Zwerchhau – how to avoid losing your fingers


It is commonly known that Zwerchhau is one of the basic techniques of longsword-fencing. However, in discussions many fencers claim that they are hit on their fingers while performing this cut. When they are training, they often use huge lacross gloves so this problem does does not interst them and they just no longer care. Furthermore, one of the trainers in the mastercuts seminary in Vienna said that losing your fingers is worth the price of your opponent being dead. What a nonsense!
zwerch In my opinion, when the zwerchau is not cut correctly, it is not only the risk of losing your fingers, but also the intensity of the cut may be insufficient. Low vigorousness in the phase of impact can be seen on many videos depicting the Zwerchhau (even on our video depicting our old interpretation). Often the energy is lost in the contact with the oponent’s oberhaw and there is only little of kinetic energy left, so the hit on the mask of your rival is only very weak. Inefficacy of the zwerchhau is even more apparent when used as a counter-attack to the skew oberhaw instead of the straight oberhaw. Is it possible that one of the secret mastercuts would be useful only against the vertical oberhaw and at the price of losing your fingers? I definitely don’t think so.

One way of interpretations leads to separating the Zwerchhau in two actions – thedeffensive action and the action of attack. First the opponent’s cut is parried (on the edge or on the fuller part) and the attack is generated afterwards by moving the pommel towards the performer – the opposite way as the front hand is pushing. Of course –such a solution is possible. However, this doesn’t seem to be typical for the fencing system dedicated to the idea of total attack and Indes – it is a waste of time; time which could be valuable.

Jotg Wilhalm: Zwerchhaw

For the good Zwerch the angles and distances are crucial. It is the work of Jörg Wilhalm the hatmaker, which influenced my opinion on what the right distance should be. Our interpretaion of the Zwerchhau is based on this distance and has worked well so far.

The distance is so important because it affects the angle between your sword and your rivals’ sword. This angle is crucial, if you want your fingers to remain untouched. The bigger the angle, the less endangered are the fingers. Notice the angle in the picture on the left. It is more than 45 degrees; if the angle is less than 30 degrees, a problem occurs. Another important thing is the position of the opponent’s blade – it’s vertical. That means that the early phase of his cut is seen or his blade is pushed against his intentional cut. If the opponent is in such position it is much easier for you to gain control over his blade.

If you want the angle to be optimal, it is necessary to come to your opponent as close as possible. There is also some implicit evidence for the need of short distance. For example Sigmund Ringeck says, that if your opponent stays hard on his blade against your Zwerchhau, you should throw away his sword using your guard and hit him from the other side. And for such an action you have to be very close. Furthermore, you should bind his blade strongly with your strong (stercke) and it’s hard to bind your opponent’s weak part. That means the touch of the blades should be strong part vs. the strong part -stercke vs stercke (wrong interpretation is on where stercke and schweche are touching).

There is also a confusing picture from Ms. Germ. Quart. 2020 shows the bigger distance, but the position of the swords is still strong part vs strong part.

Počiatočná vzdielnosť  
The distance at the beginning. The sword can be turn into the Zwerch during its flight (as in Ringeck) or can start from the fuller side laying on one’s shoulder (as in Danzig). In version nr. 2 the intent is more evident, but the cut is faster and easier.zwer01


The final phase of the Zwerchhau. The short edge (Kurzechneide) is hitting the opponent. The fencer is covered by the guard and he is out of line of the attackers cut as well.

Zwerch v dlhšej vzdielenosti
Wrong way. The distance is long and the fingers of the front hand can be hurt. The fencer on the right side is either hit directly into his index finger or is cut in upcoming movement. The angle is much dangerous than the one in the picture on the right.

Zwerch v krátkej vzdielenosti
Correct way: The performer is finishing Zwerch very close to the opponent . This is the less dangerous distance. The sword remains in the line of fencing but the step or the jump goes towards the opponent to the side. The opponents’ blade is pointing upwards.
  Pozicia rúk
The right position of hands and swords after the Zwerchhau. The opponents blade has been bound so his attack from the high position would be very difficult to perform.

The sword remains in the line of fencing. That provides easier cutting to the other side with another Zwerchhau if the opponent parries the first attack. 

We also know from the manuscripts that you have to perform a jump with your right leg towards the enemy to his left side – out from the line of his cut; this principle makes sense. The jump is important for getting close and if it goes to the side, the whole action is less dangerous for your head and for better angle when hitting the opponent. However, the sword should remain in the starting axis of fencing. I don’t recomend to exit this axis with your sword during the jump. It would leave much longer time without binding which your opponent can use to follow your movement with his Oberhaw. I would recomend to get your guard to his line of cut. This movement covers your head, fingers etc.

The feet positioning is a little confusing in the picture from Peter Falkner. Looks like the jump goes to the right side instead of left side which is in contrary to the text. However, this variation provides better chance for umbschlag with the second Zwerchau to the other side. The question is, whether there is even a small chance to hit with the fisrt one. But let’s discuss thah later.

Gregor Erhar: Zwerch

The early launching is crucial when performing Zwerchhau. It is not very easy. The good thing is you do not need to wait for your enemy. If you see him standing in the high position (whether he is preparing for Oberhaw or not) you can start cutting Zwerchhau withou any hesitation; getting into his step is ideal. During the cut focus on the strong hitting of his head, minimalizing the distance and going with your guard against his cut, which will cause the vertical position of his blade at the end. When you manage to perform these three actions correctly, there is no need to focus on the action of opponent because he himself is the one in danger.

If you follow these rules correctly your fingers are pretty safe. I can say from my personal experience that since we’ve started with this improved execution of zwerchhaw I have not got a hit into my fingers over the crossguard. So if you have a problem with zwerch try to consider a change. Sometimes a small adjustment in a interpretations (almost invisible) makes huge difference in the result.