Sunday, August 11, 2019

Striking with Spears?


I have long been troubled by the unarmored spear plays in Talhoffer's Königsegg Codex, as in the picture here, et. seq.:

The problem with these plays (and there are only a very few—ff. 45r- 49r in MS XIX.17-3—is that there are a few which show the spears being used to strike (as in the picture below).  This is the justification a certain well-known but severely misguided HEMA interpreter to apply longsword striking techniques to the spear, which drives me pretty insane.  It just wasn't done with spears, but a certain sector of the HEMA community just loves the ideas of taking techniques from one form and applying them to a different form the way Fiore sometimes did.  Sigh.

One of the reasons spears weren't used for striking is that the spears were tapered, as you can see in this (and almost every other) spear pictured in the Fechtbücher:
I don't want to go too deeply into why they were tapered, but the short version is that by tapering the shaft you balance the spear against the weight of the spear head.

The problem with striking with a tapered spear is that they are therefore thin near the point at which you're striking, and so are extremely likely to break.  And yet, there are those plates in Talhoffer, mocking what I thought I knew and understood (and justifying that HEMA fellow in his making up of nonsense techniques).

Looking at the striking spear plates, I saw that they are not tapered in the drawing, but it's a mistake to see too much in the bad art of medieval books, so I didn't want to just claim "But these 'spears' are different!"  And yet, that's what I was thinking—as if they were really "quarterstaffs with benefits," like the ones in Silver that have iron caps on the end.  “Why not a metal point?” I asked myself.

Now, however, I think I have the answer, and it also explains why these "spear" techniques are shown unarmored, and in an unarmored section of the book (sometimes armored plays are shown out of armor, but not usually in the armored section of a book):  I think they are boar spears.

There is a very short section in “Fechtregeln” (“Cologne Fechtbuch”)  (MS Best.7020 (W*)150), from c. 1500, which talks about techniques for boar spears.  For example, “Item hy na volget eyn stuck ym swynspeyß.” (“Item: Here follows a technique in the boar spear.” fol. 20v.).  The techniques described in the Cologne Fechtbuch are very vague (text only, too—no pictures), and it’s hard to see any connection to the spear/staff techniques in Talhoffer, so this is obviously something of a reach, but it does solve the question rather nicely.

After all, boar spears, if they were tapered at all, were usually tapered toward the butt, not the point, to make them stronger at the front end and so that you could push into the thicker part of the shaft for a better grip in a hard push (with the boar pushing back!).  You can see this here:
https://nfknowledge.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/tapestry_two_1.jpg

The term used for the weapon in the Königsegg Fechtbuch is either “spüß” (which is just “spieß” or spear)  or “glän,” a term which is more problematic, at least for me.  The translation in Wiktenauer gives Glän as “glaive,” but the German word for glaive is “Glefe,” not “Glän.”  Now, it could be a dialect issue, as with spüß for spieß, but it also might just be a different kind of weapon, too.  But the fact that the identical weapon is described by two different names suggests that it’s more than just a plain spear.

Moreover, while boars were hunted in partial armor sometimes (Gaston Phoebus talks about wearing leg armor when doing so on foot), that didn’t apply to commoners, as the picture from Gaston’s book I posted above shows, which matches with what we see in Talhoffer.

Balanced against this rather complex argument (Occam’s Razor, anyone?) is the fact that the weapons in Talhoffer don’t look much like boar spears as they are traditionally depicted, with either a metal cross bar or a tied-on crossbar of antler to prevent sir swine from crawling up the spear to gut you.  Nor are Talhoffer’s spears reverse tapered as the boar spears often are.  Still, it’s a fairly crude drawing, so I don’t lend to much weight to this objection, even though it must be recognized.

I confess, however, that in spite of this weakness, I like the boar spear idea.  It makes sense in a way in which just claiming spears were used as staves for striking blows does not, and it answers all the questions (out of armor, striking with the weak part, etc.) this issue raises.  This will therefore be my working hypothesis for now.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Zornhau Ort vs. Zornort: Get Them Straight!


There are two techniques with similar names which can cause some confusion for translators, namely the Zornort and the Zornhau Ort, which I translate as the Point of Wrath and the Point of the Wrath Cut, respectively.  Several authors conflate the two terms, failing to distinguish them as very different techniques.  One example of this can been seen in Christian Tobler’s In Saint George’s Name (e.g., p. 29 et seq.), but I have seen the error in several other sources, too (I chose the example I did because Tobler is a much better translator than I—which makes this very surprising to see—not because I am criticizing his translations in general).

The Zornort is very different from the Zornhau Ort.  The principle difference is that while both are thrusts, and both start from a Bind of the Zornhau, the Zornort is done in an Upper Hengen (it is Liechtenauer’s First Winden), while the Zornhau Ort is done into Long Point.  One of the reasons this can be confusing is that any given master usually only uses one or the other term, not both, and the two terms do seem very similar, after all.  When comparing sources, however, the distinction becomes clear.

Peter Von Danzig explains the Zornhau Ort very clearly, and the matching picture below from Goliath illustrates it, showing a thrust into Langenort.  It is a bind of the Zornhau to counter a Zornhau, followed by a thrust into Langenort done am Schwert when your opponent is soft in the bind.
Wer dir oberhawt / zorñhaw ort dem drawt (Who cuts at you from above, / The Point of the Wrath Cut threatens him.  Codex 44 A 8 fol. 13r.)

Text: “The Zornhau breaks with the point all cuts from above and yet is nothing other than a strike which a peasant farmer would use. Use it as follows: if you come into the Zufechten and your opponent strikes from his right side to your head, then likewise also strike from your right side from above without displacing and bind strongly against his sword. If he is soft in the bind, shoot with the point straight in and long to the face or chest.” (Id.)

Ringeck uses the same term for that play:
Wer dir ober haw°et / Zor[n] haw ort im dröwet (Who cuts from above / The Point of the Wrath Cut threatens him. Rinegck fol. 19r.)

Conversely, in Talhoffer 1467 we see the Zornort:
Zorn ortt Im dröw. (Threaten him with the Point of Wrath.)

Which he clearly distinguishes from the Long Point of Wrath.  This could well be a Zornhau Ort in the sense von Danizg and Ringeck use Zornhau Ort, but Talhoffer is not explicit about that:
Das lang Zorn ortt. (The Long Point of Wrath.)

Jörg Wilhalm shows the technique on two different sides, but is consistent as to terminology:
Das ist der Zornortt (That is the Point of Wrath. CGM 3711 fol. 4r).

Das ist der ander zornortt (That is the second Point of Wrath. Id. fol. 4v.)

As this makes plain, the sources are clear as to the difference between the Zornhau Ort and the Zornort, and they are consistent in their use of each.  This analysis is supported by considering the Zornort in context as shown in different sources.  Talhoffer and Wilhalm may not specifically name the Zornhau Ort (unless that’s what Talhoffer means by the Lang Zornort), but we do see the Zornort as pictured in Talhoffer and Wilhalm being described in Ringeck and von Danzig.  It is the First Winden done from the bind of the Zornhau, as Ringeck describes here:

“When you strike a Zornhau and he displaces it and remains strong at the sword hold strongly against it. With the strong of your sword, slide up to the weak of his blade, wind the hilt in front of your head while remaining am Schwert, and thrust into his face from above.” (Ringeck ff. 20r-v.)

Compare that description of the Winden with this play from Falkner:
In zornnortt thu° recht winden (Do the right [correct] winding in the Point of Wrath / If you wish to find the face open) (fol. 3r.)

It is clear that Falkner is describing the same technique as Ringeck in ff. 20r-v:  You cut with a Zornhau; your opponent binds and is hard in the bind, so you wind up into an Upper Hengen and thrust.  While Ringeck doesn’t name this play (although later in the book, on the chapter on Winden he calls it the First Winden, see ff. 124v-125v), Falkner unequivocally calls it the “zornnortt,” making this impossible to misinterpret.

In conclusion, these techniques are two sides of the same coin.  Both come from a bind of the Zornhau (i.e., a Zornhau displaced by a Zornhau), and both are thrusts, but if your opponent is soft in the bind then you thrust into Langenort for a Zornhau Ort, while if he is hard in the bind you wind up into an Upper Hengen with a First Winden or Zornort.  They are, however, very different from one another and the two terms should not be confused or conflated.

Source Cited:
Tobler, Christian.  In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Martial Arts.  Freelance Academy Press, 2010.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Feather Sword: Another Word You’re Using Incorrectly


One of the most pernicious errors of lexicology to be found among the HEMA crowd is the use of the word “Federschwert” (lit. “feather sword”), or just “Feder,” to describe the swords used in training and in the competitions known as Fechtschulen (that a Fechtschule is a competition and not the term for a martial arts school is yet another ignorant mistake they make, but we will set that aside for now).  This mistake is as deeply entrenched as it is completely misunderstood among HEMA groups—so much so, that they are not even aware there might be an issue.  They do not even know to question it, and most wouldn’t care if they did.

The first use of the term Feder I have been able to find comes from Egerton Castle, who uses it to refer to the practice rapiers used by the Federfechter (Castle 1893 p. 106).  The “Freifechter von der Feder zum Greifenfels” was a fencing guild founded around 1570.  The origin of their name is unclear, however, their arms depict two hands holding a feather and two sword blades with feathered wings for crosses.

The Federfechter were in conflict with a previously established fencing guild called the Marxbruder (“The Brotherhood of Saint Mark”), a group established sometime before 1470.  They were the only group authorized by Frederick III to certify masters of the sword at that time.  Hans Talhoffer may have been a member as their badge shows up at least twice in his Thott Codex from 1459, once on his coat of arms and once on a necklace around the master’s neck (MS Thott.290.2º ff. 101v and 102r respectively).

The Marxbruder and the Federfechter generally represented two different sides of the culture of Germany.  The Marxbruder was primarily comprised of working men, while the Federfechter were generally scholars and what we today would call “white collar” workers.  As a result, the Brothers of St. Mark viewed the Federfechter as somewhat effete and unskilled.

This perception of the Federfechter, coupled with what the Marxbruder considered an infringement of their monopoly, led to acrimony between the two groups.  This acrimony resulted in a series of fierce encounters in both Fechtschulen and in words.  For example, this is an excerpt from a poem written by a Marxbruder named Cristoff Jung:

Ein Marx Bruder bin Ich worn
Dieser thut den Federfechtern Zorn.
Dann Gennssfed’n und Khil
Braucht man nit zum Ritterspiel
(A Marxbruder am I, / One who causes the feather fencers anger … Because goose feathers and quills / Are not needed for knightly games; tr. by the author) (Wassmanndorff 1870 p.37.)

The derision is manifest, as is the clear implication that the Federfechter would do better to stick to their quill pens and leave swords to the Marxbruder.

Note, however, that none of this indicates the use of the word Feder to mean a practice sword, except by Castle, who wrote long after the period and who does not support his assertion. Indeed, linguistically, the term Federschwert appears to refer to fighting with words rather than swords—in other words, using feathers (i.e., quill pens) to do your fighting (e.g., see Heidecker 1739).

Thus, it seems obvious that the use of the term Feder or Federschwert to refer to practice longswords represents a thorough misunderstanding of the word and the practice should be abandoned immediately by anyone with any pretension to academic accuracy.  Like the mistaken use of the word gambeson (see my previous blog entry), it presents one more distasteful example of the HEMA community’s utter lack of concern for scholarship.  Only the "feather brained" will continue to get it wrong.

Some will ignore this, arguing that language changes all the time and that we should just accept that fact, allowing the ignorance of hoi polloi to rule us.  Nonsense.  Certainly language changes over time, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should eschew such changes when they represent error and misinformation, or when they diminish the precision or clarity of the words being changed.  Just insisting that because a large group of people fail to know the correct term for a thing means we should change what that thing is called is to embrace willful ignorance.  For it to happen in a group which should pride itself on scholarship is deplorable.

What, then, should we call practice swords?  As with many such problems, the answer is easily found simply by looking at the terminology in use at the time. Wassmannsdorff provides us with an account of a Fechtschule held in Stuttgart in 1570 in which a Marxbruder by the name of Hildebrand blinded his opponent with a bloß-Fechtschwert (p.19).  This term can be seen in other sources as well.  Thus, the term used in period seems to have been Fechtschwert (pl. Fechtschwerter), and there is no reason not to follow that practice today.

[1] Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fencing—From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. London, 1893, p. 106
[2] Christoff Jung von Breißlaw in Wassmannsdorff, Karl. Sechs Fechtschulen der Marxbrüder undFederfechter: aus den Jahren 1573 bis 1614. Heidelberg, 1870, p. 37. Accessed 5/16/19.
[3] Heidecker, Gotthard. DieLeyr Tyri: Das ist: Altfränkische Possen, mit welchen P. Rudolf Baffer. Frankfurt, 1739, p. 20.  Accessed 5/16/19.