The Turkish cut was a move that was commonly used in Eastern European Sabre in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period. The uniqueness of this move has its traceability to North Africa and the Middle East, possibly as early as the 9th Century. By the 18th and 19th Centuries, the move is mentioned as nyzek and in Austrian, Saxon and Prussian sources as “The Hellish Quart”.[1] This displayed an influence that came to Eastern and Central Europe through the Ottoman Empire, which had expanded into the Balkans in the 15th Century, before reaching its apex at the gates of Vienna in 1529.  

The term is a denotation of two moves with a sword; the first is the Turkish Cut, an upwards swing towards the self that was incredibly difficult to parry, probably due to the ability to cut the hand without much telegraphing. The second is also known as the Turkish Strike: This was a block with the sword, leveraging the pommel and grip over the opponents blade, pulled down the opponent’s hilt enabling either a strike to the face or to take control of the arm. Both are recorded in sword material from European observers, who either adapted these two techniques, or had to face them in combat. It’s clear when the term “Turkish” is used, this was used as an all-encompassing term for Muslims, whether Ottoman, Arabic or Berber.

The Turkish Cut
The upwards cut is mentioned is some variations, depending on the context. It could be used with a shield or with just the sword but to the Arabs, Berbers or Turks, the type of cut was used more or less in the same way. Luis Pacheco de Narzaez, a Spanish fencing master in the 17th Century, mentions this in his chapter on how to deal with the “Moor/ Turk”. He comments that the “Moor/Turk” will wait for any move and respond to the opponent’s sword with a downwards cut, into the blade, followed by a successive cut to kill the opponent.

And for this, they take confidence (when they fight against Christians) in – having risen their alfanjes upwards, until setting into an obtuse angle – leaving the body open, enticing the one wielding the sword, upon such a chance to cause injury, to go for it. And this attack being a thrust, not making sense to do otherwise, when trying to perform it, as the alfanje is so wide, robustly tempered and sharply edged, they lower it with great fury in order to chop the sword. And leaving the opponent thus unarmed, then kill or subdue him.[2]

However, if this is countered or a feint is given to make the “Moor/Turk” swing downwards, they will counter with a rising cut which will land on the opponent’s hands, injuring it or decapitating it completely:

And this happens when, having missed the sword with his tajo hendido, and being threatened by a thrust of the sword, he comes back with great fury to thus arrebatarla with a revés, intending to chop it or to strike it off the hand.[3]

It seems the effectiveness in what Pacheco called a revés, is the ability to counter anything linearly; what goes down can come up again and doing so doesn’t waste time or energy. While the opponent is trying to compensate by feinting and moving their blade, all the “Moor/Turk” need do is move their blade upwards quick and easily.

Andre Paurnfeyndt, a 16th Century German swordsman mentions the “Turkish Pull” in Dussack (a wooden practice sword, representing an Early Modern sabre/cutlass)/ Messer (a long knife). He mentions the following:

Piece

If your opponent strikes to you from above, strike to him at the same time and step with the left foot well out to the right side, let him fall through emptily and draw the Turkish pull across his right arms’ hand.[4]

In this particular case, rather than striking down with a cut beforehand, Paurnfeyndt decided to side step and cut the hands, while moving the blade upwards in the situation where a parry can be done if needed.

The move seems to have had longevity. As well as being mentioned in Central and Eastern European Sources into the 19th Century, it was mentioned by European Observers within the Ottoman Empire itself. William Eton, a British who surveyed the Ottoman Empire in the 18th Century (evident by the diary account he wrote while in his time there), was privy to mentioning swordplay in the Ottoman fashion:

The sharpest of the edge of the Turkish sabre, and the velocity which the arm gives to a light weapon, compensates for the weight of the sabre. All their attention has been paid to the sabre for ages, with it they conquered their Empire, and it certainly deserves some attention. The edge of our sabres is never sharp enough, and the angle of the edge is too acute. From its crookedness it has an advantage, as a blow straight down gives a drawing cut, and it is a good defence, for the arm being held out horizontally with the sabre upright in the hand, a small motion of the wrist turning the edge to the right or left, covers the body by the crook of the sabre; the shoulder of the edge, not the edge itself, forms the parry. Fencing with the crooked sabre was formerly taught to janizaries. The push with the sabre is also a good attack. If, however, the push only is preferred for cavalry, the lighter and longer the sabre is the better, and the nearer it is the a spear or lance. The blow upwards is esteemed the most dangerous by the Turks, as it is the most difficult to parry.[5]

As well as testifying to the use of moulinettes, the last sentence summarises the Turkish cut; an upwards blow that is incredibly difficult to counter.

The Turkish strike
Several sources show the use of the Turkish strike, especially on horseback and in conjunction with the sword and shield. Pesudo-Peter von Danzig, a 15th Century German Fencing Master in the Liechtenauer tradition, mentions the application of the “Turkish Hew” on horseback:

This is called the Turkish hew

Note, stab him from the guard from the right leg to the face, and wing the short edge to his sword. If he parries the stab and rides away next to your side, then hew with the long edge behind to his neck[6]

The instruction is cleart. The person, if missing the thrust, winds with the blade and cuts to the rear of the opponent. This is applied in mounted fencing, when both opponents are moving towards each other and is important for how the move cane about.

There’s a hint that the Turkish strike is given, and particularly favoured by North Africans, in Pietro Monte’s work, a Fencing master who make his career in Northern Italy in the late 15th Century. On his work on the Pelta (designating a leather strapped shield) and a Pelta (a leather shield with a single grip), both used extensively in North Africa, he comments:

Other strong blows can be made such as when we ourselves want to throw a manudextrum or reuersum and we want to make another similar to clash with his sword so that in the same time our sword may run under in front that it may strike the enemy in the face or chest and that his own sword may be diverted that we may not be reached. A devastation of all these is to walk with a large step on the side so that it may come a little rearwards as well, that we throw out a rising stocchata, we extend to hold back the sword of the other

And if he throws a stocchata, which is somewhat high, we must parry with a half stocchata and a half right-handed blow, lowering our arm, and our weapon should be extended forward, so that it can deflect the adversary’s mucro and go to strike in the chest or face, and this is common both on foot and on horseback against all blows which the other can strike. A left-handed blow when moving close to the adversary is good, and this is used continually by Africans, Trojans, and other Mauritanians.[7]

The context of Monte using the grip as a leverage point is important in the last sentence, the left-handed blow (that is to say a blow from the left side). With a shield, the lever can happen over the opponent’s hand and the shield can be used to punch out against the opponent’s arm, enabling the sword to rise and then cut at the person’s arms or head. With this in mind, it’s important to mention such moves were common in the Persians system of sword and shield,[8] and Ottoman Matrak.[9]

Thomas Page, a practitioner of Highland Broadsword, mentions “The Turkish Disarm” which works more or less in the same way except the sword is now being used as an aid to grapple the opponent:

The Disarm upon the Outside (though there are others) is by much the best, safest, and the most in use of the Scymiter; and is, for that reason, commonly call’d the Turkish Disarm; and is thus perform’d.

Receive an Inside full, at the same Time stepping forward with the Right Foot to the half Lunge, change to the Outside; and in the Change, bear your Adversary’s Sword out of the Line; and in the same Instant step nimbly about with your Left Foot up to your Adversary’s Heel, and seizing the Shell of his Hilt with your Left Hand, quit your Bearing, and with your Point fixt to his Breast force the Sword from his Hand; which he must quit or stab himself upon your Point.[10]

This applies the same principles but in a disarm, whereby with a straight sword, such as the Highland Broadsword that Page uses, the user is able to disarm the opponent and put the point to their chest. This could easily end in a strike but the intention of the piece is to disarm the opponent, making it was versatile type of move that could be applied in a multitude of ways.

Origin of the Turkish Cut
There’s evidence as to where the Turkish Cut originates from, this is evident in the types of drills which are mentioned in Furusiya (literally meaning horsemanship, but, as a verb, came to be applied to a an anthology, or specific, sets of skills including the sword) treatises. The 14th Century Mamluk Treatise Munyatu’I-Guzat (wish of the warriors of the faith), mentions a type of drill used to practice cutting on horseback:

Also, know that the possessor of the sword needs to hit the ball with the polo stick on horseback. Because that practice makes him skilful in that and relaxes his muscles. I have seen many people who would strike with their swords in the hippodromes and (other) safe places, and they were able to use the sword, (but) in time of combat they would strike the knees of their horses, or their ears and feet or they would strike and cut their own feet……….When you wish to learn to strike with the sword on horseback, obtain a freshly picked reed or a thin fresh branch whose length should be about the height of the horseman…… After that, rise away (from it in such a way that when you return, it is on your right, then ride your horse in the same way that you ride when you shoot an arrow. When you approach it and reach its side, draw your sword from is sheath with a beautiful movement, raise it (the sword) to the level of your right shoulder, strike that reed or branch and cut it off.[11]

The implication for the cut given is that the cut will be like the strike of a ball with a polo bat, it will be a lower cut as if to a dismounted person. To a mounted combatant, the cut will be horizontal (and may diverge to a Turkish strike if the blades connect and the user successfully leverages). Such instruction is regurgitated in other Furusiya treatises, indeed this one was probably copied from an earlier type of treatise by Muhammed Ibn Ya’qub Ibn Ahi Hazzam al-Hattali,entitled Kitab al-Furusiyya va’l-Baytara.[12] This type of exercise is also mentioned again in Ibn Hudayl’s 1392 treatise Gala of the Knight, Blazon of the Champion:

Whoever wants to learn and train in their handling, take a tender cane or branch, kneel it on the ground, firmly. Move away then, leaving it to your right, gallop your horse, and, when close, unsheathe the sword, soon, careful and lightly. From a sideways cut, to the part of cane or branch that is at the height of your head, or deliver horizontally, with ease and lightness. Repeat this several times, cutting in each pass as much as you can, until the length of the stick is only the size of a cubit.[13]

The implication of this is the cut is given horizontally and eventually makes its way down as a low cut. The exercise might be a regurgitation of a drill from as far as Al-Kattin, a 9th Century Master of Arms during the Abbasid Period.

How does this drill match with the translation of the Turkish cut? The 1470 Mamluk Treatise, Kitab al-makhzun jami’ al-funun (The Treatusre that Combines all Arts) mentions in its sword drills to learn them dismounted before learning them mounted, but the moves clearly are orientated as to be on horseback. The Turkish cut is not only an application of the reed-cutting exercise but mounted swordplay applied dismoutned. The Turkish strike also seems to be a move of striking the back of opponent, as both horsemen cross opposite one another, but is also suited to being used on the ground with footwork to compensate. With this in mind, the moves seem to have cavalry predominance but were adapted to be dismounted rather than vice-versa.


[1] Ger. höllische polnische Quarte; Starzewski, 1840

[2] Luis Pacheco de Narvaex section, Against the Alfanje, trans by Xose Nieto, ed by Ton Puery and Rob Runcares. p. 2

[3] Ibid, p. 9.

[4] Cod.I.6.2 .2 (1564, Oettingen-Wallersteinsche Bibliotek), Folio 54V

[5] William Eton, A Survey of the Turkish Empire: In which are Considered (Lonodn, Printed for T. Cadell, Jun and W. Davies, 1798), pp. 71-72

[6] Ms Germ.Quart.2020 (1510s, Biblioteka Jagiellonska), Folio 185r

[7] Pietro Monte, “Exercitiorum Atque Artis Militaris Collectanea” in The Collection of Renaissance Military Arts and Excercises of Pietro Monte: A Translation of the Exercitiorum Atque Artis Militaris Collectanea, Translated by Prendergast, Mike and Sperber Ingridpp (Non-commercial, 2018) pp, 127-129 and 147.

[8] Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran (Frankfurt am Main: Niloufar Books, 2013)

[9] Osmanli Cenk Sanati, Matrak: Sultanlatin Sporu Yenicerilerin Cenk Sanati (Ankara, 2015)

[10] Thomas Page, The Use of the Broad Sword (Norwich, 1746).

[11] Kurtulus Oztopcu, A 14th Century Mamluk-Kipchak Military Treatise : Munyatu’I-Guzat (Los Angeles, University of California, 1986), pp. 192-193

[12] Ibid, p. 1

[13] Ibn Hudayl, Gala de Caballeos, Blason de Paladines, Ed and translated into Spanish by Maria Jesus Viguera (Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1977), p. 196

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