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Martial arts manual

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Martial arts 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).


  • Predecessors 1
  • Historical European martial arts 2
    • German Fechtbücher 2.1
    • Italian treatises 2.2
    • French manuals 2.3
    • British manuals 2.4
    • Spanish and Portuguese manuals 2.5
  • Historical Asian martial arts 3
  • Notes 4
  • See also 5
  • External links 6


Detail of the wrestling scenes at Beni Hasan.

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

fol. 2r of the Cod. 44 A 8, depicting two fencers in the vom tag and alber wards.

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 Paradoxes of Defense (1599).


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.

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.


  1. ^ Henning, Stanley E. (Fall 1999). "Academia Encounters the Chinese Martial arts". China Review International 6 (2): 319–332. [2]
  2. ^ Zarrilli, Phillip B. (1992). "To Heal and/or To Harm: The Vital Spots (Marmmam/Varmam) in Two South Indian Martial Traditions Part I: Focus on Kerala's Kalarippayattu". Journal of Asian Martial Arts 1 (1). 
  3. ^ P. C. Chakravarti (1972). The art of warfare in ancient India. Delhi.
  4. ^ a b J. R. Svinth (2002). A Chronological History of the Martial Arts and Combative Sports. Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences.
  5. ^ Zarrilli, Phillip B. A South Indian Martial Art and the Yoga and Ayurvedic Paradigms. University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  6. ^ fechten is cognate to English fight and still meant "fight, combat" in general in Early Modern times; in contemporary Standard German, fechten translates to "fencing", while the noun Gefecht retains the generic meaning of "fight, battle".
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Historical English manuals online
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Scots Fencing Master, The Art of Defence and Pursuit, With the Small-Sword. Described in a Dialogue between a Scholar and a Master, of that Art. By William Hope, Gentleman,
  18. ^ The Sword Man's Vade Mecum, by Sir William Hope (1692),
  19. ^ a b Highland Swordsmanship: Techniques of the Scottish Sword Masters, by Mark Rector (editor) and Paul Wagner (editor), Published by The Chivalry Bookshelf (Nov 15, 2001)
  20. ^
  22. ^ A Vindication of the True Art of Self-Defence. With a PROPOSAL to the Honourable Members of Parliament, for the Erecting A Court of Honour in Great-Britain. Recommended to all Gentlemen, but particularly to the Soldiery. To which is Annexed, A Short but very useful Memorial for Swordmen. By Sir William Hope, Bart,
  23. ^ A treatise on backsword, sword, buckler, sword and dagger, sword and great gauntlet, falchon, quarterstaff, by Captain James Miller (1735),
  24. ^ The Use of the Broad Sword, by Thomas Page (1746),
  25. ^ a b c d e Highland Broadsword:Five Manuals of Scottish Regimental Swordsmanship, by Paul Wagner (editor) and Mark Rector (editor), Published by The Chivalry Bookshelf (July 2004)
  26. ^ Anti-Pugilism, or The Science of Defense Exemplified In Short and Easy Lessons for the Practice of the Broad Sword and Single Stick Illustrated with Copper Plates, By a Highland Officer, London, Printed for J Aitkin, NO 14, Castle-street, corner of Bear Street, Leicester Fields 1790,
  27. ^ 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, by Captain G. Sinclair of the 42nd Regiment,
  28. ^ The Guards of the Highland Broadsword, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1799,
  29. ^ Hungarian & Highland Broadsword, by Henry Angelo and Son, 1799,
  30. ^ The Art of Defence on Foot with Broadsword and Saber, by John Taylor, 1804,

See also

External links

  • Wiktenauer: A Wiki database dedicated to the masters, manuals, and techniques of Historical European Martial Arts hosted by the HEMA Alliance
  • THE ARMARIUM: Online Historical Fencing Manuals & Texts of the Doctrina Armorum by The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA)
  • Online Library of Historical Fencing Treatises hosted by the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
  • Genealogy of the German "Fechtbücher" hosted by the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
  • Articles on Spanish Destreza by Martinez Academy of Arms
  • Destreza Translation & Research Project
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