Before there was Misura / Measure there already had been distance and reach. The knowledge of both is the key to all actions in fencing. But how is it measured in the old manuals ?
The answer is, that it is not measured at all in the fencing treatise of the 15th century and measured in relative terms in the later ones. Despite the existing methods of measuring distance, which had been around since 4000 years the distance is not measured in Ellen, Cubit or any other common unit of length.
Distances are measured in the categories of actions you or your opponent can successfully execute at the very moment. Depending on the weapon the reach differs and so the opportunities to accomplish something of effect in a given distance during a fight. Like there is a wide distance where you can reach out and still hit, and another where you cannot without stepping forward. And there is a narrow distance where a weapon with a certain length is useless or must be used completely differently like the halfsword grip in longsword fencing.
There is a difference in granularity of the measurements in the early manuals comparing to the later manuscripts. In the later ones the amount of “scientific rules ” became more confusing than helpful. It seems that by defining a own variation of the Misura larga (wide distance) and Misura stretta (narrow distance), and adding distance definitions like “you are one step away from Measure” was something like a unique selling point for a true fencing master – a part of the secret knowledge.
In earlier manuscripts the cared a lot about something you can call a “Danger Zone”. In the Danger Zone you can score a hit any moment but you can be beaten too. You may compare the Danger Zone with a the water of an cold lake and yourself standing on a high cliff. You do not want to jump into the water but you have to – someone forces you. If you jump everything is fine until you hit the water. Entering the cold lake from high above is very dangerous, so you must be very careful and take any possible action to hit the water as smooth as possible. If you are in the water you will find it astonishingly acceptable. But you have to get out as soon as possible or you die for sure. And if you get out alive you better find yourself a safe and warm place. But I think I overstretched this metaphor a bit, so let’s go back to the measures.
Out of Danger?
Liechtenauer’s followers did not talk a lot about the things you have to do out of reach. In the duels of the knights (in or without armor) they just touched the possibility that you may throw something to an opponent like the pommel of the sword (Gladiatoria), a spear (any Kampfechten), or hat or knife (Talhoffer). The fighters are out of the Danger Zone, but specific weapons can overcome the distance. Being out of danger ends certainly in the moment one of the opponents does the last step.
Entering, but where is the opponent?
The Zufechten is the transition into the danger zone. The border of Danger Zone does not exist by your decision. Like the lake the water is nothing you can control – it is there! Regardless of your doings. Somebody with a weapon in his hand has a defined reach depending on his ability to move. This has nothing to do with you. It is all about your opponent. And because it depends on your opponent, his physical abilities, his size, and his weapon this a uncontrollable feature. For this it is nearly blended out of most of the earlier manuscripts. The opponent enters only into the written play when the first contact is made, and even then you won’t find the focus on him. And you will not find many mentions on the distance and reaches from his point of view.
This changes in the later manuscripts where not only your reach and your possible steps are measured. From the late 15th century the actions and the reach of the opponents started to occupy more and more space in the books with the concept of the Italian Misura. This came to a kind of climax in the 17th century where the distances and reaches were measured in small granularity still relative and not in absolute units but in an attempt of a mathematical approach to fencing.
What makes Zufechten very dangerous is the unpredictability of the things happening. You have solely rely on your appraising what your opponent will do next. You cannot measure him to get his reach, you cannot know if he has suicidal tendencies and will jump at you like a berserk. You have only your training and your eyesight to rely on. Everything is based on your sense of viewing and your experience (by training or fight). If you know that your eyes are only capable to receive about 30 pictures in a second and your brain cuts that down to less than 25 and just calculate the speed of the sword, you will soon recognize that your are physically unable to react on completely unpredictable movements in Zufechten. So Zufechten needs you to acclaim and occupy the space between you and your opponent, so that the opponent can not successfully cross that space and do something unpredictable. And it needs a lot of training to reduce the number of unpredictable movements and raises the number of recognized movements. But by the fact that the body of the human has a lot of joints you will never be able to recognize all the movements in fighting, there will be the Coupe Surprise waiting for you. You cannot protect yourself as Liechtenauer states. Your ambition should be to get through Zufechten as fast as possible.
If you want to transport the definition of Zufechten into the concept of Measure, than Zufechten is the method of transition in the Liechtenauer fencing from out of measure into measure, where measure is defined as the farthest possible distance where you or your opponent had done any effect to the other in one action, and action is defined as any movement of the body and the adjunctive weapon. So stepping one step forward and doing a blow in the air whilst the other does a step backward for evasion, does not end Zufechten, it describes a doing in the process of transition. Even if the opponent reacts on what you are doing, you are still in Zufechten.
Being in danger is effective
Zufechten ends at that moment where any effect happens. From this moment on things are getting uneasy. In the Zufechten everything is dangerously out of control but simple: regardless if you hit or you fail, you continue with your fighting. But if you hit cold steel or he hits at you and you have to raise your steel to displace or parry things are getting complicated. Welcome in the Danger Zone.
As I said: the border of the Danger Zone is defined by the farthest reach of your opponent. That means that if you hit him in a distance where he cannot get you (e.g. some of the Nachreisen, and some of the Überlauffen) the Zufechten ends with an effective hit. But despite your success you must get sure that you are not in the Danger Zone and if you are: get the hell out of there. Cause if you score especially in a thrust, your weapon may be pinned but his not.
In the Liechtenauer fencing the Danger Zone starts with the words like “as one is hitting at your head” or with the words like “if he displaces” . It is a description of an situation that has a direct effect on you, you have to recognize, and you have to appraise what action would be the best in that situation. But without the effect threatening to happen or already happened there is no Danger Zone.
Liechtenauer Fencing differs only in three situations in the Danger Zone: you get hit (there is not really a lot of things to do here), you hit (you have to get out of the Zone), and the binding. Despite the fact that both fencers try hard to hit each other the binding is happening much more often than the scoring. So it should be no surprise that the binding and the things that may happen in and out of the bind is the most covered situation in the manuals.
The surprise is the relatively safety that you feel if you are in the engagement of the swords. Like in my metaphor above you do feel much better than in the moment of transition. But you should not stay there too long. The reason for the safety is in the added sense that is praised as the Feeling of the contact. You do not have to rely on your experience and eyesight, you do now have the frolic sensuality of steel on steel at your hands. The physical sens of feeling is much more accurate and faster than the seeing. But it must be trained to be effective and needs some categories to allocate the experienced feelings like feeble, strong, hard, soft.
Getting out again
You got two directions for leaving the Danger Zone, get out from where you came or get as near at your opponent as you can. In the first one you may be confronted with him doing some Zufechten again. If you scored good enough that would be no problem. But getting near and try to control him by wrestling is recommended in the Liechtenauer fencing. It is much safer (despite the fact that there is no safety in fencing at all). That wrestling is a dangerous thing is covered by the room that it occupies in the manuscripts, but the risk to get killed in the first smallest fault it is much less than in the Danger Zone of the weapon based fighting.
Measure or no Measure, no question!
Liechtenauer fencing is not about Measure it is about situations. So there are three situations: entering, being in danger, getting out again. In the Italian fencing the concept of distance started with Fiore’s Giocco which was cemented by Marozzo and implemented by Camillo Agrippa and Di Grassi. While Fiore’s definitions were hard to measure the definitions of Marozzo already stated distances where something can happen that you have to take care of:
Siando tu rimaso con la spada in porta di ferro alta, de qui l’è di bisogno che
sempre mai tu guardi, de gioco largo, alla spada dal megio inanci e, de gioco stretto, tu
guarderai alla man manca, per amore delle prese e viste;
But you won’t find something like that in the early Liechtenauer tradition. Using Measure to explain the fencing in the early Liechtenauer tradition does not meet the concept of the teaching. It is solely situative. Being based on the five words, there is no much room for measurement. Measuring something is a question of quantity, the five words describe qualities (Aristotle). In the verses Liechtenauer changed the quantity of measurement into something like a quality: “alle dink hab[e]n lenge vnd moße”.