Weapons Lexicon

Abschneiden: “Cutting aside” or “slicing off”. In the German system of long-sword fighting (langenschwert), abschneiden were slicing attacks made by placing the lead or back edge of the sword against the opponent’s body (usually the forearms and hands) and pushing or pulling the blade along it.  The English called this “rakes”. Often these were two handed (dopplehänder/bidenhänder) short drawing cuts known also as schnitt (“slices”).  

Absetzen: “Setting aside”. Timing a counter attack to deflect a thrust or parry a cut, and following it with a thrust or stab. Also describes a trapping move where the sword is hooked over the opponent’s and forced downwards.

Abwenden: “Ward off”. Warding off an opponent’s blade with a deflecting parrying action.

Alber: “Fool” (apparently since it was thought foolish to rely only on defense). Also called Eisenort. The Italians called this guard porta di ferro. A low position guard, where the sword is pointing forward and to the ground (see Low Guard).

Am Schwert: “On the sword.” Attacks made while maintaining constant pressure on the opponent’s blade, also known as winden (see Winden).

Anbinden: The engaged position with swords crossed.

Angon: A 6 foot long spear having a long slender iron neck and a barbed head, very similar to the Roman pilum, used by the Franks and Anglo-Saxons of the Dark Ages.

Annellet: Also known as a finger ring. The small loops extending toward the blade from the quillions intended to protect a finger wrapped over the guard. They can be found on many styles of Late-Medieval swords and are common on Renaissance cut and thrust swords, rapiers, and small-swords. 

Arbalest: Also known as an armbrust or crossbow. Appeared in the 14th century.  Consisted of a bow mounted on a stock that could be cranked or pulled into place, resulting in high-powered, lower trajectory weapon. Arbalests fired a feathered bolt. It took longer to get a shot away with an arbalest than a longbow, and an arbalest was more expensive to produce, so the longbow remained the favoured missile weapon of the 14th and 15th century in England and in France. The crossbow was banned in some countries from time to time, but remained popular throughout the late 14th century in the low countries, the Swiss states, in Germany and in Italy.

Archer Guard: See Inside Guard.

Armbrust: See Arbalest.

Arming Sword: After the appearance of the long sword in the 14th century, the simple, single-handed sword became known as a short sword or arming sword, since it hung from the belt of the knight, while his longsword hung from the saddle.

Atgeir: Norse halberd or glaive.

Axe: Came in a variety of forms in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, including the Francisca, bardiche, Lochaber axe, Dane axe, English long axe, hafted axe, parashu, farasa, keteriya, tabar zin,  and sagaris.

Back: The part of the sword blade opposite the edge. A double-edged sword has no back.

Back guard/stance: A stance with the sword held pointing down and diagonally backward. German sword masters called this mittelhut and the Italians called it a tail guard or serpentino or leopardo.

Backsteppe: An English greatsword technique (self-explanatory).

Backsword: Also known as a Mortuary Sword or a Reitschwert. The name is a reference to its single cutting edge. The non-cutting edge (the back of the blade) was much thicker than the cutting edge, creating a wedge shaped blade believed to increase the weapons cutting capacity.

Bardiche: A pole axe with a long cleaver style blade, typically about 2 feet long.  The handle could be as long as 5 feet long.

Basilard: A doubled-edged, long bladed dagger of the late Middle Ages.

Bastard Swords: A form of long sword with a slender, tapered blade, developed in the mid 15th century. The grips were usually longer, allowing use by one or both hands. The hilt often had side-rings and finger rings to defend the hand. Used into the late 16th century.

Bavin: See Waster.

Bec de Corbin: A polehammer used in the 15th century.

Bec de Faucon: A type of hache (see Hache) with a spike or curved fluke at the back of the hammer head. It had a butt spike to counterbalance the head and was from 5 – 7 feet long.

Bevin: See Waster.

Bill: Also called a Brown Bill or a Black Bill. A polearm of the High Middle Ages with a wide cutting blade, with or without spikes and hooks.  Bills were derived from billhooks, an agricultural tool.

Billhook:  See Bill.

Binden: “Bind”.  A trapping the opponent’s blade by pressing blade upon blade (usually edge on edge at the ricasso).

Black Bill: See Bill.

Blossfechten: Unarmored combat in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from light or unarmored fighting.

Boar’s Tooth Guard: See Close Guard.

Breiðöx: “Broad axe”. A Norse axe with a crescent shaped edges measuring up to 45 cm.

Broadsword: The term “broadsword” originated in the 17th century, referring to a double-edged military sword, with a complex hilt. A medieval sword was simply called a “sword,” a “short sword”, or an “arming sword.” The term was also used to describe a “true broadsword,” a short 18th century naval cutlass. The term did not take on the meaning of a wide-bladed medieval sword until the later 19th century.

Brown Bill:  See Bill.

Catapult: A class of siege engines designed to throw spears and heavy bolts.

Champ clos: See Kampfplatz.

Claymore: From the Gaelic “claidheamh-more” (“great sword”). A two-handed broadsword used by Scottish Highlanders against the English in the 16th century. Often confused with a basket-hilt “broadsword” (a relative of the Italian schiavona) whose hilt completely enclosed the hand in a cage-like guard. Both swords have come to be known by the same name since the late 1700’s.

Cleek:  Hook at the back of a Lochaber axe (see Locaber Axe).

Close Guard/Stance: Called the Boar’s Tooth guard in the Italian styles. A transitional position similar to a Middle guard but with the knees lowered and the weapon pulled in low closer to the hip. Close guard is used to parry attacks to the waist, hip, and grip as well as deliver a thrust.

Close Playing: See Giocco Stretto.

Cockstep: An English great sword technique similar to the balestro in fencing.

Compound-Hilt: Describes the various swept, basket, ring, and cage hilts found on Renaissance swords. The compound hilt is comprised of the quillon, side-rings or ports, counter guard or back guard, and a knuckle bar in a variety of configurations.  

Cronel: See Coronel.

Coronel: Also known as a cronel. A crown-shaped lance head used for jousting.

Cross: See Cross Guard.

Crossbow: See Arbalest.

Cross-guard:  The straight bar or guard of a Medieval sword, also called a cross. A Renaissance term for the straight or curved cross-guard was the quillons.

Crown Guard/Stance: See Middle Guard.

Cudgel: See Waster.

Cut-and-Thrust Sword: Called a spada filo or spada da lato by the Italians. A thinner, more tapered sword than the earlier Medieval forms, but still shorter and wider than the nearly edgeless rapier, and having compound hilts. Used for hacking, slashing, stabbing. Various forms include the schiavona, spadroon, hanger, and Espadon.

Cuts: The German Fechtschule recognized three major forms of cut:

  • ·         Oberhau (over cuts) downward diagonal or vertical;
  • ·         Unterhau (under cuts) upward or rising; and
  • ·         Zwerchhau or Mittelhau, (cross cuts) horizontal right-to-left and horizontal left-to-right.

Diagonal cuts were Zornhau and vertical were Scheitelhau. There were several names for various specific individual cuts to forearms, neck, or legs with the either the foreword or back edge, some of these were Schielhau (the “squinting cut”), Streithau (the “battle cut”), Vater Streich (the “father strike”), and a Scheitelhau (vertical “scalp cut”). Variations included others such as Krumphau (crooked cut), Schrankhut and Zornhau again (“rage cut”), draw cuts and slicing pulls were usually known as Schnitt. Italian masters recognized the eight basic cuts which were formalized in early renaissance systems :

  • ·         vertical down (Fendente);
  • ·         vertical up (Montante);
  • ·         horizontal (Tonda)
  • ·         diagonal descending (Squalembrato)
  • ·         diagonal rising (Ridoppio) which could be made from the left (Roversi) or from the right (Mandritti).

Dagger: A single or double edged knife, usually fitted with a pommel and guard. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance daggers appeared with more complex hilts.

Dane Axe:  Also known as an English long axe or hafted axe.  An axe with an ash or oak handle 3 – 4 feet long used in the 10th and 11th centuries.

Degen: A Norse dagger, usually a roundel dagger.

Dirk: A long, usually single-edged dagger that developed from the Medieval ballock and kidney daggers.

Dopplehander: See Two Handed Sword.

Double Rowndes: See Rownde.

Drei Wunder: The “three wounders” (a deliberate pun on the expression “three wonders”) taught at Fechtschule. There were three principle actions:

  • Hauen: “Hews”. A hewing stroke with one of the edges of the sword, used at medium range. The 3 basic hews are:
    • Oberhau: “Over hew.” A stroke delivered from above the attacker.
    • Mittelhau: “Middle hew.” A stroke delivered from side to side.
    • Unterhau: “Under hew.” A stroke delivered from below the attacker.
  • Stechen: “Stabbing.” A thrusting attack made with the point of the sword, used at longer range.
  • Abschneiden: “Slicing off.” Slicing attacks made with the edge of the sword by placing the edge against the body of the opponent and then pushing or pulling the blade along it, used at close range.

Duplieren: “Double”. The immediate redoubling of a displaced hew.

Durchführen: “Disengage under”. Leading your sword point under the opponent’s sword to thrust at the opening on the other side.

Durchlauffen: “Running-through.” Running through your opponent’s attack in order to initiate grappling with him.

Durchtreten: “Stepping through.” Also called Durktritt.

Durktritt:  See Durchtreten.

Durchwechseln: “Changing through.” Evading contact or escaping a bind by changing the line of attack as you strike, sliding the sword’s point out from underneath the blade and then stabbing to another opening.

Dusack: See Falchion.

Edge: The sharpened portion of the blade. A sword may be single or double-edged. For example, a Japanese katana has a single edge but a Scottish claymore is sharpened on both sides.

Einhorn: “Unicorn,” a variant of Ochs guard.

Eiserne Pforte: See Eisenort.

Eisenort: “Iron door.” Identical to Alber guard and the porta di ferro of the Italians and the Low Guard of the English (see Low Guard).

En Garde: “On guard”. A French term first used in the 15th century to refer to a ready posture of both attack and defence with any sword or weapon.

English Long Axe: See Danish Axe.

English Sword Manuals: Here are some of the better known fencing manuals of the English schools of swordplay:

Espada: Spanish term for a sword.

Espadon: See Cut and Thrust Sword.

Espee/Epee: Old French and Modern French terms for sword, respectively.

Estoc: A long, rigid, pointed, triangular or square bladed, virtually edgeless longsword designed for thrusting into plate-armor. Called a “stocco” in Italian and a “tuck” in English. They were used with two hands with the second hand often gripping the blade.

Falchion: A single-edged, cleaver-bladed sword, usually widening towards the tip. The name may have been derived from the French term “fauchon” (“sickle”). Similar to the German “dusack.” The falchion was used throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, principally by foot soldiers. Most falchions have a single edge and rounded clipped point. The wide, heavy blade was weighted more towards the point, making it ideal for combating heavy armours.

False Grip: See Ricasso.

Farasa:  See Parashu.

Fechtbuch: Plural Fechtbücher. A German “fighting book” of the late Middle Ages or Renaissance. These are the most well known Fechtbücher:

Fechtmeister: “Fight Master.” A German Master of Defence or martial arts teacher.

Fechtschule: A Medieval or Renaissance German fencing school or public fighting exhibition and competition.

Federfechter: A German Renaissance fighting guild which favoured the rapier.

Fendente: Italian name for a vertical down cut.

Filo: Italian for the edge of a blade.

Finestra:  See Inner Guard.

Finger Ring: See Annellete.

Fingering: Wrapping the index finger around the ricasso (see Ricasso) to give greater tip control.

Flail: A jointed weapon consisting of a spiked, flanged or knobbed steel bludgeon joined by a chain to a short wood or steel haft. Two handed flails were in use into the 17th century.

Flamberge: A waved-bladed rapier popular with officers and upper classes during the 1600s. When parrying with the flamberge, the opponent’s sword was slowed slightly as it passed along the length. It also created a disconcerting vibration in the other blade. The term flamberge was also used later to describe a dish-hilted rapier with a normal straight blade. Certain wave or flame-bladed two-handed swords have inaccurately come to be known by collectors as “flamberges”: Such swords are more appropriately known as “flammards” or “flambards”.

Flambard:  See Flamberge.

Flammard: See Flamberge.

Flech: German for the flat of the blade.

Fluke: See Fuller.

Foible: A Renaissance term for the upper portion on a sword blade which is weaker (or “feeble”) but has more agility and speed and which does most of the attacking.

Forte: A Renaissance term for the lower portion on a sword blade which has more control and strength and which does most of the parrying. Also called prime or fort.

Four Openings: Areas to aim at in combat:

  • ·         The opponent’s right side;
  • ·         The opponent’s left side above the belt;
  • ·         The opponent’s right side above the belt; and
  • ·         The opponent’s left side below the belt.

Foyne: “To thrust”, a term used from at least the 1400’s.

Francisca: A light throwing axe of the Franks, used alongside the angon between 500 – 814 C.E..

French Sword Manuals: The most well known French sword manuals include:

  • ·         An early manual (ca. 1400), dealing with the poleaxe exclusively
  • ·         Le jeu de la hache (ca 1400)
  • Andre Pauernfeindt “La noble science des joueurs d’espee” (1528)—This is a French translation of Pauernfeindt’s 1516 work. One notable difference between it and the original is that the “noble science” print has colored images, unlike the German.
  • Henry de Sainct-Didier “Traité contenant les secrets du premier livre de l’épée seule, mère de toutes les armes, qui sont épée, dague, cappe, targue, bouclier, rondelle, l’espée deux mains, et les deux espées, avec ses pourtraictures, …” (1573)
  • Girard Thibault d’Anvers “Académie de l’epee, ou se démontrent par reigles mathématique, sur le fondement d’un cercle mysterieux, la theorie et pratique des vrais et jusqu’a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes, à pied et a cheval” (1623)
  • Monsieur L’Abbat “The Art of Fencing, or, the Use of the Small Sword” (1734)

Fuehlen: A German term for gauging of an opponent’s “feeling” or pressure.

Fuller: A shallow central-groove or channel on a blade which lightens it as well as improves strength and flex of the blade. Sometimes erroneously referred to as a “blood-run” or “blood-groove”, it has nothing to do with blood flow, cutting power, or a blade sticking. Blades may have one or more fullers running a portion of its length, on either one or both sides. Narrow deep fullers are also sometimes referred to as flukes. The opposite of a fuller is a riser, which improves rigidity. When a fuller is forged onto a blade, it repacks the crystaline structure and forms it into a flexible spine that reduces weight and gives the sword both strength and flexibility.

Fünf Wörter: “Five words.” Also referred to as the “five hews”, “hidden hews”, or “master hews.” The five words in Lichtenauer’s German style of sword fighting are:  

  • ·         Vor: “Before”. An offensive action where one dictates his opponent’s actions and thus is in control of the engagement. Under Liechtenauer’s system, a combatant must always strive to be in control of the engagement, in the vor.
  • ·         Nach: “After”. A defensive action where one responds to the decisions made by his opponent.
  • ·         Stark:  “Strong”.  Weakness is countered with strength.
  • ·         Swach: “Weak.” Strength is countered with weakness.
  • ·         Indes: “Meanwhile” or “interim”, referring to the time it takes for the opponent to complete an action.

At the instant of contact with the opponent’s blade, an experienced fencer uses ‘feeling’ (fühlen) to immediately sense his opponent’s pressure in order to know whether he should be “weak or “strong” against him. He then either attacks using the “vor” or remains in the bind until his opponent acts, depending on what he feels is right. When his opponent starts to act, the fencer acts “indes” (meanwhile) and regains the “vor” before the opponent can finish his action. All five are attacks from the first phase of the fight (zufechten) and used at long range, accompanied by triangular stepping.

Gaukler: “Juggler” or “acrobat.” A derogatory term for those masters who taught flowery, ineffective forms of swordsmanship

Gayszlen: “Spring” Throwing a cut from one hand to increase its range by clutching the pommel with the second hand.

Gioco Stretto: “Close Playing.” The English called these techniques “gryps” and the Germans Schwetnemen. An Italian term for entering techniques used for fighting at seizing and grappling range. All are based essentially on the following actions:

  • ·         Reaching out to grab the opponent’s hilt or arm;
  • ·         Striking the opponent with the pommel or guard;
  • ·         Trapping the opponent’s forearms with your second arm;
  • ·         Slipping the blade against or between their forearms;
  • ·         Using the second hand to hold the blade while binding/striking/slicing; or
  • ·         Tripping and kicking opponent.

Gisarme: Also known as a guisarme or partisan. A spear-like polearm of the 15th century.

Glaive: A broad-bladed, single-edged polearm with a 18 inch blade on a 6 – 7 foot pole.

Gleich Fechten: Also called In des Fechten. Attacking at the same time as the opponent.

Godendag: Flemish halberd.  The name means “good morning.”

Great-Swords: Large infantry swords which cannot be used comfortably single-handed but is not quite a two-handed sword. Length was usually measured against the wielder’s body; usually from somewhere between the diaphragm to the armpit. Blades were either flat and wide, or narrow and hexagonal, or diamond shaped. They were created to extend the reach to deal with opponents armed with pole-arms and large axes, and were devastating against light armour.

Grete Steppe: In English fencing schools, a simple double step.

Grip: The handle of a sword, usually made of leather, wire, wood, bone, horn, or ivory. Also refers to the method of holding the sword.

Gryps: See Gioco Strecco.

Guards:  Also known as wards or stances to the English, leger (“position”) in German, and guardia or posta in Italian. The German schools called them huten. In Medieval long-swords fighting there were 14 recognizable fighting postures. Five of these are universal:

  • ·         High guard, also called open ward;
  • ·         Middle guard, also called close ward or seconda;
  • ·         Low guard, also called variable ward;
  • ·         Hanging guard, also called guardant or prima; and
  • ·         Back guard, also called terza.

Guisarme: See Gisarme.

Hache: Also known as a Bec de Faucon, Pollaxe, or Poleaxe. While this is a pole weapon, the “poll” in the alternate name refers to a skull, not the pole. There were two versions:

  • ·         Poles with axe shaped blades with a curved spike or hammer head on the back and a long rectangular or diamond cross-sectioned spike at the top of the haft.
  • ·         Poles with a large hammer head backed with a spike or curved fluke. This type was commonly known as the “Bec de Faucon.”

Both weapons had counterweights or buttspikes at the other end for better balance and ranged from 5 – 7 feet long.

Haft: The handle shaft of a polearm or axe.

Hafted Axe: See Danish Axe.

Halb Schwert: “Half-sword.” Also called halt-schwert. The Italians referred to these techniques as mezza spade (“middle sword”) or “false-point”. Techniques of gripping the middle of the blade itself with the second hand (often by gloves or armoured gauntlets), allowing a wide range of offensive and defensive strikes, deflections, and thrusts.  

Halberd: Also known as a godendag. A polearm with a broad, short axe blade on a 5 – 6’ long haft, with a spear point at the top, often a back-spike and occasionally a butt-spike.

Hammer: A war hammer could have a hammer head or a pick shaped head and was popular in the 15th century.

Handarbeit: “Handwork.” Also called krieg (“war”). The phase of combat once swords have crossed and the distance has been closed, follows from Ambinden.

Händedrücken: “Pressing of Hands.” Catching your opponent’s forearms or hands with your blade just as they prepare to strike. The execution of an Unterschnitt followed by an Oberschnitt such that the wrists of the opponent are sliced all the way around. One form of this cut was called the Krumphau.

Hängen: “Hanging.” See Hanging guard stance.

Hanger: See Cut and Thrust Sword.

Hanging Guard/Stance: Also known as hengen, hängen, or hengetort in Germans, guardant to the French, and prima to the Italians.  Versatile long-sword postures, called the Ochs (“ox”) stance in the German schools (for resemblance to the sloping horns of an ox). One variation places the blade over and behind the left or right shoulder with the body turned more away, known to Italians as the Queen’s or Women’s guard (Posta di donna sovrana). Possibly this is because it is the most useful guard next to the Crown guard or because it resembles the long hair of a woman down her back.

Harnischfechten: Known as spade in arme to the Italians. Combat in plate armor or “harness fighting” in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from light or unarmored fighting, called) armoured fighting, the latter reserved for nobility.

Hart und Weich: “Hard and soft.” Gauging the pressure the opponent places upon your blade (either strong or weak), opposing strength with weakness and weakness with strength to control and exploit.

Hauen: “Hews.” A hewing stroke with one of the edges of the sword. The German schools had three principle hauen:

  •  
    • Oberhau: “Over hew.” A stroke delivered from above the attacker.
    • Mittelhau: “Middle hew.” A stroke delivered from side to side.
    • Unterhau: “Under hew.” A stroke delivered from below the attacker.

Haukse and Halfe Haukes: Strikes from the high guard, such as the Posta de falcone in Italian schools.

Hengen:  See Hanging Guard.

Hengentort: See Inside Guard.

High Guard/Stance: Also called Hauske Bill (“hawk’s bill”) in English schools, Falcon guard (Posta de falcone) or Guardia Alta by the Italians, and von dach or von tag (“from the roof”) or oberhut (“upper guard”) by the Germans (see Von Tag).

Hilt: The lower portion of a sword consisting of the cross-guard, handle/grip, and pommel (most Medieval swords have a straight cross or cruciform-hilt).

Höggspjót: “Hewing spear.” Large headed spears which could also be used for cutting used by Norse tribes.

Huten:  The four basic wards or guards (see Guards).

Inside Guard/Stance:  Called Finestra (“Window guard”) by some Italian masters, and hengentorte (“hanging point”) or wechsel (“change”) by the Germans. A stance with the blade horizontal pointing forward and the hilt pulled in close, used to ward, thrust or parry.  Similar wards include the Archer guard.

Italian Sword Manuals:  The Italian fencing schools produced a number of manuals:

Kampfplatz: Also known as a kampfring. The French called this a “champ clos.” An enclosed area where judicial duels and fencing challenges took place, consisting of a square wooden barrier or “ring”.

Keteriya: A Sri Lankan single-handed battle axe.

Klopffechter: “Clown-fighters.” Travelling performers who staged swordplay during the later 1500s and 1600s in Germany, not considered a true Fechtmeister.

Krókspjót: “Barbed spear”.  A Norse weapon.

Kron: See Middle Guard.

Krumphau: “Crooked hew.” A vertical hew from above that reaches across the direct line to the opponent, traveling left from a right position and vice versa. The motion of the blade resembles a windshield wiper. Krumphau is almost always accompanied with a wide diagonal sideways step. Krumphau breaks the guard Ochs. Krumphau is a variation of Händedrücken.

Kunst des Fechtens: The German Medieval (and Renaissance) art of fighting, consisting primarily of the arts of the langenschwert or long-sword, the messer (a sort of falchion), and Ringkunst or Ringen (wrestling).Unarmored combat was known as Blossfechten. Combat in plate armor was known as Harnischfechten (or “harness fighting”). Fighting on foot was also distinguished from Rossfechten, or mounted combat.

Kurze Schneide: “Short edge.” The back or “false” edge of the sword, opposite of the long edge (Lange or “true” edge).

Lance: A long spear used by cavalry. Earlier lances were about 9 feet in length but later versions were much longer.

Lange Schneide: “Long edge.” The forward or true edge of the sword, opposite of the short edge (back or “false” edge).

Langenschwert: “Long Sword”.

Langet: Metal strips riveted to the the shaft of polearms to reinforce the torque against the head and to protect against the axe head being cut off.

Langort: “Long point” guard (see Long Guard).

Leger: “Position.”  The German term for a fighting posture or guard

Leichmeister: “Dance-master.” A derogatory term used by the German master Doebringer of 1389, for those instructors who taught flashy but impractical fighting techniques.

Leopardo: See Back Guard.

Locaber Axe: A Scottish axe which originated in Locaber in the 14th century. It had a shaft 5 – 6 feet long and a blade approximately 18 inches in length with a sharp point at the top. Lochaber axes often had a hook called a cleek at the back. The shaft had langlets down the sides to prevent the head being cut off and a butt spike as a counterweight to the axe head.

Long Guard/Stance: Also known as posta longa to the Italians and langort or langer ort to the Germans. A limited defensive thrusting position with the blade horizontal and arms extended straight forward. Ideal for warding and making stabbing attacks or stop-thrusts.

Longbow: Preferred weapon of the English after the middle 14th century. The longbow, with a draw from 30 – 36″ and a draw pull of up to 100 pounds, could launch an arrow more than 300 yards.

Longsword:  Called langenschwert by the Germans.  The Medieval hand-and-a-half war sword, which forms the basis of most surviving Medieval fighting treatises. Between 4 – 4.5′ long, and with an average weight of 3 – 4 lbs, the longsword was typically straight, double-edged, and with a simple cruciform hilt. It grew naturally out of the older, single-handed sword, as a means of combating heavier mail, and reinforced mail armour. References to longswords appear as early as 1180, but they did not become common until the late 13th century, becoming the principal battlefield sword for knights in the early 14th century.

Low Guard/Stance: Called alber (“fool”) or eiserne pforte (“iron gate”) or eisenort (“iron door”) by the Germans and porta di ferro piana terrena (“iron door”) by the Italians.  

Lower end: The tip of a Medieval sword

Mace: Early maces were stone tipped clubs. The Medieval mace had a steel head on a wooden handle.  Later maces had spiked heads and were known as Morning Stars.

Main-Gauche: The left-handed, parrying dagger used with the rapier.

Meastro de’ Arme: Italian “Master of Arms” or sword master.

Meisterhau: “Master cuts.” Techniques described by the grand-master Liechtenauer in which the swordsman strikes in a manner so that his sword deflects the incoming blow while simultaneously hitting the opponent.

Middle Guard/Stance: Called kron or mittlehut by the Germans and corona by the Italians since it was the foundation of many other stances. The blade is held centered out from the lower abdomen at a 45 degree angle, the tip aimed at the opponent’s chest, throat or face. 

Misericorde: A straight, narrow dagger, so-called because it was often used to give the final “mercy” stroke to the mortally wounded.

Mittelhau: “Middle hew.” A horizontal left-to-right or right to left cross-cut.

Molinello: See Rownde.

Molinet: See Rownde.

Montante: A vertical up cut.

Mordschlag: “Death blow,” also called Morteschlag. A variety of  Halb Schwert made by holding the sword blade itself with both hands and striking with the pommel or guard.

Morning Star:  A type of mace having a spiked head.

Mortuary Sword:  See Backsword.

Mutieren: “Mutate.” Changing an attack, such as changing a displaced hew into a thrust, or a displaced thrust into a hew.

Nach: The defensive or countering principle of fighting, opposite of Vor (“before”). Nach und Vor are two important concepts in the Fechtschulen.

Nachreissen: “Chasing” or “Travelling after.” Attacking immediately after an adversary prepares to attack, or attacking after an adversary has been parried or missed.

Nebenhut: “Near Guard” or “Side Guard.”

Nucken: “Nudge.” An attack move.

Obere Ansetzen: Techniques delivered over or above the opponent’s guard (opposite of Untere Ansetzen).

Oberhau: “Over hew.” Strikes above the waist, either diagonal (Zornhau) or vertical (Scheitelhau).

Ochs: “Ox.” A stance with the sword held to either side of the head, with the point aiming at the opponent’s face like a horn.

Ördrag: A Norse bowshot corresponding to 480 meters.

Ort: German for the point of the sword.

Parashu:  Also known as a Farasa. An Indian two handed battle axe, usually between 3 – 5 feet long but occasionally as long as 7 feet.

Partisan: A type of gisarme (see Gisarme) with a broad, sword-like blade ranging from 2 – 2 1/2 feet in length. This blade was double-edged and had lugs of various designs at the bottom.

Pflug: “Plough.” A position with the sword held to either side of the body with the pommel near the back hip, with the point aiming at the opponent’s chest or face. Some historical manuals state that when this guard is held on the right side of the body that the short edge should be facing up and when held on the left side of the body the short edge should be facing down with the thumb on the flat of the blade.

Pike: A long infantry spear, up to 18 feet in length, used in massed ranks against cavalry charges.

Pilum: A Roman army throwing spear, with a small, leaf-shaped head set on a long, thin iron neck riveted to a wooden shaft. The head shaft of a pilum was soft and was designed to lodge in the opponent’s shield, rendering their shield useless. The Franks and Saxons adopted it at the angon.

Pole Cleaver: See Voulge.

Poleaxe: See Hache.

Pollaxe:  See Hache.

Pommel: Latin term meaning “little apple.” The large steel knob at the end of the hilt that secures the hilt to the blade and acts as a counter-balance for the sword.  The pommel is also a secondary weapon. Pommels came in a variety of shapes.  Sometimes it includes a small rivet (capstan rivet) called a pommel nut, pommel bolt, or tang nut.

Porta di Ferro Piana Terrena: See Low Guard.

Posta Breve: See Short Guard.

Posta di Ferro: See Alber.

Posta de Falcone: See Haukse and Halfe Haukes.

Posta di Donna Sovrana: See Hanging Guard.

Pressing-the-hands: See Händedrücken.

Quarterstaff: A long, stout pole, carried for personal defense, and sport, in England. The English swordsman, George Silver, said the staff should be as tall as the user’s outstretched finger tips, when he lifted his hand above his head, and as thick as a wrist. The name came from the fact that the one hand gripped the staff a quarter of the way from the bottom, and the second hand gripped it at the mid-point.  Quarterstaffs were divided into shortstaffs (6 – 9 feet long) and longstaffs (~12 feet long). There were two fighting strategies:

  • ·         Quarter-staffing: Used for long range fighting; and
  • ·         Half-staffing: The staff held at right-angles to the body, for close-in fighting.

Queen’s Guard: See Hanging Guard.

Quillons: A Renaissance term for the cross-guard. It is likely from an old French or Latin term for a reed. On Medieval swords the cross guard may be called simply the “cross”, or just the “guard”.

Rakes:  Drawing the blade across the opponent’s body to cut it.

Rapier: A long, double-edged, slender bladed, single-handed sword, designed to emphasize the thrust. Rapiers first appeared in the mid-16th century, possibly in Italy or Spain.  The fad of duelling led to its popularity, and led to techniques of exclusively thrust-oriented swordplay.

Rebated: A sword that has had its point and edge blunted for training or tournament.

Reitschwert: See Backsword.

Ricasso: The unsharpened portion of the sword blade nearest the hilt. It is intended for wrapping the index finger around to give greater tip control (called “fingering”). Ricassos can be found on many Bastard-swords, most cut & thrust swords and rapiers. Those on Two-Handed swords are sometimes called a “false-grip”, and usually allow the entire second hand to grip and hold on.

Ridoppio: Diagonal rising cut from the left (Roversi) or from the right (Mandritti).

Ringen: German term for wrestling/grappling.

Ringen Am Schwert: “Wrestling at the sword.” Also called ringkunst.  Includes:

  • ·          Schwertnemen: “Sword-taking” Close quarters disarming maneuvers, throws and grappling.
  • ·         Unterhalten: ‘Holding down.” Ground fighting.

Rondel dagger: A military dagger with the pommel and hand-guard formed of roundels. The dagger was often 18” long or more, with a single-edged, or even triangular, blade.

Rossfechten: Mounted combat in the Fechtschulen as distinguished from fighting on foot (Blossfechten) or strictly heavy armored combat (Harnischefechten).

Rota: A countering technique described by Filippo Vadi (c. 1480) wherein the back edge is quickly raised to smack or deflect an opposing blade prior to an immediate descending cut with the forward edge

Rownde: Called molinello by the Italians and molinet by the French. A “windmill” change-in-line attack of striking by bringing the weapon first down and back and then up high, once for a single rownde or twice for a double.  

Sagaris: A short battle axe that has an axe blade or hammer head with a spike tail like a pick, used by North Iranian and Scythian peoples and peoples of the Eurasian steppes.

Seax:  Also known as saex, sax, seaxe, scramaseax, scramsax and sachsum.  A long, heavy single-edged knife of the Nordic peoples, between the 5thand 11th centuries, resembling the Bowie knife. The Saxon rade is said to have taken its name from this weapon, which originally meant “stone”. Some seaxes could be as much as 3 feet long, and hilted like swords. Seaxes have the following characteristics:

  • ·         A tang in the centerline of the blade, inserted into an organic hilt (wood, horn)
  • ·         A large single edged blade
  • ·         The blade is worn horizontally inside a scabbard attached to the belt, with the edge of the blade upwards.

Between 450 and 800 AD the following types of seax were seen (in chronological order):

  • ·         Schmaler Langsax (narrow long seax)
  • ·         Kurzsax (short seax)
  • ·         Schmalsax (narrow seax) – Often have braided bands or snakes engraved in the blade, and frequently include metal bolsters and pommels. Both the edge and the back are curved towards the tip, which is generally located above the centerline of the blade.
  • ·         Leichter Breitsax (light broad seax) – Similar to narrow seax, but frequently lack metal hilt parts, and have simpler decorations on the blade, such as parallel lines. Both the edge and the back curve towards the tip, which is generally located at the centerline of the blade.
  • ·         Schwerer Breitsax (heavy broad seax) – Have simple decorations on the blade if any, and long single-part organic hilts (>20cm). Both the edge and the back curve towards the tip, which is generally located at the centerline of the blade.
  • ·         Atypischer Breitsax (atypical broad seax) – Same as heavy broad seax
  • ·         Langsax (long seax) – Blades are 50cm or longer, often with multiple fullers and grooves, patternwelded blades, and long hilts similar to broad seaxes. The edge is generally straight, or curved slightly towards the tip. The back either curves gently, or with a sharp angle towards the tip, which is located below the centerline of the blade. These first appeared at the end of the 7th century.
  • ·         Broken-back style seax– These seaxes have a sharp angled transition between the back section of the blade and the point, the latter generally forming 1/3rd to 3/5th of the blade length. These seaxes exist both in long seax variety (edge and back parallel) and in smaller blades of various lengths (blade expanding first, then narrowing towards the tip after the kink). They occurred mostly in the UK and Ireland, with some examples in Germany around 8-11th century AD.

From the 7th century onwards, seaxes became the main edged weapon (next to a francisca), sometimes in combination with small side-knives. Some examples have patternwelded blades, while others have inlays of silver, copper, brass, etc.

Scabbard: A sheath for a sword or dagger. Most scabbards were made of thin wood, lined with felt of sheepskin, and covered in leather.

Scheitelhau: “Part-hew.” A vertical descending hew that ends in the guard Alber. This hew is dealt to the opponent’s upper openings, most often to the opponent’s head, where the hair parts (hence the name of the hew). It would be delivered oberhau (above the waist) or unterhau (below the waist). Through the principle of überlauffen, “overrunning” or “overreaching”, a Scheitelhau is used to break the guard Alber.

Schiavona: An Italian Renaissance cut and thrust sword with a decorative cage-hilt and distinctive “cat-head” pommel. So named for the Schiavoni or Venetian Doge’s Slavonic mercenaries and guards of the 1500’s who favored the weapon. They are usually single edged back-swords but may also be wide or narrow double edged blades. Some have ricasso for a fingering grip while others have thumb-rings. The Schiavona is often considered the model for other cage hilt swords such as the Scottish basket-hilted “broadsword”.

Schielhau: “Squinting-hew.” A short edge, backhand hew dealt from the vom tag guard that ends in an upper hanger on the opposite side and usually targets the head or the right shoulder. It is basically a twist from vom tag to ochs on the opposite side with one step forward, striking simultaneously downwards. The schielhau breaks both the pflug and langen ort guards and can be used to counter-hew against a powerful oberhau.

Schiltslac: “Shield-blow.”

Schlacterschwerter: See Two Handed Sword.

Schlüssel: “Key” guard.

Schnitt:  Draw cuts and slicing pulls (see Abschneiden).

Schrankhut: “Barrier guard.”

Schwäche: See Schwech.

Schwech: “Weak.” German masters divided the long-sword into two portions, the weaker section of blade from middle to point was known as Schwech (or Schwäche), used for most thrusting and slicing (equivalent to the Foible of later renaissance fencing), opposite of Stark.

Schwertnemen: “Sword taking.” Close quarters disarming or trapping actions, called Gioco Stretto (“Close Playing”) in Italian and Grypes and Seizures in some later Renaissance styles

Serpentino: See Back Guard.

Short Guard/Stance: Called posta breve by the Italians. A limited “entering” or close-range posture with the blade held more vertical, the hilt pulled in low and the knees bent more, it is used for both parrying and preparing to slice, thrust, or bind

Shoulder: The corner portion of a sword separating the blade from the tang.

Slaughterswords: See Two Handed Sword.

Small-Sword – Sometimes known as a “court-sword”, a “walking-sword”, or “town-sword”, and very popular as a fashion accessory. A late Renaissance duelling and self-defense sword. It consisted of a sharp pointed metal rod with a much smaller guard and finger-rings. Its blade was typically a hollow triangular shape and was much thicker at the hilt, having no edge at all. The small-sword was the forerunner of the epee and foil of modern fencing.

Sovnya:  A late Medieval Russian pole weapon having a curved sword-like blade at the end used until the mid 17th century.

Spada – Italian for sword.

Spada da Lato: See Cut and Thrust Sword.

Spada Filo: See Cut and Thrust Sword.

Spada in Arme:  See Harnischfechten.

Spadroon: See Cut and Thrust Sword.

Spanish and Portuguese Sword Manuals: Here are some of the principal Spanish and Portuguese fencing manuals:

  • ·         A ensinança de bem cavalgar em toda a sela by Edward of Portugal (1391–1438). A riding instruction manual that also included martial information.
  • ·         17th century Spanish Destreza is very much steeped in the Spanish Baroque noblemen mindset, so doesn’t contain much graphical explanations of the fencing techniques so much as hard to understand explanations based on mathematics and philosophical sciences in general.
  • ·         Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza, De la filosophia de las armas y de su destreza… (1582)

Spatha: The long (36”) Roman cavalry sword.

Spear: A long shaft with a pointed metal head.  Some spear heads were extended to permit slashing blows.

Squalembrato: Diagonal descending cut.

Stances: See Guards.

Stark: “Strong.” German masters referred to the long-sword in two portions, the strong section of blade from middle to hilt was known as stark, and was used for most parrying and cutting (equivalent to the Forte of later renaissance fencing), opposite of schwech.

Stechen: “Stabbing.” A thrusting attack made with the point of the sword.

Stucco: See Estoc.

Streitha: “Battle hew.”.

Stuck und Bruch: “Technique and counter.” The idea that every technique has a counter and every counter has a technique, two major components of the German systems of swordsmanship.

Tabar Zin: A Persian battle axe, the name meaning “saddle hatchet”.  A tabar zin had one or two crescent shaped blades. Short versions were about 3 feet long, long versions up to 7 feet long.

Tang: The un-edged hidden portion or “tongue” of a blade running through the handle and to which the pommel is attached. The place where the tang connects to the blade is called the shoulder. A sword’s tang is sometimes of a different temper than the blade itself. A full tang is preferred in European swords, while a partial tang is best for Japanese swords.

Throwing-the-point: A German technique of turning a false cutting blow into a sudden straight thrust.

Tip: The end of the sword furthest away from the hilt. Most swords taper to a point at the tip, but some blade lines are straight until the very tip.

Tonda: Horizontal cut.

Tuck: See Estoc.

Twerhau: See Zwerchhau.

Two-handed sword: Also known as slaughterswords. The Germans called them dopplehander (“double-handers”) or schlacterschwerter (“battle swords”) and the Italians lo spadone.. A specialized type of great sword that became popular in the 16th century. The size and weight of the weapon, made it unsuited for close formation fighting, and its use was reserved for banner defense, guarding breeches in siege warfare, and forming skirmish lines. The grip was very long in proportion to the blade, and the overall sword could be 5 1/2’ – 6’ long. Two-handed Swords are really a classification of sword applied to Renaissance, rather than Medieval, weapons. They are the specialized forms of the later 1500-1600’s, or in Italian as “lo spadone”. True two-handed swords have compound-hilts with side-rings and enlarged cross-guards of up to 12 inches. Most have small, pointed lugs or flanges protruding from their blades 4-8 inches below their guard.

Überlauffen: “Overrunning” or “going over.” A timed counter-attack by outreaching the opponent just as they attack, moving into or out of their action and striking close targets exposed by their own attack.

Untere Ansetzen: Blows delivered under or below the opponent’s guard (opposite of Obere Ansetzen).

Unterhalten: “Holding down.” Ground-fighting techniques, wrestling, or grappling moves.

Unterhau: “Under cuts.” Upward or rising strikes below the waist, either diagonal (Zornhau) or vertical (Scheitelhau).

Versatzung: “Displacement.” Also called versetzen. Parrying an attack by deflecting a blow or counterstrike as opposed to a block. Usually employed with a side step.

Versetzen: See Versatzung.

Volgue: See Voulge.

Voulge: Also known as a Volgue or pole cleaver. A type of pollaxe used in the Middle Ages, similar to a glaive, typically having the blade attached to the side of the halft.

Von Dach: See High Guard.

Von Fechten: “Attacking before,” one of the three ways of overcoming an opponent’s attack.

Von Tag: “From the roof.” A basic position with the sword held above either the right shoulder or the head, called High Guard by the English (see High Guard). The blade can be held vertically or at roughly 45-degrees. ]

Vor: The offensive principle of swordplay, by aggressively taking the initiative, the opposite of Nach.

Vorfechter: A provost or advanced student in the Fechtschulen.

Waage: “Balance.” A standard fighting position with legs and arms slightly bent.

Waisted-Grip: A specially shaped handle on some bastard or hand-and-a-half swords, consisting of a slightly wider middle tapering towards the pommel.

Wards: See Guards.

Was Sehrt, das Lehrt: “What hurts, teaches.” An expression used in Fechtschulen. Similar to the expression “no pains, no gains” today.

Waster: A wooden practice sword. Also called a bevin, bavin or cudgel.

Wechsel: See Inside Guard.

Winden: “Winding” or “turning.” Also known as am schwert. Close binding actions to maintain pressure on the opponent’s blade to get in and use either edge of your own to slice, or to close and seize. The combatant moves the strong of his blade to the weak of the opponent’s blade to gain leverage while keeping his point online with the opponent’s opening.

Women’s Guard: See Hanging Guard.

Zornhau: “Wrath hew.” A diagonal cut, delivered either oberhau (above the waist) or unterhau (below the waist). Usually delivered from the vom tag (See Vom Tag) and ends in the Wechsel guard (See Inside Guard). When a Zornhau is used to displace (Versetzen) another oberhau, the impact and binding of the blades will result in the hew ending in a lower hanging on the center of the body. This strike is normally thrown to the opponent’s upper opening.

Zornhut: “Wrath guard.” A vulnerable guard with the weapon pulled back point down behind the back. It hides the weapon from the opponent and permits the most powerful blows.

Zucken: “Pulling.” A technique used in a strong bind between blades in which a combatant goes weak in the bind so as to disengage his blade from the bind and stabs or hews to the other side of the other combatant’s blade. This technique is based upon the concept of using weakness against strength.

Zuefechten: One of the two phases of combat where the combatants are closing together and their weapons make contact.

Zwerchhau: “Slanting hew.” A horizontal right to left or left to right cross cut. When delivered high it is called a Twerhau (“thwart hew”). Breaks the vom tag guard.

 

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