Interpretation and analysis
If we look at various descriptions of the Zornort all authors use the term Zornhaw without explaining properly how to perform a Zornhaw. It is assumed that reader is already familiar with basics like this. We can deduct from quite brief texts (even without knowing about Hs. 3227a) that Zornhaw is a cut from above downwards usually performed from the right shoulder. Therefore, we assume it’s slant or diagonal cut. As Peter von Danzig (or better the author of Codex 44.A.8) describes Zornhaw as nothing more than a direct peasant strike which breaks with his point all upper cuts. Some authors like Sigmund Ringeck misses the remark that you should strike without parrying which I find quite substantial. Without this information all interpretations end in two tempo parry-riposte action where a defender is trying to beat the opponent’s upper cut to side, across the center line, followed by a direct thrust. Similar interpretations are still quite popular and we did it similarly back in the 2009 as you can see in our very first video. I found this way suboptimal and such execution is nothing extraordinary. I would not include such a primitive technique into 5 hidden cuts (later named as master cuts). If something was mentioned among those 5 hidden cuts it was supposed not to be known by common fencers. And parry-riposte with an Oberhau and a direct thrust is so common that it could be barely hidden or unknown. Therefore, I think Lichtenauer had something much better on his mind when he made Zornort his first explained technique.
Some manuscripts demand that attacker should be weak/soft after the swords clash together but some other texts do not mention this requirement.
In our interpretation the Zornhaw is almost a vertical cut, slightly skewed but far less diagonal than some people like. The goal is to hit the opponent along the centerline of his body, either to his face, throat or chest. My target is always directly behind opponent’s hands. If they are higher I hit him higher to the face or the throat. If he performs a bit lower Oberhau my point lands lower, to his chest or the stomach. (You can see both versions later in our video)
My sword hits the opponent’s blade more or less from above. Not from the side. It must not be about clashing of two diagonals cuts together. Otherwise it would be only about the strength and height. My sword should always follow the centerline and the point must not leave it. During the Zornhaw I knock the opponent’s blade off the centerline and I remain there with my blade, dominating the space between me and my opponent. The attacker’s Oberhau is deflected and because of the body rotation, I stay covered behind my blade. I can say we finish up the technique in a position very similar to the one depicted on the picture #1. But very roughly.
I’d strictly advise not to cut the Zornhau to the left side against the incoming blow. My primary strategy is not to parry as some glosses says. Zornhaw should all the time occupy the centerline. Because once you cross it to either side it’s quite difficult to regain it back. And if your opponent keeps it, you are lost.
In order to win the centerline, I have to be quite educated in body rotations mechanics. I need the support from the whole body. Starting in the rear toe through the hips into my arms and finishing in the point of my sword. It was quite popular to use word “rotation” in HEMA but I am convinced in many cases without deeper comprehension. It was sometimes used as a magic word or mantra but often without real results.
The rotations during the Zornort should not be a simple horizontal rotation in shoulders or hips. Otherwise the vector of my power tends to leave the desired trajectory and I will end up with my Zorn and point cutting to the left side and I won’t be able to use single tempo potential of Zornhau ort. You could imagine the power generation as a rotation in a spiral manner starting in the rear leg, making a loop through the hips and flowing directly towards the opponent’s chest. This goes from below upwards to the center. Another rotation goes from above downwards and meet the previous one in the center. This one starts in the left hand goes through the shoulders and delivers the cut with leading right shoulder. Of course a body is not a spiral and you do not have to follow this description, but it can help someone to realize how the body sides are switching their roles. For the Zornhaw, the left hip and left shoulder are in the front. In the end the right shoulder and right hip take the lead. But upper and lower body should move separately, not like a one block.
There are some important points I always recommend to perform. Your rear leg should be always firmly fixed to the ground from the very first moment of Zornort. It’s painful mistake to start Zornort attempt during unfinished movement backwards. Without this fixed point I won’t be able to push my weight forwards, and without the movement of my pelvis forward I cannot transfer so much energy to my blade. In the impact moment I am pushing my right hip forwards as much as possible and left one stays a bit backwards. This motion brings a slight rotation to my upper body and therefore I will be covered behind my blade.
I hit the opponent’s blade with long edge slightly to his flat. Definitely not against the edge.
I prefer to hit it with the CoP to the middle of his strong part of blade. Closer to the middle than to the cross guard. Arms should be slightly bent in the elbows and shoulders relaxed and low. The closer the opponent is, the lower and more bent hands I use.
Have you ever noticed that in the Zornort texts there is no note about steps or movement? Do you prefer to step forward in the same time with your Zorn? I don’t. In case I lack the reach I use one following passing step slightly to the right side but it’s quite usual that I don’t have to use any step at all and the opponent stuck himself on my point during his own leap forwards. If the opponent is too close, I can hit him even without thrust just by cutting with point to his head. (The last sequence in the video) If you go with passing step with the Zornhau, then the cut lacks the support from the ground. Because in the most important moment, your feet is in the air. And vice versa if you are strongly pushing to your rear foot during the blade contact, your hips are moving forwards above your front foot and you can source the energy/power from the ground. Your legs will be always stronger than your arms and working with all limbs unison is the only way how to resist and how to defeat stronger and more athletically gifted peers.
If the opponent cuts too high, I often do not find a proper lower opening so I need to rise my arms, eventually I can wind them into Ochs position and hit him to the face from above. But in this case we are sacrificing the one tempo action. These actions are at least similar to positions depicted on pictures #2 and #3. There is almost no mention about using reverted Ochs position in Zornort although most survived illustrations show it like the picture #3. The only remark is mentioned in Ringeck’s appendix to the longsword’s teachings.