Withdrawing from an Exchange

Reading:  Meyer 1570 Chapter 6

The trend in German swordsmanship is to concentrate a lot of our attention on the vor and zufechten (before and pre-fencing) with an eye to taking the initiative and forcing our opponent to take action in a predictable way.  This is without doubt a keystone to success; if we do it properly our opponent is defeated and we can withdraw at leisure.  Experience tells us, however, that very often the result is an exchange of blows, then a brief retreat to safety before engaging once again.

This is especially the case in schulefechten (school fighting), wherein even a decisive blow may be followed by an after blow from our opponent.  What advice then, does Meyer give on moving away to safety?

Luckily for us Meyer devotes a section of his book to safely and effectively withdrawing from an exchange.  He tells us in this section that there are three main timings for the withdrawal; withdrawing simultaneously, withdrawing after your opponent, and withdrawing before your opponent.

Withdrawing Before Him

Meyer’s advice in this situation is that you should continue your attack as you withdraw, but in doing so you should only use wary moves that keep you well covered, and at the same time encourage your opponent to go up with their hands and guard high.  As we discussed in the section on taking the vor and the nach this effectively limits his opportunities to counter attack and provides the opportunity for us to withdraw with a final stroke or cut which covers us safely as we move away.

On of the most effectively and commonly employed of these strokes is the backward stepping zwerchau – it simultaneously moves us to a longer distance, provides an attack, and leaves us covered with a high ochs.  Many of Meyer’s devices retreat in this way with a parting zwerch, and of this strike Meyer himself says that without the zwerch, a full half of the German system would be gone.

Withdrawing After Him

In withdrawing after him Meyer describes two concepts.  First when you wait for him to withdraw, and as soon as you see his parting strike follow with your own over the top of it as you too withdraw.  Once more this puts him in a known position and gives you a moment in which he is concentrating on defending himself so that as he withdraws he can’t effectively strike.

Alternatively you can use deception to aid your withdrawal.  Act as if you’re going to withdraw with (for example) a high stroke, and when he rushes to his own strike over the top of it (after all, he’s using Meyer’s advice for withdrawing after, and wants to cut over you) pull your own cut and cut around with a parting strike to a different opening.

Withdrawing Simultaneously

On the topic of withdrawing at the same time, Meyer’s advice is simple.  If he cuts to the left, withdraw to his right.  Conversely if he withdraws with a cut to his right, step to his left.  In either of these cases, of course, Meyer admonishes us to cut to the open side as we move away, falling into a safe guard position in either case.

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