Q: Master Talhoffer, how do you get an opening?
A: By a strike!
Q: Is it always a strike? I mean, even if you thrust only, can’t you thrust without a strike?
A: If you thrust, you need to unfold your arm. It does not really matter if it is your shoulder, your elbow, or your wrist what was angled before the thrust. By unfolding you have made a striking movement with that part of your body. If that part of your body is blocked, you would not be able to finish that thrust. So if you are able to block the strike in the thrust, you do not have to fear the thrust anymore.
Q: And how should I do that?
A: Ask Master Lecküchner. He will show you. He is an expert in it.
This dialog is fictive and you won’t find it in any old manuscript. Master Talhoffer never explained his fighting in the art of a dialog. But I took the freedom of an author to put his figure in the tradition of teaching dialogs. This very old way of reflecting the thoughts on a subject from different point of views is more amusing than the dry treatises and usually motivates the reader to think on his own.
The basement of any thrust is a strike. Some parts of the combined weapon-body agglomeration has to accomplish a strike-like movement to gain the impetus for a thrust. The most irritating and less safe version of doing the strike-like movement is using the complete body for it. This means jumping with the straight weapon arm into the direction of the target. This may be a successful strategy in sport to be the first scoring in an advantage situation, but will surely get you stabbed or cut in a duel with sharp and pointy weapons. So the more appropriable form of a thrust occurs by unfolding a part of the body that is folded before. There are three main joints where the body may doing a strike from to accomplish the thrust:
- Defining the breast as point zero regarding the length toward the target, the shoulder is not only able to fold to null, but to a negative angle . You are able to rotate your arm to your back. By extending the arm to the target your shoulder creates a strike with the elbow as the point. The shoulder is able to present a full rotation, so the strike may come from above or from below.
- Using the elbow as the joint your possibilities are limited to an open or close movement. The natural unfolding is a strike with the underarm from above to the ground. Only by rotating the upper arm in the shoulder this movement may be changed to other directions. But this kind of rotating is very limited.
- The movement of the wrist is very weak and it is not an unfolding one. Furthermore it is limited in angle and in direction. To create a complete circle the wrist usually needs the help of ulna and radius. The strike of the wrist is rarely found in the swordplay of the 15th century. It is not recommended in heavier weapons but you can use it in foil or smallsword fencing. But you use the torsion of ulna and radius combined with the wrist as strikes in every weapon art. The power results from initial tension in the bio-dynamic system before the strike starts. In the unfolding movement of the thrust the wrist usually corrects the circular movement of the other joints. But in some cases like the thrust from high above, the arm is unfolded already and only the weapon in the hand is folded to a smaller angle in the wrist with the point of the weapon looking down to the target. In this case the wrist is doing a strike from below while the arm is coming down.
So if there is any kind of unfolding done to change the reach of the weapon plus arm there is a strike. Some old fencingmasters with more affiliation to the mathematical world had drawn circles at the joints of shoulder, elbow, and wrist. But if you look closer only the shoulder is able to do any circle at all. Wrist and especially the elbow are reduced to a very limited movement. So judging by the danger that each joint offers to your health the most dangerous joint is the shoulder and the least offending is the elbow. This is why you should look at the shoulder to see what your opponent is doing and not at the weapon, the wrist or the elbow. As long as the shoulder is not changing, there is no thrust or strike done that is not blocked easily. Because it will be only be hacking with the elbow.
Intercepting the striking movement in the thrust is an elemental part of dagger or knife fighting. By stopping the unfolding of the joints the thrust is stopped. This is done by catching, blocking, hitting the arm at any joint. The same is applicable in swordplay. One of the Masters of the intercepting of thrusts is Johannes Lecküchner. His methods of intercepting include the blocking in halfsword, the cutting of the arm and wrist, the Ansetzen, the usage of reach in the Langort, and the wrestling comparable to the dagger fighting. They all lead back to one principle:
What is folded must be unfolded to gain reach, what is unfolded must be folded before it can be unfolded again. If you are able to follow a folding movement, you win time enough to stop it unfolding again.
There may be some misunderstanding regarding my writing on the Wrist Strike. There are several heavy and light weapons where a strike seems to be done with the wrist. But in fact it isn’t. In the English broadsword and the Italian sidesword there are circular strikes as they are in the Wunder of the German tradition especially shown in the work of Hans Lecküchner, who is mentioned above. It is a movement often done with single handed weapons which have some kind of hand protection like a basket or a bell or at least the Nagel (nail) of the Langes Messer. The reason for that is, that this kind of strike exposes the hand from the cross guard. With heavier weapons these movements are done with the full arm starting from a rotation in the shoulder, a torsion in the underarm, and by changing the angle of the wrist. They are designed to hurt or absorb power. So they have to be able to generate power themselves. You can easily do an experiment on the power generation of the Wrist Strikes. First let a partner fix your underarm, so that you can only move your wrist. Hack with a heavy weapon on a target. Next let him fix the elbow, so that your ulna and radius are able to move, but your shoulder could not help. At last do the movement with the help of an spinning upperarm that is rotating around his length axis in the shoulder. You will see the difference with ease.
But there are Wrist Strikes where the fingers or the wrist alone doe the work. This is mostly done with lighter weapons. Like the Battuta, the intention of the strike is not to hurt but to destroy the Fühlen, to get an opening or a start for a Zucken. While with heavier weapons the same effect is done with a sudden movement of the shoulder with lighter weapons it is done with the fingers or the wrist. Because to gain any advantage from the effect, the movement should be done very fast. The fingers and wrist usually are faster than the shoulder due to the different masses but not if the wrist is heavily loaded.
The interesting thing is, that that both kind of strikes are found in the work of the two handed weapons nearly regardless of the weight or length. This is possible due the fact that the leading hand is used as a pivot point and the rear end is used as a lever that is rotated by the other hand. So the power is generated by both hands and arms and can vary more without the risk of loosing time.