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Explaining the Liechtenauer five words and other German fencing terms is a very simple thing if you look at them from the perspective of a wrestler. There are reasons why the manuscripts state that all fencing stem from wrestling. I like to give you some examples using the images and plays of the great 16th century wrestler Fabian von Auerswald. To help you to understand, I provided exercises to each term. Please be advised to use protection gear.

Schwach – Weak – Foible

If you stand before your opponent and the opponent grabs you with his hand, he uses his most weak part of the arm to get into contact with you. The weak can get beaten quite easily. It can be countered by using two “weaks” against one like in the depicted play next to this paragraph the famous wrestler called “die schweche des Arms” (“the weak of the arm”). Furthermore the weak can as well be countered by using the strength of the arm like Fabian von Auerswald displayed in his first play following below.

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He reaches out and grabs you at your shirt at your shoulder or the chest. You grab his hand by both hands and twist it. Alternatively you lock your both hands like depicted over his hand, press them to the chest and downwards. Thus two weaks break two strength.

Stand in front of the opponent. He reaches out to grab you by the shoulder or neck with the hand. You fall with the 90° bent arm on the same side over his forearm like depicted in the following chapter and play. Thus the strength breaks the weak.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. He thrusts at you and you displace him with your weapon very early with long arms, far away from your body. At the moment when the first part of your blade gets contact, you use either a buckler, a dagger, or the back of your empty hand to swipe the blade off your own blade and thrust yourself. Thus two weaks break one weak.

Stand in front of the opponent. He thrusts at you and you displace him with the long edge of your weapon close to your body. At the moment you get contact with his blade at the second part of your blade (close to the handle), you push his blade away to the left side (inside) a bit and at the same time thrust forward in a so called pushing-quarte (if you like to dive a bit into the understanding of smallsword terms, have a look in the art of fencing by Monsieur L’Abbat).

Stark – Strong – Forte

By using the “sterk” – strong/strength of the arm the renowned wrestler (here at the left side of the image) can get rid of the person trying to get hold of him. This demonstrates that the strength of the arm is starting from the elbow downwards to the shoulder. So that the weak of the arm is from the elbow to the fingertips.

The further categorization of the weak and strength of the whole body (and not only the ar) says that the weak is found from hand to elbow, the half strength is defined from elbow to shoulder, and the full strength is to be understand as the trunk (nicely depicted in Johann Andreas Schmidt, Gründlich lehrende Fecht-Schule of 1713).

The separation of weak and strength at a limb is defined by the joint for reason that while the opponent gets hold to either weak or strength, the other part can still provide danger.

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight or cross punch with the fist. You get hold of the punching hand at the wrist while voiding the punch in any direction. Now the opponent bents his arm fully in the elbow and gives you an straight elbow strike. You realize that the strength of the arm is still a danger even when you captured the weak.

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight or cross punch with the fist. You block the arm of the punching hand while voiding the punch in any direction. The block is done at the elbow or upwards  Now the opponent bents the arm the elbow until nearly 90° and gives you a back-fist strike to the face. The weak of the arm is still a danger when you captured the strength.

Exercises in Weapons:

While the simple mathematical categorization of weak and strong in the blade is by division to equal shares either two halves or quarters (with half weak and half strength as further categories). The true weak and strong of a weapon in motion floats looking at factors like mass distribution, inertia and acceleration.

The joint of the sword is to be understood as the contact point to the opponent’s blade. If there is no contact, the rotation point of length of the weapon is to be seen as the joint of the weapon.

We will look at exercises in swords to understand this in the next chapter.

Guidance by the sources to weak and strong

Seek the Weak!” It is like in any other fighting the same here [in wrestling], you must highly regard strength and weak. As soon as you get to him, see where he is strong and aim for the nearest weak (because every strength has its weakness), and wrestle there, so you will own him.

Christian Egenolff (editor), 1530s

Schweche suchen. ES ist / wie in allem fechten / auch hierinne / der stercke unnd schweche höchlich acht zenemenn. So du ann man kompst / befleiß dich / wo er starck ist / das du ihm der nähsten schweche geremest (wie dann ein iede sterck ihre schweche mit bringt) und nach tringest / so machstu ihn verfallen.

Winden – Turning

“Winden” (Turning) means you turn yourself or something. This can be done in many axes (plural of axis) but for simplification we categorize them into vertical and horizontal depending if they are more aligned (even a tiny bit) to either of them.

Looking at fighting we should look at first at the arm and its strength and weak. The turning of the arm in fencing is mostly at the axis following its length. The arm is straight and turns thumb left or right. By this turning every parry is defined in single handed weapons from the first Prime to the ninth Neuvieme. But in wrestling we bent the arm in the elbow and see what happens in regard of weak and strong when we turn it.

When the elbow (strength) turns up the weak of the arm (the hand) turns up, or vice versa the elbow turns down and the hand turns up. So winding the arm shifts the position of weak and strong alternating.  But looking at the UP/DOWN turning of strength and weak is simply not enough. We must look at the other main axis as well.

When we turn in the vertical axis we see that the body that can turn best in the spine, either half with the upper body turning while the lower body remains (like sitting on a horse), or fully with the whole body when stepping. There we find Fabian doing a thing called “Einwinden” (“turning in”) in this image. His goal is to be in a position the fencing masters called “inwendig” (“inside”).

If he would turn to the other side to be at the outside of the opponent he calls the position “auswendig” (“outside”). Alas and other fencing masters (with few exclusions) did mention “auswinden” (“turning out”) for the reason that this term is already in in direct connotation with disarming the opponent, turning the weapon out of his hands.

Exercises in wrestling:

We had already the turning of the arm in our exercises of weak and strong in wrestling. There are many variations of that you may come to yourself. So we look here into the turning in and out with a step.

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight punch with the right fist. You get hold of the punching hand at the wrist with the left hand on the inside of his arm while voiding the punch by turning in to your left side (rotating your left side back, your right side forward). You keep on turning to your left and step forward with your right foot. You will end up close to the opponent similar to the image and can give him an elbow or shoulder strike.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. He strikes at you from above and you displace him as well with a strike from above with the long edge of your weapon. At the moment you get contact with his blade you step outside to your right with your right foot and turn the body to the left (right side forward). If you can, keep the contact to the blade as if they are bound together (the Bind). By this the blade turns into his face using the blade of the weapon as the axis or “joint”. By this you wind on the vertical axis around his blade.

Stand in front of your opponent. Hold the sword forward, such that the point hangs down and the strength is up. Your elbow is pointing into the sky. Hide behind this hanging sword. The moment he strikes at you and gets contact to your sword, turn the elbow fast down and straighten your arm a bit. By this the weak and the point come up and the opponent’s blade will slip to your strength downwards. By this you wind around the horizontal axis around his blade.

Vor – Before/In Front

If you stand “vor” (“before” – “in front”) an opponent he is capable of doing a lot of evil things you may not want him to do to you: he has both hands in reach, he may kick you, step to you with a small step, or give you even a headbutt. Better you are faster than him.

Thus if you are “in front” of your opponent you have to be quicker than him and act “before” him. No surprise that Fabian’s advice in the first play in this regard tells us to be quite quick “so schnel mus er zugehen”.

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight punch with the right fist. The moment you block he will give you a cross with the left fist, the moment you block this he kicks you, the moment you block he attacks again with the right, again with the left, and than any other attack, instantly following the one before in the moment of contact. Thus you always need to response to the attack, while he is faster than you.

Stand in front of the opponent. Before he can give you a straight punch with the right fist, you strike with cross your left to his face blocking the path of his straight punch. Your left punch is followed immediately by right punch, and a kick. You will be faster than him.

Stand in front of the opponent. When he gives you a straight punch with the right fist, void it and duck, dive deep for his leg and throw him. You will be faster than him, even when he started by attacking with the punch.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. He will give you a strike from above, instantly followed by another strike, and another one always in full motion and high speed, while you displace and block his weapon. He is always a step ahead in time of you.

Stand in front of the opponent. When he lifts his sword to do the first strike, thrust him and let the sword point drop, when he tries to displace the thrust, now strike and thrust in fast motions. You will be faster than him.

Nach – After/Behind

If you get in the “nach” (“after/behind”) of the opponent his options are limited. Therefore he is in a great “nachteil” (“disadvantage”). Fabian calls it from his point of view by saying “he owns the guy” if he is in such situation – “bin sein gantz gewaltig”.

The “reise” (travel/journey) to get there is not very easy, therefore the “Nachreisen” (travel after) is seen a sign of master-ship if you get there by ease.

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a cross punch with the right fist. You block the arm of the punching hand at the elbow with your left hand outside while voiding the punch by turning out to your right (left side forward, and right side backward) while you step a little bit to your left side and forward. Now you stand at the outside of the opponent and can take him out by throws.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. Your sword points down to your left side. When he strikes to you from above, you strike from below into his blade (if you would stand still) and step wide to your left side. Your strike is not aimed to hit the blade, but protect yourself if you are not stepping fast enough. If your blade is up, strike to his right side behind his blade. So you strike in the shade of his strike, which is the fastest journey to get behind him.

Guidance by the sources to Before and After

The following quote defines the “Indes” – “In between” as the perfect moment to execute your technique. I do not explain the term “Indes” in this post, as it is not covered by a play in technique. Nevertheless the quote provides good guidance.

The same value [as weak and strong] has the “In Between”, which is the right time. If you don’t get the right moment while you work your wrestling, you missed the timing and will run behind time. If this is noticed, all your work is vain. 

Christian Egenolff (editor), 1530s

In gleichem wert ist auch das In des zehaben / welches / als die rechte zeit / so du nit triffst / in der arbeit / unnd also versaumlich nachhin tappest / so merckt mans / ist all dein thun ummsunst.

Hart – Hard / Push

While wrestling is always about pushing and pulling at the opponent, there are some plays that need some extra pressure and force. Those plays use the word “hart” as an extra information to inform the reader, that this is not done by light pressure or only by using strength against weak, but by using sheer force. Fabian uses that to get rid of a grip to his cloth in this image and therefore win a throw.

Being hard means that you provide more pressure (by strength, structure, or any other means like inertia and acceleration) than your opponent. This goes together with strength but has a different flavor to it. While “strength” and “weak” are measured by the distance from the contact to the center of strength (the body) without caring about the direction of the strength, “hard” is measured by resisting in the opposite direction as the pressure by the opponent.  This pressure can be achieved by muscular strength, but as well by using a better structure. If you are harder than your opponent, you can hold your ground or move him.

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight punch with the right fist. You block his arm with both arms, pressing down or up, and throw yourself forward with all your body weight. You will push him back hard.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. He strikes at you from above from the left side and you displace him as well with a strike from above from the left side with the long edge of your weapon. At the moment you get contact with his blade you grab in your blade with your left hand and use both hands to push forward hard his blade backwards.

Weich – Soft / Pull

Because pushing and pulling, being hard and soft, is so integrated in every aspect of wrestling, that naming it is only done in extraordinary situations. Interesting enough Fabian uses the term “weich” only in connection to the fact that the other person must follow his pressure in the depicted play. But as every wrestler knows, is being softer than expected is a counter to many such wrestling moves, getting out of the lock.

In general being soft means that you give more way to a pressure than the opponent expects. Some more sophisticated meaning of soft/pulling include the “escorting” of the opponent’s attack by a very kind derivation of his force (like “riding the tiger” in his attack).

Exercises in wrestling:

Stand in front of the opponent. He gives you a straight punch with the right fist. You catch his arm with both hands and start running backwards.

Stand in front of the opponent. He pushes forward. Grab him by the shirt next to his neck and throw yourself down in a sitting position. Try to step out of his way and then sit down, extending your left leg out in front of both of his legs. Make sure you turn your supporting (right) foot perpendicular before sitting, so you can turn your hips sideways and turn to throw your him.

Stand in front of the opponent. Put one arm on his neck and let him try to get an arm lock like depicted here. Before he can finish the lock, slip by diving down and grab the leg and throw him.

Exercises in Weapons:

Stand in front of the opponent. He thrusts at you. You get into contact but instead of blocking, you void with the body and accompany the thrust to the left side. Grip over your blade to his wrist and start pulling him to you.

Same exercise to the right side.

Guidance by the sources on Hard and Soft

The following quote is the introduction to one of the oldest wrestling manuals still existing and understandable on this planet. It is as well a good summary of this blog post.

In all wrestling techniques three things are always present: first the technique itself, second the speed, third is the right dose of strength. Be aware that the best thing is to be quick, so he can’t find the time to break your techniques. Second you should know that you should wrestle the weak fighters from the front, and hold the pace with fighters of same strength, but stronger fighters try to get from behind. When you wrestle a fighter of equal strength from the front, try to be faster. In all wrestling in which you try to hold the pace and stand your ground, be aware of the balance in the stance of “scales”. If you get to the opponent’s back, remember the bent knee.

Ott Jud, 1443

In allenn ringñ sullenn sein drew ding das erst ist kunst das ander Ist snellikayt das dritt ist ist rechtew abgevng der sterck dar vmb so sol man merckñ das das pest ist snellikayt dy lat nicht czu pruchen komenn Darnach soltu merckenn das mã den kranckenn sol vor ringen vnd allenn gleichen sol man mit ringenn vnd allenn starcken sol man nach ringenn vnd In allñ gleichen vor ringen so wart der snellikayt In allem mit ringen so wart der wag Vnd czu allem nach ringen so wart der knyepug

Further Readings:  On the Five Words “Vor/Nach, Indes, Stark/Schwach”The simplicity of the “Vor”, Active or Passive, and Double “Vor”