CLA Adventures with the Zornhaw

Over the last week or so, we have been going over the zornhaw at my club, and I wanted to go through some of the process of trying to find a game that encourages people to do it without explicitly telling them to do it. By that I mean I’m trying to avoid things like “you must do a zornhaw in order to win,” or “you can only score by doing a zornhaw if you are on defense.” However, I did present the text reading and the technique before we did the games, and said something like “see if you can do a zornhaw, when it works and when it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t that’s fine.” 

The way I define a zornhaw is cutting against an incoming cut (preferably to the head but I’m not super picky about that) followed by a thrust. I prefer it as a parry riposte but I’ll take a counterattack if you feel strongly about it, though I think that’s more squinter territory. The two things that I feel it must do to accomplish what I want are 1) be a defensive action, not an initial opening attack (nach, not vor), and 2) end with a thrust. I don’t care about cut angles as long as it’s from above, I don’t care about how you get the point online after the cut, and I don’t care about footwork. I know others disagree with me, I don’t care, this is what I’m going with. 

So the idea here is to make a game in which parrying and riposting with a stab is a good tactic. Simple parry riposte is a simple one to tackle, there are many ways to do it, one is give one side priority in the attack and the other priority in the parry riposte. The difficulty comes with having that riposte be a stab. It is definitely easier and more intuitive to riposte with a cut in most situations, though there are benefits to riposting with a stab. So the main problem that we are trying to solve is getting the riposte to be a stab. 

We did this over the course of 3 practices, and ended up playing 5 games total. 

Day 1

The first practice, we played Tall vs Short and Sabre March. There were no modifications to Tall vs Short, but I did tell people to try to do the zornhaw before we did it. The idea behind the first is that parry riposte is one of few options, and you’d have to figure out right away if you want to riposte with a stab or with a cut-over abnehmen. The result was barely any wrath hew points, I think the attacker anticipated it too much and threw their cut in such a way that prevented the defender from riposting with a stab. This is a common problem with doing things like this, if one person knows what you’re going to try, they will anticipate it and prevent it, especially in this game since you win by parrying an attempted riposte. Successful ripostes seemed to all be cut-arounds or cut a lower target, or some variation. That is intended, remember we do want to allow the abnehmen as a valid option, but not the only working option. 

Sabre March was modified by making deliberate hits to the hands not score (if you aimed somewhere else and hands got in the way, you still score, you just can’t go for the hands on purpose). The idea here is to reduce the efficacy of counterattacks for the defender, since counterattack to the hands is a common target. Because of this, they will have to rely more on parry riposte, and therefore hopefully get the zornhaw. The problem with this was similar to the other one, there’s no immediately obvious benefit to going for a stab on the riposte instead of a cut. Attacker also knew to look for the stab, so that probably didn’t help. Looking back on this, I don’t think restricting hands as a target was helpful for this either, but I’ll talk about that on day 2.

Day 2

I could have just left it at that, some people did some zornhaw actions in those games, so we could call it a moderate success and move on, but instead I decided to try again. On the drive over I was thinking about what might help, and I came up with a game that I call Foil + Head. Basically the only valid hits are thrust to torso or cut to head, doubles are decided by right-of-way (using our house convention), and off-target hits stop the action (like in foil, if an off-target hit has priority over an on-target hit, it’s still nothing done). The first thing to note about this was that it was either a ton of fun and created some cool situations if you tried hard to hit on target, and was a sloggy nightmare if you did not. Especially if both fencers did a lot of zwerhaw, it was a good idea because cuts to the head are a target, but then the hands get in the way and you end up with a lot of off-target hits. 

How was it for the zornhaw? Not great. Unlike foil, in LS both hands are in front of you, which makes getting to the chest more difficult with all the off-target area of your arms in the way. After parrying a cut to the head, it’s difficult to get the point down to their chest, especially if they suspect you will be trying it. I did see several people do the zornhaw and land a thrust to the face, but that was off-target in this game. Maybe next time we can have thrusts to the face be on-target in order to facilitate this. Again we have tried to restrict the arms as target area, and again we have failed to make a good zornhaw game. At this point I suspect that making arms and hands off-target is not the answer. I think the person being zorned has to be more worried about shallow target hits in order for it to work more consistently. At this point I have been trying it a lot in sparring, and it seems to work better for me in free fencing than it does in these games. Clearly we can do better.

Day 3

I searched the game archive for games tagged with zornhaw, and the only one is Cut into Thrust Game. This game is great for things that look like the wrath hew point, but it lacks the head attack aspect. So I decided to try this game, but you can do a cut to the head only on the initial action. The idea here is a direct cut to the head is easier than a cut into a thrust, and a compound action into a thrust is possible to react to, so hopefully we’ll see people parrying cuts to the head, and from there the only choice is a thrust. It worked decently, there were a fair amount of things that kind of resembled the wrath hew point, maybe with some extra winding steps. This is not a bad thing, and it is expected, this game is meant to be bind and wind heavy. 

The second game we did was cuts vs thrusts, basically one side can only score with a cut, the other can only score with a thrust, doubles decided by right-of-way, both sides start in shoulder guard. My initial idea here was that the cutting side would do crazy feints and indirect attacks which would prevent the zorn from ever arising, and while that did happen a lot, the zorn still happened. We recorded which side won most of the time in this, and out of 200 total reps, the cut side won 123 times, or 61.5%. The thing about it here is that even though the cutter has the freedom to cut wherever they want, the wrath hew point is really the best defensive option that the thruster has. You parry and then what do you do? You pretty much have to stab, and the riposte gets priority in the right of way convention. This was definitely the best game we’ve done so far for bringing out the zornhaw. Before we start, I bet Jeff that cut into thrust would be better, and I lost that bet, so I owe him a beer. 

Takeaways and future study

I have two main takeaways from this: 1) in order to produce this action, the person doing it must either be forced to stab or be greatly encouraged to stab, riposting with a cut is just too intuitive; 2) keep arms and hands as a target, that way the person being riposted won’t be overly protective of their torso. With these two things in mind, I may try some other game variants, though I’m not sure exactly what right now. 

A general takeaway from this and related case studies is that a game not producing the results that you want is not a failure. After a game, you talk about it and discuss whether or not the target technique was used, and if so when. If not, you still learn something about the technique, you learn that the situation you have made in the game may not be a good situation in which to use it. The game may still be useful for other things because the affordances are still similar to the performance space, so even if it didn’t necessarily produce your target technique, it was not a waste of time. 

After doing all of this, I looked at my records for what I had done previously for the zornhaw ort. I have done it twice since I started using CLA, the first time was on 8/24/2021, and on that day we did cut into thrust game and called it a day. I made a note of how direct attacks are difficult in this game, and binding and winding arose a lot. The second time was 3/11/2022-3/15/2022. On 3/11 we did tall vs short where you must riposte with a stab, and cut into thrust. I made a note that I did not see as much winding as usual in cut into thrust, but that’s okay. On 3/13 and 3/15, we did tall vs short and cuts vs thrusts. I had forgotten that we did cuts vs thrusts to support the wrath hew before, I should have checked. Interestingly, I made a note that some people thought the cut was stronger and others thought the thrust was.