Archive for August, 2013

by Christian ToblerImage

Alphabet - At the Pennsic War event this year, I taught a suite of four classes treating the use of the German longsword, dagger, sword and buckler, and, finally – messer. During that final class, someone asked me why the cleric/fencing author Johannes Lecküchner, in his mammoth treatise on the messer, had at once repeated so much of his predecessor Liechtenauer’s verse for the longsword, but had changed the names of most of the signature strokes with the sword, and for all of the guards.

“Perhaps he [Lecküchner] wanted it clear that the techniques varied a bit when performed with the messer and so named them differently”, I answered with little conviction.

I’ve given that stock answer for several years now, with progressively less confidence each time. After all, there’s a major flaw with that reasoning: the messer version of the Zornhau (Wrath Stroke) is done a bit differently than its longsword analog, and yet Lecküchner retained that particular name.

It was during the drive home from the event that it struck me: Lecküchner’s names are “toughened up” versions of the old names for the strokes and guards of the longsword; his sound more aggressive, geared more toward war and the hunt, rather than agriculture.

The “Wrath Stroke” sounds menacing enough, so it is so-named in the messer Zettel (epitome). But let’s look at what happens with the other strokes:

The Krumphau, or Crooked Stroke, becomes the Weckerhau – the Awakening Stroke.

The Zwerchhau, or Thwart Stroke, becomes the Entrüsthau – the Disarming Stroke.

The Schielhau, or Squinting Stroke, becomes the Zwingerhau – the Constraining Stroke.

The Scheitelhau, or Scalp Stroke, becomes the Geferhau – the Endangering Stroke.

Each of these new names sounds more aggressive than the longsword antecedent. All this focus on surprise, restraint, and danger is tough talk to be sure!

With the four primary guards, the effect of the change is even more profound. The two “closed wards” for the longsword, Ochs (Ox) and Pflug (Plow), are stripped of their bucolic tranquility and in the messer become , respectively, Stier (Bull or Steer) and Eber (Boar) – clearly, far more brawny names.

The open wards – Vom Tag (From the Roof, or From the Day, depending on your interpretation…), and Alber (Fool), are similarly toughened up. The former becomes Luginslant (Watchtower), while the latter becomes Pastei (Bastion). If the agrarian names for the closed wards have been changed to please the bull fighter or huntsman, here the appeal must be to military sensibilities, in both vigilance and stout defense.

It is impossible for us to know the mind of Johannes Lecküchner in full, but seen through this lens, it seems he altered Liechtenauer’s language to project a more muscular sense of the art – a valuable distinction when attracting noble eyes.

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