Insights from Historical Artwork

A fascinating glimpse at a mid 18th century German Fechtschule keeping alive its martial traditions dating back over 500 years. This period etching of "An Assault at Arms held at a tennis court, 1720" is full of many intriguing and revealing things. Note that despite the popularity at the time of the small-sword as a gentleman’s dueling and self-defence weapon, older methods continued to be taught and practiced. Though no longer militarily relevant, the great-swords, dusacks, and halberds are seen used with vigor.

At the lower center, two combatants using long-swords engage in hanging-guard postures. Behind them in the center, two fencers face off with safe-tip small swords or "foiles". Note also the use of what appear to be padded sparring gloves with fingers (much like modern "Kempo gloves"). On the far left a man replaces his sword. Behind him there appears to be a locker room. On the table there are covered mugs as well as heavy gloves. To the right of the table three well-dressed military gentleman (one armed with a large saber like blade) stand and observe. One man sits on a bench rubbing his head. Three other men in different locations hold staffs and appear to be acting as referees or safety monitors. They do not observe all combatants. Three other men stand by elsewhere with what appear to be lanterns. In the very far back of the room two men engage with halberds, in front of them two practice with short staffs. In the middle of the illustration, there are two men using either small-swords or rapiers with daggers. Next to them are two students using the classic German messer or dusack.

In the close-up, the long-swords do not show much discernible particulars and their cross guards do not appear to be separate pieces. This seems to suggest they are in fact wooden swords and not metal blunts (which might also be supported by the fact that despite the etchings many details, no one is shown cleaning or polishing them as would be expected for steel blades). Interestingly, two drummers can be seen which would denote that a set rhythm was used in practice. This is also seen in other depictions of earlier Fechtschulen. Such musicians were used to practiced ordered drills as well as accompany troops into battle. The great hall shows observation balconies which appear to separated by social class. Escorted children are also clearly permitted in the hall. Overall, from the size of the crowd, the noticeably relaxed attitude of the students and assorted characters, there is a distinct feel to the mood and ambiance of this martial arts school (quite distinct in contrast from what is generally associated with Asian martial arts classes). The size of the building, the variety of activities and weapons in use, would all indicate that this subject was no small affair nor taken lightly by its practitioners.

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