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Joachim Meyer

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Joachim Meyer
Born ca. 1537
Basel, Germany
Died 24 February 1571 (aged 34)
Schwerin, Germany
Spouse(s) Appolonia Ruhlman
Citizenship Strasbourg
  • Johann Albrecht (?)
  • Johann Casimir
Movement Freifechter
Genres Fencing manual
Language Early New High German
Notable work(s) Gründtliche Beschreibung der
Kunst des Fechtens
First Printed
English Edition
Forgeng, 2006
Concordance by Michael Chidester
Signature Joachim Meyer sig.jpg

Joachim Meyer (ca. 1537 - 1571)[1] was a 16th century German Freifechter and fencing master. He was the last major figure in the tradition of the German grand master Johannes Liechtenauer, and in the last years of his life he devised at least three distinct and quite extensive fencing manuals. Meyer's writings incorporate both the traditional Germanic technical syllabus and contemporary systems that he encountered in his travels, including the Italian school of side sword fencing.[2] In addition to his fencing practice, Meyer was a Burgher and a master cutler.[3]

Meyer was born in Basel,[4] where he presumably apprenticed as a cutler. He writes in his books that he traveled widely in his youth, most likely a reference to the traditional Walz that journeyman craftsmen were required to take before being eligible for mastery and membership in a guild. Journeymen were often sent to stand watch and participate in town and city militias (a responsibility that would have been amplified for the warlike cutlers' guild), and Meyer learned a great deal about foreign fencing systems during his travels. It's been speculated by some fencing historians that he trained specifically in the Bolognese school of fencing, but this doesn't stand up to closer analysis.[5]

Records show that by 4 June 1560 he had settled in Strasbourg, where he married Appolonia Ruhlman (Ruelman)[1] and joined the Cutler's Guild. His interests had already moved beyond knife-smithing, however, and in 1561, Meyer petitioned the City Council of Strasbourg for the right to hold a Fechtschule (fencing competition). He would repeat this in 1563, 1566, 1567 and 1568;[6] the 1568 petition is the first extant record in which he identifies himself as a fencing master.

Meyer probably wrote his first manuscript (MS A.4º.2) in either 1560 or 1568 for Otto Count von Sulms, Minzenberg, and Sonnenwaldt.[7] Its contents seem to be a series of lessons on training with long sword, dussack, and rapier. His second manuscript (MS Var.82), written between 1563 and 1570 for Heinrich Graf von Eberst, is of a decidedly different nature. Like many fencing manuscripts from the previous century, it is an anthology of treatises by a number of prominent German masters including Sigmund ain Ringeck, pseudo-Peter von Danzig, and Martin Syber, and also includes a brief outline by Meyer himself on a system of rapier fencing based on German Messer teachings. Finally, on 24 February 1570 Meyer completed (and soon thereafter published) an enormous multi-weapon treatise entitled Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens ("A Thorough Description of the Art of Combat"); it was dedicated to Johann Casimir, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and illustrated at the workshop of Tobias Stimmer.[8]

Unfortunately, Meyer's writing and publication efforts incurred significant debts (about 1300 crowns), which Meyer pledged to repay by Christmas of 1571.[1] Late in 1570, Meyer accepted the position of Fechtmeister to Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg at his court in Schwerin. There Meyer hoped to sell his book for a better price than was offered locally (30 florins). Meyer sent his books ahead to Schwerin, and left from Strasbourg on 4 January 1571 after receiving his pay. He traveled the 500 miles to Schwerin in the middle of a harsh winter, arriving at the court on 10 February 1571. Two weeks later, on 24 February, Joachim Meyer died. The cause of his death is unknown, possibly disease or pneumonia.[6]

Antoni Rulman, Appolonia’s brother, became her legal guardian after Joachim’s death. On 15 May 1571, he had a letter written by the secretary of the Strasbourg city chamber and sent to the Duke of Mecklenburg stating that Antoni was now the widow Meyer’s guardian; it politely reminded the Duke who Joachim Meyer was, Meyer’s publishing efforts and considerable debt, requested that the Duke send Meyer’s personal affects and his books to Appolonia, and attempted to sell some (if not all) of the books to the Duke.[1]

Appolonia remarried in April 1572 to another cutler named Hans Kuele, bestowing upon him the status of Burgher and Meyer's substantial debts. Joachim Meyer and Hans Kuele are both mentioned in the minutes of Cutlers' Guild archives; Kuele may have made an impression if we can judge that fact by the number of times he is mentioned. It is believed that Appolonia and either her husband or her brother were involved with the second printing of his book in 1600. According to other sources, it was reprinted yet again in 1610 and in 1660.[9][10]

The Fechtschule of Joachim Meyer in Strasbourg, a thriving school of fence equal to many others in Germany at the time, was taken over during the Acquisition of Strasbourg by Louis XIV in 1681; it was turned into the "Academie de Arms" and essentially absorbed into the French school of fence.[11]


Joachim Meyer's writings are preserved in two manuscripts prepared in the 1560s, the MS A.4º.2 (Lund) and the MS Var 82 (Rostock); a third manuscript from 1561 has been lost since at least the mid-20th century, and its contents are unknown.[12] Dwarfing these works is the massive book he published in 1570 entitled "A Thorough Description of the Free, Chivalric, and Noble Art of Fencing, Showing Various Customary Defenses, Affected and Put Forth with Many Handsome and Useful Drawings". Meyer's writings purport to teach the entire art of fencing, something that he claimed had never been done before, and encompass a wide variety of teachings from disparate sources and traditions. In keeping with this goal, Meyer seems to have constructed his treatises to present a method for training to fence, a significant departure from the earlier works in the tradition which explain the system of fencing directly. In keeping with this, he illustrated the techniques with depictions of fencers in courtyards using training weapons such as two-handed fencing swords, wooden dussacks, and rapiers with ball tips.

The first part of Meyer's treatise is devoted to the long sword (the sword in two hands), which he presents as the foundational weapon of his system, and this section devotes the most space to fundamentals like stance and footwork. His long sword system draws upon the teachings of Freifechter Andre Paurñfeyndt (via Christian Egenolff's reprint) and Liechtenauer glossators Sigmund ain Ringeck and pseudo-Peter von Danzig, as well as using terminology otherwise unique to the brief Recital of Martin Syber. Not content merely to compile these teachings as his contemporary Paulus Hector Mair was doing, Meyer sought to update—even reinvent—them in various ways to fit the martial climate of the late sixteenth century, including adapting many techniques to accommodate the increased momentum of a greatsword and modifying others to use beats with the flat and winding slices in place of thrusts to comply with street-fighting laws in German cities (and the rules of the Fechtschule).

The second part of Meyer's treatises is designed to address new weapons gaining traction in German lands, the dussack and the rapier, and thereby find places for them in the German tradition. His early Lund manuscript presents a more summarized syllabus of techniques for these weapons, while his printed book goes into greater depth and is structured more in the fashion of lesson plans.[13] Meyer's dussack system, designed for the broad proto-sabers that spread into German lands from Eastern Europe in the 16th century,[14] combines the old Messer teachings of Johannes Lecküchner and the dussack teachings of Andre Paurñfeyndt with other unknown systems (some have speculated that they might include early Polish or Hungarian saber systems). His rapier system, designed for the lighter single-hand swords spreading north from Iberian and Italian lands, seems again to be a hybrid creation, integrating both the core teachings of the 15th century Liechtenauer tradition as well as components that are characteristic of the various regional Mediterranean fencing systems (including, perhaps, teachings derived from the treatise of Achille Marozzo). Interestingly, Meyer's rapier teachings in the Rostock seem to represent an attempt to unify these two weapon system, outlining a method for rapier fencing that includes key elements of his dussack teachings; it is unclear why this method did not appear in his book, but given the dates it may be that they represent his last musings on the weapon, written in the time between the completion of his book in 1570 and his death a year later.

The third part of Meyer's treatise only appears in his published book and covers dagger, wrestling, and various pole weapons. His dagger teachings, designed primarily for urban self-defense, seem to be based in part on the writings of Bolognese master Achille Marozzo[15] and the anonymous teachings in Egenolff, but also include much unique content of unknown origin (perhaps the anonymous dagger teachings in his Rostock manuscript). His staff material makes up the bulk of this section, beginning with the short staff, which, like Paurñfeyndt, he uses as a training tool for various pole weapons (and possibly also the greatsword), and then moving on to the halberd before ending with the long staff (representing the pike). As with the dagger, the sources Meyer based his staff teachings on are largely unknown.

Additional Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Dupuis, Olivier. Joachim Meyer, escrimeur libre, bourgeois de Strasbourg (1537 ? - 1571). In Maîtres et techniques de combat. Dijon: AEDEH, 2006.
  2. Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fencing: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. London: George Bell and Sons, 1885. pp 74 - 76.
  3. Naumann, Robert. Serapeum. Vol. 5. T.O. Weigel, 1844. pp 53-59.
  4. According to his wedding certificate.
  5. His dagger teachings do, however, show some evidence of influence by Achilles Marozzo's printed treatise.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Van Slambrouck, Christopher. "The Life and Work of Joachim Meyer". Meyer Frei Fechter Guild, 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  7. Norling, Roger. "The history of Joachim Meyer’s fencing treatise to Otto von Solms". Hroarr.com, 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  8. Whose members included Christoph Maurer and Hans Christoffel Stimmer.
  9. Schaer, Alfred. Die altdeutschen fechter und spielleute: Ein beitrag zur deutschen culturgeschichte. K.J. Trübner, 1901. p 76.
  10. Pollock, W. H., Grove, F. C., and Prévost, C. Fencing. London and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and co, 1897. pp 267-268.
  11. Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fencing: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. London: George Bell and Sons, 1885. p 147.
  12. Kleinau, Jens P. "1561 Joachim Meyer dedicated a fencing book to the Pfalzgrafen of Pfalz-Veldenz". Hans Talhoffer ~ as seen by Jens P. Kleinau. 04 July 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  13. Roberts, James. "System vs Syllabus: Meyer’s 1560 and 1570 sidesword texts". Hroarr.com, 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  14. Roger Norling. "The Dussack - a weapon of war". Hroarr.com, 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  15. Norling, Roger. "Meyer and Marozzo dagger comparison". Hroarr.com, 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2015.