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Johannes Liechtenauer
Codex 44A.8.
Ascribed to Johannes Liechtenauer
Language Middle High German
Date 14th century
State of existence oral tradition, fixed in several versions beginning c. 1389
Principal manuscript(s) Nürnberger Handschrift GNM 3227a
Codex 44A.8
Codex I6.4°3
MS Thott 290.2º
Codex Guelf 78.2 August 2°
MS Dresden C487
MS E.1939.65.341
MS German Quarto 2020
Codex Icon 393
Codex Vindobonensis 10825
MS Dresden C93

Johannes Liechtenauer (Hans Lichtenauer, Lichtnawer) was a 14th-century German fencing master.

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 biographical note is found in Nürnberger Handschrift GNM 3227a, the oldest text in the tradition, which states 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 it is stated before. Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art."[1] His surname indicates he was from a place called Lichtenau, but there are several places with this name in Germany. One suggestion[by whom?] is that he was from Lichtenau, Mittelfranken (Franconia). It has been speculated that he was still alive at the time of the compilation of Hs. 3227a, based exclusively on the absence of a formula marking him as deceased.[2]

Liechtenauer's influence on the German fencing tradition of the 15th and 16th centuries cannot be overstated. The masters on Paulus Kal's roll of the "Society of Liechtenauer" were responsible for many of the most significant fencing manuals of the 15th century. Liechtenauer's teachings were also the focus of many of the fencing guilds that arose in the 15th and 16th centuries, including the Marxbrüder and the Veiterfechter.

The Zedel (epitome)

Liechtenauer was described by some later masters as the hochmeister ("high master" or "grand master") of the art, and a poem called the Zedel, or "epitome", is generally attributed to him by these masters. Many more masters and manuscripts quote some version this poem without attribution.

These Zedel (Zettel) were intended as mnemonic aids intended to help the student remember concepts he had been taught orally. They do not "explain" the technique in any detail. On the contrary, their wording is intentionally cryptic, and they are identified as "secret and hidden words" by later masters, who assure us that the opaque wording was intended to prevent the uninitiated from learning the techniques described in them. These verses were treated as the core of the art by his followers, and the organization of the earliest of our fencing manuals of the German school, beginning with Codex 3227a and followed by Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck, Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt, and Jud Lew in the mid 15th century, is such that first the reading of each Zedel is given, followed by a gloss or detailed explanation of its intended meaning.

The Zedel are organized as follows:

  1. a general introduction to the art of fighting
  2. a general introduction to fighting with the sword
  3. techniques of unarmoured longsword fighting, including the "five strokes"
  4. a section on mounted combat (Rossfechten)
  5. a section on armoured combat (Kampffechten)
  6. a section on grappling or unarmed combat (Ringen)

There are fragmentary allusions to other material, such as fighting with the dagger, the messer and the small shield, in Hs. 3227a, but if Liechtenauer had Zedel on these disciplines, they have not been preserved.

The general introduction is ethical as well as practical and runs as follows (the spelling given is that of MS 3227a, with scribal abbreviations expanded):

Jung Ritter lere / got lip haben / frawen io ere /
So wechst dein ere / Uebe ritterschaft und lere /
Kunst dy dich czyret / vnd in krigen sere hofiret /
Ringens gut fesser / glefney sper swert unde messer /
Menlich bederben / unde in andern henden vorterben /
Haw dreyn vnd hort dar / rawsche hin trif ader la varn /
Das in dy weisen / hassen dy man siet preisen /
Dor auf dich zosze / alle ding haben limpf lenge vnde mosze /
Und was du trei wilt treiben / by guter vornunft saltu bleiben /
Czu ernst ader czu schimpf / habe frölichen mut / mit limpf /
So magstu achten / und mit gutem mute betrachten /
Was du salt füren / und keyn im dich rüren /
Wen guter mut mit kraft / macht eyns wedersache czagehaft /
Dornoch dich richte / gib keynem forteil mit ichte /
Tumkunheit meide / vier ader sechs nicht vortreibe /
Mit deynem öbermut / bis sitik das ist dir gut /
Der ist eyn küner man / der synen gleichen tar bestan /
Is ist nicht schande / vier ader sechze flien von hande /
Young knight, learn to love God and honour noble women,
so grows your honour; practice chivalry and learn
art which adorns you and will glorify you in battle.
[Grappling is good, yet better]? lance, spear, sword and knife[3]
to make use of manhood, which in other hands remain useless.
Strike hard towards [the man], rush toward, hit or let go,
[so that the masters who bestow the prize will disapprove of him]?[4]
Understand this, that all things have propriety, length and measure.
Whatever action you intend, you should keep your good judgement.
In earnest or in play, have good cheer with propriety,
so you may perceive and consider with good courage
how you should act and move against him,
as good heart and strength will intimidate your opponent.
Let this guide you: to nobody in aught give advantage.
Avoid foolhardiness, do not move against four or six [foes],
let your overconfidence be tamed, this will be good for you:
He is a brave man who can stand against his equal,
(but) it is no shame to flee from four or six (foes).

In addition to the verses on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six "figures"—single line abbreviations of the longer couplets and quatrains that seem to summarize them. A parallel set of teachings was recorded by Andre Paurñfeyndt in 1516 called the "Twelve Teachings for the Beginning Fencer".,[5] These teachings are also generally abbreviations of longer passages in the Blossfechten, and are similarly repeated in many treatises throughout the 16th century. Thus, it may be that the figures are a mnemonic that represent the initial stage of mounted fencing instruction, and that the full verse was learned only afterward.[2]

An English translation of the text of the Zedel as part of the text of the "von Danzig" treatise (Cod. 44 A 8) was published by Tobler (2010) under the heading of "Johannes Liechtenauer's Verse Epitome".

Society of Liechtenauer

The Society of Liechtenauer (Geselschaft Liechtenauers) is a list of eighteen masters found in the introduction to the CGM 1507, the principle copy of Paulus Kal's fencing manual.[6] Apart from Paulus Kal himself, the members listed are:

  • Johannes Liechtenauer (hanns liechtenawer)
  • Peter Wildigans von Glatz (peter wildigans von glacz)
  • Peter von Danzig (peter von tanczk)
  • Hans Spindler von Znaim (hanns spindler vo~ cznaÿm)
  • Lamprecht von Prague (lamprecht von prag)
  • Hans Seydenfaden von Erfurt (hanns seyden faden vo~ erfürt)
  • Andres Lignitzer (andre liegniczer)
  • Jacob Lignitzer, brother of Andres (iacob liegniczer, gepried’)
  • Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck (sigmund amring)
  • Hartman von Nürnberg (hartman von nurñberg)
  • Martin Huntfeltz (martein hunczfeld)
  • Hans Pegnitzer (hanns pägnüczer)
  • Philipp Perger (phÿlips perger)
  • Virgil von Kraków (virgilÿ von kracå)
  • Dietherich, the dagger-fighter of Braunschweig (dietherich degen vechter von brawnschweig)
  • Ott Jud (ott iud), wrestling master to the lords of Austria
  • Stettner (Paulus Kal's own teacher, described as "master of all pupils")

It is unclear if this was ever a formal organization, or what its nature might have been; however, it is commonly speculated that the list is a memorial of students and associates of the grand master.[7] Of particular interest is the international nature of the list, including masters from across central and eastern Europe, which parallels the statement in Hs. 3227a that Liechtenauer himself traveled to many lands to learn the art. Several masters from this list are known to have written martial arts treatises, but about half remain completely unknown.

See also


  • Hils, Hans-Peter. Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. P. Lang, 1985. ISBN 978-3-8204-8129-7
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9825911-1-6
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. In Service of the Duke: The 15th Century Fighting Treatise of Paulus Kal. Highland Village, TX: The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006. ISBN 978-1-891448-25-0
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship. Highland Village, TX: The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2001. ISBN 1-891448-07-2
  • Hull, Jeffrey, with Maziarz, Monika and Żabiński, Grzegorz. Knightly Dueling: The Fighting Arts of German Chivalry. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2007. ISBN 1-58160-674-4
  • Żabiński, Grzegorz. The Longsword Teachings of Master Liechtenauer. The Early Sixteenth Century Swordsmanship Comments in the "Goliath" Manuscript. Poland: Adam Marshall, 2010. ISBN 978-83-7611-662-4
  • Żabiński, Grzegorz. "Unarmored Longsword Combat by Master Liechtenauer via Priest Döbringer." Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts. Ed. Jeffrey Hull. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58160-668-3


External links

  • Wiktenauer - The complete works of Johannes Liechtenauer.
  • Call to Arms: The German Longsword by Bill Grandy
  • Cod.HS.3227a - Translation and transcription by David Lindholm and associates.
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