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Johannes Liechtenauer

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Die Zettel
The Recital
Johannes Liechtenauer.png
Full Title A Recital on the Chivalric
Art of Fencing
Ascribed to Johannes Liechtenauer
Illustrated by Unknown
Date Fourteenth century (?)
Language Middle High German
Archetype(s) Hypothetical
First Printed
English Edition
Tobler, 2010
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Johannes Liechtenauer (Hans Lichtenauer, Lichtnawer) was a German fencing master in the 14th or 15th century. No direct record of his life or teachings currently exists, and all that we know of both comes from the writings of other masters and scholars. The only account of his life was written by the anonymous author of the Nuremberg Hausbuch, one of the oldest texts in the tradition, who stated that "Master Liechtenauer learnt and mastered the Art in a thorough and rightful way, but he did not invent and put together this Art (as was just stated). Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art." He may have been alive at the time of the creation of the fencing treatise contained in the Nuremberg Hausbuch, as that source is the only one to fail to accompany his name with a blessing for the dead.

Liechtenauer was described by many later masters as the "high master" or "grand master" of the art, and a long poem called the Zettel ("Recital") is generally attributed to him by these masters. Later masters in the tradition often wrote extensive glosses (commentaries) on this poem, using it to structure their own martial teachings. Liechtenauer's influence on the German fencing tradition as we currently understand it is almost impossible to overstate. The masters on Paulus Kal's roll of the Fellowship of Liechtenauer were responsible for most of the most significant fencing manuals of the 15th century, and Liechtenauer and his teachings were also the focus of the German fencing guilds that arose in the 15th and 16th centuries, including the Marxbrüder and the Veiterfechter.

Additional facts have sometimes been presumed about Liechtenauer based on often-problematic premises. The Nuremberg Hausbuch, often erroneously dated to 1389 and presumed to be written by a direct student of Liechtenauer's, has been treated as evidence placing Liechtenauer's career in the mid-1300s.[1] However, given that the Nuremberg Hausbuch may date as late as 1494 and the earliest records of the identifiable members of his tradition appear in the early 1400s, it seems more probable that Liechtenauer's career occurred toward the beginning of the 15th century. Ignoring the Nuremberg Hausbuch as being of indeterminate date, the oldest version of the Recital appears in the MS G.B.f.18.a, dating to ca. 1418-28 and attributed to an H. Beringer, which both conforms to this timeline and suggests the possibility that Liechtenauer was himself an inheritor of the teaching rather than its original composer (presentations of the Recital that are entirely unattributed exist in other 15th and 16th century manuscripts).


Liechtenauer's teachings are preserved in a brief poem of rhyming couplets called the Zettel ("Recital"). These "secret and hidden words" were intentionally cryptic, probably to prevent the uninitiated from learning the techniques they represented; they also seem to have offered a system of mnemonic devices to those who understood their significance. The Recital was treated as the core of the Art by his students, and masters such as Sigmund ain Ringeck, Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt, and Jud Lew wrote extensive glosses that sought to clarify and expand upon these teachings.

Twenty-one manuscripts contain a presentation of the Recital as a separate (unglossed) section; there are dozens more presentations of the verse as part of one of the several glosses. The longest version of the Recital by far is found in the gloss from the Nuremberg Hausbuch, which contains almost twice as many verses as any other. However, given that the additional verses tend to either consist of repetitions from elsewhere in the Recital or use a very different style from Liechtenauer's work, they are generally treated as additions by the anonymous author or his instructor rather than being part of the standard Recital. The other surviving versions of the Recital from all periods show a high degree of consistency in both content and organization, excepting only the version attributed to H. Beringer (which is also included in the writings of Hans Folz).

The following tables include only those manuscripts that quote Liechtenauer's Recital in an unglossed form. Note that in the case of Beringer and Folz, the verse is presented in an alternative sequence; they have been reordered to match the others in this rendition, but you can find the original layout in their articles.

temp division

In addition to the verses on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six figuren ("figures")—single line abbreviations of the longer couplets, generally drawn in circles, which seem to sum up the most important points. The precise reason for the existence of these figures remains unknown, as does the reason why there are no equivalents for the armored fencing or unarmored fencing verses.

One clue to their significance may be a parallel set of teachings first recorded by Andre Paurñfeyndt in 1516, called the "Twelve Teachings for the Beginning Fencer".[44] These teachings are also generally abbreviations of longer passages in the Bloßfechten, and are similarly repeated in many treatises throughout the 16th century. It may be that the figures are a mnemonic that represent the initial stage of mounted fencing instruction, and that the full verse was taught only afterward.

Additional Resources


  1. Christian Henry Tobler. "Chicken and Eggs: Which Master Came First?" In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. p6
  2. The text diverges here, omitting Liechtenauer's couplet and inserting this quatrain instead:
    Dagge swert stãge lãse schon
    Messer bockler has vñ rõken
    Taegñ darde vnd schilt
    Miden allen zu ringe~ uff du wilt
  3. First letter almost illegible.
  4. First letter illegible.
  5. Talhoffer adds the following couplet: "Nun merck aber furbaß / und verstand ouch gar rechte daz".
  6. [Nuremberg Hausbuch (MS 3227a)|3227a]] 18v
  7. Talhoffers eigener Vers auf Liechtenauers "fünf verborgene Häue". Weshalb sie focal heissen, ist unklar, zumal ein Reim auf fürwär erwartet würde.
  8. Text terminates at this point. The leaves with the rest of the text are gone, probably lost.
  9. Talhoffer breaks up the Haupstucke differently, and inserts the following additional couplet: "überlouffen bind wol an / nit stand luog waß er kan".
  10. 3227a 23r. Talhoffers Du machst in allen hewen winden / Im how ler stich vinden entspricht Liechtenauers In allen winden / hewe stiche snete lere finden (Ringeck 22r In allen winden hew, stich recht lern finden, Danzig 14v In allen winden haw stich snyt lere vinden), der Vers wird also uminterpretiert von "In allen Winden, finde Hau, Stich oder Schnitt (die "drei Wunder") zu "Aus allen Häuen kommst du ins Winden. Im Hau, lerne den Stich finden (Mutieren)".
  11. 3227a 25r, auch uminterpretiert: Liechtnauer hat Vier bloessen wisse remen: zo slestu gewisse, an alle var; an zweifel wy her gebar, d.h. man soll sich beim Zufechten für eine Blösse entscheiden, und dann nicht mehr auf die gegnerische Reaktion achthaben. Talhoffer sagt im Gegenteil, man solle "nicht von ungefähr schlagen, sondern erst schauen, wie er sich gebärdet". In der Sache nicht widersprüchlich, aber die Aussage des Lehrverses wurde umgekehrt.
  12. 3227a 25r
  13. Talhoffer expands upon Liechtenauer's couplet and adds two additional lines: "und erschrick ab kainen man / stand und sich in ernstlich an".
  14. 3227a 37r.
  15. Between "Dupliere" and "doniden" there is a lack of space, possibly the "d" was added later.
  16. Corrected from »Im«.
  17. 3227a 25v. Die "Lende" ist von Talhoffer.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Corrected from »Twir«.
  19. 3227a 27r
  20. 3227a 28v
  21. Talhoffer adds an additional couplet: [4r] "So machst du in wol betöwben / Die faller in kunst berowben"
  22. 3227a 30r
  23. 3227a 32r
  24. 3227a 32v. blyb stan und besicht den man ist ohne Vorbild und deutet wieder auf ein "vorsichtigeres" Fechten Talhoffers.
  25. 3227a 33r. Zwei Halbverse wurden ausgelassen: Das fuelen lere / Indes / das wort sneidet sere / Reisen czwefache / den alden snet mete mache; den alten schnit mit macht alleine ergibt keinen Sinn.
  26. Hier hat der Schreiber offensichtlich ein Häkchen vergessen.
  27. 3227a 33v
  28. 3227a 34r
  29. 3227a 34v
  30. 3227a 35r
  31. should be "dreffen"
  32. This section is followed by one titled "Von durchlauffen ab seczen", which repeat the verse on Absetzen.
  33. 3227a 35v
  34. 3227a 36r
  35. 3227a 36v
  36. Talhoffer adds four additional verses: "und gang nach an den man / stoss mit dem ghiltz schon / wiltu denn nit schallen / so hastu zway eynfallen".
  37. Talhoffer begins this section with two additional verses: "wer dir zestarck welle sin / heng fall im oben eyn".
  38. 3227a 37r. wer dir zestarck welle sin / heng fall im oben eyn und luog und schüch kain man / eß schatt nit waß er kan sind Talhoffers Verse.
  39. ";" in a circle
  40. 3227a 39v, mit eigenen Versen.
  41. The meaning is unknown, but may be a part of the bridle.
  42. There are dots above the e, but it is not clear whether it really is an umlaut.
  43. "Vecht" (sound shift b→v)
  44. Andre Paurñfeyndt, et al. Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey. Hieronymus Vietor: Vienna, 1516.