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The German longsword tradition consistently recommends being the first to attack, or, if attacked, to regain the initiative in the fight [Döbringer 20r; Ringeck 13r-v, 15r-v]. According to Meyer, the ideal is to attack before the opponent is even able to adopt a guard [Meyer 45v].
One of the core techniques in the longsword system is to deliver an attack in one quarter, to draw the opponent to defend there, then, either before or after contact, to pull the blade away for an attack in another quarter, in the hopes that the opponent has overcommitted to the previous defense. This would tend to work best as a series of swift attacks calculated to degrade the opponent’s level of control, presumably one of the reasons why gaining and keeping the initiative is so important. Meyer has an extensive series of drills designed to train for precisely this skill (see Meyer Sequence 27v.1: The Four Quarters Drill).
Pulling from one target to another in this way is particularly useful against an opponent who commits strongly to a parry, also called being “hard” in the bind. Overall, the sources recommend using “softness” (such as pulling) against an opponent who is hard in the bind, and strength (such as winding) against an opponent who is weak in the bind.
The early sources focus on 17 core techniques, based on a list in Liechtenauer: (1) (The 5 Master Cuts) 1 Zhornhau (Wrath Cut), 2 Krumphau (Crooked Cut), 3 Zwerchau (Thwart Cut), 4 Scheilhau (Squinter), 5 Scheitlhau (Scalp Cut), 6 the Four Guards (High, Ox, Plow, Fool), 7 the Versetzen (Four Oppositions) against the four guards (Thwart, Crooked, Squinter, Scalp Cut); 8 Nachreisen (Chasing or traveling after), 9 Uberlaufen (Overrunning), 10 Absetzen (Setting aside), 11 Durchwechseln (Changing Through); 12 Zucken (twitching); 13 Durchlaufen (Running Through), 14 Abscheiden (Cutting Off), 15 Hand Drucken (Pressing Hands), 16 Das Hangen (Hanging) ; 17 Das Winden (Winding) strike, cut, with thrusting [Ringeck 17v-18v, Starhemberg 12v-13r]. Later sources appear to place more emphasis on the accumulation of techniques and devices.
Meyer 4v talks specifically about the distinction among techniques as being “long” or “short,” apparently based on which part of the blade they are executed with. Meyer 42v states that Window can only be used in the bind, and not when the opponent’s point and blade can still be seen in front of you. Meyer 27v.1 seems to imply that the combatants are in range once they reach a fathom’s distance (the distance from fingertips to fingertips of one’s outstretched arms, or about 6 feet).
Style and Bladework
The early sources suggest that cuts are to be dealt powerfully [cf. Ringeck 13v], and this seems to be true even with Meyer. The sources suggest a style in which the cuts are delivered with the arms fully extended, and constantly emphasize the importance of striking well in at the opponent’s body and head rather than at his sword. Speed is also important, and is particularly emphasized by Döbringer [17v].
One likely difference between the early and later styles is the tendency in the early sources to keep the point in line during the War [Ringeck 51r, 59r]; this would naturally have been very useful in a style that relied heavily on thrusting as a followup attack, and much less so in Meyer’s time when thrusting had been marginalized. Other differences include the greater complexity in the devices in the later sources, and the wider variety of footwork they use. Symmetry also seems to increase over time: Meyer 15r emphasizes that all cuts can be delivered from both sides, where earlier sources emphasize attacks delivered from the combatant’s strong side.
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