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.


zornhau said...

We would probably agree with you on the Zornhau Ort.

However, perhaps your original technique is the one described in Goliath's double sequence goes (paraphrased): He oberhaus x you strike to his head x he displaces strongly x you double.

"You strike to his head" could be very abbreviated way of saying "Zornhau Ort". However, we and another group have found that you can strike directly to his head into the cut.

For me, this points to two techniques taught in the (lost) traditional course, both of which work geometrically, though one is harder than the other.

Maybe this explains why we see such varied interpretations.

Hugh Knight said...

Hi Zornhau,
I haven't seen any source that says to strike to your opponent's head as you Zornhau. My (incorrect) interpretation merely said you strike *at* his head so that if he was actually throwing a feint your blow to the head would land prior to his real cut, but striking to the head from the bind is weak and no source ever calls for it.
What the Duplieren (double) sequence to which you refer is talking about is simply a regular bind with a simultaneous cut; in other words, you both cut at the same time.
"You strike to his head" can't refer to a Zornhau Ort (Zornort) because the strike is a cut and the Zornort is a thrust.
While some techniques do work where you strike to the head while binding (e.g., the Zwerchau and the Schielhau), they can do so because the particular nature of the cuts gives a mechanical advantage when doing so. The Zornhau gives no such advantage, so trying to cut to the head while displacing is not "art", and is therefore incorrect.
The Zornort fills the role of a single-time (almost) technique. You cut toward his sword to close the line of his attack and thrust as soon as your point is online. Technically, you don't even make an effort to strike your opponent's sword; ideally, his sword will hit yours (rather than yours hitting his, if you see the difference), even though he struck first. This is what von Danzig means by doing the Zornhau "without displacing." Until I got the translation for the actual von Danzig text (not Goliath) I didn't realize this.

zornhau said...

The translation - from - is

How you shall drive the Doubling to both sides

Mark when he strikes high to you from his right shoulder, then also strike similarly strong and high from your right to his head,


Are you saying that's not just Zornhauing into a Zornhau?

Thing is, I've had it done to me by somebody from the Glasgow german longsword group.

Hugh Knight said...

I'm saying that *is* just striking a Zornhau into his Zornhau--but into his sword, not actually into his head. It's their way of saying you're not cutting down into the blade so that your point is in front of his face (as you do with the Zornort).
I think the reason the Duplieren is described this way is because they're showing you what to do if your point isn't in front of your opponent's face (meaning you can't do the Zornort).
What I think you're saying is that you try to actually hit someone on the head while you're displacing his cut, and there's absolutely no evidence for that whatsoever. If I'm reading you incorrectly, I apologize.
If you're saying someone hit your head while displacing your cut I believe you--anything can happen. But that's not the art--that's not what the books are telling us to do, because it's too weak--it's not art because there's no mechanical advantage to it as there is in the case of, for example, the Zwerchau, in which you *do* hit your opponent in the head while displacing his cut.
I believe this notion of hitting with a Zornhau to the head while displacing came from the idea that the other Meisterhauen were single-time cuts with opposition (which is what that sort of technique is called), but, in fact, only the Zwerchau and the Schielhau do that. The Krump and Scheitelhau are single-time cuts, true (or can be), but not with opposition.
The Zornhau is "nothing but a bad cut such as peasants use"; it's where you go from there that counts--hence the Zornort.

zornhau said...

"to his head" seems very specific. If they'd meant to the blade, surely they would have said it?

Hugh Knight said...

Yes, "to the head" is specific, but I don't believe it means what you think it means. If you really expected to hit him on the head you wouldn't immediately move to the Duplieren.

What it refers to is your aiming point. My old version of the Zornhau was aimed at my opponent's head as opposed to his sword. I didn't expect the blow to land, "to the head" just referred to the aiming point; I aimed at his head in case the attack was a feint. The new (correct) version is aimed at his sword (sort of)--again, it's about aiming point.

If the masters thought such blows would hit they would say that, as they do with real attacks honestly meant to hit--they wouldn't just refer to it as a starting position for something else. Moreover, if hitting the head while displacing would work then that's what you'd use in the place of the Zornort and the Zornort would have no value--both can only work in a soft bind.

When you cut to displace a blow you can cut either toward the head or toward his sword. When you cut toward his head he binds and you Duplieren or Winden (etc.); when you cut to his blade you immediately thrust. It really is that simple.

The bottom line is that you only use single-time cuts with opposition when there's a mechanical advantage in doing so (as there is with the Zwerch, for eample), but there is none in the Zornhau because you and your opponent are doing exactly the same thing.

zornhau said...

When you diagram the sequences in Goliath, you often end up with a string of attacks: "Try to get him on the head, if he responds in time, double" is entirely consistent with that.

The documents we work from aren't exhaustive manuals, and read more like commentaries on a traditional set of classes. We don't know what techniques were actually taught in what order, or whether some sequences kick off with stuff from the "basic course".

I suppose our bottom line is: if the text and pictures don't point to an effective technique, then you're doing it wrong!

Different philosophies, I think...

Hugh Knight said...

While it's true that there are second-intention plays for all the single-time techniques, they're written differently. The single-time techniques are written as if they worked, then variation are explained. The cut to the head is never discussed as a finishing move.

But if you're diagramming sentences in the Fechtbücher I would respectfully suggest you're assigning more precison to their writing than is supported by the research that has been done on the subject.

The simple fact is that there is no mechanical advantage gained by using the Zornhau as a single-time cut with opposition, therefore it's not good art. There *is* a mechanical advantage to be gained with (for example) the Zwerchau, so that *is* a single-time cut with opposition.

zornhau said...

But you're assuming that the texts are exhaustive. They're obviously not, since, e.g. there are places where Ringek and Goliath do not overlap, such as - IIRC - the Krumphau into Barrier Guard.

In the latter example, Goliath's opening to the Kurtzhau has the opponent expecting you to bind against his blade, which could plausibly be the cut into Barrier Guard.

So, if a technique is mentioned in a play, who's to say it's not described in great detail in some lost text? Hence the logic of the Zornhau vs the head.

As for the mechanics, a step on the spot seems to take you just enough to the side. And yes, it's easily countered, but that sets up the second intention.

(No, we're not diagramming sentences. Just the flow between the techniques.)

((This is very interesting, btw)

Hugh Knight said...

No, I don't believe the texts are exhaustive in their coverage of der KdF. At the same time, however, the only possible reason to extrapolate techniques is to "improve" the art as we now know it. To me, there's no justification for that: Our *only* justification for studying this art is to capture what we know about it, not to change what our sources give us. If we had to fight real sword fights today that might not hold true, but we don't. That's like me saying side kicks really work well in unarmored fights and not everything was covered in the grappling books, so I'll add side kicks in because no one can "prove" they didn't use them.

Moreover, there's no reason to make the Zornhau a single-time cut with opposition because it doesn't do anything to give you any advantage, and all other such techniques *do*. That means the idea is counter to the other things we read in the Fechtbücher.