Learning Sidesword Fundamentals

I’ve been reviewing my notes on both the sidesword and dusack techniques shown in Joachim Meyer‘s Art of Combat and a couple of key principles stand out. Master these and you’ve got the core of the single sword style he taught. This post outlines the core principles in a format from which a lesson plan could be developed.

Core Principles

Forget all the talk about the multitude of postures and cuts. The key is that you cut to attack and, for the most part, cut to defend.

Cuts are either vertical, horizontal or diagonal whether from above or below. When attacking, always follow a vertical or horizontal cut with a diagonal cut and vice versa. In defense, a vertical cut counters all horizontal cuts or diagonal cuts, whether from above or below but a diagonal or horizontal cut is required to counter a vertical cut.

Thrust are not a primary means of attack. They are really a technique for following up after a parry. Indeed, every parry should be immediately followed with a thrust to the opponent’s head or body.

Application of Technique

Learning to change or reverse the line of attack is fundamental to mastering this style of swordplay. Being able to half-cut into long-point and pull the blade in order to cut back along a different or the opposite line is key to breaking an opponent’s guard. Meyer has several exercises in both the chapters on rapier and dusack to teach this.

Always attack the quarter which the opponent has just acted from. It is very difficult to change momentum to reverse the direction of the blade mid-flight. For example, if your opponent cuts at you from the upper right quarter, parry and strike at the upper right quarter. Or, strike at the upper left quarter and, when your opponent makes to parry your attack, pull the sword in order to cut to the opponent’s lower right quarter.

In addition, stepping offline, whether as a full step or in the form of pivoting on the front foot, is the key to success in all parrying.

Tactical Advice

It is usually best to approach the fight in the straight parrying posture but don’t stand in any one posture for long. Always change between postures so that your opponent has to constantly re-evaluate what you may do and how to react to you.

If your opponent won’t attack and simply sits waiting for you to act first, stand in long-point and continue to make vertical cuts against him until he reacts. Then, parry and counter-attack. If you cannot attack your opponent with putting yourself in danger of being hit, attack the opponent’s weapon as close as you can to his hands to force him to act.