Meyer Masterclass: Understanding the First Device

In Joachim Meyer’s comprehensive longsword treatise, the second section of the book is devoted to a set of “devices” which I believe represent a teaching syllabus, designed to introduce different techniques in sequence to the student. In this section, the first four devices are specifically numbered, and present in sequence a defence against a cut from above to your left (First Device), a cut from below to your left (Second Device), a cut to your right (Third Device), and an attack starting from Vom Tag (Fourth Device), as shown in Figure 1. I’ve previously dissected the Fourth Device here, but in this article I’m going to focus on the First Device.1D 1

Figure 1: A flowchart for the first 4 devices

The First Device focuses on defending against the most common stroke any longsword fighter will encounter- the diagonal swing from the right shoulder. This attack, coming down towards the opponent’s left ear, is natural and powerful, and hence it is the first attack Meyer teaches his student to defend against. Meyer chooses to teach a defensive action which strikes the opponent at the same time as it blocks the incoming stroke, a “single time” attack/defence which I consider “Part 1” of the device. This single time defence is followed by a series of feints and short edge cuts to maintain the advantage and press the opponent. This sequence of cuts is practically identical to the sequence in the Fourth Device that I previously labelled “Part 2”, so I’m not going to focus much on this. The device concludes with a final strike and a withdrawal (not described), which I’ve labelled Part 3. I’ve put the sequence down in Figure 2.1D 2

Figure 2: The flowchart for the 1st Device

Now, the core of this device is the single time defence/attack (Part 1), but this is where interpretations differ. The single time action has these components:

  • The fighter steps to his right, away from the incoming cut and slightly towards the opponent
  • The fighter strikes the incoming blade with his outside flat
  • The strike is done strongly so the opponent is struck at the same time as the incoming blade is blocked

It is the second point where people’s interpretation differs. Meyer  says:

“… and strike with your outside flat against his incoming stroke, hitting the forte of his sword so strongly that the foible of your blade in this cut swings in over his sword in at his head, which will surely hit.”         – Forgeng translation

The outside flat is the flat facing to the fighter’s right, and there are two ways proposed to cut with this flat. The first option is a “flat” Zwerch, a horizontal stroke from right to left using leverage on the hilt. The second option is a vertical or diagonal stroke, turning the flat towards the ground. I favour the second option, a diagonal downwards blow for several reasons:

  • The text requires the blade to swing over his sword; using the “flat” Zwerch, the blade swings around and is orientated below the opposing sword
  • The “flat” Zwerch requires the flex of the sword to strike the opponent, which doesn’t work with stiffer blades, and also requires a very big spring to the right
  • The downwards stroke naturally closes the line to the incoming blade, as the action of turning the outside flat to the ground brings the sword in line with the left shoulder
  • Downwards strokes are naturally stronger, and more reliable in defending against the strongest stroke an opponent can throw

Here’s a short video showing my interpretation of the First Device, with a particular focus on the first part:


My observation after a lot of practice is that the downwards stroke with the flat is extremely effective and the opponent is struck in the head almost every time the technique is done correctly. It is a natural action, which can be done with a variety of steps and timings. However, in this case I think a video which work best to show the mechanics of how I do this stroke:
Now there are some interesting observations to make on this downwards blow with the flat. Firstly, it is a diagonal stroke done against a cut to the upper left. Secondly, it can be a single time parry-attack. Thirdly, it naturally ends with the point of the sword in the face of the opponent, perfect for a thrust. These observations match with the description of the Zornhau, or Stroke of Wrath, one of the Master Strokes. After I started considering the possibility that the stroke used in the First Device is a Zornhau, I found that Colin Richards produced an interpretation of the Zornhau similar to this a couple of year ago (link),using different footwork but the same blade orientation.

However, there is very little to support or refute this hypothesis in Meyer. I almost titled this article “Meyer’s Mysterious Zornhau”, because there are so few references to the Zornhau in Meyer’s text. The diagonal Zornhau is listed as a principal cut and as a Master Cut, with its virtues extolled in Meyer’s fourth chapter. However, the Zornhau is not mentioned in the commentaries in the back of the longsword text, and is only mentioned in two devices (one from Wrath Guard and one from Ochs) in which it is used as an attacking stroke from first intention. The dussack section has more references, but only one in which the Zornhau is used as a defensive stroke (and that one is unclear). Basically, there seems to be nothing in Meyer’s text which justifies the inclusion of the Zornhau as a Master Cut along with the Zwerch, Schiel, Schietel and Krump.

I’ll admit straight out that my knowledge of the Zornhau has been informed by the interpretations of this stroke found in the works of Christian Tobler and others which define it as a long edge cut, so I’m unwilling to bet my life that the blow in the First Device is Meyer’s Zornhau, but it is an idea to play around with. In any event, I find the downwards stroke with the flat to be an effective parry/attack, and I feel this matches Meyer’s text better than a “flat” Zwerch as many people use.

BONUS: Since the Second and the Third Devices are very simple, I didn’t write an article on them- but I did film them!