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 fourth 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 previous posts in this series:
- Part 1: Tea Kew
- Part 2: Jess Finley
- Part 3: Jan Deneke
- Part 5: Ted Elsner, James Reilly, Robert Rutherfoord
- Part 6: Devon Boorman
Jake Norwood’s Absetzen
Jake demonstrates his absetzen, using Tea Kew as a pell:
In this episode of Absetzen at WMAW, common themes continue to develop. Jake, too, emphasizes hip drive, body structure and timing as critical components of a successful absetzen.
Use hip rotation for power
Jake performs absetzen with a hip twist. “I can do it with a step out – but I find that it’s hard to land the thrust. I can do it with a step in, but it’s too easy to end up in the wrong spot, so I prefer just a hip twist. Then step with the thrust so that the body drives the point, not your arms.”
Don’t raise your hands too high
Jake warns against raising your hands and sword too high in a misguided attempt to keep your hands safe. “A lot of people tell you to protect your hands, get your arms higher. The problem with that is… he’s not in any danger either because I haven’t stabbed him.”
As Jake raises his hands, Tea shows the error of his ways with a slice under his forearms.
“Actually the trick is not to go high at all… you want to stay approximately at eye level to your opponent,” Jake says.
The importance of structure
Jake creates a strong structure by keeping his arms braced in front of his sternum. If he needs to change the angle of his arms, he rotates his torso to preserve that relationship.
He shows how withstanding a hard cut uses the same physical principles as supporting your body weight while doing pushups – both will be very difficult for most people to do if your arms aren’t aligned in front of your sternum.
Smaller fencers have less scope for structural errors
I ask: “If I’m a smaller fencer or less powerful fencer, how can I ensure that I do a correct absetzen against a heavy incoming cut?”
“You have even less wiggle room than I do,” Jake answers. “I’m a fairly strong guy; I can get away with collapsing my left arm a little bit, which I really shouldn’t do but I’m lazy. If you’re a smaller fencer, don’t collapse that left arm at all.”
A smaller fencer can deal with a heavy strike from a powerful opponent by maintaining proper structure:
“Even if I’m a smaller fencer against a bigger person, in most situations, my bone structure is much stronger than their muscle. There would need to be a massive difference in weight and strength [for that not to be true].”