Monday, 27 October 2014

Five reasons why DDS German Longsword Tuesday uses a lower Vom Tag

Ringeck early 1500s
There are, of course, several ways people did Vom Tag - Keith Farrel & Alex Bourdas have a whole section in their excellent book German Longsword Study Guide.

We, however do the lower one with the cross guard hovering just above or below the armpit, and the pommel -- on longer swords - round about the high medieval waistline.

We do this because our style comes from the Von Danzig family of texts and think the evidence points to this.

[Edited because I made Claire G sound too certain.] 

Reason One: The illustrations associated with the Von Danzig family show the lower version of Vom Tag

I've shown Codex Ringeck, early 1500s, (above).

The Codex Danzig, 1452 also illustrates Vom Tag, (left):

Honestly, that's enough for me! However, people sometimes suggest that the artists can't be trusted, so here are two more reasons.

Reason Two: The text treats a higher Vom Tag as an exception

The texts are full of references to having your sword "on your right shoulder"*. However, in one Zwerchhau play, they refer to your opponent thus:
If he then Stands against you and holds his sword with outstretched arms high over his head and threatens to hew in from above at you.
The implication is that this high-handed stance is an exception.

*But see Reason Three :)

Reason Three: It could be the armpit, not the shoulder

The translations tend to mention the "right shoulder" a lot:
...when he hews above to you from his right shoulder...
...hold your sword on your right shoulder in the guard...
...or hold it on your right shoulder...
I don't think this is inconsistent with the low version of Vom Tag as shown in the illustrations.

However, Claire Graf our in-house translator who is both an academic linguist with an interest in old languages and a native German speaker says (I paraphrase):
...achsel could well mean armpit, even if the texts use it to mean "shoulder" elsewhere, since the texts themselves have come down to us as copies and composites from different eras and regions. However more research would be required to confirm or refute this.   
So in the opinion of one properly trained linguist, all those lines such as:
So setz den lincken fuß für vnd halt dein swert an der rechten achseln
...might be referring to some guard where the sword is at the armpit! Either there is some undocumented "Guard of the Armpit" or, more likely, the Ancient Masters opted for the the catchier name, "Day/Roof Guard".

It's commonly held that this is because of where the sword is pointing, however you can make up your own explanation. (Perhaps the sword resembles the supporting structure of a Gothic roof -- one crossbeam and an upright? Or perhaps "day" implies default or regular, as in "day book".)

Reason Four: It works consistently with the text

It works in the salle!

As instructed by the earliest text, we can throw secure, direct cuts from our Vom Tag, even when people are trying to snipe our hands. 

We drive the cuts with a punching action, blade going first. They can land with considerable slicing force if not "pulled".

(Our cuts probably have less destructive potential than great rotating cuts thrown from guards such as Zornhut. This is not an issue since we are doing a blossfechten style -- literally fighting in your shirt -- that occupied a social role analogous to Wild West six-shooter combat; we only need to be able to notionally put down an unarmoured man, and nasty snappy cuts would seem to do that nicely.)

All this, we think, is enough to justify our particular interpretation. If you're reading this and live near Edinburgh, Scotland, come and try it out for yourself, German Longsword runs every Tuesday, and you can turn up at any time in the year.

As our oldest text says: cannot really talk about fencing in a meaningful manner or explain it with written words, as some might like. You can only show it and instruct it by hand. So use all your senses and pay close attention to the art and practice it more for fun and play. so it will be ready for you faster for fencing seriously. That is because practice is better than art, your practice may very well be useful without art, but your art is useless without practice.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Martin,
    just a brief remark: be extra-careful when translating Early High German (Frühneuhochdeutsch) into Modern German: Meanings shifted—occasionally considerably. So while *today* "achsel" indeed means "armpit", it did not in (e.g.) 1452, when the so-called Peter von Danzig manuscript was written. In these times, "achsel" meant in fact "shoulder". What we call an "achsel" today was in the old times an "uchsen".
    All the best