Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) like their eastern martial arts cousins have codified martial arts practice and systems. Some of these systems have been written down and until recently (say the last 20 or 30 years) have been gathering dust in Libraries and Museums around the world. We are lucky that we come at HEMA now when some of these manuscripts have been published, translated and some interpretations have been provided for us to start to practice.
While we, at KDF Broadstairs practice older forms of German Longsword, there are a number of very useful books to help a students practice of some or all of the major weapons used from the 13th to 16th century. Here are a selection published by Pen and Sword.
Talhoffer’s professional fencing manual of 1467 illustrates the intricacies of the medieval art of fighting, covering both the ‘judicial duel’ (an officially sanctioned fight to resolve a legal dispute) and personal combat.
Combatants in the Middle Ages used footwork, avoidance, and the ability to judge and manipulate timing and distance to exploit and enhance the sword’s inherent cutting and thrusting capabilities. These skills were supplemented with techniques for grappling, wrestling, kicking and throwing the opponent, as well as disarming him by seizing his weapon. Every attack contained a defence and every defence a counter-attack. Talhoffer reveals the techniques for wrestling, unarmoured fighting with the long sword, pole-axe, dagger, sword and buckler, and mounted combat.
This unparalleled guide to medieval combat, illustrated with 268 contemporary images, provides a glimpse of real people fighting with skill, sophistication and ruthlessness. This is one of the most popular and influential manuals of its kind.
The Art of Combat
First published in 1570, Joachim Meyer’s The Art of Combat is among the most important texts in the rich corpus of German martial arts treatises of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Meyer is unique in offering full recommendations on how to train for various weapons forms. He divides his book into five parts by weapon types: longsword; dusack (a practice weapon analogous to a sabre); rapier; dagger; and staff weapons.
For each weapon, Meyer lays out the principles of its use and the vocabulary of techniques, and then describes a range of specific ‘devices’, attack combinations for use in combat. This rational approach, along with Meyer’s famous and profuse woodcut illustrations, make this a crucial source for understanding the history and techniques of medieval and Renaissance martial arts.
In the first ever English translation of this important work, Jeffrey Forgeng has sought to improve accessibility of the text. His Introduction is the first substantial account to be published in English of the German Fechtbuch corpus, and the Glossary likewise is the first of its kind to be published in English.
The Art of Sword Combat
Following the success of Jeffrey L. Forgeng’s translation of Joachim Meyer’s The Art of Sword Combat, the author was alerted to an earlier recension of the work which was discovered in Lund University Library in Sweden. The manuscript, produced in Strassburg around 1568, is illustrated with thirty watercolour images and seven ink diagrams. The text covers combat with the longsword (hand-and-a-half sword), dusack (a one-handed practice weapon comparable to a sabre), and rapier.
The manuscript’s theoretical discussion of guards is one of the most critical passages to understanding this key feature of the historical practice, not just in relation to Meyer but in relation to the medieval combat systems in general. The manuscript offers an extensive repertoire of training drills for both the dusack and the rapier, a feature largely lacking in treatises of the period as a whole but critical to modern reconstructions of the practice.
The translation also includes a biography of Meyer, much of which has only recently come to light, as well as technical terminology, and other essential information for understanding and contextualizing the work.
Gentlemans Guide to Duelling
A Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling is a beautifully illustrated, lyrical guide to duelling etiquette in Elizabethan England. Its author, Vincentio Saviolo, was one of the great Italian fencing masters and a contemporary of William Shakespeare. In the 1590s, both Saviolo and Shakespeare were based in London’s Blackfriars; and Shakespeare used Italian fencing terminology in Romeo & Juliet which was written shortly after Saviolo’s book was published.
Originally published under the title Of Honour and Honourable Quarrels Saviolo’s guide is devoted to the art of settling a duel in a gentlemanly manner. It was written in a time when honour, virtue and codes of behaviour were of grave importance; and rapier play was seen as ideally suited to the requirements of a gentleman.
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