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Effectiveness of "Zwerchhau", German Swordsmanship

Zwerchhau German swordsmanship cut

In German swordsmanship, there is a technique called "Zwerchhau", which can receive a vertical strike and cut horizontally towards the enemy at the same time.

Can this technique kill you? What kind of consequences will there be in a real fight? Let's explore.

Performing The Technique

When the enemy cuts downwards on you, his front one-third of the blade is received by the last one-third of your blade. This gives you a stronger 'leverage' to push his blade aside as you cut horizontally towards his head, as most opponents are likely to resist.

For a video demonstration, please look at the YouTube video below. "Zwerchhau" is demonstrated in the first 20 seconds.

"Zwerchhau" is clearly an effective technique. I've sparred many times with HEMA practitioners. It is a technique that allows you to defend AND cut at the same time.

Chinese Long Straight Sword Silver Python Stance

A similar technique can be found in the 400 years old Chinese Long Straight-Sword manual.

This "Silver Python" stance was described as "moving left and right like whirlwind". While "Zwerchhau" is described like helicopter rotors.

I wonder if there was similarities among them hundreds of years ago?


But, will it kill? Or will the opponent be left bleeding and still able to fight? My guess is probably around 85% chance that the enemy can still continue to fight.

Each fight is different, and there are many factors such as: Skill of swordsman, sword quality, sword sharpness etc... But nevertheless, let me break down the reasons:

  • Concussion Let's say you have an old sword which has its edge worn out after many fights. What effects will the sheer blunt impact of metal on the human skull have? Maybe he'll be:

  • ​knocked out (but not dead)

  • dazed & concussed for a few seconds, after which he's ready to fight again.

  • bruised, but immediately ready to fight. That are many real fight videos where people are smashed on the head with wooden sticks, but they can still fight for a while.

  • Cut To The Neck Your "Zwerchhau" cut lands on the opponent's neck and severs a major artery. Congratulations! This will cause blood to spurt out profusely and your opponent will be down momentarily. But given that this is a small target to aim for, it will be wise not to assume this during training.

  • Cut To The Head The skull one of the thickest & toughest bone in the human body. Furthermore, this is not a, for the lack of a better word, 'proper' cut. Instead of swinging a cut without any interference, you are cutting at the enemy's toughest spot, with a cut that is actively trying to receive and displace his blade. This cut is unlikely to penetrate into the human brain. Check out this link for a real-life blade injury, which looks similar to what will happen when someone got cut by a "Zwerchhau" attack. DO NOT click this link if you don't wanna see blood & gore:

Cut to the side of the head


Based on the above reasons & findings, I would say it will be better to continue the match in a freeplay or sparring practice, even after a "Zwerchhau" attack.

Of course, in the first place, the one who got hit by the "Zwerchhau" should review his technique and not get hit in the future. But it is equally important that the one executing the "Zwerchhau" attack does not drop his guard and thinks that he has won, when in fact the enemy can still be alive and make his next attack on the spot.

Please let me know what you think in the Comments Section below! Jack Chen

Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals


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