Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Impressions of Anonymous German Pollaxe treatise (MS KK 5126)

In Christian Tobler's new book “In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts” the author includes a translation/interpretation of an anonymous pollaxe treatise from the late 15th Century. The treatise is found in a series of text-only treatises at the back of the Paulus Kal Fechtbuch, MS KK 5126, held in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. It features two guards and seven techniques.

So what? Why add these seven techniques to a study that, from an Italio-centric point-of-view, has Fiore's, Vadi's and the Anonimo Bolognese's axe sections? Not to mention the entirety of Le Jeu de la Hache?

Because it's there.

The poleaxe is, arguably, the acme of knightly weapons – it combines the spear, dagger & sword into one weapon. As with all pole-weapons, there is an apparent set of “universal” techniques/principles that I find intriguing. By studying various axe treatises you can learn, not new principles of axe-play, but new ways in which those principles can be expressed. What are the “universal” principles of axe-play? Well, as soon as I figure them all out, I'll let you know :-)

While reading this “new” axe treatise I was struck by what I can only call a “flipped similarity” - there are plays that are extremely similar to those that appear in Fiore, Le Jeu, & the Anonimo but with the axe flipped. That is, whereas the latter three manuscripts have the cross-parry (you parry the incoming blow with the part of the axe that is opposite it – i.e. your opponent throws a blow from their right shoulder, you parry with the part of your axe that is to your right. Clear as mud?) done with the head (business-end) of the axe, this German text does it with the other end, the foot/butt/queue/tail. This is accomplished from the guard Nebenhut (held on the left side) – stand right foot forward with your left hand near the head & with the head down, near your left leg. While at first my Italian trained mind went “Huh?” I realized that this position is akin to Fiore's Vera Croce.

Now, in Fiore, Le Jeu, & the Anonimo there are three basic options from a crossing at the head of the axe:
-Strike to the head with the tail of the axe (with or without clearing their axe first)
-Stab to the foot or abdomen.
-Execute a Collar Throw

With the reversed position of the crossing in KK 5126, tail to head, we can add another option that is impossible in a head-to-head crossing:
-the Knee Hook

But this guard position and it's added technique are only two cool things you'll find in KK 5126.

There are two interesting techniques from vom Tag vs vom Tag. One is essentially an axe version of the Colpo di Villano (for you Fiorists out there) but instead of striking in the opposite line as your parry (parry from your right, strike from your left) – because that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, with a pole-weapon, you strike along the same line as your parry.
The second vom Tag technique is a kind of counter-thrust. After a hard counter-bind, your opponent attempts to thrust you in the armpit, but you are able to place your point into their armpit & use the angles to your benefit such that you can hit them but they can't hit you.

The other nice thing in this treatise is the advice that to learn to fight with the axe, you should learn to fight with the staff, which echoes Peter Falkner & George Silver (amongst others) in regards to training pole-weapons. My own feelings are that since the pollaxe combines the dagger, spear, and longsword, it is extremely helpful to know these weapons (plus wrestling, all in your given tradition) before taking up the poleaxe.

So, why add KK 5126 to your axe studies, either German or Italian? Because, it is another source document on this awesome weapon and studying it will provide you with more tools for your toolbox. Would I teach these techniques in a class entitled “Italian Pollaxe Combat”? No, but if the class were titled “Medieval Pollaxe Combat” I would.

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