Stages of the Exchange
Meyer describes three stages to each exchange:
The trend in German swordsmanship is to concentrate a lot of our attention on onset with an eye to taking the initiative and forcing our opponent to take action in a predictable way. This is without doubt a keystone to success; if we do it properly our opponent is defeated and we can withdraw at leisure. Experience tells us, however, that very often the result is an exchange of blows, then a brief retreat to safety before engaging once again.
Many schools teach mostly the onset which means that if the initial attacks don't succeed the fight rapidly falls apart.
Often referred to as the zufechten (pre-fencing) or simply the beginning, in this interval we are assessing our opponent and trying to seize the initiative in the fight. This doesn't mean we have to attack first, but it does mean that in the onset we want to force the opponent's hand and effectively trim the number of choices they have in making their attacks.
Very often in the onset the earlier German traditions use the "Vorschlag" (before strike) - basically it is a strike which forces the opponent to do something - parry, move, counter, etc. This reduces the number of options we have to deal with, and allows us to deploy our own preset responses as needed.
Meyer does the same, however he uses a far greater variety of strikes to initiate proceedings. Of the onset, Meyer says:
"It often happens that you cannot begin your device in the Vor, much less carry it out usefully, without some harm befalling you as a result. Thus it necessarily follows that you should position yourself judiciuously with fine, yet serious, comportment, in a posture in which he cannot readily cut at you witout incurring his own harm and disadvantage, so that beign safe in this posture you can look to lay on against him according to your opportunity, or are prepared to wait for his cuts"
"You shall not lie still in any posture, but always change off from one posture into another, and this not only to decieve him, but also make him confused, so that he cannot no what sort of device will be carried out against him, nor he should carry out against you."
Middle (Krieg, Handtarbeit)
Also called the Krieg (war) or Handtarbeit (handworks) this is the stage once the blades have met and the bind begins. The participants can move in and out of the bind multiple times during the middle phase, generally attacking to the openings in rapid succession with various devices.
The most overlooked section of most training. This is especially the case in schulefechten (school fighting), wherein even a decisive blow may be followed by an after blow from our opponent. What advice then, does Meyer give on moving away to safety?
Luckily for us Meyer devotes a section of his book to safely and effectively withdrawing from an exchange. He tells us in this section that there are three main timings for the withdrawal; withdrawing simultaneously, withdrawing after your opponent, and withdrawing before your opponent.
Withdrawing Before Him
Meyer’s advice in this situation is that you should continue your attack as you withdraw, but in doing so you should only use wary moves that keep you well covered, and at the same time encourage your opponent to go up with their hands and guard high. As we discussed in the section on taking the vor and the nach this effectively limits his opportunities to counter attack and provides the opportunity for us to withdraw with a final stroke or cut which covers us safely as we move away.
One of the most effectively and commonly employed of these strokes is the backward stepping zwerch - it simultaneously moves us to a longer distance, provides an attack, and leaves us covered with a high ochs. Many of Meyer’s devices retreat in this way with a parting zwerch, and of this strike Meyer himself says that without the zwerch, a full half of the German system would be gone.
Withdrawing After Him
In withdrawing after him Meyer describes two concepts. First when you wait for him to withdraw, and as soon as you see his parting strike follow with your own over the top of it as you too withdraw. Once more this puts him in a known position and gives you a moment in which he is concentrating on defending himself so that as he withdraws he can’t effectively strike.
Alternatively you can use deception to aid your withdrawal. Act as if you’re going to withdraw with (for example) a high stroke, and when he rushes to his own strike over the top of it (after all, he’s using Meyer’s advice for withdrawing after, and wants to cut over you) pull your own cut and cut around with a parting strike to a different opening.
On the topic of withdrawing at the same time, Meyer’s advice is simple. If he cuts to the left, withdraw to his right. Conversely if he withdraws with a cut to his right, step to his left. In either of these cases, of course, Meyer admonishes us to cut to the open side as we move away, falling into a safe guard position in either case.