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Fencing manual

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Fencing manual

Martial arts manuals are instructions, with or without illustrations, detailing specific techniques of martial arts.

Prose descriptions of martial arts techniques appear late within the history of literature, due to the inherent difficulties of describing a technique rather than just demonstrating it.

The earliest extant manual on armed combat (as opposed to unarmed wrestling) is the I.33, written in Franconia around AD 1300.

Not within the scope of this article are books on military strategy such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War (before 100 BC) or Vegetius' De Re Militari (4th century AD), or military technology, such as De Rebus Bellicis (4th to 5th century).


Some early testimonies of historical martial arts consist of series of images only. The earliest example is a fresco in tomb 15 at Beni Hasan, showing illustrations of wrestling techniques dating to c. 2000 BC. Similar depictions of wrestling techniques are found on Attic vases dating to Classical Greece.

The only known instance of a manual from Western antiquity is P.Oxy. III 466 (2nd century), detailing Greek wrestling techniques. There are some examples in classical Chinese literature that may predate the turn of the Common Era: the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian (c. 100 BC) documents wrestling, referring to earlier how-to manuals" of the Former Han (2nd century BC) which have however not survived. An extant Chinese text on wrestling is "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting" included in the 1st-century AD Book of Han.[1]

All other extant manuals date to the Middle Ages or later. The "combat stele" at Shaolin Monastery dates to AD 728. The earliest text detailing Indian martial arts is the Agni Purana (c. 8th century), which contains several chapters giving descriptions and instructions on fighting techniques.[2][3] It described how to improve a warrior's individual prowess and kill enemies using various methods in warfare whether they went to war in chariots, horses, elephants or on foot. Foot methods were subdivided into armed combat and unarmed combat.[4] The former included the bow and arrow, the sword, spear, noose, armour, iron dart, club, battle axe, chakram and trident.[5] The latter included wrestling, knee strikes, punching and kicking methods.[4] An old Indian "martial arts manual" is a list of wrestling techniques contained in the Malla Purana, 13th century, Gujarat.

The oldest extant European martial arts manual is MS I.33 (c. 1300).

"Illustrations only" manuals do not become extinct with the appearance of prose instructions, but rather exist alongside these, e.g. in the form of the Late Medieval German Bilderhandschriften.

Historical European martial arts

German Fechtbücher

Fechtbuch (plural Fechtbücher) is Early Modern High German for "combat manual",[6] one of the manuscripts or printed books of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance containing descriptions of a martial art. Usually, the term is taken to include 15th- and 16th-century German manuals, but the nature of the subject matter does not allow a clear separation of these from treatises from other parts of Europe on one hand (particularly from the Italian and French schools), and from manuals of later centuries on the other hand.

A list of Fechtbücher include:

Italian treatises

The Italian school is attested in an early manual of 1410, at which time it is not yet clearly separable from the German school. Indeed, the author Fiore dei Liberi states that he has learned much of his art from one "Master Johannes of Swabia". The heyday of the Italian school comes in the 16th century, with the Dardi school.

French manuals

Similar to the situation in Italy, there is one early manual (c. 1400, dealing with the poleaxe exclusively, and later treatises set in only after a gap of more than a century.

  • Le jeu de la hache (c. 1400)
  • Andre Pauernfeindt "La noble science des joueurs d'espee" (1528)—This is a French translation of Pauernfeindt's 1516 work. One notable difference between it and the original is that the "noble science" print has colored images, unlike the German.
  • Henry de Sainct-Didier "Traité contenant les secrets du premier livre de l’épée seule, mère de toutes les armes, qui sont épée, dague, cappe, targue, bouclier, rondelle, l’espée deux mains, et les deux espées, avec ses pourtraictures, ..." (1573)
  • Girard Thibault d'Anvers "Académie de l'epee, ou se démontrent par reigles mathématique, sur le fondement d'un cercle mysterieux, la theorie et pratique des vrais et jusqu'a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes, à pied et a cheval" (1623)
  • Monsieur L'Abbat "The Art of Fencing, or, the Use of the Small Sword" (1734)

British manuals


Apart from three rather opaque texts of the later 15th century,[13] the native English tradition of fencing manuals begins with George Silver's Paradoxes of Defense (1599).

  • Harliean Manuscript 3542 ("The Man Who Wol"), late 14th early 15th century[14]
  • Cotton Titus 15th-century English greatsword and staff
  • "Additional Manuscript 39564", 15th century[15]
  • George Silver "Paradoxes of Defense" (1599)
  • Joseph Swetnam "Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence" (1612)[16]
  • Sir William Johnstone Hope, several books (1690s)
  • Captain John Godfrey "A Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, Connecting the Small and Back-Sword" (1747)
  • John Musgrave Waite "Lessons in sabre, singlestick, sabre & bayonet, and sword feats" (1880)
  • Alfred Hutton "Cold Steel, A Practical Treatise on the Sabre" (1889), "Old Sword-Play" (1892)
Main article: Historical fencing in Scotland

Scottish manuals detailing the use of the basket-hilted Scottish broadsword, besides other disciplines such as the smallsword and spadroon, were published throughout the 18th century, with early and late examples dating to the late 17th and early 19th centuries, respectively:

  • The Scots Fencing Master (the Complete Smallswordsman) - Sir William Hope (1687)[17]
  • Advice to his Scholar from the Fencing Master - Sir William Hope (1692)
  • Complete Fencing Master - Sir William Hope (1691–1692)
  • The Swordsman's Vade-Mecum - Sir William Hope (1692)[18]
  • New Short and Easy Method of Fencing (1st Edition) - Sir William Hope (1707)[19][20]
  • New Short and Easy Method of Fencing (2nd Edition) - Sir William Hope (1714)
  • A Few Observations upon the Fighting for Prizes in the Bear Gardens - Sir William Hope (1715)[21]
  • A Vindication of the True Art of Self-Defence - Sir William Hope (1724)[22]
  • Expert Swords-man's Companion - Donald McBane (1728)[19]
  • A treatise on backsword, sword, buckler, sword and dagger, sword and great gauntlet, falchon, quarterstaff - Captain James Miller (1737)[23]
  • The Use of the Broad Sword - Thomas Page (1746)[24]
  • Anti-Pugilism - Anonymous (Captain G. Sinclair, 1790)[25][26]
  • Cudgel Playing Modernized and Improved; or, The Science of Defence, Exemplified in a Few Short and Easy Lessons, for the Practice of the Broad Sword or Single Stick, on Foot - Captain G. Sinclair[27]
  • Lecture on the Art of Defence - Archibald MacGregor (1791)[25]
  • The Guards of the Highland Broadsword - Thomas Rowlandson (1799)[28]
  • Hungarian & Highland Broadsword - by Henry Angelo and Son (1799)[25][29]
  • The Art of Defence on Foot with Broadsword and Saber- John Taylor (1804)[25][30]
  • Fencing Familiarized; or, a New Treatise on the Art of the Scotch Broad Sword - Thomas Mathewson (1805)[25]

Spanish and Portuguese manuals

There are some manuals containing training advice for the medieval tournament and jousting such as the early Portuguese work A ensinança de bem cavalgar em toda a sela by Edward of Portugal (1391–1438). A riding instruction manual that also included martial information.

17th-century Spanish Destreza is very much steeped in the Spanish Baroque noblemen mindset, so doesn't contain much graphical explanations of the fencing techniques so much as hard to understand explanations based on mathematics and philosophical sciences in general. The subsequent difficulty on interpreting the theory and practice of Destreza correctly has led many times to this school of fencing being misunderstood.

  • Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza, De la filosophia de las armas y de su destreza... (1582)
  • Luis Pacheco de Narváez, Grandezas de la espada (1600)
  • Gerard Thibault, Academie de l’espée (1628)
  • Luis Pacheco de Narváez, Nueva ciencia (1632)
  • Luis Méndez de Carmona Tamariz, Compendio en defensa de la doctrina y destreza del comendador Gerónimo de Carranza (1632)
  • Cristóbal de Cala, Desengaño de la espada y norte de diestros (1642)
  • Diogo Gomes de Figueyredo Memorial da Prattica do Montante Que inclue dezaseis regras simplez (1651)
  • Miguel Pérez de Mendoza y Quijada, Resumen de la verdadera destreza de las armas en treinta y ocho asserciones (1675)
  • Francisco Antonio de Ettenhard y Abarca, Compendio de los fundamentos de la verdadera destreza y filosofia de las armas (1675)
  • Álvaro Guerra de la Vega, Compreension de la destreza (1681)
  • Thomas Luis, Tratado das liçoens da espada preta, & destreza que hao de usar os jugadores della (1685)
  • Nicolás Tamariz, Cartilla y luz en la verdadera destreza (1696)
  • Manuel Cruzado y Peralta, Las tretas de la vulgar y comun esgrima de espada sola y con armas dobles (1702)
  • Francisco Lórenz de Rada, Nobleza de la espada (1705)
  • Nicolás Rodrigo Noveli, Crisol especulativo, demostrativo, práctico, Matemático de la destreza (1731)
  • Manuel Antonio de Brea, Principios universales y reglas generales de la verdadera destreza del espadín (1805)
  • Jaime Mereló y Casademunt, Tratado completo de la esgrima del sable español (1862)

Historical Asian martial arts

Some texts on unarmed combat survive from Han China (c. 1st century). The Indian Malla Purana (13th century) includes portions dealing with wrestling techniques. The Chinese Ji Xiao Xin Shu dates to the 1560s. The Korean Muyejebo dates to 1598, the Muyedobotongji dates to 1790. The Japanese Book of Five Rings dates to 1645.


See also

External links

  • HEMA Alliance
  • Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA)
  • Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
  • Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
  • Articles on Spanish Destreza by Martinez Academy of Arms
  • Destreza Translation & Research Project
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