Technical longsword discussion ahead:
Ok, so you’re just starting out at learning the longsword. Maybe you’re studying the Liechtenauer lineage or maybe you’re studying Fiore. You see all these cool, fancy guards and you think, how on earth am I meant to use that? Maybe you’re lucky enough to have others teaching you or maybe you’re doing it on your own. I know when I was in that position, I scoured the internet, searching for everyone’s opinion I could find. And so if that’s you at the moment, I want to give my two cents worth on understanding the differences between these two guards (shown above, Posta de Fenestra on the left, Ox (Ochs) Guard on the right).
First of all, they are incredibly similar; two sides of the same coin. I’m going to point you to the pictures above to help you through them. Both guards have you holding the sword with the front (“true”) edge towards the sky, though on an angle, and the tip towards your opponent. A side-note is that Ox Guard can be pointed at their face (more offensive) or in some form of diagonal line across their body (more defensive), but we won’t get into that here—you can quite often get the same result either way. Your hands are pulled back near your head on either side, either further back so they’re behind your head if Posta de Fenestra but further forward and in front of your head if Ox Guard. This is the key difference and I’ll explain why in a little while. But, lastly, you have your opposite leg forwards to the side the sword is on, i.e. if your hands are near your left shoulder, your right leg is forward.
That’s cool then, but what are they for? Both guards are doing two main things: they are threatening your opponent with the point of your blade, and they are simultaneously covering an important line. They cover you from a downwards blow given (from their perspective) on the opposite but not corresponding side. I.e. if you have an Ox Guard over your left shoulder, it covers from a blow your opponent makes from their right side. The key difference, due to the further forward or back nature of your hands, is whether you are in a more defensive position or one which gives you more options.
Let’s consider the Ox Guard first. With your hands further forward, you have aligned the structure of your body so your shoulders, elbows and wrists support each other. This makes the guard very strong and gives you more reach. It is what you want to be in when someone looks like they’ll strike down powerfully from above their head or shoulders. It effectively means there’s more blade between you and them, therefore you’re personally further away, and your body mechanics are better aligned to absorb the powerful blow. The key thing is to catch the blow, I’ll explain what to do afterwards in a sec.
But first we need to go back to Posta de Fenestra . If the Ox Guard is further forward and keeps you more safe, why be in Posta de Fenestra at all? There are two reasons why it’s not always better to extend your arms as much as possible. Firstly, if your hands are held back, they are like a coiled spring, so you have more potential energy stored and can actually strike faster and with more lethal force. If you’re already extended to your maximum, your energy needs to come from moving your feet (which is slower) or you need to pull the sword back which wastes time and alerts your opponent. Secondly, you’re actually much more manoeuvrable if the sword is held back. If it’s forward, you only really have one pivot point in where the forward wrist grips the sword, being controlled by the back hand. When it’s back, however, both wrists can control the movement, as well as the other muscles in your arms and shoulders because they aren’t being used to lock your arms out in place. In short, it gives you much more control which makes it much more offensive. I have also seen people strike with a cut from Posta de Fenestra , unwinding the blade and striking down with a normal blow from that shoulder. I don’t do this very often myself but it’s another option you have, the benefit being you’re threatening your opponent with the point until the very moment you strike.
A quick thing to point out before we get back to catching their blade with the Ox Guard, is transitioning between Posta de Fenestra and Ox Guard. Remember how we had all that stored potential energy in Posta de Fenestra? When you stab forwards, you’re effectively moving into an Ox Guard. You can do this quickly, stabbing and pulling back, to make an attack or you can put it forwards when someone strikes from above. If someone strikes your sword as you stab at them, or if you’re deliberately trying to cover a line, either way you can be in the biomechanically safer Ox Guard very quickly, just but springing your hands (and the sword) forwards.
What’s the point though? What’s the big deal about being struck on the Ox Guard from above? Everything. This is where the Ox Guard shines. You, paradoxically, want to catch the blow in a biomechanically strong way, but immediately as you do, you weaken the guard and turn the tip and the sword down, step forward with your back foot and let their sword slide off. As it’s sliding off, you let the energy of their attack power your sword in rotating past your leg, over your shoulder and down on the opposite site to strike. This sounds complicated but if you test it out, you’ll see very quickly what’s going on.
Now there’s plenty more you can do with the Ox Guard itself, and you can transition with either of these guards to other guards as well. But this is about their key differences. You could write a whole paper on winding and using the Ox Guard at the bind but I’ll save that for another day. The key point I am making is about being further back or further forward, related to potential energy vs longer reach and a stronger guard. I find I quite often start in Posta de Fenestra and by aggressive stabs, even if done as feints out of measure, you can goad your opponent into trying to swat down your blade, in which case you extend to Ox for the moment of impact, and trigger the counter mentioned above.
I hope this was in some way useful. The best advice I can give is to not just take someone else’s word for something but try it yourself, practice and when you make mistakes, figure out why things didn’t work out as you planned. At the end of the day, I’ve learned more from getting hit than reading manuals though you need the manuals to show you what to strive for.
(Both Posta de Fenestra (left) and Ox (Ochs) Guard (right) sourced from Wiktenauer)
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