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Historical Fencing

The handling of weapons was part of the training and education of young nobles in the middle ages and the early modern times. Citizens were tasked with defense duties had to practice their skills as well.

The spectrum ranges from simple unarmed wrestling, sword fencing to mounted combat on horses. There are differences between mounted combat on horse and duels on foot, as well as differences between armored and unarmored fencing.

The Historical Sources: Fencing Manuals

For a long time, skills, especially manual skills, have been passed on orally. Luckily for us, with the beginning of the 14th century, people started to write down knowledge about fencing and fighting. These manuals are the foundation of the historical martial arts we are practicing today.

But it isn’t that easy: many texts are in early high modern german and written by hand. Oftentimes, we only have incomplete sources with only text or only pictures. Thus, the sources have to be transcribed to our script and language. An interpretation has to be made of a transcription, which has to be tested in training with sword in hand for plausibility.

Many fencing manuals can be found on our website. Have a look at the sections Transcriptions, fencing manuals or publications by Hammaborg members.

The Tradition of Liechtenauer

Johannes Liechtenauer was a fencing master who lived and taught in the 14th century. Unfortunately, further biographical details do not exist. The first notion of his teachings can be found in the manuscript 3227a, dated 1389. The manuscript is in the possession of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg and is often called the “Hanko Döbringer Hausbuch”. Liechtenauer’s influence was so tremendous that even in 1570 Joachim Meyer referred to him in his expansive fighting manual “Gründtliche Beschreibung der kunst des Fechtens”.

Only very few fechtbücher with commentaries on Liechtenauer’s teachings have survived the centuries. Among the better known ones are the manuscripts allegedly written by Sigmund Ringeck, Hans von Speyer and codex 44 A 8, formerly ascribed to Peter von Danzig, dating from between 1440 and 1492. Our interpretation is mostly based on transcriptions of the longsword sections of these manuscripts.

A translation into modern German of the manuscript 44 A 8 can be found here.

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Sword & Buckler according to I.33 and other Masters

The oldest surviving fechtbuch in the world is the manuscript MS I.33, the so-called Tower Fechtbuch, which is preserved in the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It dates from about the beginning of the 14th century, the author presumably being a cleric named Lutger (lutegerus), and depicts with words and images fighting techniques with sword and buckler. Despite being written in Latin and kept in a British museum, it is a German manuscript that already precedes some of Liechtenauer’s teachings.

Our literature section contains further information on the facsimile of an American publisher.

The interpretation of this manuscript is one of the core themes of our sword & buckler training. We have held many corresponding seminars in Europe and the USA.

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Langes Messer according to Johannes Lecküchner

The Langes Messer (long knife) is a single handed sword with only one sharp edge. The back of the blade is blunt apart from a short section down from the tip. Being a modification of a peasant’s or workman’s tool it was available to the public and thereby no suitable symbol of status when of plain appearance.

The most important source on the Messer is from 1482: that year the priest Johannes Lecküchner finished his fully illustrated and more than 420 pages long treatise on Messer fencing, the manuscript Cgm 582. This work is one of the most extensive medieval fencing books and it’s entirely on the Messer. However, it is clearly based in the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer: all his main techniques with the long sword are also present in the Messer of Lecküchner, but the chapters on disarming and wrestling are considerably expanded. Furthermore it contains techniques that are clearly described as martial arts demonstrations.

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