By Kristian Ruokonen
An example of counterattacks without opposition in German longsword is the krumphau on the hands of your opponent as he strikes an oberhau. The krumphau is not my strongest technique, but in this article I will present some ways I get it to work. Counterattacks without opposition are extremely tough to execute successfully and in my experience the most common result of an attempted krumphau to the hands is a double hit. It is clear that it cannot be done as a reaction to a committed vorschlag that is in measure. If you want to strike a krumphau to the hands safely, I think it should done in such a manner that when you hit his hands, you still have time to parry afterwards so that the initial strike does not reach you. Thus, krumphau is based on a victory in time difference. Your strike has to land clearly before your opponent’s strike even has a chance to hit. I think there are 3 main ways to do this:
1) Against an attack that falls short
2) Against someone chambering his oberhau
3) Against an attack that is not threatening you
The first one is simple: if he is out measure, his attack cannot harm you. Here is a simple drill to practice recognizing this: Both fencers start in vom tag (or the fencer counterattacking can also use schrankhut). The attacker has 2 options: either he strikes a committed vorschlag to the head or he strikes a vorschlag that falls slightly short. The one defending should parry riposte against the former, and strike a krumphau on the hands against the latter.
This drill is a good place to start practising, but it has the problem that it is reactionary instead of a preplanned action. So how do you set up the krumphau so that the opponent falls short in his strike, while he is actually trying to strike you? Good footwork is the key to this. You want him to either think he is in measure, or make him frustrated enough to attack recklessly.
Most people have been in a situation where they want to strike an oberhau to someone’s face, but the opponent simply keeps retreating every time you approach, and they have to keep cancelling those attacks. This is what you want your opponent to feel when you’re setting up a krumphau to the hands. Every time he tries to take the initiative, retreat quickly. Fence from a very long distance. You can also annoy the opponent with attempted hand strikes to keep him on his toes. When he finally commits at the wrong time with a vorschlag, strike a krumphau to the hands. In this variation you want to be moving heavily to the side or even backwards, as your only defense is distance.
You could practice this thus (I got the format for this drill from Carl Ryrberg of Örebro HEMA. I have modified it slightly.) One fencer attacks, the other is executing the krumphau. When the attacks gets into measure, he must immediately attack with an oberhau. Both fencers move freely. The defender moves a lot out of measure, and after making him work for it, lets the attacker close the measure, and the attack comes, takes a step back and strikes a krumphau to the hands. Thus he falls short. The defender can also enter measure himself in such a way that he still can go sideways or backwards after the attack, and strike a krumphau successfully. This could be done, for example, with a half advance forwards (a step with the front food where the rear foot stays still), and as your opponent thinks you are getting into measure, push back with the front foot and turn it to a retreat.
Another exercise for this could be as follows: The attacker will advance with the front foot and attack. During his advance take a step backwards. When he now attacks, he is out of distance, and the krumphau should work. You can also have the attacker advance, sometimes attacking, and sometimes (correctly) starting the sequence again when he is out of measure, until he decides to give the defender the attack out of measure to work with.
While this is a valid application of the krumphau, I don’t think it is the canonical form of it as seen in the early Liechtenauer manuscripts, since you’re not really stepping forward and sideways with the krumphau. Lets look at what the text says.
“Mark, you may also drive the Crooked hew from the Barrier-Guard on both sides, and in that guard position yourself thus: when you come to him with the pre-fencing, then stand with the left foot before and hold your sword with the point near your right side on the earth so that the long edge is above, and give an opening with the left side. If he then hews to the opening, then spring from the hew with the right foot well on your right side against him, and strike him with crossed hands with the long edge with the point on his hands.” (Codex 44.A.8, translation by Cory Winslow, quoted from Wiktenauer)
Notice how the text specifies that the fencer striking a krumphau guy starts in schrankhut. It says absolutely nothing on which guard the opponent will start in. All the interpretations I have seen assume the attack is in vom tag, where his sword is already chambered for the cut. To me this makes no sense. If the attackers guy starts in pflug or any other positionwhere he is chambered for a thrust (point in line), he now must raise his sword to strike an oberhau, which provides a perfect time to strike a krumphau. You’re safe if you time it correctly, and should have plenty of time to take a parry after you hit him with the krumphau. This can be done stepping forwards.
Here is a brilliant video from Helsinki Longsword Open 2014 where Jaakko Hirvelä pulls off both of these krumphau variants against Staffan Sannemalm cleanly. In the video, he does them from a left schrankhut.
The third opportunity I will mention is when you know his strike isn’t threatening you. This is obviously similar to the first one I mentioned, since if the strike is not in measure, it does not by definition threaten you. This, however, is not the only situation where an attack does not threaten you. For example, if you know the opponents first strike is a feint, you can go for the krumphau on the hands because he is not even trying to hit you with the initial attack. Often the hands are nicely placed for a moment when he is switching from the feint to the real attack, and waiting for your parry to happen. This is a good time to strike the krumphau, and then take the parry. The same also applies if he tries to do a second intention winden, and seeks to bind the sword instead of trying to hit you in the head. If he’s seeking the sword, he is not threatening you, and you can strike a krumphau on the hands safely.