Mertin Siber’s Longsword Fight-Lore of 1491 AD
a thesis on the Fechtlehre from Handschrift M I 29
(Codex Speyer) at the University of Salzburg in Austria
by Jeffrey Hull
Foreword: The Fechtlehre (fight-lore) of Mertin Siber is part of the Handschrift M I 29 now residing at Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg. This Fechtbuch (fight-book) was originally put to paper by Hans von Speyer, its compiler and editor, in the southwestern area of Germany in 1491 AD, and hence we may call this Codex Speyer.
I have made transcription of Siber’s part of that Middle High-German manuscript and translations into New High-German and into New English. I interpreted Siber’s fight-lore for longsword by assuming it to be in the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer. I have striven to render the text with regard for the literary, the historic and the martial. Although its wording is lively, this fight-lore unfortunately has no original pictures to go along with it – and thus I provide some interpretive photographs as well. I also made a prose rendering as training-regimen. I have done my best to understand the fight-lore and to present such to the reader by this thesis. Any mistakes are mine.
Of great help for comparison and reference were the following:
1) A manuscript-facsimile of the entire Codex Speyer at Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg, and a fine transcript thereof by Beatrix Koll. I thank her for inspiring work and gracious help. At one time Uni-Salz itself had posted this high-quality colour facsimile within the Web. Now sadly, Uni-Salz no longer does – hopefully someday they may post it again for all to see. Her transcript is posted at: http://www.ubs.sbg.ac.at/sosa/webseite/fechtbuch.htm
2) A fine transcript of Siber from Codex Speyer by Monika Maziarz at ARMA-Poland, which is posted at: http://www.arma.lh.pl/zrodla/traktaty/vonspeyer/siber.htm
3) A confidentially shared manuscript-facsimile (Manuscript E.1939.65.341) of a later similar version of “Martein Syber” from Fecht und Ringerbuch (1508 AD) at Glasgow Museums courtesy of Tobias Capwell. They hope to publish the whole manuscript sometime in the future. Their resource-center web-site is at: http://www.glasgowmuseums.com/venue/index.cfm?venueid=8
I offer this thesis as a working interpretation for Langenschwert (longsword) as may be gleaned from Siber’s obscure and laconic fight-lore. However, I do this with acknowledgement of my previously released work where I interpreted the text rather for Schwert & Schild (sword & buckler). Even with advantage of fight-books and training partners, today’s regaining of forgotten Medieval & Renaissance European fencing often involves self-teaching, hence one can lead oneself astray however well-meaning, and should try to correct his or her interpretive errors. Thus as the fight-books warn against false teaching, I must offer what I now think is the true teaching – this longsword interpretation. It is also the fulfillment of my own challenge to critics who never produced a longsword interpretation of their own to match my sword & shield interpretation. Actually, this longsword thesis was my original intent, and now I appreciate it more after doing the sword & buckler thesis. I have tried to fully explore Siber’s fight-lore for longsword and have proven its likelihood and workings to myself, and now hopefully I may prove it to you. If my erstwhile interpretation was wrong, then may this new interpretation be right. What matters most in this undertaking is to try to find the truth of Siber’s fight-lore.
I hope to show Siber’s fight-lore was part of the greater German Kunst des Fechtens (art of fighting) of his time. Siber’s fight-lore has wry poetry, ironic verse and prose, its wording starkly free-flowing, earnest yet playful. It stands astride the blurred border betwixt the Medieval and the Renaissance, as a cryptic yet distilled nexus of the variety of European sword-fighting, bidding one to make further study of the larger fight-books, even as it stands on its own as esoteric lore. Hopefully my interpretation is faithful to the original meaning of Siber, and shall prove worthy to the scholar, the fighter, and the poet.
As there were no original pictures for Siber’s fight-lore, I went ahead and had some made of myself doing his nine wards as best I understood them. Two pictures of each ward are offered from alternate angles. These pictures are meant to serve as guides for how the main wards were likely to have been done, and indeed, can be done today. The fighter’s own body, experience and idiosyncrasies may call for some variation. In the course of moving the body and weapon through the wards in offence and defence – which still-frames cannot show – one may go more deeply or more upright into stance. Also, one moves and balances differently depending upon whether he is unarmoured or armoured. The pictures should be taken as working guides which are meant as workable portrayal. These wards are more or less ambidextrous, working decently enough on either right or left, though not always equally so from each side at all times. Please do these wards in solo practice, drills and sparring to realise them for yourself.
By “interpretation” I mean this: to explain the meaning of something as best I know or think. The fight-lore of Mertin Siber should be realised by live training at speed and strength. As the text is obscure, even cryptic, no absolutist claim should be made by anyone. As the text of the fight-lore has no illustrations, we cannot see with some visualised certainty what is meant by the words. Indeed, we cannot train now with Siber, nor with anyone living or dead who unbrokenly followed his martial tradition.
I interpreted Siber’s fight-lore for longsword according to what works in a struggle versus another swordfighter and by assuming it to be in the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer. The first method is self-evident and should be beyond dispute. The second method seems reasonable as Liechtenauer’s teachings are generally accepted as the foundation of German longsword, and indeed, a late version of his work is found in the same Codex Speyer as Siber’s teachings.
However, my full comparison to other texts consists of the early Johannes Liechtenauer and Sigmund Ringeck (JLSR) (1389 & 1440 AD), Hans Talhoffer (HT) (1467 AD) and Joachim Meyer (JM) (1570 AD). Also I make reference to two other relevant works: To another version of Hans Talhoffer (HT-1459-Thott), from 1459 AD residing at Copenhagen; its page 1r shares 10 matching lines and 8 key-terms total with page 3r of the Siber – go to Appendix III for my transcript of that page 1r. And also to the similar later manuscript of fight-lore by “Martein Syber” from Fecht und Ringerbuch (1508 AD) (FuRb-Syber) – go to Appendix IV for my transcript of pages 24v & 25r. The congruence of content amongst all these are remarkable and would doubtlessly put Siber in the tradition of Talhoffer and Liechtenauer. Incidentally, both Codex Speyer and Fecht und Ringerbuch call Liechtenauer a master and present versions of his teachings.
I think that by contextual reading and philological comparison; and by safe, authentic, earnest physical practice of likely techniques and tactics; we may have then a valid, accurate, and worthy rendering of what Siber meant. Thus my rendering serves as a guide rather than the final word. Indeed, as hopefully my understanding of the art of fighting grows, I may need to change my thinking as time passes to better fit the truth of Siber’s teaching.
Lastly, as this fight-lore was indeed for fight-training, then be warned that any and all training at things described herein is strictly and rightfully one’s own responsibility. Whether with wasters, blunts, or sharps, training is at the fighter’s own risk. Safety, trust, and awareness betwixt training partners are paramount. This lore was for teaching men how to fight, indeed, how to kill. Anyone who misunderstands this warning should not take up the longsword.
Mertin Siber: Fight-Lore
(1r-3r from Codex Speyer of 1491 AD)
Siber’s Fight-Lore was written down in a manuscript of 1491 AD now residing at the Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg. It consists of foreword, goings, and poem (which itself bears same title), and could be thought of as a small yet dense fencing work-book. It is 5 pages (1r-3r) over 3 leaves of an unnamed 158 leaf manuscript which may be called the Codex Speyer, as it is a compendium of works by various masters as scribed by Hans von Speyer (`ha:nz fa:n `shpai-er – also called Hans von Spier), his name indicating that he hails from the city on the Rhein. The fight-lore is written in the more literary manner of its day, in rather cryptic verse. It probably gave the egevertt (“daring fellow”)(dealt with later – dwl) the barest minimum needed of what Siber had taught him, in an appealing form for memorising. Speyer gives credit to those masters for their respective parts, as listed in Appendix I. Perhaps it is safe to conjecture that Speyer chose the works he did for their utility.
Some contest the correctness of associating the poem with Siber’s foreword and goings. Such thinking does not acknowledge that this untitled poem of page 3r is clearly associated with the foreword & goings of pages 1r-2v before the clear-cut division of the blank pages 3v-4v. It should be good enough that Herr von Speyer relates this triad by proxy, whatever be the similarity of any given section to other manuscripts. Hence, I chose to translate & interpret all three contiguous sections.
Siber’s fight-lore would have been part of the greater German Kunst des Fechtens (KdF) (art of fighting) of his time. Throughout this thesis, comparisons between Siber and other KdF longsword fechtbücher (fight-books) of JLSR, HT, and JM shall suggest continuity of martial arts techniques and tactics over centuries in Medieval & Renaissance Europe. For those who care, documental notes and translative & interpretive reasoning have been relegated to Appendix V.
Siber does not indicate manner of clothing, though it must have helped to practice wearing some sort of special fight-clothing. Indeed, it may interest one to wear the equivalent of Siber’s day, as amply illustrated in other contemporary manuals. In these one sees basically full-body tailored outfits, often paneled, gusseted and/or padded, amounting to wambeson-suits, which may have been worn under Gothic plate-armour (harnisch or rüstung), hence arming-clothes, and/or simply for sparring, hence sweat-suits – as seen in HT, Codex Wallerstein (1470 AD), Fecht und Ringerbuch and Dürer (1520 AD). It is reasonable to imagine Siber and his egevertt dressed as such for their praxis. In any case, the text implies that the fencers are unarmoured, and that they are most definitely afoot.
The following luminaries lived within three generations or so, either side of 1491 AD in Europe: Bosch; Botticelli; Charles V of Spain; Copernicus; Dürer; Elizabeth I of England; Erasmus; Giorgio; Grünewald; Gutenberg; Henry VII & Henry VIII of England; Ivan III of Russia; Jeanne d’Arc; Leo X; Leonardo; Louis XI of France; Loyola; Luther; Machiavelli; Malory; Matthias of Hungary; Maximillian I of Austria; Medici Cosimo & Lorenzo; Michelangelo; More; Nostradamus; Pius II (Sylvius); Rabelais; Raphael; Titian; and Vlad IV of Walachia. Events such as the Capture of Byzantium by the Turks happened 38 years before, the Battle of Bosworth ended the English Wars of Roses just 6 years before, the Granada Conquest of the Spaniards finished the next year, the German & Austrian civil-wars were ongoing, the German-French Wars for Burgundy & Italy were ongoing, and the Teutonic Order waned to extinction within 34 years after centuries of warfare.
Siber introduces his method, gives encouragement, and some techniques & tactics in the foreword; he provides technical scenarios or matches in the goings, with reference to tactics; and he gives tactical advice in the poem, with reference to technique. If Siber’s fight-lore has to do with Medieval & Renaissance European longsword fighting, then he does so using only the term Swertt (sword) but once to let us know – yet here we shall take Swertt to mean “longsword”. The
However, we must also then contend with the sticky wicket of the term schilt or schiltt thrice; and the term redlin once. Here schilt or schiltt shall be taken contextually to mean “ward”, and redlin to mean “wheeling”, as can be justified vis-à-vis Liechtenauer, rather than literally “shield” or “buckler”. Thus perhaps I shall show how one could nonetheless interpret the fight-lore for longsword.
Now, the fight-books generally assume longsword for the right-handed fighter, and all techniques seem described accordingly, though one can certainly do them left-handed. Especially with this weapon, one can make most wards from either side in a somewhat symmetrical fashion. Naturally, one can wield the longsword to both “strike” and “forset” (dwl).
According to Siber there are three basic ways of schlagen or streichen (striking), as are well-known in KdF:
Hew (hauw): cleaving by a sundering edge-strike of the blade.
Slash (schnidtt): cutting by a drawing, pushing or raking edge-strike of the blade.
Thrust or Stab (stich): piercing by a penetrating point-strike of the blade.
These strikes are the drei wunder (three-wonders or three-wounders) of KdF. It is worth considering the serious nature of the ubiquitous schlag in Siber, as I think Teutonic linguistics reveal: schlag is akin to UT slahan and OE slean = slaying; OE slecg = hammer; ON slatr = slaughter and NHD schlachten = slaughtering. Though usually it indicates a strike done by swinging a weapon, Siber utilises schlag contextually to mean any of the various drei wunder. Sometimes Siber tells the fighter to smite the foe with a single decisive strike, sometimes with multiple attritional strikes. JLSR and JM likewise advise such variety. Really striking is any deadly hit with the longsword.
It should go without saying that striking is the utmost thing to do in swordsmanship – for it is how the fighter fells the foe. One should fight the foe with the sword, not fight the foe’s sword. This may seem obvious in theory, but often it is misunderstood in practice.
Proper striking requires doing so by test and practice cutting against reasonably challenging targets. I should mention current displays of sword strike-trauma against deer carcass are quite impressive.
By and by, Siber deals with the same five hews that are JLSR’s fünff hew, which Siber terms identically as scheyttell, zornn, krümb, zwirch & schiller – skuller, wrather, crumpler, thwarter & squinter.
In KdF there are three basic “timings” of vor, indes, nach (before, during, after) which are all found in some fashion in Siber’s lessons. JLSR, JM and Wallerstein all deal with vor, indes, and nach. These ideas of timing are throughout KDF. Simply put, the timings tell you when to attack relative to when the foe may or does attack. JLSR maintain that all strikes should be “during-time”, and indeed, that:
Indes tut in der kunst waß dein hertz begert
During-time does in the art what desires your heart
Siber’s tactics tend to agree.
Thusly Master Mertin Siber has made and set the new summary written hereafter.
It seems that Mertin Siber (`me:r-ti:n `zi:-ber) was a master (meinster) of fighting or fencing. Hardly anything is known of Mertin Siber beyond his fight-lore. If his surname means “sifter”, thus some sort of flour-miller, then perhaps he came from a humble working family, of lower or middle class. It is unknown whether he was the free-fighter over his own fight-school, or the master-of-arms for the army of some atheling. Or maybe Siber was simply some nameless backcountry fighter. However, a comparison of Master Siber’s work to the aforesaid works of other masters finds them in much agreement about how to fight. Mertin Siber is also called Martein Syber or Martin Siber.
Note that the title of Master or Meister in Europe of this time held weight of living unbroken martial tradition – unlike the relatively meaningless and over-bandied modern sporting title of maestro.
Now the new summary (dÿ...nüwe zettel) implies concise or condensed “lessons or teaching” presented in revised fashion – in other words, Siber’s fight-lore. The zettel or zedel of JLSR and other KdF share with Siber this sense of summary – for a given master can write down only so much of his lore, hence at best a summary of his greater knowledge no matter how big the work. Also, Siber has made and set this new summary, implying personally putting it forth the way he wanted.
It is a teaming of manifold masterly skirmishes.
It seems the summary is a teaming (zuck) of masterly skirmishes (meinster gefechtenn) fought by many unnamed masters. Maybe this lore is based upon specific fights that Siber himself had fought and/or witnessed. Note here that zuck (like NHD Zug) implies meaning of “draught-animals”, indicating the harnessing together of powerful ideas that work. Siber’s summary seems a distillation of advanced or esoteric fighting, and admittedly, due to his obscure phrasing, is open to a variety of interpretation.
It is dealt and set into six goings.
The summary is based closely upon the skirmishes which are dealt and set into six goings (geteiltt und gesetz In sechß geng). Each of the goings (geng or genng) is a set of moves or play of conflict, in active attack-versus-counter between fighter and foe, which are meant for practice of useful techniques and tactics in order to teach the fighter how to control sparring and thus win a fight. A going (ganck) implies a struggle in motion, not in stasis, also understood as “play; bout; set; match; scenario”. It is basically the same as stück (play) of other KdF sources – although FuRb-Syber numerates how many stück (techniques) each ganck contains in its version. Also, FuRb-Syber deals only with the six goings and not any poem. It is of note that the Fechtbuchleinn of Wolfenbüttel (16th CentAD) calls its scenarios gangg. Note also the related Old Icelandic saga-words atgangur (attack or fight) and holmganga (island-going or duel).
The six goings are set in verse which must have helped the fighter achieve memorising, as was commonly done at that time with a great deal of various lore. During this time such often was both poetry and song. The couplets in each going are always of related techniques or concepts, serving as rubrics within the larger going. Even if all couplets in each going are not necessarily contiguous, they seem at least somewhat related. The fencing which Siber’s goings relate seems to be of an advanced nature.
Siber’s goings try to help one resolve specific conflicts but also to dispel general misconceptions – being not indecisive fencing tic-tac-to, but rather decisive fighting know-how. Realise that any given going means to describe but one likely or desired course from amongst manifold undescribed possibilities. These goings present short scenarios much like the many stücke of JLSR, though their brevity makes not for a whole system like JLSR or JM. The couplets of the goings and later poem more or less rhyme auf Deutsch, if not in English, which generally gives some reference to which lines belong together.
And in the summary are the ox, the plough, and the skull-hew – not thus as in the first summary of the book, rather together in explanation. Now heave yourself at the foreword and the lore of the summary, and thereafter, the six goings.
So in the summary (zittell) are both ox and plough – which are each wards (dwl) or stances of KdF swordsmanship.
The ox (ochß) is a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold the sword with hilt high and back, beside the head, such that the point is aimed at the foe’s face or chest with the long-edge horizontally upward – like a bovine horn.
It is found in JLSR and JM as ochs, and Wittenwiller (1462 AD) calls it üchsen. From ox one can thrust well, striking with “pouncer” or “squinter” (both dwl), or unwind and swing into hewing with “wrather” or “thwarter” (both dwl). On the right the arms are crossed, on the left apart. It is the ward into which one flows naturally after drawing his blade from a sheath at his left-hip. Such rigging is seen in pictures of German ritter by Dürer.
The plough (pflug) is a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold the sword with hilt at waist-height and pommel at hip, blade angled forward and point aimed upwards at the foe’s face or chest – the fighter and his sword looking like the tillman at the plowshare.
This ward is about as basic as you can get, and is helpful as a centering stance, something to withdraw to as needed. Versions of pflug are found in JLSR and JM, and it seems to be in HT. As a basic centering ward, it provides a launch for a great variety of strikes – especially thrusts, skuller and “speeder” (dwl). It is a ward into which one flows naturally after drawing his blade from a sheath at his back & shoulder. Such rigging is seen in English pictures of Irish galloglach.
Also in the summary is skull-hew (scheyttell hauw) or skuller, which is a basic deadly strike. It is the apex-vertical long-edge “overhew” (dwl), whereby the fighter brings the sword aloft above his own skull, and hews down into the top of the foe’s skull. This term is akin to NHD Schädel (skull). Hence, the origin and the aim of the deed lead to this translation – physiology and philology united. It is found in JLSR, HT, JM and indeed quite frequently throughout KDF. Perhaps Siber groups these three techniques together as the bare minimum needed to fight by longsword, or because these were done in most swordfights of his day.
The phrase not thus as in the first summary (nicht also alß in der ersten zettell) seems to tell of an earlier summary which was part of the book (des puchß), some unknown and unnamed work, not the Codex Speyer itself in which this new summary appears. If the presumption of Liechtenauer tradition is correct, then perhaps the book was one of the versions of his work – or just as well, due to obvious similarity as shown in Appendix III, one of the versions of Talhoffer’s work. Yet this in turn really leads us back to Liechtenauer. Or maybe the book was an earlier version of Codex Speyer, one that also dealt with Siber’s teachings?
However, that they are presented rather together in explanation (Sunder eyn ander uß legüng) is clear enough – Siber wants to present the aforesaid three techniques (ox, plough, skull-hew) here in unity, or at least in more condensed or concise fashion, and not isolated as apparently they were in whatever earlier book, to help the fighter learn them as united techniques of changing tactics in the fight. Although it is difficult to really say, it seems that Siber considers this new summary in the Codex Speyer better than that undetermined first summary.
One may note that FuRb-Syber states that its version is ain newe zetl ...ein auß zug aus der voririgen zetl (a new summary...an abridgement of the previous erroneous summary) – hence Syber’s new summary abridges and/or claims to correct either Siber’s new summary, or the same unknown summary as Siber’s new summary tries to correct. In context of fight-book history, such confusion is hardly surprising – considering that Talhoffer, for example, had multiple versions of his lessons made. However, FuRb-Syber has some of the same mistakes as Speyer-Siber, and also has some unique to itself. Thus, just what-when-where-who-why was wrong and which is setting which right is arguable.
So Siber tells you now heave yourself at the foreword and the lore of the summary, and thereafter, the six goings (Nu hebt sich an dy vor rede und lere der zettell dar noch die sechß genng) perhaps as pun: Heave your mind into the summary, as you would your weapon into the fight. He may also be suggesting that technique follows tactics, that is, learn the foreword & poem first (the “lore” per se) and then the goings afterwards.
Whosoever will earn honour before princes and before lords in fighting with the sword, he is good and rightful, who follows my lore, he is blessed evermore.
Whosoever will earn honour is simple yet deep. It seems rather inclusive, especially for its time, speaking to whatever man (wer) is willing to undertake swordsmanship, be he high or low. The word will (will), whether as modal verb or noun, with its related meanings of “want to; intend to; desire to; would”, is the cogency of erstwhile philosophy. Though now ignored or belittled by the modernist, to Medieval man it was meaningful. It explains, for example, why Cheyenne outfought Americans with US sabres during warfare of 1865-80 AD. All things being equal (or even unequal), he who has the will to fight when he must do so, whether with specific weapon or generally, shall more likely win. “Will” may not be the only thing a fighter should have for winning a fight, yet there is truth to what one of my older brothers said when we wrestled: You have got to want it.
Next Siber deals with honour (ere). That “honour” had great meaning during his time is beyond doubt, arguably more so than in modern popular culture, and needs no ruminating in this present thesis, other than that a fight-master dealt with it daily more so than most of his contemporaries. In context of his chivalrous Christian German world, ere could, however, have double meaning here – manifestly the virtue itself of honour and metaphorically lady.
Primarily, Siber says that you may earn (erwerbenn) honour in war, without some need to be born with it, even before princes and before lords in fighting with the sword (vor furstenn und vor hereim Im vechtenn mit dem Swertt) by learning his fencing lore (lere), as perhaps hitherto most men had been outlawed to do. This is the idea of a man of lower class earning honour, which actually would have been part of renewed thinking of the early Renaissance, whereby a lower-born man need not stay locked in fealty or thralldom, yet could now better his lot in life with the implicit right to defend himself. Even the lowest born man, bereft though he be of aristocratic lineage, could advance himself if by bravery, talent, need or chance he had proven himself a real fighter, whether in homeland’s militia or as a freebooting mercenary. Indeed, by the 15th CentAD, noble knights and peasant levies were giving way to mercenary soldiery as the preferred sort of army fielded by European princes & lords. We may note Machiavelli’s praise of German cites as having an intertwining of strength and freedom for their citizenry; and of his reference to an Italian soldier rising to duke. Perhaps a picture of longsword-armed Irish fighters by Dürer, from 1521 AD, treats of this idea of the armed common man, as its caption tells:
Dy Krigermen in Irlandia hinde England [sehen so aus]...also gend dy Armen in Irlandia.
The warriors in Ireland, beyond England, [look as such]...thus go the poor in Ireland.
Additionally, Siber perhaps says you may earn [your] lady in tourney when he says ere. Such a metaphor for “woman” or “lady” has been upheld for centuries in the German world, as this typical spiritual phrase indicates:
Marie die Ehre unseres Volkes
Mary the Honour of our Folk
Now, what Siber meant by sword (Swertt) could have been any longsword (langenschwert of KdF) of Oakeshott-Type XVa, XVIa, XVIIIa, XIX or XX. Such twain-handed well-tapering double-edged swords were generally of 34-44 inches (86-112 cm) blade-length, of 3.0-4.0 pounds (1.4-1.8 kg) weight, and were fine for hew, slash, or thrust, whether fullered, diamond, or mixed-section. It should be noted that longswords of earlier OT-XIIa or XIIIa could just as well be plied in the manner of the fight-lore, especially as some of these undoubtedly survived rehilted in later fashion into later times. FuRb-Syber makes quite clear that its lore is about des langen schwerts (the longsword). Such are illustrated by HT, Dürer, Wallerstein, Gladiatoria (1420-1440 AD), Goliath (1500-1520 AD), and other KdF. These were often called “war-swords” or “great-swords”. A famous historical example of the sort of weapon meant would be the sword of Albrecht II (about 1440 AD). In the coeval Bavarian work Liber Chronicarum (1493 AD) we can see woodcut-prints featuring Austro-Germanic longswords and “bastard-swords” among its cornucopia of arms and armour. JM, Mair (1540 AD), and even HT show a specialised fight-school permutation, the fechtfeder (fight-feather), its narrow blade sporting a flanged crux.
By Siber’s time the langenschwert was a common enough weapon which a man of high and middle classes could own, whether he was knight or freeman on the battlefield or judicial grounds, though it was generally not to be had by a man of low class, unless he had acquired it by brave national or mercenary service. Note that image, measures and remarks for the actual weaponry that I utilised are in Appendix II.
Amid the many wars around Siber’s time – for example, during the Wars of Roses (1399-1486 AD) – there were many men armed with the longsword. Yet this weapon may have existed as early as 1100 AD in Germany whence it quickly spread to England, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Sweden – indeed most of Europe – and would hold popularity until about 1600 AD, although it would not be completely missing from battlefields until after 1750 AD.
It was most likely that any KdF fighter who fought with longsword also knew dagger, and maybe falchion and sword & buckler (degen, messer, schwert & bückler), for the manifold fight-books make quite clear that KdF was a whole myriad of martial arts. These diverse weaponry shared many of the same techniques & tactics. I hasten to emphasise that the Teutonic swordsman was also a wrestler – he would have been one from childhood. This was doubtlessly the norm of Siber’s time, as clearly witnessed by manifold cunning techniques of KdF ringen (wrestling) similar and equal to the best Japanese jujitsu. More of wrestling later.
In wielding the longsword, I suggest a firm yet supple grip, like a flexible hammer-grip – certainly not a useless foiling-grip. Grasp the longsword for striking like this: Your dominant (right) hand grasps the hilt just behind the crossguard, while your other (left) grasps the hilt just before the pommel or on the pommel itself. You can vary your sword-grip with a “thumb-press” as shown in HT, whereby you slip your thumb over the cross and press at the ridge or fuller of the blade; or by “slipping” the ring-finger over the cross, either of which may give better control to certain strikes. One may release the back-hand to strike single-handed and/or to grapple as needed.
Siber also tells the fighter he shall be good and rightful (gutt und gerecht) if he follows (volge) the fight-lore (lere), that he shall be blessed evermore (gesiget ymermere). Here also gerecht may have meaning of lawful. Such claims were made commonly enough during the Medieval & Renaissance for all sorts of undertakings, and seem to reflect Siber’s presumed earnest desire to relate such a major undertaking to Christian holyness during that age of faith.
The six goings hold wards which are quite preciously good, wherein is wealful comprehension of the cunning of quite many goodly masters: from Hungary, Bohemia, Italy; from France, England and Alemania; from Russia, Prussia, Greece, Holland, Provence and Swabia.
The six goings hold wards which are quite preciously good (dy sechß genng halt in huott die sintt gar prißlich gutt), being wieldy & useful. Now the wards (huott) are “fighting-stances” or “guards” made in balance with sword in both hands ready to strike yet ready to forset. The word is akin to AHD hutta (hut or shelter) and to OE hod (hood).
By and by, Siber deals with four main wards, which he calls ochß (ox), pflug (plough), tag (roof) and ÿssen ort (iron-point). These are basically the same as the vier leger (four stances) of JLSR, JM and other KdF. Siber also deals with others which have their time and place, such as langenn ortt (long-point), heng (hanging), and einhorn (unicorn). Siber can be said to have two more unnamed wards, by virtue of how a fighter gets into them when doing his various techniques: schrank (barrier) and neben (nearby). All these nine wards may be done with ambidexterity, working more or less from or upon right or left as needed, though not always equally so from each side at all times. A ward on one side shall have a given leg forward and arms apart, while on the other side the other leg is forward and the arms are crossed. It is wise to learn to strike well from both sides.
Wards are dynamic and not static – when standing these are filled with potential energy, ready to release kinetic energy when driving (dwl) your strikes. Siber’s wards are not merely defence yet offence. These wards were customarily taught – as per genetic majority, for sake of simplicity, and by need of uniformity of training – right-hand dominant, though they could be done from either side, more or less identically. Hence this thesis presents right-side wards as standard, unless indicated otherwise. The symmetry of longsword does allow for much ambidexterity. The reality of geometry and physiology are such that a given ward lends its best defense and offense to certain situations – hence no single ward is almighty. The colourful names of the wards in KdF are indeed poetic in that they are metaphoric.
It makes sense to take stance neither too upright nor too deep, yet with resolve to maintain integrity of your center and your flanks, as it seems HT portrays. But then again, one may find need for JM’s sort of deep stances as well, and that some stances call for you to shift more weight to either leg. The idea of “balance”, standing in an even harmony of one’s body-weight, though not stated by Siber is common enough to KdF, as waage or vaage. Auerswald advised that wage (balance) lets one wrestle well – and likewise, balance lets one sword-fight well.
Also, Siber is not so much talking up the worth of his own “style” of fighting or fencing, but the worthiness of the six goings as he says again that within these are the wealful comprehension (woll begriffen) of the cunning (list) of many goodly masters (vil mangeß gutte meinsterß) from throughout Europe, as witnessed by the dozen named countries which spanned that warlike continent (auß Ungern Behem ÿtalia auß Franckrich Engellant und almania auß rewßen prewßen Gretia Hollant Profant Und swevia).
Though all the named countries are significant, of special note in the list are the lands of Alemania and Prussia. Firstly is Alemania (almania), which was most of the Alpenland and where Siber seems to have lived, and in whose dialect of German (Alemannisch) the fight-lore is written. It is a name used in English as late as 1588 AD by Marlowe in Doctor Faustus where he refers to Almaine rutters (Alemanic riders), and in 1598 AD by George Silver in Paradoxes when he referred to the esteemed high Almaine fencers. Secondly is Prussia (prewßen), which was the fortress-state by which coeval Europe measured its military ability. Its warrior-monks and armed vassals were often foes to its worthy eastern neighbors of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, and Hungary (at times an ally). It served as proving grounds for the young knights of its western neighbors of the other Germanys, and of England, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Italy, and even France (especially after the purge-royale against the Templars in 1307 AD), who would join their ranks either permanently or as allies in one of their many reysen (more about that later). German crusaders had achieved their lordship of Prussia by means of the Teutonic Order, founded in the Outremer about 1190 AD, which eventually became the war-machine of Siber’s time, albeit then waning. Although the significance of each named country could be elaborated, we must leave it at that.
Lastly, a query: By casually delineating three country-groupings (each beginning with auß = from), does Siber suggest three main traditions, styles or schools of European fencing, similar yet distinct, which existed around 1491 AD? I think this is of interest for further study, and can only conjecture here.
In the goings, should you tread left, while then, bethink the misleading. In thrusting press strongly, so may you achieve it well.
In the goings (In den), and again assuming a right-hander, you tread or step mostly to the right, as this allows you to put the most might into most strikes from your wards. This is addressed by HT, JM and throughout KdF, and is described broadly by JLSR regarding one’s first-strike:
Aber ein lere: höre waß da schlecht ist
ficht nitt oben link so du recht bist
und ob du link bist im rechten auch ser hinckest.
Yet more lore: hear what the strike is –
fight not from over left if you are right-handed,
and likewise remain not over right if you are left-handed.
And in phrasing by HT to rival Siber’s own laconity:
Link gen rechten das must Stark vechten
Left going right must strongly fight
But should you tread left (soltu tretten linck) then bethink the misleading (der verfurüng do by gedennck) the foe– to “feign or fake” valid attack at one opening where the foe is vulnerable only to strike another – as you may be less adept from that side. Misleading involves not just “ploys and tricks” of weaponry, but also of bearing and movement – quickly creating “illusion” for the foe. Your “work” (dwl) tends to be weaker from your “off-side”, so if you do strike therefrom, then it helps to mislead, but not overly so. Generally, your sword can mislead by moving falsely by “changing” (dwl) in mid-swing – but of course, the foe’s weaponry can do the same. Thus the fighter finds one of the foe’s “openings” (blößen in JLSR, HT, JM and KdF generally), or sets up work that leads to such. JLSR refer to feler (feinting) as fryen ober haw (free overhew) to the foe’s high left-side only to strike lower.
These openings are basically four (hence the vier blößen of JLSR and JM), corresponding to the body quartered by either “+” or “x” – which are simply the “gaps or targets” for striking. One could think of eight openings by combining the two markers, thus making the segno of Italian fencing. Really any gap big or small that is open or bare to a strike can be a opening. It should be realised that anything in swordsmanship – ward, strike, forset – leaves some opening, even as it covers or seeks them.
In thrusting (In stichenn) at such openings, the fighter should press strongly (starg dring) into the foe with his body behind the strike, to really pierce him through. This goes for a great deal of striking in general, such that you should put as much of your body with needed torque – arms, legs, waist, hips, shoulders – into it as you wisely can. So may you achieve it well (so mag dir woll geling).
It should be remarked that Siber’s fight seems most likely to be what KdF generally distinguishes as bloßfechten (unarmoured fighting) rather than harnischfechten (armoured fighting) – though these so share commonality as well as divergence.
When you sight through the window, stand open, see through it, go to it, strike or stab swiftly, so may you be hard-felled. In the work tread roundabout – thus the daring fellow wins out.
When you sight through the window (Sichstus venster) with longsword, the “space” around or between your weapon, then it is best to stand open (offen stan), to see through it (Si hinein) properly, such that it is not held tightly to your own body, and tangle or stifle, and you must go to it (gee dar von) without tarry or balk so you may strike (schlag) with edge or stab (oder stich) with point swiftly (schnell) the foe at best chance, and thus you shall be hard-felled (hart gevell) by felling the foe.
Try not to lose sight of everything your window, by narrowly focusing, as you may fall prey to misleading yourself – rather see the big picture as you sight the foe’s openings and any counters he tries. The idea is not to miss chances to strike when you see them – for to tarry is draining. This hardly differs from the doubly-meant observation written about 1595 AD by a certain English raider named John Donne, in his poem To His Mistress Going to Bed:
The foe oft-times, having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though he never fight.
The idea of “open-standing” in Siber is to take stance just out of “range” (dwl) where the fighter has one or both his arms above, hence sword aloft, making the body open, to aid a variety of moves and allow sighting of foe’s openings. Siber’s open-stance exposes yet deceives: the fighter can mark the foe therefrom, with vantage of much retaliatory potential should the foe beset him before he besets. Perhaps Siber’s offen stan (stand open) could be regarded as counterpart to his durch var (fare through) in his sixth going.
Siber’s offen stan seems the same as that of stand freylich (stand freely) in JLSR and HT; and use of fry, fryes, freyen (free) for stances, strikes, and forsetting (dwl) is found in JLSR & shown and described by HT – whether for longsword, falchion, sword & buckler, or cavalry sword – and seems the same as offen (open) in Siber’s sense. The equivalency of offen and frei is demonstrated by the German idioms: es steht ihm offen zu gehen and es steht ihm frei zu gehen – either phrase meaning in English: as it stands he may go. The illustrious Silver speaks of the open fight.
When the fighter and the foe are in the work (in der arbeÿt) they are basically at “infighting”, struggling at close range. In work they find themselves at some sort of mutual opposition in binding, winding and wrestling.
When work is at crossed swords locked at an impasse near crossguards, or simply blade against blade, it is “binding”. Although Siber’s method makes no direct reference to binden, it does indeed happen in his goings, particularly the third, during “offtaking” (dwl) , and it does happen in sparring often enough. Again, such is found in JLSR, HT and JM as either binden or anbinden, or as krieg (war).
Siber tells one to do work called “winding”, which is found later in text as wind (wind or windt). This means you wind, twist or turn your blocked sword quickly at the fulcrum of where the blades touch, or even at your elbow or wrist, to bring it around to strike from another angle, often pivoting your sword either at or around foe’s ward or sword. JLSR, JM and Wallerstein speak explicitly of winden or winten and much of HT’s ryszen (wrenching) equates with this.
In doing Siber’s method, there indeed arises “wrestling”, which is to grapple, wrap or throw the foe; and more broadly can involve trapping or taking the foe’s sword, and even punching & kicking him. It can be utilised alone or in unison with armed moves. Wrestling is taught by multiple KdF sources such as JLSR, HT, JM, and is the ringkampf (battle-wrestling) of Ott in Codex Speyer, the ringerkunst (art of wrestling) of Auerswald (1539 AD), and the unique ringen of Wallerstein & Dürer. Frightening description of deadly Teutonic wrestling goes back many centuries, notably in hero-sagas like Beowulf. Wrestling is universal to all KdF, where it is dealt with as the natural base of all weaponry fighting.
This triad of binding, winding and wrestling (binden, winden, ringen) are common to JLSR, HT and all KdF; and along with striking and forsetting, you get what constitutes Siber’s work (arbeitt), which later he more or less equates with “fight” (vichtt) itself in his second going.
While at work, the fighter should tread roundabout (umb tritt) and should be a daring fellow (egevertt) who initiates not just responds, whereby he treads lively, to flanks, past or behind, and so forth, rather than just moving linearly or standing in place, in order to win out (mach mitt) – not to show nice form, nor to entertain, nor to be genteel – but to win the fight. Wittenwiller often states tritt umb (tread about) in his longsword fencing.
By treading (tretten or tritt) Siber generally means to step by traversing one foot forward or backward past the other, from balance to balance. Treading helps keep you from being hit and helps you to hit mightily. It should also be realised that “footwork” – whether standing or stepping – can vary situationally, and that no absolute should be maintained, whether in my descriptions of the goings or in one’s sparring experience. Just be ready to tread roundabout as you deem best – whether this means treading, hintertreading, hop-stepping, side-stepping, cross-stepping or switching (all dwl). The idea is that real historical fencing tends to be as circular as linear, if not more so, really “fighting in the round”, which includes awareness of front and back attacks (as in HT), above or below, and from sides or flanks. Footwork such as JLSR’s and Wittenwiller’s springen (springing or leaping), or JM’s triangel (triangle) and Wittenwiller’s similar drig angel can be reasonably utilised for different situations in Siber’s goings. Really treading is any footwork which works to keep you alive and win the fight.
Siber speaks directly to the fighter, by imperative second-person familiar voice now lost to modern English – thou & ye – as befits a teacher to student or friend to friend.
Now egevertt or “daring fellow” (like NHD Gefährte) has a mixed sense of “comrade, risker, danger-mate”, akin to JLSR’s use of gefer (danger). In context of the stricter sense of mach mitt as “going through (hardship)” or “taking part in (group)”, we arrive at my rendering that indicates Siber speaking to some fellowship of those who understand true fighting – whether his students or fighters generally. Again, Siber is concerned that the fighter win the struggle. The term genoß (comrade) from HT-1459-Thott is similar.
It is interesting that congruent to this passage is a line from FuRb-Syber which seems to combine ideas of “striking” and “roundabout”:
schlache oder stich umb schnele
strike or stab roundabout quickly
Will you raise and strengthen yourself – then you must have the right, yet reason is also good.
Siber then offers some ethical yet utilitarian advice, perhaps with regard to both natural and secular law, to accompany the ruthless combat techniques. He asks will you raise (wiltu hebenn an) and strengthen (ein starcken) yourself – better your lot in life and make your body stronger by physical rigors of fight-training – then you should fight when it is warranted, that you must (müstu) have the right (Recht) to fight, only for heavy reason (vernüfft). I think that Siber means his fencing should be wielded, both practically and ethically, in training salon, for self-defense upon streets or highways, within judicial dueling yard, or upon battlefield.
Perhaps Siber would have agreed with Talhoffer that the same seven verbieten (forbidden) misdeeds were grounds for one man to challenge another man to fight, which are paraphrased as mortt; verräterniß; ketzerÿ; wölher an sinem herrn trulos wirt; sanckniß in striten oder sunßt; valsch; junckfrowen oder frowen benotzogt (murder; treason; heresy; urging disloyalty to one’s lord; betrayal in strife or otherwise; falsehood; and using maidens or ladies). These were things that a worthy master would not have tolerated a student ever to do.
The reality of Siber’s Austro-Germanic world was chaotic indeed with manifold internal & external threats to a person’s life often making for self-defensive need. Yet I think that here also a certain morality is addressed at least briefly, as it was by JLSR’s vorrede regarding the morality needed for chivalry, by poet-knights like Eschenbach, and likewise through the changing ages of German warriorhood into modern times. With that in mind, if we accept that a man’s ethics and craft are one (as that soldier Wittgenstein maintained); and that martial virtues are worthy only when furthering good in the world (as eventually Rommel concluded); we may be aware then of the ethical difference between military science and martial art. Similar ethos, whatever its stark utility, is actually behind the venerable Silver’s advocacy of sword over rapier, when he says to train for slaying foes on the battlefield rather than murdering one’s fellows in the streets, and likewise when JLSR say that his longsword art is meant for furthering one’s honour in kriegen (war). It is simply this question: What is the worthwhile fight?
Ward yourself from great wrath, bring forsetting to such, thereby may you achieve it well when in all your fighting you are nimble.
When Siber tells you to ward (behutt) yourself from great wrath (großem zornn), it could be twofold.
Firstly, Siber tells you to ward yourself from KdF strikes such as “wrath-hew” or “wrath-point” – either could be called “wrather”. Here ward (behutt) means utilising any defense you may – whether wards themselves, forsetting or avoiding.
The wrath-hew is a diagonal long-edge overhew with arms apart, driven from behind the shoulder with all the body fully, while treading either forward or backward, swinging from high right to low left, ideally through foe’s torso. It is typically driven from the ward of “roof” (dwl). Zorn haw is described by JLSR, and zornhauw is shown by JM, also called vatterstreich (father-strike) or streithauw (strife-strike) in KdF.
The wrath-point is a high thrust with arms apart, from your right-side, whereby you drive the point into the upper breast, and end up in much the same stance as thwarter (dwl). It may be driven from roof, barrier or nearby (all dwl), or by “offtaking” (dwl) from binding. HT shows such as zorn ortt, and JM seems to portray a similar scene. It really differs little from the “pouncer” (dwl).
Also, Siber seems to tell you to ward yourself from being filled with great wrath (großem zornn), so that your mind is not unbalanced, so as not to make mistakes, but clear as you fight – like mushin (empty mind) of kenjitsu.
Despite the danger of wrath, it is something you can counter if you bring forsetting (versatzung) to such – which means to put foe’s strike out of the way from hitting you, by your sword and body-movement. It can be thought of as “displacing, parrying, deflecting”, or even “intercepting, moving, setting aside”, or seldomly “blocking”.
Now forsetting (versatzung) is readily understood to mean setting the foe’s ward or strike out of the way, by driving your sword to meet & divert his sword, which is best done dynamically not statically, and while treading, shifting or torquing. So – you put foe’s weapon away with your weapon before his ever reaches you. Furthermore, forsetting can be understood in three ways, relative to the timings of KdF:
Before-time (vor) – you set aside foe’s warding sword with your striking sword.
During-time (indes) – you set aside foe’s striking sword with your striking sword.
After-time (nach) – you set aside foe’s striking sword with your warding sword.
If the fighter forsets the foe’s sword with his sword, then he does so best if he strikes the foe as well in the same movement, if possible, or forthwith following. Incidentally, JLSR seem to maintain that before-time is the ideal way of forsetting with longsword, as per his vier versetzen (four forsettings) (dwl) which attack the foe’s wards before he attacks, although JLSR give ample examples of doing so in during-time and after-time as reality demand. Versetzen or verseczen are fundamental to KdF. Again, JLSR, HT, JM, Dürer, Wallerstein and Wittenwiller all deal with them in their own yet similar ways.
Forsetting by sword works best when the blade-to-blade contact involves the “flat” (flech of KdF – one of its broad unsharpened planes or faces), of at least one of the blades, and not by opposing one blade’s “edge” (schnid – the sharpened bevel – dwl) against the other’s edge. The flat of your blade allows you the advantage of the steel’s flexibility and lets you get rid of foe’s blade by gliding away quickly to strike him. Your sword’s edge remains sharper, its blade lasts longer and healthier, and has far less chance of shattering. It seems shown by HT for longsword, and by such manuals as Goliath. Utilising the flat to forset is shown clearly by HT for falchion, sword & buckler, and cavalry sword, who calls it gewenter hand (wended-hand) or epicher hand (ebbing-hand), whereby the fighter forsets by “ebbing” or curling his sword-hand at the wrist to meet the edge of the foe’s blade with the flat of his own blade – and each time associated with versetzt (forset) by HT.
Furthermore, JLSR make it quite clear that flat-use is the masterly way to forset, for example with crumpler:
Haw krump zu den flechen den maistern, wiltu sy schwechen.
Hew crumpler to the flats of masters – thus you will weaken them.
Thus flat-to-flat, edge-to-flat, or flat-to-edge – but not edge-to-edge – is the best way to go in forsetting. For those who need further convincing, see the third going below.
Lastly, you are reminded that you may achieve well (wol geling) forsetting of wrath and so forth when in all your fighting (vechten) you are nimble (behende). What Siber relates here is that not just strength and might but also dexterity and precision are needed well to fight – indeed, nimbleness of both body and mind – when dealing with wrath of sword or wrath of mind.
Some thoughts about Siber’s vechten: I render it as fighting because that says it best. Although “fencing” is not wrong, it is not as right as “fighting”, which is truer to Siber’s meaning of vechten than the sadly corrupted and blanded meaning of “fencing” today. Fighting means striving to win by savage ruthless combat. In this case, it is however the longsword lets one do so.
This forelore ends.
Thus Siber’s statement of purpose, as it were, now ends.
The first going
This may begin as fighter wards in plough and foe wards in plough.
Speed the weak to the right
Wind through amid the fight
Do the speeder with might
To both sides twice
If however the foe treads back and avoids, then tread forth and do the speeder (schneller), overhewing diagonally in successive bisecting circles through the foe’s body. The speeder is basically round-striking, in large arcs and often multiple times, meant to overwhelm foe with strikes or at least repel him. Such a flurry can launch attack in before-time, and can break binding, but must be done with might (mach) by treading forth (as here) or back, lest it be useless. It should not be done to establish a pattern but to hit the foe in flurry, and hence to both sides twice (Zu beyden sitenn zwiffach) is quite enough, perhaps ended by a skuller.
The speeder is like swinging the blade in a “round”, thus comparable to rownd for English great-sword of Man Who Wol (1450 AD), and probably rundstreich of other KdF. Indeed, the speeder to both sides twice, equaling four strikes in the round, is perhaps the same as “two double-rounds” (ij. doubyl rowndys). The speeder can be done from many angles & either side, over or under, with or without treading, and often amount to either crumpler (dwl) or wrather. Such striking combinations are wise to have in one’s arsenal along with decisive single attacks. JM’s confusing schneller may be such a flurry of strikes to different openings. Speeding is not so much a strike itself as a way of striking. Similar sequences called gefuge (joining) or schlag creutzwyß (crosswise strikes) are advocated by JLSR, specifically for zwerch (thwart) and krump (crumple), to attack each of the vier bloßen (four openings), the pattern finished by an oberen haw (overhew) to foe’s head. In any case, HT-1459-Thott gives us a similar idea to this Siber couplet:
Zu baiden siten uber schiessen
To both sides shoot above
Recalling a previously referred line from FuRb-Syber, one may find alternately it combines ideas of “around” and “speeding”:
schlache oder stich umb schnele
strike or stab, speed around
Overwind his ward strongly
Shove-strike his elbow swiftly
Yet if the foe avoids these and closes and/or your blades bind, then you overwind (verwindt) or “get over” the foe’s ward strongly (Seinß schilt starck) by driving to make a “pouncer” (dwl), yet if the foe tries to put aside that thrust, then you flow and tread forth your left foot betwixt his footing as your left hand releases its grip so you can reach his nearest elbow (bogenn) to shove-strike (stoß schlag) him aside swiftly (geswinde) as you twist to trip him over your leg to throw and thence to strike with your sword.
“Overwinding” seems to be “through-faring” (dwl) – closing & entering – and “getting over” the foe’s ward, thus his sword & arms with your sword & arms, whereupon you strike or grapple. This can involve any winding at the sword, or withdrawing or shifting thereof, which lets you overcome the foe’s defenses. JLSR describe such a sequence with.stos (shove) of foe’s elbow (elebogen) followed more or less by pouncer, and relate such to spring, wage, verkerer and ringet (spring, balance, inverting and wrestling). A similar sequence is implied by HT called hinwegstoszen (shoving away), but differs in that fighter steps behind foe. At times Wittenwiller tells one to stöst (shove) the foe. HT and Wallerstein also deals with werffen (throwing) to put the foe on the ground. Note that in this case, stoß indicates “shoving or pushing” with the hand & arm and not “ramming” with the pommel.
By schilt it seems that Siber means ward. This seems found at the beginning of JLSR when one is warned:
Haw nachent, waß du wilt, kain wechsel kumpt in dein schilt.
Hew as you near, is what you will, so no change comes within your ward.
And as repeated in the later version of Liechtenauer from Codex Speyer:
Hauw nohent was du wilt
Keyn wechsell kümpt dir an din scheltt
Hew as you near is what you will
Thus no change comes at your ward
However, schilt could instead mean specifically “defending sword”; or emphatically the “flanged crux” of JM’s fechtfeder, which he calls schilt or gehültz; or even a looped or lobed “compound-hilt”, which JM calls kreutzstang. Wittenwiller seems to use schiltes in some related sense. Anyway, this use of “shield” to mean “ward” is thus what I think Siber means here in context of longsword, and does give a broader perspective on the techniques and tactics.
See the sixth going for more about overwinding, avoiding, and speeding.
In all work tread roundabout
Shove away the right-elbow
Again, as dealt with previously, be active and moving, in all work tread roundabout (In aller arbeit umb tritt). FuRb-Syber echoes with In aller arbait umb tritt. And in context of this particular going, proper footwork is key to shove (stoß) away the right-elbow (rechtenn bogenn) of foe in such work.
The second going
This may begin as fighter wards in roof and foe wards in roof.
Crumple within your strong
Wind through with marking
The foe overhews, so you tread or leap forth right and crumple (krümb) within your strong (sterk), which is to “crumple-hew” inside the “strong” – the half between cross & middle – of your blade at the weak of his blade, at the flat of either blade or both, in order to forset his blade during-time. Then you wind through (Durch wind) your sword against his to get around the bind while turning the point against him, with marking (merk) – notice, awareness – of next opening for you to thrust, most likely to his chest or belly, as you hop-step. In the text “your strong” is literally dy sterck or “the strong” – hence judgement-call at interpreting, which is reasonable here. This is similar to JLSR advising counter to overhew by:
...windt im mitt dem krumphaw die kurtzen schnyden an sin schwert und stich im zu der brust.
...within the crumple-hew wind the short-edge at his sword and stab him to the breast.
Purely speaking the “crumple-hew” (krümpthauw) or “crumpler” is a diagonal overhew with either edge and arms crossed, to the foe’s right side, whereby you crumple your sword-arms across your centerline to strike and/or forset. The idea is that you drive your sword to reach an oblique attack. JLSR, HT and JM all deal with crumpler, and rather similarly – however, JLSR are ambiguous as to which edge; HT shows use of short-edge; whereas JM advises long-edge but shows short-edge. It seems either edge has its place. Usually this strike comes out of roof (dwl), and flows into a ward unnamed by Siber but called schrankhut (barrier-ward) by JLSR and JM or geschrenckt (set) by HT. The unnamed but oft-happening “barrier-ward” in Siber shall be explored more later.
What Siber seems to advocate for countering foe’s tactic of “erstcoming” is the tactic of “nextraiding” (both dwl in poem). Again, this compares closely to JLSR:
so ainer zu dir schlecht, so far im krump daruff: vnd so haust du daßeekomen
so someone strikes at you, so fare him crumpler thereupon: and so you hew that erstcoming
Wind and overlope
Forweaponed point and knop
Stab him in the face
But if you fail at that and ward now in plough and foe wards in “iron-point” (dwl), and then he hop-steps to stab you low, to the bollix or guts, then you must “avoid” (dwl) his strike by tread back, “gather-step” (draw one foot to the other) back, or “cross-step” (step behind yourself) left as you wind (wind) your sword high to overlope (uberläuff) his attack with your forweaponed point and knop (verwoppen ortt und knouff) – your strike-ready sword – to stab (Stich) him in the face (gesichtt), helped by torquing your body to drive it.
Now, this happens because foe mistakenly thinks that he can low-thrust under your ward by driving only so far as he needs to keep from running into your sword yet still undercut you. However, you must high-thrust – which can indeed outreach him. Thus Siber’s “overloping” means overreaching a low-strike with a high-strike, helped by “avoiding” (dwl). It is to lope your blade over the foe’s blade to attack his nearer opening – you hew or thrust high as he does so low – to counter-strike him during-time. One may think of overloping as “overpassing” or “surpassing”. It is seen in HT as gryffen über (reaching over). JLSR call it uberlauffe and describes it well for longsword:
Wer unden remet uberlauffe den der wirt beschemet...
wann alle ober haw und all ober ansetzen überlangen die undern.
He becomes shamed who paddles below...
because all overhews and overthrusts outreach those underneath.
In actual practice any given high-hew or thrust can drive further than its counterpart low-hew or thrust by the length of one hand-width – which one may confirm himself from a given stance by comparing a thrust at navel-level to one at face-level. This sort of counter-strike is as hazardous as it is hard-to-stop. You may lessen the hazard by avoiding as you overlope. All this assumes fighter and foe are about equal size of body and weaponry. Note the translative choice of archaic knop meaning “pommel” (OE cnop > ME knop = knob), said [`kno:p] or [`kna:p].
Now “avoiding” is the great unspoken presence of KdF fight-books. It is the unnamed yet logical outrider of many other named moves in the fight-books, and is worthy alone. Avoiding is simply “dodging” – the fighter keeps from being stricken by not being there. By turning, twisting or treading he “makes a void” where he was, and hence where the foe’s strike harmlessly goes. However, avoiding can and should set up other moves – letting you flow away from a strike to drive a counter-strike at the same time. Avoiding is found in JLSR longsword as what one may paraphrase as laß nider (netherletting) – the idea being that the fighter lets the foe’s strike go down unhindered to its nullifying nadir, by simply treading or shifting out of harm’s way. JLSR also associate this with “nextraiding” (dwl – full quote there). Such downright implication of avoiding is found throughout KdF sources. Thus you must not be afraid to sense when avoiding should be done, even when Siber or other masters do not come right out and say it.
With the cross work and fight
Should you bethink the misleading knop
Then you make him ill upon his top
Yet if foe treads back and overhews, then you can intercept his sword with yours as you hop-step, gather-step, or stand ground by catching his blade with the cross (crutz) of yours, to work and fight (arbeitt...vichtt), by pushing it up and winding it aside as if to then thrust downwards from above with “pounce-hew” (dwl). Yet instead should you bethink (soltu gedenckenn) that your knop (Deß...knouffß) is misleading (verfurtenn) to the foe, then you free your blade by treading either forth or back and dropping the pommel down and back to let your blade drive a skuller upon his top (haubt = head), instead of foreseen parryable point-attack, and thus make him ill (machstu yn krenckenn).
Siber’s forsetting here seems to be what JLSR call kron (crown), and maybe how one achieves JM’s kronhauw or Wittenwiller’s kron. This is useful but the clever foe can trap or disarm below it to counter. As here the cross may help you at work in “offtaking”, or elsewhere fight by smiting with it and/or pommel in “ramming” or “morte” (both dwl).
I determined the manuscript in error and translated the possessive article from second-person (din) into third-person (seinem/his) – for you would hardly be advised to strike your own head. Here again is the common KdF idea of misleading or “trickery”.
In all work tread roundabout
Thus the daring fellow wins out
Again, do not stay still – in all work tread roundabout, thus the daring fellow wins out (In aller arbeitt umb tritt dz egevertt mach mitt). Try always to tread as you work, or for that matter, when you strike, to fight mightily and cunningly, and thus you are most likely win out. These two lines repeat as refrain throughout.
The third going
In the manuscript this stanza has a scrunched text-body if not a downright mess of syntax. To make syntactical and tactical sense I had to move one line which seemed a scribal misplacement to make a meaningful couplet. Otherwise, it seemed nonsequiter if not nonsensical. Thus corrected, it rhymes and seems sensible kinetic advice (a significant goal). My translative amending was to put the last and orphaned line (In/Within...) and pair it with a previous line (Ab-nimm/Offtake...), which left a final triplet before refrain. Such jumbles of phrasing, even downright misplacement of whole paragraphs are known, for instance, in Wallerstein, and other KdF sources. The amending should thus square the stanza with martial reality.
Thus said, this going may begin as fighter wards in roof and foe wards in roof.
Squint at what comes from roof
Through thwarter goes not crumpler
You squint (schil) at the foe to counter an overhew he makes from roof (tag). What happens is foe overhews by wrather or skuller so you thrust to his upper-right opening as you either hop-step forth left or cross-step left – thus in during-time. This “squint-hew” (schilhauw) or “squinter” is a high-thrust with arms crossed, whereby you end up squinting along the length of your lofted sword, as you drive it by striking with the short-edge and/or point upon your left-side, in a quick snapping manner that also turns the hew into a high stop-thrust/slash at its nadir. FuRb-Syber agrees with Schil (squint) – but not later (dwl).
The roof (tag) is a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold the sword overhead or overshoulder, the blade angled upward and back – hence your sword is above you like the roof of a house.
From roof you may strike with any overhew. Whether one does roof overshoulder or overhead is preferential if not situational. JLSR and JM call it tag and HT calls it tach. The roof is a common ward to KdF and swordsmanship worldwide.
Now the squinter is a contentious one – definitions in KdF are divergent as to what it is exactly, and modern interpretations can be conflicting. Sometimes a KdF master gives barely any description, or he gives one that is confusing if not pointless. Sometimes an interpreter provides a controversial yet workable version, such as with a low-pending blade. It seems that JLSR advise you to tread right, though this is not certain, yet do describe the strike distinctively from others. JM shows a version which seems hardly different from thwarter. My version of squinter is probably no less troublesome, but I think it does allow for a fast strike. It would be similar to HT’s geschrenckt ortt (set-thrust) and interestingly, to his sturtzhow; presumably it resembles his mentioned but unportrayed schilher (squinter); and perhaps to strikes shown by Dürer.
In this sequence, you stop foe’s overhew by beating him to the punch at his right-side, because you go left not right from/in your stance. If you did tread forth right in this sequence, you would no longer be driving squinter, but rather a sort of crumpler which foe could more easily out-time. Also foe does some of the work of his own demise by running into your point as he tries to drive his overhew. Compare to what JLSR state:
Schill in den ober haw behend, blyb daruff wilt du end
Squint into the overhew nimbly, whereupon you would remain until end
However, if you ward in roof and the foe wards in roof and strikes by crumpler (krümpt) instead, then you can stop it from going through by the thwarter (zwirch). The thwarter (zwirch) or thwart-hew (zwirchhauw) is a high “middlehew” or even a high “underhew” (both dwl) with either edge to foe’s upper openings and crossguard aloft. Upon your right-side (as here) it is done by striking with your short-edge into his unfinished crumpler to his head, arms or body – so you may undercut him before he comes round to overcut you as here you tread back left, driven by your swinging arms and turning body. If you strike it upon your left-side, then you must use the long-edge. Criss-crossing quickly from one side to another makes for a fearsome flurry. Note that your crossguard is high to shelter your head from foe’s overhews. JLSR, JM and Dürer all show or describe it. Wittenwiller’s zwaiger may be the same, and arguably HT shows it. Perhaps Wittenwiller presents a similar scenario when he states stechen krum (stab crumpler).
The thwarter tends to break any overhew, as JLSR maintain:
Zwerch benymp was von tag her kümpt – Merck, der zwerhaw bricht alle hew die von oben nyder gehawen werden
Thwarter counters what comes from roof – Mark the thwart-hew breaks all hews that are hewn from above to below
Look into his tactics
Then hew squinter with might
Hence, you must look into foe’s tactics (dar in schauw sin sach) to deem what maneuvering foe’s betrays from roof and thus reckon what best to do from your high-ward – either squinter breaking skuller or wrather; or thwarter breaking crumpler. Here sach may be a pun upon MHD schach (chess).
Note that Siber’s schauw sin sach hardly differs from JLSR’s besich sin sach (behold his tactics); and is again suggestive of open-standing, as the latter associate it with stand freylich (stand freely). You may think of “look into his tactics” as analogous to “taking his measure”. You then hew squinter (den haw schiller) with might (mit mach – like NHD Macht), by putting as much of your body into it by stepping as you may and torquing into the strike. This sequence here has you doing squinter from roof, but under other circumstances you can also do squinter from “nearby” (dwl). Here FuRb-Syber disagrees, stating hawschaittler (hew skuller), which I think was miscopied somehow, for its inconsistency with its own previous Schil. However, skuller could work too.
Offtake rather nimbly
Within the strong of his blade
If you ward in roof and foe overhews from roof then forset his weapon by wrather while either treading forth right or “switching” (to stay in place yet exchange precedence of feet without passing); and then from the resultant hard-binding at the strong of your blade, you offtake rather nimbly (nymß ab gar behende) within the strong of the his blade (in der sterck siner klingenn). Thus in this going you offtake your weapon from binding with foe’s weapon quickly to smite him.
Siber’s offtake (nymß ab) is to make your sword “take off” from the foe’s sword, to launch your own strike from binding by shifting or winding, perhaps by pivoting at the strong and/or cross. It can be thought of also as “offnimming, negating, abating, outcasting”. Even if you fail to hit, offtaking may allow you to carry-through & fall back into an open-stance to regain yourself, mark a new opening, or start a new gambit. It is found in various KdF longsword as abnehmen (offtaking). JLSR’s schnappen (snapping) seems like a variant. Like much of fencing, it may be harder to understand by describing than doing.
There are two ways for offtaking to deal with the bind in this going:
If foe wanes, then offtake at the flat of his blade with your long-edge, to take off quickly from his weapon with your weapon and shift or wind precisely to thrust and/or slash to his upper openings while you either tread again (and thus pounce-hew), stay put, or “side-step” (stepping laterally to a flank).
Yet if foe forsets this and waxes, then offtake by pulling back your blade and in return-arc to overhew him. HT’s zorn ortt may be achieved by such. This is similar to the ab nym (offtake) sequence for zorn haw of JLSR:
Ver dir ober hawet zorn haw ort im dröwet...Wirt er es gewar so nym oben ab am far...Biß störcken wider wennde stich sich er es so nym es nider
Whoever overhews – you wrath-hew and turn point against him...If he becomes aware then take off and fare...Be strong against winding and thrusting and thus you put it down
As far as doing this within the strong of the blade(s), here blade should be regarded as flat, and Siber’s phrase may be regarded validly as “within the flat-strongs of one or both blades”. No fighter should practice as if the edges of his longsword were meant to strike the edges of the foe’s sword – that is what the flats are for. Indeed, edges are meant to strike the foe.
For example, JLSR tell the longswordsman that from binding after thwarter:
...schlag in am schwert mit gekreutzten armen hinder seines schwertß klingen...
...strike in at the sword with crossed-arms and behind his sword-blade...
And as JM tells us:
...fang jhm sein Schwerdt aff deine klingen fleche...
...catch him his sword upon your blade-flat...
Thus arguably “blade” & “flat” may be synonymous when speaking of forsetting in KdF. Again, such interpreting is physics and philology united. Also, to forset in the first place within your strong makes it more likely that you can strike the foe quickly.
Threaten the hew against him
Strongly advance the ward at him
Overcome him with overloping
This is the remaining triplet. Instead, if you would threaten the hew (droe den hauw) from roof against (wider im) the foe in plough or iron-point, thus you strongly advance (starck verdring) the ward (schiltt) at him – so thus by brazen menace of your potent weapon and lure of your open-stance, you coax him to thrust low with hop-step, which you counter by overloping (uberlouff) his attack with an overhew to his extended arms as you withdraw by tread or gather back, and thus overcome (bezwing) him in after-time. This overloping can be done also against the foe who would underhew the fighter. This sequence exemplifies misleading (like the second going). Something like this is seen in HT as gryffen über (reaching over) versus Iszny Portt or yszni Port (iron-gate), but as before-time attack. FuRb-Syber varies with dro den haw wider endt (threaten the hew against him [to] end [it]).
In all work tread roundabout
Thus the daring fellow wins out
The same as dealt with already.
The fourth going
This may begin as fighter wards in ox and foe wards in ox.
Ram through the oxen
Shove with two big steps
Some double meaning here, and some open interpretation. You go to high “half-swording” to ram (stoß) your pommel out of your ox through (durch) foe’s ox and then shove (stoß) him away with blade. Thus you both ram and shove by driving the sword through the oxen (durch den ochßenn), with your arms and your whole body, as your legs take you forth two big steps (zwienn schrittenn groß) to charge over him. You ram your pommel to his body with the first step, and shove him away by blade against his throat with the second step – battering then pushing. Note that your blade runs cover as you move. Thus here stoß means both ram and shove. Thus you attack him before-time. Simply put, “ramming” is battering with a pommel-thrust. HT shows somewhat similar ideas with fürtretten und stossen (foretreading and ramming).
The half-swording (halbschwert of KdF) is a way to hold the sword, whereby you grasp the sword by its blade about halfway amid its length with one hand and by the hilt just behind the crossguard with the other – sort of like a cudgel or staff – hence to lend might and accuracy to striking or forsetting by better leverage. With longsword, half-swording is done often enough in unarmoured fighting and quite often in armoured fighting. Half-swording is found in JLSR as halb schwert, who use it to forset and thrust. It is found in Hundfeld of Codex Speyer as the kurzschwert (shortened-sword), shown by JM, and is seen frequently in HT as gewauppertort or brentschirn (armed-point or firepoker) who uses it to forset and thrust, or to set up “morte” (dwl). Incidentally, when Wallerstein tells one vasse/greif/wach dein schwerzklingen (grasp your sword-blade) for half-swording, it may mean one should grab the blade by “clamping” rather than “wrapping”. I found that I could utilise half-swording during gloved test-cutting to strike forcefully into reasonably resistant targets without injury, whether clamping or wrapping the blade. Despite modern historical-commonplace to the contrary, this sort of thing can be done and was done in the past. Such may have been aided by differential sharpening of the edges. The fighter may want to do half-swording or fencing in general while wearing some sort of leather gloves for armed sparring and so forth.
Wind and counter-wind
Swiftly make the skull-hew
However, if the foe forsets and/or binds, then you must wind and counter-wind (Windt und wider windt) with needed footwork back, forth or around until your sword is free, then to regrasp hilt with both hands and swiftly make the skull-hew (Den scheitteller hauw mach geschwindt). The principle of winding in after-time to renew your attack is hence underscored – thus you create a new before-time. It is the idea of improvising flexible and far-sighted tactics. Perhaps here it is helpful to consider OE windan meaning “flying, waving, circling (in the air)”. Here the counter-wind makes for an overhew; but at other times if your foe winds against you then you counter-wind your point to thrust.
Note in the manuscript that after geschwindt is windt / den on the next line. This orphaned windt seems either needlessly redundant or nonsequiter. I suggest regarding it as if it were crossed-out.
Strike that hitter straight away
In the belly and to the neck
Yet if foe forsets or simply avoids, then you withdraw to half-swording low in plough, coaxing him to tread forth and hit likewise by skuller, which you avoid with tread forth to strike (Schlag) that unfriendly hitter straight away (den treffer bald) with pommel & crossguard in the belly (buch), and then to the neck (nack) or throat by a clipping slash as you tread back or switch – hence after-time countering. And again, this is the idea of “forweaponed point and knop”. This sequence shares some of the same dynamics as earlier in this going.
This paradigm is interesting to explore in training, because there is variety of interpretation possible. For example, if the foe trod back as he struck, then you could strike rather to belly and neck by hewing a double-round, as he would be at your furthest range instead of nearest.
In all work tread roundabout
Thus the daring fellow wins out
As dealt with before.
The fifth going
This may begin as fighter wards in plough or iron-point and foe wards in roof.
Thrust the long-point through
Tug stab again then morte
The foe wrath-hews as he treads forth, so in during-time you thrust the long-point through (durch stich den langenn ortt) him by extending your arms with tread forth left or switch – helped as he more or less thirls himself by his progress. If the foe avoids or forsets your thrust, or even binds, then you tug (zück) your sword back and shift grasp to half-swording as you tread back; wherefrom you stab again (wider stich) to another opening with hop-step forth; and once more you withdraw and shift grasp to swing your sword hilt-first from above, to then morte (denn mortt) foe with pommel and/or crossguard as you tread forth right. FuRb-Syber calls the first attack uniquely durch schtrich (strike-thrust [?]...through).
The long-point (langenn ortt) seems to be a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold the sword with both arms centered and straightened to fully advance the point at foe’s face or throat – hence the blade extended at the length of your reach.
JM shows a similar conflict of long-point versus overhew. Both JLSR and JM call this stance langort, and one may note HT’s lang Zorn ortt (long-wrath-thrust). A scene in JM seems to portray thrusting with or from the long-point. By long-point you may stop-thrust against overhews, or simply force back the foe who gets to close. You create space with it; end in it after a lunging thrust from plough, iron-point or ox; drive out of bad binding (see “roses” dwl); or end in it after you drive skuller. JLSR advise sensibly that long-point relies upon einschiessen (aiming).
Note that Siber’s zück means tugging or rather “yanking, pulling or withdrawing”; and is analogous to “drawing (from sheath)”. JLSR use zucken in the sense of “jerking or twitching”. JM tells of abzug, Wittenwiller abzüch, zuch or zuk to indicate similar moves, and Wallerstein calls it zeuch. The idea is really the same, whether hew or thrust – disengaging quickly so you may return with another attack.
The morte (mortt) is a deadly strike, done as a sort of inverted half-swording, whereby you grip the blade with both hands, at the sweet-spot and middle of the blade, sort of like a poll-axe, so that the hilt is the killing part, to smite with the pommel like a mace and/or the cross like a mattock – and in this way you can also rake & catch with the cross as you swing. Simply put, the morte is smiting with a hilt-strike, whether by crossguard or pommel. Siber’s mortt is akin to mortschlag or mortstreich (murder-strike) in HT; to the tunrschlag or dünderschleg (thunder-stroke) of HT or Lew of Codex Speyer respectively; described by Lignitzer in Danzig Fechtbuch (1452 AD); is seen in Gladiatoria as mortslag, and in Mair and Liberi (1410 AD). Be sure to allow the sword to sweep some distance from your body, not only to reach the foe, but just as importantly, so as not to bury the point in your own ribs, belly or hips. You may want to wear gloves for morte.
Let the blind-hew bounce
So may you go well and flow
As you ward in plough or iron-point and foe wards in roof and overhews, you may choose instead to stay put or switch and forset by raising your blade into crown or “unicorn” (dwl), only to tug your blade from binding back down into plough to then strike with blind-hew (plintt hauw) to the left-side of foe’s head with the short-edge, wherefrom you let (laß) blade drive around to bounce (prellenn) against the right-side of foe’s head.
The blind-hew seems to mean a thrust-slash either side of foe’s head which blind-sides him, or perhaps actually blinds him by gouging his eyes; and the bounce simply a strike by slap of the flat, taking advantage of steel’s flexibility to drive again. Thus if you do this all in smooth and effective combination, so may you go well and flow (So magtu gen wol wellenn) in the fight. Thus “blinder” is a high thrust-slash to side of head or eyes, and “bouncer” a flat-slap.
This is based upon how JM’s controversial blendhauw and prellhauw seem to work. Here the “blinder” lets you counter-attack in during-time or break out of binding. Again, here repeats the idea of tugging sword from binding to return with strike. The blinder features again in the sixth going.
The whole idea of “flowing” is that if you miss with a given strike you should nonetheless be moving such that you may flow into something else, whether tread, strike, forset or otherwise. You are fencing not just out of but into and through the wards, hopefully moving with harmony of body – revisiting the idea of how one drives the aforesaid speeder. To flow is to transition smoothly hence efficiently. It is also another naturalistic idea, reminding one to flow or surge back & forth like water – again a universal shared with kenjitsu. JLSR tells us to wellend (flow) into forsetting. FuRb-Syber varies with fellen (fell), which makes sense too, just conveying another idea.
This going broaches questions about the nature of striking in KdF. As you may have noticed when hauw or stich are used, the former means not always a cleaving strike with the edge, and the former not always a thrusting strike with the point. Such is the nature of much description in fight-books of KdF, and any “ideal” consistency should not be expected every time. Such inconsistency should be accepted for what it is, as such is the nature of fighting.
Hang against thus soon
Hintertread and speed against
At the head and to the bread-box
Thus you make of him a real gawk
If the foe rebuffs all this and wrath-hews, then hang against thus soon (Heng wider also baldt). Heng could mean one of two things, or even both: the first is warding hence forsetting, the other is binding and winding.
The hanging (heng) may be a ward whereby you stand right-leg forward and hold the sword with hilt aloft and left and point down and right, blade advanced and angled diagonally across and before your body to cover – thus the blade hangs across you down from above.
It lets you forset glidingly and flexibly an overhew as you tread forth or back, or hintertread. Hanging as a ward is the ending of pouncer or squinter, or the haven for their failure. It is shown by HT unnamed and by JM named hengen or hangetort (hanging-point), ubiquitous to KdF longsword under various names (hangen, hengenort, verhengen). If so, then you should take JM’s advice:
...empfach damit seinen streich auf deiner Klingen fleche...
...withstand his strike upon your blade-flat...
From hanging you can shift easily into and from ox and “barrier” (dwl).
However, heng here may mean JLSR’s hängen, a method of binding and winding, rather than a ward. If so, then you hang against foe’s sword or “at the sword” (am schwert), to “feel” (fulen) in binding whether “strong or weak” (störcke or schwöch) serves better, and thus do the needed winding to strike as you may to nearest of the four openings. This is done by pending the sword diagonally as needed, to reach the openings – two high and two low – pommel aloft and point down to left or right, or pommel down and point aloft to left or right. It may be said here that binding and winding are done to make way and strike or take way and strike – often depending upon whether foe waxes or wanes.
So whether your hanging is warding & forsetting or binding & winding, you do so as you hintertread (Hinder tritt) – whereby you tread behind the foe with your left-leg – while you speed a hew against the foe, at the back of his head and then tread again as needed to middlehew or stab to his bread-box (buch) hence belly – to strike him high then low with the “old one-two”. Note that “hintertreading” is utilised as counter-step to advance past foe, and thus to gain “balance” or “trip & throw” (wag and wurff of Wallerstein). This is the same as hindertretten of HT for wrestling and hinter trit portrayed by Wallerstein and Dürer for fencing. FuRb-Syber calls it hindterruck (bypassing or surpassing).
In any case, if you have done this well, then you make a real gawk (gauch) – “juggler or clown” – of the foe, for his flashy fencing is no better than that. JM calls such bad fencers gauckler, akin to MHD variant gaugler and NHD gaukler or gauch.
In all work tread roundabout
Thus the daring fellow wins out
As dealt with erstwhile.
The sixth going
This may begin as fighter wards in roof (on left-side) and foe wards in roof.
From roof reach and fare through
With overwinding ward yourself
The foe strikes with skuller so you avoid his strike as you reach (lang) forth above from roof (Vom tag), with pommel high, into half-swording as you fare through (durch var) by tread forth left. Hence by overwinding (verwindenn) foe’s waning arms and sword with your own arms and sword, you ward yourself (dich bewar) in the best of ways and can now belly-stab and/or throat-slash him, or trap and grapple. An identical scene is portrayed by HT as geuallen In das gewauppet ort (flowed into armed-point), and perhaps also by JM.
Siber’s “through-faring” is really just closing and entering, and seems the same as same as einlaufen (inloping) of JLSR and HT. Perhaps Siber’s offen stan (stand open) could be regarded as counterpart to his durch var (fare through).
Thwart through him really soon
Then blind-hew speed anew
Hew the point into his breast
Finally to his loss
Instead, as you ward in roof (this time on right-side) or “nearby” (dwl) and the foe wards in roof, you thwart (zwürch) through (Durch) the foe’s ward before-time or within his overhew during-time with tread forth right, thus really soon (gar baldt). Again, compare to JLSR’s rubric:
Zwerch benimpt, was vom tag dar kümpt
Thwarter counters what comes from roof
If you miss and/or foe avoids this by tread back then blind-hew (plyntt hauw) in return-line to right-side of foe’s head to try to clip or at least repel, but in any case, you carry through to speed anew (wider schnall) by swinging your sword back and around in a horizontal arc, driving it again to that same side as you tread back right, hitting him now with a crumple-hew as you end in stance of nearby. If this fails nonetheless, and foe stands now in roof and would strike with skuller, then you speed again up and around to hew the point (Den ortt hauw) from above into foe’s breast (in sein brust) as you tread forth right – thereby you strike with pouncer to shut him down – thus finally (Noch allem) to his loss (verlüst). So thus the final blow is like HT’s zorn ortt and as HT-1459-Thott flatly states:
zorn ort der brust zu bort
wrath point bores the breast
Note that deim is assumed to be scribal error, and should rather be something like seinem/his – as here the foe, not you, would be at the loss if you just smote him in his chest.
You may have noticed that Siber seems to advise strike-combinations, like virtually all KdF, which are universal to sensible fencing worldwide, notably Musashi, among others.
This sequence is about taking or keeping the before-time – you hit foe with so much that he knows not what to do. This sequence reminds one of similar flurries from English great-sword texts.
In all work tread roundabout
Thus the daring fellow wins out
As dealt with afore.
Finished and so forth...
The six goings are now finished (Finiß), and so forth (usw), with the poem following.
Overhew is for thrusts
Underhew breaks strikes
Middlehew in the width
Now look out for what that means
Rather straightforward stuff here: Siber offers general advice about techniques and tactics in this poem.
When the foe makes thrusts (stich) at you (to pierce), especially beneath, then you may counter in during-time by overhew (Ober haüw), which is any down-driving long-edge hew from above – wrather, crumpler, skuller, and so forth. Here you either overhew to overlope and strike him, or instead, you overhew to forset foe’s blade at his weak-flat as you tread back.
When the foe makes strikes (schlecht) at you (to cut or cleave), typically by overhew or middlehew, then a fitting counter is the underhew (Unter hauw), which is any up-driving hew from below. You may use your underhew here to break (bricht) foe’s strike by treading forth and striking his body. Any long-edge underhew is helped by pushing the sword with your arms & torquing with your whole body; and if short-edge, by throwing the point with your body behind it fully. You must do this in before-time or during-time.
Note that my rendering of schlecht as “strikes” is a judgement-call. Perhaps there is also a pun here on schlecht as “simply” – for as Nietzsche remarks in Genealogy of Morals, both schlecht and schlicht meant “simple, basic, plain” in the centuries before the Thirty Years War (1618-48 AD), bereft of any negative connotation (bad, ill, poor), as admittedly some maintain. In context of varying dialects and differing parts of speech, a brief survey of some KdF reveals: JLSR seem to use schlecht to mean either “strike” or “simple”, schlechtlich to mean “simply”, schlöcht for “strike”, and schlachen or schlagen for “striking”; HT uses schlag or schlecht to mean “strike”; Wallerstein uses slecht or slach for “strike” and slachen for “striking”; Lew uses schlecht or schleg to mean “strike”; and Lignitzer uses slecht, schleg and schlagk for “strike”. In HT’s wrestling schlecht or schlag can mean “punch, slam, sweep”. Wittenwiller uses schlach and schlechten for “strike” and “striking”.
I chose to render Siber’s schlecht as “strikes” because it makes for typical counterpart to “thrusts”: as this matter of words can be put through ordeal of deeds, one can find the simple truth of the efficacy of through-faring & underhewing the foe to “break” or counter his strikes as most settling of doubt. In any event, the countering of stabs and strikes by such basic methods are common enough in KdF.
Now the middlehew (Mittel hauw) is simply to tread and hew horizontally through the middle of the foe with either edge, from right to left or left to right, in the width (weÿtte) of the fight and foe to end it readily. In the broader sense of “wideness, range, expanse, breadth”, Siber tells us here that you should be familiar with how the middlehew allows you to find your weapon’s best striking-range, going across the breadth of your utmost reach. But it can also mean high middlehews too, like the thwarter.
Again, proper treading is needed to make any of these strikes mightily. All KdF have various hewing which are over, under, and middle, which hardly need any justifying here.
And do look out for what that means (Nü lüg waß dz bedüte) – do this yet let not the foe do this to you! A simple yet hard thing to learn – not only to wit but to understand the meaning of the basic lessons, as these are best to know and are known best by doing them through earnest praxis at arms with skilled partners. The translation of lüg as “looking out for” is supported by similar use in southwestern German dialects as “looking out” or “peering out”.
In changing-hew seek his folly
For the forsetting spy
Pounce-hew therein by winding
His bare face you want for finding
The changing-hew (wechsell haüw) or “changing” is simply to drive a given strike at one opening, only to change or shift its course midway to another or opposite opening altogether and thereby you seek his folly (geüche – akin to French gauche = clumsy). Basically a “changer” is any strike which suddenly evolves into another strike. Changing is not so much a strike itself as a way of striking. The changer embodies the tactic of misleading.
Changing can be done in any timing. This can apply to your unhindered strike, or especially if you spy (spee) that the foe makes forsetting (versatzüng) of your strike, then by winding (winde) get over or around his sword or ward and then pounce-hew (Stürtz haüw) the foe. The “pouncer” is a high-thrust with arms apart, your hilt raised high to let you drive a diving-thrust of the point & edges from above. “Pouncing” says it all, for you fall upon the foe like a wild hunting beast, your sword plunging into the prey as you beset him. Here you want (Wiltü) to find any opening between the foe’s sword and body, behind his ward, perhaps bestly to his bare face (antlütz ploß).
Note that here ploß is an adjective meaning “bare”, yet is of course related to the idea of “opening”, wherever the foe is vulnerable. JLSR and JM feature durchwechsel (through-changing), wechsselhow is found in HT and wechsel in Wittenwiller. JLSR have similar strikes to pouncer; both HT and JM features sturzhauw; HT portrays sturtzhow and zorn ortt (wrath-thrust) with similar essence; Wittenwiller’s gassen how (alley-hew or pouring-hew) seems to equate; and Dürer seems to portray pouncer. The pouncer can be done readily enough from ox, roof, hanging or unicorn (dwl).
So from out the skuller
Strike with short-edge there
Invert pounce-hew beneath
There him stab and teach
Hence to change from out the skuller (aüß dem scheittler), as if you were to make this typical long-edge overhew, you instead wind your blade mid-air to strike (Schlag) the foe with the short-edge (kurtz schnid) thwarter, there (Dar) high to the side of foe’s head instead of top. You may do this with help of thumb-press, as the “short-edge” is the one which faces your wrist, as opposed to the oft-used “long-edge”, which faces your knuckles.
You may instead invert pounce-hew (verkere stürtz haüw), by changing sword from downward-thrust above & outside foe’s sword into an upward-thrust beneath (unter) his sword, by scooping the pommel down and point upwards, to stab (s[t]ich) his body and teach (lere) foe a lesson he shall not forget. Congratulations – you just did one of JLSR’s hengen.
Siber’s “inverting” (verkere) is a form of winding whereby a thrust drives by spiraling in its course. JLSR term other similar longsword moves as verker. The inverting here may be driven from ox through plough; or if reversed, from plough through ox or unicorn (dwl). Inverting can apply to other techniques, as when HT shows a reversed half-swording, with body twisted and pommel-first, called staut verkert (twisted-stance). It seems that sich was a scribal error, a misspelling of stich.
In iron-point make wary
Fare up with the point
Bring at times into unicorn
Other gambits are to make wary (nÿm war) in ward of iron-point (ÿssen ort), to bait the foe to overhew at upper openings. Just what Siber meant by the ward of iron-point is uncertain, perhaps idiosyncratic.
The iron-point (ÿssen ort) seems to be a ward whereby you stand right-leg forward and hold the sword forth angled downward with short-edge up and point centered – thus your blade like a ferrous coulter to halt the foe.
assumption here is that Siber’s “iron-point” equates with KdF “iron-gate” or
“fool”. Such is seen in HT called Iszny Portt or yszni Port (iron-gate); described by JLSR and called alber (fool); and shown by JM as alber or olber (fool). JM also
tells of eysenport, which seems like
a melding of his alber and pflug.
One may make the obvious devastating underhew or lunging thrust from
iron-point. Because iron-point is both
deceptive and dangerous, one must really be ready to make wary. HT-1459-Thott speaks of
You may find yourself in iron-point after an overhew or speeder. Though hard to fence from iron-point, the utility of its deception and the might of the underhews, leg-strikes and thrusts which the fighter may make therefrom are often misunderstood. By iron-point you can bait the foe to overhew upper openings which you can counter; or from it you can easily shift into plough, barrier or hanging.
Out of iron-point (or other lower wards like “barrier” or “nearby” – dealt with just below), you fare up (uff far) with the point (mit dem ort) of the sword angled high above as you stand ground or tread forth or back, thus you flow and drive to bring (Bringst) it at times into (auch moll Inß) the ward of unicorn (einhorn).
The unicorn (einhorn) is a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold the sword to highest angled apex with point forward aloft, the hilt high above you and arms crossed, the blade at looming tilt – like the horn of the mythic horse.
You do this to forset or strike, or to bait the foe, as you reckon needful. By unicorn you can offtake to hewing or slashing, wind into pouncer, or simply drop your blade to break a thrust. It is really a high ox, sort of the inverting of iron-point. You drive into it as the apex of fully underhewing, and/or flow into hanging or barrier (dwl) therefrom. JM deals with einhorn and Wittenwiller describes ain horn.
Whether by iron-point or unicorn you can set up foe for some sort of counter, and naturally you can use these either separately or together by changing, to achieve counter-strike. Moving from iron-point into unicorn can break a skuller only then to drive a skuller, which is similar to driving through kron or “crown” of JLSR. Moving from unicorn into iron-point can break a leg-strike only to drive the same at foe. Though each can lure the striking foe to harm, both iron-point and unicorn are tricky and take some cunning, and perhaps should not be held too long. These tend to set traps for the foe to be stricken during-time or after-time.
Lastly, I should like to deal with two wards which, although neither are named nor described by Siber, one nonetheless flows into them practicing his lore. We may call these “barrier” (schrank of KdF) and “nearby” (neben of KdF).
The barrier (schrank of KdF) is a ward whereby you stand right-leg forward and hold the sword between shoulder & waist-height, hands crossed over with hilt above to let the point hang left toward or upon the ground – thus like a rail or post.
Barrier happens in variety of manner: when one crumple-hews; lowers ox, hanging, or unicorn; or misses with blinder. In essence, it is a low hanging ward. There seems little agreement among martialists to the particulars of this stance, other than it is probably a smart idea to treat it as transitional. JLSR calls it schrankhut; JM calls it schranckhut and portrays it prominently despite dismissing it; and HT shows a version as geschrenckt schwechin (set-weak) versus hanging. JLSR associate it with verker (inverting).
The nearby (neben of KdF) is a ward whereby you stand left-leg forward and hold sword with hilt at right-hip with point back and down, the blade trailing backwards – thus near your body.
Nearby happens after driving wrather or speeder; and from it you may mightily underhew (and thus drive into unicorn); drive speeder-thrusts; wrath-hew or speed; drive back & forth to each side with middlehews (dwl) or leg-strikes; or even blind-hew. Be advised that it leaves you quite open but is powerful. JLSR and JM deal with nebenhut and HT certainly shows it, albeit unnamed. Curiously, JM calls the left-side version wechsel (changer).
From barrier or nearby, on either side, one can drive underhews into unicorn on each side. It is also interesting to remark that squinter and pouncer can sort of flow into barrier-wards on each side – thus realising the symmetry of longsword and its strikes and wards. Arguably, squinter and pouncer mirror each other and let the fighter achieve more or less the same sort of strike at differing sides. This is witnessed by how HT, JM and Dürer all seem to portray conflict of squinter versus pouncer – albeit unnamed by each. JM shows what could be a high stop-thrust, pouncer or thwarter, from unicorn against the foe in roof.
Thither wheeling within roses
Tugging meetings makes good sense
Here Siber seems to offer wisdom especially for binding.
First we must deal with one of the more cryptic phrases in KdF – “roses”. Hitherto all explanations for this term have been guesses. My guess is that roses (rosen) is simply a metaphor for “binding & winding”. If ever you walked into a rose-bush, then you got into a tangle of painful thorns and pretty red blooms. Not unlike the confusion of binding, with its dangerous points, grappling arms and red wounds. Pauernfeindt & Egenolph (1529 AD) seem to equate anbinden and rosen quite nonchalantly. Thus if you are caught in nasty binding & winding, then you may want to tread back as thither (Din – misspelled dahin assumed) you make wheeling (redlin) of your point within roses (Im rosen). Wheeling or circling the point to get inside foe’s ward rebuffs the foe or lets you attack by thrusting the longsword strongly at him. Its unpredictable motion lends you decent kinetics for any needed changing in case he counters. You make this movement with the arms aided by the pommel and grip. JLSR speaks of this as redel (wheel). This sort of thing is readily observable amongst kendoka. This tactic is reinforced by related advice in the next line.
By tugging (Zück), thus yanking or pulling your sword from meetings (treffen) with the foe’s sword, hence from binding, quickly and repeatedly you withdraw and engage until a strike succeeds – thus it makes good sense (gen guten sin). If at first you do not hit, then try again, pulling away quickly to hew or thrust to opposite openings until you hit. Also, you can try to make your withdrawing of the blade work for you by slashing.
Although it looks like “tressen” in Codex Speyer, I must determine that the cross-stroke was not made, hence it is really “treffen”. This is echoed by HT-1459-Thott, who states identically:
Zuck die treffen git güte sinn
Additionally, JLSR associate zucken and treffen in a doubtless manner:
Tritt nahend in binden daß zucken git gut fünden zuck trifft er zuck mer
Arbeit efinde das tut we Zuck in allen treffen den maistern wiltu sy effen
Meet close in binding – where tugging goes well – thus tug, he meets that, so tug more
Work finds what to do – who tugs in all meetings – thus you will be like the master
This idea of “meeting” is repeated somewhat in the next lines.
Hew his ward to meet
Wings go above
Waker will stand
If you hew his ward (Schilt hauw) to meet (mit trifft), then you attack the foe in before-time by forsetting with one of JLSR’s vier versetzen, thus breaking one of his wards and striking him. Again, such lets you forset his sword, make an opening, strike him directly, or set up binding and winding. These four forsettings, done in before-time, mean that crumpler counters ox; thwarter counters roof; squinter counters plough; and skuller counters fool.
Here it probably means specifically to forset foe’s ox-ward with crumple-hew as you tread forth right, and from your resultant barrier-ward underhew him with tread back right or tread forth left, and thus your wings go above (Flÿgell o[b]en gist) – your bent arms aloft on either side of your head as you now stand in unicorn-ward. Such use of wings is found in JM as flügel in relation to einhorn. Perhaps Siber casually indicates here that another name for unicorn is “wings”. Note that I determined oren to be in error, thinking oben meaning “above” was better meant. However oren meaning “[to the] ears” makes sense, indicating up to where the wings spread. The essence of the meaning is clear enough here however one interprets it. The likelihood of this gambit as based upon crumpler in reinforced by mention of waker (Wecker), which is simply “crumpler”, and is so called by Andreas – perhaps as it awakens the foe when he least expects it – and thereby it will (will) let you stand (stan) your ground simply and decisively.
Driving and striking will go
Erstcoming and nextraiding beknown
Speeding overlope and the slashes as well
Now to finish the fight-lore: Siber recalls fundamentals such as driving and striking (Triben strichen) of the longsword are to be done as you will go (wil gan) – as you move, tread, pass – by footwork and torque, not by staying still; and indeed these will go together, for you should drive your strikes with your whole body if needed. Driving your striking well is done by treading from balance into balance as you hit with your weapon with full might in needed timing. Some think the best way to achieve this is by moving weaponry first followed by body when driving forth; and moving body first followed by weaponry when driving back – compare the dauntless Silver’s true time & false time. Driving and striking well are the same as flowing well in fight. JLSR speak of gerecht trybenn (rightful driving) of strikes. Wittenwiller advises likewise and succinctly:
...schlach mit dem tritt...
...strike as you step...
The timings of before, during and after are dealt with in this couplet. We may take erstcoming (e komen) at face-value – the tactic of striking the foe before he attacks, thus in before-time. HT calls it eekomen or zulegen (onlaying).
However, nextraiding (noch reissen) takes some translative explaining. Firstly, noch has kinship to “nigh” or “near” (OE neah), as well as with the superlative “next” (OE niehst). Secondly, reissen has kinship to “raiding” or “rushing” (OE ræsan).
Let us explore the history of reissen. Considering context of time and place for Siber’s lore, the Alemannisch word reissen is most likely of same meaning as Preußdeutsch word reysen, which as utilised throughout the German-speaking world of 1491 AD would mean “raiding”. By that time it would have been used with that sense for nearly three centuries, not only as witnessed by the manifold documents and chronicles of the Teutonic Order, yet by most all Germanic ritterschaft as well, who would have known and taken to this meaning if they did not already speak it in their various dialects, since they had been ongoing partners in the frequent crusading forays and campaigns east of Prussia, whether the knighthood was Alemannic or otherwise.
This reysen could also mean “rushing” or “racing”, which are accurate in a looser yet older sense. The cognate OE ræsan is of interest to this meaning, as the 755 AD entry from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us. It relates how King Cynewulf fought Earl Cyneheard, for EC came spoiling to avenge his brother’s death by KC at the door of KC’s mistress – thus KC:
...þa ut ræsde on hine ond hine miclum gewundode...
...thereout rushed upon him and him mightily wounded...
And it is of great note that by the end of the 14th CentAD the Middle English reisen most definitely had the same meaning as reysen of Preußdeutsch as witnessed by the Knight of Canterbury Tales:
Full oft time he hadde the boord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce;
In Lettou had he reised, and in Ruce...
Fully oft-times he had the champion-seat
Mostly in the nation of Prussia;
In Latvia he had raided, and in Russia...
Now, a superlatively literal rendering of noch into “next”, put together with a contextual rendering of reissen into “raiding”, gives the fighter the holistically right tactical idea: nextraiding (noch reissen) – the foe attacks so the fighter counter-attacks into it or avoids then attacks – hence “raids next” – thus striking in during-time or after-time. JLSR state nachraisen superbly for longsword versus both hew and thrust:
Aber ain nachraisen:
Item wann er dir von oben zu hawet laß er dann sein schwert mitt dem haw nider gen zu der erden so rayß im nach mitt ainem haw oben zu dem kopfe ee er mit dem schwertt uff kumpt Oder will er dich stechen so mörk die wil er das schwert zu im zücht zu dem stich so rayß im nach und stich in ee wan er sinen stich vol bringt.
Thus another nextraiding:
When he hews at you from above, then let his sword with the hew go nether to the Earth, so raid him next with one of the hews from above to the head before he comes up with the sword – or if you mark that he would stab, because he tugs the sword to thrust, then raid him next and stab him before he fulfills his thrust.
And of course these tactics of erstcoming (striking before-time) and nextraiding (striking during-time or after-time) should be so natural and customary to you that they are well beknown (der sytt – literally “the custom or habit”). JM tells of nachreisen and Wittenwiller of nach rais.
And lastly some germane techniques, perhaps here together at the end because maybe they were favourites of Siber: Speeding, the overlope and the ever useful slashes (die schnidtt) most definitely should be known as well. Speeding and overloping have been explained – but perhaps some about slashes. Perhaps “the slashes” are equitable to JLSR’s vier...schnitt (four slashes), two over & two under, done in after-time. Slashes are quick effective stiflers of the speeder, and are really something for unarmoured combat.
That is basic lore
To which to turn
The basic lore (gemeÿne lere) has now been told unto you – to it you may turn (kere) in time of need. Every attack has its counter, and every counter has its attack. This is the stück und bruch of HT and all KdF.
It makes wisdom
Which art and knowledge praise
Siber speaks of these virtues in personifying verse, common to the poetic speech of his time & culture. The greater sense that I have gained from Siber is that the wisdom (wÿssen) of the fight means the fighter needs knowledge (kündent) of technique and tactics yet must also be a creative fearless improviser who thus understands it as the art (künst) of fighting. If it all works together rightly, then these all praise (prÿssen) one another. Siber’s fight-lore for longsword ends.
Mertin Siber’s Fight-Lore of 1491 AD – A prose-rendering as training-regimen:
This prose rendering is more or less a severe abridgement of my interpretation, distilled for the swordsman. Thus it requires that one has made himself familiar already with Siber’s techniques & tactics. This training-regimen should lead one to realise the goings, which should likewise lead one to sparring. I thank all those who have helped me in my training, namely Donald Lepping, Geoffrey Gagner, John Clements, James Bower and Brian Hull. Good luck!
Foreword: Master Mertin Siber has made and set this new summary of longsword fencing. It is a veritable teaming of skirmishes fought by many masters of the art of fighting. It is dealt and set into six goings betwixt Fighter and Foe, which are matches or bouts that Siber and/or other masters fought. And in the summary are wards, or dynamic stances, with colourful names such as ox and plough, and strikes like the mighty skull-hew – not presented in isolated manner, as it seems they were by an earlier unnamed unknown book, but rather here together in explanation to help us learn them as united techniques of changing tactics in the fight. So heave oneself at the foreword, the poem, and the six goings – altogether making Siber’s summary of deadly longsword fight-lore.
Whoever will earn honour and/or favoured lady before princes and before lords in fighting with the sword would do well to follow Siber’s fight-lore – and it may even make the Fighter good and holy. The six goings, which are like set-plays for training two swordsmen, have wards which are wieldy & useful – for they teach the Fighter the cunning techniques and tactics of many goodly masters. The lore is based upon how these sundry masters fight all over Europe – whether in Hungary, Bohemia & Italy; or in France, England & Alemania (where it seems Siber lived); or in Russia, Prussia, Greece, Holland, Provence & Swabia.
In the goings the right-handed Fighter treads or steps mostly to the right so he may strike mightily from his wards – so if he treads left to strike then he should remember to mislead Foe, as perhaps he is not so adept from that side. In thrusting the Fighter presses strongly by putting his body into it and/or treading so he may achieve it well. When Fighter sights for openings through a window of space around or between his weaponry, then he does it best when he stands open, and when he sees through it, then he goes to the opening with his sword to strike or stab swiftly. Such offence-as-defence makes the Fighter hard to kill. In the work or infighting of binding, winding, and wrestling, the Fighter treads roundabout – thus the daring fellow wins out. Now some ethical yet practical advice: If the Fighter will raise and strengthen himself by his fighting, then he must have the right to fight, some valid reason to do so. The Fighter must ward himself from great wrath – whether wrath-strike or the unbalanced feeling of wrath within his mind – and he must bring forsetting to such, which he may achieve well when in all his fighting he is nimble of body & mind. This foreword ends.
First Going: Fighter wards in plough and Foe wards in plough. Fighter speeds the weak of his sword quickly to the right as he hop-steps left, to overhew Foe’s right-side, thus he winds through his sword amid the fight to strike before-time or avoid & strike during-time if Foe thrusts. If however Foe treads back and avoids, then Fighter treads forth and does the speeder with might to both sides twice, perhaps ended by skuller. Yet if Foe avoids these and closes and/or blades bind, then Fighter overwinds Foe’s ward strongly by driving to make pouncer, yet if Foe tries to put aside that thrust, then Fighter treads forth betwixt his footing as he releases & reaches Foe’s elbow to shove-strike him aside swiftly as he twists to trip & throw and then strike with sword. In all work Fighter treads roundabout & here he shoves Foe’s right-elbow.
Second Going: Fighter wards in roof and Foe wards in roof. Foe overhews, so Fighter treads or leaps forth and crumples within his own strong to forset Foe’s blade during-time. Then Fighter winds through his sword against Foe’s to get around the bind while turning the point against him, with marking of next opening for thrust as he hop-steps. But if Fighter fails and wards now in plough and Foe wards in iron-point and hop-steps to stab low, then Fighter must avoid by any of various footwork as he winds his sword high to overlope, with forweaponed point and knop, to stab Foe in the face. Yet if Foe treads back and overhews, then Fighter intercepts with the cross of his sword as he steps or stand ground to work and fight, by pushing up and winding aside as if to then thrust downwards from above, but instead should he bethink that his knop is misleading to Foe, then he frees his blade by treading either forth or back and dropping the pommel down and back to let his blade drive a skuller upon Foe’s top instead of foreseen parryable point-attack, and thus makes Foe ill. As this going tells, Fighter stays not still, he tries always to tread as he works or strikes – thus in all work he treads roundabout so the daring fellow wins out.
Third Going: Fighter wards in roof and Foe wards in roof. Fighter squints at Foe to counter overhew he makes from roof, by hop-step forth or cross-step. Yet if Foe strikes by crumpler instead, then Fighter stops it from going through by thwarter. Fighter must thus look into Foe’s tactics to deem what gambit Foe betrays from roof, to reckon whether to strike with squinter or thwarter. Fighter hews squinter with might by hop-step and/or torque. If Fighter wards in roof and Foe overhews from roof then he forsets him by wrather with tread or switch, and then from the resultant hard-binding offtakes rather nimbly within the strong of Foe’s blade. There are two ways to deal with this bind: If Foe wanes then Fighter offtakes and winds to thrust and/or slash upper openings while he treads, stays put, or side-steps. If foe forsets this and waxes, then Fighter offtakes by pulling back his blade to overhew him. Instead, if Fighter threatens the hew from roof against the Foe in plough or iron-point, and thus strongly advances the ward at Foe to coax him to thrust low with hop-step, then Fighter counters by overloping Foe’s attack with overhew to his extended arms as Fighter withdraws by tread or gather back, and thus overcomes him in after-time. Yes, in all work Fighter treads roundabout, thus the daring fellow wins out.
Fourth Going: Fighter wards in ox and Foe wards in ox. Fighter goes to half-swording and rams pommel out of ox through Foe’s ox and shoves him away with blade, driving through the oxen with two big steps to charge over him, battering & pushing before-time. However, if the Foe forsets and/or binds, then Fighter must wind and counter-wind with needed footwork until his sword is free, to regrasp hilt & swiftly make the skull-hew. Yet if Foe forsets or simply avoids, then Fighter withdraws to half-swording low in plough, coaxing Foe to likewise hit by skuller, which Fighter avoids with tread forth to strike that unfriendly hitter straight away with pommel in the belly, and then to the neck by slash as he treads back or switches – hence after-time. Naturally, in all work Fighter treads roundabout, thus the daring fellow wins out.
Fifth Going: Fighter wards in plough or iron-point and Foe wards in roof. The Foe wrath-hews as he treads forth, so in during-time Fighter thrusts the long-point through him with either tread forth or switch. If Foe avoids, forsets or binds, then Fighter tugs sword back and shifts grasp to half-swording as he treads back and stabs again to another opening with hop-step forth; and once more he withdraws and shifts grasp to swing sword hilt-first from above to then morte foe with pommel and/or crossguard as he treads forth. Instead, as Fighter wards in plough or iron-point and Foe wards in roof and overhews, Fighter stays put or switches and forsets by raising blade into crown or unicorn, only to tug blade from binding back down into plough to then strike with blind-hew to one side of Foe’s head, wherefrom he lets it drive to bounce against other side of Foe’s head. If Foe rebuffs all this and wrath-hews, then Fighter hangs against thus soon, which is either to make a quick recovery into hanging, which is either to ward & forset or to bind & wind – but in either case Fighter hintertreads while he speeds sword against Foe to back of head and then treads again to middlehew or stab Foe in bread-box – and thus Fighter makes of Foe a real gawk. And in all work Fighter treads roundabout, thus the daring fellow wins out.
Sixth Going: Fighter wards in left-roof and Foe wards in roof. The Foe strikes with skuller so Fighter avoids & reaches forth above from roof into half-swording as he fares through by tread forth. Hence by overwinding Foe’s waning arms and sword with his own, Fighter wards himself in the best of ways and can now belly-stab and/or throat-slash, or trap & grapple. Instead, as Fighter wards in right-roof or nearby and foe wards in roof, Fighter thwarts through foe’s ward before-time or within his overhew during-time with tread forth, thus really soon. If this fails then Fighter blind-hews right-side of Foe & carries through to speed anew a wrath-hew to that same side as he treads back to nearby. If this fails and Foe stands in roof to strike with skuller, then Fighter speeds again up and around to hew the point into foe’s breast as he treads forth – thereby he strikes with pouncer – thus finally the foe has lost. Finished and so forth...
Poem: This deals with techniques & tactics: Overhew is for countering Foe’s thrusts, especially low ones, in during-time with strike or forset. Underhew simply breaks strikes from above by striking Foe. Middlehew thrown in the width of the fight and the Foe, across one’s range, can end it well for the Fighter. Now look out for what that really means – do it and let it not be done to you! In changing-hew seek Foe’s folly by feigning strike to one opening only to shift sword mid-air to another – in this spirit, Fighter should spy for the forsetting of his strike by the Foe, and change it typically into a pounce-hew, and by winding the blade around Foe’s ward perhaps finds Foe’s face bare to strike. Hence to change from out the skuller, Fighter may wind blade into thwarter and so strike with the short-edge there to side of Foe’s head instead of top. Fighter may invert pounce-hew by changing sword from thrust above Foe’s ward into thrust beneath it, there to stab his body and teach him fatally. Other gambits are to make wary in iron-point, a deceptive and dangerous ward. From iron-point Fighter fares up with the point to bring it at times into the ward of unicorn. From either ward Fighter sets up Foe for some sort of counter, and indeed Fighter can use these luring wards either separately or together by changing, to achieve his counter-strike. If Fighter finds himself tangled in the roses of binding with Foe, then he must tread back as thither he makes wheeling of sword-point to rebuff. Related advice of Fighter tugging his sword from meetings with that of Foe’s makes good sense – thus he quickly pulls from binding to strike again until he hits. Somewhat related to this, if Fighter hews Foe’s ward to meet, then he attacks Foe before-time by forsetting, thus breaking one of his wards and striking him. Again, such lets Fighter forset Foe’s sword, make an opening, strike him directly, or set up binding and winding. Here Fighter probably forsets foe’s ox-ward with crumple-hew as he treads forth right, and from resultant barrier-ward underhews Foe with tread back or forth, and thus his wings go above, bent arms aloft on either side of head as he now stands in unicorn. So to finish Siber’s fight-lore, the Fighter recalls such fundamentals as: Driving and striking will go and go together – which is simply to drive any strike by treading & torquing, by moving the whole body – the same as flowing well in the fight. The tactics of erstcoming (striking before-time) and nextraiding (striking during-time or after-time) should be so natural to Fighter that they are beknown. And lastly techniques of speeding, the overlope, and the slashes should be known as well. That is the basic lore to which one turns in need – every attack has its counter, and every counter has its attack – and that makes wisdom, which the art of fighting and knowledge praise.
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Appendix I: Codex Speyer
The original manuscript resides at and belongs to the Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg.
The URL of its transcript is: http://www.ubs.sbg.ac.at/sosa/webseite/fechtbuch.htm<![if !supportNestedAnchors]><![endif]>
The transcription there is the 2003 copyright of Beatrix Koll and Universität Salzburg.
Here are the contents of that work at the Uni-Salz web-site:
(1r-2v) Martin Siber: Fechtlehre
(5r-7r) Magister Andreas: Fechtanleitungen für Schwert und Messer
(10r-44r) Meister Johann Liechtenauer: Fechtlehre für das lange Schwert
(46r-117r) Hans Lecküchner: Messerfechtlehre
(119r-126v) Meister Ott: Ringkampflehre
(130r-136v) Meister Lew: Fechtlehre zu Fuß
(137r-141r) Meister Martin Hundfeld: Fechtlehre mit dem kurzen Schwert
(143r-146r) Fechtlehre für den Kampf mit der Lanze zu Pferd
(146v-158r) Fechtlehre für den Schwertkampf zu Pferd
Appendix II: Weaponry Utilised by Author
Here are measures, remarks & pictures for the actual weaponry that I utilised for the thesis:
Appendix III: Talhoffer (1459-Thott-Copenhangen)
My transcript of Page 1r from Talhoffer (1459 AD) colour edition. My thanks to Michäel Huber & Bartlomiej Walczak for alerting me to its relevance. The complete facsimile of this HT manuscript is online courtesy of Det Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen Denmark: http://base.kb.dk/pls/hsk_web/hsk_vis.forside?p_hs_loebenr=2&p_navtype=rel&p_lang=eng
(1r) Zorn ort der brust zu bort
Zu baiden siten uber schiessen
Wecker will stan
Triben strichen wil gan
In der rosen im rädlin
Zuck die treffen git güte sinn
Krump how dem mil zu
Im eyn slechten hab nit rü
Im krieg so machstu griffen
Ochß pflug Darhin der nit wyche
Im schrank ort hab am hertz
Im ysen ort Drend
Am biffler tü fälen biß behend
Ekomen nach reissen ist die sitt
Schnellen uber lauffen und den schnit
Das ist ain gemaine lere
Daran dich kere
Das tund die wysen
Die kunst kunden brysen
Wiltu dich kunst fröwe
So lern die topluten höwe
Wer nach gaut slechten höwen
Der mag sich kunst wenig fröwen
Auch so sind vier lager
Die soltu mercken eben
Tü Dar In nit starck vallen
Od er laut Dar über schallen
Wa mä die anbind wil
So wind Die kurtz schnid für
Appendix IV: Syber (1508-FuRb)
My transcript of Pages 24v-25r which have lore by Martein Syber lore from Fecht und Ringerbuch. The original manuscript (E.1939.65.341) resides at Glasgow Museums in Scotland. My access thereto was courtesy of Tobias Capwell. Their resource-center web-site is at: http://www.glasgowmuseums.com/venue/index.cfm?venueid=8
(24v) Hernach geschriben ist ain newe zetl des langen schwerts und
ein auß zug aus der voririgen zetl, und uif ander guetter stuck von
manches maisters handt, die hat zu samen gesezt maister
Martein Syber und ist getailt in segs geng.
Und der ochß und der pflug darin genant mit sambt ettlingen
hewen hat ein ander art und auslegung dar in der voririgten zetl
und geht auch anderst zu.
Hie hebt sich die vorred an der selben newen zetl
Wer ere wil erwerben vor fürsten und vor herren, Im vechten mit
dem schwert, das ist gut und Gereckt, der volg meiner lere, der gesÿcget
ymmermere, die sechs geng habn in huett, die sind gar preislich gutt.
In den wol begriffen ist, vil manches gutten maisters list, Aus
ungern behem aus Italia, Aus franckreich Engelant hollant prabant
und aus swevia, In den soltu treten lenck, der vorforung da pey gedenck,
In stich starck dring, So mag dir wol geling, Sichtüs venster offen stan,
Sÿe hin ein gee darvon, schlache oder stich umb schnele, so magstu hart
felen, indes arbait tritt, das egefert mach mit, wildu symi heben an,
ein starcken muet (!) müstu han recht verrnufft ist auch gutt, vor
grossen Zorn dich behuet, Zu solicher versazung yn da pringe, dar
dürch dir wol mag gelinge, In allen deine vechtn piß behent, die vor
-red hat hie
Schnel die schwech zwm rechten, durch wint im fechtn, den schneller
da mit mach, zu paider seÿtten zwifach, Seins schilt starck verwint
den pogen stoß schlag geschwind, In aller arbait umb tritt den rechten
pogen stos mit. Der ander geng hat sechs stuck
Krumb In die sterck, durch wint da mit merck, wint überlauff,
verwoppen orth und knauff, stich yn zu sein gesicht, des kreutz
arbait damit ficht, des versetzen knauffe soltü gedenken, auff dem
haupt magstu in krenken In aller arbait umb trit, das egefert mach mit.
(25r) Der trit gang hat Syben Stück
Schil was von tag kumbt, durchzwirchgen nit krümbt, darin schaw
sein sach, den hawschaittler (!) mit mach, Nym ab garbehendt, dro
den haw wider endt, den schilt Im starck verdring, mit uberlauff
In bezwing In der sterck seiner klingen in aller arbait umb tritt, das
egefert mach auch mit. Der viert gang hat fünff Stück
Den ochsen durch stoß, mit zweÿen schritten groß, windt und wider
wint, den schaittler haw mach geschwint, windt (!) den treffer pald
schlag, in den pauch und auff den nack, in aller arbait umb tryt
das egefert mach mit. Der fünff gangk hat fünff stuck
Durch schtrich (?) den langen orth, zuck wider stich den mort, den
plinthawen laß prellen, so magstu gen wol fellen, heng wyder
also pald hindterruck wider, schnäll auff den kopf im den pauch,
so magstu aus Im ein rechten gauch In aller arbait umb trit, das egefert mach mit
Das sechs ganck hatt vier stuck
Vom tag lang dürch far, mit verwinten dich bewar, durch zwirch
Ym gar palde, den plint hawe wider schnalle, dein orth haw yn
sein prust, nach allem deinem (!) verlust. In aller. arbait umb tritt,
des (!) egefert mach mit. Finis huig materie
Appendix V: Documental Notes and Translative & Interpretive Reasoning
Siber does not actually tell or show us exactly how to do any of his techniques – warding, striking, or forsetting, nor any of his winding or treading – nor does he explain his tactics. He really does not make much clear – other than he means the “daring fellow” to win the fight. Thus said, I did my best to arrive at a small yet complete method from his summary. Although Siber’s verse is rather laconic and enigmatic, seeming quite open to interpretation, his key terms, comparison to other longsword sources, and my own praxis led me to my final rendering. I found that Siber’s unique fight-lore shared martial validity with the greater Kunst des Fechtens.
Now, the Mittelhochdeutsch (MHD) dialect of Siber is Alemannisch (Alemannic), which was/is found in Switzerland, western Austria, parts of Bavaria, and in Alsace – hence much of the Teutonic Alpenland. I based my MHD transcript upon magnified and careful perusal of a high-density colour facsimile of Siber’s part of Codex Speyer. I made my own transcription so that I could take full responsibility for my assertions. Although comparison of similar texts is quite useful, one need look no further than Biblical studies to find endless if not unsolvable arguments regarding which text is the “real deal”. I would only offer what a respected fight-book scholar advised – that a manuscript ultimately should be studied in its own context. I also thought that generally the techniques should be interpreted with an interconnected unity of purpose. Incidentally, it is hard to say whether any of these share the same handwriting of the same scribe.
Both the Neuhochdeutsch (NHD) and New English (NE) translations leave out MHD scribal redundancies, and leave NHD separated prepositional nouns which are either normally prefixed or unusually suffixed – like the rhyme-friendly joined equivalents in MHD – as such, noted by hyphenating (-). I have tended towards British spellings for the English throughout. In rare cases, I found need to name the unnamed – some few techniques arrived at logically as one moves through the goings – sparingly denominated, generally cross-referenced to other relevant sources, and with notice given. The rather ungrammatical MHD text would not have hindered the fechter under masterly mentorship during the 14th-16th CentAD, for the verses were to remind him of what he must have been taught already in physical training – he would have understood the poetry even if the modernist does not. Other anomalies and/or odd phrasing are trusted to the friendly reader’s realisation of translative judgement and the desire to retain the original literary voice. No theory of literary criticism holds sway here. Unlike academic Modernity, it must be understood that verse & poetry of Medievality had a listening life – it was not just seen & read, it was mostly spoken & heard. If my rendering of the text seems archaic and atavistic, then it is because swordsmanship is inherently so relative to modern times. The whole idea was to reckon what works.
Lastly I state the following: I was vernacular and often literal in my translating, as I am weary of partial and/or modernist versions of sundry other fight-books. Why bother trying to further fight-book knowledge in ones own language if one refuses to go all the way by fully rendering a given source – especially if the key terms are left in the original language? I made mostly literal translation, as it is more accurate yet more forgiving – and certainly more lively. Yet sometimes I made contextual translation where it was best to do so. Also, If my wording runs counter to established vocabulary then perhaps the establishment needs to reconsider its wording. I ask the reader to keep an open mind and give my rendering a chance. My translations treat English and German as the sister-languages that they are. No apology from me thusly. I have made philology my guide to translation and kinesiology my guide to interpretation. Thus I have tried to follow the wisdom of King Alfred:
hwilum word be worde, hwilum adgit of andgiete
sometimes word for word, sometimes sense for sense
Acknowledgements: My thanks to James Bower, Casper Bradak, Tobias Capwell, Mike Cartier, John Clements, Cottonwood Park of Kansas, Stewart Feil, Shawn Frevele, Geoffrey Gagner, Glasgow Museums, the Grimm Brothers, Hollow Earth, Michäel Huber, Brian Hull, Brian Hunt, Beatrix Koll, Donald Lepping, Monika Maziarz, David McGirl, Multnomah County Libraries, Jacob Norwood, Randall Pleasant, Portland Community College, Mike Rasmusson, Deirdre Ryan, Joel Thompson, Bartlomiej Walczak, Windlass – and Mertin Siber.
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About the Author: Jeffrey Hull has been training in European fighting arts the ARMA way for about five years now. Previously he trained in Asian martial arts. He holds a BA in Humanities.
Mittelhochdeutsch transcription, Neuhochdeutsch & New English translations, the interpretation, the imagery, and the whole work are the 2005 copyright of Jeffrey Hull.