Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Zornort Reinterpreted

When you interpret the techniques and principles of der Kunst des Fechtens your interpretations become very personal; learning you're wrong is painful and more than slightly embarrassing. Unfortunately, the only thing worse than discovering you’ve made a mistake is clinging to that mistake when you know it’s wrong—that’s what makes ARMA ARMA, and I can’t allow myself to go that road.

To that end, I have to admit that one of my cherished interpretations is wrong. I’ve actually been gnawing at this for some time now because I suspected a problem (I’ve even discussed this with some of you), but after a recent discussion I had with Christian Tobler I’ve come to realize my worries were well founded, largely because of an improved translation of von Danzig and some other things I’ve recently come across.

I have long argued:
that when your opponent cuts at your head and you counter with a Zornhau that your cut should be aimed at his head, not at his sword, and that you only thrust at his face if he stays on course such that your swords bind together (NB: I was not saying you hit his head from the bind, just that you aimed at it). My reason for this derived from Döbringer’s instruction to always cut to the man, not to the sword, and it had the powerful advantage that if your opponent’s attack was a feint your cut would land before his real attack could. There’s more to it, but that’s the most important part of my reasoning. Of course we know there are several situations where you *do* cut to the sword, not to the man (e.g., the Krump to the flat), but I didn’t think this was one of those situations.

The first suspicion I had that my interpretation was flawed arose from the fact that no one but me could do this technique this way comfortably, and one of my rules is that “if it’s right it’s simple to do.” When you cut at your opponent’s head your point is, naturally, going to be *past* his head, so to thrust from the bind with the Zornort you have to pull your hands up and back to bring your point on line, just as we see in this picture from Goliath:
and most of my students have really struggled with this action.

Then, to compound my suspicion, a better translation of one of my sources seemed to suggest that we were being told to cut to the sword, not to the head. I wrote to Christian and we discussed this issue. He supplied me with his translation of von Danzig (VD is, in most respects, our primary source for longsword material), and the text in VD is *clear* that you must cut to your opponent’s sword, not to his head.

So, while I don’t like it, I have to admit my mistake and change my interpretation. From now on we’ll be doing the Zornhau to the blade and then thrusting directly from there. Actually, VD says to cut down without displacing, so this is more of a single-time action anyway (I’ll be showing you all this subtlety in class soon!). That’s ironic because I used to do the Zornort that way years ago, but changed my interpretation when I read Döbringer.

Of course, this doesn’t answer all questions: In Lignitzer’s first play of the buckler *you* cut first, not your opponent, and when he binds you Zornort to his face. Since you cut first your sword should be over his head just as I used to do the Zornhau (this was another part of the reason for my doing it that way) with the longsword which means you have to pull your hand back for the Zornort; this is still a good argument for my incorrect interpretation, but I can’t cling to it in defiance of the clear text from VD. So I think we’ll be spending some “quality time” taking a good, long look at Lignitzer to make sure my take on this is correct.