Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What exactly were the Fechtschulen?

The fechtschule was often a public spectacle that involved Men trained in the Arts of fencing, with the Longsword, the Dussack, the Rappier, the Dagger the Halberd, the Half Staff and the Long Pike. The longswords, amd rappiers were almost always of the Steel, Blunted edge variety. While the Dussacks and Staffs were of traditional Hardwood, with the exception of Leather Dussacks being made for special bouts.1 From various plates we see the Halberd were of all Hardwood. These men would fight till First Blood was drawn. Under an agreed upon set of rules
fatalities were few and far between. This ultimate goal of striking to the Head, actually
formed the Arts that were taught.
In the early part of the 16th Century, we see mention of the Marxbruder Guild versus the Freyfechter. Not until the mid to late 1570s do we see mantion of the Federfechter vs the Marxbruder. However, not much is needed when it comes to man's desire to compete. And given the Combative nature of fencing, its reasonable to assume the two Guilds met and did fight against one another with some animosity. The fechtschule should not conjure an image of a Sport, but rather a competition where in the loser went away bleeding. It was a known fact that the Blutigkusse, or Bloody kiss, was required to "win" the bout. As we have seen, money was awarded to the Winner, but of greater import is the idea of Honor, much has been written about the earning of Honor, by the deeds accomplished in the Fechtschule. All of the written evidence by the fechters, both Federfechter and Marxbruder, reveals a sense of Knightly Honor and Glory achieved through the study of the Kunst des Fechtens. Realizing of course that Duelling was one of the precursors to the fechtschule. Up until the late 15th century, duelling was a common method of determining Guilt or Innocence. We see in Christoph Roesner's Poem this:

Was still the Customs of German Nobles
When one found at the other a blame
thus it required him soon to fight

And then later Roesner says:

Such that now all of that is allayed
That such fighting is forbidden by
Roman Emperor Majesty
Maximilian the First

This was written in 1589, So that it was then not legal to duel. I believe it was too alluring to the german to not duel. With the memories of Wars, the cultural norm would be to maintain a Martial Art. What better way than to maintain this costly Art, than by mutually agreeing, that certain strikes and Techniques, inherently lethal, would not be permitted? And furthermore that Blood drawn from the head by a fair strike, was considered the winning blow.

It is frequently written into many Poems, a list of techniques that weren't permitted. this list rarely deviated. This is from the Poem below: "And what is also forbidden to do, Pommel and also the point, running in at one and all other unmanly techniques." These unmanly other things usually included, Fingerbreaking, Stabbing to the Groin, or Head, Murder Strikes, seizing the unmentionables, Breaking legs or arms. All indicative of disabling techniques, meant to Harm and Kill. This was not the intention of the Fechtschulen. It was considered a Pastime, a step down from duelling. Yet throughout the written history of the Guilds, we see an inspiration from the Knightly and Chivalric Arts of previous years. Also it is written that in the School there can be no Envy, or animosity. Something that would feed the fires of Anger. And given the lethal nature of a Sword, it is no wonder this part of the Art would be controlled. Again and again it is written, the idea of Fresh and Happy Courage, carefree almost. The Marxbruder recommend this quite often. As do the Federfechter. Swing Freely, freshly, having faith in God's luck and in your Arts would allow for this. yet it is not clearly understood the way it was Practiced. The inherent dangers of recklessness,. seem pretty obvious. But this advice may be an attempt to allay fear. So what was meant by Frische Muth, or Fresh Courage, is lost in modernization. But that it was an inegral part of the Practice is obvious through its many mentions.

Inevitably, there existed competetive rivalries. As opposed to Death Grudges. This is revealed through the opposing Groups' respective Poems. While the Ego has no place in martial Arts, it is apparent that men were embued with a certain sense of Pride. This should not be confused with Boldness and Courage. for that was surely a requirement. It is well documented that those who are Scared easily, should not learn to fence. There is a reason this was repeated in the many fencing Manuals. An inherent audacity is required to fence successfully. And so the fechtschulen could have represented an outlet of sorts, for those predisposed to compete. With an added incentive of earning some Gold, the Honor that men fought for is often written about. Perhaps some men sought only Great Honor from their study of the Kunst des Fechtens. We see all throughout the written reports and Plates of fencing in those days, the mention of the "Krantzlein" or the "Schonen Krantz". This was a Crown or Wreath of Olive Branches and Leaves, the traditional Greek symbol of the Origin of their much beloved Art of War. The Wreath was often hung on a Parade Sword at a Fechtschulen Event.

Wherever the Wreath hung, it may have been an event where No money was earned, but that the Winner would earn a Crown, and with it the utmost of Honor amongst his piers. Ehren fechten translates literally as Honor fencing. PreizFechten is obviously Prize playing for Gold. In the Nuremberg Fechtschulen Rhymes of 1579, found in the sechs fechtschulen by Wassmans., the Prizes awarded are given. Some are clearly these Crowns of Olive branches and Leaves. And whether it was Marxbruder or Federfechter, also telling how many they Bloodied. Some men were motivated by the Financial gain of applying these Arts. The Fechtschulen were often organized by Men of Means. And when the often generous Municipalities of the Town or City was involved, that usually meant the availability of Money. But often it was a Prince or Duke that held the most lavish of affairs, and it was he who would offer up the Prize Money. In addition to bringing his own Men, or lackeys, who seem to have represented the Prince. The fechtschulen was only one of the Spectacles to be seen at these Royal Fests and Celebrations. Primarily we see Shooting festivals, that included Long Bows and Crossbows. This was also popular as we see a Fechtschulen ending with the men going back to the Shooting fest.

The Individual Prize was often Two Gold Tallers, and we see that the Marxbruder had a tradition that required a newly named Master of the Sword, upon completion of his Prob or test, to be struck crosswises on his back, and then he places Two Gold Coins on the Captains' Sword. Thus he was a named Fencer. Plus from the Codex I625:

" 15. It should also be that each one of the incoming Masters gives 2$ in the dues box, that with it, one may receive Kingly Freedoms. "
That a Master had to place Two Coins in the Buro to receive Knightly Majesty, is apparently speaking of his dues. Is it coincidence that the amount of Prize money was the same amount as the Marxbruders dues? This money was shared with the Masters and Captains, as well, the Codex I625 has several pages of Ordnances instructing the Marxbruder captains, on the disposition of the Monies collected from the Spectators.
But that is for a whole other Blog, which will soon be shared here!

The Fechtmeister who had requested permission for a Fechtschule to be held, had to submit in writing, the Rules and Ordnances for said event. In the great Cities, this was common, and some records exist of the Rules and Orndances, as well as the names of the Fencers. For it was mainly they who would request permission to hold an event. And thereby ensure the safety of the townspeople, and the students. There was official Notice posted, especially when the fechtschule included a Probieren or testing. On a Placard was given the Time and Place of this event. In the year 1579 in Nuremberg , there were between the Months; Apr - Oct 1579, many fechtschulen held. These Rhyming Poems were written, by acutal participants. they provide us with great details of the individual bouts.

One of the Earliest writings with details of fechtschulen being held is in 1509 and was called the Great Augsburg Shoot*, wherein, under the auspices of Prince Wilhelm of Bavaria a
shooting match was held with HandBows, and Guns, with over 500 in participation.
Only briefly mentioned in Werlich's Chronicles from Augsburg. Afterwards, the
Fechtschulen was held in addition to other games, like Wrestling, Dancing, and
Stone tossing*. The Fechtschulen were often held in conjunction with a Royal Festival, or
occasion, such as a Wedding, the fechtschulen was one of many events that took
place at these Festivals primarily called Shooting Events, For instance one that took
place in Stuttgart in September 1560 was held by a Prince Christoff of Wurtemberg,
Ulrich Erttell the Britschmeister or Shootfest MC, and Burger from Augsburg
wrote that this was a Herren Schiessen or Gentlemens Shooting Match, the weapon
being the Stachel or stinger, otherwise known as the Crossbow specifically with
Iron Brackets. First Prize was 100 Hungarian Ducats, After the shooting fest, there
came the Fechtschulen, A poem was written that includes the details, by another
Britschmeister named Flexel and his works were found by Wassmans. at the
Heidelberg Library Handwritten doc #325*. A more lavish affair was held again in
Stuttgart, in 1575 this time to celebrate the Wedding of Prince Ludwig to a Princess
Dorothea Ursula from Baden. In a part of his seven Book collection written in
Latin, , the great German Poet Frischlin recounts the 8 days of events that included
the fechtschulen.
The poem contains many verses well written and detailing an incredible knowldege
of the Kunst des Fechtens. Synonymous use of words that can be found throughout the History of the Kunst des Fechtens:
Den Zornhau und auch den Krumphau
Zwerch hau, Schiel hau und die Sheitel hau
Wunder versatztung und Nachreisen
Durchwechsel uberlauff auch heissen
Auch Schneiden, hauen , stich in winden
Abschneiden, hengen und anbinden
also here:
Ein jeder Fechter hat kein gemerkt Auff die vier Bloessen, auff schwech und Sterck
Ten years later the same Prince celebrated his second marriage, this time the Bride
was a Princess from Bavaria. Prince Ludwig again held a massive celebration that
concluded with the Fechtschulen, with the Marxbruder versus the Federfechter, a
Farmer named Volke who couldn't be bested with the longsword took the Prize.
Again the Poet Frischlin writing in Latin commemorates this event with such huge
regaliia. They must have been spectacular events! Many fencers came from near
and far to be a part of this. Many were motivated by monetary gain. Especially
mentioned is Strasbourg, which is relatively close to Stuttgart. And then famous for
its schools of Fence.

On the 26th of August 1573 in Zwickau was held a famous Fechtschulen where in the participants were either Marxbruder or the Princely Fighters of the feather. Landbaron Georg Friederich from Ansbach had 40 fencers there, the Festivities were to Honor the Prince August from Sachsen. A poem was written to commemorate the event, by the Britschmeister Benedict Edelbeck, A fechtmaister: Here is a portion of that.

There are the Princely Lackeys coming
Melchior from Bern he was named
A Freyfechter and thus quite agile
With his Fists very fast and round
And to them was a school permitted
To hold Freely on the ShootingFields
For Princes, Nobles and everyman
In the usual Knightly Weapons
And how men had brought so many here
And what still more there is to hear
Long Staff, Dussack and also Swords
Halberd and Half Staff
Dagger and still what now is going on
A pair of Leather Dussacks were made
These were also brought out to the Place
The same there were also rappiers
A nice Paradesword, I think
Thereupon was such a Beautiful CrownWreath
Who would risk his own skin for it in this Dance
And who there what knowledge and had learned
Whether Freyfechter or a Master of the Sword
Or from the avowed masters
That there they should strike out Gladly
And should fence after Honor's worth
After the contents use of the Long Sword
From Half and also Long Edges
And ????????????????????
All the false techniques that you could want
That in no school never the practice is done
And what is also forbidden to do
Pommel and also the point, running in at one
and all other unmanly techniques
That should one there leave behind
It should be for Princes and also for Nobles
For a correct event to be held
It is for who it is, Great or Small
Then also should there forbidden be
With the staff you shouldn't strike
Also nothing beneath it, causes you to say
It should that all fencers know that
There is In my School no Envy and no Hatred
To carry out how he who knows
One has well another point and end
That to them knowledge was done, Mark what I report
The Prince gave first also Gold
then often one a strike gave
In the Highest Honor, and that is Blood
(excerpt from Wassmans)

The last bit there about not striking above or below the Staff, I think, refers to the fact that the fechtmeister who refereed the bout held a Quarterstaff, and no strikes were permitted above or below this staff, that would mean no giant Powerful strikes to the head could be given, also no striking at the feet. That is written many times into these fechtschulen Poems.

Also from that same Poem is a unique look at the Names and in some cases, the Occupations of many fencers who participated.
this style of Poem, rhymes in the original German version, but is not easily translatable to English, much of the Beauty is Lost.

Follow the Names of the fencers Who one or the other had struck

Melchior the Princely Satellite
Thrust Hans from Eschenbach with the Staff freely
Hans from Eschenbach was still so worthy
that he defeated Lauxen Ernprecht with the Sword
then had Hans from Eschenbach and alot of them
Stabbed Alexander with the Staff
Georg from Leipzig soon stood forth
Defeated with Dussack Bartel Helt
Bartel Helt remained in defeat not long
Defeated Georg from Leipzig with the Staff
Bartel Helt was not very scared
Defeated with the Dussack a Butner
Bartel Helt, what can I say
The Butner with Dussack he did strike
The good old hans from Eisleben
With Dussack gave a good one to the Schwarzferber
Hans from Eisleben was so Round
The Schwarzferber he struck with knowledge????????
Also who came here was Matthes from Vienna
With the Dussack he defeated a Muller
There was also present Caspar Strauch
Defeated Georg from Eger with the Dussack also
Caspar Strauch had still more luck and strength
Defeated Georg from Eger still one more time
Hans from Eisleben with more Dussack
Defeated the Schwarzeferber once again
Hans Beir from Brixen must i say
Had Matt from Leipzig with the Dussack defeated
Peter Mastel I to you now report
Had Conrad Herman with Dussack scolded
Bernhart from Freiburg was so worthy
Defeated the Goldsmith with the Longsword
The schwarzferber had still luck to bear
he struck the Youngblood with the Sword
the Schwarzeferber was first cheerful
With Dussack he defeated Eisleben soundly
Bastel from Munich came a coming
Defeated the Mullner well with the staff
Next to them came a Beutler leading forth
Defeated the candlemaker with the Rappier
The Beutler wished for more still there
Defeated the candlemaker with Dussack soundly
the Beutler he was still so fresh
Defeated with Dussaack the Candlemaker (again)
then Coleman Hacker I to you now report
With Dussack he defeated Balten Eschfeldt
One knows a fechter a small cutter
Defeated herman with Dussack just fine
Niclaus from Tacha gave such a snapping
With the dussck to a Tuchknapper
then Christoph Arndt came here acoming
And defeated the Youngblood with the staff
Peter Muller I should speak now
Stabbed Lentz Schuchknecht with the dagger
Simon Heipach not to be beaten
Defeated the Butner with the Staff
then came also Donat from Goerlitz
Gave Fritz Bauer with Dussack a gash
he continued without any danger

So it would seem that many fechtschulen were held by Princes and their representatives, it is also plausible that some were held by others who were not of the Noble class. Mainly, the poems that were written to commemorate an event were done so by Educated and famous writers and Poets. We see the word Britchmeister or Pritschmeister used in Wassmanns. This would seem to inidcate a Master of Ceremonies, a writer or Chronicler of Events. The Media of those days! Much of which was written in Latin. Also mentioned are Engraved Plates made of certain Events.

The Brotherhood that existed between these men becomes apparent when reading the Rhymes. Several speak of Friends, "Very well known to me" by the Author, who then goes on to reveal the exploits of said friend. It is further plausible that within the many Guilds of Tradesmen and Craftsmen, the ability to be distinguished was made ready by the fechtschulen.

In 1583 another Fechtschulen was held this time in Troppau, (Silesia)*, in the
present day Czechoslovakia. Hans Ulrich Krafft , on his return home, from his
service in the "East", Turkey, where he was jailed in Bankrott for 3 years, published
his memoirs "Reisen und Gefangenschaft" Travels and Captivity. He tells of a
earlier Fechtschulen held in Honor of the Marriage of Prince Hans Friederich of
Liegnitz, to a sister of Prince Ludwig of Wurtemberg, however the event was not as
Lavish an affair as described by the Poet Frischlin's earlier Wedding Celebrations
of Prince Ludwig. The Fechtmeister was a Swabian, from Augsburg, by the name of
Hans Mamhoffer. Whose Brother Elias was known to Hans Krafft, through their
servitude together in Tripoli and in Syria. *
There were more MarxBruder present than Federfechters and they were eager to
Fight! With Trumpeters in the Town Square, all the people had their seats with
windows thrown open to see this spectacle. Through the streets went men with
Armfulls of Swords, Rappiers and Staffs, There were two Royal Spears full of
hanging Dussacks, and what's a Fechtschule without them!!! 1)
All the Parties put their Capes and Swords in a pile. The Fechtmeister was holding
onto a wooden Halberd. The trumpets blared, Just then the Old Prince Georgen zum
Brigg, who is considered a Father of the Fatherland*, marshalled in the event and
together with the Bishops of Preslaw, a pair of Reichs Tallers were offered as the
Prize to every winner, so long as Blood was drawn, the loser should live with his
shoddyness in defeat. The youthful Dussack fencers got out of control at one point
and had to be Halted by the Fechtmeister. So great was their thirst for 2 Gold
Tallers, but yet they brought little blood and so little Gold was awarded to the
Dussack fencers. The Rappiers, Staffs and Longswords however, proved very
bloody, and much Gold was awarded. The best was a Marxbruder , a Schlosser with
his strong Handworks and his Stork from above, he landed strikes on their heads.
He was awarded two gold tallers and was ready to go to the Pub, just then a short,
little Hatmaker, from Nerlingen (Swabia) came at him with Longsword, and gave
the Schlosser, the Spitze or point. the Fechmeister halted the fight instantly and said
" Landsman, whats with this Reckless and wild Start? have you not seen, that he
who is without Art only stabs at the Head. The reply was: Ich Lieg noch nitt.
or "Sorry, I don't lie still". This response could be compared to the earliest known
Handwritten German fechtkunst history and is attributed to Liechtenauers statement
in 1389: Wer do Liegt, der ist tot, wer sich Ruret, der lebt noch. Who stays still is
dead, who moves still lives.* As no blood was drawn, the match continued with the
little Hatmaker, splitting the Marxbruder's Nose in two! For all to see. So, off to the
Pub He went!! Then there came an accidental retalliation, a Marxbruder, while
Staff fighting, put out an eye of a Federfechter! And the sight of how high the clear
, eye fluid went was horrible to behold.*

Winding down of the fechtschulen:
The ending of the Fechtschulen as practiced during the Middle high to late High rennaisance, can be attributed to the late 17th century. The following dates give some indication as to when the Practice of Holding these events was ending. Acutally leading up to the various decisions, were complaints in writing about the Holding of Fechtschulen. And yet interestingly, we see into the mid 1700s certain documents that indicate the Guilds were alive and well.

- Town Council decision to cease all Fechtschulen from the year 1698.

From Augsburg
- Town Council decision to the Abolishment of Fechtschulen in the year 1700.

From Breslau
- Last Town Council Decree concerning the Fechtschulen 6 Dec 1674.

And with this we see the end of a great era. And the beginning of the TurnKunst, which these Arts further evolved into. Interesting still, is to look at a list of Fencing manuals and their dates of re-print. For instance, Joachim Meyer's 1570 works, were re-printed in 1600, 1610 and 1660. Almost one hundred years after initial release. Many other Fencing Masters works' were re-printed one hundred or so years later as well. What does all this mean?
It means that the Deadly duel, and the Battlefield Sword Art, which dominated the Fighting Arts had evolved into this Fechtschule manner of Fencing. Why is that overlooked today? In many Modern reconstructions of these Arts this isnt even acknowledged. And yet is only a stone's throw from Dueling Arts. the fechtschulen takes its form from the evolution of these Arts.
And IMO is more applicable to reconstruction today. How do you simulate a Killing Blow? A lethal running in , crumpling the opponent, bashing them to death with the Pommel. How do you accurately and safely simulate this? I have tried and found this to alter the intent. So much so, that it negates the technique. Much of this must be done at speed, how can that be safely done? But the Fechtschulen lends itself quite well to the re-construction of these Arts. there is no desire to "Kill" the opponent, but merely through technique, to strike him in the Head. With the Proper safety equipment, this is readily facilitated. But unfortunately, is overlooked by just about everyone attempting reconstruction of these Arts today. Perhaps in time, when more History is brought to light, this will be understood by many. I predict a day in the not so distant future, when, this is regularly practiced. The Historically known evolution of these fencing Arts will be repeated. It is inevitable that we come to this. If we are to follow the course of the Original Fencing Arts.

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