Vor und Nach: Breaking guards, feints, provocations, and invitations

by Pamela Muir

Vor, Nach and Indes are translated and interpreted as timing in the fight.  When you strike first, you are in the Vor, the before timing.  If you are reacting to your opponent, you are in the Nach, the after timing.  Indes is the instantaneous moment in which you have to react in the bind.1  These can also be viewed as describing initiative or who has control of the fight.  In the Vor, you are fighting offensively, in the Nach, defensively.  We are explicitly told in the texts that we should fight in the Vor, and if we should find ourselves in the Nach, we should work to regain the Vor.

Being in the Vor means to make the first strike.

“With the word before [Vor] as has been told before, he [Liechtenauer] means that you with a good first strike [Vorschlag] shall close in without fear or hesitation and strike at the openings [Blossen], to the head and to the body, regardless whether you hit or miss you will confuse the opponent and put fear into him, so that the he does not know what to do against you”2

This leads us into the concept of breaking guards.  We know making the first strike is a good idea, but how to do it safely and effectively? Most likely your opponent will be standing in one of the four primary guards, so launching the appropriate one of the four Versetzen, strikes which counter the primary guards, is the logical choice.  Either your opponent will get hit or they must perform a defensive action.  You are in the Vor and your opponent is forced into the Nach.

Breaking their guard with one of the four Versetzen is not your only choice in the Vor.  You could also perform a feint.  A feint puts your opponent on the defensive, in the Nach, and it opens up another line for you to attack.  An example of a feint in the Lichtenauer system is the Veler, the Failer.  Start a cut towards your opponent’s open high line to draw out their parry.  As they parry, change your attack to a Zwerchau to their low line, on either the right or left side.  Both your feint and your follow up to the low line have you in the Vor.  Your opponent must remain on the defensive and is stuck in the Nach.

When breaking a guard or performing a feint, Vor and Nach are easy to identify.  It starts to get a little hazier as we move into provocations.  Let us take a look at the Sprechfenster, the Speaking Window, which is a provocative use of the guard Langenort, or Longpoint.

“Do Thus From the Speaking Window
When you come to him in the Zufechten, whether with an Unterhau or an Oberhau, always let your point shoot long from the stroke to his face or chest.  In this way you will force him to either parry or bind against your sword.  And when he has bound, then remain strongly on his sword with your long edge and stand calmly and see what he will execute against you.”3

The text goes on to explain your next step according to your opponent’s actions.  If they do nothing, you work from the bind.  If they pull away, you attack to an opening.  In these two cases, you are still the one who has the Vor.  However, they may also strike around to your other side in which case you are instructed to bind against their sword.  It appears that you have given up the Vor and must therefore act in the Nach.  That is not exactly the case, the initial action belonged to you and you set up your opponent in such a way that you know all of his possible reactions and are prepared to take advantage of whatever they do.  You have the initiative.

What about fighting from an invitational guard such as Alber, or the over the head version of Vom Tag?  Which fighter has the initiative?  The one inviting the attack, or the one who attacks?  That was a trick question. Though you may be standing in an invitational guard, you should not simply lie in wait for your opponent to take the bait.  If you do, you are most definitely fighting from the Nach.  You will be forced to defend before you can re-seize the Vor.

In the case of Vom Tag, we are fairly certain that our opponent will attack with a Zwerchau if we wait.  So we are instructed to strike first and provoke that Zwerchau.  “Note:  when you stand against him in the guard Vom Tag, then strike bravely to his head.”4  We are then given instructions on how to respond to the Zwerchau that our opponent uses in the Nach.

Even if you take the guard Alber, the advice given seems to indicate that it is better if you strike first.  “When you…stand against him in the guard called Alber, and he falls upon you with his sword before you come up, then remain thus with your sword beneath his and lift upwards.”5  The assumption is that you still intended to strike first, and you are instructed how to act if that plan fails and you were forced into the Nach.

As stated above, we know that all guards can be broken.  If we simply wait for the attack, even if we know what form it is likely to take, we have lost the initiative. “Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike [Vorschlag].”6  Assuming an invitational guard without intending to strike first leaves you in the Nach.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post.  In order to control the fight, you must be fighting in the Vor and you accomplish that by making the first strike.  That first strike should be carefully planned as a feint, a provocation, or a breaking of a guard, so that you can limit and predict your opponent’s reactions in the Nach.


1 I would argue that Indes is a point in space and time, but that is fuel for another post.

2 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 21r.

3 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 129.

4 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 117.

5 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 124.

6 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 32r.

Additional resource:

Tobler, Christian Henry. Fighting with the German Longsword. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2015. Print.