Low Guards in Longsword: A Lew-Inspired Perspective

This is a brief description of my opinion on the low guard vs point high guard matchup, and how I like to play it. This is based on an RDL background, primarily Lew. 

A “low guard” will be defined here as any guard where the hands are low and the sword is angled downward. A “point high guard” will be defined as a guard where the sword is chambered for a cut from above, either at a shoulder or overhead. 

Folio 27r, Cluny Fechtbuch (MS Cl. 23842)

Aside from some specific pieces from Lew, I have intentionally avoided giving names of specific guards or techniques. This is a description of tactical interplay between two positions, feel free to fill it in with whatever guard or technique you have in your tradition. 

Primary options

The interplay between two fencers holding these guards is based on the main stroke that they are looking for based on what is strongest and most natural from those guards. They are:

For Point high – Direct cut (or cut into stab) from above. Reason: it is the most direct attack, opponent’s upper openings are available.

For Low – Parry riposte. Reason: A sweeping parry from below can cover all options, and attacking directly against a chambered position is risky.


Tactics for each side will revolve around bringing the opponent into a position where you can use your primary option.

Tactics for point high – Knowing that the opponent’s strongest option is parry riposte, you may: 

  1. Beat their speed by hitting before they can parry – This is done by winning the distance game; work your way into your direct attack distance while they still think they are safe.  
  2. Draw out their parry prematurely  and punish – This is done via pressure and feints; convince them that you will attack when you will not. 

Safety strat: Falling upon the blade

Sometimes you will encounter someone in a low guard who you think may make erratic counterattacks, such as stabbing in or cutting below to the hands while you attack. Against someone like this, falling upon may be a better idea. Falling upon as I use it (and as I think it is used in RDL) is a fully eyes open feint. Position your sword in a way that blocks their direct path to rise up (sometimes you can make contact, sometimes you can’t, depending on where their sword is). If they:

  1. Don’t move: stab them.
  2. Rise and bind: remain strong (as in Lew’s vberlauffen), wind/take the blade and stab, be ready to rebind if they cut around, because people tend to cut around when their opponent is strong at the sword.
  3. Disengage above or below: rebind/parry riposte, the disengage requires a longer path than the rise and bind, so it should be possible to react to.

Tactics for low guard – Draw them into an attack on your timing, so that you can get the strong parry riposte. I like to bind strongly and immediately duplieren, though this does not work on everyone, so you will need some variety. 

  1. Make them think that it’s a good time to attack, when in reality it is not. 
  2. If they are not attacking, either because they are trying to bait your parry riposte or they are just apprehensive, you can rise with the point and threaten to stab. The stab does not have to land, it just has to remind them that they don’t have all day and compel them to make a move. If they still refuse to go, stab them.
    1. I take the stab as the secondary option because looking for it against someone who has no problem attacking is likely to end in a double. If you want to double, then this might be a good move.
    2. In Lew, there are two pieces that start from a stab out of a low guard, the fehler and the verkerer. These are both viable options arising from the stab, especially if you know your opponent will try to parry. 

If you are fallen upon

  1. Disengage (above or below): the best timing to do this is while they are committing to their initial action. If you did not get that timing, you can anticipate that they will be looking for your disengage to parry, and do a feint attack (IE Lew’s fehler).
  2. Rise and bind: They will try to attack directly from here because they have a stronger position, so be ready to counter-wind.
  3. Step back: create distance and reset the situation.

Reverse Sprechfenster

This is a tongue-in-cheek name for rising into a highly chambered position (IE vom tag) and immediately striking. If your opponent is not ready for it, you get a solid attack from above. If they are ready for it, you may get stabbed as you are chambering. 

Don’t stand still!

Standing still is the worst thing you can do in a low guard. If you are not moving, you are allowing your opponent to control the distance, and allowing them to go when they feel it’s right. You will be reacting to their attack instead of drawing it in, and if you are reacting you will either be too slow and get hit directly, or you will fall for a feint and parry prematurely. 

Recommended drills

Direct attack drill – For the point high fencer, this helps identify the distance at which you will be able to land a direct attack before your opponent can parry.

Soviet foil drill – For the attacker, this helps learn how to get into attack distance without your opponent knowing it, and for the defender it helps learn how to make someone think they’re in attack distance when they are not. 

Falling upon drill – For the low guard person, helps find the timing of your opponent’s falling upon, and also avoid parries after the initial disengage.