Polish Hussar Saber Specific design, unspecific system?


Τhe article is from my friend Mr.Jerzy Miklaszewski, member of Silkfencing Team, member of Meyer Freifechter Guild, affiliate with Pammachon

Introduction

The hussar szabla, an iconic weapon of Poland. It is very often associated with the famous Polish winged hussars. In popular lore, it is katana of the eastern Europe, often considered by many modern users and swordsmiths to be one of the most efficient battle weapons of all.

There is a great deal of national love and legend, yet there are no doubts that the weapon was, and still is, quite magnificent. Although, in contrary to many weapons of other countries, we have very few historical accounts of its use.

Would people design such a complicated type of weapon and never use all of its constructional feats to their advantage? The answer is quite obvious. Yet to find out exact method is not so easy. This article was created to analyze the possible sources and methods that would allow the reader to  solve that problem.

Anatomy.

First and easiest step is to look at the structure  of the weapon itself.  As it can be seen on the picture below , the typical hussar szabla consists of a blade, specific almost straight handle, closed knuckle-guard and a heart shaped thumb-ring.

 

Picture nr 1: Hussar szabla of the 2nd half of the XVIIth century.

Author of the picture is Andrzej Mikiciak. Weapon was forged by Andrzej Mikiciak.

 

 

For the sake of analysis it must be noted, that the blades were often taken from many other sabers both earlier and foreign[1], so it is better not to focus on this part of the weapon.

The weapon was very popular from about 2nd half of the XVIIth century. Its handle, unlike the early XVIIth century types of szablas is very straight –  only curving slightly at the end. While the earlier types had higher assymetry they promoted a very high surface of the grip, with hussar szabla we cannot  use similar grip. This is the significant difference which does not allow to efficiently utilize techniques of the earlier types of weapons in the same fashion.

 

Fig.1: Hussar szabla (nr 1) and the earlier Polish-Hungarian szabla type(nr2). Notice the angles of the knuckleguards, and the level on which the thumbring is placed in contrary to the crossguard position.

Picture from the W. Zabłocki book “Cięcia Prawdziwa Szablą”

 

The thumbring is again different than those in the earlier types of szablas. It is heart shaped, positioned underneath the crossguard level  and far wider than those of its predecessors. Knuckleguard appears to be a direct descendant of the earlier half-closed models or it may be an evolution of the chained models as was indicated by Cz. Jarnuszkewicz[2] .

Sources

There is one contemporary source describing sabers (A coltelaccio is presented in the pictures of the source) from the period when the hussar szablas were in broad use. It is Francesco Antonio Marcellis Delle Regole Della Scherma[3] from 1686. It describes a way to deal against a saber with a sword and vice versa.

 

It  states:

“In order to have the necessary speed, for such feints, one must remember the universal rule regarding cuts: they are to be delivered with the wrist only, without moving the whole arm ,or they become wide and slow movements.”[4]

What is more:

                “Single time actions, which are so important with the sword, are very dangerous with the sabre, because, being this a weapon that hurts with the edge only, it is not the case that it can hit the opponent with the edge and set aside his point, in a single time: the first action doesn’t have in itself the second, the defence, so you cannot offend in single time.”[5]

 

What can be pulled from the text is that most actions with the saber should be performed with swift use of the wrist while retaining a continuous repetition of actions. This seems to point to the moulinet, a wheel-like motion delivered from the wrist that deal swift but lethal blows.

It is even more accurate once reaching for earlier but more distant sources. Matrakci Nasuh[6], a Bosnian Janissary, wrote a treatise in Ottoman about the use of the Turkish bow, kilij and battle tactics. He as well designed sparring methods for the Janissary to practice their martial art- Matrak and Tomak Sporru.  While Matrak is designed to be performed with stick and leather singlesticks, Tomak is a very interesting art. It is a leather ball placed on a thin rope. The idea of the practice is to hit your opponent in the back with the ball. This makes a good szabla mechanics practice. It is even more interesting once taking a closer look at the most often used technique. It  is done by performing a circular whirlwind like movements with the ball to hit the opponents back.

 

Fig. 2: XIXth century illustration depicting men playing Tomak. Notice different ways of gripping the thread.

Picture from the book about Ottoman Turks by Franz Taeschner.

 

How then should a moulinet be performedwith a Hussar Szabla?  Later sources introduce us to methods to perform a moulinet with a weapon. There are generally two types of those actions that can be found thoroughly explained in late manuals.

First one is: Rules and Regulation for Sword exercise of the Cavarly by John le Machant[7]. The book describes a moulinet that can be very often seen in western saber systems. The moulinet is performed through opening the hand and letting the weapons blade fall down and then through closing of the hand a leverage is put to the handle and a strike is performed.

 

Fig. 3: An illustrations from the Le Marchant Regulations8

The second source is Theorie sur l’escrime a cheval[9] written by Alexander Muller, a French cavalry treatise. Muller on the contrary shows a very firm but extremely maneuverable grip that allows for good rotation of the wrist. The strike is performed by simple rotation of the wrist sometimes with an aid of the elbow.

 

Fig. 4: Two plates (3 and 10) from the Mullers book[10] presenting the method of the moulinet[10]

 

Both moulinets types can be very efficient and if properly managed may be used with the Hussar szabla effectively. Yet they differ in the aspect of repeatability. Le Machants moulinet is rather a sudden single striking action that allows for sudden change of direction, while Mullers moulinet allows for great speed of multiple strikes and a sudden changes in motion.

What is more, Muller depicted in his manual, a grip that directly matches the slight bending of the handle of the hussar szabla. The firm grip allows for actions that are easily matched with those of Tomak.  Furthermore, according to the Kwaśniewicz[11] the chain guards were a form of swordknots, and Jarnusziewicz indicates[12] that they were predecessors of the Hussar szabla knuckle guards. This fact strongly underlines the function of the Hussar szabla knuckle-guard.

 

Fig. 5: An illustration from Jarnuszkiewicz book[13] presenting the evolution of the hussar szabla.

 

If the Muller grip was the basic way to handle the hussar szabla, an important  question arises: why would Poles develop such a complicated thumbring? Especially when it is far more protective and decorative than the earlier models.

Answer to that query may be found within its anatomy. The thumbring is positioned well beneath the crossguard, which allows to for very easy swap of the grip to a closer to crossguard one, giving the user a greater surface of the grasp and a far better stopping power. This allows to support the fencing action of majority of earlier techniques without disrupting the Muller moulinet potential.

This type of grip gives us opportunity to deliver a stabile cuts , that allows us to what Marcelli stated:

the first action doesn’t have in itself the second, the defence, so you cannot offend in single time.” [5]

Enabling the user to enforce an exchange with enemy while retaining the ability to suddenly swap to moulinets or thrusts[14].

 

Fencing Actions Stance

 

Foot and body position is far more problematic, as it may be even more diverse.  Marcelli presents footwork in the method of use against the sword armed enemy.

 

“Footwork must support the cut, giving it more power and strength, but it must always be fit to the natural movement of the strike. You can step forward and backward, to the left or to the right, but always making short steps, with body upright and well centred (between the feet).”[15]

Here is  the typical Italian style of movement, which is strongly based on ground, mostly utilizing the 90 degree foot angle. It must be stated here, that to effectively perform cuts the stance must be non linear. Yet no information is presented about the stance once met with a cutting weapon such as another szabla.

Earlier systems present the German longsword method of footwork[16] , which may be a good cooperation with the thumbring grip. They allow for better close-up distances and are well presented by Marcelli[3] when he explains the ways to get to wrestling with szabla.

 

                fig 6. An illustration from the Marcelli book[3], probably made by his uncle, who served in Poland for some time, thus came Francesco knowledge about the weapon.

 

 

An interesting proposition would be to use the French stance[17]. Especially regarding the fact, that they used a weapon that may be a direct descendant of the hussar szabla[18].  The foot position is like the Italian stance, but wider, allowing for better torso and hip rotation and using a different, smaller angle. An example is presented beneath in the book by Eugene Chaperon[17].

 

Fig 7. Presenting the training of cavalry unit in the art of saber fencing, by Eugene Chaperon[17]. Notice the way they stand, positioning the mass center in the middle while retaining partially frontal position.

 

 

Beneath are presented the footwork diagrams for each of the supposed stances that could be used for the Hussar szabla system.

 

Marcelli stance allows for great forward/ backward mobility, short lunges and quick short steps are very natural.  It is very good for stabile moulinet actions and thrusts, which makes it a great deal against thrusting type weapons, as it is stated in the Marcelli treatise. Similar situation can be observed in Micheal Hundt21 treatise, where he explains how to cope against rapier.

Eugene Chaperon  gives a greater diagonal mobility and more torso and hip freedom of movement, which gives better defense and stronger cuts, but still allows a good forward yet little less backward pace. It is due to the fact, that they were joining  the tradition of French smallsword and heavy saber, that is most probably a descendant of the Polish and Hungarian szablas.

Marozzo position gives the  most freedom of movement, being good in most of the cuts, moulinets, but giving less stability of the steps, though being good base for swapping to the other stances.

Paulus Hector Mair foot position is the least maneuverable with short steps, but gives a great potential to get into complicated short distance techniques, grappling and many others .

The basic method of movement are so called gathering steps, which in contrary to normal steps, use the rear leg as the motoric ones. This way allows for a great support of the block and even better after cut recovery which is extremely important with the szabla.  As it have been shown, there are three possible ways of putting the rear leg in that stance,  which improves, control and stability at the cost of the hip freedom. This stance gives the most diverse possibilities of actions, yet in longer distance may be promoting single-time actions, which are not preferred by Marcelli.

 

 

Fencing Actions guards

 

                Marcelli[4]  explains that once  met with the smallsword (or rapier) , the agent should perform moulinets in front of himself, keeping a tight defense against eventual thrusts and enable him to catch the enemy blade with one of his cuts. Yet he presents  no clue against a szabla armed person.

Though in his treatise can be seen that it was his predecessors that were focused on the cut, both in attack and defense. When he speaks of them, he  refers to Achille Marozzo and his cutting diagram. In his works, Opera Nova, Marozzo explains many cutting guards, which are the more interesting as they are directly connected to typically cutting weapons such as Dussacks. Underneath are presented two examples of such common guards of the Paulus Hector Mair[16] and Achille Marozzo[19].

 

 

 

fig. Fig.8 Two figures from the earlier treatises. Achille Marozzo Opera Nova[19] and Paulus Hector Mair[16].It may be an interesting clue to use those techniques with the Polish Szabla.

 

 

Fencing Actions techniques  

 

In this aspect Marcelli help can be sought yet again. As he explains in his text, a man should never perform a single time attacks4, so that he will never get out of balance if he strikes and misses the target.  It is important to clear off the  opponents blade and get close to enemy to perform another attack or  “get to wrestling”[15]. As Marcelli suggests this weapon “can hurt with every part of its blade” so cut made at short distance are very efficient and dangerous for the enemy. To make them properly done with moulinets the agent must utilize the off-hand, often grabbing the opponents armed hand.

 

Typical way to use the moulinets allows to perform a series of strikes. This technique is based on the existence of the specific construction of the kuckleguard. It gives an opportunity to perform a quite efficient and quick cut to the opponents hands while he performs strikes or other fencing actions.

Third possibility is the use of the thumbring. Thumbring based techniques allows  to strike hard with stabile cuts ensuring either creating a good opening or an enemy response, which can be a very good action against both heavier blades and other cutting attacks.

 

Conclusion

 

The hussar szabla gives a diversity of possible actions, as its anatomy joins both Polish, Oriental and Western systems.  There is no direct way to tell which actions were most often utilized, yet many of them have been transferred within different fencing systems.

This is naturally a supposed way to interpret given sources, and author has no intention to put the dot, as there might be many more sources which may indicate more clearly the ways to proficiently utilize this magnificent weapon.

 

 

NOTICE! For the sake of the fact that there were couple of hussar formations in our history, the article will be using the Polish word for saber writing hussar szabla instead of Polish hussar saber or Polish winged lancers saber.

 

 

 

References

  1.                   Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Dzieje szabli w Polsce,  Warszawa 1993,  p. 53 – 74
  2.                   Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Szabla Polska, od XV do końca XVIII wieku, Zielona Góra 1988, page 74
  3.                   Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, scans from Raymond J. Lord collection.
  4.                   Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 101 -102, translation by Carlo Parisi
  5.                   Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 103, translation by Carlo Parisi
  6.                   Nasuh bin Karagöz bin Abdullah el-Bosnavî, Tuhfet-ul Guzat, XVIth century, scan by Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi
  7.                   Marchant John Gaspard le, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise for the cavalry, Whitehall  1796, scans by Will Mathieson
  8.                   Marchant John Gaspard le, Rules and regulations for the sword exercise for the cavalry, Whitehall  1796,plates p. 15 – 17, scans by Will Mathieson
  9.                   Muller Alexander, Theorie sur L’escrime a cheval, pour se defender avec avantage contre toute espece d’armes blanche, 1816 Paris, scans from Gallica Biblioteque Numerique
  10.               Muller Alexander, Theorie sur L’escrime a cheval, pour se defender avec avantage contre toute espece d’armes blanche, 1816  Paris, plate 3 and plate 10, scans from Gallica Biblioteque Numerique
  11.                  Kwaśniewicz Włodzimierz, Dzieje szabli w Polsce,  Warszawa 1993,  p. 62
  12.                  Jarnuszkiewicz Czesław, Szabla wschodnia I jej typy narodowe, London 1973, p 59
  13.                  Jarnuszkiewicz Czesław, Szabla wschodnia I jej typy narodowe, London 1973,
  14.                  It is good to mention here a thrusting type of gripping in the modern Polish cavalry regulations, REGULAMIN KAWALERII cz.IV 1933r. which presents us this picture, where we can see a clear analogy to the Muller moulinet.
  15.                  Marcelli Francesco Antonio , Delle regole della Scherma, 1686 Italy, p. 104, translation by Carlo Parisi
  16.                  Paulus hector Mair, Opus Amplissimum de Arte Athletica, Knight and Hunt, 2008
  17.                  Chaperon Eugene, La science des armes dans les  cavalerie, France
  18.                 This is can be seen among different books, e. g. S Meyers Typology of sabers:
  19.                 Marozzo Achille,Opera Nova,  1536, scans from Raymond J. Lord Collection
  20.                 Micheal Hundt, Ein new Kůnstliches Fechtbuch im Rappier,1611, scans from the sources of www.wiktenauer.com

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