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.
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.