The ‘German long sword’ systems are also referred to in HEMA as the ‘Liechtenauer tradition’ for Johannes Liechtenauer, a German fencing master who lived sometime in the 14th or 15th century. Liechtenauer is attributed as having created what is referred to as the ‘Recital’ (Zettel), a series of cryptic instructions for how to use a variety of weapons appearing in the form of a long poem. The poem is designed to prevent those who do not understand the true meaning of its words to be able to understand the instructions, and also serves as a kind of mnemonic device intended to assist a fencer in remembering the plays of the tradition.
The Liechtenauer tradition is often referred to by modern day HEMA athletes as ‘KdF’ for Kunst des Fechtens( German: The Art of Fencing) and is thought to be associated with the Brotherhood of Saint Mark (Marxbrüder), a fencing guild that enjoyed a state-sanctioned near total monopoly on the teaching of fencing in the Holy Roman Empire from 1487 until 1570.
Many of the earliest mentions of the Recital that survive are not illustrated and difficult to understand. It was not until the re-discovery of illustrated Fechtbücher (“Fight books”) describing this tradition that modern day HEMAist began to study it in earnest. At present it is the Liechtenauer tradition that is the most commonly studied long sword techniques in the HEMA community, primarily due to a perception that certain Liechtenauer sources are easier to understand and there are more sources for it than exist for Italian. The most popular wiki site for archiving historical information pertaining to HEMA is Wiktenauer, which is named after the Liechtenauer tradition and gives an idea of its popularity.
(Note: While the Liechtenauer tradition was not the only German long sword tradition in its day and there do exist other manuscripts such as the Codex Wallerstein (Cod. I.6.4º.2) which showcase a different tradition, when a modern day HEMA fencer talks about “German long sword” they are nearly always referring to the Liechtenauer tradition. So we’ll talk about other German traditions later in this page.
Please further note there are many HEMA treatises involved in the Liechtenauer tradition that all generally cover the same stances, guards, techniques and so on. In order to stay focused we’re only discussing a few of them to give a general timeline of this tradition and the material available for study.)
As there are several masters who produced useful source material in this tradition we will talk about each one in as best of chronological order as can be known today.
As stated in the first paragraph, the first sources we have are the Recitals attributed to Johannes Liechtenauer. While no copies of any treatise attributed to him are currently known to exist, the currently believed earliest mention of his Recital is contained in The Pol Hausbuch (MS 3227a) which includes some details about his life. While the precise date for these entries in the commonbook are not known it is commonly believed to have been made sometime between 1389 and 1494, though this isn’t a precisely correct estimation either.
We feel it is useful to discuss why the wide date range on the Pol Hausbuch creation as there is a lot of confusion among many HEMA practitioners surrounding the date. It is actually possible this source may not be the earliest mention of Johannes Liechtenauer. The source was even once erroneously credited by some HEMA practitioners as having been written by Hans Döbringer, sometimes called ‘Hanko Döbringer’s Fechtbuch by these fencers, who also claimed it was the earliest long sword treatise.
The issue with that claim is there is no proof that the treatises were added to the book in that precise year and all other surviving mentions of the Recital appearing in other books imply a much later date somewhere around the mid 15th century. There isn’t even any proof the astrological calendar was added in 1389 and may have just been copied from another source. Given the other entries in the commonbook this is likely to be the case. The only date known for sure is that it entered the ownership of Nicolaus Pol some time after 1494, who likely purchased it for its alchemy and astrological information given his profession.
This leads us to the next topic that many people are confused about. 1494 is not the date he acquired the book but rather the date which Nicolaus Pol received his medical degree. He apparently decided to immortalize himself in history by marking every book he owned (estimated at 1,394 volumes) with Nicolaus Pol, doctor, 1494. This means the precise date that Nicolaus Pol obtained the Pol Hausbuch is unknowable; we have no information on when he bought it. This means the Pol Hausbuch could have been created any time up until Pol’s death in 1532!
Another source attributed to be an early reference to Liechtenauer is Codex 3227a (also known as Hs. 3227a, GNM 3227a, Nürnberger Handschrift GNM 3227a). This is another commonbook once owned by Pol and marked in a similar way. As with the Pol Hausbuch there are people who use an included calendar from 1390–1495 as evidence for it having been written sometime in 1390 but again, there is no proof of this either.
The first illustrated Fechtbücher in Johannes Liechtenauer’s tradition (that we know of) was produced by Hans Talhoffer some time in 1448. We know Talhoffer was alive in 1433 because secondary sources say he represented Johann II von Reisberg, archbishop of Salzburg, before the Vehmic court. This illustrated book is known as the MS Chart.A.558 and it is thought to have been his personal journal, but may have also served as a visual aid for his students. Some time between 1446 and 1459 Talhoffer created what is referred to as the Königsegg Treatise (MS XIX.17-3 ), believed to be created for Luithold von Königsegg with more detailed instruction. In 1459 Talhoffer created a third known work, which is known as MS Thott.290.2º and appears to be another personal book. Talhoffer’s final work is known as the Württemberg Treatise (Codex Icon 394a), produced for Eberhardt I von Württemberg as explained on its dedication page. This last manual provides the most amount of unarmed long sword plays of any of the manuscripts Talhoffer produced.
Some time before 1452 (the precise date is currently unknown) some manuscripts were produced in the Liechtenauer tradition which at present have uncertain authorship. One of these is a gloss that was written by an anonymous writer who past scholars once mistakenly attributed to be Peter von Danzig and is now referred to as ‘Pseudo-Peter von Danzig‘. The gloss was popular and influenced several later manuscripts in the Liechtenauer tradition. One of the copies of this gloss is sometimes referred to as the Jud Lew gloss by some HEMA practitioners for additional information that accompanied it which is attributed to Jud Lew, which is believed to itself be a pseudonym for a fencing master in the Liechtenauer tradition.
Paulus Kal produced several manuscripts believed to be written sometime between 1460 and 1514 which are illustrations of Liechtenauer’s Recital and he included among the many weapon forms plays for the long sword. It is here that we gain the list of the Fellowship of Liechtenauer (Geselschaft Liechtenauers), a group of seventeen masters who are attributed by Paulus Kal as students of Liechtenauer’s tradition. It is speculated by those who believe the Liechtenauer tradition is older than the 15th century that the list is of ‘dead masters’ but there is no evidence for this belief, and it may just be a list of contemporary teachers or even a list of men who were part of the same military company.
We know few pieces of Paulus Kal’s life but what is known is that in 1449 he served Louis IV of the House of Wittelsbach, Count Palatine of the Rhine. In 1448, while in the count’s service he participated in the defense Nuremberg, commanding a unit of wheel cannons below the gates. The Nuremberg Council notes from 17 March 1449 mention that he had broken the peace of the city at that time by drawing his weapons.
In 1491 the Codex Speyer (MS M.I.29) was compiled by a scribe named Hans von Speyer. This manuscript is the first to include the works of Martin Syber and Johannes Lecküchner with the Liechtenauer tradition, and it includes the oldest known version of what is known as Syber’s Recital, a version of Liechtenauer’s Recital with unique terminology.
Peter Faulkner was a member of the Brotherhood of Saint Mark (Marxbrüder) guild of fencers that operated in Frankfurt-am-Main. In 1495 he produced the Kunste Zu Ritterlicher Were (MS KK5012) that contains an illustrated version of the long sword Recital. He had also produced a longer version which was known as the Falkner Turnierbuch that was held in the Strasbourg City Archive, and likely destroyed (along with the rest of the Archive) by Prussian bombardment during the Siege of Strasbourg in 1870
Sigmund ain Ringeck was also a fencing master of the Liechtenauer tradition, and in the past was erroneously credited as the author of Johan Liechtnawers Fechtbuch geschriebenn (“Johannes Liechtenauer’s Written Fencing Book”; MS Dresden C 487). The book is actually a compilation of treatises and Ringeck’s work is included among them.
The Glasgow Fechtbuch (MS E.1939.65.341) was produced in 1508 and it also is a compilation of several treatises by a number of fencing masters who were part of the Liechtenauer tradition. The book is noteworthy in that it contains the only known version of Sigmund ain Ringeck work that includes his original illustrations.
Joachim Meyer is the final author of the Liechtenauer tradition we must talk about, and for a modern HEMA longsword student perhaps the most important. Meyer produced three treatises during his lifetime; the Joachim Meyers Fäktbok (MS A.4º.2) sometime in the 1560s; the Fechtbuch zu Ross und zu Fuss (“Manual on Fencing, on Horse and on Foot”; MS Varia 82) and the Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens (“A Thorough Description of the Art of Fencing”). The third treatise was published and printed using woodblocks in 1570 and unlike the previous two manuscripts is a comprehensive treatise where he claimed to teach the entire art of fencing using several weapons, including the long sword. It notably uses terminology that only appears in Syber’s Recital, implying it possessed some degree of endurability that isn’t as obvious when looking at previous Liechtenauer tradition source manuscripts.
Meyer’s work does not use cryptic poetry and is written in plain language. For this reason, of all works in the Liechtenauer tradition it is Meyer’s manuals which are most popularly studied among HEMA practitioners today although he himself was not strictly a student of that tradition. Meyer studied a variety of weapon styles, including that of the Bolognese tradition and he added some of his own original techniques to the system which he taught. As a result of this eclecticism in Meyer’s treatise there are some individuals within HEMA who don’t consider him to be part of the Liechtenauer tradition but he is certainly part of what is considered to be ‘German longsword’.
Overall, Meyer’s material on the long sword is arguably the most popularly studied within HEMA.
The Illustrated Meyer: A Visual Reference for the 1570 Treatise of Joachim Meyer
The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570
The Art of Sword Combat: A 1568 German Treatise on Swordmanship
You can learn more biographical information about these Liechtenauer tradition masters by reading their related Wiki pages,