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BeingsoresolutelyinvolvedwithstudyandpracticeofbothMedievalGermanandItalianmanuals, ARMAisproudtopresentthefollowingarticleonMedievalfencing.Fellowcolleagueandsword scholarMattGalaspresentsinvaluableandmuchneededcommentary.Insimpletoneheflatly obliteratesthepersistent,long-heldmythsandprejudicesfosteredby19thcenturywritersand continuallyperpetuatedbysomanysportandclassicalfencerstoday:namelytheludicrousnotion thattheworldofWesternswordsartsonlyreallybeginswithrapiersandendswithmodernfoil, epee,andsaber.WithoutevenventuringintotheRenaissancecut&thrustswordmethods,Galas givesusanexcellentbriefoverviewofmaterialfromaforthcomingbookontheMedieval Fechtmiesters.

Setting The Record Straight: The Art of the Sword in Medieval Europe
S.MatthewGalas,Esq. Forthepastcenturyorso,thecommonassumptionamongfencinghistorianshasbeenthat disciplined,systematicswordsmanshipdidnotbeginuntiltheadventoftherapierinthe mid-16thcentury.Tobackupthisargument,adherentsofthisviewhavetypicallypointedto theproliferationofrapiermanualsinRenaissanceItaly.Victorianwriters,inparticular, focusedtheirattentionontheworksofItalianssuchasAchilleMarozzo,CamilloAgrippa, GiacomoDiGrassi,andVincentioSaviolo,portrayingthesemastersasthefoundersof modernswordsmanship. Morethananyotherauthor,EgertonCastlecontributedtothisparadigmoffencinghistory. Hisclassicwork,Schools and Masters of Fence,wasfirstpublishedin1884;ithasbeenthe standardreferenceonhistoricalswordsmanshipeversince.Inhiswork,Castleperpetuateda viewoffencinghistoryasamarchofprogressfromthe"rough,untutoredfightingofthe MiddleAges"totheprecise,refinedexercisesofthe19thcenturyfencingmaster.Inhis words,thiswasa"chainof...development,fromthepancratium ofthefifteenthcentury,in whichwrestlingandleapingwereofmoreavailthanaughtelse,tothecourteousand academicassault ofmoderndays,whereeleganceandprecisionofmovementsaremore highlyconsidered- oroughttobe- thanthemeresuperiorityinthenumberofhits."Castle wassoconfidentofhiserasplaceinthatchainofdevelopmentthathecouldboldlyassert that"thetheoryoffencinghasreachedallbutabsoluteperfectioninourdays...." MostmodernauthorshavesimplyfollowedinCastlesfootsteps.Theirunquestioning acceptanceoftheopinionsofCastleandotherVictorianauthorshasperpetuatedthemyth thatRenaissanceItalywasthebirthplaceofsystematicswordsmanship.However,simply repeatingafalsehoodoverandoverdoesnotmakeittrue.Greateraccesstohistorical sourcesandamorecriticalexaminationofCastlesclaimshaveledrecentscholarsand researcherstorejecthisthesisasbiasedandinaccurate. IntheyearssinceCastlesworkwaspublished,ithascometolightthatscoresoffencing manualssurvivefrommedievaltimes.ThecontentsoftheseworksmakeclearthatWestern swordsmanshiphaddevelopedtoahighlevelofsophisticationlongbeforetheRenaissance. Furthermore,themajorityofthesurvivingmanualsoriginatedinGermany,ratherthanItaly. Theearliestsurvivingmanualofswordsmanshipisananonymousmanuscriptinthe collectionoftheRoyalArmouriesinLeeds,England.KnownasManuscriptI.33,thiswork datesfromaround1300,anddealsentirelywiththeuseoftheswordandbuckler.The illustrationsdepictpairsofunarmoredfencersinavarietyofstances,executingtechniques http://www.thehaca.com/essays/straight.htm

thatincludecuts,thrusts,parries,anddisarmingmaneuvers.Beneatheachillustrationisan explanatorytextinLatin,althoughmanyofthetechnicaltermsareinGerman.Theauthor appearstohavebeenaGermancleric,sincethetextmakesreferencetoaSacerdos(priest) whoinstructstheScholaris(student)intheartofthesword.Thisimpressionisreinforced bytheillustrations,inwhichoneofthefencersisalwaysshownwiththeshavedhead (tonsure)commontomedievalclerics. Thenextsurvivingmanualoffence,datingfrom1389,isalsoofGermanorigin.Consisting entirelyoftextwithnoillustrations,thisworkwaswrittenbyapriestnamedHanko Doebringer.DoebringerappearstohavestudiedunderthegreatmasterJohannes Liechtenauer,whoseteachingsdominatedGermanswordsmanshipforthenext250years. Hiswritings,whicharelargelytheoreticalinnature,layouttheaggressivecombat philosophyespousedbyMasterLiechtenauer.Unfortunately,Doebringernevercompleted hiswork;thetechnicalsectionswhichcovertheuseofthelongsword,thefalchion,the swordandbuckler,andthestaffallremainunfinished. Despitehisfailuretocompletehiswork,Doebringermanagestoconveythetheoretical basisfortheGermanart,whichissurprisinglymodernintone.Concentratingonthe importanceofseizingtheinitiative,onmaintainingtheoffensive,andevadingthe opponentsattemptstofindtheblade,Doebringerattimessoundslikeamodernepeecoach. Inanothersection,Doebringerdiscussesthetimeadvantageofthethrustoverthecut a theoreticalconceptusuallyascribedtotheItalianrapiermasters.Inaddition,Doebringer describeshowLiechtenauerdividedtheopponentsbodyintofourtargetareas- adivision stillusedinmodernfencing.Finally,dispellingthemisconceptionthatmedievalswordsmen reliedonstrengthalone,DoebringerstatesthataweaklingusingLiechtenauersartwould beaslikelytowinasastrongman.Insum,HankoDoebringersobservationsmakeclear thatmedievalfencingmasters- atleastinGermany haddevelopedtheirarttoamuch higherdegreeofsophisticationthantheyhavepreviouslybeengivencreditfor. IncontrasttothesetwoGermanmanuals,thefirstsurvivingmanualofItalianorigindates from1410.Thiswork,knownastheFlos Duellatorum(FlowerofBattle),waswrittenby MasterFioredeiLiberi.MasterLibericamefromthenorthernItalianvillageof Premariacco.Intheprologuetohismanual,hestatesthathestudiedboththeItalianandthe Germandoctrineofarms.AlthoughLibericlaimstohavestudiedunderavarietyofmasters, theonlyonewhomhesinglesoutasworthyofmentionisaGermanhenamesonlyas "MasterJohannes,calledtheSwabian."SinceLiberishomeprovinceofFriulisitsatthe footoftheAlps,itshouldcomeasnosurprisethatthemaestrowouldbeexposedtothe teachingsofGermanmasters. Theexistenceofthesethreemanuals- ManuscriptI.33atLeeds,Doebringerstext,andthe Flos Duellatorum - showthatbothGermanyandItalyhadflourishingschoolsoffencefor centuriesbeforetheadventoftherapierinthemid-1500s.Ifweweretojudgesimplybythe existenceoffencingmanualsalone(whichshouldnotbethecase),theGermanschool wouldobviouslyseemtopredatetheItalianschool. However,itwouldbeamistaketoequatetheappearanceoffencingliteraturewiththe appearanceofsystematicfencing.Thepublishingoffencingmanualsprovesonlyonething - thatfencingmasters,reflectingtrendsthroughoutmedievalsociety,werebecomingmore literate.Onthecontrary,medievalmastersascribedamuchgreateragetotheirart.Hanko Doebringer,writingin1389,commentsthattheartoftheswordwasdeveloped"afew hundredyearsago."AhostofdocumentaryreferencessupportDoebringersassertion, makingclearthatskillatarmswascommoninEuropelongbeforeeventheearliestofthe survivingmanuals. TheepicpoemsofGermany,whichtypicallydatefromthe12thcentury,makefrequent mentionofschirmmaister(fencingmasters)andtheirschirmslac(fencingblows). Furthermore,civicdocumentsandordinancesfromacrossEuropemakereferenceto http://www.thehaca.com/essays/straight.htm

professionalfencersandchampions;manyofthesedatefromthe12thand13thcenturies. Likewise,thewritingsofchroniclersandhistoriansoftencontainreferencestoskillinthe useofweapons.Forexample,anItalianchronicler,writingabouttheBattleofCivitatein 1053,mentionsabodyof700Germanmercenarieswhoformedthecoreofthepapalarmy. Althoughtheywereeventuallyoverwhelmedbytheenemy,theauthornoteshowthey "excelledwiththesword,"oftenseveringtheheadsoftheiropponents.Consideringthefact thatEuropewasgovernedbyawarriorelitefromthefallofRomeuntiltheRenaissance,it wouldbesurprisingifthemartialartswerenotdevelopedtoahighdegreeofefficiency beforetheappearanceofthefirstsurvivingfencingmanualaroundtheyear1300. ThefullrangeofthesemedievalmartialartsisillustratedinMasterLiberisFlos Duellatorum.UnlikeManuscriptI.33atLeeds,Liberisworkisnotlimitedto swordsmanship.Instead,itdealswiththeentirerangeofknightlyweapons- thespada (sword),thespadone(greatsword),thelancia(spear),thedaga(dagger),andtheazza (poleaxe).Italsocontainssectionsonwrestling,armoredcombat,andmountedcombat.In thissense,itistypicalofthesurvivingfencingmanualsoftheMiddleAges.Ratherthan restrictingthemselvestothenarrowrealmofswordsmanship,themastersofthetimesought toproducewell-roundedwarriorswhowereexpertinalloftheweaponscommonlyusedon thebattlefield. The15thcenturysawafloodofotherfencingmanuals.MasterLiberisworkappearsto havebeenwell-receivedinItaly,sinceatleastfourothercopiesareknowntohavebeen producedduringthe1400s.However,themajorityofthesurvivingworksareGermanin origin,withover20manualsstillinexistence.Thesemanualswerefollowedinthe16th centurybymorethan30additionalmanualsfromGermany,15ofwhichpredateAchille MarozzosOpera Novaof1536. OtherevidencepointstotheimportanceofGermanyinthedevelopmentoffencingaswell. OftenoverlookedisthefactthatthecelebratedCapoFerro,themastersooftencreditedwith inventingthelunge,maypossiblyhavebeenofGermandescent.Notethetitlepageofhis manualof1610,whichproclaimsitselftheGreatSimulacrumoftheUseoftheSword,by RidolfoCapoFerrodaCagli,MasterofthemostexcellentGermanNationinthefamous CityofSienna.HisItalian-soundingsurname,CapoFerro,ismostlikelyapseudonym, translatingroughlyasbossofsteel. WhileGermanstraveledtoItalytostudyandteachtheartofthesword,Italianswordsmen recognizedGermanexpertisebytravellingnorthoftheAlpstostudyGermanmethods.In fact,thelasttrueFechtbuchpublishedinGermany,whichcoverstheuseofthelongsword, thesaber-likeDusack,therapier,andwrestlingtechniques,waswrittenbyanauthorwith theobviouslyItaliannameofTheodoriVeroliniin1679.DespitehisItalianorigins, VerolinisworkislittlemorethanacondensationofJoachimMeyersFechtbuchof1570. LikeLiberismanual,theGermanFechtbuecher(fencingmanuals)coverthefullrangeof knightlyweapons.MostofthesemanualscontaintheteachingsofJohannesLiechtenauer, firstlaidoutinDoebringersworkof1389.FollowingLiechtenauerslead,theGerman mastersdividedtheirartintoBlossfechten(unarmoredcombat),Rossfechten(mounted combat),andKampffechten(armoredcombatonfoot).Eachofthesecategoriescontainedits owndistinctiverepertoireoftechniques. Centraltoeachofthesecategories,however,wastheuseofthelongsword.TheGerman longswordtypicallymeasuredfrom48"to52"inlength.Althoughthegripwaslong enoughtoallowtwo-handeduse,theGermanlongswordwaslightenoughtowieldonehandedwhenfightingonhorseback.Whenfightingonfootagainstanunarmoredopponent, theweaponwasusedwithbothhandstocutandthrust;whenfightinganarmoredfoe,the lefthandgrippedthemiddleoftheblade,enablingittobeusedlikeashortspeartostabat thejointsinthearmor.MasterLiechtenauersteachingsprimarilyfocusonthelongsword, sincehefelttheprinciplesofitsusewereapplicabletoallotherweapons.Themasterswho http://www.thehaca.com/essays/straight.htm

followedinhisfootstepssharedthissentiment,expressingitfrequentlyintheirmanuals. Despitethisprimaryfocusonthelongsword,theGermanmastersdevelopeddetailed repertoiresoftechniquesforalloftheknightlyweaponsinuse,includingtheSper(spear), Messer(falchion),Degen(dagger),Mordaxt(poleaxe),andStange(staff).Ofcourse, wrestlinganddisarmingtechniquesweredevelopedforusewithalltheseweapons. OneofthebestexamplesoftheGermanfencingmanualsofthe15thcenturyisPetervon DanzigsFechtbuch,writtenin1452.InadditiontohisowninterpretationofLiechtenauers teachings,PetervonDanzigalsoincludesextensivecommentarybyavarietyofother mastersontheswordandbuckler,thedagger,armoredcombatwiththelongsword, mountedcombat,andwrestlingtechniques.Thismanualcontainsaround230pagesof denselypackedtext,alongwithalimitednumberofillustrations. Thisbroadfocusonavarietyofweapons,alongwiththeintegrationofwrestlingtechniques intotheart,seemslargelyresponsibleforthemischaracterizationofthemedievalfencing schoolsbyVictorianauthors.Schooledinthefencingtraditionsofthe19thcentury,where thechoiceofweaponswasusuallylimitedtothefoilandthesinglestick,andwrestlingwas strictlyprohibited,itisnosurprisethatEgertonCastleandhispeersviewedthemedieval artsasalien,primitive,andbrutal. However,inthewakeofthemartialartsexplosionofthe1960sand1970s,modernscholars andresearchersarenowabletorecognizethemedievaldoctrinesofarmsforwhattheytruly were- comprehensivesystemsofmartialarts,havingmoreincommonwiththeKoryu (traditionalschools)offeudalJapanthanthesport-fencingsallesof19thcenturyEurope. MartialartsanthropologistslikeDonnDraegerandhisInternationalHoplologySociety haveshownusthatmartialartsneednotbeeleganttobesophisticated.Exposuretoa myriadofAsianmartialartshasmadepossibletherealizationthatskillatarmsisnot limitedtothosecladinfencingwhitesandcarryingfoils.Likewise,ithasfinallyallowed therealizationthatthemartialsystemsofmedievalEuropearejustasworthyofrespect- if notmoreso- thantherapierschoolsoftheRenaissanceandthemodernsportoffencing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR S. Matthew Galas, Esq. is an American attorney working at the NATO Headquarters in Mons, Belgium. An avid fencer since 1977, Mr. Galas is proficient in foil, epee, and sabre. In addition, he studied the Japanese sword arts of kendo and iaido for five years. Mr. Galas has been studying the fencing manuals of medieval Germany, sword in hand, since 1982. He is currently at work on a book about Johannes Liechtenauer and the fighting arts of medieval Germany.
Note:ARMA - TheAssociationforRenaissanceMartialArtsandtheARMAlogoarefederallyregisteredtrademarks,copyright2001.All rightsreserved.NouseoftheARMAnameoremblemispermittedwithoutauthorization.Reproductionofmaterialfromthissitewithout writtenpermissionoftheauthorsisstrictlyprohibited.HACAandTheHistoricalArmedCombatAssociationcopyright1999byJohn Clements.Allrightsreserved.Contentsofthissite1999-2008byARMA.

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