Johannes Liechtenauer’s Kunst des Fechtens (KdF: “The Art of Fighting“)
Central Europe was a tumultuous place in the medieval period. The German speaking lands which were fragmented into a patchwork of principalities, duchies, and church territories, formed a somewhat loosely bound polity known as the Holy Roman Empire. It was the duty of the knightly class (Ritter) to enforce the authority of their leaders by force of arms. To do this effectively, knights and other professional soldiers were obliged to train consistently, often from a very young age.
Conflict and war were commonplace and the tradition of judicial dueling survived in this region long after it had gone out of fashion elsewhere in Europe. As the following excerpt from Johannes Liechtenauer’s poem illustrates, men occasionally found themselves fighting duels with sharp weapons in officially sanctioned fights to resolve legal disputes.
“Fencing has been invented to be seriously practiced
And in good real grace because it brings agility wits and smartness
And also it happens often that a man has to stand for his honor, body and goods. If he is then victorious with his art in a knightly manner and with God and rightfully I praise.”
– Nuremberg Hausbuch (MS 3227a), ca. 1400
The late Middle Ages and Renaissance saw a significant boom in the production of mass distributed written material and increased literacy. Experts in fighting with all manner of weapons such as halberds and swords, and indeed also masters of wrestling, began to make written records of their techniques. Some of these compiled works, often known as “Fight Books” (Fechtbuecher), resemble what we might recognize as complete martial systems.
One of these masters was a man known as Johannes Liechtenauer. Not much is known about Liechtenauer’s life, though he most likely lived in the 14th century. He is credited by later masters as having compiled a great body of fighting knowledge from many lands, distilled into a poem known as the Zettel (Recital). Liechtenauer’s fighting style is brutally direct and thoroughly grounded in basic mechanical principles. At Lonin’s KdF Study Group, we study primarily (15th century) German-language fighting treatises and manuals. Our goal is to become the best fighters possible using historical techniques. We follow all the same basic customs, courtesies, and rules that govern Lonin.
“The Recital of the Chivalric Art of Fencing of the Grand Master Johannes Liechtenauer”. Compiled by Michael Chidester, et al.