possible throughout the entirety of each hew. During the arc of the sword, power in the hew should be applied throughout the entire range of motion, from before the target is entered, through to where the target is exited. Doing this will ensure that your hew is powerfully executed to its full potential. You will know when you swing your sword properly in this way because the sword will make a distinct whistling sound while traveling along its arc. This sound, known as Swert Wint (Sword Wind) or Sausen (Whistling) in Medieval German literature, should be consistent throughout the entire arc of your hew, and will inform you of any improper edge alignment or lack of appropriate velocity. The axis of rotation for your hew should not be any part of your sword or arms, but the center of your body, giving you the largest arc possible, resulting in the most stable and powerful motion. You should not leverage the handle by pushing on it with one hand and pulling on it with the other, rotating it around some point on the handle, unless in specific techniques which require it, since doing this, although very quick, will result in smaller hews with poorer stability.

When your sword is at its farthest extension possible towards your opponent, with the point roughly level with your shoulders, this position is called Langort or Long Point. Langort is the core and center of all other techniques, because this is the primary position which your sword is in when you hit your opponent, whether with a hew or stab. Langort may also be held against your opponent at the beginning of the fight, which will be detailed later in the lessons on the Sprechfenster. As Long Point is the end of all attacks, making full use of your reach, any shortened action that your opponent uses may be defeated by it. Likewise, your opponent may defeat any shortened action of your own by using Long Point if you hesitate or act otherwise in any way incorrectly.

Be sure to always maintain control over your sword and utilize proper posture and stance so that you do not over-reach or over-step, attempting to hew too widely or far from your body. Be sure not to rise up or bounce with your step, but sink your weight and plant the ball of your foot down firmly, though not so heavily as to impede further movement. This is accomplished by quickly turning the hips so that the foot swiftly comes forward and firmly plants into position with your toes oriented in the same direction as the flexion of your knee, which in turn should follow the direction of your body’s momentum, generally in the direction towards your opponent. When completing a hew, whether it has hit or not, be sure that you do not over-commit or lean over after it, so that by maintaining an upright posture you can recover quickly and make any necessary follow-up actions. Keep your movements direct and disciplined, so that you are not found slow or exposed.

You should know that there are two Chief Hews or Haupthaue from which all other hews are derived, and they are the Oberhau from above and Unterhau from below. The Oberhau is a stronger, farther reaching, and more versatile hew, and thus makes up the basis for much of Liechtenauer’s system. The Unterhau is weaker andmore easily defeated, but trickier and sometimes more appropriate in certain situations, and should be practiced as well. These hews should be practiced from both sides, each using the long edge to strike to the head or body of the opponent. In order to hew an Oberhau, the sword begins drawn away from the opponent above. In order to hew an Unterhau, the sword begins drawn away from the opponent below. If you are preparing to hew from your right, whether from above or below, then your left foot should be forward in the stance, and you should step with the right foot while hewing. If you are preparing to hew from your left, whether from above or below, then your right foot should be forward in the stance, and you should step with the left foot while hewing. You should practice hewing the Oberhau and Unterhau from both sides many times, striving always towards perfection with each hew.

To execute a basic Oberhau from the right side, first stand with your left foot forward and hold your sword with your right hand on the hilt just below the cross and your left hand below your right just above the pommel (if you are right handed). Lift your sword over your right shoulder, your long edge facing toward your target. Now you stand ready to hew. To begin the hew, first engage the core of your body and swiftly step about your shoulders’ width forward with the right foot now leading, and in the same motion bring your sword diagonally downward in a large arc before you, ensuring that the pommel remains centered with your body, with your arms extended, the point leading the motion of your sword. Continue your arc downward until your sword stops with its point before your left foot, a bit above the ground. Your step must come neither too early nor too late, but the sword should impact your target while both of your feet are on the ground at the end of the step, in order to give you the most stability and reach. The Oberhau from the right is thus completed. To perform an Oberhau from the left, simply begin with the right foot forward and the sword above your left shoulder with the long edge facing toward your opponent, and hew from above your left down toward your right, stepping with the left foot, and following the same advice given above.

To perform an Unterhau from your right side, stand with your left foot forward and hold your sword with your right hand on the hilt just below the cross and your left hand below your right just above the pommel (if you are right handed). Lower your sword to your right hip or thigh, your long edge facing the ground. Now you stand ready to hew. To begin the hew, first swiftly step forward comfortably into a balanced stance with the right foot, and in the same motion bring your sword diagonally upward in a large arc before you, ensuring to stay centered with your sword with your arms extended, the point leading the motion of your sword. Continue your arc upward until your sword stops with its point above and before you, directed up and forward on your left side. As with the Oberhau, your sword should impact your target while both of your feet are on the ground at the end of your swift step. To perform an Unterhau from the left, simply begin with the right foot forward and the sword below your left hip, with the long edge facing toward the ground, then hew from below your left up toward your right, stepping with the left foot, and follow the same advice given above.



While the so-called Nuremberg Hausbuch (aka 3227A or Codex Döbringer) states that the Oberhau and Unterhau are the foundation of all other strikes, Liechtenauer makes almost no use of the unterhau throughout his system. Some advice is given for countering it (e.g., use the Krumphau) and some advice is given for when you use it and you find it countered. One technique (the verkehrer, or "reverser") appears to begin with an unterhau variant called the half-hew; other techniques found in other sources connected with Liechtenauer's glosses, such as the extra material from other masters appended to the Nuremburg Hausbuch and Ringeck versions of Liechtenauer's teachings make use of a kind of unterhau called a streychen, which is a rising strike with the short edge, similar to the "Laming" of Leckuchner's messer or sottani in Fiore dei Liberi. A simple unterhau, however, rarely makes any appearance in any version of Liechtenauer's zettel or glosses, despite the Nuremburg Hausbuch's assertion.

That said, Liechtenauer's advice for performing a hew applies to the unterhau as well as it does an oberhau. His system also contains a number of references on countering them. From a training perspective, then, one should be able to perform a solid unterhau using Liechtenauer's advice on hewing, if only to provide an opponent with an appropriate stimulus for practicing counters to it and to add some variety to your fencing toolbox.


Training Tip

You may judge the quality of all of your cuts by the sound that your sword makes while traveling through space. A good hew will produce a sharp whistle across the whole of your target area if using a sword or select blunt simulators. Some tools are easier or harder to produce this sound with, while some tools will produce a louder or quieter sound based on the profile of the tool. If the whistle is not present, or the whistle sounds flat, the hew is likely not correct. The whistle should be produced in front of you, across a relatively wide area, not above your shoulders or down at your knees. Use a cutting medium occasionally, such as tatami, to validate your training.





A Modern Gloss: Foreward and Preface


A Modern Gloss: Foreward and Preface

For the past several years, Jake Norwood (Capital KDF), Mike Edelson (New York Historical Fencing Association), and Cory Winslow (Medieval European Martial Arts Guild) have been each assembling their concept of what Liechtenauer's art of fighting may have looked like, and how it was supposed to be taught. They have traded ideas back and forth, argued for days, and all focus on slightly different applications of the art. For the most part, though, they fall in line with each other.

The Modern Gloss started off as an ambitious video project between Jake Norwood and Ben Michels; an attempt to document the whole of their current understanding of Liechtenauer's system. Not just an explanation of how to perform all of the techniques, but also why, when, and in what context. Due to various factors, mostly surrounding time and availability, this project did not go far. We have shifted gears.

Over the last year, Norwood, Edelson, and Winslow have compiled their ideas into documents and videos. This isn't without its challenges... every couple weeks seems to bring new revisions. However, in a text form, this is much easier to handle. Our new plan is to release a blog post about every week covering one section at a time. Any disagreements between the three will be included as alternative ideas. These blog posts will function as living documents that can be catalogued and updated over the next year. Once every section is complete, the posts will be compiled into a convenient class book to be published.

This first post is a forward to Grandmaster Liechtenauer's tradition written by Cory Winslow. All Modern Gloss posts will be catalogued on our Modern Gloss page for easy reference. As mentioned, these posts will be updated from time to time to reflect the current understanding of each section by the authors.


This section details a brief history of the of the Art of the Sword of Grandmaster Liechtenauer, and an introduction to the Art of Fencing itself.

Context for Development of the Art

The Germanic lands of the Holy Roman Empire around the turn of the 15th century in the Late Middle Ages were dangerous places of great social change. The rise of the Burgher middle class, due to the ever-increasing strength of the merchant and artisan guilds, helped to push the feudal system along its steady decline, gradually replacing the political prominence of military power with that of economics. Multitudes of princes and Imperial Free Cities incessantly warred amongst themselves and one another, pitting their knights, mercenaries, militias, and all manner of professional and conscripted fighting men against each other in their fueds. The roads were perilous, with the dangers of thieves and murderers ever present. Quarrels between men could easily break out in the city streets or countryside, sometimes with deadly results. This was a time in which there was no national army, and in addition to the well-armed fighting men provided by the knightly class, every non-noble household was expected to provide a man capable of wielding arms, be it for the town guard to keep the peace, local militia to repel attack, or levied infantry to fight in wars. Nearly every household therefore held weapons, commonly being swords amongst others, and many men often carried these when they went about their daily business, where it was permitted to do so.

Although the open wearing of swords by any but the knightly class was uncommon, violence making use of these, or illicit duels, which called for one’s self-defense, could come about at any time. Due to legal and social constraints, not all of these encounters were lethal, and many times fights would simply be to the first blood, incapacitation, or surrender, since killing wantonly would almost certainly result in severe criminal punishment. However, in matters of honor and cases of serious crimes, there was a legally and socially accepted means of recourse through deadly combat known the judicial duel or Kämpfen. This was a sanctioned, ritualized process in which, after an accuser brought his case to trial and a date was set, justice would be determined in a trial-by-combat with pre-determined equipment in a regulated environment, ensuring that the combatants were equally tested against one another to determine the rightful victor. Inherited from earlier Germanic warrior culture, the judicial duel was a deeply ingrained practice in a society which emphasized the Knightly Ethos and promoted the martial arts. Although such duels became increasingly less frequent and essentially ceased during the course of the Late Middle Ages, the framework for the martial tradition centered around their practice long remained in place.

There were many different rule sets implemented for judicial duels, varying between cultures and time periods. In such duels, the combatants who were to fight were usually given a period of time in which to train before they would meet in combat. During this time, the combatants could seek out the guidance of fencing masters, who would teach their clients various techniques and strategies with which to win their duels. Some of these masters had learned their trade in war or duels, while others were themselves taught by experienced masters, forming fencing traditions. In addition to preparing students for judicial or illicit duels and matters of self-defense, the lessons taught by these masters could also be applied to warfare, sportive competition, skill demonstration, and physical exercise. In order to detail, advertise, share, or otherwise record their teachings, some fencing masters authored fencing manuals, many of which have survived to the present day.

The earliest fencing manual preserved from Medieval Europe is a German book on fencing with the single-handed sword and buckler, dated to sometime around 1320 and written in Latin, known as Royal Armouries Ms I.33. Within this book is a complete system of guards, counter-guards, attacks, defenses, and other techniques, along with colored illustrations. Included is specific fencing terminology written in the vernacular, which may indicate that the art contained in this book was built upon an earlier oral or common fencing tradition. Although Ms I.33 is the only manual that is currently known to remain from this early period, it can be surmised that other distinct fencing traditions, as well as simplistic and intuitive common methods of fencing, existed in various places and times throughout Europe. It was from and in response to these traditions that Grandmaster Johannes Liechtenauer, the founder of the tradition detailed in this book, compiled his Art using the newly developed Langes Schwert or long sword.

The Art of the Long Sword

The Art of the Long Sword was derived from the use of the Messer or long-knife, a single-edged, sword-like weapon, used in one hand, usually without a shield. The long sword itself was most likely developed in Europe sometime in the 13th century, after which time it became extremely popular. Its development occurred because, as plate armor replaced mail, the use of a shield became increasingly unnecessary, freeing the knight to use both hands on his weapon, allowing the sword itself to be made longer, and resulting in quick and powerful attacks, and the ability to use more leverage and control in order to manipulate his opponent’s weapon, all leading to a new style of fencing. The term “long sword” itself does not necessarily refer to the size of the weapon, but instead to the manner in which the weapon is gripped with both hands on the handle, making full use of its length, as opposed to gripping it with the left hand on the blade for use in “shortened sword” techniques employed against an armored opponent. Therefore, the common term for the weapon itself, regardless of use, was simply “sword”.

Although the primary weapons of war in the Holy Roman Empire of the Late Medieval Period were mainly polearms of various forms, the sword filled the role of a versatile secondary or special purpose weapon. It was a utilitarian weapon, easily transportable when worn on the thigh in a scabbard, capable of both hews with the edge and stabs with the point. It was light enough to be used in one hand, but heavy enough for devastating attacks with two hands, and short enough to be used indoors, but long enough to keep opponents at a distance. The sword could be used in armor or out of armor, on foot or on horseback.

Grandmaster Liechtenauer

Grandmaster Johannes Liechtenauer was the progenitor of the Liechtenauer tradition of fencing, known as the Kunst des Fechtens or Art of Fencing, which consists of an organization of principles and techniques for a variety of knightly weapons on foot (zu Fuess) and on horseback (zu Ross), in armor (Harnischfechten), and unarmored (Blossfechten). Master Liechtenauer lived during the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, and did not himself invent the Art of Fencing, which had been in practice in various forms for centuries, but traveled though many lands and studied with their local masters in order to learn various aspects of this Art. In time, he is said to have come to fully understand the entire Art of Fencing, and went on to develop a series of rhyming verses known as the Zettel or Epitome in order to encapsulate it, so that with it he could educate nobles, knights, and soldiers in the Art’s use. Master Liechtenauer wrote this Epitome using secretive terminology and descriptions that only his students would understand, thereby protecting the meaning of its verses from reckless fencing masters and all others who were not meant to discern them, so that these teachings would not become commonly known.

The principal discipline of Master Liechtenauer’s tradition is fencing on foot, without armor, using the long sword, called the “Art of the Sword”. The weapon used in this discipline is the most artful and heroic of all in Germanic culture, and is the origin and source for the learning of every other weapon discipline within Master Liechtenauer’s tradition. This is because the sword is neither too big nor too small, neither too heavy nor too light, but is versatile, and may be employed with such a variety of techniques that through its study the proper use of many other weapons may be gleaned. In this book, the secret meaning of the Epitome of the Long Sword is plainly explained by students of Liechtenauer’s school, so that anyone who may otherwise fence may learn the hidden teachings of the Grandmaster.

The complete fencing system with the sword that Master Liechtenauer developed was a triumph of knowledge, skill, pedagogy, and efficiency. From a multitude of traditions and common fencing techniques, he developed a system that would both address and defeat these earlier practices, and also be effective against itself when used by a skilled fencer. His system, when explained by the commentaries of his disciples, was designed to instruct both new and experienced fencers, teaching first basic and then advanced actions. The teachings in his system are presented in a very efficient manner, with each lesson being presented only when necessary within the overall scheme of instruction. Once thoroughly understood and practiced, Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art is incredibly effective in its intended purpose.

The Epitome

The Epitome of Grandmaster Liechtenauer was composed in such a way that it may be used to instruct students in a highly efficient manner. It was recorded in rhyming verses with specific terms, which were used as a mnemonic device to aid in retention. The order in which the lessons are presented in the Zettel are deliberate and ingenious. Rather than taking an academic approach, Grandmaster Liechtenauer chose to teach his students in an organic manner by presenting techniques and concepts using a multitude of examples, and by divulging knowledge only when applicable during the course of instruction. To this end, he divided his Zettel into several main parts.

The Preface lays down the ethical, pedagogical, and strategic foundation of the entire Kunst des Fechtens. The General Lessons then provide us with the tactical framework which applies to all 17 Chief Techniques of the Zettel, which follow. After this, the Five Hews teach us different methods of entering the fight, and introduce us to the 12 Chief Techniques and other lessons in an organic way through specific examples. The 12 Chief Techniques, which are the main components of the fight, are then dissected using written explanations of principles and specific examples of techniques. All of this culminates in the Conclusion of the Zettel, which succinctly summarizes the entirety of the Art.

Alteration and Decline of the Art

Master Liechtenauer had many disciples who became fencing masters themselves, and the lineage of Liechtenauer’s tradition lasted for hundreds of years. These disciples frequently added their own teachings to that of Liechtenauer’s Art, leading to a number of additional techniques and lessons which were taught alongside the Grandmaster’s. As time went on, Liechtenauer’s teachings went from being the secret knowledge of the few to being learned in large fencing schools throughout the Empire, leading to the addition of new techniques and strategies to overcome the practiced and initiated. Some of these additional or alternate lessons dealt with judicial duels to the death; others with earnest fights under certain legal limitations such as thrusting to the face being forbidden; others with warfare, where trained swordsmen would receive double pay; others with sporting competitions, such as fighting with specific rules and blunted swords to the first blood for gold or honor; and still others with exercise for the health of the body. Fencing guilds, such as the Marxbrüder, were formed in order to regulate instruction of the Art and sanction its instruction, licensing of Masters, and public exhibition.

During the 16th century the Art was altered in order to adapt to the societal, political, and technological changes of the time. The long-held Germanic practice of combat in the judicial duel to the death, having been in decline for many years, seems to have been finally forbidden during this period, possibly by Emperor Maximilian I who, although a practitioner of the Art himself, was also a devout Christian and a shrewd ruler, and would have wished to stem violence amongst his people. This ban on the judicial duel, along with the increasing frequency in which weapons seem to have been worn openly, appear to have led to an increase in illicit dueling. Around the same time as this prohibition, the use of stabbing with the point of the sword became greatly discouraged among the Germans, despite the practice continuing to persist with the Italians and French. When defending themselves or fighting in illicit duels the Germans of this time period were said to use the flat of their sword to strike their opponents, only using the edge when necessary, but avoiding the use of the point, lest they face criminal penalties for stabbing their opponents. Even in war, stabbing with the sword was said to have not been practiced, although the pike, which made great use of the stab, was one of the dominate battlefield weapons of the time. Fencing culture seems to have grown with the emerging middle class during this period, with highly popular public matches being fought using blunt swords, usually to the highest bleeding wound, every Sunday in some German cities. These contests were not meant to be lethal, and thus fencers could not employ Liechtenauer’s Art fully, since several techniques were disallowed.

Eventually, due to the ever-increasing effectiveness of firearms, men began to wear armor less often, and handy single-handed swords, such as the rapier, became the dominant sidearm against such unarmored opponents, replacing the sword in this role. The use of firearms made the two-handed sword less and less necessary, before finally making it militarily obsolete by some time in the 17th century. After this time the two-handed sword was relegated more and more to sportive competition and exercise or ceremony, and eventually its use was abandoned altogether. The tradition of Grandmaster Liechtenauer was thus finally broken sometime in the late 18th century.

Revival of the Liechtenauer Tradition

In the late 19th and the 20th centuries there were a few scattered attempts to breathe new life into these lost Historical European Martial Arts by researchers who read and interpreted the surviving medieval and renaissance treatises written by the old masters, but these reconstructions ultimately faded away once more. It wasn’t until the widespread use of the internet in the late 20th century that researchers could communicate and share their work in reconstructing these Arts from the primary sources with one another, growing the communities of HEMA researchers and practitioners that we have today. At the time of the writing of this book, Liechtenauer’s Art is being practiced in many schools across the world, and is the most popular of the revived Historical European Martial Arts.

The work that follows here is a modern interpretation solely on the early tradition of Grandmaster Liechtenauer, which was applicable, as originally intended, to the deadly judicial duel, warfare, self-defense, sporting competition, and physical exercise. It is the result of many years of research and training, and hopefully will be of great help to both new and experienced practitioners of the Art of the Sword.

A Note on the Fechtkunst

The Fechtkunst or Fencing-Art was developed so that those who use skill, cunning, and cleverness may defeat those with little or no understanding of the Art who rely on natural abilities such as strength, speed, and reach alone. There are no artificialities in the Art of Fencing, and all possible actions and inactions may be employed at the correct time and place, depending on the actions of the opponent, in order to defeat him. Therefore, there is but one Art of Fencing, constrained only by the objective laws of physics, specifics of the tools involved, and employed accordingly to the subjective psychology and physiology of the opponent. The Art of Fencing is found in determining and enacting the correct tactics and techniques based on underlying universal principles in order to defeat an opponent.

Those tactics and techniques found to be most readily useful and reliable, relevant to the temporal culture, weapons, and fencers of the Holy Roman Empire in the 15th century, are presented in the work that follows. However, the universal principles of Fechtkunst are not limited only to such a narrow window of time and space, but are foundational to all things. Although the subject of the Fechtkunst is not itself wide, the Kunst or Art from which it draws is all-encompassing. Through the practice of the Art, one is masterfully guided to examine his life and actions, and use every kind of advantage for his own improvement. The in-depth study of any art will give you such insights, but Martial Arts in particular force you to directly face opponents, death, and yourself, so that the process of learning is quite poignant. So, think well on these teachings, so that they may help to guide your life well.

You shall know that this true Art is efficient, employing those actions which are most timely, direct and simple. No extraneous movements should be made, which would waste time and energy, as well as leave you open to your opponent’s attacks. Such superfluously wide and showy motions of the sword, which are slow and dangerous, are reserved for those who wish to entertain spectators. In Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Art, the point of your sword should move in the straightest line possible towards your target when you attack your opponent, and you should hit him with one good hew or stab rather than having to make several actions, if possible. You must not hesitate or delay with your actions once you know what you should do, but the timing of your movements should reflect their physical efficiency. Therefore, always strive to remain true to the Art with your fencing, and do not allow yourself to become lax in your motions, or seduced by the theatrics of those who profess to understand the use of the sword, but really know nothing more than show-fighting.

You must also understand that, as there is a difference between having a map and making a journey, reading about the Art of Fencing is different than practicing it. In order to truly understand the Art, you must physically put it into use through training. Likewise, the Art is better taught and instructed physically with the hand than it is through speaking of it or reading it in a book. Therefore, you should think hard on the lessons that follow, and practice them as much as possible, so that the Art becomes better revealed to you.

Now follows the text, consisting of Liechtenauer’s verse and modern commentary. The italicized writing is the Epitome, and the standard writing is the interpretive explanation of the Epitome.



Grandmaster Liechtenauer’s Zettel begins here by laying the ethical, pedagogical, and strategic foundation for the entire Kunst des Fechtens.

Young knight learn
To have love for God, honor maidens,
So waxes your honor.
Practice Knighthood, and learn
Art that adorns you,
And in wars courts to honor.
Wrestle well, grappler.
Lance, spear, sword, and knife,
Manfully handle,
And in others’ hands ruin.
Hew therein, and swift there.
Rush in, hit or let drive.
Knowing this,
Hastens the man seen praised.
Thereon you grasp,

All art has length and measure.

Knightly Virtues

An ethical and disciplined lifestyle lends itself well to those who will learn this Art, and should be observed from the onset of study. Dedication to the chivalric ideals of Knighthood, including the virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, moderation, prudence, justice, respect, and loyalty, contributes to the cultivation of personal honor. Focusing on these attributes is used to balance the performance of violent actions and harsh mentality which are necessary in the life of a warrior. Although the sword is a weapon designed to kill, in the hands of one who acts justly in accordance with the ideals of Knighthood, it may be used for personal development and even the preservation of life. Because a fencer deals with techniques that may take the lives of others, it is important for him to devoutly and unashamedly learn how to conduct himself properly in his life, so that he does not wrongly do evil with the Art.

In order to be an upright fencer, you should studiously learn the Art and reflect upon its application and use, as well as heed and contemplate all of your actions in life, so that you may act in peaceful accordance with the nature of reality. You should not unrestrainedly indulge in sensual pleasures, lest you be ruined, but should be diligent in the pursuit of discipline, virility, modesty, temperance, and moderation, so that you may live a good and balanced life. You should not fight over harsh words given to you by another, nor engage in mindless brawling, but only use your Art when absolutely necessary.

In all your use of the sword, you should adhere to the following rules:

  • Always use your sword with a level head, free from any affecting moods, especially anger, which will cloud your judgment and make you forget the Art.
  • Do not use your sword with overconfidence when it is likely to cause you injury, but know your limitations and temper your actions with humility.
  • Only use your sword for just reasons, whether for personal development or in defense of yourself or others, and never to overpower or compel another person, or in foolish vanity.

The Art of Fencing with the sword is primarily a means by which you may more easily vanquish your opponent. However, one should also learn the Art because it makes its’ practitioners spry, active, able, even-tempered, slim, agile, and ready for all things. When practiced seriously, the Art of Fencing contributes greatly to the development of agility, strategy, and wisdom, among other admirable qualities. A fencer who is practiced in the Art is prudent and discerning in all matters great and small, since his mind has been whetted in numerous trials against others and himself. In the face of an encounter in which he must fight to defend his body, it makes him stout and undaunted, valiant, and bold in the face of danger. In war, it makes him hardy and selfless, so that he may win praise, honor, and victory. In peace, it is praiseworthy and fine to show the practice of the Art before others to illustrate the beauty that it holds. Using the sword is an expression of one’s own free will, being called the Free Knightly Art, and the blade is a mirror which reflects the core of its wielder, clearly showing his faults and virtues. A fencer should have no reason to be ashamed of what his reflection shows him.

The Weapon and the Body

The sword consists of a number of parts, each of which has been designed to fulfill a necessary function. There are two main divisions of the sword, being the hilt (Gehilz) and the blade (Klinge). The hilt is further divided into the cross-guard (Kreutz), haft (Heft), and pommel (Knopf). The blade is divided into the Strong (Sterck), Weak (Swech), flat (Flech), long edge (lange Schneide), short edge (kurtze Schneide), and point (Ort). The hilt is used primarily as a means by which you may grip the sword safely and securely, and is also used when running-in on your opponent and wrestling him with your sword. The cross defends the hands and ensures that they do not make contact with your own blade. The haft is used to provide a good area in which to grip the sword. The pommel provides a counter-balance to the blade, keeps your hands from slipping from the end of the haft, and can be used to bludgeon your opponent. The blade is used primarily to attack your opponent and defend yourself from his attacks. The Strong, which extends from the cross to the middle of the blade, is generally used to defend against his attacks, and also for such close techniques as Slicing, Hand-pressing, and Winding. The Weak, which extends from the middle of the blade to the point, is most often used to attack, and is also employed in extended techniques such as Changing-through. The flat may be used to hit your opponent without severely injuring him, such as if you wish to warn or mock him. The long edge, which is the forward edge that faces directly out from your fingers towards your opponent, may be used for strong direct attacks and strong parrying. The short edge, which is the back edge that normally faces towards you when you hold the sword before you, is used primarily for specialized techniques which defend you and attack your opponent simultaneously. The point is used to stab your opponent and also to threaten or compel him to act in a certain desirable way.

First and foremost, you should have a complete and sound sword with which to employ your Art. This sword must be sturdy and well made, handy enough to use quickly, with sharp edges and a fine point. It must have a strong cross-guard in order to protect your hands, and be properly balanced with a pommel of appropriate size to counterweight the blade. If an alternative weapon is used, it too must be made correctly, according to its kind.

A fencer’s body should be straight and healthy. He should be agile and quick in all movements, with good agile steps. Good endurance and breathing are also important to have and develop, so that an opponent may not simply wear him down. Only an adequate amount of physical strength is necessary to perform the techniques of the Art, and although possessing more is advantageous in some situations, it is less important than the proper understanding and intelligent practiced use of the Art, since the employment of the Art is meant to overcome strength by using strategy, otherwise this would not be an Art. Study these teachings diligently and practice them regularly, for theory alone is not enough, but physical practice is essential if you wish to develop skill. Then you will be able to defend yourself in serious situations and also be well-respected by your peers.

It is also advisable to train with the multiple weapons described in the Art of Fighting, which will expand your understanding of the totality of the Art. It is also good to be experienced with several different weapons in case you find yourself forced to fight using or against one. Ringen or wrestling, the discipline of unarmed fighting, is the basis for all combat. Its practice develops fundamentals such as balance, agility, strength, timing, and perception, and is applicable with all other disciplines when the range is very close. Fighting with the Degen or dagger is also considered an aspect of, or closely related to Ringen and is fundamental since daggers were nearly universally carried during Master Liechtenauer’s time. Fencing with the Messer or long-knife teaches the basis of fighting with a weapon in one hand, and the Art of the Sword was derived from its use. The Stangen or staff teaches how to fight with all polearms, its own use being based upon the Art of the Sword. Wrestling, lance, spear, sword, and dagger, as listed above in the Zettel, represent those Knightly disciplines commonly employed in the Judicial Duels of the time, and are those which are specifically addressed in the teachings of Grandmaster Liechtenauer.

Overview of Strategy

When you will fence with another, before all things you shall ensure that you are well armed, and see that you trust in your sword. You should be previously well trained and practiced in the Art of Fencing, ready to drive your opponent from his advantage, and prepared to act appropriately in unforeseen circumstances. You shall bravely be in a good cheerful mood, though without overconfidence, not fearing his attacks, because this will make your opponent craven.

Observe the particulars of the location where you will fight, and whether your opponent is large or small, quick or slow, aggressive or defensive, trained or novice; discern how he intends to act against you, so that you may conduct yourself accordingly against him. Focus on nothing but earnestly defeating your opponent, using caution, cunning, and prudence. Do not only think of defending, but look for an opportunity to attack him. Likewise, do not only think of hitting your opponent, or else your mind will be distracted with this thought and you may not perceive something else that is vital.

When you come to your opponent, then when you perceive that you may do so, you should attack him prudently, with quick thoughtfulness, so that you do not tarry and miss your chance with overlong consideration; elsewise you will have to defend yourself using the Art. When you attack or counterattack, you shall do so with good reason, having a finished technique appropriate for the circumstances in your mind, which you will attempt to accomplish, but adapt as needed according to unfolding events. You shall act with forethought, concealment, and constancy, driving towards your opponent’s openings, all the time assessing his manner and actions while keeping your own intentions secret, never giving him an advantage, but always seizing upon your own.

Drive earnestly after your opponent, but shun foolhardiness and do not lose with recklessness what you have gained. Pay attention to all opportunities so that you may come away from your opponent safe and victorious. Otherwise, be sure to withdraw to safety when necessary if things do not go as wished, so that you may attack anew. In all things you shall trust and follow the Art, with which you keep yourself safe and defeat your opponents. The particulars of how to employ this Art will be explained in detail in the following sections of this book.

Length and Measure

In the Art of Fencing, no matter what weapon you use, you must always have Leng und Masse or Length and Measure in your actions. Leng describes extension, while Masse describes the moderation of extension. In the Art of the Sword, the utilization of Leng and Masse generally adhere to the following descriptions. Leng refers to adequate extension of your blade by reaching out with the arms towards your opponent. Masse refers to the proper moderation of your body by standing low and making yourself small with your body. However, it often occurs that your reach with the sword must be moderated as well, as you will learn later in the lessons on Winden. Together, the principles of Length and Measure describe the adequate management of space in regard to your own body and weapon, which directly affects your management of distance from your opponent.

Utilizing Leng by extending far out with your arms and sword is done in order to properly utilize your full reach with the weapon, because he who does not adequately extend his arms with his attacks fights short, and allows his opponent to outreach or otherwise defeat him. Utilizing Masse by sinking your body down in a balanced stance with your feet wide apart is done so that you have proper grounding and structure, and to present a smaller target to your opponent, because he who does not sink into a balanced stance is often easily knocked over, weak, and presents a larger target. However, always be sure not to hyperextend your arms, which would cause you to hew badly, nor should you place your feet too wide and body too low in stance, which would cause you to be slow with your steps, but temper all of your actions so that you benefit from them as much as possible. In general, you should stand in a balanced stance and extend your weapon long from you, so that you are small with your body and large with your weapon, ready to step quickly forward or backward, and maintain proper distance from your opponent for the technique which you are executing.

Both Length and Measure influence the proper management of distance from the opponent, and thus are very important things of which you should be aware at all times. This is because nothing that you do, no matter how artful, will matter whatsoever if done at the wrong distance and time. You must be sure that in everything you do, you may properly reach your opponent with your intended techniques, executing them neither too early nor too late, otherwise all your hews and stabs will be for naught, and you will be easily defeated by an opponent who properly utilizes timing and distance correctly according to the Art of Fencing.



The Five Hews: A Fight for the Center

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The Five Hews: A Fight for the Center

In its purest distilled form, Liechtenauer's art is a fight for and around the center. You have the center when your point is before your opponent’s openings, and you do not have center when it isn’t. Similarly, you have center when your edge can reach the opponent through the bind, and you do not have it when it can’t.  The center is not your center, which is important in body mechanics, but the center between you and your opponent. If your opponent is facing sideways (perpendicular to you) with his sword sticking out to your left or right, and you stab him in the side of the head, you have center against him, and he does not have center against you.

Leverage is a tool with which the KDF fencer takes the center-line from his or her opponent, either through winding, hewing or stabbing. Winding either re-captures the center with force (leverage—inside wind) or by snaking around force to return to the center (outside wind or Duplieren). Mutieren is an exception, as it recaptures the center from a Hard bind (your opponent being Soft) by snaking around his sword with you having control throughout the action—it is distance that necessitates the winding (you are too close to stab despite being in control of the bind). The Five Hews—Zornhau, Krumphau, Zwerchhau, Schielhau and Scheitelhau are integral to this philosophy.

When it comes to the fight for the center, there are only two basic options to actions in the Krieg (meaning there are exceptions). The first is to take center and act, usually with a stab, either using leverage or by snaking around. The second is to surrender center and take the long way around by hewing. The second option is inferior to the first as it places you in great danger by surrendering the center to your opponent for the entire length of your action, which is the longest possible action in the Krieg as it must travel all the way around from one side to the other. The Five Hews are based around this concept.

Zornhau: The Zornhau captures the center with structure.

It does not require a Strong on Weak bind, which means that it does not rely on leverage. The word used in the Danzig, Ringeck and Lew Glosses is Soft, rather than Weak.

The Zornhau takes the center directly and forcefully, when successful (if it fails, you will need to retake center), and keeps your opponent’s point outside of center. This gives you an advantage in all follow up actions, since your opponent will need to retake the center prior to any action that can threaten you, or he will have to hew around to the other side, which will give you sole presence in the center for a significant period of time and will allow you to easily stab him while parrying his hew. The only way for your opponent to retake center without this is with winding, which is specifically designed for this purpose.

Krumphau: The Krumphau surrenders the center so that you can deny it to your opponent.

When someone hews or stabs, you step off-line and hew to his hands, or hew against his sword without a step. In this manner, you take away their control of the center.

In the hews to the hands, you deny your opponent center by leaving it (and also denying it to yourself) and then hew at his hands without recapturing center—this is the significance of the “crooked” hew. Normally, when you do not have the center, you must either regain it before acting (either with force or by going around the opponent’s sword), or take the long and inefficient way by hewing around, which gives your opponent control of center for the entire duration of your hew. However, by stepping offline and hewing at your opponent’s hands, you strike at your opponent without retaking center, which gives you the advantage (initiative).

In the hew to the sword, you do not strictly surrender the center because you can reach your opponent with your edge through the bind. Your opponent’s weapon is pushed out of center, leaving you in a superior/dominant position on top of his sword and allowing you to strike or wind safely from there.

 In Liechtenauer’s pedagogy, the Krumphau is taught so that fencers can deal with attacks they cannot predict, and therefore cannot reliably control.

Zwerchhau: The Zwerchhau takes the center with the hilt.

When he hews at you from above, you step well out to your right side and strike the Zwerchhau so that you catch his hew on your hilt. This action gives you control of the centerline by placing a barrier between it and your opponent’s hew and giving you superior leverage in the resulting bind. It is the strongest leverage you can have, in fact, without half-swording, assuming it counts as a bind since it’s not really blade on blade. If your initial hew is not successful, your control of center gives you an advantage to all follow up actions. Understanding this advantage is critical for proper understanding of actions from Zwerchhau.

When used as a vorschlaag, the Zwerchhau forces a bad parry, which makes your opponent leave center, allowing you to retake it from an advantageous position.

Schielhau: The Schielhau takes the center with leverage.

It positions your sword in the hew so that the strong of your sword makes contact with the weak of your opponent’s sword in the bind. It is designed to break point forward guard and to defeat anything the Buffel hews or stabs. A Buffel is someone who does not fight with Fuhlen, and therefore knows nothing of the art. The actions of a Buffel attempt to succeed without allowing the feedback of Fuhlen or resulting decision making and an action in Indes. For example, an interpretation of Zornhau as something that lands the thrust before the bind is felt is the action of a Buffel. Such a fencer will attempt to land the thrust regardless of the bind by fully committing to it with both hew and footwork. Such an action is by definition defeated by Schielhau, which breaks it with leverage (ironically without using Fuhlen). In doing so, it forcefully takes the center, if successful, regardless of the power of your opponent’s attack.

Scheitelhau: The Scheitelhau takes the center with timing and efficiency.

It starts in the center and stays in the center and forces your opponent to either take it out of center in order to prevent himself from being struck, which is difficult to do without the opponent also surrendering his center, or to use a bad parry. It offers the shortest and most direct path to the closest target for a hew, the top of your opponent’s head. When used against the guard Alber, it eliminates the possibility of a counter by out-timing your opponent’s actions, resulting in the forcing of a bad parry, which makes it similar to a Zwerchhau (when used in this manner).   

Understanding how the five hews, and all actions in Liechtenauer’s art, relate to the fight for the center will provide a valuable perspective and useful context for using these actions and their associated techniques. 

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Triangulation in HEMA

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Triangulation in HEMA

Triangulation in HEMA

I first came upon the term “triangulation” in HEMA sometime in the mid-'00s in an article on the Schola Gladiatoria site, and my initial reaction was, of course, “That's not how triangulation works, triangulation is using two points and two distances to locate a third point!” But the concept was one already familiar to me (and eventually I made peace with the name).

The plain fact is, even though we study sword arts, we don’t really fight with real swords (and ditto for students of other weapons—even, to a lesser extent, wrestling). The core scenario that Liechtenauer’s art was apparently designed around, the earnest fight with deadly weapons, is the one thing that we can never truly practice. To attempt to redress this uncomfortable fact, practitioners of historical European martial arts have long used a mixed approach to our training, combining diverse training methodologies that complement each other in an attempt to develop the ideal well-rounded fighter—one who, perhaps, even has the skills that would keep him alive in the unlikely event of that real fight.

Equally important to this consideration is the development of the core martial virtue of control. Control is not some magical trait that a martial artist automatically develops with experience; contrary to popular belief, the ability to correctly perform an action slow does not automatically impart the ability to do it quickly, and neither does the ability to do it quickly allow a fighter to slow it down. Rather, control is nothing more than choice, the ability to choose in any given moment where to strike, where stop that strike, and how much speed and force to apply. Since you can only fight the way you've trained to fight, if you only train in one way then you have no choice, and therefore no control. Developing control therefore requires mixing many different approaches and training in many different contexts, with different tools and different constraints, and striving to apply the specific lessons from each one across all of the others.

In my ill-spent youth as a scholar in ARMA we used a training methodology consisting of four parts: drilling and light sparring with wooden wasters for beginners, drilling and light sparring with blunt steel simulators for the more advanced, heavy sparring with padded “boffers”, and test cutting with sharps. Fortunately, we have much better tools now than we ever did then, and even more fortunately, we’ve come a long way in the past fifteen years in our understanding of swordsmanship (and of teaching swordsmanship).

Since this is a topic that has come up several times in the past few months in online discussions, I will lay out below what the current state of this triangulation is in the practice of Kunst des Fechtens, and the best practices embraced by a growing number of clubs in the xKdF Network. They revolve around three primary training tools: sharp swords, blunt sword simulators, and foils (or “Feders”).

Historical Triangulation

As you may have noticed in previous posts, I prefer to put history first even when discussing modern training practices. While the historical arts we study were often designed for killing, or at least for use in lethal encounters, it seems clear from historical records (and common sense) that not every martial artist in early Modern Europe actually applied them in this fashion. Accounts of period warfare don't generally include high enough death tolls to allow for even a sizable minority of soldiers involved to have killed an enemy, and based on period records, even the highest urban murder rates (including informal duels and street fights) are merely comparable to modern cities. So while the experience of killing an opponent with a sword was undoubtedly more common in Europe five hundred years ago than it is today, the question of how the average fencer mastered his art remains, and the obvious conclusion is that they were engaged in the same sort of triangulation as we are. This topic is vast and far-reaching and we cannot explore it adequately here, but I will briefly summarize what triangulation was like historically to give some perspective on our topic.

Based on artwork and sadly-scarce records, it seems likely that much training was conducted in light gear (street clothes, usually) with sharp swords, and sometimes also blunted swords or other sword simulators—the only surviving two-handed varieties are superficially similar to our modern foils/Feders, but a number of one-handed artifacts more similar to our blunt simulators also exist. There is no evidence of specialized fencing masks during the early Modern period, but records speak of wearing broad-brimmed hats to protect the head and face against downward blows, and padded gloves and other heavy clothing certainly existed and were used. These tools were used primarily for technique training and various types of drills and light play. (De Rei Militari, a famous treatise on Roman infantry tactics that mentions fencing against a pole driven into the ground, was quite popular in this period, but it's unknown whether anyone actually attempted to recreate this alleged training activity.)

In order to train aggression and striking with full force, they engaged in tournament play just as we do. Knightly tournaments (later adopted by the Burgher class as well) conducted in full armor with wooden swords or, later on, simpler cudgels are well-documented in the late Medieval and early Modern periods. These were generally fought with the objective of knocking an opponent to the ground or otherwise beating him into submission, turning into long contests that tested endurance as much as they did technique. Likewise, the Fechtschule tradition included wet bouts, or “fencing to the bloom”, in which the fencers were unarmored, the Feders were sharpened, and the goal was to open a bleeding wound on the head of one's opponent (or a higher bleeding wound, if both were struck in the same exchange).

Test cutting as we apply it today is not documented historically, but that is not to say that there was no cutting practice. The most war-like guilds of the Burgher class were those who worked with blades every day, such as the furriers (who were often named interchangeably with the Marxbruder guild), butchers, and tanners, and those who made and maintained such weapons, such as the cutlers (equally synonymous with the Veiterfechter), sword-polishers, and so on. But more importantly, the weapons of the hunt—spears, crossbows, and swords—were well aligned with the weapons of war in the early Modern period and the popular activity of hunting was a prime opportunity to learn cutting and thrusting against living creatures (and also become accustomed to taking life).

(A more direct analog to our test-cutting is the practice of cutting clay towers or pyramids, but while that has been documented among Arabic and Persian cultures in the early Modern period, we have not yet found direct evidence of it in Europe until much later, so we cannot yet say with certainty that it occurred.)

With this is mind, let us now turn to current practices in HEMA.

Triangulation Today

The Albion Alexandria, a very sharp sword

The Albion Alexandria, a very sharp sword

Sharp Swords

While we refer to these swords as training tools, let’s not mince words: these are weapons, and the same sword you cut grass mats with is the one you’d use to kill or maim (if, you know, you ever were in a situation where that came up). For this reason, sharp swords demand constant caution and complete respect from their wielders. The other tools described below are toys designed to simulate this weapon, so in this article I’m going to try to limit my use of the word “sword” to describing only these.

A portion of our training should always include real swords (or else we face the problem that, as my first teacher liked to put it, “toy swords make toy soldiers”). The purpose of training with sharp swords is to instill in fighters a good sense of how the weapon they are studying and training for actually behaves, and to learn what physical mechanics are necessary to apply the art effectively with that weapon. In addition to mechanics, sharp training is also important for understanding the psychological factors involved in facing an opponent with a dangerous weapon. And they are vital for identifying the artifacts inherent in play with the simulators described further on.

Thus, sharp swords are used by fighters at all levels for target cutting; a good target medium will illustrate every flaw in a cut and can be easily read by an instructor or an experienced student. Grass mats (tatami), tightly rolled and bound, are the most popular medium for testing cutting mechanics these days (a practice originally pioneered by Japanese fencers earlier in the 20th century when they were faced with a similar problem to ours). Clay is another cutting medium that sometimes sees use, based on a documented practice among Medieval Arab cultures as mentioned above. Plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, and various gourds are also used occasionally when nothing better is available, but their value as learning aids is minimal.

Swords are also sometimes used by fighters at all levels for solo drills such as cutting in the air. Intermediate and advanced fighters may use swords for certain partner drills (even including slow free-play). In partner drills with sharp swords, obviously no blade-to-body contact is ever attempted; instead, fencers focus on internal skills like Fuhlen (feeling) and on creating openings through binding and winding, always being careful to stop their weapon’s movement well short of their intended target.

We call this type of activity “fencing to the opening”, indicating that the action ends as soon as the opportunity for a good strike appears. Because no contact is intended and it is reserved for advanced fighters, fencing to the opening is generally practiced with little or no personal protective equipment (PPE) except, perhaps, goggles or light gloves.

Finally, sharp swords may also be used for manual interpretation, even though that's not an activity that all schools engage in during class (though it should be, dammit, and I'll die on that wall).

Play with sharps obviously has an extreme danger potential and requires fencers to stop their weapon well short of their targets—we are never talking about actually touching another person with a sharp sword, nor are we advocating the sometimes-deadly historical practice of fencing to the bloom. Do not do that. When in doubt, always do what your instructor tells you, not what you read here, and never engage in an activity with real swords that you are not convinced that you can perform safely.

The Albion Liechtenauer, a very blunt simulator

The Albion Liechtenauer, a very blunt simulator

Blunt Simulators

A very important tool that has nevertheless seemed to be waning in popularity in the past five years (in some sectors of the community, at least) is the blunt sword simulator. This is not, as mentioned above, a sword, but rather a training tool with a similar shape, weight, balance, and other handling characteristics. They generally achieve this by retaining the same mass as a sword, but adding wide fullers and shifting more steel to the edges of the blade, producing a relatively wide striking surface on the edge and enough flex in the weak of the blade to allow somewhat safe thrusting.

Blunt simulators allow us to train in ways that would be reckless and probably deadly with sharp swords. With blunts we can make physical contact with our training partners without necessarily risking injury, and thus we can practice applying the mechanics learned from sharps with more speed and pressure and in more complex conditions. Because they retain the shape and handling of a sword, they behave in a more sword-like fashion in the bind (though the lack of a sharp edge is still a limiting factor that must be accounted for). The emphasis in training with blunts should always include applying the lessons learned from sharps, but in more adversarial situations.

Thus, blunt simulators are used by fighters at all levels for solo drills and for most kinds of partner drills. Blunts are also used by intermediate and advanced fighters for light to moderate sparring (or even heavy sparring, with appropriate personal protective equipment). Blunts are not as dangerous as actual swords, but still require fencers to control their power level and strike at less than full force—activities with blunts are generally fought to a solid tap or light hit.

We call this kind of activity “fencing to the touch”, to indicate the level of force used. Fencing to the touch is generally practiced in light PPE that protects vital body parts, such as a fencing mask, gloves, and a gorget. Heavy PPE such as that used in tournaments is usually not necessary, except as added insurance on occasions when fencers decide to spar with moderate intensity and injury is thus more likely.

And, of course, blunts should generally be used for manual interpretation by fighters who are not cleared for or not comfortable with sharps.

A Regenyei Trnava, a very foiled Feder

A Regenyei Trnava, a very foiled Feder


The third tool in our tripod is the foil (a name that makes some people bristle, but really, the historical roots of the term apply just as much to our longsword trainers as they do to the traditional epee trainer) or Federschwert (“feather sword”; this is a name of uncertain origin that is nevertheless quite popular in the community today). In many clubs foils are replacing the blunt in training these days, which is an unfortunate trend we are trying to reverse. This tool only vaguely resembles a real sword, with a blade that is much narrower than that of many historical two-handed swords (comparable to an estoc or rapier), and generally a wider point, more length, more flexibility, and less blade presence than the weapons Liechtenauer would have taught. It is, however, specially-designed to fill a certain niche in training, and indispensable for that function.

Foils are used primarily to learn to maintain correct form and technique while fencing with a full-body target area and at high levels of speed and power—without compromising the safety of our training partners. They also allow us to fence in an aggressive and adversarial fashion that is, perhaps, closer to the energy of a “real fight”. Foil fencing also produces the most artifacts, which is why they are not ideal for use in normal drilling; that said, regular training with sharps and blunts will help fighters remain cognizant of those artifacts and try to limit them in their sparring.

Foils are used by fighters at all levels for dynamic and full-force/full-contact drills, and for all kinds of sparring. Fighters who are preparing for tournaments will also use Feders in place of blunts for much of their drilling and light sparring, in order to maintain familiarity with the tools of competition.

This type of fencing is called “fencing to the blow”, indicating that the strikes will land at close to full force. Fencing to the blow should be performed only with fairly comprehensive PPE, including heavy gloves, a hard gorget, protection for the back of the head, and padded torso and leg protection. Hard-shell elbows, knees, forearms, and shins are also sometimes worn, depending on the force both parties are capable of generating. As the thin blade of a Feder (combined with a higher level of force) is more prone to breakage than a blunt, a hard chest-plate and generally puncture-resistant garments may also be desirable.

Foils are suitable for interpretation of some later-period sources, but are inferior to blunts for most treatises.

What to Buy First

Since owning even entry-level models of all three of these tools will generally include a cost approaching a thousand dollars, it is not feasible for beginners and only sometimes feasible for intermediate students. For this reason, the amount of each activity that an individual fighter can engage in is generally determined as much by the limitations of club resources and personal finances as it is by best practices.

As far as which order to purchase these tools, I recommend the following:

  1. Blunt
  2. Feder
  3. Sword

For fencers starting out, the most important tool they can purchase is a blunt simulator (apart from a mask, gorget, and gloves, obviously). Beginners will spend far more time drilling and their sparring will consist only of fencing to the touch, and a blunt will teach them better mechanics than a foil ever could. As they progress, they can begin purchasing a Feder and the more comprehensive protective equipment necessary for fencing to the blow.

A sharp sword should come last; there is rarely a time that every fencer in the room will need a sharp at once, so a beginning fencer should be able to borrow when he needs one. (Apart from which, a sharp represents the largest investment of the three, and it’s good to borrow many different models to settle on one that you love first.)


Even though this is how many of the best fighters coming out of xKdF have taken to training, it is far from the last word on the subject of training tools. For example, some fighters also advocate using wood or synthetic wasters for solo training against a pole, and that isn’t covered in any of the above. The amount of protective equipment that is ideal for each of these activities is also far from a settled question; some clubs drill with sharps without gloves or eye protection, while others put on full tournament kit even for structured drilling with feders.

So we continue. Maybe in another five years someone will write a column about triangulation that paints all of this as ridiculous. Actually, knowing our community, that will probably happen in five days or five hours.

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Op-Ed: A Perspective on Longsword Cutting Feats in Competition and for Training

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Op-Ed: A Perspective on Longsword Cutting Feats in Competition and for Training

Picture by Véronique McMillan, Triangle Sword Guild

Picture by Véronique McMillan, Triangle Sword Guild

Cutting has been the single most influential factor on my fencing training (that is, sparring and interpretation) in the last 5 years. Thanks to cutting I have a no-bullshit measuring stick for whether a particular approach to a technique would lead to a viable cut for a "real fight."

Thanks to cutting practice I've scrapped several interpretations of cuts that many people still perform effectively in touch-sparring...but I don't do them anymore because I know that while a certain approach to a techinique might work great in sword-tag, it won't cut a target, or if it does cut it might get stuck in the target in a way that leaves me horribly open. Thanks to cutting practice I've been able to hone my mechanics for techniques like shielhau and krumphau for strength, speed, edge alignment, follow-through, etc. All things you can "get a way with" cheating on if you're just sparring. Cutting practice has opened my eyes to subtleties of grip, pressure, structure, and the order in which you engage different muscle groups in a way that I assume our ancestors understood but which we, as modern HEMAists, have had to re-discover.

Big cuts and "Someone on the Internet is Wrong!"

Every time pictures or videos of cutting competitions get posted to Facebook and Reddit, the validity of this type of training is questioned. How does cutting a grass mat, something stolen from the Japanese, apply to HEMA? Is it HEMA at all? Then we take into account that many criticisms of cutting come from folks watching the finals of cutting competitions such as Longpoint. Seeing as the cutting that tends to get videoed at HEMA events are the big cuts, people need to understand that those get filmed because they're impressive, not because they're a major part of cutting training.

The other thing that people tend to misunderstand about the big cuts is they're not about utility in a fight; they're about teasing out the tiny flaws that do matter in a fight. That big cut into eight mats in four double-rolls, often performed square-footed and with plenty of prep time, is looking at your ability to maintain edge alignment while in-target. So the target is larger than most anyone can cut all the way through. As a result, a fencer who can cut a single mat (not a substantial target) in a seemingly perfect vertical line can be brought to his metaphoric knees by that larger, denser, seemingly never-ending target. Imperfections in that dense target cause the cut to skew off-line, showing that the cutter isn't cutting efficiently. It also leads to the weapon getting stuck or even bent--and that has obvious application to a "real fight" when cutting into a dense target such as a human body.

In my case, there were two flaws in my "big cut" in the Longpoint 2016 cutting finals (which I didn't perform square footed on purpose this year).

The first was my actual base angle, which I thought was vertical, was actually about 5 degrees off vertical. That's a training flaw a single mat won't show me, and it's a big deal. My cut should do what I think it does, because my body should do what I tell it to do.

The second flaw was that my cut turned in the fourth double-roll. So sure, I cut cleanly through 6 mats in a row, but that last roll exposed some problem with follow-through on alignment or grip. The blade turned, scalloping at the very end. Had that been a body my sword would have stuck; thankfully the flaw wasn't bad enough to bend my sword, which is a real danger in that cut.

These are lessons that cutting is still teaching me--especially the big cuts with the least obvious correlation to fighting. In fact, some of the more obviously martially-applicable cutting feats (chasing the moving target, for example) tell me very little about my actual flaws as a cutter. So now I've taken that feedback from the big cut and I'm training based on it. I'm looking at my grip, at my stance, at how I generate power in those cuts because I want my vertical cut to actually be vertical, consistently, from start to finish. I want my cuts to be clean and to carry through without warping, because as a martial artist it's important to me that my cuts don't just touch the opponent...they cleave. Cleanly. And without bending my sword.

Note: A video of Jake performing the cut mentioned in this article can be found here, starting at the 13:35 mark.

Jake Norwood
Capital Kunst des Fechtens

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Review: Black Horse Blades Workhorse Feder

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Review: Black Horse Blades Workhorse Feder

When Logan Black, of Black Horse Blades, contacted me last fall to see if Longpoint would approve his "Workhorse" feder for our longsword tournaments, I asked him to send me one to test. He did, and while I didn't get to keep it, I wish that I had been able to.

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Reconstructing Kunst des Fechtens


Reconstructing Kunst des Fechtens

Whenever someone describes one of the Hidden Strikes using Tempo, the statue of Johannes Liechtenauer in the Vatican sheds a single tear.

Whenever someone describes one of the Hidden Strikes using Tempo, the statue of Johannes Liechtenauer in the Vatican sheds a single tear.

Warning: This post consists entirely of my opinion about the purpose of HEMA reconstruction. If you don't care about this subject or about my opinion on it, you can safely skip it.

I have skirmishes with other HEMA researchers and instructors from time to time about timing in Kunst des Fechtens. There are a number of prominent people in our community who earnestly believe that everyone, regardless of tradition or time period, should carefully study the concept of Tempo as given by 16th or 17th century Italian masters, the True and False Times of 16th century English author George Silver, or (more often) both. I've heard some even go so far as to say things like "No one should be able to call himself a HEMA instructor if he can't have an intelligent conversation about Tempo."

I disagree with this utterly, but my most recent dust-up over the issue set me to thinking about a few things in a new way. Then, when I went down to New Orleans a few weeks ago, a few conversations with Christian Trosclair, Jeanry Chandler, and Veronique McMillan about cross-training in HEMA sort of crystallized the idea for me.

There's a wealth of physical wisdom, for lack of a better term, that a living martial art possesses. What is your posture like when you stand, how do you shift your weight as you step, what muscles do you engage when you strike and in what order, and so on. Elements that are not what most people would mention when talking about their art or when trying to record its secrets, but which are vital to performing it correctly. These are things that a student would absorb from his master both indirectly (by watching) and directly (by being corrected when he screws them up). This physical wisdom is just as important as the more macro-level concepts of specific strikes, holds, and other techniques that compose the syllabus of a martial art—indeed, without it, the technical syllabus will often be worthless.

In Kunst des Fechtens, we have very little of this physical wisdom passed on in our manuals. The goal of the "HEMA Project", if we may speak of such a thing, is to determine whether there are enough clues packaged with the technical syllabus of a given art that we can recover this vital piece and thus fully revive a dead tradition.

Thus, possessing only certain context cues and vague references to the physical side of KdF, we try to restore it by looking broadly. We might take up a system of Italian rapier to improve our thrusting game, study a Japanese Kenjutsu to learn cutting with a two-handed sword, study Messer to learn how our right hands work and to get better at wrestling at the sword, work on staff plays to make our left hands smarter and generate more power in winding, and look at the Black Book of Meyer to learn how our thrusts might be converted into cuts when circumstances require. We might study theory from any source we can find to try to chase down a vital insight that unlocks the cryptic vocabulary of Liechtenauer: What is Indes? Is it a technique? Is it a moment? Is it a feeling? Is it an opening? Is it the technique that we execute in the moment when we feel the opening?

However, this is something that we do, this is how we of the first "HEMA generation" work to reconstruct the art. It is therefore important to keep always in mind that doing this is not art, but rather the method for finding it. We study other arts, whether living or in process of reconstruction themselves, to learn what we need to know to reconstruct our art. We may even have to teach our students this way, because the reconstruction of KdF is not yet complete. Thus, we may study Tempo and even teach our students about tempo because we don't yet properly understand Indes ourselves.

However, we must never become complacent or content with this arrangement. A vital part of the process is to frequently circle back and recheck the core Liechtenauer treatises to see how much more we understand, and how much foreign material can be scraped away from our understanding of the Art because we now understand it on its own terms. This is how, one day, we can reach the goal of completing the reconstruction and engaging in a living art again.

On the other hand, if the students of our students' students still train their students in rapier in order to understand Absetzen with the long sword, if they hand them a katana to teach them cutting, if they teach their students tempo in order to illuminate Indes, make no mistake: that means we've failed. It means either that we never succeeded in understanding KdF on the deep level necessary to teach it on its own terms, or that we gave up prematurely and decided instead to create a hybrid sword art by mashing together unrelated sources in whatever way seemed to make sense at the time.

Michael Chidester
Wiktenauer Director
HEMA Alliance, WMAC


Multiple Rule Sets And Their Support Of Tournaments as Training Tools


Multiple Rule Sets And Their Support Of Tournaments as Training Tools


It is the day before the first league event of our kind in the US and I am sitting here at work in Pittsburgh waiting for people to start arriving. The Longpoint Historical Fencing League is a plan we've been working towards, slowly, for a few years now. Originally, we had planned to try to get multiple leagues going across the US all at once. Later, we decided this would be too much effort and would rather just lead by example, letting other regions choose to follow suit or not, with many having started up quite quickly. One of those examples is how we chose to handle rules and our reasons for doing so as organizers, instructors, and fighters.

Allow me to start out by stating that one of my internal checkboxes for how I view an individual or school is if they are interested in or have participated in competitions, even if only once or twice. I believe the experience is important and should be a part of a holistic training approach. There is an opposite extreme, though, and thus also a checkbox for if a school puts too much emphasis on competition. Given that, some of my thoughts here might be influenced by these views.

When speaking to people about leagues, both in Europe and the US, a common topic is rules standardization. In our case, standardization would mean that every event uses the same, or at least very similar, rules. There are certainly pros and cons to each approach, but which one you prefer paints part of a picture of how you approach tournaments. Standardization is great for refs, judges, tournament organizers, and ensuring that all fighters understand what is expected of them. However, it isn't so great for continuing to challenge martial artists.

Tournaments are governed by rules. Hell, sparring in your local club is governed by similar, although unspoken, rules. Unless you are fighting for realsies, you are playing a game. Rule sets always have deficiencies and tend to focus on one set of preferred skills at the cost of others.

  1. Longpoint's rules artificially limit the validity of playing the range game with a focus on deep technique.
  2. The Nordic rules artificially limit a fighter's need to worry as much about limb strikes with a focus on strikes and thrusts to vital areas.
  3. Franco Belgian rules limit a fighter's need to worry about any part of the fight that isn't striking or winding for a strike to a high target in favor of those two items.
  4. In club sparring, often unspoken, limits intensity in favor of friendly opposition.

Thus, consistently training under one set of rules has never sat well with me. We all have our preferred rules to fight under, but people like Axel Pettersson, year after year, show that a great fighter can excel under any given set of rules.

Sometimes, rules suck. Sometimes a rule set that was great the year before becomes significantly worse due to a set of minor changes. Sometimes rules are applied inconsistently. Yes, these are all problems, and they're problems that won't go away without standardization, but they are also problems that I think we have to deal with without standardizing if we want to continue to approach tournaments as training tools rather than just a related activity.

If you are a fighter who enters a competition with the rules heavy on your mind, you probably don't enjoy or get as much out of that competition as you should. You have to understand the rules, sure, because going into a Franco Belgian format with a plan to absetzen everyone in the face will get you disqualified, but otherwise your plan should just be 'Fence well under the given conditions'. That is a plan that will carry you consistently through any competition, and a plan you can work towards in your school without compromising your fencing.

Even if you, as an individual or as a school, attempt to focus on what you consider 'the art', competitions will influence you and your friends. Consistently fighting under a single rule set will influence them even heavier in that, from a competitive standpoint, they are only being encouraged towards and rewarded by whatever preferred set of skills that rule set focuses on. For this reason, with holistic training as a leading goal, we decided to require that the LHFL host at least two different rule sets each season, and would prefer that every event use a different set.  As a fighter, I want to compete under Longpoint rules, Nordic rules, historical rules, some of Ben Strickling's crazy ideas, and whatever else people come up with and successfully test purely for my own, selfish benefit. As an organizer, I accept that this means more work for me. As an instructor, I acknowledge that this means I need to teach people to fence, not play to a set of rules. All rule sets are important in different ways, especially in that they will ensure that we continue to grow as a whole martial art, not just a tournament scene.


Ben Michels
Broken Plow Western Martial Arts



The Talhoffer Society: A HEMA Thriller


The Talhoffer Society: A HEMA Thriller

Some of you may know me as the HEMA Alliance Curriculum Council Director, or as the founder of the New York Historical Fencing Association, or perhaps as the guy who runs the cutting tournament at Longpoint. But, I'm also a writer.

I just released this book on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. It's a modern day HEMA thriller and takes place in a fictionalized version of our community. It was represented by a prominent agent (Sarah Yake of Frances Collin Literary Agency) who was very passionate about the project. But try as she might, she could not convince any of the major publishers that a book about sword fighting would have mass market appeal. I would like to prove them wrong, and I need your help to do it!

The book is about finding meaning in HEMA in a very extreme, profound and unexpected way, and will speak to all of us on some level.

If it goes mainstream, it will be a big benefit for HEMA, as it will popularize our arts and give people an image of HEMA that goes beyond Renaissance Fairs and LARPers. This is of particular importance in the US,where we are still stigmatized by negative stereotypes.

I think this book has the potential to do that, all it needs is some momentum. How can you help? Read it, review it, tell your friends! Reviews (Amazon, Goodreads, blogs) and word of mouth (social media) are critical to a book's success.

More importantly, why should you bother? Because I can all but guarantee that you will love it. A lot. But don't just take my word for it. This is from a review by Jake Norwood, who needs no introductions:

"The Talhoffer Society is, in fact, one of my 10 favorite novels. It's not Edelson's straightforward prose that does it, though that works here. Rather it's his approach to the confluence of violence and art.

The Talhoffer Society's characters, modern-day swordfighters in the European and Asian traditions, are drawn into a world of underground dueling with real swords where death is a real possibility. Where other works with a similar theme have honed in on the ideas of bloodsport and violence as salacious entertainment, Edelson's book strikes a different note.

How far will someone who has spent their entire life honing a craft that they never thought they'd actually use go in order to use it? What would they risk, and what reward does that experience bring? What does it mean, Edelson asks, to become a master of swordsmanship? And why would anyone care?

Yes, there's adventure, intrigue, double-cross, and other thriller stuff. There's a helicopter in there somewhere. And sure, the protagonists are likeable and the antagonists will earn your ire. There's blood and death and secret societies and lots of swords. But better than that, there's a question that you'll ask yourself as you read... and I think many readers will be surprised at the answer they provide themselves at the end of it."

The full review is on Jake's wall. For those who can't see it due to privacy
settings, Jake's Amazon review is here:

You can read the first three chapters on my website:  http://www.michaeledelson.net/#/the-talhoffer-society/

You can order the paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Talhoffer-Society-Michael-Edelson-ebook/dp/B01AR30G6W


The Case for the Twerhaw as a Diagonal Cut

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The Case for the Twerhaw as a Diagonal Cut

This is a topic that I've entertained for several years now, posting about it intermittently (first on the HEMA Alliance forums, and more recently on scattered Facebook threads). This blog post is a modified version of one such Facebook post.

The Case for the Twerhaw as a Diagonal Cut

Cutting lines as visualized by Joachim Meyer (Ms. var. 82, f 2v), cannibalized for my own purposes.

Cutting lines as visualized by Joachim Meyer (Ms. var. 82, f 2v), cannibalized for my own purposes.

This is an explanation of why the standard Twerhaw (Zwerchhau, etc.), meaning the one that is taught first and used most, is/should be a short edge diagonal cut thrown at a shallow angle (say, 20-40 degrees) using the same mechanics and structure as the current popular interpretation (just with the plane of the cut rotated upward).

There is likewise an Unterhaw version along the same cutting lines, as given in Liechtenauer verse 51 (Twer zw dem pflueg / zw dem ochsen hart gefüg) and labeled the "Zwerch" by Joachim Meyer.

The horizontal Twerhaw (HTH), which has been the common interpretation for the past 20 years or so (I want to say Bart Walczak popularized it, but that was really before my time so I may be in error), is a valid technique in a few special situations but is merely a variation on this cut. The inappropriate use of the HTH as the default cut rather than the proper angled Twerhaw is the result of a confluence of bad translations and misinterpretation.

The case for the Twerhaw comes in six parts:

1 - The diagonal cut defends the hands better
2 - The diagonal cut binds better
3 - The diagonal cut leads to the follow-on devices in a more intuitive way
4 - The diagonal cut is used in Messer
5 - The diagonal cut arises from common fencing
6 - The diagonal cut matches the source material better

Number 6 is obviously the most important, but it's the longest section so the others might get lost if it came first.

Twerhaw illustration from the gloss of Hans Medel (Cod. I.6.2º.5, f 27r)

Twerhaw illustration from the gloss of Hans Medel (Cod. I.6.2º.5, f 27r)

1 - Defending the Hands

When used as a counter-cut, the HTH leaves the hands directly in the path of the incoming edge and often leads to at least incidental contact (which could be less incidental in a real encounter since swords are sharp and fingers are flimsy). There are tweaks that can be made to the strike to mitigate this risk to an extent, and there's an argument to be made that with the stickiness of sharps the edge would not threaten the defender's hand as much, but the fact is that with the correct Twerhaw these considerations evaporate—the gross mechanics of the Twer protect the hands automatically. By striking directly onto the opponent's sword, you line up your shield in such a way as to maximize its protective qualities, and the risk of hand hits is no greater than in, say, a Zornhaw.

2 - Creating a Superior Bind

Whereas the HTH travels in a path oblique to most strikes and often results in a messy edge-to-edge bind, the proper Twer strikes directly across the line of attack, typically resulting in a strong over-bind with your short edge pressing the opponent's flat. This not only gives you more control of the bind, but it also allows a greater degree of Fuhlen.

I suspect this is what the anonymous gloss in the Ms. 3227a means when it says that "And with this crossing-strike it is quite good to get on the sword with someone. And when one gets the other on the sword, no matter how it happened, the other may get away from him with great difficulty, and will be beaten by him to both sides with crossing-strikes." (Zabinski)

3 - Making the Devices Smoother

Illustration of a Twerhaw device from Goliath (Ms. germ. quart. 2020, f 22r)  

Illustration of a Twerhaw device from Goliath (Ms. germ. quart. 2020, f 22r)

The proper Twer leads to the canonical follow-on devices much more smoothly than does the HTH. I leave the proof of this as an exercise for the reader. :P

Seriously, there are like a thousand and I don't have room to explain them all. They all work, and they usually work better. (It was attempting a counter to a counter to the Twer from Ringeck that convinced Jake Priddy, since it just sort of appeared spontaneously rather than having to be forced as was required by the HTH.)

4 - Twerhaw vs. Entrusthaw

Entrushaw illustration from Lecküchner (Cgm 582, f 25r)

Entrushaw illustration from Lecküchner (Cgm 582, f 25r)

The Entrusthaw (Shock or Anger Hew) is the equivalent hidden strike to the Twerhaw with the Messer—it uses the same verses in Lecküchner as the Twer does in Liechtenauer, and Andreas provides independent confirmation of this equivalence.

The foundational play of the Entrusthaw is breaking the guard Luginsland (Watchtower, i.e. vom Tag) starting from a low position comparable to an Alber. Performing this strike horizontally from a low guard is quite awkward and difficult, and there's simply no way to maintain a good speed and structure while doing it from any position. On the other hand, throwing it diagonally (by passing through the Bogen) is a smooth and powerful action.

The follow-on devices of the Entrusthaw likewise give no implication of a horizontal strike.

(Caveat: Jake Norwood has a Messer version of the HTH that maintains good structure, but I only like it when striking from Luginsland, not from the low wards.)

5 - Emergent from Common Fencing

Pseudo-Peter von Danzig's gloss tells us that the Zornhaw is "a simple peasant strike", and Ms. 3227a's gloss that no strike is more natural to a man in a rage; with training and art, however, this simple diagonal long-edge Oberhaw becomes one of Liechtenauer's five Hidden Strikes. The Twer is similar: teach someone that both edges are for striking and they will naturally start trying to throw short-edge Oberhawen (I did on my first day, and you probably did too). With training and art, these short-edge strikes become another of Liechtenauer's Hidden Strikes.

This is also why the only "named" strike that the gloss prepares his students to counter is the Twerhaw—because the "Twerhaw" he expects is the simple short-edge diagonal cut of the common fencer, and the proper responses are different than the typical long-edge cuts he just calls "Oberhawen".

6 - Matches the Source Materials

Most Liechtenauer texts make no indication of an angle, so someone coming to the treatises fresh would just assume a default diagonal angle for the Twer, or possibly take the statement from Ms. 3227a (23v-24r) to heart which says "Also know that there are only two strikes out of all the strikes, as they may always be called, that is the strike from above and the strike from below from both sides. These are the main strikes and the rudiment of all other strikes." (Zabinski) and from that surmise that the Twer, like all strikes, is a modified Oberhaw or Unterhaw from the side.

Illustration of the rising Zwerch from Joachim Meyer (1570, longsword image H, Heidi Zimmerman/Draupnir Press)

Illustration of the rising Zwerch from Joachim Meyer (1570, longsword image H, Heidi Zimmerman/Draupnir Press)

However, back in the early, steam-powered days of HEMA we didn't have a lot of resources, and most older/legacy interpretations (including HTH) derive from an amalgam of poor (by our standards) translations from Ms. 3227a, Ringeck, Talhoffer, and Meyer. In this case, Meyer has a horizontal strike which he calls the "Mittel oder Uberzwerchhauw" which corresponds to the HTH and which some people associated with the Twer (even though Meyer has a separate Zwerchhauw section which is a rising diagonal cut).

But the primary piece of evidence that people relied on was two passages from Ms. 3227a (27v) that hung entirely on the translation chosen for "Twer"; removing those interpretive decisions from the text gives the following:

"Here notice and know that for the entire sword no strike is as honest, as quick, as ready and as good as the [Twer]. And it goes crosswise to both sides, with both edges, the front and the back one, to all the openings, lower and upper ones. And everything that comes from the roof, that is the upper strikes, or whatever comes from above downward, all this a swordsman breaks and defends against with [Twer], who will perform them properly.

Thus he throws the sword well forward crosswise in front of the head, to whatever side he wants, in the same way as if he wanted to come to upper hangings or windings. But in the case of the [Twer] he turns the flats of the sword, the one upward and the other downward or below, and the edges [Twer] to the sides, the one to the right and the other to the left side." (Zabinski, modified by Chidester)

Many people at the time were inclined to translate Twer as "horizontal", which resulted in a sort of circular definition of the cut. This in turn lead to interpreting the description of edge and flat orientation as describing a horizontal cut.

However, Twer literally means "across" (or "athwart", which means "across the direction of travel"). This lead to the term "crosswise cut", which people who had horizontality on the brain were inclined to interpret as being synonymous with horizontal. If it is interpreted as meaning "across [the line]", or "across [the strike]", or "across [the sword]", then there's no implication of a horizontal strike anywhere, and the description of blade orientation merely signifies that it must be a shallower cut than the others.

(As a linguistic aside, the term Twer is a derivation of Quer, which means not only "across" and "crosswise" but also "aslant" and "diagonal". Zwer, of course, is a variant phonetic spelling of Twer. For more, see: http://woerterbuchnetz.de/cgi-bin/WBNetz/wbgui_py?sigle=Lexer&lemid=LT02846 )

I've also heard people cite the B branch of the Pseudo-Peter von Danzig gloss ("Jud Lew") as further evidence for the baseless HTH interpretation, as it indicates that the sword should be held with the flat on the shoulder before striking. I actually am glad they caught that one, since striking a diagonal cut from flat-shoulder-vom-Tag is even easier than striking a horizontal one (resting the flat on the shoulder shortens the distance the short edge has to travel, and a diagonal cut generally follows a shorter line to the target than a horizontal). But in any case, holding the sword in this way only changes starting blade orientation, it doesn't limit the lines you can cut.


As I said, this is an argument that I've had many times, but many people who put in time and test it out find it to produce generally superior results to the HTH and become converts. So even if nothing written here convinces you, then go out and give it a try anyway. The results may surprise you.

P.S. To address one more common complaint that I hear when this comes up, which I couldn't find a place to include above: no, this is not a Schilhaw. A Schilhaw, according to my (and others') interpretation, works rather like the one in this video, which is nothing like the Twerhaw mechanic:

Michael Chidester
Wiktenauer Director
HEMA Alliance, WMAC

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The Cutting Edge: Applying Sharps to Interpretation


The Cutting Edge: Applying Sharps to Interpretation

Disclaimer: Training with sharps is inherently dangerous. It is probably not covered by your martial arts insurance. You could rack up a significant amount of medical bills, or die. Do not do it lightly or without sufficient training and safety measures.

Okay, pun aside, perhaps not cutting edge. I feel that there are parts of the Longsword community who are going to read some of these points and wonder how I could just be putting it together now, but I absolutely know that there are large parts of the community who are in the same boat I'm attempting to bail out of. For years, it was drilled into me that if your interpretation does not match the text or does not allow you to do what the text tells you to do, it is wrong and you need to start over. This is a source material purist approach, and it really forces you to constantly question what you think you are doing. For instance, if performing Danzig's Zornhau, you must be able to directly follow up your strike with a thrust to the face; no winding, relatively little re-positioning, straight in to the face or breast if he is soft at the sword when you clash. If you cannot do this with your Danzig Zornhau interpretation, you are probably wrong.

This approach has served me well, especially as I've started to branch out on my own. It allows me to easily accept new information, but also disregard a lot of information that I or people I trust have already worked through using this approach. The only layer that I've been missing is how sharps function versus how blunts, nylons, or wasters work. For the purposes of this post, we are going to be working with the first three pieces of gloss from Danzig's Zornhau.


"Mark. Here begins the text and the gloss.
Firstly, of the Wrath-hew with its techniques:

Who Over-hews you,
Wrath-hew point threatens him.

Gloss: Mark, the Wrath-hew breaks all Over-hews with the point, and is yet nothing other than a simple peasant strike, and that drive thus: When you come to him with the pre-fencing, if he then hews at your head from above on his right side, then hew also from your right side from above, without any parrying, with him wrathfully on his sword. If he is then Soft on the sword, then shoot in the long point straight before you and stab him to the face or the breast. So Set-on him."

Great, most of you can probably follow these instructions with a blunt very easily. He strikes at you, so you strike from your right side from above against his sword (except, without any parrying/versetz, whatever that means), then thrust into his face or breast.

Except it may not be that simple. With a blunt, this makes sense, even if it's an organized form of chaos at times. But what about with a sharp? When going back through these texts keeping sharps in mind, you mostly have to focus a few items things:

  1. Sharps truly bind. They stick together when they clash edge on edge, even obliquely, and especially when struck with force as the Zornhau may be. This limits your ability to move your sword against theirs both up and down their edge, and back and forth along their edge.
  2. Winding unlocks these binds. As you twist your hands, the edge on edge contact transitions to or through edge on flat to a connection that isn't as sticky.
  3. Due to #1, you can expert pressure on your opponent's sword, arms, and body much more reliably than you can with blunts.

Let's go through the Zornhau text again with sharps in mind:

"...if he then hews at your head from above on his right side, then hew also from your right side from above, without any parrying, with him wrathfully on his sword...."

This will most likely result in a very sticky bind. Your edges have clashed together, notching both of them to some degree, and neither of you have let up yet. With a blunt sword, depending on how you perform the striking part of the Zornhau, it's likely that your opponent's sword has slid down to your cross, rapping the top of your gloves. With a sharp, this probably didn't happen.

"...If he is then Soft on the sword, then shoot in the long point straight before you and stab him to the face or the breast..."

If he is soft, stab the dude. Easy, right? With a blunt, this generally just means that you either already have or can easily gain center so that you may thrust straight in to his face or breast, gliding along his edge as you do so, with his sword probably sliding down to your cross before or during the motion. With a sharp, though, you're bound together! How can you slide forward and thrust him? You don't. You exert pressure on his sword, wrists, and probably elbows as you thrust forward, forcing his sword to move back towards him as you do so. This perhaps adds an extra element to 'soft' that people who have been fencing with only blunts for years are missing. Soft may not just be that you can gain center, but also that his structure isn't totally rigid, allowing you to exert pressure into his body.

That's the very first play of the zornhau, and already applying Sharps Logic to it is changing how I want to approach the interpretation. Now we will move on to the following two plays, the first winding and the taking off from above.

The First Winding

"This is the text and the gloss on yet another of the Wrath-hew:

Be Stronger against,
Wind, Stab. Sees he, then take it down.

Gloss: Mark, that is when you hew in on him with the Wrath-hew, if he parries and remains Strong with the parrying on the sword, then remain also Strong against with your sword on his and drive high up with the arms and Wind your hilt on his sword in front before your head, and stab him above into the face. If he becomes aware of the stab and drives high up with the arms and parries with the hilt, then remain thus standing with your hilt before your head and set the point in below on the neck, or on the breast between both his arms."

This is what you should do when he is NOT soft, as soft is the requirement for performing the zornhau-ort thrust. With a blunt, the standard interpretation of this for me was simply that if my point is pushed slightly offline either before or during the thrust, because he has responded strongly by pushing it offline, the I should wind up to gain leverage and stab him. With a blunt, this works very well and makes sense. However, as above, applying the sharp to it shines a lot more light on what might be going on.

"...if he parries and remains Strong with the parrying on the sword..."

With a blunt, this usually just means that he has pushed your point offline, preventing your thrust from landing. Using a sharp in this situation, though, 'remains strong' may also mean that his arms and wrists are too strongly positioned to allow your point to easily move forward towards him since you are stuck together. This would be your indicator for moving past the zornhau-ort thrust to this play.

"...then remain also Strong against with your sword on his and drive high up with the arms..."

I have to admit. I always kind of either ignored this part or combined it into the instruction to wind, and I think that was a big miss. With a blunt, trying to follow this instruction in isolation to the wind doesn't really do much. You just end up with his weak on your cross because the edges glide. If you try to perform this in isolation with a sharp, you force his sword to also move upwards, a direction that he isn't already resisting and is more difficult to resist than moving straight in.

"...and Wind your hilt on his sword in front before your head, and stab him above into the face..."

You now have both of your swords high, with neither of your points threatening one another, and your swords are still bound. So, you perform a winding action with your hands, which transitions your contact from bound edge-to-edge to edge-to-flat or through edge-to-flat to unbound edge-to-edge. During this process, you bring your point back in line, you have an advantageous relationship between your strong and his weak, and you stab him from above into the face. For the rest of this play, you will no longer find yourself really stuck together, although any edge-to-edge contact will skitter instead of glide.

The Taking Off (Abnehmen, Oben Abgenomen)

"This is the text and the gloss of yet another technique of the Wrath-hew:

Becomes he aware of it,
Then take off above without danger.

Gloss: Mark, that is when you hew in on him with the Wrath-hew, then shoot the long point into the face or breast as before described states. If he becomes aware of the point and parries strongly and presses your sword to the side, then wrench with your sword on his sword’s blade up over it, above off from his sword, and hew him to the other side, yet on his sword’s blade into the head. That is called “taking off above”."

"...Mark, that is when you hew in on him with the Wrath-hew, then shoot the long point into the face or breast as before described states..."

In this play, you have struck a Zornhau against an incoming strike, and he is soft enough that you can thrust forward into his face or breast. With a sharp, this means that you have started to push his sword and arms back towards his body, exerting pressure on him directly through contact.

"...If he becomes aware of the point and parries strongly and presses your sword to the side, then wrench with your sword on his sword’s blade up over it, above off from his sword, and hew him to the other side,..."

Unless you land the thrust, he will have become aware of it both due to the point threatening him and the pressure being exerted towards him, so he will parry strongly and press your sword to the side. Just as you can force someone to give you the pressure you want in wrestling by pushing on them and then use that pressure against them, you force your opponent here to give you pressure to the side by threatening him with your own pressure that you are exerting through his sword, and then you suddenly relieve your own pressure, cause his sword to jerk more to the side, and strike down behind it.


That's it. This is a pretty big deal to me, as I'm finding that this may mean I have years of bad habits to break myself of if I want to fence correctly. It even gives me a little bit of tournament angst as I think back and realize why some things just don't work as well with blunt steel. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that fencing with blunts is way more difficult than fencing with a sharp would be. I don't know if all of what I've presented here will pan out in the long run, but I feel that I have to fully throw myself at it if I want to discover what is right and what turns out to just be unsubstantiated conjecture.

Ben Michels
Broken Plow, Pittsburgh


New Intro to German Longsword Class in Alexandria, VA, Starts November 12th


New Intro to German Longsword Class in Alexandria, VA, Starts November 12th

Capital Kunst des Fechtens teaches historical European martial arts in a modern way using a curriculum developed by top HEMA coaches and fighters. We emphasize historical technique supported by strength, speed, and assertive execution. Students learn the art of fighting through hands-on instruction, sparring, technique drills and the study of historical sources.


7 Tips When Modifying Your HEMA Gear

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7 Tips When Modifying Your HEMA Gear

If you are a tweaker like me, your gear is something you’ll never stop modifying! This is one of the ways you can keep yourself safe during a tournament, because having gear that fits and moves with your body type is only going to benefit your art.

Here are a few tips to consider as you start to modify and build your own gear.

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Fighting Small


Fighting Small

While attending Iron Gate Exhibition 2014, a fellow instructor approached me with the following thought-provoking inquiry: "What would make you want to quit HEMA?" After a few minutes of conversation, it was made clear to me that this person approached me for one primary reason: compared to most of my opponents, I'm a midget.

As a fighter of relatively small stature, I've developed something of a reputation for approaching larger opponents with eagerness rather than timidity. Although it probably has a lot to do with the fact that there aren't a ton of us really short people in the HEMA scene at present, the fact that others see this as notable indicates the need for a broader conversation on the issue of how to encourage smaller fighters who may see larger opponents as intimidating and express a reluctance to engage with them in sparring or competition. As an instructor, I also have some experience on the other side of the fence; we've had more than one beginning student show lack of enthusiasm or even outright discouragement at the prospect of facing off with someone larger, stronger, or more aggressive. However, I've also seen many of these students overcome their physical and psychological barriers to become skilled, assertive fighters.  Which brings me back to the conversation I had at IGX.

As it turned out, the instructor in question boasts an impressive 50-50 ratio of male and female fighters and takes on students as young as third graders. Commendably, he also takes measures to ensure that everyone can afford to pursue his or her passion for swords regardless of circumstances.  Yet, despite these efforts, he is still struggling to retain timid students who fear drilling - much less sparring - with larger fighters. So his question to me was really "how can I motivate these fighters to stick around?" Until now, he has been actively preventing physically mismatched pairs from working together.  While this may make sense as an initial approach to avoid scaring off beginners, it is not a valid strategy for long-term retention. So, in case there are other instructors out there experiencing similar dilemmas, I'd like to pass on the advice I shared at IGX.

First off, keep the environment supportive and safe. Don't let smaller or more timid fighters be ridiculed or bullied. Even words uttered in jest may be taken seriously and have a more damaging impact than one might intend or suspect. Smaller fighters should not learn to associate their size with feelings of shame, inadequacy, or weakness. Instead, they are challenges to overcome, hidden strengths to be developed, and physical realities to be accepted and worked with; they do not preclude anyone from becoming a strong, skilled, capable fighter. Reinforce this to your students, and teach them to view themselves and their statures in a positive, constructive light.

This also applies to physical bullying. Buffels who haven't learned appropriate force control and get an ego boost from bashing smaller opponents don't belong in sparring matches period, much less against timid fighters. Additionally, smaller fighters may need help finding adequate safety gear. Talk to your students and make sure that everyone is respectful, knows how to responsibly judge appropriate force levels, and will look out for everyone else in the club. You're all a big family; emphasize this culture.  Which brings me to my next major point: communication.  This is perhaps the single most important weapon in your arsenal when working with students.

Talk to your club at large and make sure that everyone knows to look out for their own safety. If a situation is concerning or feels unsafe, there is no shame in removing oneself from it, and in fact it is that person's responsibility to do so. Figure out why it's unsafe and work to fix the issue. Also make sure club members feel comfortable communicating with each other. It's okay to let your partner know if you don't have knee protection that day, if you're nursing an injury, if they're hitting hard enough to cause damage, or if the drill is getting too fast and intense for you to deal with- yet. Start slow and light; build up as the fighter grows more skilled and - more to the point - confident.  Always push just beyond the limits of his or her comfort zone. Don't let your students stagnate due to intimidation, but don't push so hard that you scare them off. Moreover, express your confidence in them, and they will be motivated to work harder and live up to what you already know they can do. They may question their abilities, but if you demonstrate faith that they are capable and will do well, chances are they will give it a go.

DO NOT actively avoid pairing unequally sized fighters. Ultimately, the goal is to get these people sparring and - depending on their goals - competing.  Even without competition, our arts teach defense against opponents you wouldn't have been able to choose back in the day. You still don't choose your opponents in modern competitions.  As a practitioner of HEMA, you learn to use what resources you have, work with your strengths and limitations, and develop a fighting style that allows you to adapt to any opponent or situation you find yourself facing. Some techniques will work better for shorter people, others for larger people. As an easy example, shorter fighters will probably use an unterschnitt whereas larger ones will likely have more opportunities to apply an oberschnitt. If you're short, ox is your friend, whereas larger fighters will probably find their ribs attacked more often and their heads less, so might have better luck fighting from plow. Likewise, when facing aggressive fighters: when you go up against a buffel, no matter how short or tall you are, you sidestep. If you're already short, getting into an even lower stance makes you harder to reach and gives you easier access to an opponent's ribs and legs.

There are loads of techniques in Wallerstein that cater to smaller fighters.  Nathan Grepares offers a great seminar instructing shorter fighters in how to deal with height differences. Bottom line: instead of enabling these individuals to avoid intimidating situations and preventing this vital part of their growth as a fighter, work to make the situations less - or not - intimidating. Identify particular issues they may be having and arm them with the tools to deal with them effectively. The other part of this is that, by actively preventing them from facing larger or more aggressive opponents, you are expressing an extreme non-verbal lack of confidence in their ability to face and prevail against these "intimidating" fighters. You're building up the intimidation factor and reinforcing their doubts in their own ability to cope with such fighting styles. You are also compounding the safety issue, since they will be in more danger not knowing how to defend themselves against such opponents when the need arises. On the other hand, if you put them against fighters of all sizes and styles but do so in a controlled setting and instruct them in how to deal with the inherent challenges, you will be teaching them to have confidence in themselves, achieve things beyond what they thought they were capable of, and grow into skilled and experienced fighters who can defend themselves and perform well in class and competition. This is how you retain all students. You teach them to be more than they were before, and you teach them what they are there to learn.  You challenge them; you help them to grow as individuals and martial artists.  This applies not only to small, timid students; it is a common principle that applies to ALL students.

Last but not least: every individual is different. This is why it is so important to keep lines of communication open. Be encouraging, but don't force the person to do something they don't genuinely want to do. What is he or she looking to get out of the experience? Are they there for social reasons? Just to stay in shape? To learn the historical aspects of swordsmanship? To become a serious international competitor? To learn self-defense?  The potential reasons are endless, but having this information will help you ensure that their needs are being met. Maybe the person has zero interest in fighting competitively. That's okay. It doesn't mean you can't encourage them to try it out, but don't pressure them if it's something that causes them stress and not enjoyment.

On the other hand, would they really like to compete but are afraid they won't do well? Are they concerned about getting injured? Perhaps having access to additional protective gear would help them feel more comfortable. How about going over some tournament videos ahead of time and preparing via coached sparring? Entering into a nylon tournament before trying a steel? Skipping fighting altogether the first time and observing, staffing, or competing in forms or cutting? If you invited them to come be your coach while you fight, would they come? Be respectful of the individual and their needs and desires. Be supportive and encouraging. Be confident in their ability to learn and do well. Most of the time, your fighters will stick around. And if they don't, then maybe he or she didn't belong in the first place. Maybe trying out sword fighting was a novelty, but they're really into Tae Kwon Do, or roller derby, or knitting. And that's okay, too. You learned something, they learned something, and just maybe they'll send you their friends.

Kiana Shurkin
Maryland KDF