wpe1B.jpg (1414 bytes)Lignitzer's   Sword & Buckler Teachings

By Keith P. Myers
ARMA - DC Metro

ARMA is proud to present an excellent in depth analysis by Keith Myers of some of the most useful Medieval sword and buckler material. Following the analysis Keith offers some very useful illustrated examples.

Introduction:

The following material is meant to be an introductory reconstruction of what sword and buckler technique may have been like in the comprehensive 15th century fighting method of Johannes Liechtenauer.  Liechtenauer formed a “tradition” that continued on and evolved through several generations in late medieval Germany.  His method was truly a “system” that used a set of principles and applied a similar body mechanic to multiple types of weapons.

snbt1.jpg (17946 bytes)The main resource utilized for this reconstruction are the sequences of sword & buckler movements attributed to Andre Lignitzer.  Lignitzer’s material is a description of six different series of attack and defense combinations.  These exercises or “set-plays” clearly utilize concepts and terminology common to the “Liechtenauer tradition” of German fencing.  They are found almost word for word repeatedly in numerous Fechtbücher (fencing manuals) such as Sigmund Ringeck’s “Commentaries” of c. 1440 and Peter von Danzig’s Fechtbuch of c. 1452. 

For this particular work I have chosen to use Peter von Danzig’s material as my source for Lignitzer, since it names him specifically as the originator of these techniques.  Other resources utilized were illustrations from the 1459 and 1467 editions of Hans Talhoffer’s work as well as those from Paulus Kal’s Fechtbuch of c.1462 or c.1482.  Several references are also made to a manuscript known as the MS I.33 or the “Tower Fechtbuch.”  This is the oldest known Western martial arts manual and dates to the late 13th century.  It is a German work devoted entirely to fighting with sword & buckler.  It predates Liechtenauer (c.1389), and is therefore not considered as part of the “Liechtenauer Tradition.”  But, as will be seen, there are enough commonalties to suggest that Liechtenauer or Lignitzer may have drawn upon an existing sword and buckler method descended from the material in the I.33 (or “one thirty-three”).  Regardless, the I.33 does provide us with an existing reference that sheds some light upon the sword and buckler fencing we are examining. 

Positions or “Leger” with the Sword & Buckler: 

The fighting postures or guards are not described in Lignitzer’s set-plays.  But most of these are illustrated, though not named, in editions of Talhoffer’s Fechtbüch.  Since what we are describing here is part of the Liechtenauer tradition, we will employ the names commonly applied to the similar and more familiar Longsword guards.  Some of the stances are implied, since we do not have illustrations of them at this time. But they make perfect sense as variations of the same things seen elsewhere in Liechtenauer’s system. 

MVC-001Fb.JPG (130423 bytes)1.      Pflug   (the plow):

This is the defensive position that is known in the I.33 as “half-shield.”  Stand with right foot forward, sword held in front at waist level with point aimed at the opponent’s face, buckler held edge-on at the left side of the sword hand.  When performed as a lower winding from the bind, this is essentially the same as the “lower hanger” with the Longsword.

 

2.      Wild Boar:

MVC-002F.JPG (130987 bytes)This is actually a guard from the I.33.  But it can be seen as a variation of Pflug that would be a natural starting position for many of the thrusting attacks illustrated in the 1467 Talhoffer.  Stand with the left foot forward, sword held back by the right hip level to the ground and pointing towards the opponent, buckler held extended out in front.   This essentially “hides” the sword behind the buckler.  

 

3.      Ochs (the ox):

This has two variations with the sword and buckler.  The first is what Lignitzer describes as Zweien Schilten or “paired shields.”  It results when you wind at the opponent’s sword with both your sword and buckler at the same time, and is the equivalent of the “upper hanger” when winding with the Longsword.  Stand with the right foot forward, sword held to the left side with long edge up and point aimed at the opponent, buckler hand held against the back of the sword hand. 

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MVC-005F.JPG (129126 bytes)For the other side, stand with left leg forward, sword held to the right with long edge up and point aimed at the opponent, buckler hand held against the palm of the sword hand.  The other version is held only on the right side.  It is more of an actual “ready position.”  Stand with left leg forward, sword held to the right with hilt back by the shoulder and point aimed at the opponent, buckler held extended out in front.  Similar to the “Wild Boar” described above, but rotating the sword upward rather than holding it at the waist. 

 

4.      Vom Tag / Zornhut  (from the roof / guard of wrath):

This is one of the primary positions from which an attack is launched.  Stand with the left leg forward, sword held near the right shoulder, buckler held extended out in front.  If the point of your sword is aimed straight up, or nearly so, then this is Vom Tag.  If you allow the blade to slope back over your right shoulder so that the point is aimed downwards, then this is Zornhut. 

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MVC-010F.JPG (131735 bytes)5.      Alber   (the fool):

This guard is a natural counterpart to the same guard with the Longsword.  It is found in the I.33 as Langerort or “low longpoint.”  Stand with the right leg forward, sword held extended out in front and angled down at 45 degrees between the legs, buckler held edge-on to the left side of the sword hand.  

 

6.      Nebenhut   (the near guard):

This is another of the primary positions from which an attack is launched.  It has a left side and a right side version that differ in their execution.  The left side Nebenhut is found in the I.33 as the “underarm” guard.  Stand with the right foot forward, sword held under the left armpit with the point directed behind you, buckler held just in front of the right elbow.  The right side Nebenhut is found in the I.33 as the “tail” guard, though Talhoffer shows it a little differently.  Stand with the left foot forward, sword held near the right hip with point angled forward and downward at about 45 degrees, buckler held extended out in front.   Note that in Talhoffer’s version the point is forward rather than being angled to the rear as one finds in the I.33 and with the Longsword Nebenhut.  This takes stress off of the wrist and positions the sword better for a thrusting counter while still allowing all of the motions available from the point rearwards version.

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7.      Schranckhut  (barrier guard):

The closest Longsword analog to this sword and buckler position seems to be the Schranckhut as described by Sigmund Ringeck.  As the name implies, this guard forms a defensive “barrier” in front of you. It comes in two variations.  Stand with either foot forward, sword held out in front at about chin level with the point aimed forward and downward at about 45 degrees, buckler held against the back of the sword hand on the left side.  This is the position shown in the I.33 as the Krucke or “crook.”  Just as the Nebenhut and the Schranckhut with the Longsword are closely related in Ringeck’s Commentaries, this version of the Schranckhut with sword and buckler is closely related to the left side Nebenhut.  The second variation has you standing the same way, but with your sword held across your left forearm on the outside just behind the buckler.  This is similar to the guard known as the “fiddlebow” in the I.33, which angles the sword upward rather than downward.  This second variation is one that can be transitioned into very readily from Pflug after a little practice. 

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Strikes with the Sword:

As in the rest of Liechtenauer’s system, an Oberhau refers to a downward strike from above, an Unterhau refers to an upward strike from below, and a Mittlehau to a horizontal strike parallel to the ground.

Exercises or “set-plays” of Lignitzer as described in Peter von Danzig’s Fechtbuch of c.1452:

Hie heben sich an die stuck mit dem puckler Sie masiter Andre Lignitzer gesage hat her nach gescreiben.

Here begins the techniques with the buckler that the Master Andre Lignitzer has been said to have written as follows:

Set-play #1:  Oberhau: 

Das erst stuck mit dem puckler aus dem oberhaw.  Rezek wenn du den oberhaw treibst zu dem mann, So seg mit dem knopf dem swert inwendig auf deinem puckler zu deinem daumen und stich im von unden auf zu seinem gesicht und wind gegen seinem swert und lasu uber schnappen. 

The first technique with the buckler from the Oberhau...when you drive the Oberhau towards the opponent, stay with the pommel of your sword inside of your buckler at your thumb and thrust him from the outside to his face and wind against his sword and let it snap over.

Comment:

Lignitzer’s first technique illustrates an important principle that is also a major feature of the I.33.  He advises us to “stay with the pommel of your sword inside of your buckler at your thumb.”  When launching a strike of your own, your sword and buckler hands should “track together” so that the buckler provides protection for the hands and forearms. Failing to do this leaves one very vulnerable to a counter-cut to the forearm during the strike.  While Lignitzer mentions this only once, it is a principle that should be adhered to when performing any of the strikes described in the subsequent set-plays.   Another important feature of this technique, though not noted in Lignitzer’s text, is that of using the buckler to trap the opponent’s arms while striking him.  This is known in the I.33 as a Schiltslac or “shield knock.”  It is also illustrated in the 1459 and 1467 editions of Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch as well as Paulus Kal’s of c. 1462/82, so it is not out-of-line to assume that it was part of Lignitzer’s first set-play as well. 

Set-play #2:  Unterhau:

Das annder stuck 

Item: aus dem underhaw wenn er die oben zwhaut, So wind gegen ym auf dem linke seitten gegen deinem schilt, So stestu yn zweien schilten, So wind denn auf dem rechte seiten ploss und greif ym nach dem maul.   Wert er die dass und hebt den schilt auff. So nym das linck pein.  Das get zu paiden seitten.

The other/next technique:

Item:   From the Unterhau, he takes the Ober Zweihau, So wind against him on the left side against your shield, thus you stand in “paired shields.”  Then wind at the unprotected right side and catch him in the face.  He defends that and holds his shield up, so take the left leg.   This goes at both sides. 

Comment:

The second set-play also brings out an important principle.  Lignitzer tells us that to meet an overhead blow, “wind against him on the left side against your shield.”  He gives this basic idea or technique a name…Zweien Schilten or “paired shields.”  He also notes that this “goes at both sides” (presumably meaning it can be used on the left or right).  The main principle with the “paired shields” is to couple or “pair” the buckler with the sword when performing the typical “winding” techniques that one learns with the Longsword.  The buckler is one “shield”, the sword another…hence “paired shields”, each bracing the other.  What results is essentially a sword and buckler version of the Ochs or “upper hanger” positions that are seen with the Longsword.  This can be done on either side, just as Ochs is performed on either side.  It is unclear what is meant by an Oben Zwhaut.  Here it is interpreted as a sort of  “paired oberhau” in the sense that the opponent has split his sword and buckler in order to block the Unterhau and launch his own Oberhau at the same time.   

Set-play #3:  Wechselhau:

Das dreitt stuck: 

Item:  aus dem puckler aus dem wechelhaw streich von der lincken seitten aus dem puckler vast ubersich in sein swert und haw im den von der lincken seittn zu dem haupt und wind plos und stos ym nach dem maul hebt er mit schilt und mit swert und wert das, So haw mit der langen schneid im nach dem rechten pein.  Das get auch zu paiden seitten.

The third technique: 

Item:  from the buckler from the Wechselhau (“changing cut”): strike upon the left side for the buckler nearly over it to his sword and cut him then upon the left side to the head, and wind uncovered and thrust him in the face.  He lifts with shield and sword to defend that, thus cut him with the Langen Schneid (“long” or forward edge) to the right leg.  This also goes to both sides.

Comment:

The Wechselhau or “changing cut” is also a little unclear.  It would obviously seem to be a cut that starts towards one target but changes its course mid-way in order to strike an alternate target.  This seems to be what Lignitzer is describing when he says to “strike upon the left side for the buckler nearly over it to his sword and cut him then upon the left side to the head.”  The problem with this is that it departs from Lignitzer’s pattern in the other set-plays.  In each of the other examples he names the initial cut, but does not bother to actually describe it.  But an actual Wechselhau was very likely any kind of strike that started towards one target and then veered off to strike another.  Therefore it may have been necessary for Lignitzer to describe exactly what kind of Wechselhau he had in mind.  So we have chosen to accept the first part of this set-play as the actual “changing cut.”  The follow-on from there would then be much like what is found in set-play #2.  Another consideration is that in German longsword teaching, the Wechselhau, “changing cut” or “changer”, can refer to an action where an attack that is parried/deflected is suddenly changed into a cut against another target. 

Set-play #4:  Mittelhau:

Das vierd stuck 

Item: aus dem mittelhaw mach die zwer zu paiden seitten und den schaitlar mit der langen schneid und stich im unden zu seinem gemacht.

The fourth technique:

Item:  from the Mittlehau make the Zwerch to both sides and the Scheitelhau with the Langen Schneid (“long edge”) and thrust from beneath to his groin. 

Comment:

The principle taught here is that of fighting in the Vor (“before” time) and forcing the opponent to fight in the Nach (“after” time).  Four strikes are launched in rapid succession that do not allow the opponent time to react or counter.  He is forced to play “catch up” and try to defend against each strike individually.  It is only a matter of time before one of them will land.  This is an important concept in the Liechtenauer tradition.  Seize the initiative and overwhelm the opponent.  If you find yourself fighting in the Nach, then change the timing and get back the initiative as soon as possible.   The timid “counter-fighter” is going to lose when it comes to weapons as dangerous as these.  It is unclear what is meant by a schaitlar in the original text.  But given the context and flow of the technique, it is assumed that it is a Scheitelhau or vertical strike to the top of the head as found in Longsword teaching.  In Longsword fencing the Zwerch (“Thwart Blow”) is a horizontal or “cross cut”. It can be a horizontal-strike to displace downward attacks.

Set-play #5:  Sturzhau:

Das funft stuck

Item: aus dem sturtzhaw tue sam dir im zu der lincken seitten uber  sein schilt wilt stechen und var mit dein ort unden durch und stich ym inwendig seines schildes und wind inndes auf dein lincke seitten wert er die/dir das,  So nym sein rechtes pain mit der langen schneid.

The fifth technique:

Item: from the Sturzhau (“plunging cut”), make as if you will stab him to the left side over his shield, and move with your point under and through to thrust him inside his shield, and wind simultaneously from your left side.  He defends this, so take his right leg with the long edge.

Comment:

Once again we have a technique named that is unclear, and this time Lignitzer does not provide a description.  Based on the name, obviously something is “plunging.”  If we assume this refers to the point, then what is suggested is an overhand cut with the false edge, with the point “plunging” over and behind the opponent’s sword hand or buckler.  This is supported by a Longsword illustration in the 1467 Talhoffer (plate #2).  If “plunging” refers to the sword as a whole, then what is suggested is a technique that is also found in the I.33.  In this case a “Sturzhau” may be a downward cut with the true edge intended to “plunge” between  the opponent’s sword hand and buckler hand to separate them from each other and create an opening (and probably removing one of his thumbs in the process).  Since the I.33 manuscript is not within the Liechtenauer “tradition”, we have chosen to use the first interpretation of the Sturzhau.

Set-play #6:  Halbschwert:

Das sechst stuck

Item:  nym dein kling zu dem puckler in dein lincke hant und wind gegen ym als mit dem halben swert . Haist er oder sticht er dir oben zu dem gesicht oder unden nach dem pain.  So lass dein rechte hant varen von dem pint und vorser ym dass mit schilt und mit swert und greiff denn mit deiner rechten hant auf sein rechte seitten nach dem schilt wol undersich und dre in auf dein rechte seitten.  So hastu ym den schilt genomen.

MVC-003F.JPG (130300 bytes)The sixth technique:

Item: take your blade along with the buckler in your left hand and wind against him consequently with the Halbschwert (“halfsword”).  He lifts up or thrusts to you over at the face or under after the leg, so let your right hand move from the bind and displace this with shield and sword and grab then with your right hand from his right side after the shield well beneath it and twist up to your right side.  Thus have you taken the shield. 

Comment:

The last of Lignitzer’s set-plays illustrates the difference between half-swording with the sword and buckler compared to half-swording with the Longsword.  The idea behind half-swording is to threaten the opponent with the point of your sword, almost as if it were a spear or to press and trap him with the edge and hit with the pommel.   If you grasp the blade in the typical reverse grip fashion as you would with the Longsword (thumb towards the hilt), you will find that as you lift your point to threaten the opponent your buckler will be facing towards you rather than towards the opponent –exposing your hand and resulting in your buckler being rendered useless for defense.  However, if you grasp the blade in the opposite fashion (thumb towards the point), when you lift the point to threaten the opponent you will find that your buckler still provides protection.  This particular set-play is illustrated in Paulus Kal’s Fechtbuch, with a variation shown in one edition of Jörg Wilhalm’s’ Fechtbuch of c.1540. Kal’s version shows a grip with the “thumb towards the point”.  It also shows the final step of using the opponent’s own buckler as a weapon after you have taken it from him. 

Hans Talhoffer’s Set-plays:

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0264.jpg (45151 bytes) 0265.jpg (67108 bytes) 0266.jpg (46030 bytes) Plates 231-241
of the
1467 edition

Set-play #1:  Ubergreiffen  (“grabbing from above” or “over gripping’):

Variation A:

Stand in Pflug.  He attacks with a high Oberhau to your left side.  Rotate the sword towards you around the buckler as you lift both arms such that you end in a high Schranckhut with the blade across your forearm to intercept his blow.   Wrap your buckler arm around his arm from above to trap it as you strike with a downward vertical cut to his forehead.  Strike through with your cut and withdraw the hilt to your right hip, keeping the point aimed at this abdomen.  Finish him with a thrust to his midsection.

Variation B:

Stand in the left Nebenhut.   He attacks as before.  Lift both arms up to meet his blow so that you end in a high Schranckhut with the buckler against the back of your sword hand.   Wrap from above to trap his arms as before as you withdraw your sword bringing the hilt to your right hip.  Finish him with a thrust to his midsection.

Comment:

This is a common sword and buckler technique found in the I.33, Talhoffer, and Paulus Kal. Similar moves appear with buckler and bastard sword in an anonymous Fechtbuch manuscript of c. 1500 (Lib. Pic. A. 83, Staadsbibliothek, Berlin).

Set-play #2:  Schilthau (the “shield strike”):

Stand in Pflug.  He attacks with a high backhand Oberhau to your right side.  Versetz (displace) with the sword by meeting the strike with the flat of the blade and transitioning into a right Ochs position.  At the same time strike his elbow with your buckler and push him such that he turns away from you exposing his back.  Thrust into his right shoulder or his back from the Ochs position. 

Comment:

This set-play illustrates several important principles.  When standing in Pflug, your buckler is defending your left side and your right side is therefore vulnerable.  When attacked on the vulnerable right side you must quickly transition into a different guard –in this case a right Ochs.  This method of flowing between the Pflug and Ochs positions is also an important transition when working with the Longsword.  This technique also illustrates displacing/parrying by meeting his blow on the flat of your blade as you are transitioning into the Ochs position.  This spreads out the force of impact and reduces the “blade on blade” (i.e., edge) contact thereby allowing a quicker riposte.  This set-play also illustrates the principle of Indes or acting simultaneously.  As you are parrying his blow, you are also striking his arm and turning him with your buckler.  This leaves him open for a thrust from the Ochs position.

Set-play #3:  Uberschneiden (“cutting from above”): 

Stand in Vom Tag, the opponent is in Wild Boar.  As he steps forward with a straight thrust to your mid-section, pass back and deflect his blade to your left with your buckler.  At the same time strike straight down to his forearm just behind the wrist. 

Comment:

This set-play illustrates that even a fighter that keeps his buckler in place can be vulnerable.  By deflecting his thrust you encourage him to over-extend.   If he is standing with right foot forward, then he can extend his sword arm further than his buckler arm.  In an over-extended position a gap is left behind the sword hand and in front of the buckler.  This is where your counter-cut from above should be aimed.  Of course, a fighter that is sloppy and does not keep his buckler in place leaves his whole forearm open as a target!  This concept also appears in Longsword fencing as the principle of Uberlauffen.

Set-play #4:  Uberschnappen (snapping over):

Stand in Vom Tag. As the opponent strikes with an oberhau from his right, meet it with a left Ochs with both sword and buckler so that you are winding against his blade at the left side.   Quickly pass forward as you let your sword "snap over" so that you hook the pommel of your sword across his wrist from the outside.   Let your sword continue its downward momentum to strike the opponent across his right neck and shoulder.   It is advisable to keep your buckler low and directed to your right side during the strike to be in position should he drop his sword towards your right flank. 

Comment:
This last offering is based on a combination of illustrations from both Talhoffer and Paulus Kal.   It is very similar to Lignitzer's first set-play.   It is also related to the previous technique in that it features winding at the opponent's sword, in this case  in the "zweien schilten" or "paired shields" position.   This winding position  can occur anytime  your own strike is countered and your sword ends up in contact with the opponent's sword in the "bind."   The "uberschnappen" motion can also be preceded by a thrust to the face from the left Ochs position.  If this is displaced by the opponent  momentum  is added to your subsequent strike.

Parting Comments:

Use these nine set-play exercises as a foundation to explore and develop the use of the formidable Medieval sword and buckler.  Become familiar with them and then change them by inserting different attacks, counters or variations of footwork.  Apply the principles that you learn with the longsword, and even experiment with adapting longsword techniques to the sword and buckler.  While we have limited information about how sword and buckler was done in the Liechtenauer tradition, by following these guidelines we can expand upon and develop what we do know and still be confident that we are using period technique.  It should also be pointed out that use of the Fechtmesser (large fighting knife) in the Liechtenauer system appears to be closely related to the sword and buckler methods.  Often the techniques illustrated in the Fechtbücher appear identical to these sword and buckler moves but with the buckler omitted.  Therefore, this material can also be used as a “jumping off point” for the study of the Fechtmesser.

Go here to see examples of Lignitzer's Set Plays

Postscript

The German martial art founded by Johannes Liechtenauer in the late 14th century truly is a comprehensive, effective, and cohesive system.   Have fun exploring it!  I am open to any feedback or corrections.  You can contact me at  myers4321@aol.com.   Short video clips that correspond to each of these sword & buckler set-plays can be viewed at http://keith.martialartsman.net/medieval/

 

Keith Myers has a 20+ year background in martial arts studies and switched his interests entirely to Western martial arts approximately 3 years ago.  He is a Medical Doctor and Doctor of Chiropractic currently serving in the U.S. Army at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. 

Credits: Thanks to ARMA for providing a home for this essay, and to John Clements for encouraging my continuing research.  Thanks to Bart Walczak of ARMA Poland for suggesting alternate translations of certain passages.   Thanks to Paul Wagner for sharing his personal notes in the MS I.33 methods.  These provided me with a firm foundation on which to start my assessment of the techniques in this essay.   Thanks also to Claus Drexler for sharing a copy of Paulus Kal’s Fechtbuch and to David Cvet for originally providing images of Peter von Danzig’s Fechtbuch.  Thanks to Christian Tobler for his book Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship, which has helped me to better understand the main principles found in Liechtenauer’s system. Finally, thanks to Scott Campbell, my primary training partner that helped me to work through these techniques and posed with me for the illustrations in this article.  And of course, thanks to my wife Carol, our photographer.

References:

1.   Christian Tobler. Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship. (translation of Sigmund Ringeck) Chivalry Bookshelf, 2001

2.   Mark Rector.  Medieval Combat (translation of the 1467 edition of Hans Talhoffer) Greenhill Books, 2000

3.     Peter von Danzig’s Fechtbuch of 1452. http://www.aemma.org

4.   Paulus Kal’s Fechtbuch (Cgm 1507)  c.1462/1482 Personal copy courtesy of Claus Drexler

5.   I.33/Tower Fechtbuch. http://www.thearma.org

6.   Personal notes on the I.33 method shared by Paul Wagner.

 
 

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