Are there flourishes in the German longsword sources?
Flourishes are solo forms, sequences perhaps a bit like kata, that can be used to practise techniques and generally do training with sword in hand even without a partner – useful if you can only attend your club infrequently, or if you are housebound for whatever reason!
There are not many flourishes in the German sources, unfortunately. There are a few, however, and they are worth studying. Most of them are not particularly difficult!
My new online video course
I recently published an online video course about flourishes with the German longsword. In it, I provide my own translations of these flourishes, as well as a number of videos with my interpretations and some instructions for what to look for in your own training.
Currently, it includes the flourishes from the Nuremberg Hausbuch and the Kölner Fechtbuch. I will be adding more translations and videos over the next few days, so that it becomes even more comprehensive.
If you are able to purchase the course (it’s just a one-time fee) then I would appreciate the support immensely, since my usual teaching activities are restricted during the current Covid-19 lockdown.
The flourish in the Nuremberg Hausbuch
There is a short flourish in the additional material by the “other masters” in the Nuremberg Hausbuch. It moves through a series of guard positions and finishes with two cuts. I have been working with this flourish since about 2011, and it is one that I keep coming back to with fresh insights and with the benefit of developments in my fencing skills.
The flourish in the Kölner Fechtbuch
The longsword section of the Kölner Fechtbuch begins with a quick flourish to describe and teach the “V. hewe”. These could be the four cuts (“V.” being short for vier, or four) or the five cuts (V being the Roman numeral for five, and then matching Liechtenauer’s concept of the Funff Hewen); I tend to interpret this as the four cuts, and these days would suggest that the cuts are Oberhaw, Zwerhaw, Mittelhaw, and Wechselhaw.
I published another article recently about the fundamental strikes of different systems, and wrote a little about this set of cuts as the “basic actions” of this particular source.
The flourish in the Anonymous Unicum
This is a rather unusual source, because it contains almost no fencing instructions, just the description of five short flourishes. I think it may have been a group of sequences to practice the use of the larger two-handed sword, perhaps in a similar way to the rules of the montante.
I translated this source a number of months ago, and never quite managed to put it online. I shall add it to my website this week, I think!
The flourish in Joachim Meyer
Most people know about Meyer’s drill for striking to the four openings, often known as “Meyer’s square”. I have written about it previously, offering some suggestions for different ways to use the sequence for training different aspects of our fencing.
Because the sequence is really just a framework for practising just about anything (in a structured, choreographed fashion), there are so many different ways to showcase it for use, and so many ways you can modify if for your own purposes.
Although Meyer doesn’t call it a flourish, and doesn’t even put much importance upon it in his book (he gives it only a single paragraph, no more!), I believe it deserves a place in this list of flourishes, since it is undeniably a sequence for solo practice.
At the moment, I am not aware of any other flourishes within the German longsword sources. If you know of one that I have not listed above, please let me know, and I will be delighted to spend some time working on it!
What are flourishes good for?
Flourishes are good for a number of things. They give you something to repeat, meaning that you have a reason to do repetitions with sword in hand, which is clearly better than sitting around and not doing any fencing at all! They also tend to be more interesting (or at least, easier to make interesting) than just doing 100 repetitions of this cut, 100 repetitions of that cut, 100 repetitions of some other cut, meaning that you are more likely to get through a higher number of repetitions with your mind still engaged with what you are doing.
They can give you a framework of shapes and movements for practising your footwork. By chaining actions together into a sequence, they help to develop your ability to move from one action into the next, improving your sword-handling skills. They can also improve how fluently and easily you move – when you think of some of the best practitioners, they move effortlessly and have total commend of themselves and their sword, and this kind of fluency and control can be gained by repetitions of solo sequences.
You might consider what each action is for, and why might one action follow another? In karate, this is called bunkai, and it is an important part of kata practice to be able to understand how you might use each movement or set of movements against an opponent. This serves to bridge the practices of kata and kumite so that your overall practice is well joined up and cohesive. Although karate kata tend to be longer and more involved than longsword flourishes, it is worth reading some karate blog articles and watching some bunkai videos to see how karateka engage in this form of practice, so that you can borrow some ideas to improve your training of historical fencing.
Do flourishes have any draw-backs?
Yes, of course, the most significant being that you really need a partner to be able to learn to do things properly with correct distance, timing, cover, etc. It is very easy to perform solo sequences in a ridiculous and unrealistic fashion. You have to police yourself to make sure that you keep your training relevant and as realistic as you wish it to be.
Solo forms, kata, flourishes, whatever you might want to call them, are an important part of a comprehensive training programme. Taking the opportunity to perform repetitions whenever you have the chance will be beneficial. Giving yourself sequences of movements to practise your form, flow, and coordination can only be a good thing.
We are lucky to have some flourishes within the German longsword material. While we are stuck at home and unable to meet up with our clubmates at this time, flourishes might be one of the best training tools available to us!
Take a look at my online video course about flourishes and see if there is something in there that looks interesting. Any and all purchases of the course will help me greatly!
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.