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 third 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 1: Tea Kew
- Part 2: Jess Finley
- Part 4: Jake Norwood
- Part 5: Ted Elsner, James Reilly, Robert Rutherfoord
- Part 6: Devon Boorman
Jan Deneke’s Absetzen
Jan demonstrates his absetzen against Stacy:
Jan begins his absetzen in right pflug, with his hands crossed near his hip. As Stacy’s attack develops, he uncrosses his hands and delivers a single-time counterthrust, intercepting Stacy’s blade with his short edge.
The uncrossing motion of Jan’s hands when winding from right to left provides leverage and therefore speed: “My favourite absetzen side is from right to left because it’s from crossed hands to open hands and it’s faster.”
For stability and strength in the bind, Jan switches to a thumb grip as he rotates his sword to use his short edge.
A versatile counterthrust
Absetzen can be deployed against a variety of cuts and thrusts, both high and low. Against a low thrust, Jan’s employs the same mechanics – winding from crossed hands to uncrossed, and intercepting with the short edge.
The desired end position of Jan’s blade depends on context:
“It’s situational; it depends on the attack. For an incoming thrust, I wind a lot less [than for an incoming cut]. I keep it a lot lower. I always want a good crossing. I wouldn’t want to go high on a low thrust – I risk that she slips lower and I get nailed.”
Timing is critical
Like Tea and Jessica, Jan emphasizes that Absetzen relies on timing.
“The timing requires practice. It’s the hardest part of the technique. The technique itself is pretty simple.”
Jan starts his absetzen “…when [his opponent] is committed to a thrust or a cut, so that I can nail her inside her tempo.” As we saw in Jessica’s video, if you attempt to deploy absetzen before your opponent’s attack is sufficiently developed, it’s very likely that they will change plans and absetzen will fail.
Gain the advantage of leverage on your opponent’s blade
Jan intercepts his opponent’s blade “…wherever I can get it, but ideally not on her strong. I want to have a strong relationship (between my blade compared to hers).”