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)

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