Monday, 19 December 2011

Michael S’s Lichtenauer Tradition Unarmoured Longsword Primer

So, I'm throwing this up, a Copy & Paste of a Google Document that's been languishing for six months or more, to illustrate a point over on the HEMA Alliance forums. Hopefully it'll be useful for you guys, although it's very much a work in progress, my own opinion, not reflective of the majority of Liechtenauer tradition sources, not bloody Meyer, just plain wrong etc. etc. It just reflects my understanding of the KdF. Give feedback please!

This document is an primer for the unarmoured longsword fighting tradition associated with a figure called Johannes Lichtenauer. The tradition refers to itself as the 'Kunst des Fechtens', the 'Art of Fighting/Fencing', although annoyingly there's also a group or two called that.

This is meant to be a reference text, to help IDC members when looking at the texts. It’s designed to supplement group work rather than replace it, so I’ve done by best to keep interpretation to a minimum.
Lichtenauer’s name is associated with a poem in Middle-High-German knows as the Zedel, meaning teachings, or markverse. These "secret and hidden words" were intentionally cryptic, probably to prevent the uninitiated from learning the techniques he presented; they also seem to have offered a system of mnemonic devices to those who did understand. This is similar to Fiore’s Flower of Battle, which is captioned in verse.

Lichtenauer’s Zedel was preserved by students and teachers, and we have copies of  it because subsequent individuals, such as Sigmund von Ein Ringeck, wrote glosses, passages expanding on the Lichtenauer zedel. The tradition lasted from the fourteenth century through to the age of print, with masters such as Meyer working within the Lichtenauer framework in the sixteenth century.

Ultimately the Lichtenauer tradition was superseded by Italian and Spanish rapier systems, as the longsword was replaced by the rapier in civilian contexts such as duelling, and the ‘pike and shot’ method of warfare came to dominate the battlefield with the military developments of the early modern period.
That said, there are differences between earlier and later examples of the Lichtenauer tradition. Some of them were used at a time when there were established fencing guilds in Europe, and play was limited to protect the opponents. For example Meyer downplays the role of thrusting, as it was limited in Guild activities.

Even in the same time period, Lichtenauer’s system was one amongst many - for example different longsword traditions survive in English poems, the treatise written by Fiore dei Liberi, the ‘Gladiatoria’ group of manuscripts and the ‘Nuremberg’ Group. Some, such as von Eyb’s fechtbuch, contain extracts from several traditions!

However, in order to avoid becoming too bogged down this document will stick to the earlier documents in the Lichtenauer tradition, as I believe that they provide a relatively clear, coherent and effective martial art between them. The main ones we’ll be working with are:

MS 3227a
Nicknamed the ‘Dobringer’ text, and implies that Lichtenauer was alive when it was composed. That said, the work survives in a much later ‘housebook’, a collection of interesting things copied out of personal interest. A translation of the text is available from

Codex 44.A.8
Nicknamed the ‘von Danzig’ text, Codex 44.A.8 is a compilation of different fencing manuscripts in the Lichtenauer tradition, dating from 1452. It has two pictures at the beginning, one showing Lichtenauer in the traditional pose of a medieval craft-master, and the other depicting the four guards. It contains an anonymous gloss of Lichtenauer’s Zedel, that is repeated in near-contemporary and subsequent fechtbuchs, such as Cod.I.6.4°.3 (Codex Lew - 1450s) and MS M.I.29 (Codex Speyer - 1491). A translation of some of the text is available from

MS Dresden C 487
A fechtbuch containing a gloss of Lichtenauer’s markverse attributed to ‘Sigmund von Ein Ringeck’, dating to the early sixteenth century, but probably composed in the 1440s or ‘50s. A translation is available from

This is a very list of technical vocabulary, with a brief explanation of what I think they mean. It isn’t exhaustive, and it isn’t final. I’ve also standardized the spellings in a pretty arbitrary way. You have been warned!
Underlined terms are fundamental, ish.

Guards: These are generally referred to by hut or leger, meaning guard, position, stance, etc. and implying safety.

Four Primary Guards*
The main positions in the Lichtenauer’s tradition, called the ‘Vier Leger. All of these guards can be made with either foot forwards, and generally with the sword held on the same side of the body as the back foot:
  • Vom Tag - ‘From the Roof’. Several positions are described as being Vom Tag, ranging from the sword being on the shoulder to being held above the head. Comparable to Fiore’s Posta di Donna.
  • Ochs - ‘Ox’. A position in which the sword hangs with the point towards the opponent and the hilt held protecting the head. Comparable to Fiore’s Posta di Fenestre.
  • Alber - ‘Fool’. A position that seems to invite attack, with the sword held in from pointing to the floor.
  • Pflug - ‘Plough’. A position which the sword held at waist height, pointing towards the opponent.
  • Pictures of the Guards
The first four, taken from Codex 44.A.8, the ‘Peter von Danzig’ fechtbuch, dating from 1452. See

Secondary Guards
Other positions referred to in the early Lichtenauer tradition:
  • Kron - ‘Crown’. A position with the sword held high in front of the body, with the point not threatening the opponent. The cross is roughly turned parallel to the ground and perpendicular to the ‘center line’, the imaginary line between the two opponents. It is comparable to Fiore’s Posta Frontale/Corona Instabile.
  • Langenort - ‘Long Point’. A position with the sword extended and pointing towards the opponent, creating space between them and a threat. It is comparable to Fiore’s Posta Longa.**
  • Nebenhut - ‘Near Guard’. A position in which the sword is held close to the body, pointing away from the opponent.
  • Schranckhut - ‘Barrier Guard’. A position with the sword held in front of the body, pointing down to protect the side. Ringeck uses the transition between Schrankhut on the right and Schrankhut on the left to illustrate the mechanics of a Krumphau.
  • Pictures of the Guards
Some pictures of secondary guards, taken from Talhoffer’s Codex Icon 394a  fechtbuch, dating from 1467. See

Words for Injuring People:

General Cuts
These are the basic terms that are used to describe cuts:
  • Uberhau – used to describe a cut made downwards, and strongly favoured in the tradition. Comparable to Fiore’s colpi fendenti.
  • Unterhau – used to describe a cut made upwards.
  • Mittelhau – used to describe a horizontal cut made across the ‘middle’. Comparable to Fiore’s colpi mezani.
Master Cuts
These are a group of terms used to describe five ‘secret’, ‘hidden’ or ‘master’ cuts that are at the core of the Lichtenauer tradition. Four of the five are Verstzen, strikes which can be used to attack or disrupt one of the Vier Leger. All of them can be used to regain the initiative as single time counters to specific attacks (regain the Vor when done Indes).
  • Zornhau – ‘Wrathful Cut’. A strong downwards diagonal cut that can displace an opponent’s uberhau.
  • Krumphau - ‘Crooked Cut’. A cut somewhat perpendicular to the ‘center-line’, which from the right hand side is performed with crossed hands. It can be used to engage the opponent’s blade, or cut to their hands, and involves springing out to side. It can be used to attack or disrupt an opponent in one of the Vier Legen (versetzen), in this case ‘breaking’ an opponent in Ochs.
  • Zwerchau - ‘Athwart Cut’. A cut made roughly parallel to the ground with the hilt held high, using the short/false-edge when made from the right, and the long/true-edge when made from the left, and ending in a position similar to Ochs. It can be used as a versetzen, breaking Vom Tag by displacing cuts from above and cutting into the opening on the other side of their head. The Zwerchau uses the thumb under the blade in order to support it and give stability to the cut. When done from the right, it requires supination of the right forearm.
  • Schielhau - ‘Squinting Cut’. A vertical cut using the short/false-edge when made from the right, and the long/true-edge when made from the left, ending in a position similar to Pflug. It is one of the Vier Versetzen, breaking Pflug by displacing thrusts from below. Like the Zwerchau, the Schielhau uses the thumb underneath the blade.
  • Scheitelhau - ‘Parting Cut’. A vertical cut strike to the upper body of the opponent, made with the hands held high. It can be used to versetzen, breaking Alber through the principle of Uberlauffen.

Ways of Wounding
These are more general terms used for ways to injure people, and some specific technique names.
  • Drei Wunder – ‘Three Wounders’. Three basic ways of injuring an opponent, and a deliberate play on ‘Three Wonders’. They’re thrusting, slicing or striking, and each may be performed from each of the Acht Winden [Eight Windings].
  • Hewe or Hau – ‘Hew’, as in to strike or chop.
  • Stosse & Stich  – ‘Thrust’ and ‘Stab’.
  • Snete & Schnitt – ‘Cut’ and ‘Slice’.
  • Drucken – ‘Press’, as in pressing the sword against the opponent.
  • Streiche – ‘Slash’ or ‘Strike’, which J. Norwood compares to Fiore’s colpi sottanni.

Techniques for Wounding
Well, this is sword fighting, so there are plenty of ways to injure someone...
  • Abschneiden – ‘Cutting off’. Slicing the opponent with the edge of the sword by placing the edge against the body of the opponent and then pushing or pulling the blade.
  • Absetzen - ‘Setting Aside’, deflecting a cut or thrust while at the same time keeping the point online to thrust into the opponent.
  • Ansetzen – ‘Setting Upon’, thrusting as a Nachreisen.
  • Versetzen - ‘’, strikes which can be used to attack or disrupt one of the Vier Leger.
  • Hende Trucken - ‘Hand Pressing’, slicing an opponent’s hands when they attack from above, and keeping pressure and winding against them.
  • Durchlaufen - ‘Running Through’, coming inside the normal reach of the opponent, normally to engage in grappling techniques.
  • Ringen Am Schwert - ‘Wrestling at the sword’.

Binding and Winding
Techniques and terminology for when the two combatants weapons and touching.
  • Binden - ‘Binding’. When the two longswords make contact in such a way that they stay together, for example when one Zornahau meets another.
  • Winden - ‘Winding’. Moving a weapon in the bind so as to affect the geometry and leverage in that moment, for exactly moving from Lang-ort to Ochs when a thrust is displaced.
  • Fulen - ‘Feeling’. The presence of the opponent’s sword in the bind, whether they are structurally supporting their blade or not, how much pressure they are transmitting through it and so on.
  • Sprechsfenster - ‘Speaking-window’. To me, the period in which it is possible to guage the Fulen of the opponents sword, all though it could refer to a specific technique in some contexts.
  • Duplieren - ‘Doubling’. Following up a displaced attack by moving your blade behind your opponent’s in the bind, if they displace hard. Done in the indes.
  • Mutieren - ‘Mutating’. Following up a displaced attack by winding your blade over the opponent’s to thrust to their hips, legs and abdomen, if they displace softly in the bind. Done in the indes.
  • Abnehmen - ‘Removing’ Taking your sword away from the opponent’s in the bind, presumably to put it back on the other side.
  • Durchwechseln - ‘Changing Through’.  From the bind, taking your blade underneath the opponents to come up on the inside.  Used against a hard displacement.
  • Zucken - ‘Twitching’.  Pulling back your sword to thrust, usually to the other side of the opponent’s blade or to another opening.  Compared to Durchwechseln, Zucken is used when the opponent’s blade is more vertical (like Kron) wheras Durchswechseln works better when his blade is more horizontal (like Langenort).


These are various ideas and technical terms used in the Lichtenauer tradition. I’ve tried to give a rough idea of what I understand them to mean, and I’ve divided them up by into arbitrary categories.
Distances and Timing
The Lichtenauer tradition didn’t have a modern understanding of mechanics, and instead worked in an Aristotelian framework for how objects interact.
  • Zufechten – ‘To the fighting’. The period when the two opponents are coming to close.
  • Krieg - ‘War’. The period when the two opponents have closed, when Winden and Ringen am Schwert happen.
  • Abzug – ‘Withdrawal’. The period when you get out of the fight.
  • Vor - ‘Before’. Both in the sense of acting before the opponent, and of having the initiative (which Lichtenauer strongly recommends.)
  • Indes - ‘In the moment’.
  • Nach - ‘After’. Both in the sense of acting after the opponent, and of having lost the initiative and so been forced to react to what they are doing.
  • Vorschlag - ‘First Strike’. The first attack, with which you enter from Zufechten to Krieg. It can be a very powerful blow, as in the zufechten it is safe to chamber the blow.
  • Nachschlag - ‘After Strike’. An attack made in the Nach. The attack that follows if the opponent counters the Vorschlag.
  • Nachreisen - ‘Traveling After’. Using timing to regain the initiative, attacking your opponent when he isn’t ready.
  • Uberlaufen – ‘Over running’. The principle that a higher attack out-reaches a lower attack, because of geometry.

Parts of the Sword
Hangen. Ringen am Schwert

Here’s an index of the terms used in the glossary, with references to where they’re used in the text.

Footnotes (aka Pete's comments on the origional document):
*Fairly important point – they're “THE Four Guards” because they're best positions to approach in in the Zufechten – note the hands are all back out of snipining range, and theirs an obvious direct threat from out.  The others are more for use in the Krieg (Kron, Einhorn, Langenort) or very much secondary choices (nebenhut, schrankhut) which seem to be favoured for melees.
**Note various points in manuals where you're told to shoot the point forwards from langenort – KdF's interpretation is not a full extension of hands and sword, but bent at the elbows for strength in the bind.

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