Saturday, February 9, 2008

From the Bind of the Zwerchau

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief essay on the Zornhau in which I argued that Fühlen, the process of feeling a bind to see if your opponent is hard or soft in the bind, is not a passive process in which you actually wait for moment while bound to see what you can feel through the bind. I argued that in order to act Indes—instantly, or simultaneously—as the masters direct us to you must *test* the bind by immediately trying to use a technique designed for use if your opponent is soft in the bind—the Zornort—and then, if that fails, using that test result to tell you about the bind and what to do next.

I don't know how many others have noticed this, but it turns out that there are only two Meisterhau in Ringeck in which the master tells us to do "A" if our opponent is soft in the bind and "B" if he's hard in the bind: The first I've described above, the Zornhau. The only other is the Zwerchau.

In the Zwerchau we're told that if you strike with a Zwerchau and your opponent cuts into your blade to displace your cut you are to feel the bind (Fühlen), and if he's hard in the bind you do a Cross Knock (or a Duplieren, but we’ll save that for another time), or, if he's soft in the bind, you place your edge against his neck and Schnitt (or do a Back-lever Throw, but I dislike that play as being overly fussy and complicated). Just as with the Zornhau you simply don't have time to stop and smell the Fühlen after the bind happens. Your opponent isn't going to stand there passively awaiting your next act, he's going to move from the bind to do something else. Thus, again like the Zornhau, you must make your Fühlen an active test, not a passive "feeling out."

Also as with the Zornhau, what you test with matters: If you use a technique that you're supposed to use in a hard bind when your opponent is soft in the bind he will be able to react because techniques from a hard bind depend upon your opponent pushing into the bind to work. Someone who's soft in the bind can simply lift his sword away and do something else. To put it another way, techniques intended to be done when your opponent is hard in the bind depend upon his commitment to the bind.

Thus, in a bind from the Zwerchau you should first try to lift your hands slightly as if you were about to lift your point over your opponent's head for the Schnitt to the neck. If it works, fine--slice the bastard and go home for beer and pretzels. If it doesn't work, however, it's *easy* to convert that slight lift of your hands into a cross knock to your right (as long as you planned for that from the beginning and were ready to change gears). So we test the bind with the Schnitt technique, and if the bind is hard enough to stop the Schnitt we simply move right into the Cross Knock. Active testing, not passive; simple, fast and elegant.

That brings us to a related issue: I'm sure some of you have been practicing these techniques and found problems with them. Maybe your opponent's sword is too close to your hilt and the cross knock doesn't really work well, or his sword is on yours in such a way that it's hard to reach his blade to cross knock it. The answer to these problems (and numerous others I've seen people have with this set of plays) lies in where the displacement occurs on your blade when you Zwerchau.

If you cut with a Zwerchau and your opponent displaces from above such that he hits your blade just above the cross you'll find it almost impossible to get a crisp, sharp cross knock. That's not a problem, however, because the only reason it seems like an issue is that you're doing it in practice. If you were cutting for real and really trying to hit your opponent's head you'd find that your sword simply pivots on his blade and strikes—his displacement wouldn't do a thing. This is only an issue in practice when you don't practice realistically; you stop your attack because you *know* your Zwerchau is supposed to fail and you're supposed to do a cross knock. Even if the blow didn't land, since it would be his weak on the very strongest part of the strong of your sword if you follow my advice above and test with the Schnitt first you'd find that the Schnitt would work beautifully because having his weak on your strong makes the bind weak regardless of whatever else happens. So the Cross Knock should never happen from this sort of bind.

Alternatively, if your practice partner is binding too far out on your sword toward your point neither of these defenses will work because you won't have the leverage for the Schnitt and his sword will probably be out of reach for the Cross Knock. But while Ringeck doesn't specifically mention it in this particular case, you should already know what to do from other plays: You Durchwechseln under his sword! *Any* time your opponent binds down hard against the tip of your sword you should *automatically* Durchwechseln; it's an almost unbeatable defense when done correctly.

So the Schnitt to the neck and the Cross Knock should only be used when your opponent binds with the middle of your blade.

Thus, we see here a set of precisely-scripted actions from the displacement of the Zwerchau that are much like the ones from the Zornhau. They shouldn't be seen as a collection of random, unrelated techniques to choose from, but rather a way of limiting what you have to think about in the fight. Again, follow Döbringer's instructions to have a plan in place before you act. Know what you're supposed to do in every situation that can arise, and act in such a way as to limit the number of situations that *can* arise, and you'll find it's easy to have a well thought-out plan in every case, while your opponent will be floundering, trying to think of what to do in response to each of your actions, and he'll die while trying to decide what to do. That is die Edle Krieg—the Noble War.

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