The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.
Following on from my article about how to make techniques work in sparring, I would like to present a case study from my own recent training. Over the last two or three months, I have begun to have more success at applying the Mutieren during sparring with the longsword.
If you are unfamiliar with this technique, it is somewhat similar to the croisé in classical and modern fencing; winding an attack from the upper openings down to thrust into the lower openings, maintaining blade contact with the opponent’s sword for greater safety. With the longsword, because it is so easy for the opponent to lever his sword around to make another strike, it can be quite daunting to try to attempt this technique, and it is often a technique that many longsword fencers struggle to perform successfully.
This is the process through which I have learned to apply the technique more successfully.
Maybe opening the majority of exchanges with a predictable Oberhaw is not such a bad thing?
A while ago, Alex posted an article on the subject of unusual techniques, and he discussed why he felt that it was not a good idea to spend too much time trying to use these unusual techniques in your sparring. I agree very much with his thoughts, and would like to propose an extension to this idea, that it is beneficial to work mainly with the more common techniques in your system, even if they are predictable.
This week’s blog article is a review of the HEMAC Glasgow 2016 event, written by Tea Kew, an instructor in the Cambridge HEMA group.
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be one of about 50 fencers gathered in Glasgow for an exploration of Style in Longsword Fencing. We were treated to an excellent event, with a generous programme of classes, sparring time, and local bars.
We began on Friday, meeting at the Vanguard Centre (the AHA’s new dedicated training facility in central Glasgow) for sparring and discussion, followed by a short presentation on linguistics in HEMA by Dr Daria Izdebska (AHA). This was a very interesting opening to the event, and helped remind us of the twin aims of the weekend: to fence with new people, and to learn new things.
Something I’ve been working on recently with my students is making sure their cuts are cleaving hits. What I mean by this is that I’m encouraging them to use mechanics that would ensure their cuts would cleave through an opponent. At first, this can seem like the mechanics are being exaggerated to the students, the end result though is that they produce more forceful strikes and achieve positions and binds that seem to match the sources more closely.
A few years ago, I wrote a pair of articles called Cutting with the German Longsword, parts 1 & 2, which may be seen in an updated and revised form in the Encased in Steel Anthology. In these articles, I argued that a hit did not always need to have good cutting potential to be tactically useful. The arguments I made then are I believe still somewhat sound, however I am increasingly focusing on getting my students to perform more of their strikes as cleaving motions, rather than making use of strikes that would cause less damage but would set up further attacks.
A feder in a field, at AHA Loch Lomond 2013.
Photo by Elliot Howie.
A common action in modern fencing is that of “feinting”: setting up a situation so that it looks like you intend to do one thing, when in fact this is a trick, because you actually want to do something else. If the opponent falls for your trick, then he creates an opening that you can exploit. A very common example of feinting is to perform an attack toward one opening, then when the opponent makes to parry your attack, to take your sword away and attack into a different opening instead.
However, is feinting a big part of Liechtenauer’s system of unarmoured fencing with the longsword? It is common to see people utilising feints in sparring, but are these actually part of the system?
This article will examine the advice presented in Ringeck’s gloss of Liechtenauer’s Zettel. Other sources within the tradition may well offer different advice, and I would encourage other practitioners to examine the issue from these other points of view. To make this interesting, I will play Devil’s Advocate, and will argue the stance that feints should not be used as frequently as most people (myself included) use them in the sparring.
The cut and the thrust are two basic attacks that can be done with a sword. Different sword systems will make use of these attacks to different amounts, so while a rapier system might include the use of cuts, we might expect there to be more emphasis on thrusts than on cuts. A smallsword or epee system might focus entirely on thrusts, and not make use of any cuts at all. Other systems, such as singlestick or mensur, instead focus entirely on the cut.
The longsword is a weapon that is capable of both cutting and thrusting effectively, and so the degree to which cut or thrust is preferred might be decided by the exact configurations of a longsword, or the stylistic elements of whatever method of fencing you’re using. I’ve heard people say that the longsword is a primarily cutting weapon, and generally in sparring, longsworders will often make far more use of cuts than thrusts. However, I believe that if we are studying early Liechtenauer longsword, then the idea that we should be cutting much more than we are thrusting is not supported by the sources. While later sources such as Meyer may have placed more focus on cutting, the earlier sources show quite a lot of focus on thrusting.
One of the activities which HEMA practitioners are likely to be exposed to is that of Historic Medieval Battles, or HMB for short, a sport in which people fight each other while wearing full plate armour. The most famous HMB event is Battle of the Nations, or BOTN, and some examples of BOTN matches can be seen here:
Battle of the Nations, 2013, 1 vs 1
Battle of the Nations, 2014, 5 vs 5
Battle of the Nations, 2013, 21 vs 21
As can be seen, this sport involves using the edges of swords and axes to strike armour-clad opponents, the goal being to strike them hard enough that they are knocked down. This type of approach is frequently criticised by HEMA practitioners, who often claim that armoured combat would only have involved the use of the half-sword to thrust at vulnerable targets not covered by armour, and that striking against a man in armour is not historically accurate. As can be seen in the videos above, plate armour is very effective at protecting the wearer from percussive strikes, so focusing on thrusting into areas not protected would seem to make a lot more sense than striking them.
This list will set out a basic bibliography of 15 book that are a “must have” for the personal library of every serious practitioner of German longsword. The list is my personal opinion, based on several years of experience searching for and reading all kinds of books on the subject. It contains translations and scholarly works, but also contextual pieces of scholarship about arms and armour of the period, sword typologies and a study of the medieval concept of chivalry.
If you have read all of these books, then you will be well educated on the subject of German longsword, and will be able to hold your own in discussions about the history and context of the discipline!
Cutting at AHA Loch Lomond 2013; photo by Elliot Howie.
At the AHA Loch Lomond 2014 camping event, I organised and ran a triathlon style longsword competition. My intention was to create a new and unusual style of tournament, where competitors had to display a varied skill set with respect to the historical sources that we study, and I believe that the competition was very much a success, with some interesting learning points.
Last time I posted, I talked about Upper Crossed Syndrome, which basically means a slouched posture. Upper Crossed Syndrome typically will involve some level of scapular protraction, i.e. the shoulder blades are rounded forward, and this is what I’m going to focus on today. If you’ve not read my previous article, please read it before reading this.
What I want to suggest today is that scapular retraction, i.e. pulling back the shoulder blades, is not only extremely important for everyday posture and long term health, but also very important in terms of fighting correctly with the longsword.