The Beginner’s Guide to German Longsword, part 3: How to Stand

3.1 The general stance

The longsword is a two-handed cut-and-thrust weapon, and as such is mechanically different from both thrust-oriented and single-handed weapons. The most basic difference is that the center is turned towards the opponent with both shoulders, instead of having one side much closer to them than the other (with some exceptions in thrust-oriented guards, of course).

3.1.1 The shoulders

Let’s start with the shoulders. First, you need to make sure your shoulders are relaxed. If you have a partner, stand as I will describe below, with your sword at your shoulder, point facing upwards. Then have your partner poke your trapezius muscle. If it is tense, relax it.

Generally, you want your shoulders to be about square with your opponent. About being the operating word. Don’t try too hard to be facing exactly towards the opponent. The point of this is that having your striking shoulder too far back will signal your strikes. As long as you can comfortably make a good strike without telegraphing (i.e. making it obvious with unnecessary movement), you’re golden. Even so, this is not always true, and some stances call for one shoulder to be much closer to the opponent. As an example, in a Pflug (see image with guards, it’s the stabby one) you can be completely rotated, and will still have a ton of threat since you can stab. As a general rule, try to have your chest and center facing towards your opponent in striking guards, while you can be rotated in stabbing guards. If the shoulder on the side where the strike is coming from is much farther than the other shoulder, you will have a slightly longer movement, which may alert your opponent to an incoming strike. We’ll talk about specific positions more when we get to the guards.

3.1.2 The torso

Your spine should be straight. Imagine an invisible line that is attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards. This is the basic position you want to take. Keep your chest open – as always, so that you are still relaxed. If you feel tension at the shoulder blades, you are likely overdoing it. There is a basic rule of thumb to follow as far as leaning your torso goes. Keep it straight, and in line with your leg. If your torso is upright, you’re good as well. See the image for clarification.

Back and position variations

3.1.3 The hips

The hips are similar to the shoulders – for the most part, keep them squared towards your opponent. Keep them open, as some stances require you to turn them sideways. We’ll talk more about the hips when we get to the strikes, as it’s the movement where they really become important. The one thing you should keep in mind now is to keep them underneath your center of balance, and not stick your ass out. It’s a nice ass, I’m sure, but keep it tucked in, lest it gets kicked.

3.1.4 The legs & feet

Here, there are a few options, but this is the most basic and widely useful one:

step with your left leg forward (if right-handed) as far as is comfortable. Now place your back foot so that your feet are not in line, and up to about a shoulder width apart. Exactly how wide your stance is is a matter of personal preference. Keep your center underneath you at about the middle. Do not stick your backside out, keep it underneath you, and lower yourself in the knees. Lower. I SAID LOWER! Good. The toes of your front foot should be facing either forward or slightly outwards, and the front knee must be in line with the toes of your front foot. If you notice your knee collapsing inwards, note that it is one of the first things to correct – repeated explosive movements with the knee facing inwards can lead to injury, and should be avoided. The back leg is generally turned 90 degrees. It can be facing slightly forward or backwards as well, but as a rule of thumb, 90 degrees is a good starting point.

Hips don’t lie, they say.

Your front knee should be above your heel – the further forward it is in relation to the heel, the slower your retreat will be. Be mindful that your back knee is not collapsed and has proper form, where you can connect the heel, knee, and hip in a relatively straight line when looking from the side.

Important for joint health!

Sometimes, a more aggressive, forward stance is better – or just more suited to your style. When standing as described in the upper paragraph, lean your body forward. This will shift your weight to your front foot somewhat, and your back leg will naturally want to straighten. Imagine a straight line passing through your profile, from the heel of your back foot to the top of your head. This doesn’t mean your knee can’t be bent, only that the line can be drawn as described when a proper aggressive stance is observed from the side.

The most common stances. Use on or all.

A more linear version of the stance involves turning the back leg so that it faces almost completely forward. The weight of the back foot is shifted towards the ball of the foot, and the heel may be lifted slightly. The back shoulder can also be rolled forward to minimize telegraphing our intentions to the opponent. This allows the hips to be facing perfectly straight, making an extremely fast Vorschlag easier. While the steps made in this stance tend towards linear, they don’t have to be, it just takes a bit more effort to ingrain stepping to the side. Here’s a good example of such a stance in action (also, notice the position of the shoulders – they are slightly rotated away from the opponent, but not so much as to telegraph the strike):

As with grips, stances can and should be used fluidly, with one morphing into the other as need dictates. Now, if you’re gonna write down one thing here, write this down, because it’s important: all of the above are guidelines, not hard rules. The only hard rules are the ones that regard safety!

Common mistakes:

  • Knees collapsed inwards
  • Shoulders hunched
  • Back bent or not in line with back leg (or front when leaning backwards, such as in Zornhut)
  • Back shoulder left much further behind than front shoulder (in non-stab oriented guards)

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