Thibault’s Advice for the Longsword, Part A: Distance and Deflection

[I originally did this for HEMAC Dijon 2011, but revived it recently for our new Thibault rapier class. It’s a lot longer than I remember, so I’ll publish this in pieces. I’ve laid out the premise for this seminar in a dialogue format, both as a homage to classical rapier texts, as well as a humorous way of communicating information. Forgive me if it is a bit irreverent. Zachary is the longsword combatant in Thibault’s book, while Alexander is the rapier-wielding protagonist]

 Zachary: Who is this Thibault then? Is he a disciple of Master Fiore or Master Liechtenauer, that he can give me advice on how to use my longsword?

Alexander: Girard Thibault d’Anvers was a master of the single sword, which you would call a rapier. He was a resident of the Spanish Netherlands (now called Belgium), who trained with Spanish sword masters before staging an exhibition of swordplay in Rotterdam in 1611. This brought him to the attention of the Dutch court, and Thibault moved to Amsterdam where he taught until he died in 1630.

Z: So, he didn’t train in one of the great longsword lineages? How can he help me become a better longsword fighter then?

A: Thibault includes three chapters in his book “The Academy of the Sword” on how to defeat the longsword. This is more space than he gives to Salvator Fabris or the left handed swordsman, so it was obviously of some relevance to him.

Z: But we have so many longsword texts- what use is a rapier text?

A: Thibault solves two problems in his book dealing with the presentation of movement. Firstly, he has multiple sequences of figures, showing the progression of the fight in great detail. Secondly, he uses a geometric design, the famous circle, to record where the feet should be placed during movement, allowing him to show movement in three dimensions. Thus, Thibault has more visual information in his figures than any of the longsword texts- even Fiore and Meyer only show “snapshots” of the action, rather than a continuous sequence.

Z: I still don’t think that a rapier-wielder from the 17th century can tell me much about my longsword art. How do we know that they are wielding the longsword correctly?

A: There are several things that make me believe Thibault knew a little about longsword. He shows his longsword fighters dressed in pluderhosen, and wielding blunt swords in the “federschwert” fashion. You can identify German guards such as Longpoint (Langenort), Vom Tag, Ochs, and Zornhut, as well as techniques such as “hanging (hengen)” and “winding through

(durchwinden)”. Here’s a plate with some examples:

thibl 1Z: But his stances are wrong! Look, his feet are narrow, and not at all like Meyer or Paulus Hector Mair. And he even crosses his legs in some plates, back leg behind front leg!

A: Yes, the stances look wrong to us today- not low enough, not forward-weighted enough. However, Thibault lived and fought at a time when longsword was still a living tradition- shouldn’t we turn the argument around and say that we may be wrong in our stances today? We know that high stances allow faster stepping, and there is mention in many longsword texts of adjusting your stances to suit the circumstances. When Thibault’s longsword man attacks, he does take a broad step forward, and shows considerable extension, just as we do. And the funny leg crossing is present in Meyer and probably older sources, we just don’t use it enough.

Z: Okay, say I believe you that Thibault knows a bit about longsword. What use is his advice on defeating the longsword to me?

A: Ah, now we reach the crux of the matter! Thibault has three chapters dealing with the longsword, and has a total of 21 separate sequences dealing with the longsword. These can be divided according to the starting position of the longsword wielder into 6 groups of sequences, with the following starting positions:

  1. A) Vom Tag- 4 sequences (Tabulae IX and X)
  2. B) Langenort- 8 sequences (Tabula X)
  3. C) Right Zornhut- 2 sequences (Tabula XI)
  4. D) Left Zornhut- 2 sequences (Tabula XI)
  5. E) Left Ochs- 2 sequences (Tabula XI)
  6. F) Right Ochs- 3 sequences (Tabula XI)

However, though Thibault deals with many different sequences, many of them are similar in principle, and illustrate the same weaknesses in the longsword play which a single sword wielder (or another longsword wielder) can utilise.

Z: Weaknesses? In my longsword play? Not possible!

A: Very possible- after all, none of us can claim to live up to the standards of yesteryear, and tournament sparring still leaves a lot to be desired. Thibault highlights two ideas of importance, which are generally overlooked by today’s longsword wielders (or at least most of them). These are distance and the principle of deflection, or of redirecting the opponent’s force.

Z: Distance? I’m very good at keeping distance. What do I need to learn about distance?

A: The distance problem is easy to explain. If I take a full length step or make a lunge, I can cover a large amount of distance. The maximum distance I can cover this way defines my “long range”- if the opponent is outside this distance, he is safe, unless I step closer before attacking. However, if I attack from “long range”, there is plenty of time for him to see me coming, and evade my blow. On the other hand, if I step closer than “long range” before attacking, then he can attack me while I’m unprepared. Thus, most single sword systems have two defined distances, “large” and “short”, and most of the emphasis is placed on reaching “short” distance safely before attacking. Fiore de Liberi’s longsword art uses “giocco stretto” and “giocco largo” as distances from which different options are available.

Z: But I have a longsword- don’t I just bind on his sword while entering, and then use my fancy techniques like winding?

A: Two things generally happen with German longsword wielders (and to plenty of Italian Fioreists). Firstly, they attempt to strike from long range, and are often hit in the hand while doing so. Secondly, they attempt to bind on the opponent’s sword, which often fails when the opponent is either stronger or faster, or if the opponent simply isn’t there. Thibault offers a solution for both problems.

In the first case,Thibault, though he can strike the opponent with a direct lunge from long range, never uses a lunge at long range. Instead, he attacks with two steps- one to close the range, the second to strike. If his opponent attempts to counter him during the first step, he uses one type of counter; if the opponent attempts to counter him after the first step is completed, he uses a different counter. We can learn from this two phase approach to attacking, which is very explicit in Thibault’s book, but only hinted at in longsword manuals like Meyer. I sometimes think that the longsword masters simply fail to explain something they considered self-evident, or known to everybody…

Z: And the deflection business?

A: Thibault never tries to parry the longsword directly. He countercuts, often on the top half of the opponent’s blade, while stepping out from the incoming sword. Thus he deflects it while stepping forward into range.

Z: But I can just whip my sword out of the bind and strike around.

A: And Thibault’s rapier wielder gets caught several times by this move. However, he offers a counter to this striking around by stepping in and striking the longsword man before he can finish his move, catching him halfway into his swing.

Z: I’m still not sure I’m visualising this all properly. I think I need to go through this slowly.

A: Well, let’s work through the sequences slowly then.


 John Michael Greer, The Academy of the Sword by Girard Thibault d’Anvers, 1628 (translation; Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006) (Original: Academie de l’espée, ou se demonstrent par reigles mathematiques sur le fondement d’un cercle mysterieux la theorie et pratique des vrais et iusqu’a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes a pied et a cheval.)

The longsword sequences

 Introductory Notes: The following sequences are taken directly from Thibault’s book, with only minor changes. Firstly, I’ve put each sequence into order, whereas Thibault’s original notes jump around a bit. Secondly, I haven’t reproduced the exact text or provided the plates, as the English translation of these is copyrighted. The plates can be found easily enough on the web, though not necessarily in great resolution. Instead, I’ve produced detailed floor plans using Thibault’s circle, so the footwork can be followed. My own comments and suggestions are also included.

The circle: People often get scared by Thibault’s circle, seeing it as overly complicated. If one ignores the majority of the lines, there are simply a set of nodes on which feet can be placed. Here’s the basic circle:


Alexander always starts with his front foot at C, and his back foot at A, whereas Zachary starts with his front foot at X and his back foot at Z. In general, Thibault will record where the different feet land on the diagram, allowing the footwork to be reconstructed. Sometimes he refers to a foot being “mid step” or suspended in the air, and in the notes that follow, these steps are generally shown with arrows.

Group A: Vom Tag


Tabula IX (plate 9) of Thibault’s Book II. Photo by Reinier van Noort

Sequence A1

  1. Zachary stands in guard, and Alexander approaches ready to attack (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 1)

Zachary’s right foot is at X, his left at Z. His sword is held point up at his right shoulder.

Alexander has stepped so his left foot is at C and his right foot a bit behind A, and he carries his sword out to the right, point up. He is about to step in while bring his point online with Zachary’s head.

  1. Zachary stands in guard, and Alexander starts to step forward (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 2)

Zachary remains in position. Alexander steps forward with his right foot, bringing it up to about the same position as the front foot. As he does so, he moves his sword forward and down, bringing it online with Zachary’s head.(Circle 3 concludes with Alexander running the blade through Zachary, without Zachary moving. I’ve excluded this option)

  1. Zachary attacks Alexander as he steps forward, forcing Alexander to countercut (Chp 40,Plate 9, Circle 4)

Seeing that Alexander has entered beyond safe distance, Zachary steps out to the right with his right foot and cuts in at Alexander’s head. Alexander immediately lands his right foot before the line IN, starts stepping forward with his left foot and turns his point inwards and down, hitting Zachary’s sword from above before it is at full speed, knocking it towards the ground.

  1. Alexander steps through with his left foot as he forces Zachary’s sword down (Chp. 40, Plate 9, Circle 5)

Alexander completes the step with his left foot, landing it on R while forcing Zachary’s sword down. Zachary’s foot lands.

  1. Alexander seizes Zachary’s hand and thrusts at Zachary’s face (Chp. 40, Plate 9, Circle 6)

Alexander lifts his front foot (the left) and moves it slightly forward to V. As he does so, he brings his left arm up and over the longsword, and grabs Zachary’s hand. From here he can threaten a thrust at Zachary’s face.thibl figure 1

Figure 1: Footwork diagrams for Sequence A. Top left: Circle 1. Top right: Circle 2. Middle: Circle 4. Bottom left: Circle 5. Bottom right: Circle 6.

Sequence A2

Circles 1-3 as above

  1. As Alexander applies pressure to Zachary’s blade, Zachary lifts his pommel (Chp. 40, Plate 9, Circle 7)

Alexander has bound on Zachary’s blade and is forcing it down. As Alexander steps in with his left foot to apply pressure on Zachary’s blade, Zachary lifts his pommel and lets the blade drop. As he does so, Alexander guides Zachary’s blade from left to right, as he moves his upraised left foot forward to the left with “a little jump”. Once Zachary’s blade has been moved clear to the right, Alexander seizes Zachary’s hand from the outside, while maintaining blade pressure. [Not mentioned in the text but shown in the picture is that as Alexander steps, he starts swinging his back foot behind his front foot]

 Alexander puts his point in front of Zachary’s side (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 8)

Alexander plants his right foot to the left of his left foot, outside the square, and aligns his point with Zachary’s side. [Not mentioned in the text but shown in the picture is that Alexander picks up his left after his right foot has landed, intending to swing it forwards].

 Alexander pierces Zachary through the side (Chp. 40, Plate 9, Circle 9)

Alexander finishes moving his left foot, placing it down to the left of his right foot outside the square. As he does so, he thrusts his sword through Zachary’s side.thibl figure 2Figure 2: Footwork diagrams for A2. Top left: Circle 7. Top right: Circle 8. Top left: Circle 9.

Sequence A3

  1. Zachary stands in guard, and Alexander approaches ready to attack (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 1)

Zachary’s right foot is at X, his left at Z. His sword is held point up at his right shoulder.

Alexander has stepped so his left foot is at C and his right foot a bit behind A, and he carries his sword out to the right, point up. He is about to step in while bring his point online with Zachary’s head.

  1. Zachary stands in guard, and Alexander starts to step forward (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 2)

Zachary remains in position. Alexander steps forward with his right foot, bringing it up to about the same position as the front foot. As he does so, he moves his sword forward and down, bringing it online with Zachary’s head.

  1. Zachary prepares to swing a heavy blow, and Alexander wounds him (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 10)

Instead of attacking immediately, Zachary pulls his sword back in preparation for swinging a forceful blow, or to try to get Alexander to move back. Alexander lands his right foot and immediately swings his left foot behind his right while thrusting at Zachary’s face, hitting Zachary before he can launch his attack.

  1. Alexander finishes the previous attack (Chp 40, Plate 9, Circle 11)

Alexander drives his thrust home by stepping his right foot forward towards Zachary.

thibl figure 3Figure 3: Footwork diagrams for sequence A3. Top left: Circle 1. Top right: Circle 2. Bottom left: Circle 3. Bottom right: Circle 4


Tabula X (Plate 10) of Thibault’s Book II. Photo by Reinier van Noort


Sequence A4

  1. Alexander starts to step forward to attack Zachary (Chp 41, Plate 10, C1)

Zachary is standing left foot forward [note that the picture shows right forward], blade held point up on the right shoulder. Alexander has come into range with his left foot on C, and now proceeds to step forward with his right foot, while bringing his point online.

  1. Zachary steps forward and swings a forceful blow at Alexander, who evades backwards (Chp. 41, Plate 10, C2)

Zachary steps forward with an extended step (right foot landing at R), and swings forcefully at Alexander, aiming to hit him at extended range. Alexander draws his body back in order to evade this blow. As he does so, he brings his sword to the left of Zachary’s sword in a circular movement under the longsword. [No exact footwork is given for Alexander in the text, but the picture shows him landing his right foot and shifting his left foot back]

  1. As his sword clears Zachary’s longsword, Alexander passes forward and wounds Zachary (Chp. 41, Plate 10, C3)

Having evaded Zachary’s swing, Alexander simply steps forward with the left foot and thrusts his sword through Zachary’s head.

thibl figure 4Figure 4: footwork diagrams for sequence A4. Top left: Circle 1. Top Right: Circle 2. Bottom: Circle 3.


  • Though these 4 sequences span 2 chapters of Thibault’s book, I’ve grouped them together based on starting position. Makes sense to me!
  • The longsword wielder, Zachary, starts this sequence in a right high guard (Vom Tag), with right foot forward. He is then going to step his right foot out to the right while swinging a diagonal blow from above right to below left, in what would be termed a Zornhau in German longsword. The foot arrangement is odd, and I generally swap the feet so the left is leading- it makes more mechanical sense, and doesn’t change the sequence.
  • The rapier wielder, Alexander, starts with left foot forward. He passes with his right while bringing the point on line. When threatened he immediately places his right foot down and steps forward with the right. This two-step sequence is seen throughout Thibault, and is also common in most rapier treatises.
  • In sequence 1, Alexander cuts into the descending longsword blade before the longsword can generate much force and deflects it down to the left,while continuing to step. A longsword wielder can do exactly the same move in the same position, and it could be argued that Meyer’s 1st device operates similarly.
  • The finishing move in sequence 1 involves seizing the blade or hand of Zachary, and threatening a thrust to the face. If the same sequence is done with longsword in hand, the finishing move need not use a grab, but could use a short edge cut instead, using the longer longsword to control both the opponent’s longsword and strike at the same time.
  • Sequence 2 is essentially the same as sequence 1, up until the point when the blades bind. As Alexander strikes down on the longsword blade, instead of allowing his sword to be hit to the ground, Zachary pulls his pommel up and drops his point to the side, forming a hanging guard, to prevent his hands being grabbed. He then intends to punch his hands forward and whip his point out from under the rapier to strike with the long edge (a technique called “durchwinden” or winding through in German longsword).
  • In sequence 2, when Zachary lifts his hands and hangs his longsword blade, Alexander steps out to his left, grabs Zachary’s hands and maintains blade pressure on Zachary’s blade, preventing the wind. As soon as his point comes on line, he thrusts. Maintaining blade pressure in this way is referred to as “slicing” in Joachim Meyer’s longsword treatise, and it is very simple to do this same technique with the longsword, ending with a cut to the opponent’s arms.
  • Sequence 3 occurs when Zachary allows Alexander to finish his first step before reacting. Thibault declares that Zachary has either pulled his sword back to try for a more powerful cut, or has attempted to “make him draw back”, which I interpret as a feigned cut.
  • In sequence 3, since Zachary has not offered a threat, Alexander has come into short range and immediately thrusts at Zachary’s face, pulling his left foot behind the right in an inquartata/ volte/ Schielhau type movement. Alternatively, Alexander steps forward with the right foot as he thrusts. Either way, he runs his sword through the opponent safely, as he has achieved a safe distance from which to attack.
  • In sequence 4, Zachary attacks as soon as Alexander is in range. Alexander moves back while shifting his sword under Zachary’s longsword from right to left, and then runs Zachary through with a step forward with the left foot. This is simply a technique called “durchwechseln” or changing through in the German longsword tradition.

In Part 2, I’ll cover the devices from Langenort