Master Ott’s Wrestling

By Sylwester Tyra
English translation Bart Walczak
Translation of original source text Monika Maziarz


The aim of this paper is to describe principles, rules and circumstances of Master Ott’s wrestling techniques. It is both analysis and interpretation. Its foundation will be several treatises as mentioned in the article itself. 


Master Ott the Jude is a teacher, whose teachings appear in several treatises. Hans-Peter Hils points them out in his affiliation chart for master Johannes Liechtenauer’s tradition: 

  • Hans Talhoffer (1443), Ms.Chart.A.558 (HK 20)
  • Peter von Danzig, Cod.44 A 8 (Cod. 1449)(HK 42)
  • Jud Lew, Cod.I.6.40.3 (HK 5)
  • Paulus Kal ,Cgm 1507
  • Hans von Speyer, M.I.29 1491 (HK 43)
  • Paulus Hector Mair, Mscr. Dresd. C 93/94 (HK 15, 34, 51)
  • Jörg Wilhalm, Cgm 3712 (HK 39) 

Analysis will concern the first three works. Peter von Danzig’s treatise was selected as the base source, and the point of reference for all others. Ott’s teachings in von Danzig’s manuscript seem to be the most clear, and the most complete. The same cannot be said about Jud Lew’s manuscript.

Lew is the first who copies only a part of Ott’s teachings. Apart from the obvious missing parts of sentences, the ending seems to be cut off and the treatise moves to the teachings of another master. Thus it cannot be selected as the base source. It has one very big advantage though. The wording is sometimes different than in Peter von Danzig, which gives us another, differing description. This can be helpful in a detailed interpretation of techniques.

Comparison was also made with Ott’s teachings included in Hans Talhoffer’s manuscript from the year 1443. This source is an important supplement to von Danzig. We do not know the affiliation of these two sources, and we treat them as two separate ones including the same teachings.

These three sources were analyzed and compared at the same time. Obviously, each of them differs in grammar, spelling and dialect, but these differences are not the subject of this paper.

1. First principles and assumptions

Hÿe heben sich an die ringen die do gesatz hat maister Ott dem got genädig seÿ der hochgeboren fürsten von Österreich ringer gewesen ist 

In allen ringen süllen sein drew dingk / Das erst ist kunst / Das ander ist schnelligchait / Das dritt ist rechte anlegung der sterck / Darumb soltu mercken daß daß pest ist / Schnellichait die lest nicht zu prüche kumen / Darnach soltu mercken / daß man allen chrancken sol vor ringen / und allen geleichen sol man mit ringen / und allen starcken sol man nach ringen / und in allen vor ringen wart der schnellichait / In allen mit ringen wart der wag / und in allen nach ringen wart der knÿepüg ~ 

“This is the beginning to the wrestling which were collected by master Ott, God have mercy on him, who was a wrestler of the high born princes of Austria.

“In all wrestling there should be three things / the first is the skill / Another is the quickness / The third is a proper application of strength / Thus you should note that the best is / The quickness which does not allow one to use a counter / Next you should note / that with every weaker [person] one should wrestle before / and with every equal one should wrestle with / and with every stronger [person] one should wrestle after / and in all wrestling before works the quickness / In all wrestling with works the scale / and in all wrestling after works the bending of a knee”

At the beginning the master enumerates the traits which the wrestler should possess or acquire. The first is the “skill”, which means skill with the techniques and tricks. Their knowledge allows one to fight effectively. The accumulation process of these devices – learning new techniques – leads every combatant to a higher level of skill. Through learning and observation one is able to understand the flow of combat and obtain its better view.

The next trait is “quickness”, which allows one to react quickly, regain initiative and, in connection with the foresight (developed during learning new techniques and devices, leading to the minimization of the results of being surprised or accidents) makes the wrestler a formidable opponent.

The last direction – “a proper application of strength” – imposes a certain way of thinking. One should wisely use his own reserves of strength. Its proper application should be adequate to the action, aimed at executing an effective movement – an attack or a counterattack. Into this action one should apply only as much strength as it is necessary.

The role of “quickness” is underlined as the most important from the three aforementioned traits. The master adds that the quickness does not allow one’s opponent to make a counter. It is a very sensible message. When the attack reaches its target thanks to its speed, then the opponent remains without any chance to apply a countermeasure.

Next the master explains what actions it is best to take during a confrontation with different opponents. While wrestling with a weaker opponent, one should act “before”. The question arises what exactly the “weaker opponent” is? Is it a person with less physical capabilities (smaller, weaker in terms of strength, slower)? Or maybe it is his technical skill (dexterity, spectrum of techniques)? The former can be observed at the first sight, and the latter can’t. It induces us to claim that the master meant the differences in the build.

While wrestling with an equal, act “with”, which means simultaneously, at the same time. It probably concerns the situation, when the opponents are evenly matched in terms of their build.

Against a stronger opponent act “after”. If we are to understand this message accordingly to the former ones, we should only act against a bigger and stronger opponent “after” his attack.

Next we read, what trait or solution works in a given time situation – “Before”, “With”, “After”. When we act “before”, the quickness works. Without it we won’t succeed “before”.

When we work “with”, then we should follow the “Scale”. The Scale is a position characterized by the greatest balance of the body and the possibility to manipulate it. Unfortunately the term “der Wag” seems not to be explained fully. It is necessary to expand on the idea of “der Wag”, starting from the static position (stance), and finishing at the action of remaining in balance by answering to the opponent’s actions with your own.

In the “after” we should use the bending of the knee. Unfortunately it is not clear what exactly the matter means. There are two possibilities: 1. It is the place under the knee which should be used during the throws. When one wants to fell a stronger opponent, it is necessary to put him off-balance. It can be done by lifting one of his legs by the bending under the knee. This hint imposes a tactic which one should follow during a fight. It allows to use only such solutions which will end the action exactly in such a way. 2. The bending of the knee as our reaction against the opponent’s actions. If it comes to the situation where our opponent grabs us and wants to lift us from the ground (to make a throw or a lift), one of the solutions is to lower one’s gravity center exactly by bending the knees and lowering one’s stance, and at the same time making a counter.

Doubtlessly these hints are very interesting information which may allow us to list and sketch the basic flow of the Master Ott’s wrestling teaching.

2. Circumstances accompanying the techniques – the distance, and different kinds of wrestling.

The distance

To differentiate the kinds of wrestling and grabs one should at first focus on the distance. There are 4 basic distances:

  1. No contact
  2. Arm contact
  3. The clinch
  4. Ground fighting

Ad 1. No contact – it is not mentioned explicitly in Ott’s teachings, but it is obvious that before the contact with an opponent, there is a time when there is no contact at all. At this distance the opponents measure one another, plan, try to “feel” each other, examine and set the moment to attack. It is the distance where no party is endangered yet.

Ad 2. Arm contact – at this distance it comes to the first contact between the opponents. It is strictly connected to one's arm's length and reach. The combatants can grab each other's hands and move with the grabs deeper but only at the arm's distance, not allowing the opponent to reach their bodies. At this distance the techniques take form of wrist, elbow and shoulder leverages and the holds called the “keys”. These actions only concern arms. This kind of distance can also be the beginning of the throw.

Ad 3. The clinch – The Clinch takes place when one or both combatants grab around their opponents, and their bodies may touch each other. It is also possible for one opponent to hold another at the arm's length but not by the arms (i.e. by torso or legs). The aim is simple – to grab the opponent by his body! It is the distance where most throws, strangling and strikes to the vital points like eyes, throat and lymph glands are made at.

Ad 4. Ground fighting – it begins when one of the opponents lies on the ground, and another makes a technique on him or finishes a throw (pushes down, applies the leverage or strangling). Most often however this distance shows us a situation where both wrestlers “tumble” on the ground.

wrestling-diagram.jpg (44140 bytes)

In his teaching, Ott enumerates two different kinds of wrestling:

-          by the arms
-          by the body 

“Wrestling by the arms” is when one moves from the no contact distance to the arms contact and grabs his opponents by the arms. Ott gives us a hint for this kind of wrestling. He says to grasp with one hand the inside of the opponent’s arm, and with the other the outside of another arm. The opponent should counter it with the likewise grip if there is such a possibility.

Daß ist ein lere

Wenn dw mit einem ringen wild auß den armen / So gedenck albeg daß du in fast mit deiner lincken hant in der mauß seinß rechten armß / und mit der rechten hant in fas auß wendig seinß lincken armß

“This is a lesson

When you want to wrestle with somebody by the arms, then always remember that you grab him with the left hand by the muscle of his right arm, and with the right hand grasp the inside of his left arm.”

Different ways of grabbing are also mentioned throughout the text: one's arms are inside or outside of both his opponent's arms, which means that they are also possible, but maybe not preferable.

Another kind of wrestling is “wrestling by the body”, more complicated structurally than the former. Its crux is the clinch. In the master's teachings we encounter the grab above the arms which is made by encircling the opponent so that his arms are inside ours. Another way is to put our arms below his, and making a ring encircling his torso. There is also a mention of the crossed grab, where both arms are put in such a way that one is below the opponent’s shoulder, and another above it. In the wrestling by the body it also sometimes happens that the opponent grabs us with both hands from the front by the torso.

Apart from the ways to grab your opponent there exists also the rule of “Schrencken” (blocking the way), which also performs well in this kind of wrestling. This rule conveys the idea of blocking your opponent’s legs or body with your own. This creates the support point and allows to put your opponent off-balance. The “Schrencken” rule is crux in most of the throws.

3. Final remarks

The abovementioned information is the result of the beginning of our work on Ott’s wrestling. Yet even these introductory directions are enough to imagine this kind of struggle. Wrestling revolves around the actions which aim to put an opponent off-balance, which the techniques are for. It is important however to master the basics first before attempting to try the more advanced techniques.

Even from these brief hints it is possible to create many exercises and set-sparrings, very important at the beginner levels of learning. For example it is an interesting exercise to stand in a given hold and to start working towards putting your opponent off-balance by pushing, pulling or setting aside. This makes the student more aware of where his feet are, what steps he takes to remain in-balance, and to ensure that he can execute his own effective action. He sees how hard it is to work with his opponent's body and how easy to lose one's own balance.

© 2004 Sylwester Tyra


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