From ‘Hans Talhoffer~ as seen by Jens P. Kleinau’
While the text of the I.33 is obscured by bad church Latin, the images of the I.33 are even worse. The illustrations of the I.33 manual are flawed. They are a stylish medieval piece of art of more or less talented artists. The artists concentrated more on copying the drapery of the clothes from contemporary art than the real postures of the body. And they followed the typical display of feet and leg painting in that century. Unable to present three-dimensional objects, they moved every object to the frontal or side view. So if a object is somewhere between side and front, it was moved to an extreme. The body is always displayed in a rotated side view (3/4 view), so that the face shows both eyes. This is in no regard to the real body position.
But the text of the I.33 makes a clear statement that the guards of the I.33 were very common. Therefore we can use contemporary art to analyse the guards of the manual and compare them.
In this article I collected and summoned illustrations of the first guard. By analyzing them I was able to collect little statistical data. I combined it with my personal knowledge and common interpretations of the manual by Richard Cole, Roland Warzecha, David Rawlings, and more. This is the result.
Where to put the sword
17 of the 23 images show the sword under the arm according to the text of the I.33. In the manual the the blade is under the arm while the handle is not. This is covered in other illustrations. If the sword is near the hip the handle is near the hip and not in front of it. There is no real functional difference in it. In both cases the sword hand is fairly out of reach hidden behind the buckler’s protecting area, or near the hip. In both cases the reach of the sword is obscured to the opponent. Thus it does not really matter if whether it is under the arm or next to the hip. Furthermore it is to observe that during a dynamic combat the first guard cannot be performed in that exact manner, so the sword on the hip is as good as the sword under the arm (following the text that says that guards are endpoints*).
*Thanks to Roland, i noticed that this “endpoints” may be “points of misunderstanding”. This article is about the “common fencer” in the I.33. The text points out that the common fencers use this guards to bring up seven strikes and that the “art” is found in the Langort. This is congruent with the GMN 3227a.
Where to put the buckler?
In 14 of the 22 images the buckler is in front of the right shoulder, in 7 images it is in front of the sword hand, and in one image it is protecting the head. Because the weapon hand is (near the body and therefore) physically out of reach the most probable explanation for buckler position in front of the hand is the protecting of the weapon hand and arm while “uncoiling” from the posture. So the buckler starts in front of the right shoulder. When the distances closes, it moves from the right shoulder to a more central position, or (a lot more likely) the buckler stays in place (in relation to the line of attack) while the body moves out of the line of attack. So the sword hand is using the protective zone of the buckler while coming forward to answer the attack or do a counterattack.
Which foot is in front?
7 images show the right hip forward, 5 the left hip, the rest is not to identify. In 11 pictures there seems to be the left foot forward, 5 have the right foot forward, and in the rest is not to see. Because of the influence of art-style in body posture the position of hips and feet are not easily to identify. There is a coincidence between the buckler in front of the right shoulder and the preference for having the right hip forward. Having the “buckler foot” forward needs the sword ready to protect the knee. As it is ready to do this on this side, there is another indication that the left foot is forward while the right hip is turned in front.
How to position yourself?
9 of the 23 images shows a normal stance, 12 a low stance, two are not to analyze because of the sitting position. While in the manual itself the low stance, with the upper body bend forward is found often, this is not that much reflected in contemporary art. There we find an slightly bend but more upright position of the upper body, and all that might be seen as a low stance are bend knees. It looks as they are sitting on a chair with bend knees. That offers the conclusion that the knees are bend in a close stance that will have most of the weight on the back leg if the upper body is upright. By leaning the upper body slightly forward the weight is a better distributed to both legs with keeping around 60%-70% on the back leg. With the right hip forward and the left leg too, the body is twisted and coiled. Thus the fencer is able to move very fast from this posture to another using the power from his sinews and muscles.
Exercises for this guard
To get into the guard the buckler is positioned in front of the right shoulder that turns forward (to the opponent) while the sword handle is moved to the left side (under the arm or to the hip). The right hip is supporting the movement. Thus it offers the farthest reach in a thrust or strike resembling a typical one handed weapon stance after the turning of the lower body (aligning it to the upper body). The upper body is lowered and slightly bend forward while the left leg is put forward. Now the body has two options to move while uncoiling from this twisted position: follow the upper body and let the sword lead the fight, or follow the lower body and let the buckler have the lead (in the manual both options are used).
Moving in this guard must be trained. Most of the steps has to be the “Triangel” steps with the back leg doing falling steps. The way of stepping is familiar with the usual fencing steps but somewhat strange with the right hip in front. It is done with small steps. But as the keeping of a guard like this is just only for 1-2 steps (to find the proper distance) it should not be any hindrance.
The “uncoiling” from this guard should be trained that way that in one case the buckler and in the other the sword will take the lead. It could easily trained by a partner who keeps hold on the sword or buckler hand, so it cannot be moved. The fencer should learn how to keep steady with that arm and at the same time to step lightly around that anchor-point.
The first guard in the i.33 manual
The first guards in contemporary art
The display of I.33 style sword & buckler fencing in contemporary art reach back from the 11th century to 16th century. The prevalent appearance is in the 13th and particularly in the 14th century.
Images added later to the article (statistics not updated)
There are guards displayed in art, that represent not the first guard and not the guard over the left shoulder but something in between. This guard seems related to the first guard and the special guard of the priest in the I.33.