Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The True Fencer? The Buffel versus the Klopffechter.



Bring me to a fencer. I will bring him out of his fence tricks with good, downright blows!
-George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence.

Hello, dear readers.

It's the Voice from the Wilderness again.

The Cacophony persists in their straining endeavor to find clever new ways to reduce the Art to a single locus - or if they please - force it to dance on the head of a pin. Or the point of a sword? In their efforts, one has come across what he seems to consider a clever, novel, and irrefutable point: the "wide" cut is the mark of the buffel, or "buffalo." That is to say, a swordsman without finesse or art, without craft or cunning, who relies upon brute force alone.

Sadly, it is neither clever, nor novel, nor irrefutable. I've heard it before. These are the kinds of arguments bandied about by the likes of the "Meister" of Die Schlachtschule and his ilk. Things are obviously worse than I thought. The act of induction without all relevant data makes fools of the best of us, it seems. Futhermore, reduction has but one course: In its ebb and flow, it diminishes.

But, is there a case to be made for this claim?

No.

To begin with, they have the term buffel confused with leychmeister, "game/dance master":

Many Leychmeistere say that they...have thought out a new art of fencing...all out of their own heads, and think up wide-reaching fencing and parries, and often make two or three [cuts] when one would be enough...with their bad parries and wide fencing they attempt to look dangerous, with wide and long strikes that are slow; and with these they...miss and create openings in themselves. They do not have proper reach in their fencing...But real fencing goes straight...just as if a string had been tied [to the intended target]...
- Hanko Döbringer*

This certainly would seem to support what the Cacophony is advocating. That is, if one didn't know better. Notice the strong emphasis on the "bad parries." You've seen these in films: The pseudo-fencers attack one anothers' swords in over-wide, sweeping motions, rather than going for exposed targets. It's all about the show , and hearing the delicious clang of steel on steel. Throw in some flying sparks, and you've got yourself some entertainment. As to the "wide and long strikes," a better term might be exaggerated.

There is a difference.

If a fencer is in a high guard (Point A), and wishes to attack his opponent's upper left arm (Point C) with a cut, then he has two options: He can do an over-wide, sweeping cut - bringing his sword ferociously to bear in a motion akin to an arc (and thus passing through Point B, ala Hollywood); or, he can bypass Point B and cut directly from Point A to Point C. A swordsman can do this with a half cut, or even a full cut, bringing the shoulders into the blow, without making the cut an exaggerated, sweeping stroke. "Just as if a string had been tied" from Point A to Point C. It is the difference between a powerful descending punch to the gut (from a stance where the fist had been pulled back, or "primed"; i.e., a normal stance for fist fighting, as opposed to one where the hands are tucked in at the chest, the elbows sticking out) versus the clumsy swing of a haymaker to the face. There is no need whatsoever to resort to thrusting wrist cuts, or rakes, alone.

Physics.

There are places and times for broad, sweeping strokes, however. Such as a long cutting spring at a distance. Just one example.

The "buffalo" cut is therefore not a "buffalo" cut at all; it is the leychmeister cut, and it's not even what they think it is. "Buffaloes" simply brought brute force to bear because they had nothing else. This didn't necessarily involve exaggerated cuts.

The "buffalo" has no art.

The "dance master" perverts the Art.

However, it should be remembered that the Döbringer text warns us that even skilled fencers can fall against "buffaloes." Clearly, then, despite their modern conflation, they were far more dangerous than "game masters."

So, what does that make a fencer who reduces the art to a single cut?

You tell me.

-B.

*translation by David Lindholm. Minor alterations for readability.

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