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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2022 9:22 am    Post subject: The Pike in Single Combat: Was It Awful?         Reply with quote

In a recent video, Matt Easton claims that the pike is "awful" for single combat. He gave it one point out of ten. Period sources directly contest this notion.

I'm curious if y'all are aware of any additional historical texts that address the pike (in the broad sense, any long spear) in single combat.

Antonio Manciolino recommended the 12-14+ft lancia over the 8ft(ish) spiedo:

"Longer weapons are to be preferred to shorter ones: therefore, the spear is to be preferred to the spiedo, holding it against the latter not by the butt (dangerous because of the weapon’s length) but at mid-haft and with good advantage. Similarly, it is better to take a partisan rather than a two-handed sword."

A longer pike-type weapon would presumably be worse than Manciolino's lancia, but probably not dramatically so.

For unarmored single combat, George Silver gave the advantage to lighter 8-9ft hafted weapons like his short staff over anything longer but still gave pikes & other long staff weapons odds over anything shorter (including the halberd & sword & target). Critically, what Silver spilled ink arguing for gives us a window into what he thought would be controversial at the time. He went on & on about rapier vs. short sword, & justified his preference for buckler over dagger, etc. He apparently didn't believe many readers would take issue with the idea that long staves & pikes have the odds over shorter weapons like halberds. In fact, in felt it necessary to argue that staff weapons of his perfect length of 8-9ft have the advantage over long staves & pikes. This implies that some of his contemporaries believed these longer staff weapons had the advantage.

Pikes also saw widespread use fighting in loose formation in 16th-century European warfare; extraordinary pikers often defended the shot (arquebusiers, etc.) & in that role might have to face multiple foes in melee combat with some room to move around. In 16th-century China, soldiers likewise used pikes in small teams as well as in large formations. Qi Jiguang seems to have thought that a soldier armed with sword & shield was at a disadvantage against the long spear & needed to throw a javelin to create an opportunity to rush in.

Paulus Hector Mair recorded techniques on both sides for longspear against longsword. I'm still trying to make sense of Luis Pacheco de Narváez's long section on how the single sword (rapier) can defeat pike or any staff weapon. However, the extended treatment & lumping together of pike with other staff weapons seems curious if the pike is so bad in a duel.

Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography includes a number of small-scale encounters with pikes. In one case, he fought alone on foot with a "good pike" against a foe wielding a "lance." (There were others nearby on both sides but they held back out of fear.) Cellini described being "otherwise well armed" at the time, so I assume he was wearing some form of armor. (Mail appears elsewhere in the text.) The person he fought may also have been wearing armor, because Cellini wrote that he would have run his target through if the man had not fallen backward.

The text also describes arming relatively small numbers of guards or henchmen with pikes at various points. & there's at least one other fight involving a weapon called in pike in one version. However, translations do vary; one says the people opposed to Cellini in the above encounter had "pikes" while he had a "spear." Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a copy of the original to see what words are used.

Jean Chandler does analyze three examples from Cellini's autobiography as involving pikes, relating them to how George Silver thought pikes & similar long staff weapons were pretty good for single combat in the open.

None of this evidence from fencing manuals, military treatises, & other period texts makes much sense if pikes were awful in single combat.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2022 10:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is interesting. I wonder if Easton has done any sparing with a pike? I know he did a test with Lindybeige that showed that spears have an advantage over swords, but sword and shield have a slight advantage over spear, and at last sword in shield has a significant advantage over spear and shield. That is in single combat, if it is in formation spearmen then gain an advantage. I think this fits in with what Qi Jiguang thought because he was talking about fighting in formation.

Since a pike is a long spear, I don’t understand how Easton could give the two weapons such different ratings. He also ranks everything else pretty high. The flail gets 6! However, it seems that he likes shorter weapons for single combat, especially when one can use both ends. Still, I think that being able to do more moves with a weapon doesn’t make it better. I think Easton is being led astray here by his belief in the importance of context. The pike is very much a formation weapon, that is the context where it is its best. However, that doesn’t make it a bad weapon in single combat.

I think the most important factor is what weapon the opponent has. If both fighters have the same weapon, then it doesn’t really matter. If one has a spear and another a pike, then it seems obvious to me that the longer weapon has the advantage. The advantage of a spear is its reach and its ability to threaten the enemy from a distance. If you have a spear, but can't get in striking distance of your opponent, you might as well have a sword. On the other hand, with a long pike, you can threaten your opponent from relative safely. Just as long as he doesn’t get around your pike. If he does get by the pike, then the extra length might give you enough time to draw a side arm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLLv8E2pWdk
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 13 Nov, 2022 5:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think clarification on some terms is important. When Matt mentioned pikes in the video, he specifically spoke about "sixteen to eighteen foot pikes". That's dramatically longer than Antonio Manciolino's recommendation, and changes the dynamics of how the weapon is used. Another element worth considering is what Matt means by "single combat". Is he referring to a skirmish or armed encounter with a number of men? Or is he--and this seems more likely given his background--referring to a one-on-one armed fight as is the typical treatment in fencing manuals? A group of five men with pikes and a good defensive position could create a fairly formidable challenge in a skirmish if their opponents lacked effective ranged weapons and pikes themselves. However, an encounter where only one pike is threatening the opponent is a significantly different situation.

One thing in favour of Matt's arguments, (assuming one man versus one man), is how appalling the leverage would be on a pike. If you can evade the point, which is a big "if", the ease with which you can displace the entire weapon would be terrifying for the pikeman. You can even see examples of this, albeit to a lesser extent, with long sword binds. There are tons of binding techniques from Liechtenauer (and here I am referring especially to the techniques of Ringeck and Pseudo-Peter von Danzig) that simply do not work unless you are stepping to close the distance and control the leverage. Many techniques are appalling easy to push aside at one measure but then require dramatically more strength if the attacker closes the distance with a single pace. One of the reasons you so rarely see good Liechtenauer techniques in HEMA tournaments, where you get a clean bind that leads to a decisive advantage, is because fencers are constantly stepping backwards and widening the measure, trying to evade and counterstrike. This makes exploiting leverage basically impossible. Of course, during an actual life and death duel with sharp swords it is suicidal not to gain decisive control of your opponent's weapon with a bind of some sort, but no one in HEMA faces the consequences of failing to do so. All this to say is that even with a shorter weapon like the long sword, the amount of leverage you have and how easily you can displace the weapon dramatically increases the further away you are from your opponent when you bind.

I didn't watch Matt's full video, but if he did say the pike was "one out of ten" then I think that is overstated, even in a one-on-one encounter. Any long weapon, whether spear or pike, presents a significant danger to a swordsman, especially if it is an unarmoured encounter. If I had a sword and heater shield with no armour and I was matched against a pikeman and it was a life and death encounter, I would not feel safe with the shield. With a long sword only, I would want to run away. The pikeman has to make the first hit count, but there's so many things that could go wrong in the first portion of the encounter that you cannot feel safe as the swordsman. Brazenly closing measure is exactly what you need to do, but with a weapon with the capacity to pierce like a pike it is suicidal to do so without having the right opening. Since so much is out of your control as the swordsman, the danger and difficulty is cetainly not one out of ten.
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Ryan S.




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2022 1:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a video from a HEMA club that tried out various pike techniques. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD8VwVOP36E All of them are about getting past the pike, even the Pike vs. Pike. The pikes they use are wobblier than historical ones for safety reasons. I could definitely see the advantage of a longer weapon changing depending on the skill of the combatants involved.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2022 6:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
One of the reasons you so rarely see good Liechtenauer techniques in HEMA tournaments, where you get a clean bind that leads to a decisive advantage, is because fencers are constantly stepping backwards and widening the measure, trying to evade and counterstrike. This makes exploiting leverage basically impossible. Of course, during an actual life and death duel with sharp swords it is suicidal not to gain decisive control of your opponent's weapon with a bind of some sort, but no one in HEMA faces the consequences of failing to do so.

Heh.

Quote:

Lep. It seems to me that almost all of these counters (to provocations, actions which enable a safe attack against someone standing ready in guard) are based on retiring backwards a pace.
...
Gio. This is not to be doubted. ... there are a great number of blows that you could not parry except by withdrawing back a pace.


That is from dall'Agocchie, but IIRC a number of early Italian fencers say or imply that if you are crossed with your partner's weapon threatening you, and don't know what to do, you can always retreat. (One says that the reason to learn the fancy close plays is so that you have options other than retreating). George Silver has his "strike and fly out" and his twofold mind (press in or withdraw).

One problem with the pike is that most fights are not on an infinite featureless plain. While real spears and pikes are not dowels so move much better than a hardware-store special, there is a decent chance that a pike will get caught on a tree or a building or a gust of wind. OTOH, if your pike is lost you can always draw your sword ...

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2022 5:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Sean,

Giovanni dall'Agocchie hails from the 16th century, and seems to have been a contemporary of Meyer. By the mid-16th century, significant elements of the approach to fencing have altered from what you find with many (though not all) 15th and 14th century masters. The fact that long sword training at this time has basically become an anachronism conducted with federschwerter means that long sword fencing is no longer being conducted in the same way. A modern day analogy might be the difference between Airsoft and military training. Airsoft training is not preparing you for life and death encounters, and while you can gain certain skills from Airsoft, you will also develop a lot of bad habits that would be dangerous in military situations. The same is true with federschwerter- how you approach fencing will be different than the mindset of training with a sharp. If you want evidence that such a change has occurred, look at Meyer's technique sequences versus those of Ringeck and Pseudo-Peter von Danzig. The sequences are much longer, have (if I recall correctly), no usage of thrusts, and Meyer's proliferation of strikes reflect a competive fencing context, rather than focusing upon a specific set of techniques and plays that can enable you to confidently respond to most situations in an encounter with sharp swords. This means that dall'Agocchie is of very limited value for interpreting Liechtenauer, or even many other earlier masters of the 15th century.

I would say Fiore is a much more obvious parallel if we want to look at Italian masters. Notice, however, what we find: Fiore actually has a very similar approach to Liechtenauer. Fiore, like Liechtenauer, emphasizes gaining decisive control over the opponent's weapon in a bind so that you can safely attack without being hit. The main difference between the two seems to be that Liechtenauer's teachings focus on strikes and thrusts and slices made am schwert, while Fiore seems to prefer using wrestling techniques to decisively bind the opponent's sword or body, making them impotent. As rarely as you see classic Liechtenauer employed in tournaments, I'd argue you see even less classic Fiore, because it's pretty much impossible to wrestle with someone and bind them as Fiore does when people are constantly shuffling forwards and back, baiting and swooping and backtracking. All this movement back and forth means that gaining decisive control in a bind is nearly impossible, leaving your opponent's sword free to hit you.

I've noticed that a great number of HEMA tournaments are bedevilled by the "after-blow" and there are all sorts of different rules about how to handle it. Yet 15th century commentators on Liechtenauer and masters like Fiore are silent on the issue. It seems rather strange to think they'd neglect to write about something so glaringly obvious if it were an issue. The fact that they say nothing is a pretty good indication that their approach to fencing minimizes the chance of it being a problem.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2022 7:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Hi Sean,

Giovanni dall'Agocchie hails from the 16th century, and seems to have been a contemporary of Meyer. By the mid-16th century, significant elements of the approach to fencing have altered from what you find with many (though not all) 15th and 14th century masters. The fact that long sword training at this time has basically become an anachronism conducted with federschwerter means that long sword fencing is no longer being conducted in the same way. ... This means that dall'Agocchie is of very limited value for interpreting Liechtenauer, or even many other earlier masters of the 15th century.

Hi Craig,

it seems to me that you did not make a claim about early 15th century fencing with the longsword, but a claim about fencing in general ("because fencers are constantly stepping backwards and widening the measure, trying to evade and counterstrike. This makes exploiting leverage basically impossible.") I could be wrong!

dall'Agocchie teaches the most common weapons of his day (the sword alone, the sword and dagger, and the sword and cloak) and explicitly describes his curriculum for preparing a student for a duel. And the comments about retreating (as I said) appear in several early Italian fencing manuals and are general comments not comments about fencing with specific weapons. The philosophy "control their weapon then strike" is all through Italian fencing from Fiore to Fabris, although the approach varies (early Italians tend to like you to bait the opponent to attack first, the masters of the 17th century recommend "pre-parrying" by gaining their sword).

Edit: Its Marozzo, Opera Nova, ch. 162 which says that if you do not know the close play your opponent who does know it will chase you around the salle. Manciolino's preface to book 1 says that its hard to use techniques against an opponent who always retreats after striking, but that always retreating is shameful and shows your lack of skill. It seems like 'desire not to look like a doofus' was one thing which made people in 16th century Italy fence clean, whereas post-Harmenberg sport culture says "if it works its good technique."

I am no great shakes at fencing, but I think that if an opponent passing back spoils your play, you need to train more! I have THOUGHTS on tournament fencing but the Internet does not need them.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2022 5:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:


I am no great shakes at fencing, but I think that if an opponent passing back spoils your play, you need to train more! I have THOUGHTS on tournament fencing but the Internet does not need them.


Hi Sean,

It depends what you mean by "spoil your play". If by this you mean "you have no way to handle it", then no, it doesn't spoil your play. If someone wants to keep stepping back and forth, baiting and trying to wait for the right moment to "snipe" or run in, there is a suitable strategy to handle it. You simply stay out of closer measure and play from Langort, and use Langort, and more Langort, and more Langort, with some use high absetzen thrown in. Is it boring? Yes. Can it work? Not always, but if you spend enough time training it, it's a strategy that can work quite well. There are certainly ways to handle fencers who fence like this.

However, if by "spoil your play" you mean that the opponent who constantly shifts measures thwarts certain techniques, then yes, it does. Plenty of Liechtenauer's techniques am schwert require a close measure to work. This is not out of any deficiency from Liechtenauer's system; as we have seen, it's perfectly possible to handle fencers who "don't play by the rules" and keep trying to bait and and counterhit at wider measures. However, the foundation of Liechtenauer's system does rest upon the sound notion of controlling your enemy's weapon at the bind and striking am schwert so that you are not struck by your opponent's sword being unrestrained. In fact, the scribe of MS 3227.a in the verse section on the hangings even goes so far to say:

"Also do not flee from the sword
Because masterful fencing
Is rightly at the sword."

In other words, if you want to be a swordmaster, you need to bind and strike from the bind, because that is how a master fences.

Any technique that is delivered am schwert must be done from an appropriately close measure. They don't work at wider measures. Even in a bind where you keep yourself far enough away from your opponent you will give your opponent the leverage to decisively displace your attack. Yes, there are still things you can do to follow up if this happens, but it's really not as safe because you often have to leave his sword. Very quick experiments will reveal that certain techiques like thrusts from winden, duplieren and mutieren work extremely well when you have stepped close enough in krieg, but they basically fall apart if you fail to close in, and they certain do not work if your opponent isn't even trying to engage in a bind in the first place.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2022 6:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Craig,

I believe your assessment of the value of 16th century (or later) texts is quite unfair.

If anything, lethal unarmoured duelling with sharp swords peaked in the 16th century. While we have very few data points earlier than that, we have a huge amount of accounts in the 16th, culminating in France where it turned into a sufficiently accute problem to be discussed and legislated upon with some frequency. The Bolognese sources make an explicit distinction between parts dedicated to sharp swords (spada da filo) and parts dedicated to play swords (spada da giocco). Viggiani, a Bolognese master, is to my knowledge the only author recommending training with sharp swords and discussing why (although Manciolino also discusses, but disapproves of, that sort of training). Towards the end of the century, it's pretty obvious that rapier masters had lethal duelling in mind, although of course, all training would have been conducted with safety, and presumably with rapier foils, of which we have quite a few examples in museum collections.

The assumption that because they show how to play, they'd forgotten how to kill is completely misguided. It's analoguous to saying a master such as Fiore would not know what he calls "grappling for pleasure"; of course he did, he just didn't write about it. Monte, another author who had a lot of military experience, spends a lot of words on wrestling and the various rules used. So the correct view is that play-fighting was always around and useful, with swords or otherwise. Later texts just give more details about everything, including play-fighting.

Truth to be told, we have fairly little idea of the actual context of application of the early German texts. I've heard the point made that it was quite a bit more conventionnal than initially thought, and that our lack of understanding of the underlying convention was what explained some discrepancy in application. At any rate, I doubt they had any greater understanding of sharp sword use, lost thereafter.

About the afterblow: although the first explicit documentation of it used as a rule is in Manciolino, there is also an example of one in the very earliest European manuscript, I.33, folio 6r bottom, and 6v top. Here we see the priest thrust to the body, then carefully parry the afterblow. So yes, definitely a problem that was known about, and every style keeps it in mind, whether in play or in earnest. If there was an easy solution such as "just bind", you bet it would have stuck around.

I've played with pikes a little bit during the last Dijon event, although they were of shorter length - about 3.4m I believe? These wouldn't be easy to run around unpoked, the problem is if someone passes the tip, then you have a lot fewer options than you'd have with shorter poles. You can choke it up but then the trailing end restricts your angles. You can try to swing it around but it will be quite slow and hard to control. So really the best bet is to run back faster, which is problematic. Longer shafts would only make this more obvious. Wouldn't warrant a 1, but there must be some length where the trade-off length / manoeuvrability is not worth it any longer.

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2022 8:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fully armoured combats at the barriers with pikes were popular in the 16th / 17th century. The barrier removed the problem of the enemy closing in, but there may be writings abut them.

Craig Peters wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:


I am no great shakes at fencing, but I think that if an opponent passing back spoils your play, you need to train more! I have THOUGHTS on tournament fencing but the Internet does not need them.


Hi Sean,

It depends what you mean by "spoil your play". If by this you mean "you have no way to handle it", then no, it doesn't spoil your play. If someone wants to keep stepping back and forth, baiting and trying to wait for the right moment to "snipe" or run in, there is a suitable strategy to handle it.

I can't comment on the specific strategy for HEMA tourrnaments within your art, but exactly! Its combat 101 that the enemy gets a vote. You can't always make your opponent give you an opportunity for a specific action, but if you understand the art, you should have some good action to take whatever they do.

One of the Twelve in the Merkverse is Nachreisen yes? An Italian after 1550 would say "when he strikes and misses and his weapon is no longer in presence, that is a tempo in which to attack." It also has Überlaufen which is the old "a strike high reaches longer than a strike low" that almost all martial arts have. And it has Durchwechseln and Zucken which explicitly involve leaving a disadvantageous bind and attacking a different opening. So the Merkverse seems to have ways to attack safely without binding, and ways to leave a bind and attack.

Edit: and Sprechfenster / Langenort is one of the Twelve too! So the strategy you describe seems to be related to the Merkverse tradition, although yes, its absolutely a small part of the teachings.

Craig Peters wrote:

"Also do not flee from the sword
Because masterful fencing
Is rightly at the sword."

We don't know who wrote that commentary or if he or his teacher was any good, but it sounds like just as in 16th century Italy, someone who kept stepping backwards whenever the blades crossed and it was not clear who had the advantage would be looked down upon! Sparring and duelling are social violence, so things designed for one social context will have to be adapted for a postmodern sporting context. (But see previous comments about the bits of the Merkverse which are not about twisty pushing movements in the bind).

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2022 6:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Sean,

I think there's two important considerations with nachreisen. The first consideration is where this principle is placed in Liechtenauer's teachings. To a degree, the ordering of Liechtenauer's teaching of various techniques and principles reflects how important that particular technique is. He begins with the funff haw because they are the foundation of his art. Early in the merkverse, Liechtenauer demonstrates this priority with the statement, "Learn five strokes/ from the right side against the opposition. Then we promise/ that your arts will be rewarded." (Tobler, Wiktenauer). Notice also the promise in the final sentence: your art [skill] will be rewarded by learning the funff haw. We might paraphrase this statement as saying, "Learn the five strikes because they are the essence of being a good fencer". The reason for this isn't merely because of the funff haw in and of themselves, but their ability, when struck in good measure and aimed for the opponent's body, to create binds. From the bind, we now have the opportunity to employ what the writer of MS 3227.a terms "the noble winding" (Chidester, Wiktenauer). As we have already seen, this same writer identifies that masterful fencing remains am schwert because of the fact that you bind the opponent's weapon while being able to strike him safely.

If we look at nachreisen's placement, it comes after all of the funff haw, the four guards, and the absetzen. Obviously it's still a fairly important set of techniques, because it appears fairly early after the funff haw. However, if you were to organize Liechtenauer's teachings based upon what is demonstrated in HEMA tournaments, you would need to move nachreisen to the very top of the techniques/principles. Nachreisen would become the foundational skill of HEMA, and indeed we would expect to see an extended exposition in the Liechtenauer glosses explaining how to avoid after blows and other things of this nature.

In actual fact, however, we see that staying at a wider measure to snipe, counterstrike, and move back and forth is antithetical to the core teachings of Liechtenauer. The funff haw come first, and the whole point is to bind at close measure so that you can control the opponent's weapon and hit him with the winden. That gives us a clue that how we practice nachreisen is probably not the same as what Liechtenauer has in mind.

This brings us to the second consideration, namely what is actually stated about nachreisen. There is a single play in nachreisen that ostensibly seems to match with what we see in modern HEMA tournaments. In Ringeck's gloss, it appears like this:

"When he begins to hew you downward from above, and if he then allows his sword to go down to the earth with the hew: so race-after him with an over-hew to the head before the moment he comes-up with the sword, so is he struck." (Trosclair, Wiktenauer),

The Pseudo Peter von Danzig gloss is this:

"When you come to him with the pre-fencing, then stand with your left foot before in the guard From the Day, and see well how he will fence against you. If he then hews long above in to you, then watch so that he does not reach you, and mark while his sword goes under you against the earth with the hew. Then spring to with your right foot and hew him above into the head before he comes up again with the sword; so is he struck." (Winslow, Wiktenauer).

The von Danzig gloss is more detailed, and therefore I will focus upon it. The von Danzig gloss is clear on the context in which this technique is used: your opponent has hewn-in long, towards you. In other words, your opponent has struck at you too early. He is out of measure, and his strike is long and reaching. The controversial phrase in the gloss is, "then watch so he does not hit you", but here it means "be careful that your opponent is not going to be able to reach you, that you have judged the strike is out of measure rightly." Then, you spring forward and hew to the head, probably with a scheitelhau, so you strike him.

A key part of this gloss is that you only employ this technique if you know the opponent is going to miss because he was the one who is striking in long. He is the one who is striking too soon. He is the one who is striking too far. His attack is out of measure. However, you want to be careful that the attack really is going to miss you; otherwise, you should strike to him and bind his sword. If the attack will miss, you must immediately aim to his head the moment his sword misses you and continues to travel downward. In that moment, because his sword is moving down and no longer presents a threat, it is safe to chase the opening.

However, when we look at what is done in HEMA tournaments, there are a lot of additional elements added in that are not present in the original instructions. If we were to write the gloss based upon the HEMA version, it would go something like this:

"If he comes toward you in zufechten, then note: as soon as he is near and wants to strike, then step backward away from him, so that his strike misses. Then at once spring forward with your right foot and strike to his head with an oberhau".

My version and the von Danzig version might look similar, but they are actually radically different. In the von Danzig gloss, nachreissen is employed in the specific context that the opponent himself is the one who has struck long. In my version, you are trying to make the opponent strike long by stepping back during zufechten to deliberately increase the measure. The von Danzig version is limited to a very specific circumstance and context. However, my version becomes a deliberate fencing strategy that can be employed in every fencing encounter.

The difference in these two interpretations is not small. When I am stepping back in zufechten, I am missing the crucial window of opportunity to safely strike my opponent. That window is the very short time between my opponent missing me and him raising his sword back up in recovery. If I am stepping back as his strike is missing me, my increased measure makes it much harder for me to hit him during that brief opening. Even if I can hit him, my hew is going to be far weaker because my body is going to be moving away from the direction of my strike. Worse, because I am stepping away at precisely the moment when it is safe to strike, there is a much better chance that he can begin to recover his sword and either defend or strike back at me. Neither of us has control over the opponent's weapon, and because I have lost my safe window for striking, he can hit me or I can hit him. There is a much greater chance of both fencers being struck.

However, the consequences are greater than this. The general habit of fencers in HEMA is to constantly be shifting forward and back in zufechten. They do not want to over-commit to a strike and have the opponent step back as I have described above. They also hope to exploit the opponent using the same strategy. The end result of this is that we are keeping a wider measure so that we can play the "pseudo-nachreisen strike-sniping" game. But this means that the very techniques that form the core of a safe fencing strategy—binding at close measure and then using the winden—cannot work. It's impossible to commit to a strike and come close if your opponent is going to step back and snipe at you. The same is true for the opponent if you are going to step back from their strike and try to attack them.

This brings me to the final point of this essay. In modern day times, we have bias towards "unorthodox" approaches in martial arts. We tend to think "Well, if the core of Liechtenauer's strategy depends upon the opponent doing the right thing, then there's obviously a limitation with it. You need to train against an uncooperative opponent." The problem with this view is that it overlooks something that is eminently common sense. In a one-on-one, unarmoured encounter where an opponent is trying to take my life, the safest thing to do by far is to try to gain control over his weapon so that he cannot hurt me. It's not a matter of Liechtenauer's teachings being too restricted, but rather of them being the only approach that makes sense. If we had to sum up the entirety of martial arts in a statement, it would be, "I protect myself and stop you". The primary strategy to do this in an armed conflict with melee weapons is to control the opponent's weapon so that I can safely hit. That control could be gained by binding his weapon with a shield. It could be gained by wrestling to bind or restrict his sword or body so that he cannot attack. It could also be gained by binding his weapon at close measure and then attacking am schwert. But I must strive to gain control over his weapon. Not doing so with sharp swords is suicidal.

Therefore, we can see that the HEMA-approach fails woefully. It fails because real nachreisen involves, "My opponent's weapon is moving in a way so that it is not a threat to me in this instant; therefore, I can strike-in safely if I do it at once." By contrast, the HEMA version does not allow you to have the safety of striking at the right time because you are typically moving away from your opponent. Further, the reluctance of HEMA fencers to engage and to commit to closing in matches (for the most part, though not always) means that you cannot get close enough to bind your opponent's weapon and then engage in the winden—precisely the techniques that keep you safe and allow you to fence masterfully from the sword.

I know this has been a rather long essay, but I hope that clarifies why what is being done in HEMA is very different from nachreisen, and why the HEMA approach makes no sense.
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Ryan S.




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2022 11:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Craig,

That is an interesting post, I admit that my knowledge of fencing means that I don’t understand most of it. However, you seem to be saying that because HEMA fighters aren’t in mortal danger, they keep more distance from their opponent. At the same time, you say the safest way doesn’t work because people keep their distance. I am not sure how much the mortal danger aspect is responsible for that. It certainly can change behaviour, but people are naturally scared of being hit and motivated not to lose. I would expect a novice or someone with no training to keep a distance, so that it would be the default way. From what you are saying, it also works in preventing closing, so maybe is the best option for those that can’t confidently close.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2022 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Craig,

I told you two times that I do not consent to talk about tournament fencing. Could you tell me why you ignored me and tried to talk about it a third time?

I gave two examples in the Merlverse where you riposte without binding, and two examples where you strike, are parried, and leave the bind, to show why I don't agree that the Merkverse teaches to always bind and wind.

Four respected fencers in the 16th century (Manciolino, Marozzo, dall'Agocchie, and Silver) say that people often retreat from a bind they don't understand, and three of them add that this spoils many of those clever actions on the sword, so I do not agree that "strike and fly out" is a purely modern tactic which the old fencers could easily defeat or would never dare to use. Whether its good form in your style is for you and your teachers to decide.

Edit: Moving back on topic, one of the examples of passing back with a parry is in Fiore's spear section, and he explicitly says its because the opponent is too close to use the spear without passing back.

I am not a very good fencer, but fencers who say "not fair! she came from another school, responded in a way I did not expect, spoiled my technique, and hit me" usually need to train better. One way of showing your skill as a martial artist is finding a way to apply your art against someone trained in a different tradition (and modern HEMA schools can absolutely be different traditions, even if they study the same fencing manuals). That probably will not look like your tradition's ideal fight but it can still show skill.

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Last edited by Sean Manning on Wed 16 Nov, 2022 6:01 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Graham Shearlaw





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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2022 5:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A full 16+ foot pike is less a weapon an more a mobile fortification.
You have a limited ability to thrust but can't quickly shift to a target that is off line, any target that gets past the point can close quicker then you can choke up for a second strike.

Now its historical users where well aware of this, swords or really large daggers was given to all pikemen as a matter of course.
And for a long period there's a melee protection detail that's organic to the square as a unit.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2022 7:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Sean,

I assume when you mention saying twice you don't want to talk about tournament fencing you are referring to, "I have THOUGHTS on tournament fencing but the Internet does not need them" and "I can't comment on the specific strategy for HEMA tourrnaments within your art". From my point of view- and please keep in mind, from my perspective- the first comment came across more as a backhanded way of you telling me that you didn't think the internet needed to read my comments. If, rather, your primary intention was to say, "I don't really want to discuss this further," or “I don't want to discuss HEMA tournaments; it's too political” etc., it was not clear to me. For the latter comment, it seemed that you did not have enough expertise about HEMA to want to comment upon it. If I have missed another comment that you made about not wanting to speak about tournaments, my apologies.

Part of the reason I am continuing to comment here is that some of your statements misrepresent what I am trying to state. This includes my next part, in the paragraph below.

I think it's important to be clear that I have not stated you must always remain in the bind. If you look at my statement about nachreisen above, it is clear I do not subscribe to that view. Liechtenauer's teaching makes it clear that there are certain contextual situations when you should leave the bind. With nachreisen, you strike at the opponent because he has created a momentary opening by moving his sword into a position where he is not a threat. With uberlauffen, it's broadly the same thing. If the opponent tries to strike to your sword rather than directly at you, or he tries to forcefully displace you, his sword will not be a threat in that moment because his weapon is not aimed at you, and you can use durchwechseln. If he goes really high in a bind to forestall you, you slice in to his arms. My argument has never been "do not leave the bind". Rather, my point is that the goal in Liechtenauer is to use the funff haw and hit from the winden where possible, using other tactics like nachreisen, uberlauffen, and durchwechseln only in the appropriate context. My concern is that nachreisen is being employed in a way that goes far outside of what the text teaches.

Quote:
Four respected fencers in the 16th century (Manciolino, Marozzo, dall'Agocchie, and Silver) say that people often retreat from a bind they don't understand, and three of them add that this spoils many of those clever actions on the sword, so I do not agree that "strike and fly out" is a purely modern tactic which the old fencers could easily defeat or would never dare to use. Whether its good form in your style is for you and your teachers to decide.


Granted, Sean, but this is not typically what people are actually doing. They're not departing from a bind they don't understand. Rather, they're using a deliberate strategy to try to bait and create an opening they can chase, but without having a safe context where they can hit and their opponent's weapon is not a threat, as I discussed above. The two aren't really the same.

Quote:
I am not a very good fencer, but fencers who say "not fair! she came from another school, responded in a way I did not expect, spoiled my technique, and hit me" usually need to train better.


It's a bit unclear why you have repeated this, Sean. As discussed previously, there's no need to for me to say, 'No fair! You responded in a way I didn't expect!” If I was going to fence with someone who kept moving around in zufechten, I would spent lots of time training Langort and other such techniques to handle that sort of situation. I don't need my opponent to cooperate. There's still things that I can do. However, none of this negates the fact that it really does not make sense to fence in a way where it becomes far more difficult to bind and control an opponent's weapon. That's my point.

At any rate, you have indicated you do not want to discuss this further. That is fine. I have said my piece.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2022 9:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
Hi Craig,

I believe your assessment of the value of 16th century (or later) texts is quite unfair.

If anything, lethal unarmoured duelling with sharp swords peaked in the 16th century. While we have very few data points earlier than that, we have a huge amount of accounts in the 16th, culminating in France where it turned into a sufficiently accute problem to be discussed and legislated upon with some frequency. The Bolognese sources make an explicit distinction between parts dedicated to sharp swords (spada da filo) and parts dedicated to play swords (spada da giocco). Viggiani, a Bolognese master, is to my knowledge the only author recommending training with sharp swords and discussing why (although Manciolino also discusses, but disapproves of, that sort of training). Towards the end of the century, it's pretty obvious that rapier masters had lethal duelling in mind, although of course, all training would have been conducted with safety, and presumably with rapier foils, of which we have quite a few examples in museum collections.

The assumption that because they show how to play, they'd forgotten how to kill is completely misguided. It's analogous to saying a master such as Fiore would not know what he calls "grappling for pleasure"; of course he did, he just didn't write about it. Monte, another author who had a lot of military experience, spends a lot of words on wrestling and the various rules used. So the correct view is that play-fighting was always around and useful, with swords or otherwise. Later texts just give more details about everything, including play-fighting.

Truth to be told, we have fairly little idea of the actual context of application of the early German texts. I've heard the point made that it was quite a bit more conventional than initially thought, and that our lack of understanding of the underlying convention was what explained some discrepancy in application. At any rate, I doubt they had any greater understanding of sharp sword use, lost thereafter.


Hi Vincent,

I should have been more careful with how I presented my comments about 16th century fencing, in particular my discussion of dall'Agocchie after focusing on 16th century long sword. I observed that the approach to fencing seems to have changed but then spent most of my time discussing long sword, without commenting upon wider fencing contexts. That could easily create the impression that all of my statements about later 16th century long sword universally apply to other fencing contexts, when they don't.

From what I have seen of 16th century fencing, there seems—as a broad generalization—to be less emphasis upon binding weapons than in previous centuries. Here, I mean binding in the broadest sense, using any means possible to restrain or restrict the opponent's weapon. I don't dispute that there is plenty of 16th century material that deals with blade on blade contact and binds. Rather, there seems to me to be a comparative increase in the amount of strategies than involve stepping aside, trying to void the enemy's attack with distance, and this sort of thing.

None of this is to dispute or argue that 16th century masters did not have experience with sharp swords and life and death encounters- they clearly did. However, the change in approach—tending to use distance and measure far more as an overall fencing strategy, rather than in fairly specific, contextual instances—does significantly alter the way in which one fences. That is why I would argue that dall'Agocchie is of limited value for interpreting Liechtenauer. In my earlier post, my point was that long sword fencing had changed so much by dall'Agocchie's time that it would be mistaken to transpose 16th century understandings of long sword back to Liechtenauer. My other point, which I have made more clearly here, relates to 16th century masters training in weapons still used for lethal encounters, such as the side sword and rapier. That point is that the overall approach to fencing in the 16th century, with its greater emphasis upon distance and voiding, means that there are significant problems with using later masters like dall'Agocchie to comment upon earlier ones.

Implied in my discussions is the idea that the broadly-defined 16th century approach to fencing is more risky than those earlier approaches that rely on binding. Where there more instances where two opposing fencers were both wounded in the 16th century as opposed to the 15th and 14th? I am sure we will never know. There are so many questions about the actual performance of technique that we cannot say. At best, we can comment upon and evaluate the different approaches that have been recorded in manuscripts and remain extant today. From what I can see, approaches that tend to focus on binding and leaving the bind only in specific contexts are much safer than those approaches which blend binds with plenty of voiding, using distance, timing, feinting and the like.

Just as a footnote: I am aware that Liechtenauer's teachings do cover the use of feints with the Veller. However, as is so often the case with Liechtenauer, there is a specific, recommended context in which it is safe to use something like the Veller. As the Pseudo-Peter von Danzig gloss states, “The Failer is a technique which many fencers plan and hit with as they wish, and strike those who like parrying and who fence to the sword (and not to the openings of the body),” (Winslow, Wiktenauer). As with other such contextual techniques, it is safe to use the Veller in a context where the opponent tries to chase your sword to displace, and therefore does not directly threaten you with it.
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
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PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2022 10:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm curious if y'all are aware of any additional historical texts that address the pike (in the broad sense, any long spear) in single combat.


I have more of an interest in battlefield use of weapons than fencing, so I don't know if this is useful in the context of Ben Abbott's original question but this brief piece does seem to mention more sources on use of pikes than originally quoted. Perhaps others may more experience with the manuals quoted and can pull something from them?

Antti Ijäs, "Valour and Art: The two facets of the technique of the pike," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 04/05/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/917.

Anthony Clipsom
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2022 11:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
Quote:
I'm curious if y'all are aware of any additional historical texts that address the pike (in the broad sense, any long spear) in single combat.


I have more of an interest in battlefield use of weapons than fencing, so I don't know if this is useful in the context of Ben Abbott's original question but this brief piece does seem to mention more sources on use of pikes than originally quoted. Perhaps others may more experience with the manuals quoted and can pull something from them?

Antti Ijäs, "Valour and Art: The two facets of the technique of the pike," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 04/05/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/917.

Some military writers in the 16th century say that pikemen can either hold their pikes near the butt to fence (which rewards skilled soldiers and looser formations) or near the middle for running into the enemy, dropping their pikes after one or two thrusts, and drawing their swords. Fighting in a line makes it hard for enemies to close past the pikes, just like fighting at the barriers (with a strong fence between the two sides).

If anyone wants to play around with pikestaves (ideally proper tapered ones not dowels) pad the tips, wear steel masks, and read Marozzo and Pistofilo for footwork, thrusts, and parries. Both focus on shorter weapons but their very simple systems can be adapted to long ones. Tom Leoni has a summary in an article on the Partisan.

I thought that Craig was talking about fencers who when the weapons cross back off to try again. That is what I think the four sixteenth-century writers describe. If he meant something else, then they might not be relevant. I don't find long prose descriptions of fencing very helpful and I don't want to keep dragging this thread off topic.

www.bookandsword.com
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2022 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Some military writers in the 16th century say that pikemen can either hold their pikes near the butt to fence (which rewards skilled soldiers and looser formations) or near the middle for running into the enemy, dropping their pikes after one or two thrusts, and drawing their swords.


I was reminded of some words of Sir John Smythe in Instructions, Observations and Orders Mylitarie, 1591


"I did heare some two or three of our Nation of principall officers and charge militarie hold an opinion, that when two squadrons of Enemies all piquers should come to incounter and confrount the one with the other, that then the formost ranks of them should lie at the push of the pique and so should annoie the one the other, with thrusts and foines (as they terme it) at all the length of their Armes and piques, according to the use of single Combattes either in sport or earnest betwixt piquer and piquer by which kinde of fighting of squadrons at the push of the piques,

<edit>

By all which particularities before alleaged and declared, I thinke it may be apparant to all such as are not obstinatelie ignorant, that battles and squadrons of piques in the field when they do incounter and charge one another, are not by reason or experience mylitarie to stand all day thrusting, pushing, and foining one at another, as some do most vainlie imagine, but ought according to all experiance with one puissant charge and thrust to enter and disorder, wound, open, and break the one the other, as is before at large declared."

Although Sir John is, in his inimitable style, talking about battlefield combat, he does contrast it to single combat "in sport or earnest".

Anthony Clipsom
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Raman A




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PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2022 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't had time to read through the thread yet, but a quick ctrl+f seems to show no one has brought up di Grassi so I wanted to point out that he has a section on using the pike in single combat:

https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Giacomo_di_Grassi#Pike

It's not clear to me what length he's talking about here, but he makes mention of them being used in wars so I assume he's talking about the standard long pike of pike squares as we would understand it. He also mentions how difficult and tiring it is to hold it near the end so it seems he's talking about a fairly long and heavy weapon.
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