Some thoughts on understanding Meyer through Principles

Something I'm working on at the moment is breaking down Meyer's devices using the Principles as I understand them: Mechanics, Time & Measure.

Firstly the tools Meyer has based on the Principles, these are:

Mechanics: he explains these through his system of Guard Positions as we know that every action takes place through a sequence of these positions. Taking the information about bladework and footwork from his devices we can broadly reconstruct the mechanics. We then use the pictures as occasional reference checks to ensure we're on the right track.

Time: there are two tools for time, these are Tempo and Timing. Tempo is really just breaking down the device into time sections broadly by actions, a single action being one tempo. Meyer will highlight these by saying occasionally "for the first" or "for the second" etc. Within the Tempo there is also the question of Timing which he specifies in terms of Before, Instantly and After. Sometimes he explicitly outlines what the Timing is by saying "in the before" and "act instantly" or the like, and sometimes you can infer what it is, such as when you get a complete action from your opponent you can assume you're acting in the After.

Measure: Meyer uses his phases of combat to indicate the measure and the associated techniques: Onset for longer measure techniques, Middle for closer techniques and Withdrawal for transitioning out.

So, what does this look like?

1.26v.1 – Introduction to the Devices (Translation from Forgeng second ed)

(1) In the onset come into the right Change; take heed as soon as he pulls up his sword for a stroke, and quickly slash through upward before him, and cut in with a Thwart from your right at the same time as him; in the cut, step well to his left side. If he sends his cut straight to your head, then you will hit him with the Thwart on his left ear.

(2) But if you see that he does not cut straight to your head, but turns his cut with the long edge against your Thwart to parry, then before it touches, cut quickly with a long Thwart at his right ear; step at the same time with your left foot well around to his right.

Now you have laid on with two Thwart Cuts to both sides, opposite each other, this you take from the first section of this treatise. After this Onset, if you wish to proceed further to the Middle-work, the second section helps you thus:

(3) if he strikes around from your sword to the other side, then chase him with the slice on his arm. Push him from you with the forte of your blade or with your shield with a jerk;

(4) while he is still faltering from the push and has not recovered, the go rapidly up with crossed arms and strike with the short edge over his right arm at his head, and this (as I have said) before he recovers from the push.

(5) However, if he should recover and slip upward to parry, then let your sword fly back away and deliver a Thwart to his left ear with a back-step on your left foot.

(6) Afterwards step back with your left foot and deliver a horizontal middle cut with the long edge from your right at his neck, and as soon as it clashes, then draw away to his right with high strokes.

[I took out this action as it is an alternative action: (5a) Or if he does not go away or strike around, but remains with the slice or long edge on him, then reverse your sword so that your short edge comes on his; wrench his sword to your right side; then let your weapon snap around in the air, so that your hands come back together crosswise up over your head; and strike with the short edge at his head as before, before he recovers from the wrenching.]

Well there's probably a lot of room for conjecture about the mechanics but I hope to get more of an overview of how he fights by looking at the principles guiding his actions. I feel this process is really important to advance from a basic understanding to intermediate understanding.

By "basic understanding" I mean to be just learning how to do the actions by rote with little or no understanding of the wider context. A basic practitioner would attempt technique based on very basic context such as the most obvious mechanics, i.e. Openings and oppositional Guard Positions. They deliver single set pieces actions and then look to seize opportunities.

An intermediate understanding I mean to be understanding the actions within wider context. A practitioner with intermediate understanding can use phases to understand which technique to employ at each stage of the fight, understanding the initiative/timing to further hone this and a more subtle appreciate of mechanics to "read" more totally the strength/weakness and potential responses of their opponent. Intermediate practitioners can work through multiple tempos because they have model that limits the decision making to a shorter list of the optimal actions.


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