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The Beginner’s Guide to German Longsword, part 6: How to strike, vol. I

INTRODUCTION

So now we know how to hold a sword, stand with a sword, and walk with a sword. Now comes the fun part: striking with a sword! There is a LOT of things to cover here, so there will be several articles on it. We will start with the very basics: the strikes from above, or Oberhawen. Oberhaw means literally that: strike (Haw) from above (Ober). Depending on the master, this might be only a diagonal strike from above, or it might entail all the strikes where the blade descends. Meyer, for instance, names the strike I am about to describe as a Zornhaw. However, in modern HEMA, most practitioners will refer to this strike as an Oberhaw.

To make it more complicated, even a simple Oberhaw has variations depending on the starting stance. Today, we’ll be going through the simplest one: an Oberhaw from the Vom Tag stance.

A POINT ON THE CENTER LINE

Before we start, however, there is an important principle that I want to clarify – that of the center line. Imagine a line running down the middle of your body, from the top of your head, all the way down the middle. Now imagine that this center line also extend itself forward, and moves alongside how your center. For ease of clarity, imagine it’s tied to your belly button – whichever way the belly button is facing, your center line is facing. When fighting a single opponent, there’s two center lines that you must keep in mind: your own and that of your opponent.

(DISCLAIMER: There could be an argument made that in certain cases, the center line is defined by the part of you that’s facing your opponent, such as in some stances which require you turn your hips almost fully to the side (think Schwetz… I mean Schlüssel), but for easier understanding of basics, the above definition is more useful)

Color coded lines for easier clarification
A right Oberhaw in slow-mo

 

RIGHT OBERHAW FROM THE RIGHT VOM TAG

1.) Stand in the Vom Tag stance, as depicted here

2.) Keep being relaxed. Both of your shoulders should be approximately equidistant from your opponent.

3.) Throw your point forward, in the shortest possible diagonal trajectory, towards your target. Typically, this is the side of the head or neck.

4.) DO NOT STEP WITH THE SWORD. Let your sword cover you first, and only then begin your step. You can, and as rule should, put your body weight into the strike, but wait until your sword pulls you into the step. The step can follow a bit earlier than it is depicted in the GIF, but I recommend training it as depicted, especially at the start.

5.) Your hands should not be rising up when performing an Oberhaw from Vom Tag. Try to keep the trajectory of your hand in as straight a line as possible. A little bit of a curve is fine, but the more there is, the easier it will be for your opponent to see you are doing something.

6.) Don’t imagine you are striking circularly or diagonally. Instead, imagine your strike to be closer to a boxer’s direct, where your intention goes forward. When performing the right Ober, it can be helpful to think of the movement of your right hand like a punch to the opponent’s right pectoral muscle. Of course, you must still keep in mind proper form, such as the point of the sword moving first.

Wechsel as depicted by Meyer – taken from Wiktenauer

7.) Do not aim to strike at your target, but rather through it. If you strike to your target, you will slow down your blade before contact, making it easier to defend. However, and this is very important, DO NOT ADD EXTRA FORCE. Your strike should be relaxed at all times. Note that relaxed does not mean floppy – after all, some strength is needed to move the sword in the first place. However, do not put additional strength into it, especially at the moment of contact. Not only is this proper form, as having your arms relaxed allows for faster reactions, but adding extra force once the contact happens is highly uncomfortable for your partner.

8.) Generally, your strike should end where you would have cut through your target (if you are doing solo drills without a physical target, you’ll have to imagine one). This means your point will be a bit off-line, but it doesn’t need to go all the way to your left (if you are performing a right Oberhaw). Your arms must have crossed your center line, and ideally, your strikes ends in a Pflug-like position that covers your left side. Such a strike can alsso be seen in the gifs. Sometimes your strike will finish at an extreme position, due to it being very forceful, or because you want to transition into another strike. In those cases, a Wechsler-like position is the way to go (source of the image on the left).

Hand alignment at expected impact

9.) Make sure that when there would be contact, your hand is in a strong position to be able to take the blow. This means that if you made a straight line from the middle of the space between your thumb and index finger to your elbow, it’d travel more or less down the middle of your forearm. It also means that your elbow must be in a proper position – that is to say, straight, but not locked in.

10.) If your step was long, put your back leg into the position for a standard stance.

 

LEFT OBERHAW FROM THE LEFT VOM TAG

The strike from the left side is very similar, but starts off slightly differently. All of the above points still apply (with the sides flipped, of course), though there is a little bit of a difference at the start:

Left Oberhaw

1.) Because you will start with your lead hand on the opposite side of your body, the movement is a bit less natural and less powerful. Your crossguard will also be turned away from your opponent.

2.) All of the above means that your left Oberhaw is more likely to be a bit easier to spot, since the point will travel in a small circle at the start. This does not mean that the strike is not useful, especially as you CAN also perform a right Oberhaw from the left Vom Tag and vice versa.

 

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