Johannes Liechtenauer’s Kunst des Fechtens (KdF: “The Art of Fighting“)
At Lonin KDF, we primarily study medieval longsword fencing as described in surviving historical texts in the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer, a German1 sword master from the late 14th century2. We make room in our class for students to approach the art of the longsword from any or all of various intentions: its historical context as a martial art intended for potentially lethal personal combat; a modern-day competitive sporting activity testing athletic skill in tournaments around the world; and a fun physical3 hobby that brings together people of all kinds to bond over their common celebration of the fact that—it’s OK to admit it!—swords are really cool.
1. Parts of the Holy Roman Empire mostly corresponding to Modern-day Germany
3. Yet, frankly, still pretty nerdy
What to Expect
We are open to students of all skill levels seeking to sharpen their skills in what the texts describe as “the one true art of the sword1,” from complete beginners unsure of which end of the sword to hold, to experienced tournament fighters trying to perfect their Krumphau-Mutieren combo.
We value safety2. Even when practicing at lowest intensity with foam weapons, mask and gorget are required, with personal protectors (athletic cups, chest protectors, etc.) strongly recommended as appropriate. Required safety gear scales up with intensity of exercise, all the way to full steel sparring kit: mask and gorget, jacket, heavy gloves, hard protection on elbows and knees. But don’t let that dissuade you! Beginners do not need safety gear of their own to come try classes out.
You will also absorb a tiny bit of obscure medieval German. This will be of no use to you anywhere.
1. The description is accurate, but don’t tell the Fiore class I said that.
2. If for no other reason than that if you break your partners you’ll have nobody to practice with.
In the future, we may also look at later permutations of the German longsword tradition, including that of Joachim Meyer; sources for related Ringen (wrestling) traditions; or different weapons entirely, within our standard texts or from others, such as the Messer or Dussack, the dagger, the Rappier, or even polearms such as the spear or halberd.
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).
The Zettel originally existed as a purely oral tradition, and it is said that Liechtenauer told his followers never to write down, explain, or teach to others its secrets; luckily for us, however, they turned around and did exactly that. It is these students’ texts, and the texts of those following in their traditions, that we study: the works of Ringeck, Danzig, and Lew (the “RDL” corpus) and more. We pull from these various and sundry sources in the Liechtenauer tradition rather than focus on one to the exclusion of others.