Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Essential Fechtbücher for the LongSwordsMan

Like many of my writings, the genius that possessed me to write this entry happened begin enough. I think I was fumbling with and cursing at my new coffee pot for lacking a permanent filter. And then, like all daemonic moments, I was hit with the lightning bolt of inspiration and decided to write. I thought to myself, what resources could I utilize to discuss the fundamentals of using the longsword for the Arte of Defence? If I could choose just a few Fechtbücher to help someone learn the Noble longsword without breaking the bank, which ones would I choose and why?

Well now I can wonder no more and go back to the important task of yelling at coffee makers. If I were to help someone learn the Noble longsword, it would be these three Fechtbücher: the Codex Wallerstein, the Kinghtly Arts of Combat by Sigmund Ringeck, and the Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi. I am choosing these three Fechtbücher both because they satisfy general requirements and very specific ones pertaining to their contents.

The general requirements of a great Fechtbüch for the longsword, as far as I am concerned, are the following:
  1. Does it cover fighting without harness (Bloßfechten)?
  2. Does it cover fighting with armor (Kampffecthen)?
  3. Does it cover grappling (Kamfringen)?
  4. Does it cover fighting with the dagger?
  5. Is it fairly easy to acquire these manuals?

These four requirements are vital for someone wanting to know the longsword. Though fighting without armor is probably going to be the primary method of fighting for the fencer, you never know when it could be useful to understanding fighting with armor. And, of course, when it comes to close-quarters fighting it is very useful to know how to throw a man and stab him to death (regardless of time period). Additionally, the ease of acquisition is something overlooked by many. I personally see no point in telling people nowadays to learn something by reading a manual in a language they don't understand and that is nearly impossible to get a copy of. I will post links to places you can get these manuals shortly. Presently I will go into the specific features of each manual that make them stand out to me from other Fechtbücher.

The Codex Wallerstein
  • Aside from satisfying the above requirements, the Codex Wallerstein has a lot to offer the longsword fencer. It shows how to wind well, half-sword, strike safely from the bind, tricky ways of hitting people and taking their weapon, and how to wrestle with the sword. The main thing that stands out in my mind, however, is the vast amount of grappling material this manual contains. The Codex Wallerstein possesses over 95 plates involving grappling, with or without weapons. Fencing with the longsword requires a strong understanding of wrestling, due to the proximity of the fighting and the size of the weapons involved. If you cross swords with another fencer, be prepared to close the distance and engage in grappling to put him down on the ground with certainty.

  • Bonus: besides offering a lot of great throws the Codex Wallerstein also discusses the fundamental principles of grappling (reach, speed, etc.) as well as when to apply a Mortstöss (Murder Strike), how to defend yourself against someone who offends you with his fists or his dirty mouth, and how to rob a peasant. All good things to know, I suppose.

  • Downside: while this may be a very good manual all-around, it does have one big flaw for new fencers: it doesn't discuss wards or specific strikes. This manual assumes you know how to throw strikes and from what wards to throw them, though this doesn't strike me as being the fault of the composer. If you are new to the longsword, this probably shouldn't be your only manual on the Arte.

The Knightly Arts of Combat

  • Did you buy a copy of the Codex Wallerstein and suddenly discover that it doesn't discuss the raw basics of striking with a longsword? Well fear not my knightly fighter, for there is the Knightly Arts of Combat! This is possibly the best manual for learning the longsword in the German tradition. It covers the main strikes, footwork, advice for fighting in a manly fashion, the wards in which you throw your strikes, what strikes defeat what wards, and other vital areas of combative greatness. These no-nonsense strikes hit hard, fast, and without mercy. When practiced faithfully, the teachings in this manual will allow you to trample, bludgeon, and hew apart everyone you cross weapons with.  

  • Bonus: our Knightly Meister has some fantastic advice on wrestling that is very important for the longsword fencer. He discusses what the Mortstössen are and how to use them when wrestling, how to wrestle people without giving them chances to protect themselves, and even a section on how to stop someone from pinning you on the ground. These are not only good for the fencer but they are useful in modern times as well, so they are doubly of value to me.

  • Downside: unfortunately this manual has been printed in two separate pieces, meaning you need two books for something that really only needs to be one book. The money is worth it but this is a big annoyance for someone on a budget.

Flos Duellatorum
  • This one has it all! Strikes, wards, techniques, amusing commentary; what else could you need? This Italian manual is an all-around excellent resource for the longsword fencer. It boasts an impressive list of varied techniques for nearly all forms of combat presented in a streamlined, straight-forward manner. Fiore does a great job of telling you what to do and how to defend yourself from harm, and all of the techniques fit in nicely with the German tradition so you don't need to worry about any wild divergences. I don't think you will find another manual with the same number of sword-grapples and disarms, and they will certainly come in handy against people unfamiliar with this work.

  • Bonus: apparently the person drawing this manuscript is a genius, since he devised something that I haven't seen in any other manuscript. On each of the plates the artist has put a golden crown or band around the person executing the technique, which dispels a lot of the confusion that arises from attempting to read these Fechtbücher without said illustration method.

  • Downside: hard copies of this work are more difficult to acquire than the other two works I have discussed previously. Due to copyright issues you basically have to buy a translation of the text and then print out the manuscript's images from online sources, or use some other online transcription of the work...or you could drop a large deal of money and get the Getty's finely printed copy of the manuscript, which is vastly problematic and unnecessary. 

With these manuals and a group of fellows, you will be on the path of kicking ass medieval style (literally) in no time at all. Fight earnestly, fight with power, and remember that pain is an excellent teacher.

Robbing a peasant - gotta get that monies

Resources for these Fechtbücher: