Last week it might have seemed that I thought very little of the guard Long Point. Not true! It’s incredibly useful so long as you understand its strengths and weaknesses (like all guards) and use it effectively. So if running into battle in Long Point isn’t the best way to use it, what is?
To take a step back for a second, Long Point, as its name suggests, is about holding the sword out as long as it can go, point forward. See the picture at the top. Fairly straightforward. What’s it good at doing though? Yes, you guessed it, stabbing people with the pointy end. But is there any more to it than that?
Yes, actually. There’s a few things you need to bear in mind if you’re trying to stab someone from Long Point. The key thing is finding a spot or a time where they’re open so you can stab them. Although holding it out in this way gives you a reach advantage, and is the key reason you do it, there are other factors you need to consider. Firstly, footwork. Stepping back or out of the way as they strike and then following up by stepping in and thrusting as they recover is the one of the most reliable ways to use this guard. As with everything, if your footwork is better than your opponent’s, you’ve got a good chance of hitting them safely. But you don’t need to rely just on footwork. You can pivot the sword around and search for openings. Now, if your arms aren’t fully extended, you can pivot it at your wrists, but even if they are, you can still pivot it further back where your arms meet your shoulders. The point of being manoeuvrable like this is actually twofold. One, it lets you search for more openings, and, two, it helps you avoid their blade. If you’re trying to thrust someone and they bind or beat your blade, they’ve probably thwarted your plan of attack. So the best way to try and attack with Long Point is to be using both your footwork and bladework together to keep your sword and your body free until the perfect moment comes to thrust them.
But there is another way of using Long Point too. In fact, it’s basically the exact opposite. Rather than trying to avoid their blade, you use it to goad them into striking it. See, if you keep your blade static and pointing directly towards them, it’s a threat they need to deal with before they can strike you. They can try side-stepping you and cutting around it, but if you’re as quick on your feet as them, it’s not going to work. Staying in a static Long Point reduces your opponent’s options by forcing them, most of the time, to either bind or cut into it. This means so long as you’ve trained counters to these techniques, you can gain control over how the fight will play out and force your opponent to play your game. Now there are other guards that are more ideal to receiving a blow and doing something tricky from it—take Ox for example. But Long Point has the advantage of putting you in measure before your opponent, i.e. threatening them before they threaten you. And, some of the time, the value of that threat in letting you control the fight can be the difference between victory or defeat.
There’s actually a few more benefits to Long Point that are worth discussing while we’re at it. For starters, it’s a central guard. This means, while it’s not really covering a line itself, it can quickly and easily be pulled back to a guard on either your left or right side to protect you from blows. It has the dual benefit of threatening your opponent and being able to protect yourself simultaneously. It’s also a counter to every other point forwards guard. Think about it. If someone is trying to stab you from Fenestra, Ox, Plough, Boar’s Tooth, you name it; they’re all pulled back relative to Long Point so Long Point can reach them before they can reach it. So, as long as they stay retracted, you can stab them without worrying about their point. And if they extend their hands to get greater reach, they end up transitioning closer to a Long Point guard despite where they started from because it is, by definition, the guard of the greatest extension. But since you already control the central line with it, you’ll find as they extend into it, you can displace them easily and set up a counter thrust. Either way you look about it, it keeps you safe from their thrusts, and their cuts too so long as you know what you’re doing. Fairly versatile, eh?
So, please don’t come away from my blog posts thinking I don’t love Long Point. It’s one of the simplest and most natural guards and yet one of the most useful if you use it right. Besides being a guard in longsword fencing, the biomechanical principles of it can be applied, at least in part, to almost all forms of swordsmanship or weapon combat more generally. An extended, point forward guard has much the same benefits and limitations in knife-fighting, sabre, rapier or spear as it does in longsword. It’s just that longsword happens to be the most beautiful, the most satisfying sword system, so naturally why wouldn’t you want to study the principle there first?
(Picture depicting the Long Point Guard from Fiore’s Fior di Battaglia. Accessed online at Wiktenauer.)