Progress of a Student, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the early stages of development that a student undergoes training in Ringeck’s and Liechtenauer’s fighting style, at least as I teach it.  In the early phase of their training they learn one strike the Zornhau which, with its permutations, serves as a microcosm of the art allowing them to learn the most important principles of swordsmanship initiative, feeling, judgement, measure, and biomechanics, which underlie the successful application of technique.  In Part two we will discuss the learning of the other four of the five strikes, the role these play, and the development of a student in this phase.

First, I should point out that I try very hard to teach Ringeck’s book in the order it is presented.  I follow Ringeck’s example, exposing my students to things they will learn along the way, but I reserve teaching them those things until the time has come as I go through the book.  I will briefly lay out the reasons I do this before proceeding with what I want my students to learn and how I want them to grow.  Liechtenauer designed his book to achieve a number of results, which we are making educated guesses at, but the results in my school speak for themselves.  He uses the General Teaching and the Zornhau to give a student a tool that they can immediately use without a great deal of training, but which they can grow with for weeks or even months of training as they master the fundamental skills of swordsmanship.  Self-sufficiency seems to have been his chief goal in the design of these sections.  Proceeding from there the other four of the five strikes fill gaps, or enhance the capabilities of the stye of the fighters trained in these core principles and the Zornhau.

At this stage the primary goal of teaching will change to expanding the burgeoning fighter’s toolbox so that they will be able to apply their strategy in a more sophisticated and cohesive way against a wider variety of situations.  Remember Ringeck, Dobringer, von Danzig and others in this tradition all come from Liechtenauer’s core style, which focused on gaining, re-gaining, and maintaining the Vor until the opponent’s defenses are overcome, with a few exceptions.  This will be critical to understanding the upcoming teaching methodology and strategy for growth.  I only begin to move past this section after I have administered a test and given a student their first rank, usually after a period of months.

The Krumphau fills a key gap in the Zornhau centric fighting style that a new student has acquired.  If you are right handed, like the vast majority of us.  The single most difficult position to attack from your strong side is left Ochs.  The Krumphau gives you a powerful and reliable way to deal with that position and maintain the Vor.  The Krumphau also gives you two special versions designed to let you conveniently deal with an opponent much better than you or much inferior to you.  While the Zornhau, Zwerchhau, and Scheilhau are far more useful in a broader set of situations the Krumphau gives you ways to fight a very difficult strategic position and a much broader range from the style used by the still comparatively green student.

The Zwerchhau is one of the signature moves of the Liechtenauer style, and is one of the techniques best understood by the community at large.  This move enables a student to defeat strikes from above, which are the most powerful, most instinctive, and most common of all strikes, and the Zwerchhau not only provides a way to defeat them but the position they are done from.  This context makes the Zwerchhau one of the single most useful techniques in the repertoire of the tradition.  Young fighters always notice a distinct improvement in their fighting success as soon as they learn it.  The reason this is taught after the Zornhau and the Krumphau is because of its limitations fighting strikes and thrusts from below and its more limiting reach.  You cannot build a self-sufficient fighting style with the Zwerchhau as its base, which is why no historical longsword style, to my knowledge, does.

The Schielhau forms another signature move of Ringeck and Liechtenauer’s fighting style and it is specifically useful for beating strong opponents who rely on their strength and defensive fighters who yield the initiative to you while standing in Pflug.  The leverage advantage of the schielhau is even greater than that of the Zwerchhau, and this is key to defeating a stronger opponent.  This strike also gives you a clear way to defeat an opponent standing in Pflug.  Now in this case, unlike the Krumphau and Ochs, a Zornhau can still be effective, the problem is that the natural defense, an absetzen to the quarter being attacked, is so clear and distinctive that it can be quite difficult to overcome from the natural position that occurs.  The schielhau gives you a way to do so that anticipates and defeats this instinctive defense, as well as the more direct, and often suicidal, “stop-thrust” that so many modern people are fond of using.

The Schietelhau reaches farther than any other cut in the kunst des fechtens of Liechtenauer and Ringeck, but it is overall the tactically weakest of the five strikes.  It has two chief roles attacking an opponent who yields the initiative to you in Alber, and it works well when an opponent makes a mistake and gives you an opportunity to strike from a relatively safe distance.  Learning this strike naturally transitions to the Advanced techniques which we shall cover in Part 3.

The student in this phase should continue to develop their fundamental skills as they learn how to defeat opponents using specific strategies.  Building from the Zornhau and general teaching we expand the student’s toolbox slowly and this phase fills in gaps in their original fighting style.  This phase should in addition to drills include a great deal of sparring, as well as test cutting so that they can develop well rounded skill sets and test their capabilities regularly.  In terms of intangibles they should develop courage, confidence, greater mastery of measure, motion, tactics, and control of their weapon.  Much of this will happen by simply absorbing things passively, but the most effective teachers will help their students actively understand and develop these things.  Ideally they will have not only a clear matrix of decisions to make, but have developed clear instincts.  What is missing from their fighting style now are advanced techniques for particularly complex situations and special ways to exploit an opponent’s errors.

To see the other parts of this series click here: Part 1