Monday, July 13, 2009
The Masters on the Art
I can't believe that I didn't remember this! It's been a few years since I last looked at Döbringer's treatise, and with my admittedly rather poor understanding of archaic (or modern) German, it was a quite a task the first time. However, I recently came upon this from the dedicated people of the Schola Saint George. Right off the bat, Döbringer reveals to us in his introduction:
Here begins Master Liechtenauer’s Art of fighting with the sword on foot and on horseback, in and out of armour.
First, know that there is only one Art of the sword, and this Art may have been developed hundreds of years ago. This Art is the foundation, the core of any fighting art. Master Liechtenauer understood it and practiced it in its complete depth. It is not the case that he invented the Art—as mentioned before—but he has travelled to many lands, seeking to experience and to learn the real and true Art.
This firmly establishes that, 1: the Art was ecumenical, and 2: it developed organically over a long period. Thus, artificial distinctions will not serve us. This sums up our position on this blog rather nicely. Döbringer is unambiguous here, leaving no room for any other interpretation, and his words are echoed in those of Fiore:
Here starts the book on dueling and fighting called the Flower of Battles with harness and without, on horse and on foot, composed by me Fiore de' Liberi of Cividale d'Austria in the Diocese of Aquileia, son of Sir Benedetto of the noble house of the Liberi....
...Thanks to God, I received all this knowledge from various teachers and from lessons from expert masters from Italy and Germany, and in particular from Master Giovanni called Suveno, who was a scholar of Nicolo' from Metz, and from many Princes, Dukes, Counts and many others in diverse places and provinces.*
"From expert masters from Italy and Germany...and from many princes, dukes, counts and many others in diverse places and provinces..." That's revealing, and Vadi later says much the same in his own treatise, (and one ought to consider Döbringer's words regarding "new arts" when considering some of Vadi's claims. Hype is extraordinarily old).
There are some that make the case for Fiore having never left Italy - and thus making his Art "pure," presumably - even though he alludes very strongly to have done so. It doesn't matter, of course: even if he never left Italy, he learnt his Art from an international set, who likewise had learnt theirs in a similar fashion. That was the nature of feudalism. For example, we know that one of Fiore's students faced off against an English knight in tournament, and another - it eludes me at the moment if it was actually the same student - presided as marshal over another tournament, in which Italians, Germans, Englishmen, and Frenchmen (and likely others) participated. So, even if Fiore remained like a fixture in Italy (highly unlikely, as he was a knight and had feudal obligations), the techniques he learnt would have been eclectic, and founded upon universal principles. From this foundation, he chose those techniques which he deemed best, and presented them in his treatises in the manner which he deemed best, and that's all. The "core," as Döbringer so aptly put it, was the same.
It should go without saying that it was the same with the English longsword material.
Now, let's go back to Döbringer, whose treatise is rapidly becoming my favorite German source. He goes on to say:
There are some Leychmeister who say they have invented a new Art, thinking that the Art of fighting will be improved day by day. I, however, would like to see one who can come up with a fighting technique or strike not part of Liechtenauer’s Art. Often they try to change a technique by simply assigning it a new name; many do this as they see fit...All this because they seek the praise of uneducated people! They practice wide and pretty parries, swinging at the start of an engagement just for show, executing very long strikes slowly and clumsily. By doing this they miss and cannot quickly recover, thus exposing themselves easily. This is because they have insufficient control and measure when they fight; and this is not really a part of serious combat, but is rather for fighting in the school; but serious fighting moves simply and directly, straight and without hesitation
This is, of course, the quote a certain "fechtmeister" levelled against yours truly, though misrepresented. Fiore provides some further insight:
I have seen a thousand people calling themselves masters, of which perhaps four were good scholars, and of those four scholars not one would be a good teacher.*
Fiore and Döbringer are talking about the same thing: false masters (and thus nothing to do with Meyer, as he is firmly ensconced within the Liechtenauer Lineage).
Lastly, to make our point all the more strongly, we turn to the less well-known (one might even say sadly neglected) treatise of Master Mertin Siber:
Whosoever will earn honour before princes and before lords in fighting with the longsword, he is good and rightful, who follows my lore, he is blessed evermore. The six goings hold wards which are quite preciously good, wherein is wealful comprehension of the cunning of quite many goodly masters: from Hungary, Bohemia, Italy; from France, England and Alemania; from Russia, Prussia, Greece, Holland, Provence and Swabia.**
Three sources, all telling us more or less the same thing: there was only one Art of the Longsword. And it was pan-European. Yes, there existed differences in the different traditions, lineages, and schools. These were, however, largely matters of presentation and simple preference from one master to the next. But the Art, the foundation, was the same. We discuss this in more depth in the links listed below.
*Translation by Hermes Michelini.
**Translation by Jeffrey Hull.
See also Codex 5278, The Scope of the Sword, and A Pan-European Art Revisited, (Again).