The tools for the job

To understand the body mechanics involved in a technique we not only have to train our bodies so we are strong and agile enough, we also need to use tools that work together with our bodies in the appropriate manner. This may seem obvious but is really not and it can become quite apparent when interpreting the sources with tools that have very different characteristics.

One such example is how you can train Joachim Meyer’s Halben Stangen Techniques with a regular staff and build your understanding solely on that. However, since Meyer is actually preparing us for the use of the Halberd, we really need to have that in mind and even practice the body mechanics that are required for a considerably more “forward-heavy” weapon, like a proper halberd. Then, it becomes apparent how you need to move to be able to do the Kreutzhauw, where you cross-cut without crossing your arms, like with the Montante.

Another such example that I am currently very curious about, as I am exploring the body mechanics of Meyer’s longsword, is what the characteristics really are for his longsword? We know that they were quite long, at least in his treatise of 1570, reaching well into the armpit and with a hilt the length of your forearm.

Judging from the pommel size and tapering of the blades shown in the illustrations they do not seem to be very point-heavy, but we don’t yet know much about the flexibility of the blade. On the whole, the blades seem a bit broader and slightly more rigid than the Hanwei Federschwert, which I have a feeling are too light in handling. Also, Meyer’s swords do not appear to have flared points, as some Swiss and Italian “federschwert” appear to have had.

Image of “federschwert” kept in the Schweizerische Landesmuseum in Zürich

 

Still, when Meyer describes the Prellhauw, both single and double, I think we see a clear indication that his swords were quite flexible and not just in the last quarter, but in the whole blade. Otherwise you will not be able to use the flex to make the sword spring back properly from the bind. There are more sections in his 1570 treatise that seem to indicate a good flex, possibly even using it to cut in behind the bind. This I find highly interesting.

Of the historical examples I have seen thus far, Meyer’s swords most resembles the federschwert currently held at the Military Museum in Instanbul, Turkey. Unfortunately, I do not have the dimensions for that particular sword, but the proportions of the blade’s length and tapering and the hilt size appears similar.

Testing cutting from Zornhut into Paurnfeindt’s Mittelhut (Like a reversed Schlüssel) and then a Zornhauw, Zwerchhauw, Schielhauw or a Krumphauw with a Lichtenauer longsword made by Pavel Moc,  I noticed how important edge alignment becomes. The sword is long and flexible which can cause bending and oscillation in the cut. None of this had I noticed when doing the same with an Albion Meyer, which has similar flex but is considerably shorter. Furthermore, I also noticed that it feels more natural to lean out behind the blade, to get the alignment right in full-blown cuts.

With such a long grip, varying your grip is also important and it can clearly be seen in Meyer’s 1570 treatise. In the Zornhut his hands are held together at the centre of the grip, while in other gards the forward hand is at the cross, even with fingers over it, and the rear hand behind the pommel. This gives you different “flow” in the cuts and varied leverage in the bind.

The length of the weapon will affect several things, but the main two are probably leverage and speed. The weak and strong aspects become more apparent with a longer sword and the point speed is naturally slower. This might explain why, with the type of training weapons that are most common today, it is difficult to really manage to observe our opponent’s response to our attacks and change into another attack as we are advised by several masters. A shorter weapon is faster and removes, I think, that slight fraction of time that we need to be able to do so.

A long hilt and varied grip with a long blade will also give you more options for how to rotate your weapon; at your rear hand, in between your hands, at your leading hand or in front of the leading hand. This again affects your speed and power generation.

These are just some short reflections and I will get back to this topic later. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic: What do you think were the characteristics of Meyer’s longswords?

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Related articles

How long should a longsword be?

Federschwert or a blunt longsword?

A Perfect Length II: The Longsword (external)

Anderthalbhänder – Zweihänder – Langes Schwert – zu Klassifikation, Nutzung und Bezeichnung der großen Schwerter des Spätmittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit – by Tilman Wanke

The Origins of the Two-Handed Sword – by Neil H. T. Melville (external)

Roger Norling
Roger Norling is an instructor on Joachim Meÿer's Halben Stangen (Quarterstaff) with Gothenburg Historical Fencing School.

His main focus in his research is the "Kunst des Fechtens" and primarily the longsword, dussack and polearms. He has been focusing on the works of Joachim Meÿer since 2009. In this he has enjoyed collaborating with the Meyer Frei Fechter Guild and in May 2013 he became a Fechter of the MFFG. Recently, he has begun researching Meyer's dagger quite systematically using the same method he applied to his staff teachings.

Currently, he is writing on a series of books which will explore the teachings of Joachim Meyer, in collaboration with researcher friends in the HEMA community.

The upcoming two years he will be teaching Meÿer quarterstaff, dusack and longsword at various HEMA events in Europe and the USA. For more about this, read his instructor's profile.

3 Comments

  1. Well, in the end this really begs the question of the “egg or the chicken?” At some point we need to determine if form follows function, or function follows form. If at some point in historical combat vs. so called “schoolhouse” MA, was there a transition from one to the other, however slight, in that did the form of the weapon inform the technique, or perhaps in earlier times when the proving ground for such weapons was on the field of battle, did the needs of the necessary techniques inform the form? The Feder itself and its development may be a clue into this, not being an actual field weapon but a training tool. I believe that one of the few ways we have possible to help us understand that is to cross analyze information between earlier manuals and Meyer.

    • Thanks Ken!

      The “feder” I think, is a weapon that is often misunderstood today. You may have seen the article I wrote concerning this, but in case not, there is some evidence that the swords with blade profiles similar to the feder goes as far back as the early 1400s. There have been many different versions, including ridged ones, and there is even a specific version designed for judicial Harnischfechten and halfswording.

      We don’t really know much about the blade properties of these swords other than that the blades were somewhat narrower. It is possible, that this is even related to the parierhaken of the Zweihänder and the complex-hilts, but that theory still needs to be substantiated.

      The Zweihänder could be either rigid, but not seldom quite flexible, which I find interesting considering how common the flexible blades appear to have been in training. Meyer even makes use of the flex of the blade in certain techniques, to make it spring back from a bind into a counterstrike.

      Meyer has been seen as a school fencer, but that notion is thankfully not as common anymore. He was an experienced soldier and all the weapons that he teaches in his 1570 treatise are still commonly used on the battle field when he writes, apart from the rondel dagger. Even the dussacken is a steel weapon quite common amongst the Swiss and the Norwegians. And with Meyer being born Swiss (as well as Stimmer who was one of the illustrators), that might explain why he dedicates quite a lot of space to it.

      The feder is a training tool, that is true. But I think that it is sometimes too quickly discarded as being an unrealistic training tool. In some ways it is of course. It is partly designed to be safer and some to be able to make light cuts on the scalp.
      However, I think a much more important factor in designing them originally was that they wanted to create a blade that “feels” the same as a sharp does, despite the fact that the edges are much thicker. I have tried several types of swords in both sharp and blunt versions and they really are completely different in characteristics. The weapons simply aren’t the same. To create a blunt sword that is similar in characteristics to a sharp you have to change the profile quite considerably, which explains the federschwert, in my opinion.
      As for the schilt, had it not been flared, then you would receive cuts to the hands in the bind, given that the blades are so narrow. The cleverness of the flared schilt is that it actually moves the bind not only a couple of inches away from the cross, but also if you bind on the cross, to the side, where it would be on a regular, broader, sharp sword.

      The federschwert really are an interesting object of study.

      With all that said, what I am most curious about is what the characteristics would be for Meyer’s swords. A longer, flexible blade changes how you strike and move, no matter if the sword is sharp or blunt. The only way I can see for finding “evidence” of this is to try use such blades and see if things “fall in place”, or not, when we compare to the techniques shown in Meyer’s treatise.

      Damn, that almost became a new article… :)

  2. Great response, Roger, that encourages more study, rather than make pat, easy answers. Thank you for that. I would like to add that one of the problems we seem to have today in helping define the role of the Feder is that there is an issue with the modern reproductions of the Feder. When applying technique with the Hanwei version, for example (it is the cheapest and therefore the most accessible, which has its own drawbacks), the lightness and extreme flexibility of the blade may misinform the resulting effort. It should go without saying that sparring with true sharp swords is a very dangerous pursuit, though doing so is perhaps a key to discovering the proper form of the Feder itself. How it informs the use of longer weapons, since you also bring up this connection, is another area of close scrutiny. Such a conundrum!! :-P

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