Historical European Martial Arts

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Historical European martial arts

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the first page of the Codex Wallerstein shows the typical arms of 15th century fencing

Historical European Martial Arts are martial arts of European origin which were formerly practiced, but have since died out or evolved into very different forms. The term most often refers to reconstructed forms of these arts.


Before 1350

There are no known fighting texts predating the Late Middle Ages, although Ancient and Medieval literature (e.g. Icelandic sagas and Middle High German epics) record specific martial deeds and military knowledge; in addition, historical artwork depicts combat and weaponry. Some researchers have attempted to reconstruct older fighting methods such as Pankration by reference to these sources and practical experimentation, though such recreations necessarily remain more speculative than those based on actual instructions. See also Viking Age arms and armour.
The so-called MS I.33 (also known as the Walpurgis or Tower Fechtbuch), dated to between ca. 1290 (by Alphonse Lhotsky) and the early to mid-14th century (by R. Leng, of the University of W羹rzburg), is the oldest surviving fechtbuch, teaching sword and buckler combat.

1350 to 1500

The central figure of late Medieval martial arts, at least in Germany, is Johannes Liechtenauer, first recorded in the late 14th century MS 3227a. From the 15th century into the 17th, numerous fechtb羹cher (German "fight-books") were produced, of which some 55 are extant; a great many of these describe methods descended from Liechtenauer's.
Normally, several modes of combat were taught alongside one another, typically unarmed grappling (Kampfringen or abrazare), dagger (Degen or daga), long knife (Messer) or Dussack, half- or quarterstaff, pole arms, longsword (langes Schwert, spada longa, spadone), and combat in plate armour (Harnischfechten or armazare), both on foot and on horseback. Some Fechtb羹cher have sections on dueling shields (Stechschild), special weapons used only in judicial duels. The long sword had a position of honour among these disciplines, and sometimes Historical European Swordsmanship (HES) is used to refer to swordsmanship techniques specifically.
Important 15th century German fencing masters include Sigmund Ringeck, Peter von Danzig, Hans Talhoffer and Paulus Kal, all of whom taught the teachings of Liechtenhauer. From the late 15th century, there were "brotherhoods" of fencers (Fechtbruderschaften), most notably the Marx brothers (attested 1474) and the Federfechter.
An early Burgundian French treatise is Le jeu de la hache ("The Play of the Axe") of ca. 1400.
The earliest master to write in the Italian was Fiore dei Liberi, commissioned by the Marquis di Ferrara. In approximately 1410, he documented comprehensive fighting techniques in a treatise entitled Flos Duellatorum covering grappling, dagger, arming sword, longsword, pole-weapons, armoured combat and mounted combat. The Italian school is continued by Filippo Vadi (1482-1487) and Pietro Monte (1492, Latin with Italian and Spanish terms)
Three early (before Silver) English swordplay texts exist, all very obscure and of uncertain date; they are generally thought to belong to the latter half of the 15th century.

1500 to 1700

In the 16th century, compendia of older Fechtb羹cher techniques were produced, some of them printed, notably by Paulus Hector Mair (in the 1540s) and by Joachim Meyer (in the 1570s).
In the 16th century German fencing had developed sportive tendencies. The treatises of Paulus Hector Mair and Joachim Meyer derived from the teachings of the earlier centuries within the Liechtenauer tradition, but with new and distinctive characteristics. The printed fechtbuch of Jacob Sutor (1612) is the last in the German tradition.
The Italian school is continued by masters such as Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo. From the late 16th century, Italian rapier fencing attains considerable popularity all over Europe, notably with the treatise by Salvator Fabris (1606).

1700 to 1918

The martial arts of the post-Renaissance period can be divided roughly into civilian duelling/self defence, sporting and military applications. There is considerable overlap between these classifications, however, in that some systems fit into more than one category.
Examples of martial arts practiced primarily by the military during this period include bayonet fencing, sabre fencing and the use of the lance by cavalry soldiers.
The duelling and self-defence categories include smallsword and later styles rapier fencing, walking-stick fighting and Bartitsu (an early hybrid of Eastern and Western schools). In the second half of 1800s the duel are mostly fought with sabre and ep矇e.
Combat sports of the 1700s to early 1900s include boxing, many styles of wrestling, quarterstaff fencing and singlestick fencing.

Modern Reconstruction

Main article: Historical martial arts reconstruction
Attempts at the reconstruction of historical fighting arts have occurred since the Victorian age most notably with the work of Egerton Castle and Alfred Hutton and of the French Academie D'Armes circa 1880-1914.
With the advent of the Society for Creative Anachronism (a historical re-enactment organization founded in 1966) there was a renewed interest in the practice of historic fighting arts. While the SCA's fighting is rarely considered historic and is not an actual martial art, this organization provided a large international basis for re-enactors that were already predisposed towards historical research. Sadly, with its focus more on re-enactment and development of personas the SCA made little headway in reconstructing the actual historical fighting methods. Some years later other groups began to appear that took a more martial and scholastic approach to recreating period fighting arts.
Another approach to the reconstruction of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts in the USA was pioneered by John Clements in the mid-1980s that focused on the analysis of the works of the historical masters and realistic martial practice. In the early-1990s Clements took over the leadership of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA), then known as HACA, and focused the organization on a true martial arts approach to the reconstruction of these fighting arts. To ensure that a martial focus is maintained in its reconstruction efforts ARMA excludes all sport, re-enactment, role-playing, and persona activities, as well as choreographed theatrical swordplay. ARMA also started providing to the general public the fight books of the historical masters through its web site. During this same period several other researchers in Europe and the United States started collecting and analysing the works of the historical masters.
By the late 1990s there were more groups and organisations including: The Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts, The Chicago Swordplay Guild, The Martinez Academy of Arms, The New Dawn Duellist's Society, The Order of Selohaar, The Order of the Seven Hearts, Saint Martins Academy of Defense, The Schola Saint George, The Stoccata School of Defense, The Tattershall School of Defense, the Italian Historical Fencing Federation (FISAS) and many more.
These organizations ushered in a new age of research and study that has popularized European fighting arts in a movement that continues to grow with new research, interpretation, and translation being published every year.

What is available today

The absolute beginner to Western Martial Arts should begin with the longsword, the rapier, the baskethilt, the staff, or the sword and buckler. The reason for this is simple. There is an extensive range of books available on each, published in the English language.
This should not be taken as an exhaustive list of what is available in Historic European Martial arts, but only as a set of guidelines on what is most approachable at the time of this writing. It does not include later period weapons, such as the smallsword.

Further reading

  • Anglo, Sydney. The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. Yale University Press, 2000. ISBN 0300083521

See also


External links

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_European_martial_arts"
Category: Historical European martial arts