Hanko Döbringer's Fechtbuch from 1389

Presented here is a transcription and modern English translation of the earliest extant manuscript dealing with the longsword yet discovered; Cod.HS.3227a, so named, "Hanko Döbringer's Fechtbuch," from 1389. Written in Germany it is the earliest known exposition of the "Lichtenauer tradition," and a very important document for the field of historical fencing studies.

The translation has been done using B.Henning's, Kleines Mittenhochdeutsches Wörterbuch, working from a microfiche of the original document that I obtained from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nurnberg, and relying on several dictionaries from the close of the 19th century. The transcription I believe is satisfactory, but I have elected to leave out the crossed out scribes mistakes in the manuscript since they do not have any importance for the technical information in the text. Thus the transcription is not strictly complete; I may add these items in the next update. A bibliographical analysis is sadly beyond my competence without accessing the original document at the owning library, so this must be left outside of this work for now.

This translation and transcription is not intended to be the final word on the work, but to be more of a usable draft for use of students who may have greater or lesser difficulty in working with the original text. As such this is not a literal translation, but a modernized text interpreted by myself. I have tried to make sure that the instructions and meaning of the original have not been changed, only made more readable. I have also chosen to use “You” in the text as much as possible in order to make it clear who is doing what. At a later date I will add illustrations of some techniques and concepts as well as a list of technical terminology with some references.

This work is intended for public use, so feel free to print it, reference it, or quote it, but please do not use it for any commercial purposes. As always I am grateful for suggestions on how to improve the translation and transcription in the future.

I would like to thank Anders Linnard, Jeffrey Hull, Stewart Feil and John Clements for their help in commenting and correcting this translation and transcription. Aside from these gentlemen I have had the help and suggestions from many others over the web. None mentioned and none forgotten. Thanks to Peter Svärd for creating a PDF and producing the layout. All faults, mistakes and erroneous ideas are my own.

David Lindholm
Malmo, Sweden
April 2005

Hanko Döbringer's Fechtbuch
(222K PDF)


Translation Update: Mosse a Mistake?

In my translation and transcription of Döbringer's Fechtbuch I translated Mosse as reach with the meaning of being able to reach the opponent. To do that you have to have the proper distance, that was my intention. But after reading and thinking a bit more I would like to offer a different understanding, namely that Mosse is the same as measure, Misura, etc., meaning the distance between you and the partner. The term in Japanese martial arts is maai. This is the effective combat distance and I believe now the same translated idea works better with Döbringer's text. Capo Ferro uses the term Misura in that sense and so do other of the Italian masters such as Fiore dei Liberi. The term Mosse in its various forms does seem to me to reflect the concept of the place where you must be in order to offend or defend in a winning manner. That is also why Döbringer says that you should take rather two smaller steps than one large since the latter makes it more difficult for you to place yourself at the correct distance.

Döbringer says that all art has "Lange und masse" and I would now take that to mean that all arts, at least of the sword, have length in the sense of reach by a weapon and placement in the fight that is Masse. So we must place ourselves at the correct place in order for us to be able to use the length that our body and weapon gives us. Take away one of these two pillars and the art crumbles to nothing. It is a very clever statement by Döbringer, since in it he manages to convey the complete aspect that these two cornerstones are that upon which everything else rests, and we can also take it to mean at least by implication that this differs from person to person. That is why he does not give advice in feet or angles; we are all of different stature and prefer different weapons. What he does say is that you cannot ignore the fact that the distance and length (or reach of your weapon) matters. So if he intended distance how does he measure it? I think that he does so from his sword point to the body of the opponent. The reason is simply that he does not in the manuscript refer to the idea of thinking in terms of body to body. But he does several times indicate that the point is important. For example that the point should go straight to the opponent as if a string was attached to it, that the point should be no more then 40-50 cm from the opponent when weapons are crossed. It is natural to measure from the point that is likely to reach the opponent first and that will threaten him first. I would here also like to point out that this is also how Capo Ferro measures the Misura, from the point to the opponent's body.

And this makes good sense, especially when we consider the Langort, Hengen, Winden etc, the Longsword seems to have been a weapon that utilized a great amount of thrusting and threatening with the point. Naturally the body matters as well; I do not think that Döbringer was so narrow-minded that he did not consider the fact that we may place the sword in such a way that the point is very far away and thus of little use in determining the Mosse. But if we take this idea and the fact that he says that we should close with the opponent from the side and not head on, and those two smaller steps are better then one large one, well then we begin to discern a pattern. This also makes sense when Döbringer says that we should close with the opponent with an idea or intention ready in our minds about what to do, we will then be able to determine what the correct "Lange und masse" would be in that situation. Remember that Döbringer advises us to use as few techniques or attacks as possible; you are not a better swordsman just because you use flashy techniques. In his mind you are a good swordsman if you win.

David Lindholm


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