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.
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 Talhoffers 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.
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 Ringecks 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.
Strikes with the Sword:
As in the rest of Liechtenauers 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 Danzigs Fechtbuch of c.1452:
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.
Lignitzers 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 Lignitzers text, is that of using the buckler to trap the opponents 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 Talhoffers Fechtbuch as well as Paulus Kals of c. 1462/82, so it is not out-of-line to assume that it was part of Lignitzers first set-play as well.
Set-play #2: Unterhau:
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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 Lignitzers 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:
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.
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:
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.
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 opponents 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 opponents 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:
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.
The last of Lignitzers 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 Kals Fechtbuch, with a variation shown in one edition of Jörg Wilhalms Fechtbuch of c.1540. Kals version shows a grip with the thumb towards the point. It also shows the final step of using the opponents own buckler as a weapon after you have taken it from him.
Hans Talhoffers Set-plays:
Set-play #1: Ubergreiffen (grabbing from above or over gripping):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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 . 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 Kals Fechtbuch and to David Cvet for originally providing images of Peter von Danzigs 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 Liechtenauers 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.
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 Danzigs Fechtbuch of 1452.
4. Paulus Kals Fechtbuch (Cgm 1507) c.1462/1482 Personal copy courtesy of Claus Drexler
5. I.33/Tower Fechtbuch.
6. Personal notes on the I.33 method shared by Paul Wagner.