The High Master

Liechtenauer copy.jpg

‘There is only one art of the sword.’

When studying the art of the longsword, one must begin and end with the one High Master. Johannes Liechtenauer, as recorded by ‘Hanko Döbringer’. The words attributed to this man hold the upmost importance. As the art builds through time, one can argue that the tower has been built too high to stand firm. As later masters within the tradition compile new material, new forms, techniques and so forth. We are immediately attracted to this for it seems exclusive, complicated knowledge, these multitudes of guards, strikes, etc. This must be seen through. Just as the modern, and very old, curse of “fencing around”, another aspect to be touched upon that is a bane of the true art, that has flooded the internet and the fallacy of solo video drills. While the videos of worth reveal too much to those who should not freely learn. Words allow purposeful misunderstandings, something to understand when learning from the old masters. Only flesh to flesh dealings hold any worth, in all things. The internet is a strange thing, many strengths, many weaknesses.

Approaching combat from an advanced perspective, basics bound within body, there are many things to do away with in your mind. This will be a focus of the guards, for it is moving through such that all attacks present themselves, and all protection is guaranteed. The strikes are important, yet as water. As the Sword Saint stated, combat is simply striking your opponent down. While at the same time he continues to speak of complexities that have little substance save the sake of art and artful writing. The aspects of Before, After, Feeling, Just As (reading intent before ones action), this is the heart of combat, everything else aside. Only bound within free form. Writing of this is redundant and encircling… Striking is striking, learning to separate the four openings, with both edges and knowing which opening opens the next. The “twitch hit” is the beginning of all… With the basics embedded you will strike as you must. Most importantly master the guards, that offer strikes and defense, the forms in which your body moves through. Most importantly the guards mean little when compared to the other principles. This is the beauty of Liechtenauer, there are only four “main” stances. Ox, Plough, Fool and Roof. Ox, you find yourself in often when one displaces the opponents blade, at the same time attacking, this should happen often. Roof is were the majority of all strikes come from, once again upon displaced sword. Fool, you are a fool if you believe killing blows do not come from here. This snaps to barrier in less than an eye blink. Fool techniques are anything you find yourself in when point is downward of the horizontal line, while not in a movement weakening side position. One should recover in offense. Plough is open to interpretation. Meyers plough? I say not. The original seems to be the one true opening stance, arms ‘extended’ and high, point towards one enemy. The beginning of any other form you may find yourself in. Later traditions do not give a name to this stance, and plough becomes this strange low thing. An enigma that makes sense. While other stances exist, one moves through them very rapidly and less often, or are small variants of one of the four, thus these four are the core.

A curse of swordsmanship is as the High master calls: “Fencing Around”. That is when ones sword makes circular movements. This is just silly. Imagine a boxer who performs circular punches, a comedy. The High master instructs that one should fight as if there is a string attached to the tip of your sword and your opponent. For literal sake, actually do this and understand. When ones sword begins to circle, it often appears more as a fishing pole pulling in a catch. The string immediately shows that nearly everything is a thrust and cut combo. For when fencing a skilled man, a thrust is often displaced, thus becoming a small strike/cut. A strike is often impossible, being intercepted and becoming a thrust. An intercepted thrust towards empty space followed by cutting is a beautiful thing… You will only see such movements in some, some, sparring demonstrations. When both opponents understand. ‘Fencing around’ is a curse. Yet it is attractive to those who do not understand, students of the art and outsiders. One believes he is watching fluidity and skill, when in fact he is watching theatrics, and saddles with no strap. This is written of for centuries, from Döbringer, onward. Yet even many “masters” stand guilty when put on trial. Certainly this day of internet videos stand of guilt, for it is truly the only thing attractive to look at. Watching one actually train solo for true combat is not as pretty. All martial arts stand guilty. While one may still train in “fencing around”, as it increases handling ability, the masters agree, one should never fight this way, or claim the art appears this way. Thus every Way has misdirection. Not ‘fencing around’ means one must have complete control. One must be able to stop his strike on a dime, and begin again with no need for momentum. This is why I train so heavily with the greatsword. The longsword teaches one to wield anything properly, the greatsword takes this to the extreme. ‘Fencing around’ the greatsword is the only thing you see done, a great shortcoming to pigeon hole this weapon, yet understandable if the opponents weapon has less length. Or the opponent is obviously limp of guard, or strong of guard depending, for this weapon will break guards. Combat against formations is something else to be touched upon entirely. For I write of the duel. Once again control on the dime, this amount of control causes the longsword to feel as if it floating in front of you, with a breath changing path, truly a feather. The greatsword causes all weapons to feel this controllable. While fighting with the great sword is simply a very long path to push into, a very long blade, eager to cut. The cross of any sword acting as a “round shield”. Swordsmanship is a vortex, not a sphere.

The rest of combat: footwork, moving, crossing, the fundamentals of what immediately happens, are more important then the multitude of mid range techniques. Pulsation in and out, never be “jousting knights” with long razor blades and no armour, this is stupid. Stay away from mimicking these men who act modernly without fear for their life. Cuts are extremely bad to experience, your body flays open with nothing but a gentle caress. The blood loss, the immediate effect of causing inability, etc. Stay away from the men who care more about how hard they strike as opposed to how easily they cut, because everyone is padded and using blunt swords. The fallacy of sports combat. Metaphorically, all combative sports included.

Thus the High Master is the beginning and end. Beginning with the basics, learning the complications, and ending with the basics. When you train in martial arts daily, never look at daily progress, there is no such thing. I choose three month intervals of a specific weapon, and overload on it. With some variation, and always maintaining unarmed combat preparation. Day in and day out is extremely repetitive. Yet at the end of three months you truly realize how tall you have grown. Not daily, not weekly, even monthly can be difficult to tell. Feel the burn of the shoulders and thighs. Guard always up, never around…

Artwork: Portrait of Liechtenauer 2012, inspired by a medieval manuscript.

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