Why I Don’t Allow Gayszlen In My Tournaments

This is pretty simple to introduce, I don’t allow Gayszlen in the tournaments I write rules for.

The reasons for this are actually pretty multifaceted, including:

  1. Lack of Source Material
  2. Quality Standards
  3. Safety
  4. Game Design

Before we start, I want to emphasize that any of these reasons alone is probably not enough. These types of one-handed strikes are probably not an egregious enough violation of any of these to ban this family of techniques. But taken together, they make a clear case that this is not something to design around.

Lack Of Source Material

The term “Gayszlen” is used rather generically to refer to 1h strikes where the upper hand on the longsword is released, and the sword is swung by the lower hand.

From Hans Talhoffer, Württemberg Treatise (1467)

So what makes a Gayszlen a Gayzlen? Is any one-handed strike of the same style a Gayzlen? Why/when/how should we use the Gayszlen? Well you will be left wondering for a long time, because all we really have to go on is this single picture and the text caption accompanying it (das gayszlen = the whipping).

This alone isn’t terribly uncommon, as there are a ton of super ambiguous things in HEMA source materials. And if you’re actually fighting using Talhoffer longsword then it’s as well defined as most other things you have to go on. But that begs the question:

When was the last time you saw someone actually studying and sparing Talhoffer longsword?

In this case the “it’s a historical technique” is a complete bullshit response. What actually happened was people felt like doing it, and then justified it after the fact because they found a picture.

And, to be clear, people do all sorts of things in sparring that aren’t explicitly part of the historical source material. Which is totally cool. But claiming that they are doing it because they are trying to implement something historical is not so cool.

Why do I take exception to the Gayszlen over many other similar “non-canon” techniques? Because (a) almost everything else is supported in the sources people actually study and (b) the heavy use of Gayszlen in competition drowns out the use of other tactics more topical to the corpus of historical material available.

Quality Standards

I’m an advocate of having higher levels of quality standards in tournaments, for reasons which would be an article all on their own. And one thing these one-handed attacks do not lend themselves well to is landing quality strikes.

It is very difficult to land edge-on when you’re throwing the sword out in this manner, and if you’re running a tournament that emphasizes hitting edge-on, that is an issue. Having the judges just not call these for points would be nice, but we all know how good judges are at calling edge alignment at the end of the day. So getting rid of strikes which have a high rate of being misjudged is always a plus.

I can recall a match where myself and another judge skilled at edge alignment were officiating over a fencer who liked to throw a lot of Gayszlens (On-edge one-handed blows were allowed in this event’s rules). These were landing flat, as Gayzlen’s are apt to do. But the fencer got rather annoyed that they were getting their hits called as such, because they were very much not used to officials noticing.

In addition, most* of these strikes are thrown in what I will call a “casting” style, whereby the sword is thrown forward and by the time it impacts it has almost no rotational momentum. This makes recovery of the sword far easier, but also means that it’s more of a placement than a cut.

Both of these quality issues are solvable by having the judges be able to discern the cut quality and disallow it. But if you’ve got a strike that you’re going to be denying the majority of the time, why not just get rid of it?

*but not always, I’ll get to that in the next section. 

Thank you for asking, strawstickman. I have in fact seen people cut using Gayszlens. And those cuts look absolutely nothing like the way people use the Gayszlen in sparring. So if you are asking me about evidence for the Gayszlen cutting, I would say the fact that it takes someone very skilled at test cutting using a highly modified form to achieve success as proof it doesn’t work well, rather than the contrary some claim the evidence supports.

(Whether something can/can’t cut is probably not going to be the defining factor when writing rules. But I included the last paragraph because I know it will be asked by someone who reads this.)


In the last section where I mentioned the casting type Gayszlen as not having rotational momentum, you might have started yelling at your screen about just how devastating a full rotation Gayszlen can be. Which is very valid.

The Moment of Inertia is kind of like how much something weighs, but in terms of rotation. Things which have higher MoI take more effort to get rotating, and also more effort to stop (Center of Percussion? Vibration Node? Balance Point? What does it all mean?). The key thing to understand is that MoI is a product of the mass, and the square of the distance to the center of rotation. Which means that if you take the same mass and have the ‘arm’ be twice as long it will have four times as much rotational inertia. And even if you don’t really have a good grasp of rotational physics, you can equate how getting hit by something four times as “heavy” is definitely not a good thing.

The Gayszlen is capable of hitting incredibly hard if it is thrown with commitment. Not only is the sword now effectively longer, having more rotational momentum, it is rotating completely from the shoulder instead of some complex point determined from the interaction of both arms and elbows.

In addition, the Gayszlen to the leg has a tendency to drop quite low, increasing the chance that it will hit the ankle. And combining a strike which has the potential to hit with a lot of force (and low controllability) with an increased risk to hit an un-armored joint is not something I would like to encourage.

It might seem weird that I would argue that the Gayszlen is both a garbage low quality shot and an ankle-destroying blow. The reason is that you can throw it in different ways. And this isn’t to say that the former is just “pulling” the Gayszlen back for safety. Because the strike has such low controllability, most of the time the application falls into either:

  1. A follow-through style gayszlen which has a ton of rotational momentum and can hit very hard.
  2. A cast style gayszlen which will hit with less force and be far easier to recover, making the technique have a much lower downside to use.

Neither of these are options I like to encourage, and it is very difficult to throw strikes which don’t fall into these categories.

Game Design

This is actually the most important category of the four. When we design tournaments,we are designing games that we have set up in a certain way for a certain reason. And how you structure the game is going to depend on how you want it to look. The difference between ice and field hockey isn’t just the equipment used. The way the rules are written makes them very different experiences.

This is definitely something that really happened.

When someone lands a gayszlen, you’re far more likely to hear groans than cheers out of the audience. Furthermore, the counter-play options against the gayszlen are also not exciting to watch. Having the gayszlen as an active option on the table just makes people more cautious when approaching distance to actually doing something fun & interesting.

And while some people may disagree on this, the title of the article is Why I Don’t Allow Gayzlen In MY Tournaments. I simply find that the gayszlen game is uninteresting, and it is a really easy aspect to neatly chop out. Which is important, because even if you really hate the zwercopter and want to say “no zwerhau” it’s very difficult to enforce what exactly a zwerhau is – and what differentiates it from other similar cutting angles. But saying “no one-handed strikes” is very actionable.


Let’s look at the list again.

  1. Lack of Source Material
  2. Quality Standards
  3. Safety
  4. Game Design

I wouldn’t consider any of reasons 1-3 enough to ban the gayszlen when taken on their own. Neither of them is all that severe. Sure it’s not in the sources people study, but so are a lot of things we see scoring in tournaments. Sure it’s less likely to land as a good hit, but so are a lot of other things we see in tournaments. Sure it’s more risky for safety than most actions, but not to an unacceptable level. And, you guessed it, so are a lot of other things we see in tournaments.

But when you take those things together it makes a less compelling case as to why it should be something included in the tournaments I host, when it’s so unproblematic to remove. And so I have, and other tournament organizers sometimes do as well.

And, most importantly of all, it’s lame and boring. And we don’t have to subject ourselves to watching it score in tournaments where something far more interesting could have happened. 😛