Johannes Liechtenauer

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Die Zettel
The Record
MS 44 A 8 2v.jpg
This image of a seated master precedes the gloss of Liechtenauer's teachings in the Codex 44A.8.
Ascribed to Johannes Liechtenauer
Language Middle High German
Date 14th century
State of existence oral tradition, fixed in several versions beginning c. 1389
Principal manuscript(s)

Johannes Liechtenauer (Lichtnawer, Hans Lichtenawer) was a 14th-century German fencing master. His influence on the German fencing tradition of the 15th and 16th centuries cannot be overstated. The masters on Paulus Kal's roll of the "Society of Liechtenauer" were responsible for many of the most significant German language fencing treatises of the 15th century, and his teachings were the focus of the dominant fencing guilds in the 16th and 17th centuries (the Marxbrüder and the Veiterfechter).


No direct record of Liechtenauer's life or teachings currently exists, and all that we know of both comes from the writings of contemporary masters and scholars. The only biographical note is found in GNM Hs. 3227a (dated c. 1389), the oldest text in the tradition, which states that "Master Liechtenauer learnt and mastered [the] Art in a thorough and rightful way, but he did not invent and put together this Art, as it is stated before. Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art."[1] His surname indicates he was from a place called Lichtenau, but there are several places with this name in Central Europe. He seems to have been active during the mid-to-late 14th century; it has been speculated that he may still have been alive at the time of the compilation Hs. 3227a, but this is based on the absence of a formula marking him as deceased.[2]

The Zettel[edit]

Liechtenauer was described by some later masters as the hochmeister ("high master" or "grand master") of the art, and a poem called the Zettel ("record" or "recital"), is generally attributed to him by these masters. Many more masters and manuscripts quote some version this poem without attribution.

The Zettel was apparently intended as a list of mnemonic aids to help the student remember concepts he had been taught orally. They do not "explain" the technique in any detail. On the contrary, the verses are intentionally cryptic and are described as "secret and hidden words" by later masters, who assure us that their opaque wording was intended to prevent the uninitiated from discovering the techniques described therein. These verses were treated as the core of the art by Liechtenauer's followers, and the earliest fencing manuals of the Liechtenauer school, beginning with Hs. 3227a and followed by the treatises of Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt, Jud Lew, and Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck in the 15th century, are organized such that each couplet or quatrain is given first, followed by a gloss or detailed explanation of its intended meaning.

The Zettel is organized as follows:

  1. a general introduction to the art of fighting
  2. teachings on unarmored dueling with the "long sword" (the sword held with both hands on the grip)
  3. teachings on armored dueling on horseback
  4. teachings on armored dueling with the "short sword" (the sword held with one hand on the grip and one hand on the blade)

There are fragmentary allusions to other material, such as fighting with the dagger, the messer and the small shield, in Hs. 3227a, but if Liechtenauer had a Zettel treating these weapons, it has not been preserved.

The general introduction is ethical as well as practical and begins as follows. Note that the following is transcribed from the Hs. 3227a, whose rendering of the Zettel is nearly twice as long as that of any other source, and the latter ten lines may thus be a later addition to Liechtenauer's verse:

Jung Ritter lere / got lip haben / frawen io ere /
So wechst dein ere / Uebe ritterschaft und lere /
Kunst dy dich czyret / vnd in krigen sere hofiret /
Ringens gut fesser / glefney sper swert unde messer /
Menlich bederben / unde in andern henden vorterben /
Haw dreyn vnd hort dar / rawsche hin trif ader la varn /
Das in dy weisen / hassen dy man siet preisen /
Dor auf dich zosze / alle ding haben limpf lenge vnde mosze /

Und was du trei wilt treiben / by guter vornunft saltu bleiben /
Czu ernst ader czu schimpf / habe frölichen mut / mit limpf /
So magstu achten / und mit gutem mute betrachten /
Was du salt füren / und keyn im dich rüren /
Wen guter mut mit kraft / macht eyns wedersache czagehaft /
Dornoch dich richte / gib keynem forteil mit ichte /
Tumkunheit meide / vier ader sechs nicht vortreibe /
Mit deynem öbermut / bis sitik das ist dir gut /
Der ist eyn küner man / der synen gleichen tar bestan /
Is ist nicht schande / vier ader sechze flien von hande /

Young knight, learn to love God and honour noble women,
so grows your honour; practice chivalry and learn
art which adorns you and will glorify you in battle.
[Grappling is good, yet better]? lance, spear, sword and knife[3]
to make use of manhood, which in other hands remain useless.
Strike hard towards [the man], rush toward, hit or let go,
[so that the masters who bestow the prize will disapprove of him]?[4]
Understand this, that all things have propriety, length and measure.

Whatever action you intend, you should keep your good judgement.
In earnest or in play, have good cheer with propriety,
so you may perceive and consider with good courage
how you should act and move against him,
as good heart and strength will intimidate your opponent.
Let this guide you: to nobody in aught give advantage.
Avoid foolhardiness, do not move against four or six [foes],
let your overconfidence be tamed, this will be good for you:
He is a brave man who can stand against his equal,
(but) it is no shame to flee from four or six (foes).

In addition to the Zettel on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six "figures"—single line abbreviations of select couplets and quatrains that seem to summarize them. A parallel set of teachings was recorded by Andre Paurñfeyndt in 1516 called the "Twelve Teachings for the Beginning Fencer".,[5] These teachings are also generally abbreviations of longer passages from the long sword Zettel, and are similarly repeated in many treatises throughout the 16th century. Thus, it may be that the figures are a mnemonic that represent the initial stage of mounted fencing instruction, and that the full verse was learned only afterward.[2]

Society of Liechtenauer[edit]

The Society of Liechtenauer (Geselschaft Liechtenauers) is a list of seventeen masters found in the introduction to the three oldest copies of Paulus Kal's fencing manual. It is unclear if this was ever a formal organization or what its nature might have been; however, it is commonly speculated that the list is a memorial to deceased students and associates of the grand master.[6] Of particular interest is the international nature of the list, including masters from present-day Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland, which parallels the statement in the MS 3227a that Liechtenauer himself traveled to many lands to learn the art. Several masters from this list are known to have written fencing treatises, but about half remain completely unknown.

Paulus Kal, the presumptive author of the list, lists the members of the Society as follows:

hanns liechtenawer Johannes Liechtenauer
peter wildigans von glacz Peter Wildigans von Glatz
peter von tanczk Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt
hanns spindler vo~ cznaÿm Hans Spindler von Znaim
lamprecht von prag Lamprecht von Prague
hanns seyden faden vo~ erfürt Hans Seydenfaden von Erfurt
andre liegniczer Andre Lignitzer
iacob liegniczer Jacob Lignitzer
sigmund amring Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck
hartman von nurñberg Hartman von Nuremberg
martein hunczfeld Martin Huntfeltz
hanns pägnüczer Hans Pegnitzer
phÿlips perger Philips Perger
virgilÿ von kracå Virgily von Kraków
dietherich degen vechter von brawnschweig Dieterich, the dagger-fighter of Braunschweig
ott iud Ott Jud
stettner Hans Stettner von Mörnsheim

See also[edit]


  • Hils, Hans-Peter. Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. P. Lang, 1985. ISBN 978-3-8204-8129-7
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9825911-1-6
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. In Service of the Duke: The 15th Century Fighting Treatise of Paulus Kal. Highland Village, TX: The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006. ISBN 978-1-891448-25-6
  • Tobler, Christian Henry. Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship. Highland Village, TX: The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2001. ISBN 1-891448-07-2
  • Hull, Jeffrey, with Maziarz, Monika and Żabiński, Grzegorz. Knightly Dueling: The Fighting Arts of German Chivalry. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1581606744
  • Wierschin, Martin (in German). Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des Fechtens. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1965.
  • Żabiński, Grzegorz. The Longsword Teachings of Master Liechtenauer. The Early Sixteenth Century Swordsmanship Comments in the "Goliath" Manuscript. Poland: Adam Marshall, 2010. ISBN 978-83-7611-662-4
  • Żabiński, Grzegorz. "Unarmored Longsword Combat by Master Liechtenauer via Priest Döbringer." Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts. Ed. Jeffrey Hull. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58160-668-3


  1. ^ Żabiński, Grzegorz. "Unarmored Longsword Combat by Master Liechtenauer via Priest Döbringer." Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts. Ed. Jeffrey Hull. Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2008.[page needed]
  2. ^ a b Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. p 6
  3. ^ fesser is the lectio difficilior, amended to besser in other manuscripts, which would yield a translation of "grappling is good; better yet is (mastering various weapons)". Some translators have given "grab", apparently interpreting fesser as a verb, but fesser is not a known form of the verb fassen "grab", and this approach also results in an anacoluthon in the next line.
  4. ^ lit. "so that the wise hate him / whom one sees give praise". Middle High German hazzen "to hate" may take a weaker meaning "to disapprove of", prisen "to praise" the special meaning of "to bestow a prize upon".
  5. ^ Paurñfeyndt, Andre, et al. Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey. Hieronymus Vietor: Vienna, 1516.
  6. ^ Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. p 7.

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