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Historical European Martial Arts
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Historical European martial arts is a neologism describing martial arts of European origin, used particularly to refer to arts formerly practised, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms. Modern reconstructions of some of these arts exist and are practiced today. Historical European martial arts are often known as "Western martial arts".
Antiquity to High Middle Ages (before 1350)
There are no known manuals predating the Late Middle Ages (except for fragmentary instructions on Greek wrestling), 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 (e.g. the Bayeux tapestry, the Morgan Bible). Some researchers have attempted to reconstruct older fighting methods such as Pankration and gladiator|gladiatorial combat by reference to these sources and practical experimentation, though such recreations necessarily remain more speculative than those based on actual instructions.
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 Würzburg), is the oldest surviving fechtbuch, teaching sword and buckler combat.
Late Middle Ages (1350 to 1500)
The central figure of late Medieval martial arts, at least in Germany, is Johannes Liechtenauer. Though no manuscript written by him is known to survive, his teachings were first recorded in the late 14th century MS 3227a. From the 15th century into the 17th, numerous Fechtbücher (German "fencing-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, often of the rondel variety), 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 Fechtbücher 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 Liechtenauer. 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 language 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)
Early Modern period (1500 to 1700)
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 one of the last in the German tradition.
The Italian school is continued by the Dardi school, with masters such as Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo. From the late 16th century, Italian rapier fencing attained considerable popularity all over Europe, notably with the treatise by Salvator Fabris (1606).
- Antonio Manciolino (1531) (Italian)
- Achille Marozzo (1536) (Italian)
- Angelo Viggiani (1551) (Italian)
- Camillo Agrippa (1553) (Italian)
- Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza (1569) (Spanish)
- Giacomo Di Grassi (1570) (Italian)
- Giovanni Dall’Agocchie (1572) (Italian)
- Henry de Sainct-Didier (1573) (French)
- Frederico Ghisliero (1587) (Italian)
- Vincentio Saviolo (1590) (Italian)
- George Silver (1599) (English)
- Luis Pacheco de Narváez (1600) (Spanish)
- Salvator Fabris (1606) (Italian)
- Nicoletto Giganti (1606) (Italian)
- Ridolfo Capoferro (1610) (Italian)
- Joseph Swetnam (1617) (English)
- Francesco Alfieri (1640) (Italian)
- Francesco Antonio Marcelli (1686) (Italian)
- Bondi' di Mazo (1696) (Italian)
Modern period (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.
The duelling and self-defence categories include smallsword and late styles of rapier fencing, walking-stick fighting (including Irish bata or shillelagh, French la canne and English singlestick or cane) and Bartitsu (an early hybrid of Eastern and Western schools popularized at the turn of the 20th century). In regional areas of Europe, two-handed stick and staff fighting methods had an important self defence purpose, as they had for centuries previously.
European combat sports of the 1700s to early 1900s include boxing, numerous regional forms of wrestling, the French kickboxing art of Savate, quarterstaff and singlestick fencing as well as two-handed longstick or greatstick fighting methods such as Jogo do Pau, Juego del Palo, Makila, Bâton français and Bastone Siciliano.
Some existing forms of European martial arts and combat sports can traced to direct teacher-student lineages from the 19th century. Notable examples include the French kickboxing art of savate, the methods of la canne and Bâton français, Portuguese Jogo do Pau, Italian Paranza or Bastone Siciliano and some styles of Canarian Juego del Palo. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the greatstick (pau/bâton/bastone) was employed by some Portuguese, French and Italian military academies as a method of exercise, recreation and as preparation for bayonet training.
Direct continuity between the 18th and 19th centuries is often more difficult to establish, but can be assumed by necessity: not least because the terminology of modern fencing is directly based on that introduced by Henry de Sainct-Didier in 1573. Likewise, academic fencing has a continuous tradition from the 16th century to the present day.
In the late 19th century, all across Europe, there was an explosion of interest in historical fighting arts. In Germany, Karl Wassmannsdorf conducted research on the German school that is still referred to today and Gustav Hergsell reprinted three of Hans Talhoffer's manuals. In France there was the work of the Academie D'Armes circa 1880-1914.
In England, Egerton Castle and Alfred Hutton wrote pioneering books on the history of swordsmanship, and Cyril Matthey republished Silver's Paradoxes of Defence and Brief Instructions. All three took an interest in the practical side of interpretation, giving public demonstrations of reconstructed techniques. Italy had Jacopo Gelli and Francesco Novati, who published a facsimile of the "Flos Duellatorum" of Fiore dei Liberi, and Giuseppe Cerri, whose book on the Bastone drew inspiration from the two-handed sword of Achille Marozzo. Spain had Baron Leguina, whose bibliography of Spanish swordsmanship is still a standard reference today.
Throughout the 20th century a small number of researchers, principally academics with access to some of the sources continued exploring the field of historical European martial arts from a largely academic perspective. Interest in physically interpreting the texts was largely dormant during the post-war period however due to a number of factors, including limited access to the historical texts, distance and a lack of effective communication.
During the 1970s a number of important things happened that would spark the modern revival of Historical European Martial Arts. The spread of medievalist groups (living-history and re-enactment groups) played a role in spurring interest in researching and recreating medieval fighting methods.
In 1972, James Jackson published a book called Three Elizabethan Manuals of Fence. This work reprinted the works of George Silver, Giacomo di Grassi, and Vincentio Saviolo. In 1975, Martin Wierschin published a transcription of Sigmund Ringeck's Fechtbuch, along with a glossary of terms and a bibliography of German fencing manuals. In turn, this led to the publication of Hans-Peter Hils' seminal work on Johannes Liechtenauer in 1985.
Across the United States and Europe, small numbers of isolated researchers independently began researching Historical European Martial Arts in earnest. In the 1980s and 1990s, Patri J. Pugliese began making photocopies of historical treatises available to interested parties, greatly spurring on research. 1994 saw the rise of the Hammerterz Forum, a publication devoted entirely to the history of swordsmanship. Hammerterz Forum laid the foundations for a community of interest, and was the means by which many researchers came to know of one another's existence.
The Historical European Martial Art internet revolution also begun during the 1990s. Websites and E-mail lists began to appear on the web, as well as transcriptions and translations of some of the historical texts. During the late 1990s, translations and interpretations of historical sources began appearing in print, complementing the growing body of content available online. Finally, the appearance of various internet forums played a key role in creating a global sense of community among researchers and practitioners.
Today there are strong and flourishing Historical European Martial Arts communities throughout Europe, North America, many parts of Asia and Australasia. Since 1999 a number of these groups have held the Western Martial arts Workshop (WMAW) in the United States. In 2000 The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA) held the Inaugural Swordplay Symposium International conference. The Higgins Armory Museumis a major center of research and teaching in HEMA. In 2001 the Historical European Martial arts Coalition (HEMAC) was created to act as an umbrella organization for groups in Europe. Since 2002, HEMAC has organized the annual International Historical European Martial arts Gathering in Dijon, France. In 2003, the Australian Historical Swordplay Federation became the umbrella organization for groups in Australia, and an annual Australian Historical Swordplay Convention has been hosted and attended by diverse Australian groups since 1999. In the United States, the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance (HEMAA) is the largest martial arts federation dedicated to the study of Historical European Martial Arts. Comprised of dozens of independent martial arts schools and clubs throughout the world, the Alliance provides its affiliates with liability insurance, curriculum assistance, educational accreditation, and other services.
The number of Historical European Martial Arts schools and study groups continues to grow each year, as does the number of publications, translations and interpretive material.
- Anglo, Sydney. The Martial arts of Renaissance Europe. Yale University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-300-08352-1
- Terry Brown, English Martial arts (2002) Anglo-Saxon Books, ISBN 1-898281-29-7
- John Clements, Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques. Paladin Press, 1998). ISBN 1-58160-004-6
- John Clements, Renaissance Swordsmanship : The Illustrated Book Of Rapiers And Cut And Thrust Swords And Their Use. Paladin Press, 1997. ISBN 0-87364-919-2
- John Clements, et al. Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts: Rediscovering The Western Combat Heritage. Paladin Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58160-668-3
- Gaugler, William. The History of Fencing : Foundations of Modern European Fencing. Laureate Press, 1997. ISBN 1-884528-16-3
- Hans Heim & Alex Kiermayer, The Longsword of Johannes Liechtenauer, Part I (DVD), ISBN 1-891448-20-X
- Tommaso Leoni, The Art of Dueling (2005), ISBN 1-891448-23-4
- David James Knight and Brian Hunt, Polearms of Paulus Hector Mair, Paladin Press (2008), ISBN 978-1-58160-644-7.
- David Lindholm & Peter Svärd, Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Art of the Longsword, Paladin Press (2003), ISBN 1-58160-410-6
- David Lindholm & Peter Svärd. Knightly Arts of Combat - Sigmund Ringeck's Sword and Buckler Fighting, Wrestling, and Fighting in Armor. Paladin Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58160-499-8
- David Lindholm, Fighting with the Quarterstaff, (2006), ISBN 1-891448-36-6
- Brian R. Price, ed. Teaching & Interpreting Historical Swordsmanship (2005), ISBN 1-891448-46-3
- Christopher Thompson, Lannaireachd: Gaelic Swordsmanship (2001), ISBN 1-59109-236-1
- Christian Henry Tobler, Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship (2001), ISBN 1-891448-07-2
- Christian Henry Tobler, Fighting with the German Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-24-2
- Jason Vail, Medieval and Renaissance Dagger Combat (2006) Paladin Press
- Guy Windsor, The Swordsman's Companion: A Modern Training Manual for Medieval Longsword (2004), ISBN 1-891448-41-2
- Grzegorz Żabiński and Bartlomiej Walczak. The Codex Wallerstein : A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the Longsword, Falchion, Dagger, and Wrestling. Paladin Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58160-339-8