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Young Knightall the length and breadth of the art.
learn to have God's love and women honour
Thus grow your honour
upon Knightlyhood and learning
Art you must seize
and honour courtesy in war
Wrestle well trap
Lance spear sword and messer
and in other hands ruin
strike in and hard there
Rush him stepping or in driving
That the wisdom
that one keeps sees praise
Thereon you retain and have
Pronounced "bloss-feshten" or "bloss-fekhten" in English, this submanual is a treatise on swordsmanship in poetic format, written by the 13th century Sword Master Johannes Liechtenauer. Its poetic format is considered to have been a kind of code and mnemonic device; it would at once prevent outsiders to the art from deciphering its techniques while providing easy ways for Liechtenauer's own students to memorise its concepts. As such, it is nigh impossible to pull together a martial art with this gloss alone. Considered in conjunction with later manuals such as the Codex Dobringer --which quote it directly and from which the original verse is drawn-- it becomes decipherable enough to set a reasonable standard for European sword techniques. Obviously, this is an instruction book and thus Truth in Television.
Note that the Bloßfechten is only one part of Liechtenauer's works, describing how to deal with an adversary in no armour or light armour. Other sections of his work describe techniques for armoured combat, fighting on horseback and techniques for spears, daggers and unarmed combat.
This work, along with many associated works, can be read in full in English and Middle High German here. The documentary Reclaiming the Blade deals significantly with reconstructing Western medieval swordsmanship, most of which is based on the Bloßfechten. See Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship for a modern commentary and method for employing these techniques.
- There are four openings, numbered 1 to 4.
- The first is the upper-right side of the opponent's body (upper-left from our perspective).
- The second is the upper-left of the opponent's body (upper-right from our perspective).
- The third is the lower-right of the opponent's body (lower-left from our perspective).
- The fourth is the lower-left of the opponent's body (lower-right from our perspective).
- In all fights, it is your goal to cause your adversary to over-commit to the defense of an opening and strike at whichever opening is both closest and undefended.
- At all times, have the body straight towards or at a 45 degree angle from the opponent, with the left leg forward and the right leg back. The right foot should be at an angle somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees. If you are left-handed, you do the opposite. When doing a basic strike, step forward with the foot that corresponds to the strike. For instance, if you are striking from the right, step forward with the right foot.
- You may also step back or to either side when striking. The best step to take depends on the conditions of the fight, terrain and one's objectives. Most strikes, however, are done with a step forward for momentum.
- There are eight basic strikes. Two along the vertical axis, two along the horizontal axis and two along each diagonal axis. This is because each axis can have one strike going each way along itself. However, the German school avoids the vertical and horizontal in favour of the diagonal; these are called oberhau and unterhau, that is, a strike from above, and from below.
- There are four guard positions. A guard position is not a block; it is a rest position from which you can easily strike, intercept or stop an enemy attack.
- The most versatile and useful guard is vom Tag, or from Roof. The sword is held close to the body with the crossguard close to your right breast, or on the shoulder, pointing up or towards the "roof", as it were. When using this guard on the right side, your right-hand knuckles face foward. When using this guard on the left side, your right-hand knuckles face behind your body.
- The Ochs or Ox guard is held with the hilt in front of your head with the blade pointing forward. Your knuckles should be pointing upwards or 90 degrees to the right of that. The blade might hang slightly, giving this guard its "hanging guard" nickname. It is primarily known as this in the Italian manuals.
- The Pflug, or Plough guard is held with the pommel at your right hip, the blade tilting about 45 degrees foward. This is very similar to the "standard" guard position seen in many video games and films.
- The Alber or Fool's guard is held with arms outstretched but at rest. As a result, the sword will be extended and pointing forwards, but towards the ground. This guard is so named because it looks as if the swordsman is inviting death.
- Any guard can be reversed and used on the left side. Remember, however, that if you are right-handed, your right hand will always be the hand directly under the crossguard. Similarly, if you are left-handed, the left hand will always be directly under the crossguard.
- Every time you strike with a sword, your strike should end in one of these guards or at longpoint, where the sword is held out with full arm extension. Certain strikes can only end in certain guards. A horizontal strike will always end in Ochs, for example, as will an underhand strike. Any overhead strike, however, can end in longpoint, Pflug or Alber.
- There are five Master Strikes, which are essentially all basic strikes used at the correct time for the correct reason. In his books, Liechtenauer details various binding techniques that make sure these strikes always have a contingency. Except for the Zornhau, all of these strikes are displacements designed for defeating certain guards.
- The Zornhau or Wrath Strike is simply a strike from your dominant shoulder to the opposite hip of your adversary. It's named so because a diagonal strike, downwards, from your dominant side, is the most powerful attack you can unleash.
- The Krumphau defeats Ochs. With it, you strike your adversary's hand or blade rather than their body while stepping out to the side you are striking from. For instance, if you're striking from the right to the left, you step out right. This way, you displace your enemy's guard and prevent them from striking you, giving you a clear opening for attack.
- The Zwerchhau defeats vom Tag. It is a slightly diagonal or horizontal strike with the hilt held high, preventing other high strikes from connecting.
- The Schielhau defeats Pflug. From the right, the sword is brought left to strike an adversary's blade with the back edge of the sword, hooking around and allowing a thrust or strike with the front edge.
- The Scheitelhau defeats Alber via geometry. In Alber, it is easiest to strike from below, but the diagonal line created from attacker to defender by a low strike is longer than the straight line of a high strike. As such the Scheitelhau is performed by striking directly down onto an adversary's head, using the advantage of a few inches to avoid retaliation.
- A swordsman that relies too heavily on the displacements will be defeated by deceptive techniques, such as feints.
- Note that the full utility of the Master Strikes cannot be adequately expressed without long explanations and numerous images, so written above is simply one way of using each.
- The most effective way to defend oneself is by striking in such a way that the strike finds its target while blocking the path of an incoming strike. If that is not possible, then it is best to strike against an adversary's strike rather than blocking it passively.
This work contains examples of:
- BFS: These techniques are most appropriate for longswords and great swords, both of which are large close combat weapons, although nowhere near as cumbersome as depicted in most media. During the Renaissance, troops carrying true two-handed swords of about six feet in length almost certainly benefited from Liechtenauer's methods as well.
- Blade Lock: The binden, binds. As opposed to the standard image, there were lots of techniques other than "let's see who'll push stronger": Master Liechtenauer suggests meeting an adversary's strength with weakness and their weakness with strength. This basically means that if you are in a Blade Lock, step out and countercut an adversary who relies on pushing with strength, but push through and strike directly an adversary who moves out.
- Diagonal Cut: The basic hau is one of these, though the Clean Cut is not guaranteed. Most diagonal cuts, unlike the trope, aim to end at the centre line of the target.
- Played straight with the Zornhau Master Strike from the Zornhut guard, which is employed for its power and decisive nature.
- Flynning: Completely averted.
- Knight in Shining Armour: The intended audience. In practise, these techniques ended up being useful not only to Knight in Shining Armour, but also to both mercenary Landsknechte and peasant troops after Sigmund Ringeck produced a manual intended for general consumption.
- Lightning Bruiser: Armoured combat on foot. Including not only swordsplay and close combat, but also wrestling in full armour.
- Master Swordsman: Master Liechtenauer and his students, and by a liberal extension, we may say the authors of the manuals in general.
- Single-Stroke Battle: The ideal combat.
- Special Attack: There are five, the Master Strikes.
- Sword Fight
- Truth in Television
- What Measure Is a Non-Badass?: Liechtenauer makes it clear that longsword fencing is not for the feint of heart.
- ↑ the actual historical imagery appears to show the angle up to 135 degrees, but it's not described in writing. It may be related to the issues of stability on slippery Medieval ground.
- ↑ When two swords meet, such as in the case of Blade Lock
- ↑ The closest thing Germany has to its own musketeer archetype.