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When defending your legs while using a two-handed sword (longsword, zweihander, etc), what are the advantages and disadvantages between blocking low vs voiding your legs and counter-attacking?

(Disclaimer: I understand that nothing is strictly better all the time, and that context matters. My question is asked accordingly, and answers should be made similarly.)

I've heard mention that a major advantage of larger, longer swords is their ability to successfully defend the legs by blocking low - something that shorter bladed weapons cannot do. However, this article discussing the teachings of 14th-century longsword master Johannes Liechtenauer appears to suggest that a superior form of defending one's legs is not to block, but rather to threaten a dodge and counter-attack.

So far we have used the Plow guard to defend against an attack to the torso, and we have used the Ox guard to defend against an attack to the head. It would seem logical, then, that to defend against a cut to the legs one would therefore use the Fool's guard, as it lies low. While this is not an impossible thing to do, it is not actually a very good defense, as follow-up attacks from this position will be too slow. The Schietelhau, or Parting Strike, offers a much more efficient way of defending the legs.

One cannot make a cut for the legs without exposing the head. If your opponent attacks your lead foot you simply need to remove that target from reach while simultaneously striking the now-vulnerable head. In this case, blade contact is completely unnecessary, and this reaffirms the point that you should not be chasing your opponent's weapon, but always attack the opponent. The safest way to move the foot from harm is to move it backwards, though you do not want to step so far back that you cannot reach your opponent. Instead take a half step back as you cut. You will want to make sure that your arms stay high for this strike, as you do not want your opponent to make a sudden change upwards and catch your elbows. You will always be able to do this, regardless of how tall your opponent is by virtue of the fact that your shoulders are high and your legs are not. Keep in mind that this can also be done as a thrust should you have started in a guard such as the Plow.

(Emphasis mine)

The idea here seems to be that making an attack to someone's legs inherently over-commits and leaves them vulnerable (relatively-speaking) to a counter-strike to the head. Is this a more consistent and reliable alternative to blocking? What circumstances effect this?

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The same source text you're quoting mentions the use of Uberlauffen or overrunning as defense against low threats. The idea is to use a Scheitelhau (or a similarly executed thrust) to strike before you get hit by the opponent while removing the target. Your blade in the opponent's body would then prevent follow-up attacks.

The argument used there is that the shortest path between you and the opponent is a straight horizontal line, so if you can choose a high-lethality target right in front of you (head, for example), you will reach it before the opponent reaches his. The mechanics of a Scheitelhau make it's reach very long and possible to execute even when withdrawing. The best case scenario is that the opponent swings, get struck in the head, and misses your foot (which you are now withdrawing). If he doesn't (e.g. because he overcommits), you get struck with a minor graze, but the opponent is positively dead. If you withdraw too quickly and miss, you still end up pointing your sword at the opponent's face, setting you up for a thrust.

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From a non-HEMA perspective: you want to minimize the time it takes to defend the current attack, while maintaining a position that can still adapt for your own attacks or to defend potential future attacks. Whether footwork evasion or a block will be faster depends on where your sword is when the attack begins.

If your sword is high, an attempt to block may not succeed because your sword is too far away and the block is not fast enough. In addition, if you are moving your sword with velocity to defend, its momentum will make it difficult to readjust and leave you vulnerable to later attacks. Evade and counterattack instead.

If your sword is low, then it may be much easier/safer to block rather than rely exclusively on footwork to evade. You can of course add footwork or a counterattack.

A successful fighting strategy minimizes the necessary speed and quickness of your defensive actions. This principle explains why you have some kind of guard; you have to move less to defend, which makes your defense faster than if you must move more.

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This may not answer your question and depends on your clothing allowing,but western weapon use does not lower the whole body(squatting)as much as in eastern some eastern martial arts.

  • 2
    Please only write answers that actually answer the question. – mattm Aug 30 '17 at 21:53
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    Welcome to the site. Sadly, this is not an answer to the question and thus is attracting down votes. I suggest you take the tour to see how we work. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '17 at 7:23

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