Författare Ämne: On the After-Blow  (läst 12038 gånger)


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On the After-Blow
« skrivet: 2010-10-24, 12:35:39 »
Grieve not greatly if thou be touched a little;
for an after-stroke is better if thou dare him smite.

One of the common elements that has emerged from these documents is a  special rule on the so-called "after blow." This term is a translation  of the Flemish term naerslag (after-blow) or naersteek (after-thrust)  found in Belgian fencing guild rules. In the after-blow rule, a blow  struck by an attacker is not considered to be a valid hit unless he  escapes unscathed. Thus, a successful attack is negated by the  after-blow, which is a blow struck by the defender immediately after he  is hit. The defender has a limited number of steps he can take with his  after-blow.  One step appears to be the norm, but some guild rules allow  as many as three steps to be taken when delivering the after-blow.  Double hits (i.e., simultaneous hits by both fencers) are not the same  as an after-blow, but also negate a successful attack.

To make the effect of this rule clear, here is an example of its  application:  My opponent deceives me with a feint, then hits me with a  blow on my shoulder. As he retreats, I pursue him with a passing step,  striking at him. If I hit him with this after-blow, his earlier hit is  nullified. If he evades or parries my blow, then his blow is counted as a  clean hit, and is valid.

The after-blow rule is not unique to France and Belgium. It can also be  documented in Italy, where it is discussed in Manciolino's manual of  fence, the Opera Nova of 1531, as well as in a work known as the Anonimo Bolognese,  a manuscript written in the 16th century. The concept appears to have  been used in England, too, where the term "after stroke" can be  documented in the late 15th century, and the term "after veny" in the  early 17th century. (The word "veny", which had many variations in  English, is taken from the French work venue, and meant a blow  given while fencing.)  Thus, this rule appears to have been a broad  phenomenon in fencing circles in Europe during the 16th century. It  remained current in Belgium until the French Revolutionaries disbanded  the guild system in 1791.

The after-blow was a feature of European fencing in quite a few  countries for several hundred years, during a time when the sword was a  relevant weapon. Considering that these competitions were run by fencing  masters, presumably it had martial value. The following paragraphs  discuss the martial significance of the after-blow. Annex I contains  primary source material on the after-blow. Annex II contains a selection  of medieval proverbs reflecting how ingrained the concept was in the  medieval mind.

This was a pass, 'twas fencer's play, and for the after veny, let me use my skill.

From the source material cited in Annex I below, it appears that  the  after-blow was a phenomenon that was wide-spread across Europe. What are  we to make of this rule?  To make sense of the after-blow, it needs to  be examined from two perspectives: That of the attacker, and that of the  defender.

From an attacker's perspective, the after-blow rule is extremely  demanding. It requires him to display consummate swordsmanship in  attacking his opponent, since the slightest fault will negate his  attack. He must not only close distance and strike the opponent without  receiving a double-hit, but must also escape unscathed, without allowing  the opponent to land a blow on him -- a very high standard indeed.

This high standard makes eminent good sense from the perspective of  training a swordsman for earnest combat. Recent research makes clear  that there is no such thing as a guaranteed sudden kill. Books such as  David Grossman's On Combat (PPCT Research Publications, 2004) and  articles such as Frank Lurz's "The Dubious Quick Kill" (http://www.classicalfencing.com/articles/bloody.php)  provide extensive evidence showing that human beings are capable of  functioning after taking tremendous amounts of damage. Numerous accounts  survive of swordsmen fighting on after sustaining terrible wounds that  one would ordinarily expect to be debilitating. History is replete with  examples of swordsmen striking back effectively even after receiving a  mortal blow. One illustrative example, from the Peninsular War, follows:

"Just then, a French officer delivered a thrust at poor Harry  Wilson's body, and delivered it effectually. I firmly believe that  Wilson died on the instant; yet, though he felt the sword in its  progress, he, with characteristic self command, kept his eye still on  the enemy in his front, and raising himself in his stirrups, let fall  upon the Frenchman's helmet such a blow that brass and skull parted  before it; and the man's head was cloven asunder to the chin. It was the  most tremendous blow I ever beheld struck; and both he who gave, and  his opponent who received it, dropped dead together."  

With this in mind, requiring a fencer to show that he is capable of  parrying or evading an opponent's retaliatory strike before awarding him  a point makes excellent martial sense. As a fellow instructor put it,  we should always assume that our opponent's blow will stop us, but that  our own blow will not stop the opponent. This is eminent good sense, and  I believe is the underlying reason for the custom of the after-blow.  Compare this to the rule in modern sport fencing, where a thrust by an  epee-fencer is counted as valid, even though it arrives a mere  split-second before the opponent's counter-thrust, which also lands.  

From the defender's perspective, the after-blow rule also makes good  martial sense. In a real fight, if your opponent has struck you, what is  the proper response?  Is it to shut down and remain passive?  Or is it  to retaliate, striking the opponent in turn, while he is still within  range?  Clearly, the answer is the latter.

Phrased another way, the after-blow is what you do after your defenses  have failed, and you have been hit. What else are you supposed to do at  that point? Striking back at the opponent makes good sense in that  situation, since at least it prevents the opponent from getting away  unscathed. There is something very martial about this, considering the  context of a real fight. This attitude says, "I'll fight the best I can;  but if he gets through my defenses, I'll have my revenge on him."

The following example, from a knightly epic known as Willehalm (ca.  1265), shows that this notion was appreciated in the warrior classes in  medieval times:

He struck through Halzibier's helmet
So that he was nearly dismounted by the blow.
Halzibier was no slouch either;
he did not forget to deliver a blow in return.

(Source:  Ulrich von dem Türlîn's Willehalm, stanza 44, verses 28-31,  ed. S. Singer, Bibliothek der mhd. Litteratur in Böhmen, Vol. 4 (Prague,  1893))

More recent examples of this can be found as well. In "Swordsmen of the  Raj" (D.A. Kinsley, 2009), there is an account of a sword fight written  by an English officer who fought in the Sepoy Mutiny. In this mounted  encounter with cavalry sabres, the Englishman began to deliver a cut at  his Sikh opponent. The Sikh struck at him at the same time, so he  aborted his cut, converting it into a parry at the last moment. The  incoming blow collapsed his parry, and he was cut through the face. He  said, "However, my guard having been hurriedly made, and my opponent a  stronger man than myself, my sword was beaten down and my cheek laid  open. After the blow, I had my turn, and gave my 'friend' one over the  head." The officer later collapsed from blood loss from the cut to his  face, which was a severe one.

Accounts such as these make clear that the after-blow happened in real  life, fighting with sharps. In my view, this attitude is something we  should seek to cultivate, rather than the opposite.  ("Oh dear, I've  been hit. Time to stop.")

Training martial artists to strike an after-blow in retribution after  they are hit amounts to training and honing a natural response. Doing  the opposite -- forbidding a fencer to strike after he has been hit --  is potentially a very dangerous thing to do from a training standpoint.  Training habits (good or bad) have a way of showing up in real combat.  If a martial artist is trained to stop upon receiving a first hit, there  is a very real danger that such behavior will manifest itself as a  training artifact that surfaces when it is most harmful -- in real  combat.

Viewed from this perspective, conditioning a fighter to stop immediately  after a hit is maladaptive in the extreme.  Remember the story of the  cop who practices his disarms multiple times, always giving the weapon  back to his training partner -- and then automatically does that in a  real life situation. Not using the after-blow leads the successful  fencer to drop his guard while still within striking distance; likewise,  it conditions the unsuccessful fencer to stop fighting as soon as he is  hit. Neither of these are behaviors which we should encourage in  martial artists.

On the contrary, training the after-blow is a method of developing what  old English pugilists used to call "bottom" -- the ability to take a  hard blow and continue fighting nonetheless. The idea is to foster the  same attitude and fighting spirit captured in this inscription on a  German sword from the early 16th century: Haust du mich, so stich Ich dich.  (If you cut me, I will stab you in return.)  The fact that the  after-blow was used in fencing practice for centuries, under the  watchful eye of fencing masters, would suggest that they found martial  value in the rule as well.

The concept of the after-blow is inherent in human nature. If we are  struck, our natural reaction is to lash back. In medieval German law,  this was recognized to such an extent that it is reflected in a legal  proverb:  "One cannot forbid the after-blow."  In medieval German, the  term widerslac was not used in a strict fencing sense, but  rather was used to describe a blow struck in retaliation by the victim  of an attack. This notion was reflected across Europe in proverbs;  Appendix II (see below) presents examples which give an idea of how  prevalent this concept was across medieval and Renaissance Europe.  

For the reasons stated above, the after-blow rule has been incorporated  into many HEMA tournament rule-sets in recent years. Experience at major  HEMA tournaments, such as the 2010 tournament at Apelern, Germany,  indicates that the better fighters are able to effectively deal with the  after-blow. For the rest, this is mainly a matter of training.

One easy way to train for the after-blow is by using drills in which the  training partner gives an opening; the swordsman strikes the open  target; and the partner delivers a half-speed after-blow, which the  swordsman parries as he moves back out of distance. Many variations of  this kind of drill can easily be created with a little imagination.  Simply remember Joachim Meyer's adage, in his section on the Zornhut: "Thus, in all techniques you should go from the sword to the body, and from the body to the sword."

Matt Galas / HEMAC, Belgium


The following paragraphs provide a sampling of primary source material  documenting the after-blow in Italy, France, Belgium, and England. It  spans the time period from the late 15th century to the mid-18th  century.  (Thanks for Italian translation assistance goes to Ilkka  Hartikainen, Caroline Stewart, and Mario Quarta; thanks for Flemish  translation assistance goes to Eli Steenput.)

Italian:  Excerpt from Antonio Manciolino, Opera Nova (Venice, 1531),  6 recto:  

"After being hit, it is only allowed to strike back once with one step, as it is in this way that the honor is recovered."

Italian:  Excerpt from the Anonymous Bolognese (manuscript, 16th century, para. 62):

"The art of fencing with blunt weapons is called giucare (playing),  and it is not permitted for a fencer, after he has received a blow, to  pass more than one step forward to strike at his enemy. The reason is  this:  If he were free to take as many steps as he wanted, that would no  longer be fencing, but would instead be as if he were fighting for  real. Because quite often it occurs that a fencer steps forward as many  times as he likes after receiving a blow, throwing himself upon his  enemy because he is overcome by anger. And he runs towards his enemy,  trying to strike at him anywhere he can on his body, in order to hit him  again.  Because of this, those who are watching [i.e., the judges]  cannot tell what happened, due to him running at his enemy in such a  bestial manner, taking more than one step.

But why do I say that when one has received a blow, he must not take  more than one step, while another might say that he should take as many  steps as he likes?  To him I would respond that such an action happens  in the art of combat when one has received a blow, and one can decide to  step forward and retreat as much as he likes. However, it often happens  that one receives a blow, he is motivated by a desire to throw himself  upon his enemy to take revenge, but the blow was of such a nature that  he is unable to move and in fact falls to the ground.  For that reason,  in the art of sport-fencing one cannot step forward more than one step  after receiving a blow. Because if you want to take more steps, I will  tell you the reason given above:  that if the sword was sharp, the blow  could have been of such a nature that you would be unable to run  forward, but might instead fall to the ground.?

French:  Excerpt from the longsword rules of the fencing guild of Lille (manuscript, late 16th century):

"Item:  In order to maintain order in the game, and to prevent those who  are accustomed to run after their opponents, despite having been  previously hit, it has been resolved that one will have but a single  step after having received a blow; and if one does not deliver the said  blow on the first step (such as if one takes two steps), that blow will  not be counted for good nor valid."

Flemish:  Excerpt from the longsword rules of the fencing guild of Mechelen (manuscript, 17th century):

"Whoever fights the defending King at the Knightly Sword must strike him  with a valid hit, on the head, shoulders, back or chest, above the  elbows and above the belt, as shown by the [chalk] marks, remembering  that the King has his after-blow, which must be delivered at once,  without following the challenger or opponent more than three steps to  give this after-blow, on pain of losing it."

Flemish:  Excerpt from the longsword rules of the fencing guild of Brussels (manuscript, dated 1617):

"Whoever is fighting against the defending King with the Noble Sword,  and strikes him a valid hit (to wit, above the belt, or from the bend of  the elbow upwards; because anything below that shall not be counted,  either for the Defender or for the Challenger) and then departs from the  King free and untouched, then the same one that struck the valid hit  shall stand in place of the King. All the others from the Guild shall  then play against him, who haven't yet played; and they shall fight him  to see whether they can hit him with a higher valid hit. Because whoever  strikes the highest valid hit shall remain King, bearing in mind that  the King still has a step with an after-blow."

Flemish:  Excerpt from the rapier rules of the fencing guild of Brussels (manuscript, dated 1716):

"If the challenger can give the champion a thrust without being thrust  by the champion above the belt or elbow, then he is rewarded by taking  the champion's place (his thrust being registered); he must then try to  defend against the other challengers.  [...]  The champion has the  advantage that he can give an after-thrust, which the challenger is not  allowed. And for him [ie, the challenger], an after-thrust will not be  counted as valid."

English:  Excerpt from Harleian Manuscript 3542, folios 82-85, The Play of the 2 Hand Sword in Verse (late 15th century):  

"Greve not gretly thou yu be tochyd a lyte
ffor an aftr stroke ys betr yf thou dar hym smyte"

Note:  In the following two excerpts from England, a "veneye" or "veny"  is defined in Bullokar's English Expositor (1616) as follows:  "Venie. A  touch in the body at playing with weapons."

English:  Excerpt from Sloane Manuscript 2530, with the rules of the  London Maisters of Defence (manuscript, late 16th - early 17th century):  

"And at anny prize Whether it be maisters prize Provosts prize or fre  schollers prize who soever dothe play agaynste ye prizor, and doth  strike his blowe and close withall, so that the prizor cannot strike his  blowe after agayne, shall wynn no game for anny Veneye so geven  althoughe it shold breake the Prizor's head."

English:  Excerpt from The Two Maids of More-clacke, 1609:

"Can ye warde your selfe?  This was a pass, 'twas fencer's play, and for the after veny, let me use my skill."


The concept of the after-blow is inherent in human nature. If we are  struck, our natural reaction is to lash back. This notion was reflected  across Europe in proverbs; the following examples give an idea of how  prevalent this concept was.  

Daniel von dem blühenden Tal (ca. 1220), verses 7696-7703, by Der Stricker, ed. Michael Resler (Tübingen, 1983)

The after-blow has never been forbidden
to a wrathful man;
for if he is to survive,
he must defend himself.
If he is to preserve his body,
then he gladly strikes back
before he lays down and dies;
we did the same, and rightly so.

(Widerslac wart nie verboten  
einem zornigen man,  
swenne er niht genesen kan,      
er muoz sich wern.        
ob er den lîp wil genern,            
sô sleht er gerne widere            
ê er gelige dâ nidere.                
rehte alsô tâten wir.)    

A variety of other examples follow, primarily from this source:   Thesaurus proverbiorum medii aevi, by Samuel Singer, (New York, de  Gruyter, 2000)  p. 118-19

German proverbs:

Swer sleht, der sol umbe sehen, Waz im da wider muege geschehen (He who strikes should beware what might happen to him in return.) Freidank, Bescheidenheit (ca. 1220), 127, 14.

Als her Fridank gesprochen hat: Ich geloub, den widerslac Niemen wol verbieten mac. (As Sir Freidank said, 'I believe that no-one can forbid the after-blow.')  Heinrich der Teichner, Karajan, 32.

Latin equivalents:  

Non interdictum fit verber post prius ictum. (It is not forbidden to strike, having been struck before.)  Laele 676.

Lex que plagavit nullo plagare vetavit. (It is the law that he who has been struck cannot be forbidden from striking.) (Freidank Lat. (Graz) 90.

French equivalents:

Colée demande son per. (One blow calls for another.)  Chast. 26, 118.

Qui cop reçoit, colée renge. (He who receives a blow, gives a blow in return)  Roman de Thebes, App. 3, 10943 (II, 194), (13th century)

Se tu fiers mi, jou ferrai ti. (If you hit me, I will hit you.) Jehan, Les Mervelles de Rigomer, verse 3714 (13th century)

English equivalents:

For he that smytys, he shal be smyten. (He who strikes, he shall  be struck.) (Towneley Plays 20, 699)  (Also remember the common turn of  phrase, "To give as good as you get.")

Spanish equivalent, using fencing terminology:

A tal tajo, tal reves. (For such right blow, a reverse blow in return.) (Nunez I, 137)

Additional comments from Matt Galas regarding the article and teh after-blow (taken from various HEMA forums):

"There are a variety of ways you can use the after-blow:

1) Traditional Belgian Rules: This is a "King of the Hill" format, where  only the King (defender) gets the after-blow. This kind of tournament  is run as follows: Draw numbers to see which order the fencers fight in.  Then each fighter comes up, according to his number, and tries to  de-throne the King by hitting him with a valid blow and getting away  without being hit by the after-blow. A double-hit or an after-blow  negates the challenger's hit. No points are scored; the goal is just to  see who can de-throne the King. Once the King is de-throned, the fencer  who did it takes his place as the King. (The King is dead! Long live the  King!) Each fencer gets 3 tries to hit the King. This can be done  either all at once, or by going to the end of the line after each try.

To keep the article simple, I omitted the fact that the Belgian rules  only allow hits above the waist and above the elbow. (That is, no blows  to hands, forearms, or legs.) So an after-blow to these areas would not  count at all, presumably.

2)  The Bolognese rules used differential scoring (head =3, legs = 2,  body/hand/arms = 1). They also appear to have allowed the after-blow to  both parties.  Other than that, we don't know much. It may well be that  they required the after-blow to be to a more valuable area than the  original hit. (E.g., you hit me on the leg = 2, so my after-blow must be  to the head =3.) Alternately, they may have simply scored the  differential between the two hits: You hit my head (3), but I hit you on  the arm with an after-blow (1), so the adjusted score is 2 for you.  Alternately, you hit me on the leg (2), but I hit you on the head with  an after-blow (3), so the adjusted score is 1 for me. Hard to say, but  the end result is the same: A more fluid fight that is more  representative of what happens in reality, and which requires the  swordsman to look to his defense even after he scores a hit.

3) Simply fence as in normal tournament rules, adding the after-blow.  The after-blow gains you no point, it just negates the hit you just  received. You shouldn't be rewarded for an after-blow, since you  shouldn't have allowed yourself to be hit in the first place. However,  the after-blow lets you undo the damage that has been done by "giving as  good as you got", returning the score to what it was before.

4) Another way of incorporating the after-blow is to use differential  scoring. At one tournament, we gave 3 points for a clean hit (ie, no  double hits occurred, not hit by an after-blow). If you hit the  opponent, but got hit on the way out, you only got 1 point. This has the  benefit of rewarding the attacker for hitting, but not as much as if he  made a clean hit.

As far as double hits, I prefer to count them as 0 points for either  fighter, but to impose a penalty at some point. (Such as, after 3 or  maybe 5 double hits, the fight would end, counted as a loss for both  fencers.) In some cases (France, earliest ruleset, prior to 1547), a  double hit was counted in favor of the King.

Overall, I think I prefer Option 2 for its simplicity. But all of these work."

"On a different forum, someone asked: "How do you prevent people from not  caring too much if they make the parry, since they know they'll get an  after-blow? How do you prevent people from just training their  retaliative strike reflexes?"

My response: I think it's unlikely that people will neglect their  parries, since there's no guarantee you will be able to actually hit the  opponent with your after-blow. The other person may parry your  after-blow, they may evade you, or they may just catch you flat-footed  and unable to step to the attack in time. (I've seen many instances  where this was the case, been a victim a few times myself!)  Remember,  the afterblow doesn't win you the fight - it merely negates the other  guy's advantage.

Also, there is a difference between an after-blow and a double-hit.  Double hits should be penalized by eventually counting it as a loss for  both fighters. Also, the rules people currently use (double hits = 0)  already allow you to simply do a double-hit to negate your opponent's  hit.

Final thought: Yes, I suppose I could be lax about my parries, since I  know I will still have an after-blow. But after a short while, I'm going  to get really beat up from taking all those hits. In a tournament, I  will pay a big price for that accumulated damage. Also, I will look like  a noob who can't defend myself. Bottom line: I think most fencers have  more self-respect than that. Appropriate use of peer pressure (=  mockery) can also help avoid that...


- Matt Galas / HEMAC, Belgium"

"Greetings, all!

This is an excerpt from the Federfechter statutes from 1607 which  appears to describe something similar to an after-blow rule when playing  a master's prize. Essentially, this rule appears to say that a double  hit counts in favor of the master candidate, as long as he draws blood  with the strike. (Remember, German Fechtschule rules provided that the  winner was the one who struck the highest bleeding hit.)  This would  make it similar to the Franco-Belgian rules, which made a double-hit  count in favor of the one playing the prize. Here is the relevant line:   "If he is immediately struck, and he also strikes the other a high  bleeding wound, this shall not hinder him from being made a Master of  the Longsword..."  Full translation follows; bolded text is the relevant  portion.


- Matt Galas

Excerpt from Federfechter Statutes, Prague, 1607:

"Third, so that the imperial privilege shall be held in good repute, no  unskilled master shall be allowed to take part or be eligible for it.  And whosoever wishes to enjoy such an honor, must report to the general  assembly in Prague, which is held each year the Sunday after St. Veit?s  day (or when that falls in Easter Week, 8 days thereafter), and show  through credible documentation where he studied and who granted him his  privilege, and also that he is of legitimate birth. Thereafter, he  must allow the leader and captains to submit him to a test in the use of  the sword by opponents.  If he is immediately struck, and he also  strikes the other a high bleeding wound, this shall not hinder him from  being made a Master of the Longsword and being inscribed as a bearer of the imperial privilege of the Feather. " "