Doing what we are told or what we are taught?

Doing what we are told or what we are taught?

Here’s an old but still always relevant question for us HEMA practitioners to ask ourselves: When we read the old fencing treatises, should we only practice what we are told to do in the treatises or should we try to continue with the next step of playing with it and even do things that we are not explicitly shown or suggested to do in the various stücke?

To be able to explore this question; here’s a specific topic that constantly keeps returning in various debates: Meyer is said to not be teaching thrusting with the longsword. Yet, we know for certain that he was familliar with the works of several older masters like Ringeck, Liegniczer, Syber, Marozzo and Huntfeltz. The concept of thrusting with a longsword and the associated techniques were quite clearly familiar to him. So why did he choose not to teach it and how does that affect our training?

To get to the bottom of this we have to start with why he chose not to teach it the same way that the old masters taught the Drei Wunder (three wonders) cut, thrust & slice. Here are some simple suggestions that may be part of the explanation:

Meyer himself explains that:

But I will here remind the friendly reader at the outset, since there is a great difference between sword combat in our time and how it was practiced by our predecessors — And as to the practice of former days, when they fought dangerously both with cuts and thrusts, I will discuss it in its proper and separate place.

Detail from artwork by Franz Brun ca 1559. Notice the ball point.

This in turn might be explained by the fact that the three weapons of the Fechtmeister were the longsword, the dussacken and the Halbenstangen. The latter two were made out of wood & leather and were reasonably safe to thrust with and thus were used for exactly that.

The rappier had ball points for safety even in Meyer’s time as can be seen in the retouched image by Franz Brun on the right and even in the preparatory sketches for Meyer’s treatise of 1570 by Hans Christoffel Stimmer. Furthermore, the wooden training daggers and the practice halberds also often used such ball points to enable thrusting to the face, which is clearly seen in Meyer’s treatise of 1570.

However, such ball points would likely have fallen off with the powerful and fast cuts of a longsword and consequently were not used for the steel training swords.

A wooden training longsword could theoretically have been used as it would have been safe enough for thrusting, but then it wouldn’t have been so for striking (while actually hitting the head) and a choice promoting the cut seems to have been made. A thrust would have been reasonably simple to add to a core of cuts and windings, but the opposite is not as true.

Sketch in chalk and ink by Hans Christoffel Stimmer for Meyer’s 1570 treatise

About 100 years later we have good depictions of thrusting points used even with the staff as seen in the image below.

Practice weapons used by the Marxbrüder and the Federfechter in 1689

Another explanation might be that Meyer’s treatise of 1570 is one of the first martial arts treatises meant for mass distribution, and that he therefore might have wanted to avoid being responsible for permanent injury amongst enthusiastic young fighters which studied primarily with the book as their main source of learning. In his foreword he even directs himself both to

… youths who wish to dedicate themselves to this art — also so that the experienced practitioner may understand…

This book is quite different from many earlier sources in the sense that it is largely a book that teaches you how to train, not only how to defend and attack. This is a hugely important distinction.

Furthermore, his book was dedicated to and, according to Meyer himself, written after he had been repeatedly asked to do so by Johann Casimir von Pfalz-Simmern. Meyer appears to have had military experience from several conflicts and in several countries and his teachings may very well have been intended to teach Casimir’s troops and more specifically together in group training, as opposed to the old, traditional one-one-one training of teacher & noble student. This would involve more risks while training, so minimizing the risks of troops maiming or killing themselves might be a good idea. Mass training is quite different from personal training and this treatise might reflect this.

Today, the situation is quite different, since we are using fencing masks and throat protection that keeps us safe enough against thrusts to the face.

So, did Meyer thrust with the longsword or not and what should we do in our attempts at recreating his Art?

This is a tricky question.

As described above, we know that he taught the thrust with the weapons that were reasonably safe to thrust with; the staff/halberd, the dagger and dussack and the rappier. We also know that he taught us to threaten with the trust for the longsword in several stücke, for instance provoking the opponent from Schlüssel, by thrusting in, our slightly out of, range, thereby causing him to strike at our sword, and then make the old Schnappen and counter-cut to the opening created at where the opponent struck from.

As shown in the top image, we also see stances where the thrust could well be used in the illustrations. He uses the longsword guards of Ochs, Pflug and Eisenport which all encourage thrusting and in fact he describes the Pflug as:

… aim the tip or point at your opponent’s face as if you intended to thrust at him from below.

And the Eisenport is described as:

Thus you have your sword in front of you for protection like an iron door; for when you stand with your feet wide, so that your body is low, you can put off all cuts and thrusts from this position.

In his fourth stuck on the Oberhut he says:

… cross your hands above your head (the right over the left), so that it seems as if you intended to thrust at his face…”

In the first stuck on Schlüssel Meyer says:

… then thrust straight in front of you at his face from the Key into the Longpoint. He must fend off this thrust if he does not wish to be hit.

Notice that he actually says that the opponent has to parry or he will receive a thrust in his face.

He even shows us a fencer keeping the point right between the eyes of the opponent in plate G shown above. To be fair, it is after a cut, a very controlled Schielhauw, but given the amount of control displayed, and the fact that the thrust was taught with all other weapons, we can be fairly sure that he would know what to do if the Meisterhauw didn’t connect properly.

The longsword, and the bidenhänder, although unfashionable compared to the rappier, certainly saw their use in the 1560/70’s and even several decades later. The longswords were certainly not as common on the battlefields of Meyer’s time, but we should keep in mind that this was a time of deep religious conflict between Catholics and various groups of Protestants and this involved wars not only on the regular battlefield and the professional landsknechten and noble officers in armour, but with peasants, burghers and nobles alike fighting on fields, in woods and in the cities, with many forms of weapons, like rappiers, halberds, pikes and bardisans, and occasionally even peasants with farming tools like transformed scythes, flails and simple thick branches. Longswords were certainly used, and encountered in plenty of these battles.

Furthermore, Giacomo di Grassi tells us in 1570 that the two-handed sword is used to protect the highest ranking officers and the banners.

The two hand sword as it is used now and & daies being fower handfulls in the handle —But because one may with it (as a galleon among many gallies) resist many Swordes, or other weapons: Therefore in the warres, it is used to be placed neere unto the Ensigne or Auncient, for the defence thereof, because, being of it selfe hable to contend with manie, it may better sauegard the same. And it is accustomed to be carried in the Citie, aswell by night as by day, when it so chaunceth that a few are constrayned to withstand a great manie.

Giacomo diGrassi Arte of Defence, English translation from 1594.

We should also keep in mind that Dom Diogo Gomes de Figueryedo wrote his treatise on the two-handed Montante as late as in 1651, advising on both battlefield and urban combat.

Combining all of the above, I firmly believe that Meyer would have thrusted in an actual life-and-death situation involving longswords. He might even have done it for real in combat.

So how should we approach the above?

On the one hand we could stick to the text and the stücke described therein and thereby be safe in the knowledge that we are not making things up. The Art of Meyer would remain pure and clean since we only focus on the techniques that are described in the treatises of Meyer. The huge disadvantage however is that this could potentially, perhaps even likely, make things more undynamic and unflexible as we are taught through a book and still interpret things without being corrected by the master himself.

On the other hand we could try to read in between the lines and try to understand the principles that Meyer is trying to teach us through the use of various techniques, thus making his Art our own, and hopefully thereby make it come alive again.

In his 1570 treatise Meyer himself states that:

Further you shall also know that although I have assigned to every posture its particular devices, it is not my intention that these devices shall not be executed or take place from other postures. The chiefest reason that I have assigned some devices to one posture, others to another, is so they can be discussed in an orderly fashion.

Also these devices are not so set in stone that they cannot be changed in practice – they are merely examples from which everyone may seek, derive, and learn devices according to his opportunity, and may arrange and change them as suits him. For as we are not all of a single nature, so we also cannot all have a single style in combat; yet all must nonetheless arise and be derived from a single basis.

Reading his treatises with this angle we would more be looking for things like body & weapon’s mechanics, strategies, tactics and psychology. The techniques are in a sense the embodiment of these and with understanding of these the techniques will come by themselves, even if you haven’t practiced the actual techniques. This also means that a technique often can be performed in many different ways, which Meyer even suggests himself several times.

We could also ask ourselves what Meyer himself hoped to do. To me that answer is simple: To create the best (German) fighters possible, and particularly such that could serve under men like Johann Casimir. He was not teaching techniques as much as he was teaching principles and strategies for fighting. I sincerely believe that Meyer and his men would certainly have thrusted with any weapon that was suited for it and the longsword is indeed designed for that. Thrusting with the Zweihänder can be debated, but we know that the contemporary Italian Giacomo di Grassi actually advised primarily thrusting with the large two-handed swords.

With all of the above in mind, I would suggest we try to include thrusting into Meyer’s longsword and that we read the stücke with the thrust in mind to see if adding thrust would change Meyer’s teachings in a way that affects mechanics etc or if it would complement it naturally. The step from threatening with a thrust and actually completing it seems short enough.

Now, the reasoning on thrusting in Meyer longsword above is just an example that explores a tiny bit of a much broader question given in the very title of the article: “Doing what we are told or what we are taught?” It is my strong belief that we always need to try to look beneath the surface of the techniques and see what principles that lie underneath them and what ties them together. That way we can deepen our understanding considerably.

This is also the case with Meyer’s concept of Reitzen-Nehmen-Treffen (provoking-taking-hitting), ie if you hit with your Vorschlag, make sure to take out his counterstrike and withdraw safely in the Abzug. You can also first provoke him to open up so you can hit him or if he countercuts while you are attacking, then take it out and finally hit him properly. This concept lies underneath a very large portion of Meyer’s teachings and is in a way his “Drei Wunder“. But without this understanding, we can easily misinterpret his stücke as involving many complex hits that really make no sense.

So my answer to the main question would simply be: We should strive to practice and use what Meyer is trying to teach, not what he actually says. The latter is a key to the former, but nothing more and once we truly understand the principles, the proper techniques will come forth by themselves.

However, this does not mean that we can or should skip training techniques. Quite the contrary. We need to analyze them and practice them in order to understand the underlying principles. This is hard work and can take several years before we reach proper understanding.

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All translations of Joachim Meyer are taken from Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng’s book referenced below.

References:

Meyer, Joachim (1570): Gründtliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen unnd Adelichen Kunst des Fechtens, Straßburg, Thiebolt Berger

di Grassi, Giacomo. (1570: Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme. English translation of 1594, London.

Forgeng, Dr Jeffrey L. (2006: The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570 . Greenhill Books & Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Roger Norling
Roger Norling is an instructor on Joachim Meÿer's Halben Stangen (Quarterstaff) with Gothenburg Historical Fencing School.

His main focus in his research is the "Kunst des Fechtens" and primarily the longsword, dussack and polearms. He has been focusing on the works of Joachim Meÿer since 2009. In this he has enjoyed collaborating with the Meyer Frei Fechter Guild and in May 2013 he became a Fechter of the MFFG. Recently, he has begun researching Meyer's dagger quite systematically using the same method he applied to his staff teachings.

Currently, he is writing on a series of books which will explore the teachings of Joachim Meyer, in collaboration with researcher friends in the HEMA community.

The upcoming two years he will be teaching Meÿer quarterstaff, dusack and longsword at various HEMA events in Europe and the USA. For more about this, read his instructor's profile.

10 Comments

  1. I am inclined to agree with your general approach here.
    We have to get enough out of the book to get started but we clearly need to extend and grow the art ourselves if it is to come alive again, Meyer instructs us to do so. But this adherence to whats in the book must be within reason, I try to keep to fighting with techniques I get from the book, but within reason, without limiting yourself but still keeping to the generally understood principles. The Stucke especially hold the Key and should be imprinted on our souls and bones.

    For example not thrusting because you do Meyer Longsword is rather foolish IMHO, its a necessary part of the art. There is no doubt in my mind that Meyer is different from the other German arts, both in age and influences so we must do his art due diligence before we run off in some direction but that’s a slow, slow job and we must have the patience to do it. For example I adapt my Meyer longsword, staff and dussack to warclub/stick (another guy from Australia has also adapted it to longstick) putting to use and all the sneaky shit that Meyer does and it works great. But we are far from understanding his art, so I expect to be at this for my lifetime as do most of our serious guild members. This is a generational endeavor.

    In a short answer we must do both.

    Discussions like this help us all get to that place, great job Roger illuminating this subject.

  2. Thanks Mike! I really love your input!

    And to everyone else: Here is also a comment I wrote on the MFFG forum that expands on the above:

    One important thing to note is that Meyer actually teaches longsword thrusting AT someone, but does so without letting the thrusts CONNECT, for instance from Schlüssel. He uses them as provokers, but could of course easily let them connect if he wanted to. He also teaches the Eisenport guard and says that it defends well against thrusts.

    Here is also a very important question to ask ourselves: Did anyone really practice thrusting before Meyer? If so how? Keep in mind that no protection for the face was worn in Blossfechten. I sincerely believe that no one was using the thrust in training, neither in a friendly nor in a competetive fechtschule context. Most likely it was used exactly as Meyer did. Using a Verzuckende Stoss (a pulled thrust).

    As for what to do today. I believe that Meyer’s intent was not to teach us to fence for fechtschulen. It was to prepare us for actual combat, for self defense or war. This we need to keep in mind. The fechtschulen was a tool to use, but not a means in itself.

    The fechtschulen is in a way sport, but a brutal one with serious risk of injury, and as such it prepares you for actual combat. It will put fear and respect in you and give you better focus. On the other hand, certain rules were used that would not likely have been in place for actual combat, especially when facing armies of a different nationality, although there is reportedly an Italian reference from Francesco Patrizi in 1595 that says that the Landsknechten thought the trust to not be gallant and that you shouldn’t use it in combat. This sounds strange considering that it clearly was taught with all weapons, but it is an interesting suggestion that needs to be researched more. It might just be a misunderstanding about the characteristics of the Katzbalger. The described too light point of the weapon would likely mean that you have to cut closer to the middle of the blade to get it to bite deeper.

    Nevertheless we can fairly safely assume that the thrust was used with all weapons in the street, in a tavern and on the urban and countryside battlefields as the opportunity arose.

    So today, as we have fencing gear that wasn’t used in the day, we can choose to combine two paths: Both the unprotected training, as Mike suggested in his excellent article. This would forbid actually thrusting to the head and neck and perhaps even to the body, but could/should include pulled thrusts.
    The other parallel path would be protected fencing with thrusts and use of all techniques that do not cause permanent injury.

    These two combined will give us the skills that I believe Meyer was hoping to teach us. However, using only one of them will not be as successful. The thrust is important and changes the fencing quite a lot. This is why the thrust is included in the “Drei Wunder” (three miracles) of the Liechtenauer fencing. It is the quickest way to attack from a bind after a failed vorschlag or countercut. It is what is used in the Zornort and earlier forms of Winden & Mutieren. Not practicing it will make us weaker, just as not including the hands as a target will make us weak against hand snipers.

    The book as an object and its contents is somewhat different from what Meyer would have taught himself in person I think. It was aimed both at experienced fighters and youths with little or no experience. Teaching the latter to thrust at each others’ faces with rather slim-pointed feders might have been frowned upon and could potentially have caused both the youths and Meyer problems. The other practice weapons were usually designed to be safer for thrusting, I believe.

    Regarding the Dussacken/Rappier-relationship. I sincerely believe that the dussacken techniques are much older than Rappier techniques, since many are based on arming sword all the way from Ms I.33 and Leküchner’s 15th cent messer, and Meyer uses the same Dussack/messer techniques as a foundation for the rappier as well, although with more focus on the thrust.

    In a way I agree that for civilians the Rappier was the meat of the book. For the soldiers I am not so sure. The pike and the halberd were pretty important too, as was the dussacken, at least for some troops. Also the longsword/montante/bidenhänder was still used by certain city guards and soldiers almost a 100 years after Meyer’s death. And Giacomo di Grassi actually writes about how the two-handed sword is used to protect dignitaries, high ranking officers and the banners in 1570. So the chances of at least encountering it sometime was fairly big I think, and some would have specialized in it.

    • Hey Roger,

      Thanks a lot for this post and comments. It is really informative and helpful for a budding Meyer enthusiast. I wanted to support your reference to the longsword being used to protect dignitaries as well as banners with this bit of info I have just come across:

      From the Civic record describing the York ‘Midsummer Eve Show’ in 1584:

      “…At its head were riders dressed as the legendary champions of Christendom, followed by the sheriffs on their foot-clothed horses and the great white banner of York, with its red cross and five golden lions: round it men twirled and flourished two-handed swords- in 1584 one flourished so ‘unadvysedly’ that he cut the standard, which cost a shilling to mend…”

      • Thanks Payson!
        I really liked that quote, especially the flourishing “unadvysedly”. :)

  3. And another few comments following a Facebook debate:

    Here are a few simple questions we could ask ourselves: How would the old masters practice longsword fencing for Blossfechten? Would they thrust, and if so how? How is it different from what Meyer uses in his printed treatise? How should one teach fencing without protection to beginners, even if the readers were ultimately aiming to use it for self-defense or the battlefield?

    Meyer’s 1570 treatise is in large parts a practice manual, not a killing manual. The goal is to offer exercises that will prepare you for killing without having to kill your training partner. This is different to the approach used in many older sources, but should not be interpreted as teaching a completely different fencing. The teaching methods are different and the techniques are certainly affected by it to varying degrees. This is why we need to look at what is underneath of it all.

    Meyer is not as interested in lables. He rather concerns himself with teaching mechanics and principles that are to be used dynamically and freely. He even tells us that we should experiment and learn to do everything from any situation.

    Possibly, however, I think his teachings are part of a slightly different, but not more wrong branch of Liechtenauer fencing, perhaps a “Freifechter” division. The Liechtenauer roots are there, but the Art has evolved with the surrounding context and has adapted to it. Likely Leküchner, who mentions the Freifechter, Syber, Freifechter Paurnfeindt and a few other sources are important to study here.
    Also Meyer in a way frees himself from the older fencing at the same time as he aims to revive it. He is different from Liechtenauer, but so are ALL masters teaching after Liechtenauer. They all spin things. In my eyes he takes the teachings of Liechtenauer and expands on the principles that are taught by the old master. In a way he breathes new life into the Art, but still with a very martial purpose.

    Also, I don’t believe that Meyer wants us to make plenty of combo-strikes constantly which you can be fooled into thinking while reading his treatise. However, I think constant cutting through guards is part of his interpretation of Frequens Motus, as described in 3227a. Through his multiple cut-stucke I think he is teaching principles rather than actual techniques to use, very often the provoker-taker-hitter concept. This goes all through his treatise, even with the staff and halberd. They are more semi-theoretical examples used to highlight concepts than used to portray what Meyer’s fighting would have looked like, I think.

    Meyer’s parries are really no wider than a krumphauw or parrying from schrankhut or from below. In fact I think his longsword parries are quite tight with the point close to the line both in parrying and handarbeit.

    And about the Leichmeister quote from 3227, Meyer actually tells us that Nachreissen works well against those who cuts and strikes wide. This could be interpreted as Meyer disliking the very same type of fencers as the author speaking in 3227a.

  4. The Brechfenster, Kron, Mutieren, Eisenport, Ablauffen and plenty of other things are used by Meyer in a “peculiar” way and with “new” meanings. But those are just words. We should keep in mind that Liechtenauer didn’t invent the Art. He systemized it and made the Aristotlean principles clearer through his rather short and enigmatic verses and the rest tried to examplify those principles with various techniques.

    The Art can still basically remain the same, just as it already existed before Liechtenauer, exploring the very same principles even if the terms and their meanings change. And many treatises, even 3227a have some real peculiarities (Krawthacke, Noterczunge, Weckemeister, Pfobenczagel, Dy drey hewe).

    I also think there is good reason to think that there is both a somewhat different and quite old strand of Liechtenauer-related fencing via Syber, Leküchner and Paurnfeindt that Meyer is part of AND a new approach with certain fencers seeking to free themselves a bit from the old ways, which the Freifechter are a part of. The older Marxbrüder fencers didn’t write treatises for printed mass distribution as far as I can tell. Amongst the Freifechter there are quite a few and this I believe was quite upsetting to the Marxbrüder. They must have hated these “Information needs to be free”-guys sharing the “secret arts” openly.

    Meyer was part of this early on and took the concept to great length with a fairly pedagogical treatise and I believe this is why he became so important for almost a 100 years to come with several reprints and the spin-offs of Sutor and Verolini.

    You can’t speak using only the stiff phrases taught in a language book. You have to understand the grammar and learn the vocabulary and then make them your own, and adapt them to the context in order to be able to communicate freely and dynamically. This is true for everything, including fencing. Sticking solely to the text will make you unflexible and less dynamic, which is quite the opposite of what Meyer is trying to create.

    Meyer’s treatise is quite different to most older sources in the sense that it is a practice manual. In large parts it shows how to PRACTICE how to learn to defend yourself and kill someone. It doesn’t just show how to defend yourself and kill someone. This is important to understand. The ultimate goal though is not to teach you to just practice.

    Again, I am NOT saying we shouldn’t focus hard on the text. We have to and I think we will have to spend several decades studying the text before we truly understand it. There is no understanding without working HARD with the stucke. It is an absolute requirement that you can’t sidestep. I’ve spent three years on the Meyer staff and I expect at least as much more before I think I will get it “properly”. I see plenty of things in there already though, both relating to the rest of his treatise and to other, older sources.

    … finding such [principles] and understanding them will broaden our understanding of what the masters teach us. It makes understanding the stucke easier.
    However, identifying such principles must be done with great care and with constant reevaluation since we do indeed risk misinterpreting underlying concepts when doing so and therefore also may misunderstand other techniques as we try to apply the principles that we believe we have understood.

    On the other hand they are also a key to unlocking other techniques that may puzzle us and they can give a broader understanding for how things connect. This I believe is very important. Understanding the mechanics of the body and the weapons are crucial to understanding the techniques and vice versa. The one can’t exist without the other.

    And without this key, picking the locks will be even harder and we might not even be able to unlock them at all.

  5. Excellent article and comments, Roger. :) I also find myself in agreement with most of the ideas presented here.

  6. Thanks Ian!

    I will also add another small thing that relates to criticism often posed against Meyer’s style of fencing. Often the advise given in the anonymous treatise Hs.3227a from 1389:

    But I would like to see one, who is capable of inventing and showing a strike or technique that is not based on Liechtenauer’s art. The only thing they do is that they often change and pervert the techniques, to give them new names, each having his own way.

    And they come up with wide around fencing and parries, and they are doing two or three strikes instead of one, just for the acknowledgement to be praised by the ignorant.”

    This is not seldom described as what Meyer is doing and to this I would like to respond with Meyer’s own voice:

    “… if your opponent cuts with his weapon either too far up or down, or too far out to the side, then you rush after him at his opening and thus prevent his cut coming to completion; for this may properly be used against those who fight with their cuts sweeping wide around them.”

    Looking at the illustrations and reading the treatises my belief is that he is quite aware of how to control the line and commonly does so by stretching out forwards or to the sides behind his sword, thus staying well protected in all stances, cuts and parries. This is something his critics do not quite understand and instead see as “wide parries and strikes”.

    Personally, I don’t think his “style” is in spirit very far from the concept of Frequens Motus described in Hs.3227a in 1389, altough I think by Meyer’s time the KdF had moved away quite a bit from the roots of almost upright noble fighting, grappling and harnischfechten to something much lower and agile. This might be a natural development stemming from the shift from nobles to burghers and knightly armoured fighting, that would promote higher stances, to the considerably less armoured landsknechten of the 1500s.

    I also think that the terms that Liechtenauer defined were principles and in many cases techniques that were already employed both BEFORE him and AFTER him, no matter what the names were. This is also why you can’t invent something that Liechtenauer hasn’t already described. And this actually makes the terms less important than the actual execution of them, which in a way can be seen as being part of what Meyer teaches as he more focuses on the latter.
    As such the traditional execution of a fencing style could possibly survive its older terminology, although a changing terminology could also reflect a changing style.

    About Meyer doing things differently and not fully Vanilla Liechtenauer I also think that Meyer didn’t need to understand Liechtenauer fully, since he was creating a hybrid system based on his own civilian and military experience combined with several fairly disparate sources like Marozzo, Syber, Ringeck, Leküchner and Paurnfeindt.

    His system was designed to be used by a largely different breed of fencers in a different context using different tools, since Society and Warfare had changed almost completely from the time of Liechtenauer, Ringeck etc to Meyer’s time some 120-220 years later. Some claim that his Art was for the fechtschulen and some, like me, that it ultimately was designed for warfare and self-defense. In the end the difference would have been very small as the contemporary fechtschulen fencing was a bit like Vale Tudo or early MMA, only armed with blunt steel swords and heavy staffs. They were performed without protection and often involved serious injury, loosing an eye, having your nose cut in half and such. Not seldom they escalated into regular brawls and even killings.

    We should also keep in mind that Meyer was using a quite limited medium for teaching his system and that the books might not fairly represent his own style or skill in fencing. This is certainly speculation, but so is assuming that his fencing was identical to what he describes.

    A beginner’s manual, like Meyer’s “von Solms” treatise has been described as, could also easily be mistaken for showing Meyer’s own skill and understanding of fencing and there certainly are a few more such books within the HEMA booklist. Many authors lay down basics and add some advanced sequences on top of that. Others go mostly for the latter without covering the basics, which also confuses us all. None of them will likely fully reflect the author’s skills or knowledge.

  7. I should have remembered this much earlier, but in my defense it was a long time ago since I read his comments on the Rappier and thrusting.

    In the beginning of the Rappier he very clearly explains that:

    “As regards rapier combat, which at the present time is a very necessary and useful practice, there is no doubt that it is a newly discovered practice with the Germans and brought to us from other people. For although the thrust was permitted by our forefathers in earnest cases against the common enemy, yet not only did they not permit it in sporting practice (schimpflichen übungen), but they would also in no way allow it for their sworn-in soldiers (Kriegsleuten) or others who had come in conflict with each other, except against the common enemy (gemeine feinde), a custom that should still be observed today by honorable soldiers (Kriegsleuten) and by civilian Germans (Burgerlichen Teutschen). Therefore rapier combat would be superfluous, were it not that thrusting, as well as many other customs that were unknown to the Germans of former times, take root with us through interaction with foreign peoples.

    And since such foreign customs increase with us from day to day in many places, it has now also become more necessary not only that such customs of alien and foreign nations should be familiar and known to us, but that we should practice and adapt ourselves to these customs no less than they, as much as should be useful for needful defence, so that when necessary, we can encounter them to protect ourselves that much more better and be able to triumph.

    Therefore I will present and describe rapier combat in orderly fashion, as I have learnt it from these people and experienced it through daily practice, showing how a man shall conduct himself with this or similar weapons.”

    It is very interesting to compare this to the quote from Francesco Patrizi’s 1595 manual “Paralleli Militari” on military tactics, as commented on by Piermarco T on the HEMA Alliance forum:

    “In describing the short swords used by Landsknechte he says that they are useful for being in restricted spaces and in formation but they have three shortcomings:

    1) They are weighted too much toward the hilt, leaving the blade too light and yielding light cuts.
    2) They are often worn without scabbards and in a crush they often impale the person behind.
    3) The do not have a point because the Landsknechte have an “insane notion” that a gallant man shouldn’t wound with the point.”

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=feFD%20…%20&q&f=false

    It indeed seems as if both the civilian and military sword fighting of the mid 1500s, theoretically and for moral reasons, didn’t include the thrust when facing your peers, ie burghers or nobles depending on which class you belonged to and this even in Ernstfechten on the battlefield and streets as well as in the Fechtschule. That was reserved for the “common enemy” by which I think he means the lower classes (peasants) or foreign enemies.

    According to Meyer this appears to be an old custom at his time which is curious since the KdF of Liechtenauer isn’t really that old in Meyer’s time, less than 170 years and for the bulk of the derivative work by other masters less than a 100 years.

    And yet he teaches thrusting with ALL weapons, sometimes as baiting and feints, but sometimes, as it seems with proper intent as well, as shown in the earlier quotes. Now isn’t that interesting?

    This appears to reflect the changes in society before and during Meyer’s time and it would only be natural that Meyer sought to reintroduce the thrust again, as the need arose, especially for weapons that were suitable for thrusting. The longsword was indeed such a weapon. The reason why he doesn’t focus as much on the thrusting is simply because it is still considered shameful. And yet he teaches it to a degree since it is necessary and he explores it more and with less moral qualms in the chapter on “foreign fencing” ie the Rappier, and of course with the dagger and polearms.

    I am not saying that this is straight-forward or clear-cut. He is clearly ambivalent about the thrusting, which is understandable as he brings up a practice that is considered crude and ungallant by his peers, but he does it nevertheless and quite a lot as well.

    Meyer clearly knew the teachings of several old German sources like Ringeck, Syber, Leküchner and Paurnfeindt and how they used the thrust, but few other Germans had done this at his time, from what I can recall, with the exception of Paurnfeindt, and even if Mair taught the thrust about 30 years earlier, he did so in handwritten books that weren’t meant for mass distribution.

    Perhaps the thrust was always thought unmanly and ungallant, but taught secretly, as in the early handwritten fechtbuchen, and considered to be something you shouldn’t use unless under specific circumstances. This I think deserves more research.

  8. Clear evidence of Meyer’s intentful thrusting is not so easy to list, but he does refer back to what he has already taught when he goes through the other weapons and reading it all it is easy to see how he works with the same concepts throughout, sometimes even the same stucken, not seldom taken in part from older treatises.

    Possibly one can interpret the following as proof that he does advise even thrusting with the longsword, only does it in later chapters when speaking of other weapons.

    “And as to the practice of former days, when they fought dangerously both with cuts and thrusts, I will discuss it in its proper and separate place.”

    In the longsword section, he is more or less clear about it when saying:

    “Concerning this Middle Guard you will be instructed later in the section on the dusack; as you do it there with one hand, so shall you do it here with both hands. I did not initially intend to present it here, but I have not been able to avoid it, since the Rose can be more fitly taught from no other guard.”

    He thrusts with all weapons, both for threatening/deceiving and hitting, be it a dussack, rappier, dagger, staff, halberd or a pike. With the longsword he threatens, but only hits with the thrust when it can be controlled well, in halfswording.

    The threatened thrusts with the longsword are described the same way as with the dussack; they HAVE to be parried or they will hit.

    Again:

    “….then thrust straight in front of you at his face from the Key into the Longpoint. He must fend off this thrust if he does not wish to be hit.”

    This bit is important, as depending on how you look at it, it can actually be seen as advice to thrust into the other guy’s face… There are plenty of examples like this. However, it seems as if he often expects thrusts to be parried, possibly because they are slow when done from Zufechten, either if you start from it or end up in it as the opponent retreats from your Vorschlag.

    He also clearly advises on stances that work against thrusting (Eisenport):

    “Thus you have your sword in front of you for protection like an iron door; for when you stand with your feet wide, so that your body is low, you can put off all cuts and thrusts from this position.”

    And in the advise on binding with the dussack he says the following:

    “And that is the true summary and final intent of all counters, namely whenever two cuts connect or bind, that just as they knock in the bind, you thrust in before you on his dusack, regardless of where his dusack goes from yours.”

    Going back to his foreword he is pretty clear on all this:

    “And the whole art of combat rests especially on two elements. The first consists of the cuts and thrusts with which you intend to harm and vanquish your opponent.
    – – –
    The second chief element is executed in two ways; namely first, when your opponent crowds in up on you with cuts and thrusts…
    – – –
    …before he recovers from the stroke or thrust he has executed.
    – – –
    Since I have undertaken this work to honor the art, and to describe it according to my limited capacity, I have especially emphasized the cuts, as the true chief elements of all combat. Next I have presented the opponent against whom you shall send these cuts and thrusts, and his division.
    – – –
    Therefore it is my advice, if you wish to get the hang of this art, that, as I have now often said, you learn to deliver the cuts or thrusts powerfully, correctly, and well, with extended arms, and with the strength of your whole body.”

    And then, when he speaks of the rappier he says very basic things perfectly in line with older longsword teachings, things like:

    “This is also called the Ox, because in this guard you threaten a thrust from above with your weapon, for the Ox is essentially just the position for a thrust from above.”

    And about Absetzen:

    “Setting off is when, from one of the four guards, you turn the long edge against his weapon, and turn into the Longpoint. Thus if you hold your weapon in the Low Guard on the right, and your opponent cuts or thrusts at you, then step out sideways from his weapon, and go forward with extended weapon up into the Longpoint, and catch his incoming thrust or cut on your long edge; and when you catch his cut, then meanwhile thrust in with the Longpoint. Do this from all four postures.”

    Again, he was quite familiar with the old ways, so it isn’t lack of knowledge here. The below is in Meyer, but straight from Ringeck

    “…which the combat masters of old especially praise as suitable. Hence the proverb has arisen: A true combatant doesn’t parry, but when the opponent cuts, then he cuts too; when the opponent steps,then he steps too; when the opponent thrusts, then he thrusts too.”

    It is sometimes said that he teaches for the fechtschule but so many things in his texts go completely against such a setting. In fact he never even mentions such a context himself. Here’s one simple obvious example, but there are plenty of cases of lethal and maiming things not allowed in the fecthschule.

    “From this Ox, attack chiefly at his arm, for example when he attacks from below or straight in at you, then withdraw your body from him by slipping your front foot back to join your rear foot, and as he extends his arm, cut or thrust at that arm, hilt, or weapon-hand.”

    He does mention using non-sharp blades though, or rather actual sharp blades, by which you can infer that he often talks about training with blunts.

    “…once you have pressed his blade down with the flat, draw your sharp edge through his neck against his right.
    – – –
    You can protect yourself further by setting off, but when you execute this device with sharp blades, you will not need to set him off. From this device certain thrusts are derived for earnest combat, but since this does not pertain to common use, I have let it go with this, from which you can well leam something by diligent reflection.”

    Now, does anyone truly believe he wouldn’t be doing the same with a longsword in hand, especially given that he was quite familiar with the old treatises, even having access to a unique copy of Ringeck, and since he thrusts a LOT with both one- and two-hand weapons?

    The confusing thing for many is that Meyer’s 1570 treatise, as opposed to most earlier treatises, is not just a collection of stucken telling us how to kill someone. It tells us how to train, how to defend ourselves and flee unscathed, as well as maim and kill other people. It is a much broader teaching, designed for several contexts and different target audiences, including both young boys as well as experienced soldiers. In that way it is quite genious, in my opinion.

    Furthermore,the first two parts are the most pedagogical ones. When we get to the third book of the longsword, then he goes back to the roots, referring back to Liechtenauer more clearly, with the old stucken, describing krumping and using the Schielhauw to the hands etc.

    Still, for civilian, national contexts, the thrust appears to have been forbidden with all weapons, both in the HRE and England, although such laws of course weren’t always adhered to.

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