Studying medieval texts is something every HEMA practitioner will have to do sooner or later… Once your martial art skills start to evolve you will notice that every little detail can make a huge difference in a fight and you’ll begin to search for those details everywhere. This is how you can develop your skills, analyze your techniques in order to progress further.
At first it may seem wierd, studying cryptic verses and looking at bizarre images doesn’t seem to be a good way to learn how to fight. But remember this – people who have written these books have gathered knowledge from the only true practitioners of this art – medieval and renessaince warriors for which a small detail could make a difference between life and death. And they have accumulated this knowledge across hundreds of years. Who’s better authority on this?
Some of the treatises are showing images only with very little description (Talhoffer, Paulus Kal, Walpurgis Fechtbuch – MS I.33) – you need to be aware about the order in which they are being shown as one technique might be shown on several images with several variations/followups
Older treatises (XIVth and XVth century) will have multiple annotations from various masters, some of them may be showing the core concepts in symbolic manner, eg. Lion being the symbol of courage, Tiger – speed, etc., Some of the old treatises will use obscure language and poems to present their teachings.
The important part is to note that they all taking on the same concept – martial art is all about your own body bio-mechanics. Techniques represent moves that are fastest, most efficient for your body to follow. There are always multiple variations of the same technique but it’s always the simplest version which is the most effective. Also, remember that very often simple thing can make a huge difference, eg. thumb grip, angle of the cut, type of a step, etc.,
So read through the text carefully (every word may have a meaning), look at the details on the images (hands & legs position, edge of the blade, distance) and see the correlation between various texts (the same techniques can be described differently, by using different symbols or words, but the principal movement behind them will be always the same)
Before you start, please read the following warning – as it is exactly as adequate now as it was 500 years ago:
Here begins Master Liechtenauer’s Art of fencing with the sword on foot and mounted as well as with Armour and without.
At first, you should note and know that there is only one art of the sword, and this art may have been developed some hundred years ago. And this art is the foundation and the core of any fencing art and Master Liechtenauer understood and practiced it in its completeness. It is not the case that he invented this art – as mentioned before – but he has travelled many lands, willing to learn and experience the same real and true art.
And this very art is honestly real and true and it is about moving straight and simple, to the nearest target, taking the most direct way. For example, if someone intends to strike or thrust, it goes just like if a string would be attached to the sword and the tip or edge would be pulled to an opening of the adversary – who should be the target for the strike or thrust – resulting in taking the shortest way to the nearest target as possibly. That is why the same true fencing will never employ beautiful and wide parries nor large round moves which are just useful to entertain spectators.
There are some Leychmeister (false masters) that tell they would invent new art and think that the art of fencing would get better day by day. I however would like to see just one who should come up with a fencing technique or a strike that is not part of Liechtenauer’s art. They just often try to change a technique just by giving it a new name, everyone just as he sees it fit. They also invent wide and large swinging moves and parries, and often use two or three strikes before the real strike. And all this just because they want to be praised by the uneducated people! They practice wide and beautiful parries and swings when they begin to fence for show, and execute long and far-reaching strikes slowly and clumsily and by doing this they miss and cannot recover again quickly – and thus exposing themselves easily. That is because they don’t have control and measure in their fencing; this really is not part of serious fencing. For school fencing and for practice using this may be useful, but serious fencing moves simply, directly and straight, without any hesitation and pause, just like a string or like everything would be exactly measured and calculated.
Codex Döbringer (MS 3227a), 1389 AD
Now, let’s take a look at the Masters section translated on Wiktenauer page. Please note that navigation might be slightly confusing at first, but simply scroll down to the desired section and click on SHOW/HIDE link on the right of the section
Fiore de Liberi goes first:
Johannes Lichtenauer verses are available there also:
For German longsword, I would recommend to take a look at Ringeck’s translation first:
Codex Döbringer MS 3227a is next – read the ‘anonymous fencing treatise’ section and then Liechtenauer’s Blosfechten section please:
You can find much more of these in our Links section!