Sunday, June 5, 2011

I can haz der Mordschlag?

After having an interesting conversation with a friend on das Gesichtsbuch, I thought it would be a useful endeavor to talk about der Mordschlag a little bit. The Mordschlag is basically my favorite technique for the longsword, if only because of how brutal it is in name and usage. Essentially the Mordschlag is a technique where a swordsman reverses his grip on the sword so that he is holding the blade instead of the handle and then strikes his opponent with the cross-guard, handle, and pommel in one blow. One translation of der Mordschlag is “Murderous Beating”, which is a very appropriate name. However I decided that I want to do this post in a sort of Q&A style, since the conversation that manifested this post was on Facebook.

Q: Why would you hold the sharp end of a sword? Won’t it hurt your hands?

A: The Mordschlag is a way of defeating someone wearing plate armor in Medieval Europe, though it is even more effective against someone who is unarmored. During this time period it was quite common to half your sword like this, both for offense and defense, and while wearing no armor or while in harness. This is simply another way to half your weapon and use it effectively.

Half-swording, in all of its varieties, is common in Medieval swordsmanship. Since every part of the weapon was to be used in combat, there were no rules prohibiting you from hitting your opponent in this manner. Half-swording was done with the longsword, messer (langes oder krieg), daggers, and obviously all poll-weapons (though not with voting machines). As long as you don’t let the weapon slip or slide you can grab your own weapon or the weapon of your foe, and no harm would come to your hands. 

Q: If your opponent was wearing a helmet why wouldn’t you just hit him with the flat of your sword?

A: You could hit someone in the head with it but it really only works on unarmored people. A flat-side strike would be almost entirely ineffective against plate armor. Maybe you could perform a flat-side strike (called a “Bounce Strike”), but only to set him up for some half-swording or wrestling. Even then, I’d probably say it is safer to just move in for the wrestling and forget about the Bounce Strike all together in armored combat.

Q: I notice the point of the sword is towards your stomach when you do this. Couldn’t your opponent easily reverse your weapon or otherwise stab you with your own sword?

A: You could try to reverse it but realistically it probably won’t go well for you. When the Mordschlag is properly performed it can be used a single-time parry against strikes and thrusts, and it will smash whatever bones are in its way (like your hands). It is also pretty difficult to drop your sword and try to reverse his sword, considering you have it careening towards your hands\arms\head\whatever and he can very easily reverse it himself, which drives the point of the sword into your chest instead of his. Not to mention the fact that someone can easily pommel thrust or hook the hilt around your neck when you try to close the distance after dropping your weapon.

If you were to attempt to wrestle your Mordschlagging foe, there is an easier way than attempting to reverse his weapon. Simply drop your weapon and run at him, side step at the last moment as it goes by you, and then do a single leg (or double leg) takedown. You can thank Talhoffer for that one.

Q: Won’t this just piss off a guy in armor anyway? Shouldn’t you just run away or just kill him?

A: When done correctly the Mordschlag should, as per the name, produce murderous results. If the first strike doesn’t kill him, it should at least knock him over or stun him for a few seconds. Then you simply keep smashing his head in until he does die. This is a pretty straight-forward method of dispatching someone. It isn’t called the Murderous Beating for nothing.

Now you could run away, but cowardice in combat tends to be heavily frowned upon in the military (to put it lightly). You could try to wear him out, but that takes a while considering the athleticism of the person inside of it (and plate armor is actually less bulky than most suspect). It becomes especially hard to run away from someone if you are stuck in the middle of a battle formation or within a fenced off dueling area. Better to know how to stand your ground and defend yourself like a man anyway. 

That does it with the Q&A. I would end it here but then I got to thinking…why don’t you see Asian swordsmen smashing each other with some equivalent of the Mordschlag? A couple cans of Rockstar later, this is my theory on the matter: the katana simply isn’t designed with the same versatility as the longsword. The design of the katana makes it illogical to use it in the same fashion as a longsword. Think about it kind of like this:

  • Do we see half-swording with the longsword? Yes. Why? Every part of the weapon is useful for causing serious injury to your opponent.
  • Do we see half-swording with the Messer? Yes. Why? Even though the Messer is not quite as robust as the longsword, it has enough of a pronounced hilt and pommel to cause serious injury to someone’s face.
  • Do we see half-swording with poll-weapons and regular staves? Yes. Every part of a stave can be used to inflict serious injury, not because of protuberances but simply due to mass.
  • Do we see half-swording with daggers? Yes…but only to block attacks, regain point control during grappling, and as an aide in takedowns and disarms. I have yet to see half-swording done with a dagger for the purpose of hitting someone with the handle.

So where does this leave the katana? We can use a process of elimination in this regard:

  • Does it have strong protuberances? Not really. It has a very modest hilt and a negligible pommel.
  • Does it have great mass? No. It is nowhere close to the mass of a stave or a poll-weapon.
  • Could you half-sword it for defensive and leverage advantages? Sure, why not.

There you go. There really is no logical, rational reason for wanting to half a katana with the aim of Mordschlagging someone. I think we can only deduce the fact that you could half-sword a katana like you would half-sword a dagger, but that is a very different thing from the Mordschlag.

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