top of page
RSS Feed


Joachim Meyer and "The first German language TEACHING BOOK on fencing".

In this article, I would like to give a brief introduction to one of my research areas, which should be of great interest to fencers and fencing instructors. As an instructor, teacher and coach, I have been extensively trained and have taught a great deal in these areas. I also try to apply my knowledge to the research and use of the old fencing books. The following article therefore serves as an introduction. However, a more detailed publication on the subject is to follow.

The tradition of owning a book to safeguard knowledge of fencing is surely as old as fencing itself. Although no fencing book before 1300 has been preserved to us.

The old fencing masters write in their texts again and again that fencing cannot be learned from books alone.

"Auch merke und wisse, dass man Bedeutung und Eigenschaften des Fechtens nicht so schreiben oder auslegen kann, wie man es gut mit der Hand vormachen und unterweisen kann."

"Also notice and know that the meaning and characteristics of fencing cannot be written or interpreted in the same way as it can be well demonstrated and instructed by hand." (GNM, HS 3227a fol. 15r)

"...weil diese ritterliche Kunst mit der Faust angegriffen und mit Zutun des ganzen Leibes erübt werden muss und daher mehr durch Erfahrung als aus Büchern erlernt werden kann."

"...because this knightly art must be attacked with the fist and practiced with the help of the whole body and can therefore be learned more through experience than from books." (J. Meyer, Kunst des Fechtens, Übersetzung Kiermayer S. 25)

So why write books? The masters also leave themselves out on this. Until the early 16th century, fencing books were not intended as textbooks for the student, but rather as a bundle of knowledge about the art, as a reference book, so to speak, which was primarily intended to serve teachers, but also students, by recording the most important technical terms and movements. The basic training, for example, was not recorded here, because this is every fencer what he probably keeps most intimately. Rather, it is the lessons, the special pieces(Stücke) that one wanted to record, so that one could look up the most important principles at any time. In a sense, they correspond to modern manuals for military instructors. Already the German-Italian fencing instructor Fiore Dei Liberi wrote around 1400:

" addition let me just say that none of my students, including those mentioned above, have ever owned a book about the art of combat, except for Galeazzo da Mantova. And he put it well when he said that without books you cannot be either a good teacher or a good student of this art. And I can confirm it to be true, that this art is so vast that there is no one in the world with a memory large enough to be able to retain even a quarter of it. And it should also be pointed out that a man who knows no more than a quarter of the art has no right to call himself a Master." (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, MS Ludwig XV 13 fol. 1r)

The book thus serves the fencer or fencing instructor preferably as an aid to thought, since the art of fencing is so great that one has to look it up again and again. This is also still the case today in the field of military training. The topics and areas of instruction are so large that a good teacher always makes a good lesson preparation, in order to examine and prepare also the contents again in the context of its didactic analysis. A book or writing is a sign of teaching quality. Although it is doubtful that this statement applies to Lecküchner's knife fencing. His work is for the teacher as well as for the student, although with a fixed structure, but so much loaded with content that a finding one's way or a good overview seems hardly possible. Especially since he tells us after many pages that we should take what we want from all these pieces. Thus, Lecküchner is probably the extreme of his time when it comes to recording as many technical processes as possible in writing and with pictures. Fiore also informs us that at his time only none of the fencers and gentlemen from his environment owned a book on fencing except his student, the Lord Galeazzo da Mantova.

The didactic structure of the fencing books before Joachim Meyer is therefore very similar. Because it is based mainly on fencing lessons or technical elements in a logical learning structure in writing and / or pictorial representation. I leave out purely representative manuscripts whose teaching and learning character can often be questioned.

Joachim Meyer also seems to have been familiar with these structures, as can be seen from the structure of his Rostock manuscript. There he collected the technical collections of old masters for wrestling and fencing, bare, in armor and on horseback. Here, however, the first steps towards his own didactic structures can be seen at the end. For example in the rapier part, to show only one example. There he brings together many styles from different countries and short weirs and gives rules. There, by the way, he also shows all kinds of variations of the Zornhau Ort.

Already in his first handwritten work [1] he begins to prepare the art of fencing in a didactic, which no longer resembles a collection of knowledge, but shows a methodical procedure for the fencing student. Without going into this manuscript in more detail, I would like to come directly to his printed main work of 1570, which in its technicality, completeness and didactic structure has no equal to this day.

Lunds Universitets Bibliotek, MS A.4º.2, Lund Sweden ca. 1560, fol. 77r.

Joachim Meyer must have done a tremendous amount of practical, cognitive, and written groundwork with various scripts no longer accessible today to create his printed work. His preface alone covers more knowledge for understanding the art of fencing for fencers and masters than any previously written fencing book. There he lays out in detail the entire didactic structure of fencing, which in the later chapters serves as the foundation for each of the weapons genres. He also shows the purpose of his fencing book. He does not presume to think that one can learn fencing from his book alone. But if you have already learned from a master or do this in addition, the work is a knowledge support and also serves as an aid to daily practice. A purpose that the book still fulfills today after 450 years.

The basic didactic structure of his book is the following. In the preface, he explains that the art of fencing, detached from the weapon, always has the same structure, which he explains in detail. Whereby he mentions that the best exercises for learning how to cut are to be found in the dussack. :-) Sword, dussack and rapier have the same basic structure. First learn the structure of man and weapon, then learn the postures and movements of body and weapon without partner. Then learn the Zufechten(attacking) and Versetzen(defending) with the partner, then the Handarbeithandwork, then the Abzug(withdrawal). And finally practice in Stücke(plays), which should serve as examples, but not as fixed rules. Stücke are not understood by Meyer as forms, but as technically possible variations of the previously explained principles. Again and again he points out that the Stücke are only examples and that they could also be done differently. After all, a good fencer can bring a rather bad Stück to the finish line more successfully than a bad fencer can bring the best Stück to the finish line.

The basic didactics or learning sequence of fencing is, in a very simplified way, the following:

Hauptstücke(main parts):

Zufechten (attaking): Hitting & stabbing

Versetzen (parry): from simple to artistic

Handarbeit (handwork): all Stücke in the middle & narrow bore as ex. Durchswechseln, Winden, Zucken etc.

Abzug (withdrawal): to detach safely from the opponent with or without success

Each of these main parts is structured and explained in detail by Meyer. He uses the different weirs in each case to illustrate especially the Stücke correspondingly special for the weir. The sword serves as an introduction and there especially the handwork is taught. The cutting and simple Versetzen(parry) one learns correctly with the Dussack and the correct thrusts with the Rapier. So if one wants to understand the art of fencing completely, one must learn all the weirs after Meyer and understand also the pole weapons and the dagger. And one should urgently use his preface as a guide.

The chapter on the long sword contains a special structure here. It contains general basics on the main parts, referring to contemporary fencing, in which the thrust in the long sword is used rather rarely. Especially the basic part about the structure of the weapon, the correct holding of the weapon, the structure of the Blößen(openings) and the footwork is to be understood here as an essential basic school of the whole fencing art. After the basic school, two different parts with Stücke(plays) follow. The first part contains Stücke divided according to the Huten/swing positions. Also here the thrust is already mentioned in the form of Einschießen(shooting in). After this part, Stücke of the old masters follow. Here Meyer refers to the teachings of the Lichtenauer tradition and interprets them with a clarity and distinctness that has no equal. In doing so, he always refers to the Zedel. He is not concerned with the completeness of the pieces of the old masters, but with the completion of the art of the Long Sword by showing what is necessary to understand it. The long sword is thus divided into very different parts that convey a unique totality of 200 years of fencing tradition with the long sword.

J. Meyer, Kunst des Fechtens, Langes Schwert Platte C (Leipzig Universitätsbibliothek, Signatur: 01B-2017-1340)

The chapter on the Dussack, in turn, is inserted as a basic chapter for all short weirs, i.e. one-handed bladed weapons. It also provides the basic rules for learning the cuts and Versetzen and a lot of other useful additional information that you won't find anywhere else in the book.

J. Meyer, Kunst des Fechtens, Dussack Platte A (Leipzig Universitätsbibliothek, Signatur: 01B-2017-1340)

The rapier is Meyer's high art, as he writes in the Long Sword. It unites all weapons in its time with cut, thrust and Handarbeit and thus offers the most possibilities. The special features of the chapter on the rapier consist in the correct learning of the thrusts, extended knowledge and exercises for the cut, Versetzen and footwork. In particular, fencing tactics and fencing strategy are included here.

J. Meyer, Kunst des Fechtens, Rapier Platte A (Leipzig Universitätsbibliothek, Signatur: 01B-2017-1340)

he basic structure within the weapons chapters is similar in the following form:

1. Introduction (weapon and body)

2. Huten (guards)

3. Häue (cuts)

4. Stiche (thrusts)

5. Versetzen (parries)

6. Handarbeit (handwork) (not in the dussack, because already in the sword; in the rapier again for special features)

6. Stücke (play/lessons)

So, to understand the art of fencing, one should read Joachim Meyer's work completely, understand it and learn all the weirs.

The didactic structure of the fencing book is revolutionary in its time. It is aimed at the learner or practitioner. And by the logical constructive structure it is a real learning book. And and in aim and structure the first textbook on fencing in the German language that I know of. A fencing textbook in this extent with over 4 weirs and this completeness of the topics and contents to fencing is not known to me even from recent times. Thus Joachim Meyer has not only recorded the knowledge of fencing in the German-speaking world, but has created a textbook that has not been appreciated enough so far, which is detached from the weirs until today and also contains important and timeless basics for Olympic fencing.

If one wants to understand the fencing of the 14th-16th centuries according to the German school and needs a textbook, then it can only be the printed work of Joachim Meyer. And his title is in no way exaggerated when he writes of "thorough".

Gründtliche Beschreibung, der freyen Ritterlichen unnd Adelichen Kunst des Fechtens : in allerley gebreuchlichen Wehren, mit viel schönen und nützlichen Figuren gezieret & fürgestellet.

("The book is a comprehensive description of the free knightly and noble art of fencing: in all kinds of common weapons, adorned with many beautiful and useful figures")

Colored print from Meyers Kunst des Fechtens. (Leipzig Universitätsbibliothek, Signatur: 01B-2017-1340)


For more than 13 years Joachim Meyer's teaching has been the basis of our curriculum. I have also been doing intensive research on his didactics since that time.

In doing so, we do not use Meyer by fencing through all his pieces one after the other. Rather, exercises based on his textbook have been designed to bring contemporary fencing closer to today's fencers. This is done primarily through his extensive basic teachings regarding fencing theory, cutting, thrusting, versetzen, handarbeit, and the withdrawal. The collection of Stücke(lessons) additionally mentioned at the end of each weir is then rather used to design selected exercises or to offer pure play based fencing courses. This is also completely in the sense of his didactics. Because he says again and again that his play are only for understanding and practice and are not prescriptions.

Joachim Meyer have thus become the basis of fencing training at IN MOTU for many years. The other works of the other masters and epochs serve as extensions or deepening of the fencers in additional courses and seminars.

[1] Lunds Universitets Bibliotek, MS A.4º.2, Lund Sweden ca. 1560.


Featured Posts
No posts published in this language yet
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Classic
  • Google Classic
bottom of page