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 second 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 parts in the series:
- Part 1: Tea Kew
- Part 3: Jan Deneke
- Part 4: Jake Norwood
- Part 5: Ted Elsner, James Reilly, Robert Rutherfoord
- Part 6: Devon Boorman
Jess Finley’s Absetzen
Jess Finley is a wrestler, fencer, and HEMA instructor. She is the author of Medieval Wrestling: Modern Practice of a 15th-Century Art. Check out Jess’s blog, Ritterkunst, for her research and training ideas.
Here, Jess demonstrates the basics of her absetzen against attacks from Jake.
Jess’s absetzen relies on a clear setup with an invitation to strike at her head. In response to Jake’s overhead cut, Jess drives her sword across the line of attack, using her hips to pivot. Demonstrating the technique against a much larger opponent, Jess creates a strong body structure with straight arms and high hands to stay safe.
Create a rhythm when offering an opening
Jess shows how she would tempt an opponent to strike at her head, creating a dynamic invitation by moving in and out of distance.
“One thing that can be useful that I picked up from other martial arts instructors is to offer the same invitation a couple times and back out. So if you give this to him a few times, he’s going to start going ‘Hooo!’ Then next time, he comes in – but you’ve already decided that you’re looking for that. People tend to attack on the third. One, two, and then go.”
Sword and hips go first
Before committing her feet to a step, Jess drives forward with her sword to close the line, powering her body with her hips.
“When I’m thinking about it, the most important piece to me is that if you’re going to cross either to cover the low line or the high line, that your sword and your hips have to go first to cover that line. And then if you know you have the line, then you can commit with the thrust and the step.”
At 2:10, note how Jess turns out her lead foot before she moves her rear foot. This opens her hip position and helps her to use body rotation to close the line and create a strong angle against Jake’s sword.
After covering the line of attack, says Jess, “sometimes people want to retract, which is no bueno… I pretend that my sword is a fighter jet, like when you see F16s do cool manouevres. It’s always pressing in.”
This forward presssure keeps Jess safe. She doesn’t obsess over details she can’t control – such as where on her opponent’s sword she intercepts their blade.
“I don’t get to choose that. Jake chooses that. So I’m not worried about that, I’m worried about covering the line and presenting as much threat as I humanly can.”