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German Longsword - Guards And Stances
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It is commonly thought that longswords were heavy, bludgeoning weapons, unwieldy to use and requiring brute force rather than finesse. It is this popular misconception that I am working to reverse gradually with time. The longsword is actually an extremely practical weapon, designed to be a multi-purpose weapon. The Germans were one of the most sophisticated countries to develop and perfect longsword combat. The German longsword tradition lasted over 250 years until the 1600's.

Stages of Combat

In longsword combat there are three stages of combat which are usually observed and correlate with the interactions between each fighter. The start of a fight both fighters are in guards and at distance seeking to close the distance. Once they successfully close in on each other, both vie for an edge over the either and injure his opponent or force them to give in. Then the end of the exchange would arrive and both fencers would break off to seek distance once again and prepare another attack. This pattern will then be repeated over and over as each fighter attempts to locate patterns, trends, and weaknesses in the defense of his opponent.

Guards and Stances

German longsword combat revolves around several key guards and stances from which it is possible to attack and defend in different fashions. The guard, often referred to as a ward, used depended upon the fighter's preferred combat style as well as the circumstances the fencers found themselves in. For example, combating opponents in armor is completely different from the longsword techniques applied to defeat unarmored or lightly armored opponents. As is mentioned in some of my other articles, the longsword techniques known as half-swording evolved amongst the German fencing schools to provide techniques for defeating armor clad warriors through the usage of throws, pins, locks, and the shorter thrusts required by the half-sword stance.

There exist four primary wards, these being the ox, the plow, the roof/high ward, and the Fool's ward. The ox is held at shoulder height with the point of the blade oriented directly towards the opponent. The plow ward positioned the sword low with the point raised up to face the opponent. The high guard and the fool's guard were mirror opposite wards one with the sword raised above the head from which it could strike from on high, the other with the sword pointed down towards the ground in a deceptively open stance which masked the longsword technique's length of reach from the opponent.

These are merely the barest of fundamentals in regards to the German longsword. This system is obviously one that has been well thought out and developed. 250 years of improvement and refining is certainly nothing to disregard when it comes to weapons.


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