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On Judicial Combat and sportification of Fencing in XIV century.

As a topic that is core to my own understanding of Fiore, and as a prominent part of what I start off from when teaching, I want today to discuss the cause of the long debated difference between Liechtenauer and Fiore approaches to fencing. Please, please, read this entirely twice before exploding in anger throwing in your last 20 years of studying Historical Fencing. It is damn complex.

Thank you.

Where to begin? Well, from what the Art itself was back in the days.

First of all, let me make a first point: the students of the masters we study from that century were Knights (et similia, also squires, ok?), and this is quite settled.

"Young Knight learn..." might remind the KDF people out there something, and to Fiorists "Also I tell you, I said Fiore myself, that these lordly knights and squires to which I showed this art of fighting were so content of my teachings to not want any different Master than me, Fiore." should be immediately familiar lines, among the many others.

This said, just to make a clear base, let's move to step 2.

Both the early Liechtenauer tradition and the Fiore books say a thing: the Art of Fencing was practiced in two different ways, which Fiore calls "for amusement" and "for rage, that is for life". Despite Fiore writing this line when introducing grappling, he then gets to talk of the whole organization of the book without interrupting the continuity, as if everything applied also to the rest of the treatise. And in fact he tells us that grappling is the base for the structure of everything else (look at the last 5 paragraphs of the Getty introduction, from which the definitions are taken), so we could include also that dicotomy into the things to extend to the rest of the Art, as it is in the same explaination.

This is particularly interesting when relating it to the german concept of "fighting in earnest", as that is basically the equivalent of Fiore's "for rage, that is for life".

And in order for "in earnest" to exist, something "not in earnest" must exist too.

So, if you want to take up with this parallelism, I will lead you through one of the most intriguing longsword trips of your life, explaining why Fiore looks so different from Liechtenauer despite both having a basis in the german tradition, both being of the same time, and both being dealing with the same common fencing environment.

Premises to the art of thinking

We must set some points before taking off with this flight:

1) The Liechtenauer teachings are explaining you how to fight in the specific situation of being unarmored and with sharp blades. I am referring to the blossfechten teachings of the longsword, that will be the main discussion in this article, because being the longsword the most shared part between the two traditions, and the most used in general, it will be much easier to discuss it.

2) Fiore's teachings are aimed at someone that will have to fight in the lists, armored.

3) Both longsword traditions are repeatedly telling us that their art is good, true and real, and that we must trust their teachings as they come from someone that is a great master in the Art.

4) At the time, unarmored duels were generally not allowed, and punished, while armored combat was permitted as a means of setting a controversy in a judicial combat. (Superficial, I know, but enough for the purpose)

And now, let's take off

So, now try reading the premises in reverse order, keeping in mind both are dividing fencing in "for life" and "for sport" .

Done? If not,really, please do so. Read the premises above in reverse order, from 4 to 1.


The direct deduction is that basically the Art of Fencing without armor was already almost practiced no more, being instead much more like a modern martial art where people were taught from a grandmaster something that they weren't necessarly going to put in practice.

Breathe, boil down, read everything again if you need. If you then want to go on reading, I will bring some logic demonstration.

Thank you for keeping on reading.

Let's start from the german guy:

The Nuremberg Hausbuch is telling you that there are some "Leychmeisters" (false masters) that are used at bringing extremely winded and scenographic blows to impress the audience, but their art is poor, as in a real situation you must instead draw the straightest line between your blade and the closest target. You might want to read the first six paragraphs of the "Anonymous Advice" section of the Nuremberg on Wiktenauer HERE.

The first thing that comes to my eye is that people called "masters" were teaching knights to do "useless" spectacularized things to impress the audience. I can immediately think of a situation where this can happen and be useful: two knights fighting in front of an authority to determine who is winning a combat without too much risk of seriously harming each other. A fight in the lists, typical of the late XIV century, and fought in armor, and that would be ruled by an authoriry to choose a winner. When this was done for judicial combat, that fight was to go on until they were stopped (or one of the two was unable to go on), which is what Fiore calls "ad oltranza" ("with no end") and explicitly defines as his main interest and competence.

So to me, the Nuremberg anonymous was basically the medieval variation of myself, whining about how the modern application of the Art was far