Basic Longsword Information
Parts of the weapon
Meyer uses the standard terminology for the edges of the sword, specifically the short edge and long edge of the sword. Take the sword up and hold it in front of you with both hands, point facing up, blade online with you. The edge facing toward you is the Short Edge, the edge furthest away is the Long Edge.
Meyer divides the sword further than previous masters. As you can see in the image below, aside from the usual true/false edge, he divides the blade into four sections:
- The “bind” or “haft” which includes the pommel, crossguard etc.
- The strong - the lower half of the blade (green)
- The middle - lying between the first quarter and the last quarter of the blade (marked in blue)
- The weak - the upper half of the blade (red)
Similar terminology can be found in his polearms section. The staff is broken into several sections which are analogous to the components of the sword.
- Top quarter - the “weak” of the staff, this is used for striking and parrying at a distance
- Between top quarter to lead hand - the “strong” of the staff, for parrying and controlling.
- Between the hands - for parrying, we’ll call this this haft
- The back of the staff - any section projecting behind the rear hand, used for wrenching, and if in half staff, striking & parrying. We’ll call this the butt.
The polearm also has a true and a false edge. On a halberd the false edge is also called the hook, for obvious reasons.
Types of Attack
It may seem obvious, but there are a number of ways to attack with the longsword beyond simply swinging it at someone. The masters in the German tradition describe three basic ways of attacking with the blade; the cut, the thrust, and the slice. They also describe additional attacks using the haft of the blade, and grappling techniques with the sword.
Hauen (Hewing): the Cut
The cut is the most obvious and natural of movements with the longsword. In fact the von Danzig folio describes one of the main cuts with the sword as being “nothing other than a bad peasant strike” This gives us an idea of how natural this mode of striking is, though as the fencer becomes more experienced they realise there are actually many subtleties to a good cut. Cuts are the most common forms of attack in Meyer’s text and are carried out with both the true and false edges of the blade, along various angles of attack.
Stechen (Stabbing): The Thrust
The second most obvious method of using a sword. Earlier masters make extensive use of the thrust as a technique which often follows an initial cut or defence. By the 1500s the style of fighting was broadly cut-centric with Meyer pointing out that it is no longer the custom to use the thrust, except, perhaps, when making war on others. The reasons for this could be debated at length, but factors might include the greater safety of the cut over the thrust in schulefechten (thrusts were banned in competition), as well as changes in the use of the longsword for self defence, with German street-fighting laws of the time forbidding thrusts. Several of artistic depictions of longswords from this period are noteworthy for their rounded point, as a contrast to the very sharp points of some earlier blades, so it seems that the prevalence of the cut over the thrust carried across to enstfechten at this time also.
What we do know is that the commonly heard maxim that the thrust is more effective in a fight than the point is not well supported by the evidence, be it literary or archaeological. Indeed some battlefield remains suggest that the cut was the more common cause of deaths in battle; though perhaps those stabbed died later from their wounds elsewhere.
Despite all of of this, however, Meyer still does actually describe defences against the thrust using the longsword, and also uses the point as a way of keeping the opponent at distance.
Schneiden (Slicing): The Slice
The last of the three wounders is the slice. Slicing is exactly what this attack does; the blade is placed on an exposed region and drawn along the flesh to cause a lacerating wound. The slice can result from a cut or thrust which has not hit its intended target; for example a thrust which was deflected to the side, but still manages to run the sharp edge along the target somewhere), or as an intentional action.
Meyer typically uses slicing on the arms of the opponent whenever they take the sword away from the bind in an attempt to strike to another opening. In this cases he advocates rapidly laying the edge on the exposed arms of the adversary with a slicing motion.
The slice is certainly not as deadly as the cut or thrust, but the psychological effect of a large wound which would no doubt bleed profusely is not to be underestimated.
Striking with the pommel or crossguard is a reliable fallback technique which can daze or injure an opponent and give the fencer valuable moments to follow up with a deadlier attack, or withdraw to safety.
Within schulefecthen the pommel was frowned upon, and pommel strikes in competition attracted harsh penalties, including what some people would describe as percussive behavioral correction. As such Meyer makes little use of the pommel for striking, but he does make considerable use of the pommel and crossguard for levering and wrenching at the opponent’s hands in order to hinder their movements and provide openings to attack with the blade or grappling.
Wrestling is one of the oldest competitive fighting arts to be found in literature and finds a natural fit in schulefechten. Wrestling is both effective and safe and it is no surprise that a the works of Meyer and earlier masters describe diverse wrestling techniques. These techniques include arm locks, throws, disarms, and various other grappling techniques either “at the sword”, which is to say using the sword for leverage, or at the body of the opponent.