What Would Liechtenauer Do? – Attacking

tl;dr abstract – Liechtenauer longsword is about attacking at the right time, not at anytime. If the initial attack fails to incapacitate, but you still maintain the initiative, then continue attacking; if not, then withdraw and try again.

Liechtenauer Longsword fencers have a bit of a reputation for aggression. Some blindly attack in an attempt to gain the all important Vorschlag (first strike). Certain Fiore fencers have even labelled Liechtenauer fencers as ‘Kamikaze’. So where might have this aggressiveness come from? One answer may lie in peoples’ interpretation of the numerous Fechtbücher; but for the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’ll restrict myself to using a few lines from the 3227a manuscript (Lindholm translation).

Folio 21R is a good place to start.

With the word before [Vor] as has been told before, he [Liechtenauer] means that you with a good first strike Vorschlag] shall close in without fear or hesitation and strike at the openings [Blossen], to the head and to the body, regardless whether you hit or miss you will confuse the opponent and put fear into him, so that the he does not know what to do against you. Then before the opponent can gather himself and come back, you shall do the after strike [Nachschlag] so that he will have to defend yet again and not be able to strike himself. Thus when you strike the first strike [Vorschlag] and the opponent defends against this, in the defence you will always be first to reach the after strike [Nachschlag] before the opponent. As soon as you can you should go with the pommel to the head or come in with the cross strike [Zwerchhaw] that is always good to do, or you can throw the sword forward crosswise in and by that enter into other techniques. You can also initiate other good moves since the opponent will not be able to strike. You shall hear how you do one thing from another so that the opponent cannot come at you without being struck, if you act according to this teaching.

(Folio 21R)

With advise such as ‘…close without fear or hesitation…’ and to constantly attack so that ‘…the opponent cannot come at you…’, it is no wonder some Liechtenauer fencers enter an engagement attacking like Taz on Crystal-meth. But is that what the author of 3227a is really trying to say?

 

tazpipe.jpg
A Fiore Fencer’s perception of a Liechtenauer Fencer.

Now, this is where I get into semantics. I often cringe to myself when I do this, as I feel like some over-analysing religious zealot, pulling random sentences out of a holy book to support my theological opinions against a rival zealot. But to be honest, I think 3227a is pretty clear as to how you should fence, so long as one does not get too focussed on one particular passage (such as 21R).

IMO, the Liechtenauer system is not about charging into the Krieg (close distance) like the Light Brigade (i.e. the wrong time and place), but to charge in like the 4th Light Horse (i.e. the right time and place); getting inside the opponents OODA loop, as you PENETRATE into close distance, ISOLATE their opening, then SUBDUE…THAT’S ENOUGH BOYD THEORY MAGNUS…I mean; seize the Vor (initiative) and maintain it until ‘great success’.

 

boratsword.jpg

So, where does 3227a say this? Well, pretty much everywhere! Let’s start at Folio 15V. I’ll underline the pertinent sections.

Also know that when you fence with another you should step with caution and be sure in them [the steps or movements] as if you were standing on a scale and adapt accordingly if you go forward or backward as is fitting. Easy and quickly with good heart and good knowledge or sense you should go and without fear, as you will know hereafter. You should also show reach in your fencing as is suitable and not step too wide, so that you can pull back and be ready for another step backwards or forwards.

So one must step with caution, good knowledge or sense and be prepared to step backwards if fitting. This doesn’t sound very HULK SMASH like to me.

 

hulk.jpg
The Tournament Marshall soon regretted telling Dr. Bruce Banner he couldn’t use his Florentine style, as it was ahistorical.

Folio 17R mentions some qualities needed in a fencer.

…knowing [Vissheit]…caution [Vorsichtikeit], cunning [List] and wisdom [Klugheit],… secrecy [Vorborgenheit], reason [Vernuft], intuition [Vorbetrachtunge…

Caution? Cunning? Secrecy? Perhaps it’s not all just about hitting really fast?

Then there is Folio 18R.

Do not be rash; do not first do four or six. With your overconfidence be moderate, which is good for you.

Do not strike at the sword but wait for the openings.

So there is ‘waiting’ involved!

3227a is full of such comments; too many to quote on this already long blog post. There is another one though that I feel must be mentioned. It can be found in Folio 21R.

The word before [Vor] means that a good fencer will always win the first strike [Vorschlag].

‘Win’ the first strike. From this one can infer that the Vorschlag must be worked for, not simply taken once in striking distance. 3227a goes on to mention ‘winning’ the Vorschlag several more times.

This question brings me to an article by Peter James, entitled ‘Attack or Counter’. In it, he tackles the question many fencers come to in their journey – Should I attack first, or wait and counter-attack? With his conclusion being it is better to attack. To explain his stance, he first lists 4 levels of competency in a fencer.

Level 1- Fencer is able to demonstrate techniques of the art.

Level 2- Fencer understands the concepts of the engagement, such as timing and distance.

Level 3- Fencer includes observations as part of the strategy, such as body language.

Level 4- Self Mastery; the fencer has excellent judgement and can adapt to the situation at hand.

Mr James then goes to describe two ‘first attack’ scenarios; the first initiated by a novice fencer, the second by a ‘Level 4’ fencer.

In the first scenario, the impatient novice sees a brief opening and tries to force his attack upon it. The attack is telegraphed and ‘executed with self abandon’; thus it is easily countered and the novice defeated. Here, it would have been better for the novice to wait and counter-attack.

The initial attack in the second scenario is executed by a ‘Level 4’ fencer. Before they attack, they test the opponent; gaining a feeling for the flow of the encounter, favouring no particular technique. Their attack is swift and delivered with correct distance and timing to a true opening. The fencer had been in control of the fight from the beginning, his ‘Vorschlag’ was merely the beginning of the end. In this case, attacking first is better than waiting.

This is what I believe 3227a is talking about when it says to ‘win’ the Vorschlag. One must use all their skill-sets, from their physical capabilities to their judgement and cunning. The Vorschlag must be worked for; it is not a simple first strike. Also, IMO one should not be afraid to leave the Krieg if they feel they have lost the initiative. Many times have I blindly tried to lay down a whirlwind of attacks when I have clearly lost the Vor (initiative) and would’ve been better off withdrawing and attempting to win a good Vorschlag. One can only safely continue with a Nachschlag (second attack) if the Vorschlag was good. It takes time to be able to win a Vorschlag against a decent opponent. Ways in which to win one is the subject of another post. I leave you with some footage of Gatsu from the anime ‘Berserk’. Gatsu loves a good Vorschlag.

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~ by Magnus on 17 January, 2008.

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