The Fours of Meyer Dussack
What is so cool about Dussack fencing?
Besides it being a very fast paced, and dynamic fight, that requires a mastery of
the measure and tempo, there also exists a rather comprehensive system of
techniques available to us from the works of Joachim Meyer. Not just
techniques, but also actual precepts or rules that governed Meyer's fighting
system. It's one thing to have an original 15th 16th century fencing manuscript
that shows images of fencers in pairs, with a particular weapon, which describes
several cuts or parry's. It is a whole other thing to have one that reveals detailed
rules and advice which ensured success when fighting with this weapon. That is
what Joachim Meyer did within his written Dussack instruction. That's what he
did within all the weapons in his written works. Knowing his Longsword system
will definitely assist learning his Dussack system. Just as learning his Staff, was
meant to teach you rudiments for his Halberd and Pike. Perhaps within Meyer,
the Dussack was a liaison weapon between Longsword and Rappier?
He says it (Dussack) was meant to teach you use of all single hand weapons.
Nowhere better does he reveal this than in the unfinished Manuscript, known as
the Ms 82. Rostock. Wherein, he included a section on single hand weapon
use, aimed at the rappier. This lesson contains twelve cuts. All twelve are the
named cuts from his 1570 Dussack. Yet in the Rostock, he never once used the
word Dussack! He used the word Messer once or twice though. The Rostock
cuts vary from the Dussack cuts of his 1570. But I digress....
If we view certain keywords, from all that he has written about Dussack, several
interesting things are revealed. Overwhelmingly, we see the number 4 as being
used to quantify important principles. I have included four of them here that
Meyer taught. The four main cuts, four main cutting drills, four main rules for the
Guards and of course, the four openings, these are among several things which
he grouped in four. The number 4 featured predominantly in all his art.
If we wish to learn his system, perhaps we ought to look at the Order of his
instruction, while looking for sets of four things that he concluded were
important. Breaking it down is rather easy, as he himself in Dussack Chapter
One, shared what he intended to cover. He reiterated what and how he taught
in Longsword, and interestingly there he says, that he omitted something in the
Longsword, saving it for here, in the Dussack. This was a more thorough
rendering of the divisions of the opponent and how the cuts shall be arranged to
them. see Chapter three, 1570 Dussack. In other words the routes that your
weapon takes, through the lines. Often times these lines and cuts were named
for their intended targets, face, arm, hand etc.
Notice here where he says;
"I will thoroughly teach the division of the combatant, according to which these
cuts shall be arranged, specifically its use and employment, which
I had passed over in the treatise on the sword as being appropriate for here, to
ensure that nothing pertinent to the subject should be left out."
Nothing pertinent will be left out Master. Right there is a glaring and shining
example of something that should be of relevance to us. Something that a 16th
century German Fencing Master considered pertinent enough to omit in the
beginning weapon and better to include it in the Dussack. Why? Why was it
appropriate to put it in with the Dussack?
Something important, I would imagine. It also shows that Meyer was writing
about a complete system. So that any and all precepts from one weapon, can
carry over into any other weapon. Brilliant huh?
Meyer's order of instruction began with the divisions of the opponent. These
directly coincide with the four openings, along with the four main cut lines. We
see them featuring predominantly in Meyer's fighting system. These are nothing
new to the 16th century Kunst des Fechtens, nor did Meyer invent them. He used
them as they were intended. The four openings should form a basis of our
reconstruction attempts. IMO. How you see the targets on the opponent should
be in quarters, four quarters, of the body. But remember that these quarters
move: The skilled opponent is constantly changing which quarter(s) are
protected, and open.
Likewise your opponent is looking at your four quarters. So that your own 4
openings, are also useful, Meyer taught to make certain quadrants open, to bait
and entice the opponent in, to strike. For these, he had prepared and ready
As to what height the horizontal line was intended, we have Meyer's own advice:
"If you imagine these four lines standing with the Midpoint, at which they cross
over one another, at the level of the chin, such that the Thwart or Middle Line
runs across above the opponent’s shoulders, then the Cross stands correctly."
So that means a low cut would have been aimed at a higher target? hmm.
When we reconstruct unterhauen or low cuts thrown properly to the chin or
lower face, we see a lot of the hard-to-understand cuts or techniques, become
more clear. I think especially with Dussack, we see the 16th cent. Fechtschulen
influence on the art that Meyer taught. Many strikes were from up high, seeking
to strike the head. Many of the plates support this as do the texts and actual
For those today who know and practice Meyer's four openings drill with the
Longsword, likewise the Dussack is also to be used when practicing these
series of four cuts to the four openings. The overall importance of the four
openings, and the 4 openings cutting drill that Meyer shared with us, should be
a staple of our practice routines. Always remember to start and finish in a guard.
The Guards form our base from which we launch successful attacks. Meyer
shared with us some advice with 4 things that he considered worth noting.
He used the German word 'regel' to denote these rules that governed his art.
For comparison, look at the 1579 works of Heinrich von Gunderode, wherein it
can be seen how von Gunderode, eight years after the death of Meyer, wrote of
the way that Meyer's art was ordered and ruled. Very interesting.
The 4 Main rules or reasons governing the Guards;
All of the cuts and attacks in Meyer Dussack begin and end in a Guard. The
guards are both the starting and ending points from which you launch your
attacks. Unlike the Longsword though, he does not name any Dussack Guard
as a Main guard.
Meyer must have felt it so important to convey advice on the use of the Guards,
that he wrote four main rules for effective use of the Guards in Dussack. Which
we will see, actually creates effective attacking and defending.
The following are my interpretations of his four reasons or uses for the Guards:
1. do not stay in a guard, change from guard to guard, seek to be the first to
attack. But if you can't attack first, then position yourself in a guard that protects
you, while you size up the situation.
2. the guards are the beginning and ending positions of our attacks. This is
brilliant because when you start your cut in a guard, and end in yet another
guard, you really haven't ended. Having studied the cuts from each of the
guards, your ending point is actually a new beginning attack point. As you are
prepared to begin yet another attack or cut.
3. The Guards reveal what your opponent may do. Where they will cut from,
where they may cut to. The reverse is true of you as well. The guards reveal
what you may have planned.
4. Because the guards reveal what you may do, what you have intended or
planned, do not stay in the Guards but rather, move constantly from guard to
guard. This serves to confuse the opponent, and allows you to inch in or around
them. Confuse the measure, confuse the direction of your potential attacks. It
4 Main Cuts and the Lines on which they are cut.
It is interesting how Meyer used the same order of instruction for Dussack as he
did for Longsword. Just as in Longsword, the Dussack cuts revolve around the
four main cuts; the High cut, the diagonal Wrath cut, the Middle cut, and the
rising Low cut. These cuts are thrown from both sides, using full and half cuts.
Long edge and sometimes short or crooked edge.
"I will therefore now proceed to teach how to deliver the cuts through these four
lines in four ways and forms, for they will be no small advantage to you in
correctly executing and understanding the devices."
The devices or stücken, are the culmination of all that he shared. No matter
what question we come up with today about a cut or technique in Meyer, the
answer(s) are always in the stücken. Meyer himself stated this quite a few
times. His preceding remarks speak directly to how we benefit by learning the
Of further interest to us should be the routes that our weapons take. Meyer
mysteriously omitted this important section from the 1570 Longsword, yet
included it in Chapter three of his Dussack. Where he was very thorough and
included much advice on the lines through which we should cut. We see a
cutting line chart on Plate A of the 1570 Dussack.
Important to note that even though there seems to be a strict set of hard and
fast rules governing the lines and the cuts, we see Meyer here telling us that the
cutting lines are not as strict a thing as it seems.
"But when you send your cut against your opponent in the Before, and he is not
ready with a stroke to encounter your cut, you may then cut to his body under or
over his Dussack, regardless of where the lines indicate, as I will teach
sufficiently later in the devices."
Ah yes, the Stücken. Another mention by Meyer of the relevance of the stücken.
That is where the reason for learning to cut and parry by the lines, really comes
together. So we ought to be concentrating our initial learning efforts on cutting
these lines. For in cutting, we are also learning defense. Cutting away, from low
to high, and from up above to down below are advocated by the Master. As the
most basic of ways to parry. As we shall soon see.
Let's look at another mention by Meyer of something important;
"and correctly describe how to assemble the elements you have been taught, to
make a full combat device from them." This is the line which tells us exactly
what Meyer has laid out previously; all the elements which make up a stück.
And his desire for us to know that he ordered his instruction such that we can
assemble all the parts, into a 'full combat device”. Having a multitude of
technique combinations, enables us to succeed in the fight. So, Meyer taught
in order, those elements that when assembled, will help to ensure victory with
So you are probably wondering where all this is going? How is all this going to
come together? If we remember the order or progression of learning, we see
the Master combining many precepts he had taught separately, into the four
cutting drills. These are four simple things you can do, as advocated and taught
by the Fechtmeister himself, to improve your understanding of Dussack.
Learning and practicing the following cutting drills is a prerequisite almost, to
progressing on to the stücken. Fluid range of cutting motion comes from
practicing these drills. Which is really essential for us, to open up later, a sound
technical understanding of the stücken. Our skills with Footwork, tempo, the
measure.. all these get put to the test, in the stücken. But practiced in the
The four Main Cutting Drills
The first is a simple drill that involves the four main cuts, done in order, from a
high cut to a diagonal cut to a middle cut to a rising low cut. Meyer says to do
these with full cuts and cutting through, so that your weapon comes up and
around your head, back into a guard, where you throw the next strike and the
next of the four in order. Also, and most importantly, we are to be able to do the
four main cuts, using the half cut method, stopping the cut in a longpoint, then
instantly allowing the tip to run off, down and to your left, while raising the hilt
into a haengen. Then do the next cut, in order and so forth.
This is a KEY element to Meyer Dussack Fencing. Strike a half strike, which
you instantly turn into a hengen, (potentially defending the provoked attack),
then be able to strike again. If you run off to the left, then strike from your right.
If you drop the tip and run off to the right, then cut around your head from your
You must be able to gather step with each cut. So if your right leg is forward,
then keep advancing with the right foot forward, and gather with the rear left leg.
Switch sides and do a routine of these drills with the left leg forward as well.
Cutting from high into longpoint, turning the weapon up into a hängen, by
thrusting the hilt with your palm up, then turn this into the next strike and strike
again. Go from high strike, diagonal strike, middle strike to low strike, over and
over again. Advancing forward, and also backwards. This training allows you to
develop coordination of the feet, while striking. And here's a hint: it teaches the
rudiments of the super deadly, Provoker, Taker Hitter.
The second drill contains a very important precept, another key component of
his fighting system. Mainly that when you strike a high strike, you return a strike
back up that line. A wrath cut is followed by a low rising cut, and right to left
middle is followed by a left to right middle cut, and the low rising cut gets
followed back down, by a Wrathful diagonal cut. Practice each cut with it's
opposite return cut, while stepping, and remember to begin and end in a Guard.
Vary the guards that you end in. Sometimes allow the Dussack to shoot around
into a high guard from a high strike. More often than not, a rising cut ends on
your shoulder in Wrath, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Vary up the guards
that you use.
Here once again, at the end of his text on the second drill, we see the Master
giving away another secret worth knowing:
“You have already learned at length about this driving and its use in the section
on the sword.”
Having trained the ability to instinctively cut back across the first line you cut,
gives you the advantage in determining what happens next in a fight. Meyer
knew this, and framed a lot of his techniques around basics like this.
This is perhaps one of the most rudimentary and core facts of Meyer's art:
You must be able to strike any strike, then instantly cut back across your initial
strikes' line. So, for example.. a right to left Wrath strike, could be followed by a
left to right middle cut. But alas I have jumped ahead to the Fourth Drill!
So, in addition to simply cutting back on the same line opposite to our initial
strike, we must be able to strike back across, from all directions.
Train that by simply throwing one – two combinations, like a wrath then a
middle, or an under then a scalp cut. While you are training this, imagine you
have thrown a strike that the opponent steps slightly back out of measure and
avoids, you can be sure that opponent will be thinking of striking in after you. It
is here that the cutting back across the line gets used. You have provoked with
a strike, now is the time to take out the incoming counter strike. Cut or smack
the opponent;s Dussack out of the way. Strike to the closest opening.
Provoker taker Hitter, easy. But that's just one possible variation of countless.
The third drill is interesting in that it reinforces the previous Longsword
instruction, with a basis in deception. Meyer defines this type of deception in a
number of ways, but here in this cutting drill, he taught the principles of the
wechselhauen, or change cuts. This is another Key element of his fighting
systems. The handworks; Zucken or pulling is used, as is Einlauffen or running
off with the weapon. This serves to provoke the opponent as well as deceive
them. He shared several drills to practice this and these drills mainly involve
cutting back through, opposite to your initial cut line. So a vertical cut from high
to low, is followed by a low cut going back up, on the same vertical line. To
practice this, you are best served with a training partner wearing protective
headgear. Throw a scheidelhau or vertical scalp cut, and have your training
partner, who is in a guard, go up into the Bogen to parry this, Practice the timing
by NOT hitting or touching your partner's Dussack. Step back with a gathering
step as you quickly pull away, and strike upwards to his chin on the same scalp
cut line. At the same time you are doing this, have your partner turn their Bogen
into a vertical strike down at you. While you are aiming at hitting the chin, face
or mouth, if the opponent's Dussack should be incoming towards your head,
feel free to whack that up and out of the way, so you can more easily strike to
their face or head. Next do this drill with a Wrath cut diagonally, but stop your
strike prior to hitting their weapon, pull this back and swing up from below,
again, targeting the opponent's chin. The third strike is the Middle cut from right
to left, stop it before their parry, pull up and to your right around and over your
head, now striking a middle from left to right. This is a common precept in
Meyer's cutting and a very good method of blasting the opponent's Dussack out
of the way! It is actually number one of the two named types of Zwingerhau or
When you are pulling around your head, try to think in terms of economical and
efficient movement. Maximum the speed of the Dussack and shorten the
distance to time on target, while still getting some power behind it.
“send in your cuts powerfully around him.
To all four targets let them fly“
Lastly do a long edged low cut, that hopefully provokes the opponent to parry.
Do not strike their weapon, but step and throw your Dussack's tip back over in a
tight arc with the short edge landing in their face. Your hand holding the Dussack
doesn't even need to move that much with this cut. Striking from lower left with
the long edge forward, is useful to stop at Longpoint, your thumb facing down,
and then reverse this quickly by giving the thumbs up sign, Your Dussack will
travel back on the same line you just cut, and continue through with the short
edged strike. It is a good and deceptive strike combo.
Stepping and footwork is vital to achieving the true value from these drills.
Make all your partnered drills, as slow and concentrated as you need, but seek
to ramp that up and you will gain more and more intimate knowledge of why
Meyer advocated what he did.
Within elements of this third Dussack cutting drill are opportunities at improving
our physical understanding of the Longsword. From beginning to end of the
1560 and 1570 Dussack lessons, Meyer made it known that what you can do
with the Longsword, you may also do with the Dussack. That statement alone,
should open up a myriad of possibilities to us.
The Fourth Drill will teach us more than just cutting back across our initial cut
line. Even though I included the basic premise of this Fourth drill, in the Second
drill above, there is more to be learned from it.
Meyer assembled six cuts with the Dussack, that really instil a sense of throwing
a strike only to recover that strike, turning it into another vectored strike which
cuts back across our initial cut line.
He says to throw a Wrath strike, diagonally from right to lower left, recover that
into a left to right Middle strike, then next from the lower right side, throw an
unterhau up to the left, recover this into another unterhau from lower left to
upper right. Recover and turn the unterhau into a right to left Middle, then end
with a vertical scalp cut. This is the essence of his Six cuts drill. Keep the right
forward the whole time, and gather step with the left leg. Meyer said these six
cuts shall run swiftly one after another.
But there is an inherent beauty in breaking these six numbers down into groups.
Imagine there are three pairs of two cut combos. So the first would be a right
Wrath, followed by a left to right middle, we already know that one. The next is
a double unterhauen, from lower right, then from lower left, the last combo is
rather useful as well, throw a Right to left middle, followed by a strike, straight
down to the top of your opponent's head. The uses for that particular combo
should be very apparent to us today. Its a good one.
Another way to manipulate the six cuts drill, is to think of it in terms of Two sets
of the three strike... Provoker, Taker, Hitter. Break it down thusly:
Throw a right to left Wrath strike, then a left to right middle, ending with a lower
right unterhau. This low cut should be targeted at the opponent's chin or mouth!
The other one begins with an unterhau from the lower left, turned into a right to
left middle cut, ending with the scalp cut to the top of the head.
So the premise becomes obvious when we think in terms of throwing an initial
strike, that is meant to land, but your opponent does not parry you, rather they
wait until you have thrown through your strike and they have been provoked to
strike at your opening. If we anticipate this and have trained for their strike after,
our next act is to cut back across and take them out, thereby protecting
ourselves. Taking them out is made possible by many of the above mentioned
drills shared by Meyer. The follow up hit should always be assumed by us.
Most all of the Key elements, by Meyer's own words, revealed in the Dussack,
are elements that he presumed you had learned in Longsword.
That is the most endearing factor when reading the words of Meyer, and trying
to make hide nor tail of what was really behind his Art. He often related back to
an earlier weapon, and included something ultimately relevant about that earlier
weapon, adding to what he was currently teaching. Strengthening the idea of
the interchangeability of all weapons within his ruled and ordered methods of
What we think we know today about Meyer Longsword, can definitely be
improved by exploring his Dussack system.
By understanding and using the Fours of Meyer Dussack, we see quite a few
core principles revealed within those elements he named as Rules. If we think
to use a strict adhering to these rules during fighting, it does us little good. But
when we use the strictness in the sense of training and practicing these certain
key elements the Master considered important to his whole system, then I have
to think our Dussack understanding can only benefit.