I taught once more at the Borgosesia Historical Fencing Meeting 2019 in the north of Italy, and again Federico Malagutti and I enjoyed some sparring in the beautiful countryside. Again we filmed it, and this time it was less of an exhibition bout for video and more of a high-intensity training exercise for ourselves. Still, we wanted to demonstrate our respective arts as clearly as possible while remaining fast and functional.
At the event in Borgosesia, I taught a lesson on the Haüptstucke of the Zedel. Therefore, I wanted to showcase a 15th century style of fighting, following the core Liechtenauer texts of the Nuremberg Hausbuch and the glosses of Ringeck, Lew, and pseudo-Danzig. A few items of common fencing may have appeared during some exchanges, but I did my best to fight in a stylistically core-Liechtenauer fashion.
In this description, I’m going to use Liechtenauer’s terminology for both of our actions. Liechtenauer doesn’t really care if the opponent is in full iron gate, middle iron gate, boar’s tooth, long guard, whatever; he just deems it Alber in order to simplify your thought process in terms of how to approach it and break it. Therefore, I’m going to follow that same method, and consider both of our actions according to the terminology that Liechtenauer would use to describe the fight.
Due to the height and reach differences, I had to be active with my footwork, both in attack and defence. Playing at Federico’s preferred distance would have gone very badly for me, so I had to be able to move between the distance where I was safe and the distance where I could work effectively.
Generally in this fight, I tend to be initiating most of the exchanges in some fashion, although it may be Federico who throws the first strike. Part of this was my attempt to make the fight happen on my terms. For most of the fight, I think Federico was typically performing better than me, but towards the end of the bout, I managed to get my head in the game a little better, and I think my fencing tightens up a little.
I believe strongly that everything I do in fencing should be as functional and correct as possible. I should maintain good cutting mechanics throughout the fight (because if my techniques can’t cut, what use are they?), and I should maintain good structure throughout the fight (because if I compromise my body, then my actions are necessarily deficient). Since I do a lot of test cutting on a regular basis, I know for a fact that my short range cuts can work perfectly well with a sharp sword against milk bottles, tatami, plasticine, and cardboard mailing tubes, therefore I feel quite comfortable in my expectation that even my short range cuts will work well for me, without needing to make bigger actions.
In general, my goal is to make the fencing look good while enjoying myself. I want to express myself and showcase a variety of skills, rather than focusing on just one or two actions on repeat. I want to engineer a variety of different situations so that I can play with them and learn something. Rather than treating the fight as a competition and trying to score as many points as possible, I prefer to challenge myself to display as much of my system as possible, as correctly as possible, within the limitations of my current skills and understanding.
Blow by blow description
I move in slowly with a Vom Tag at the shoulder – as Federico commits to a similar position, I pause in a wide lateral stance and let him approach me. He does not take my offer of the Vor, and so I approach him to cause the exchange to happen, taking a Lang Ort position to offer a bind.
Federico takes the invitation and cuts in with an Oberhaw, which I catch and hold in my Lang Ort. He cuts around, so I defend and immediately cut back at him with a couple of strikes. He parries the first and escapes the second with distance.
I keep approaching, settling into a right Pflug, again offering a wide lateral stance, but then change into a left Alber. Because Federico just stands in Alber, waiting for me to attack, I retreat and refuse to play his game.
I stand in my overhead Vom Tag, and allow Federico to approach me. Again, he doesn’t play my game, so I take the fight to him more directly by offering an Oberhaw. He parries with a very neat right Ochs and immediately cuts at me, which I cover in Lang Ort. I cut back at him immediately, which he then covers in left Ochs. He sends a left Mittelhaw at my ribs, but unfortunately I cover in Ochs instead of anything lower, and so I get hit. My afterblow catches Federico on the hand and then I cover his afterblow, but I missed my earlier cover because I went up with my hands instead of keeping them low where they should have been.
I approach in Vom Tag, Federico stands in Alber. I want to initiate the action, and I expect he will cover with his point upward, so I opt for a more complicated approach: the Kurtzhaw! Something like a Krumphaw, but with the expectation of dipping beneath his blade to make a Durchwechsel and then to thrust him in the chest. Great plan, but he doesn’t move his sword close enough to mine for my plan to work – I didn’t put enough threat into my Kurtzhaw for him to worry. He also steps backward, so that I cannot simply push my thrust at him anyway.
To keep the initiative, I move my blade up into my right Ochs and step closer to him. As he begins to pull his blade up towards me, I drop my sword to suppress him. He lifts his hands and cuts around, and again I make the error of trying to defend myself with hands high in some kind of Ochs or Hengenort position, so I get hit in the head. Federico then cuts around again, very swiftly, and brings his blade to my hands in what is almost an Abschneiden. I abandon my afterblow because he already hit me twice and I want to acknowledge that I cocked up.
I walk in with my right Pflug and offer my left side to Federico. He obliges and makes a cut from slightly out of distance, which I meet with my own sword, fully expecting the cut around that follows. I defend that by slipping back my arms to keep my hands safe. Federico pulls back, and so I advance upon him again.
Federico takes a more forward Alber and threatens my hands with an upward flick. I make sure to keep my hands at a safe distance.
I adopt an overhead Vom Tag, observe that he remains in Alber, and then throw my Schaitelhaw towards him. He flicks his sword upward, so I make to fall onto it, but he tricked me! He makes Durchwechsel and promptly thrusts at my chest. This was a perfect example of one of the exercises I taught at the event two days earlier.
My defence is to lean back and get my sword in the way, which saves me from getting stabbed by an inch or so. Not an ideal solution, but better than getting stabbed. As Federico drives in with his thrust, I guide it upward with my Ochs and do Bleiben to hold him there as I stabilise my core again.
As he begins to release pressure in the bind, I adhere to his sword with the notion of turning my Bleiben into Abschneiden, but then he cuts around and so I defend with Pflug and immediately cut the Flugelhaw back up into his arms. Simultaneously, he cuts a high Mittelhaw to my head. I try to cover against that with the strong of my sword, while Federico turns his blade to cover against the hit I just landed, but we were both a little too late.
I try to steal distance to come in closer to him. I stand in a tightly coiled Vom Tag, and then throw a Krumphaw at his hands, combined with a spring to the right. It almost works, and I land the cut on his grip between his hands – a mere inch to either side and it would have worked!
He cuts back at me, I parry and cut back at him, and he steps back to defend with distance.
I stand back and observe as he begins to advance. I make a wide motion from Vom Tag into my left Schrankhut, hoping to provoke an attack so that I can drop a left Krumphaw at his hands.
He doesn’t take the bait, so I swing through into a right Schrankhut, offering my left side as an opening. He still doesn’t take the bait, so I swing through once more into the left Schrankhut and he attacks me during this motion. I come forth with a Krumphaw from the left and manage to drop my point into his face, but I do so without the necessary footwork to keep me safe, and so he hits me in the face too. He cuts around quickly and I cover against it in Pflug, and we both retreat.
Federico advances quickly with an Underhaw and Oberhaw, I keep myself safe without committing to anything. I slowly close the distance towards him, while he slowly backs away, until I think I can engage safely.
I make a Zwerhaw instead of an Oberhaw, catching his hands in his left Ochs, then parry his afterblow. I send another cut to his head, which he covers against, and then he throws an Oberhaw, which I catch with a Zornhaw Ort that hits him in the face. I then Abzug forward until a tight Lang Ort to suppress anything else he might throw at me.
I flourish a large motion and Federico presents an attack that I parry, but doesn’t press any further, so we stand and observe each other for a moment. He offers a bind and I accept, gaining the Uberlauffen and pressing him slightly to the side with the expectation that he will cut around; he does, so I parry and send a quick cut back at him, but he manages to cover this and sends another cut at me, so once again I parry and this time send a quick Mittelhaw back at him, hitting his hand.
We both change through guards, looking for a good opportunity to attack. I position myself in right Pflug and show myself as open on my left; Federico takes the bait and attacks, so I make a canonical Absetzen from right Pflug by turning my sword across, performing Winden with my short edge, and stabbing him in the face. I bring my hands low again and step away in order to cover against any potential afterblow.
I close in, and when Federico raises his sword to meet mine, I pull away and cut a Flugelhaw up into his hands from below. Unfortunately, Federico performs a cut at the same time, and hits me in the arm as I land my hit on him.
I approach under a right Ochs. Federico makes an almost textbook Flugelhaw approach (high right, low left, high right) that puts me under pressure; I manage to stay safe, I stabilise myself, and cut back at him with my short edge. He covers as he escapes.
I try to stay close, and bind with him. I move a little closer, in order to attempt a cut through the bind, but he pushes forward and brings his strong to my middle very swiftly, landing a thrust to my face straight through the bind.
I approach hesitantly, and offer a simple Oberhaw. He catches it in a left Ochs with an attempt to thrust me, so my caution was justified!
He then tries to cut at me from the left, and I defend with distance.
He then tries to cut at me from the right, and I drop a strong Zornhaw on top of it, hoping to make an Ort. Federico raises his hands and holds strongly against me in an upper hanger, so that I cannot thrust straight through at him – this would have been the perfect opportunity for a Mutieren. However, I remain on his sword for a moment too long, before going up with my attempt at Winden; as I go up, he cuts around. I try to bring my sword into a Hengenort as a last ditch defence, but he hits and escapes, and covers against my afterblow.
I flourish as I close in, drawing his blade up, and then cut properly from the left. He parries in the right Ochs and cuts back at me, landing on my hand as I try to parry, and then he covers my afterblow.
I decide to follow Ringeck’s advice for using Lang Ort as precisely as I can. I set my left foot forward, hold my Lang Ort towards him, and advance slowly, seeing what he does against me. Clearly, I project some threat, because he seems hesitant to attack through the Lang Ort. I keep advancing, stealing distance, until it becomes too uncomfortable for Federico, and so he attacks.
He comes with an Oberhaw and tries to lean on it to press it through. I simply hold my Lang Ort and don’t weaken my structure. He cuts around and I just turn my Lang Ort into it. He moves back and I press forward, keeping the pressure on him, and keeping my left leg forward.
He tries a Durchwechsel play at me, and by small turns of my long edge, I keep myself safe. He then enters with a Flugelhaw and Oberhaw, so I parry both and cut straight back at him. He manages to cover and then cuts back at me, but I cover and cut at him again, pressing forward. He covers against this as he moves backward, but is unable to throw another attack at me, simply holding his sword in Ochs. I keep pressing forward, covering just in case he strikes at me, and then I throw a lower strike to his elbow beneath his Ochs.
This required a huge amount of effort to keep my body in good positions to make clean and well-structured parries and strikes without letting it turn into wild flailing!
Federico stands in Alber, so I approach him in a high Vom Tag. He remains low, so I throw a Schaitelhaw to draw him up. He does indeed come upward, catching me with a left Ochs, then he hits me and retreats under the cover of a right Ochs before I can do anything meaningful about it. A perfect example of fencing intelligently from Alber!
Unfortunately, the hit landed quite painfully on my thumb, so the next few exchanges became a little more hesitant on my part.
Federico stands in a right Ochs, so I examine the situation from Alber, and begin to move forward under cover. He cut immediately, but I defend with distance. He advances in Alber, I keep defending with distance. He thrusts from below and I defend with my blade, so he stops advancing.
Now I begin to advance, holding my sword high and offering a bind. He doesn’t take the bait, so I begin to lower my sword towards his, which prompts him to attempt Streichen to beat my sword out the way ready for a cut. I should have stayed close and worked more assertively, but instead I step back and defend with distance.
I begin to work my way in again, slowly, and a bit too hesitantly. Federico clearly sees this and pushes a thrust up into me from Alber – I manage to parry it by the skin of my teeth, then parry his follow-up cut, and manage to land a quick Mittelhaw on my way out.
This sequence put me under significantly more pressure than it should have. I was far too passive, far too hesitant as a result of the earlier hit to my thumb, and it clearly showed and invited Federico’s attacks.
I decide that I need to be a bit more assertive, and that I need to change the game slightly. Since he stands in Vom Tag and threatens and Oberhaw, I set my left foot forward and take a Schrankhut, threatening a Krumphaw. He moves forward into a Lang Ort position, but without threatening me, so I throw my point deftly to the hands and strike with the Krumphaw.
I move forward, but then Federico plays a very swift Durchwechsel game at me with his thrusts. There is a very quick back and forth exchange of small cuts, but then Federico over-commits to his cut and I strike with my short edge to his head before he can escape.
I try to close in against Federico, offering a variety of threats to his upper openings. He doesn’t give me a good opportunity to launch an attack, so I don’t; we both play the distance and baiting game, trying to get the other to make a mistake.
Federico comes through Alber from the side and launches a thrust to Ochs from the side. I try to defend, but not quite well enough, because the sword makes some gentle contact with my mask.
I enter with wide, slow movements, and then attempt to break the pattern with a much faster strike. Federico defends himself successfully.
He tries to enter with an Oberhaw followed by a Flugelhaw. I parry and then immediately press my point forward, thrusting him in the face, and his rising cut misses me. I find his hands with my own and press upward; not quite Abschneiden, because I was too close, but the body structure was there to allow this controlling of the limbs for the Abzug.
We salute and conclude the match.
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