The ‘Second intention’ tactic, in German Fechtbuch of 16th century


By George E. Georgas

An integral part of the art of fencing is the matter of tactic. The trainee in the art of fencing deals with the use tactic, from his first lessons. One of the greatest chapters of tactic is the Second intention. You will be able to give a general definition of the Second Intention as Maestro Charis Tsolakis (Federal coach and scientific partner of Hellenic Fencing Federation) wrote in his book with title ‘Specific issues of Fencing’:
‘Second Intention are defined the preparations which cause the parry or the counter attack of the opponent, and which should be confront with offensive of defensive way.’

With other words, Second Intention are the actions of the fencer who have the intention to create the illusion to his opponent that he is doing a simple attack, while in fact he is hiding a ‘plan’. But what is the simple attack?

Simple attacks are the actions which hit the opponent in one fencing time. For example a lunge, a thrust (An attack made by moving the sword parallel to its length and landing with the point), a cut (An attack made with a chopping motion of the blade, landing with the edge), the disengagements, a riposte (after a parry) and also the cut-over. All of them are simple attacks.
From the other hand the ‘Second Intention’ is more complicated. A classical version of Second Intention is a false attack which executed as a feint, and it has the result the parry and the riposte of the opponent and following with a parry and a contre riposte from the initial attacker. So in fact the attacker had the intention to hit his opponent with the tactic as I describe above.
The ‘key’ of this matter is the initial illusion of the attacker which with this act he provoke his opponent to act as he wish, but he is using also the time and the distance for his advantage. His goal is to make his opponent to think that with a parry and a riposte should win the duel. At this point here comes the ‘Second Intention’, where the initial attacker gives the initiative for a reason to his opponent and he is getting back.
Off course this is just an example. In a duel we are not sure that everything is as we want to be. The defender for example could be executing a contra attack instead of parry riposte, so if this should be done that going to change the plan of the initial attacker.
The second important point of this tactic is the response of the opponent. If the opponent attack at once, then it is easy for the initial attacker to parry and riposte and hit his opponent. Off course all these involve that the initial false attack must be done with a way that it does not scare his opponent and make him to open the distance or do something against the ‘plan’, but he must persuade him to attack him with dragging a false confidence that he will win.
This technique is applying in Classical and also in Modern fencing. We can find it in French school of fencing and also in Italian school of fencing. However this tactic is much older and it was to use the application with long swords which are much heavier than a saber, a small sword or a foil.

One of the first detailed record of this tactic we can found from one Fechtbuch of the German fencing master Joachim Meÿer. As we know Joachim Meÿer was a 16th century Freifechter and fencing master and the last great figure of the tradition of the grand master Johannes Liechtenauer. Let me give some information for those that does not know his work.
Joachim Meyer was born at 1537 in the city of Basel (located in north Switzerland). We do not know much about his youth and his travels to foreign lands searching the secrets of sword techniques. From his manual of 1560 we know that maybe he had military training also, because he wrote in this that he was serving in military with the person the manual was created for. We suppose that he gain rapier skills from his travels, probably from France or Italy and also the thrusts and cuts techniques of rapier (side sword) come from Bolognese school of fencing which was very popular in North Italy. This evidence come from the rapier (side sword) section of his Fechtbuch he mentions he studied a broad learning the art of the thrust from foreigners which he is now teaching to Germans, alluding to his travels to a “foreign country“. These countries were probably Italy or France. At those two countries this new weapon was very popular. Maybe he even came in contact with other foreign long sword styles (perhaps from Italian circle).

Also there were fade evidences that probably he was trained in the Marxbruder and could possibly even have been a formative influence to the Federfechter which came to rival the Marxbruder is stature and imperial favor. There are several references to Meyer being connected to the Marxbruder and his service and association with the Dukes of Mecklenberg who were the patrons to the Federfechter guild are the only clues. Master Meyer himself only describes himself as a Freyfechter or free fencer which is a guild rank.
He was also famous about the writing of the Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens (1570) and also the two manuscripts, the MS A.4º.2 (1560s) and the MS Varia 82 (1570-71). The legacy of Joachim Meyer does not stop there. He was established a fencing school in Strasbourg. His Fechtschule (fencing school) in Strasbourg, was very popular in Holy Roman empire. As a result when was taken over during the Acquisition of Strasbourg by Louis XIV in 1681; it was turned into the “Academie de Arms” and essentially absorbed into the French school of fence. So, the art of Meyer transformed to something new and many of his handworks and techniques were used (or there still in use) as strategy and tactics in the France school of fencing.
In one of his books, Meÿer is making an analysis the tactic of the second Intention as a long sword technique and he wrote:
‘Start an attack which will not hit to provoke your opponent to attack you. Be prepared for this and displace his strike. “Wait” for him to lift his sword from the bind for a secondstrike, and hit him (in vor) while he is doing this.’
As we can observe here in this technique does not record at his book with the name ‘Second Intention’, but we can say that it is an early form of it. Also I have to underline that the word ‘Vor’ one of its meaning is the ‘initiative’. Maybe the use of long sword were stopped to use many years after his death but his thoughts and his teachings were used as tactics and strategies in the “Academie de Arms”, which is one of the fundamental tactics of the school until the present day using other weapons than the long sword.
As a result we can see that the tactics and the strategy of a fencer it has not to do of what type of sword he use. The root is the same. For this reason I am going to close this article with a quote that wrote the founder of the German school of fencing Johannes Liechtenauer :
‘In fact, there is only one art of the sword which is identical and unchanged for centuries and it is the core and the matrix of all martial arts.’

I thank Mr. Johannes Pelzer for the translation of the original text, from the German language to English.

– Ειδικά Θέματα Ξιφασκίας, Χάρης Τσολάκης, εκδόσεις Αθλότυπο, Αθήνα 2007
– A Thorough Description of the Free Knightly and Noble Art of Combat with all Customary Weapons, adorned and presented with many fine    and useful illustrations, By Joachim Meyer, Freifechter of Strassburg, 1570. By privilege of His Majesty the Holy Roman Emperor not to be printed again in any form for ten years
– The Art and Practice of Longsword Combat according to Joachim Meyer, Free Fencer . By Mike Cartier © 2005
– Introduction to Meyer Longsword, By Mike Carter April 2006 Meyer Frei Fechter
– Ξιφασκία Μεθοδολογία Προπόνησης, Χ.Τσολάκης,Κ. Αθανασιαδης, Π.Ντουράκος, εκδόσεις Αθλότυπο
– Ξιφασκία Χ.Τσολάκης, A.Szabo, Aθήνα 1996

George E. Georgas is the founder of the Hellenic Academy of Historical European Martial Arts ‘Leontes’. He is certificated fencing instructor of the Hellenic Fencing Federation and also national referee of the Hellenic Fencing Federation at the epee. He is instructor of Meyer Freifechter Guild with the rank of Fecther and he is the Guild Unterhauptman for Greece. He is also member of Learn Sword Fight (Gladiatores). He is in the Administration Council of the ‘Pammachon’. He is also instructor of weapon fighting of the Association of Historical studies ‘KORYVANTES’. He is studying the ancient Greek and Byzantine warfare, such as the use of rompaia, spathion and paramirion types of swords and other weapons such as the spear. He is also give stage fighting lessons to the theatrical team ‘The Blue Rose.’

Οι θέσεις Φυλάξης της Γερμανικής σπαθασκίας, από τον Joachim Meyer . Εδώ φαίνονται οι τέσσερεις βασικές μαζί με τις -δευτερεύουσες θέσεις φυλάξεως από τον Joachim Meyer ο οποίος ήταν δάσκαλος οπλομαχίας.


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