Monday, May 15, 2006

Strength v Weakness

This line/philosophy unlocks the Leichtenhauer system when it is fully understood.   Longsword fighting traditions rely heavily on body and sword mechanics.  Understanding the principals of those mechanics is absolutely key to beginning to understand the fighting system as an entire system.

First, some key concepts

The Basic Principle
If he commits to an action with strength- recognize what he is doing, and give-in (show weakness).  In giving-in however, transform his strong commitment to his action into an opening, and attack it.

If he shows weakness in an action, a bind for example, push through that weakness, and transform it into an opening.

The Sword’s Three Axis
Edge: The first is the edge axis which aligns with the edge and the cross.  When swinging the sword with the intention of cutting, the blade is traveling along its edge axis.

Flat: The second is the flat axis and describes the flat part of the sword’s blade.  The blade travels through its flat axis on some blocks and parries.

Length: The third axis is the length and runs right down the center of the blade from the point to the pommel.  A sword travels along its length axis when thrusting with the point.
Generally, strength is applied to either the long axis in a thrust with point or pommel, or the edge axis in a strike or cut.  The flat axis is usually only used in a bind situation.

Simple Physics
Lever and Fulcrum: If the sword is a lever, and the grip is the fulcrum, then simple physics tells us the the farther along the length of the lever that force is applied, the easier it is to move the lever by forcing the fulcrum to pivot.

Skeletal//Muscular Alignment & The Cross
Imagine the position of your body when you do any strenuous, strength activity.  Push starting a car for example: you push with all of your muscle groups and joints aligned, and working as one.  You must coordinate your stepping motion and body alignment to maximize your power.

Your body has aspects to it that are strong and weak.  Imagine pushing the car again.  You are incredibly strong along your forward/backward axis during the exertion, but you would fall right over if any perpendicular force were applied to you.

If these two axis were viewed as straight lines, they would form a cross.  Always remember how enchanted with cross imagery the medieval mind was.  These elements were included into their daily philosophies as much as possible.

These strong and weak aspects are always with you- and your opponent.  Whenever your opponent is strong, there is always a corresponding weakness.  Often, the location of the weakness is in some way perpendicular to the strength.  All you have to do is find it!

Longsword Grips
The Standard Sword Grip: Along the axis of the sword in line with the arm bones is found the strong of the sword. In the standard grip this is referring to the lowest half of the sword edge pointing away from you.  This is referred to as the long edge.  The upper half of the long edge is referred to as the weak part of the sword because it is more easily levered.  The physics of the inside, or short edge, are identical to the outside, but the short edge is weaker, in general, than the long edge.  When the sword is swung in this grip, the edge is aligned and powered with the top of the wrist pushing forward.  This motion is the most powerful.

The Thumb Grip: This grip is adopted when the sword is twisted 90ยบ in the hands from the standard grip, and the thumb placed along the blade.  This grip retains both long, and short edges, but they are much weaker than in the standard grip.  When the sword is swung in this grip, the edge is aligned and powered with the top of the wrist rotating with a windshield-wiper motion.

Grip Strength:  When the sword is held in the hands in either fighting grip, it has a strong and a weak aspect.  To simplify, imagine holding a sword in front of you in the standard grip.  The grip is strongest along its edge axis, and very weak along its flat axis.

Putting It Together: Some examples . . .
Go back to the line, “Meet weakness with strength, and strength with weakness.”

Three of the Master Strikes (krumphau, zwerchau and scheilhau) depend of these principals in a very interesting way.  The strikes meet the strength of an oncoming edge, by attacking and displacing it on the perpendicular: on its weak, flat axis.  Once the foe’s blade is set aside in this way, the master strike transforms (winds) around the sword’s long axis in some way, and becomes an offensive strike that comes from an angle that is difficult to counter- hence the name “master strike.”

Taking off at the sword (Abnehmen) also makes interesting use of these principals.  In a bind, if your foe is pressing hard against your blade with outward pressure, then take off.  The sudden lack of counter-pressure against his sword causes him to fly outward, and creates openings all along his opposite side.  Meet strength with weakness.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”


    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

    Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

    Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

    Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

    Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

    Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

    Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

    No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

    No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

    Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

    Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

    Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

    (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

    (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

    (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

    (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

    (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

    (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

    (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

    (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

    (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

    (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

    (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

    (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

    (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

    (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

    (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

    (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

    (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

    (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

    Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

    (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

    (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

    (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

    Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

    (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

    (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

    (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

    (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

    Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

    (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

    (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

    (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Monday, May 1, 2006


In the Zornhau plays, Liechtenauer says when your thrust from below (phlug position) is pushed away with strength, to “Take off high without driving.”

Ringeck comments on this, “... pull your sword upwards, away from his.  And then strike to the head from the other side, along his blade.”

In the Goliath text, the commentary says, “then wrench off from his sword (note in margin: take off high) high above you with your sword on his sword's blade, and strike one to his other side, still again on his sword's blade, to his head, this is called taking off high.”

Christian Tobler, on Ringeck, interprets this as more of a zucken (twitch).  He shows1 pulling up and away to the right, stepping left, and arcing the sword around to the left side of the foe’s sword to strike on the left side of the head at a fairly horizontal angle.

David Lindholm, on Ringeck, shows2 a much more vertical lifting of the sword, followed by an immediate step left, and a vertical cut right back down onto his head.

In the Ochs video3, a strike much like the Lindholm technique is shown clearly.

Having experimented with this technique at speed, and examining the various texts over and over, I tend to think that Linholm and Ochs have it right.  Ringeck and Goliath both mention staying on,  or along his blade on the vertical down strike.  In his book Tobler pulls completely away from the foe’s blade when he swings in an arc to the side of the foe’s head.  I have no quarrel that Tobler’s technique also works very well, but I now argue his interpretation in light of the text.

Further Research: April 29, 2006: Christian Tobler does have another sequence of plates4 later on that shows ‘taking off’ a little better, but he still does not bring his strike quickly and vertically down.  He has another sequence that fits better with Lindholm and Ochs interpretations in his book: Fighting with the German Longsword5.  I have to wonder whether he revised, or added to his thinking on this.  Perhaps the photos in the Secrets book were merely incomplete as this does seem to be a rather simple, straight forward interpretation.

To counter this technique, Ringeck writes, “When you engage at the sword with strength and your adversary pulls his sword upwards and strikes at your head from the other side then bind strongly with the true edge and strike him on the head.”

I have interpreted this as follows.  As he lifts his sword high- “takes off”- turn your knuckles out toward his left side, and drive hard into the flat side of his blade as he comes back down- stepping in as you do so.  You should bind against/gather his blade as close to you quillons as possible.  The force of your blow to the flat of his blade will drive it out of the way, and your blade will drive into the side of his head.

1. p24-25, Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship, 2001, Chivalry Bookshelf.
2. p36-37, Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Art of the Longsword, 2003, Paladin Press.
3. Abnehmen Chapter, The Longsword of Johannes Liechtenauer: Part 1, DVD by Hans Heim and Alex Kiermeyer, 2005, and Chivalry Bookshelf
4. Plates 3.22-3.24, p33, Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship, 2001, Chivalry Bookshelf.
5. Illustration 9.3, page 99, Fighting with the German Longsword, 2004, Chivalry Bookshelf.