The Liechtenauer System

Johannes Liechtenauer:

"In this way you will learn to fight and to defend yourself using the art. But if you are easily frightened, you will never be able to learn to fence."

The Liechtenauer Philosophy

The Liechtenauer system is based around the five secret blows (commonly known as the Maisterhaw) and applying them alongside a few basic concepts and principles.

The Five Secret Blows

The five secret blows are the Zornhaw, Schilhaw, Krumphaw, Zwerhaw and Schaytler. Each of these blows will provide the fencer with every possible Versetzen necessary in order to break the four guard positions, with the exception of the Zornhaw, which is the kingpin to all the other strikes.

The four guard positions are Vom Tage, Ochs, Pflug and Alber. The Versetzen that break the four guards are as follows:

Zwerhaw breaks Vom Tage.
Krumphaw breaks Ochs.
Schilhaw breaks Pflug.
Schaytler breaks Alber.

The Zornhaw is not a Versetzen because it does not displace the threat or strike from a guard. The Zornhaw is the most efficient and direct brutal killing blow possible and provides an opportunity to enter into distance in relative safety in order to effect one of the four Versetzen.

Initially the Maisterhaw will seem difficult to execute and each one will provide its problems, but in time you will discover that they are all variations on one movement and all follow a very simple set of principles concerning the True Times, Centreline Theory, Moment of Instability and proper martial body mechanics.

Concepts and Principles within the System

These consist of:

- the Vor and Nach (before and after). This is a concept in order to establish the state of play. The Vor is being in the dominating position within the exchange, to lead, pursue or have the advantage. The Nach is to be following after, being pursued or at a disadvantage. To understand the concept of the Vor and Nach is to understand time relative to your opponent;

- the Nachreisen (the travelling after), This is the principle, and the concept behind it, that demonstrates the True Times of Distance and the True Times of Intent. The Nachreisen is applied to gain/regain the Vor from the Nach by half, double or counter timing. (It is often said that those who strike first lose as they have given up the advantage of time and distance and the principles of the Nachreisen are a good example of why that is often the case);

- the Fühlen and In des (feeling and simultaneous reaction). The principle of Fühlen and the concept of In des are the wellspring of the Art. To feel which action/reaction is instinctively necessary without needing the time to consider embodies the Fühlen and In des.

All the techniques come from these simple elements. Initially they seem difficult to understand and put into context but in time they make more sense and the beautiful simplicity of the system starts to show itself.

The Sword and the System

Because of the nature of the Liechtenauer system, and the epoch of longsword evolution at this time, the late medieval Germanic* longsword had developed into a sophisticated side weapon for personal development, protection, social status and sport**. Complex, well-balanced and refined in its characteristics, the unexpected manoeuvrability and lightness compared to its size makes the longsword of this period a weapon at the pinnacle of its development and at the extreme boundary of metallurgical technology for the time.

The distinctively long and slender blade is evenly tapered along its length from the cross guard or quillion to the point. The cross guard is relatively wide and the long handle makes up approximately a quarter of the entire length of the sword. These proportions meant the longsword*** took on a mythical status in Arthurian legend, its shape mimicking the holy crucifix, thus elevating the longsword and making it much more an object of reverence than any other weapon of the time. This is a legacy that has lasted into the modern era.

*Technically more 'the Holy Roman Empire' than Germany at this juncture and being heavily influenced by the Austro-Hungarian, Franco, Bavarian and Flemish states.
**I use the word 'sport' with reservation as it tends to conjure the impression of competition when in fact I mean it in the context of self-improvement in the form of the tourney or duelling.
***Sometimes called a hand-and-a-half sword (also referred to as two-handed and bastard sword, though I believe these weapons to have different generic characteristics).