I was lucky enough to get a late ticket to WMAW 2017 and spent an amazing few days in Racine, Wisconsin, learning from HEMA practitioners from all over the world.
On the last day of the event, I asked eight experienced longsword fencers to explain how they perform a parry by thrust, or absetzen.
This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I’ll attempt to find underlying principles to be drawn from varying interpretations of this technique.
See the other posts in this series:
- Part 2: Jess Finley
- Part 3: Jan Deneke
- Part 4: Jake Norwood
- Part 5: Ted Elsner, James Reilly, Robert Rutherfoord
Tea Kew’s Absetzen
Edited September 24
Some discussion came out of the first two videos in this series about whether to use the long or short edge to engage the opponent’s blade when forming the parry.
“Absetzen on your left should be made with the short edge, not the long (ps-Danzig is explicit about this, and it’s implicit in Ringeck from the language about winding). I’d misremembered the bit of sprechfenster material which I used to justify the long edge.”
Tea Kew is an instructor with Cambridge HEMA, a historical fencing club in Cambridge, UK, with a focus on Ringeck’s longsword.
Here is Ringeck’s description of the absetzen:
When someone stands against you and holds his sword as if he will stab you from below, so stand counter against him in the guard of the plow from your right side, and give yourself an opening with the left. If he then under-thrusts to the same opening, wind with the sword against his thrust to your left side and step into him with the right foot, so that your point hits and his fails…
When you stand against him in the guard of the plow from the left side: if he then hews to the upper opening of your left side, then drive up with the sword, and wind to the left side against his hew (such that the hilt is in front of your head), and step into him with your right foot and stab him in the face.
Tea demonstrates his interpretation of Ringeck’s absetzen against a thrust and a cut.
The key components of Tea’s interpretation of this technique are a clear invitation; correctly closing the opponent’s line of attack; engaging the opponent’s blade with the long edge; and creating a strong body structure to resist a heavy blow.
Start by making a wide invitation
Tea makes a wide invitation to draw a predictable attack from Shanee. To draw a thrust, he starts with his hands low near his right hip, point high and well offline to the upper-right.
Tea emphasizes how he constrains his opponent’s attack to one side of his weapon. This way, he says, “…you can act on the beginning of their thrust without having to read the line on which that thrust is coming.”
Close the line of attack
As Shanee thrusts to Tea’s deliberately widened inside line, Tea takes a step out to his right and crosses his sword over hers to control it with his long edge.
“Importantly, I’m not thrusting forwards; I’m driving my hilt across and planting the point. I have straight-ish arms, which gives me a strong structure to resist any force she tries to push into my blade.”
Tea’s absetzen is a single-time thrust parry. However, to emphasize the importance of correctly closing the line of his opponent’s attack, he suggests thinking about the technique as two actions.
“First close, then deliver. Otherwise there’s a possibility of going straight forward and getting cut on the hands or thrust in the body because you haven’t adequately closed as you thrust.”
Create a strong skeletal structure
Tea makes an alternate invitation, this time to draw a cut. His hands are low at his left hip, and his point drifts to Shanee’s left. Shanee demonstrates a high overhead cut to Tea’s upper-left quadrant. In response, Tea pivots, turning his core toward the attack. He punches his hilt high, arms straight, and delivers his counterthrust.
“Relatively straight arms are important because this is what provides resistance against the incoming cut. If I have bent arms and she comes in with a heavy cut, my sword collapses into my head.”
Protect your hands with blade alignment
Tea uses the angle of his sword, and proper alignment of his blade, to protect his hands.
“Keeping the hands well out creates a steeper angle with their sword, which prevents it wrapping over the crossguard; and engaging with the edge means the crossguard is guaranteed to be in position to offset their blade. Engaging with the flat allows their blade to run down and bite on the hands.”
Visit Tea’s school, Cambridge HEMA, if you can – and stay tuned for more absetzens when I have time to edit the videos…