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 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.
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.