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.

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.

Conclusion

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

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