Sword fencing terminology and phrases. Fencing dictionary – Medieval and renaissance fencing, modern fencing – Italian, French, Spanish and German fencing glossary.
Abschneiden – (“cutting aside”) – in the German systems of long-sword (langenschwert) and later huge two-handers (dopplehänder/bidenhänder) short drawing cuts known also as Schnitt (“slices”) called Rakes in English, used at closer distances against the opponent’s forearms and hands, they can be made with both the lead and the back edges
Absetzen – (“setting aside”) the principle of timed counter attack to deflect a thrust or parry a cut, the word was also used to signify a type of trapping move where the sword is hooked over the opponent’s and forced downwards, it can also mean a simple parry, generally followed by a thrust
Abwenden – to “ward off”, such as with a deflecting parrying action
Am Schwert – (“on the sword”) attacks made while maintaining constant pressure on the opposing blade, also known as the Winden (winding or turning)
Anbinden – The engaged position with weapons crossed in the German systems of long-sword and later the huge two-handers (dopplehänder/bidenhänder)
Back guard/stance – with the weapon held pointing down and diagonally backward (sometimes even called Mittelhut) by Medieval German masters, and a Tail guard by the Italians (or even Serpentino or Leopardo in armored fighting, spada in arme’, for which many techniques of swordplay are different)
Binden – “a bind” or trapping action by pressing blade upon blade (usually edge on edge at the ricasso)
Blossfechten – unarmored combat in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from light or unarmored fighting
Cuts – The German schools recognized three major forms of cut: Oberhau (over cuts) downward diagonal or vertical, Unterhau (under cuts) upward or rising, and Zwerchhau or Mittelhau, (cross cuts) horizontal right-to-left and horizontal left-to-right. Diagonal cuts were Zornhau and vertical were Scheitelhau. There were several names for various specific individual cuts to forearms, neck, or legs with the either the foreword or back edge, some of these were Schielhau (the “squinting cut”), Streithau (the “battle cut”), Vater Streich (the “father strike”), and a Scheitelhau (vertical “scalp cut”). Variations included others such as Krumphau (crooked cut), Schrankhut and Zornhau again (“rage cut”), draw cuts and slicing pulls were usually known as Schnitt. Italian masters recognized the eight basic cuts which were formalized in early renaissance systems : vertical down (Fendente), vertical up (Montante), horizontal (Tonda), plus diagonal descending (Squalembrato) and diagonal rising (Ridoppio) which could be made from the left (Roversi) or from the right (Mandritti)
Close guard/stance – apparently known as the Boar’s Tooth guard in the Italian styles, a transitional position similar to a Middle guard but with the knees lowered and the weapon pulled in low closer to the hip, used to parry attacks to the waist, hip, and grip as well as deliver a thrust
Drey Wunder – (the “three wonders”) as taught in the German schools of swordsmanship there were three principle actions, the thrust, the cut, and Schnitt (a slicing or drawing cut), they taught the thrust was used primarily at longer range, the cut at medium range, and the slice more at closer range
Durchwechseln – (“changing through”) the move of evading contact with the opponent’s blade as you strike (e.g., changing line of attack)
Durchführen – (“disengage under”) in close-combat leading your point under their sword to thrust at the opening on the other side.
En Garde – (“on guard”) French term first used in 1400’s to refer to simply a ready posture of both attack and defense with any sword or weapon.
English great-sword fighting – several terms on English methods survive from texts such as: Double Rowndes (a “molinello”), Rakes (draw cuts), Haukse and Halfe Haukes (strikes from the high guard, such as the Posta de falcone in Italian schools), the Cockstep (similar to the balestro in fencing), the Grete Steppe (a simple double step), and the Backsteppe (self-explanatory)
Fechtbuch – (“fight book” or “fencing book”) a German manual on fighting techniques and methods, particularly swordsmanship, (plural Fechtbuecher), among the more famous are those by the masters Johannes Liechtenauer’s of 1389 (by Hanko Doebringer), Sigmund Ringneck of c. 1440, Hans Talhoffer of 1443, Peter von Danzig of 1452, Paulus Kal of c.1460, Johannes Leckuechner (“Lebkomer”) of 1482, Peter Falkner of 1490, H. von Speyer of 1491, Joerg Wilhalm of 1523, Andre Pauerfeindts of 1516, and Gregor Erhart from the early 1500’s. Medieval Italian fighting manuals include those of Tarcirotti of c. 1400, Fiore dei Liberi from 1410, Boris Ferres of 1428, Fillipo Vadi of c. 1480, and Pietro Monte of 1509, and there is also the Spaniard Diego de Valera’s of c. 1490.
Fechtmeister – (“Fight Master”) a German Master of Defence or martial arts expert (Italian Meastro de’ Arme’ or Master of Arms)
Fechtschule – A German Medieval or Renaissance fencing school or public fighting exhibition and competition
Federfechter – a German Renaissance fighting guild which favored the rapier among other weapons
Filo – Italian for the edge of a blade
Flech – German for the flat of the blade
Fuehlen – Gauging of an opponent’s “feeling” or pressure.
The Four Openings – areas to aim at in combat, the first opening is the opponent’s right side, the second opening is their left side above the belt, the other openings are their right and left sides below the belt.
Foyne – “to thrust”, a term used from at least the 1400’s.
Gaukler – meaning “juggler” or “acrobat”, a derogatory term for those masters who taught flowery, ineffective forms of swordsmanship
Gioco stretto – (“Close Playing”) an Italian term for entering techniques used for fighting close-in at seizing and grappling range (in the later English systems of cut-and-thrust sword of the 1500’s, these were known as “gryps”). All are based essentially on a handful of key actions: reaching out to grab the opponent’s hilt or arm, striking with the pommel or guard, trapping their forearms with your second arm, slipping the blade against or between their forearms, using the second hand to hold the blade while binding/striking/slicing, and tripping and kicking. In the German schools close-in techniques for “wrestling at the sword” or Ringen Am Schwert, involved throws or grappling and disarming moves known as or Schwertnemen (“sword-taking”) there was also ground-fighting (Unterhalten, “holding down”)
Gleich Fechten – attacking at the same time as the opponent or In des Fechten (as opposed to Nach Reissen and Vor Fechten)
Guards/Wards/Stances – (Huten) for Medieval long-swords there are essentially 14 recognizable and effective fighting postures overall (called Leger or “position” in German and Guardia or Posta in Italian), of these five are major universal ones that correspond to High, Middle, Low, Hanging, and Back positions. In the later English systems of cut-and-thrust sword in the 1500’s, the Hanging guard was sometimes known as the Guardant (or Prima) ward, the high as Open ward, middle as Close ward (or Seconda), and low as the Variable ward, a side ward was sometimes Terza.
Halb Schwert – (“half-sword”) techniques of gripping the middle of the blade itself with the second hand (often by gloves or armored gauntlets). Also called Halt-Schwert, they allow a wide range of offensive and defensive striking and deflecting actions as well as thrusts, Italian schools might have called them Mezza Spada (“middle sword”) or possibly even “false-point” blows.
Handarbeit – (“handwork”) also called Krieg or war, the phase of combat once swords have crossed and the distance has been closed, follows from Ambinden, both Schwertnemen and Abschneiden are often used here
Hanging guard/stance – “Hengen” (left or right) are important and very versatile long-sword postures (they are confused and misunderstood more than any other), called the Ochs (“ox”) stance in the German schools (for resemblance to the sloping horns of an ox), one variation places the blade over and behind the shoulder with the body turned more away,this form was known to the Italians as the Queen’s or Women’s guard (Posta di donna sovrana) –possibly because next to the Crown guard it is the most useful or it resembles the long hair of a woman down her back. The hanging is equivalent to the Guardant ward or Prima of later Renaissance swordplay.
Harnischfechten – Combat in plate armor or “harness fighting” in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from light or unarmored fighting, called Spada in arme’ in Italian
Hart und Weich (hard and soft) – the idea when ever contact is made of gauging the pressure the opponent places upon you blade (either strong or weak), oppose strength with weakness and weakness with strength to control and exploit.
High guard/stance – called a Falcon guard (Posta de falcone) by the Italians and known to the English as a Haukse Bill (as if “striking down like a bird or prey”), German schools usually referred to it as Vom Dach or Von Tag (“from the roof”) or even Oberhut (meaning “upper guard”), in some Italian schools there was also a more defensive high vertical position known as a Guardia Alta
In Des Fechten – attacking in the middle of the adversary’s own attack, one of the three ways of overcoming an opponent’s attack along with Gleich Fechten and Nachreissen
Inside guard/stance – called Finestra (“Window guard”) by some Italian masters, one possible German term for it was apparently Hangentorte (“hanging point”) and possibly even Wechsel (meaning “change”), a position with the blade horizontal pointing forward and the hilt pulled in close, used for warding, thrusting and parrying (other similar postures include the Archer and Serpetino guards.
Kampfplatz – (“Kampfring”) an enclosed area where judicial duels and some foot challenges took place, it was an open made up of a square wooden barrier or “ring”, called the “Champ Clos” in French
Klopffechter – (“clown-fighters”) itinerant, crude fighting swordsmen performers during the later 1500s and 1600s in Germany, not considered a true Fechtmeister
Kron – (“crown”) One German name for the Middle guard, called Corona in Italian, also a type of Halb Schwert (half-sword) parry against a vertical downwards cut with the sword held point forward over the head
Kunst des Fechtens – the German Medieval (and Renaissance) art of fighting, consisting primarily of the arts of the langenschwert or long-sword, the messer (a sort of falchion), and Ringkunst or Ringen (wrestling).Unarmored combat was known as Blossfechten. Combat in plate armor was known as Harnischfechten (or “harness fighting”). Fighting on foot was also distinguished from Rossfechten, or mounted combat. Similar distinctions appear to have been made in Italy and elsewhere in Europe
Kurze Schneide – (“short edge”) back or “false” edge of the sword, opposite of the Long edge (Lange or “true” edge)
Lange Schneide – (“long edge”) forward or true edge of the sword, opposite of the Short edge (back or “false” edge)
Leger – “position” in German, referring to a fighting posture or guard
Leichmeister – (“dance-master”) a derogatory term used by the German master Doebringer of 1389, for those instructors who taught flashy but impractical fighting techniques
Long guard/stance – Posta Longa in Italian, a limited defensive thrusting position with the blade horizontal and arms extended straight forward more, ideal for warding and making stabbing attacks or stop-thrusts, German schools called it Langortt or Langer Ort, meaning “long point”
Low guard/stance – called Alber, the “Fool’s guard” In the Germans schools (apparently since it was thought foolish to rely only on defense), depending on placement of the blade, to the Italian’s this was known as the Iron Door (Porta di ferro piana terrena) –either half, right or middle, or when on the left it may have been also known as a Boar’s Tooth guard (in the sense of thrusting up), German schools also sometimes called it Eiserne Pforte (“iron gate”) or Iron Door (Die yszni Port)
Luxbrueder (Company of St. Luke) – another major Medieval German fighting guilds, similar to later English schools of defence, they were headed by four adepts and a captain
Marxbrüder – (Brotherhood of St. Mark) a successful group of masters who at one time organized and regulated the teaching of the fighting arts and the licensing of new masters from the city of Frankfurt, they lasted well into the Renaissance
Middle guard/stance – Mittlehut, called Corona (crown) in Italian since it was the foundation of all other stances, and Pflug (“plow”) in the German schools for its resemblance to the position of plowing behind a yoke, the blade is held centered out from the lower abdomen at a 45-degree angle aimed at the opponent’s chest, throat or face
Meisterhau – (“master cuts”) prized techniques described by the grand-master Liechtenauer in which the swordsman strikes in a manner so that his sword deflects the incoming blow while simultaneously hitting the opponent
Mittelhau – a horizontal left-to-right cross-cut
Mordschlag – (or Morteschlag, “death blow”) a type of rare Halb Schwert blow made by holding the sword blade itself with both hands and striking with the pommel or guard, used to slam a foe in heavy armor
Nach – the defensive or countering principle of fighting, opposite of Vor (“before”), Nach und Vor are two important concepts in the Fechtschulen
Nachreissen – (“traveling after”) attacking immediately after the adversary’s own attack, one of the three ways of overcoming an opponent’s attack (contrasted with Gleich Fechten or In Des Fechten and Vor Fechten)
Obere Ansetzen – techniques delivered over or above the opponent’s guard (opposite of Untere Ansetzen)
Oberhau – “over cuts” or strikes above the waist, either diagonal (Zornhau) or vertical (Scheitelhau)
Ort – German for the point of the sword
Pressing-the-hands – a move to push your blade in against the opponent’s forearms or hands just as they lift to strike or just as they lower to strike, one form of this cut was called the Krumphau
Ringen Am Schwert – (“wrestling at the sword”), sometimes called Ringkunst, also involving Schwertnemen (“sword-taking”) close in disarming moves and grappling (ground-fighting or Unterhalten, “holding down”)
Rossfechten – Mounted combat in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from fighting on foot (Blossfechten) or strictly heavy armored combat (Harnischefechten)
Rota – a countering technique described by Filippo Vadi (c. 1480) wherein the back edge is quickly raised to smack or deflect an opposing blade prior to an immediate descending cut with the forward edge
Rownde /Double Rownde – an English term which likely refers to the molinello/molinet “windmill” change-in-line attack of striking by bringing the weapon first down and back and then up high, once for “ye single rouwde” or twice for a “ye double”, the action generates power while being deceptive
Schielhau – a sideways cut with the back or short edge (Kurze Schneide) of the blade, delivered with only one eye on your opponent (perhaps also called the “squinting cut”)
Scheitelhau -a vertical cut, delivered either Oberhau (above the waist) or Unterhau (below the waist)
Schwech – (weak) German masters divided the long-sword into two portions, the weaker section of blade from middle to point was known as Schwech (or Schwäche), used for most thrusting and slicing (equivalent to the Foible of later renaissance fencing), opposite of Stark
Schwertnemen – (“Sword taking”) close-in disarming or trapping actions, called Gioco Stretto (Close Playing) in Italian, very useful and effective moves in long-sword fighting, called Grypes and Seizures in some later Renaissance styles
Short guard/stance – Posta Breve in Italian, a limited “entering” or close-range posture with the blade held more vertical, the hilt pulled in low and the knees bent more, it is used for both parrying and preparing to slice, thrust, or bind
The “Spring” – (Das gayszlen) throwing a cut from one hand to increase its range by clutching the pommel with the second hand
Stark – (strong) German masters referred to the long-sword in two portions, the strong section of blade from middle to hilt was known as Stark, used for most parrying and cutting (equivalent to the Forte of later renaissance fencing), opposite of Schwech
Stuck und Bruch – (“technique and counter”) the idea that every technique has a counter and every counter has a technique, two major components of the German systems of swordsmanship
Throwing-the-point – A German technique of turning a false cutting blow into a sudden straight thrust
Ueberlauffen – (overrunning) the concept of timed counter-attack by outreaching the adversary just as they attack, you move into or out of their action and strike their closer targets exposed by their own attack
Untere Ansetzen – techniques delivered under or below the opponent’s guard (opposite of Obere Ansetzen)
Unterhalten – sometimes known as “holding down”, ground-fighting techniques wresting or grappling moves included in the curriculum of the German systems of fighting, entering techniques involving stepping in to trap the opponent’s forearms or grip with you second hand or arm (Handarbeit)
Unterhau – (under cuts) upward or rising strikes below the waist, either diagonal (Zornhau) or vertical (Scheitelhau)
Versatzung – (or Versetzen), literally displacement or to displace, a defensive action to put off an attack by a deflecting blow or counter strike as opposed to an opposition block, employed with evasive stepping (Versatzungen or the “displacements” are four of these cuts)
Von Fechten – attacking before, one of the three ways of overcoming an opponent’s attack
Vor – the offensive principle of fighting, aggressively taking the initiative, opposite of Nach
Vorfechter – a provost or advanced student in the Fechtschulen
Waage – (“balance”) standard fighting position with legs and arms slightly bent
“Was sehrt, das lehrt” – (“What hurts, teaches”) the idea in the Fechtschulen that pragmatic knowledge follows only from realistic instruction (i.e., no pain no gain)
Winden – (the “Winding” or turning), close binding actions to maintain pressure and dominate the opposing blade to get in and use either edge to slice (also allows you to close and seize)
Zornhau – a diagonal cut, delivered either Oberhau (above the waist) or Unterhau (below the waist)
Zornhut – (“guard of wrath” or “rage guard”) sparingly used vulnerable posture with the weapon pulled all the way point down behind the back, but which allows the most powerful blows
Zwerchhau – (“slanting cut”) a horizontal right-to-left cross cut (also called Geschrenckt Ort)
Zuefechten – one of the two phases of combat where the combatants are closing together and their weapons make contact (prior to Anbinden or Handarbeit)