The Scheitelhau Effect

Other than a decidedly HEMA-themed band name, what is the “scheitelhau effect”? This is a term we have been using in our club to describe instances where techniques are dependent on reaction to threat and/or fear of injury that would come from fighting with sharp swords.

The phrase comes from our experience with scheitelhau, the master-strike counter to the guard alber, being somewhat ineffective in full gear freeplay, but more effective when going low gear. The working theory is that with all your gear on, the descending strike to the head that is scheitelhau carries no actual risk of injury, so the part of your brain that wants to win sees the opening in your opponent and thrusts up into their chest from alber rather than parry resulting in a double hit. If however, you are doing low to no-gear sparring (not recommended), the descending cut is scary and your mind is much more prone to break your low guard (alber) and come up into a parry to save being hit on the head. Voila, scheitelhau works as described! Risk changes the dynamics of the fight.

If you are working on a technique that seems to result in double hits more than you think it should, first double check the source material and make sure you are confident in your interpretation. If you are confident, ask yourself if either fencer would behave differently if they were in fear of their life through the play. If the answer is yes, you may have found another instance of the scheitelhau effect.

The fighter on the left is in a high guard (tag) while his opponent on the right is in a low guard (alber). The sources say the fighter on the left should attack with scheitelhau in this situation.

2 thoughts on “The Scheitelhau Effect”

  1. Interesting concept that I find myself agreeing with. How do you go about emphasizing this concept in your club and go about training “suicidal” instincts out of fighters? How do you be mindful of this in your own fencing?

  2. So far, we have not found a solution. Low to no gear slow play is a good tool to identify places where this is occurring, but that is not safe or appropriate for full speed. For now, we talk about it in class and draw attention to suicidal plays. We have also tried using push-ups as a consequence to double hits.

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