Getting Started with Messer in HEMA

If you are curious about the Messer as a HEMA weapon or just starting out, I hope the information below is helpful. Feedback is welcome and appreciated in the comments.

My goal with this article is to share the sources that got me going as well as provide the Messer apprentice curriculum I have developed. I am happy to say that I am now teaching this weapon in our school using this information. My school can be found here if you are local and would like to check us out: http://noblescience.org/

Messer Training Curriculum:

Parts of the Messer

From Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messer_(weapon)

A messer (German for “knife“) is a single-edged sword with a knife-like hilt construction. While the various names are often used synonymously, messers are divided into two types:

Lange Messer (“long knives”) are one-handed swords used by the Bourgeoisie (middle-class civilians) for personal self-defence. They were about a meter long and may have evolved from the Bauernwehr(“peasant’s sidearm”). They are also known as Großes Messer (Great Knife).

Kriegsmesser (“war knife”) are curved weapons up to 1.5m long, used with one or two hands, and normally wielded by professional warriors of the 14th to 16th century, such as the Landsknecht.

Blade

Messers are characterized by their single-edged blades. The lengths and shapes of the blade can vary greatly. Messer blades can be straight or curved. Extant examples of langes messer seem to have an overall length of 30 inches (760 mm) with a 24.5 in (62 cm) blade, and a weight between 2–2.5 lb (0.91–1.13 kg).

Hilt

The defining characteristic of messer is their hilt construction. Quite notable in its construction was the attachment of blade to the hilt via a slab tang sandwiched between two wooden grip plates that were pegged into place. Messer often include a straight cross-guard and a nagel: a nail-like protrusion that juts out from the right side of the cross-guard away from the flat of the blade, to protect the wielder’s sword hand. The lengths of hilts can range from one or two-handed grips.

Fighting with the messer

Further information: Historical European martial arts

The messer was part of the curriculum of several Fechtbücher (fighting manuals) of the 14th and 15th centuries, including that of Johannes Lecküchner (dealing with the langes messer), the Codex Wallerstein, Hans Talhoffer, Paulus Kal and Albrecht Dürer.

Curriculum:

  • Focus for Apprentice
    • Movement
    • Deflection 
    • Protection (hands)
  • Focus for Scholar (in progress)
    • 6 Master Strikes 
    • Closing and Controlling 

Apprentice Material:

  • Parts of the Messer – See picture at top of document
  • Balanced Stance – Stand feet shoulder-width-apart, either foot forward. Knees bent, weight on balls of feet. Forward foot should be pointed at your opponent. 
  • Steps
    • Passing Step – Step forward with one foot traversing in front of the other, usually done with the passing step slightly offline of the opponent in a diagonal direction on the side of the passing foot. 
    • Simple Step – Move the front foot forward in a line followed by the back foot. Slower, but maintains a wide base for balance
    • False Step (Gathering Step) – Move the back foot up to the leading foot and then move the leading foot forward. Faster than a simple step and more deceptive, but when feet are together you are vulnerable to being knocked off balance. 
    • Triangle Step – Forward traversing step to the right with the right foot (moving you toward your opponent’s left flank), followed by a slight pivot of the left foot back-and-to-the-right
  • Grips – Practice shifting between the various grips
    • Hammer Grip – Hold the hilt of the messer in your fist. 
    • Handshake Grip – Thumb on the back of the hilt of the messer, point extended outward.
    • Thumb Grip – Hammer grip shifted so that your thumb is up and on the flat of the blade, opposite the nagel. 
  • Protecting the Hand(s)
    • One of the primary targets in Messer is the hand
    • In all guards, keep your sword hand back and out of opponent’s measure or safely behind your cross.
    • Offhand should be kept either behind the back or close against your chest, ready to reach out and grapple.
  • Langenort – “long point” – Guard – Hold the Messer out in front of you, point towards your opponent, arm fully extended
  • Thrust – Simple thrust with true time. Sword moves, then arms, then body, then legs. It helps to imagine a string attached to the tip of the sword pulling you towards your target. 
  • Luginsland – “the watchtower” (Vom Tag) – Guard – Balanced stance with the messer held over the right or left shoulder. Can be in a thumb grip or a standard grip. The forward leg should be the opposite of the shoulder the messer is being held over. 
  • Oberhau – Descending overhead strike 
  • Eber – “the boar” (Phlug) – Guard – Balanced stance with the messer held with the hilt near the right or left hip, tip forward. This guard is always held in a thumb grip. The forward leg should be the opposite of the hip the messer is held near. If the guard is on the opposite hip from the sword hand, the messer is held with the true edge up (or nearly up). 
  • Simple Parry from right Eber
    • Stand in Right Eber, left foot forward 
    • When struck from above, step forward in a passing step and parry above, true edge up
    • Cut around while finishing a triangle step – target head or arm depending on measure 
  • Simple Parry from left Eber
    • Same as above, but reverse (point should be to right side)
    • Due to geometry of the footwork, the head should be an easy target on this side
  • Messer Taking
    • Perform an oberhau
    • If your opponent blocks with a simple parry (as above) and the handle of their messer is on the same side as your off hand, step forward and grasp the handle of their messer
    • Wrench their messer out of their hand
  • Unterhau – Rising strike. This can be either from your side or a wrist cut in front of you depending on the situation and measure. 
  • Nagel Parry 
    • When struck from above, parry with the hand inverted so that the true edge points up in an einhorn-like stance. The opponent’s blade should end up striking the flat of strong area of the blade and slide down to the nagel of the messer
    • Spring into a triangle step and cut or thrust to the opponent
    • If a cut, it can be a cut around to oberhau or unterhau (unterhau should be to the arm to avoid a double). More options are available to more advanced students as nagel parries are a foundational skill. 
  • Abnehmen – When your opponent is hard in the bind, use your wrist to bring the point of your sword back just past the tip of your opponent’s sword. Cut down to their head or arm depending on measure with an offline step to the side of your cut. 
  • Doplieren – Strike first from your right to their ear, as then when the swords bind together, swing your sword’s hilt under your right arm so that the palm of your sword hand goes from facing up to down, driving at the same time out, and hit them with the long edge behind his blade onto his head. Beware the double or afterblow and retreat quickly after striking. 
  • Bastei – “bastion” (Alber) – Guard – Right or left side, forward foot should be opposite the blade side. Thumb grip. 
  • Wechsel – “the change” – Guard – Always on the sword hand side, true edge facing to the right in handshake grip. 
  • Commendable Parry
    • When facing a low guard, stand in Wechsel guard
    • When the opponent cuts or thrusts, sweep the messer across the body with the tip down and hilt up and parry with the true edge. Effective against all attacks other than attacks to the sword hand side. 
    • Triangle step and cut or thrust, The cut will be a cut around to oberhau and seems more effective than the thrust
    • If attacked on the sword hand side, simply block with the true edge in simple parry as noted above.
  • Erste Hut – “first guard” – Guard – Stand with the sword tip low and back on your offhand side. Handshake grip. 
  • Unterhau to the Hand – If the hand of your opponent is presented forward and not well protected, a unterhau to the hand is an easy attack with little risk. 
  • Mittlehau – Horizontal Strike – Best done against the sword as a beat or hand/arm.
    • Dangerous to do against the head or body as the Mittlehau is not very protective. 
  • Beat against a thrust 
    • Stand in Erste Hut
    • When the opponent thrusts, beat the strike to the side with your messer using a mittlehau
    • Step offline to the left with a passing step and cut around to the arm or head depending on measure
    • Finish the offline step stated above with a triangle step
  • Draw from scabbard defence 
    • Very similar to beat against the thrust (above)
    • Assumes sword in scabbard and footing is unpredictable 
    • Step forward with the right foot and draw sword into a mittlehau beat against incoming attack
    • Pass step offline with the left foot and cut around to the opponent’s arm or head, depending on measure
    • Finish by stepping back with the right foot to avoid forward momentum of the opponent (note that you just finished a triangle step)
  • Stier – “steer” (Ochs) – Guard – Can be on the right or left, note that on the side opposite the sword hand, the true edge will be up. Forward foot is opposite the side the messer is held on. Thumb grip. 
  • Mutiren – Soft wind outside the opponent’s messer bringing the point into their torso. Effective against simple parries or hanging guards such as Steir 
  • Wrist Cuts from Steir – Cut from Steir using your wrist as the primary generator of force to the right or left. These cuts are quick and keep your messer in front of you. 
  • Gathering and Attacking – The concept of blocking and closing in a single set of motions to come into grappling range. This concept is foundational to messer grappling in the scholar material. 
  • Simple Parry with Arm Wrap – (Example of closing and controlling rather than deflecting)
    • Simple Parry from Eber as before
    • Rather than triangle step away, instead bring left arm up and around over the elbow of the attacker and wrap their sword arm
    • Strike at them with your messer by cutting around 

Scholar Material (under construction):

  • Zornhau – Cut into incoming strike, thrust or cut around based on position and measure. (Thrust is done with some winding is is usually preferable in most situations) 
  • Wrecker (Krumphau) – Cut into incoming strike or thrust with thumb grip, much like an iron gate block with the blade at an outward angle towards the opponent. Cut around or thrust based on position and measure after the beat. Counter to Steir. 
  • Entrüsthau (Zwerchau) – Cut around in a thumb grip using a slightly angled horizontal plane above your head. Imagine a helicopter moving forward. Counter to Luginsland.
  • Zwinger (Schielhau) – false edge downward cut / thrust with good defensive capabilities. Counter to Eber.
  • Gerferhau (Scheitelhau) – used against Bastei guards or cuts to the legs
  • Wincker (Stunzhau (sp?) – not a longsword master strike) – often done as the second part of a feint, this is a true edge cut that turns to the false edge – This technique needs work to better understand. 

Sources for this Document: 

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