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Johannes Liechtenauer

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Die Zettel
The Recital
Johannes Liechtenauer.png
Full Title A Recital on the Chivalric
Art of Fencing
Ascribed to Johannes Liechtenauer
Illustrated by Unknown
Date Fourteenth century (?)
Language Middle High German
Archetype(s) Hypothetical
First Printed
English Edition
Tobler, 2010
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Johannes Liechtenauer (Hans Lichtenauer, Lichtnawer) was a German fencing master in the 14th or 15th century. No direct record of his life or teachings currently exists, and all that we know of both comes from the writings of other masters and scholars. The only account of his life was written by the anonymous author of the MS 3227a, one of the oldest texts in the tradition, who stated 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 was just stated). Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art." He may have been alive at the time of the creation of the fencing treatise contained in MS 3227a, as that source is the only one to fail to accompany his name with a blessing for the dead.

Liechtenauer was described by many later masters as the "high master" or "grand master" of the art, and a long poem called the Zettel ("Recital") is generally attributed to him by these masters. Later masters in the tradition often wrote extensive glosses (commentaries) on this poem, using it to structure their own martial teachings. Liechtenauer's influence on the German fencing tradition as we currently understand it is almost impossible to overstate. The masters on Paulus Kal's roll of the Fellowship of Liechtenauer were responsible for most of the most significant fencing manuals of the 15th century, and Liechtenauer and his teachings were also the focus of the German fencing guilds that arose in the 15th and 16th centuries, including the Marxbrüder and the Veiterfechter.

Additional facts have sometimes been presumed about Liechtenauer based on often-problematic premises. The MS 3227a, often erroneously dated to 1389 and presumed to be written by a direct student of Liechtenauer's, has been treated as evidence placing Liechtenauer's career in the mid-1300s.[1] However, given that the 3227a may date as late as 1494 and the earliest records of the identifiable members of his tradition appear in the early 1400s, it seems more probable that Liechtenauer's career occurred toward the beginning of the 15th century. Ignoring 3227a as being of indeterminate date, the oldest version of the Recital appears in the MS G.B.f.18.a, dating to ca. 1418-28 and attributed to an H. Beringer, which both conforms to this timeline and suggests the possibility that Liechtenauer was himself an inheritor of the teaching rather than its original composer (presentations of the Recital that are entirely unattributed exist in other 15th and 16th century manuscripts).


Liechtenauer's teachings are preserved in a brief poem of rhyming couplets called the Zettel ("Recital"). These "secret and hidden words" were intentionally cryptic, probably to prevent the uninitiated from learning the techniques they represented; they also seem to have offered a system of mnemonic devices to those who understood their significance. The Recital was treated as the core of the Art by his students, and masters such as Sigmund ain Ringeck, Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt, and Jud Lew wrote extensive glosses that sought to clarify and expand upon these teachings.

Twenty-one manuscripts contain a presentation of the Recital as a separate (unglossed) section; there are dozens more presentations of the verse as part of one of the several glosses. The longest version of the Recital by far is found in the gloss from MS 3227a, which contains almost twice as many verses as any other. However, given that the additional verses tend to either consist of repetitions from elsewhere in the Recital or use a very different style from Liechtenauer's work, they are generally treated as additions by the anonymous author or his instructor rather than being part of the standard Recital. The other surviving versions of the Recital from all periods show a high degree of consistency in both content and organization, excepting only the version attributed to H. Beringer (which is also included in the writings of Hans Folz).

The following tables include only those manuscripts that quote Liechtenauer's Recital in an unglossed form. Note that in the case of Beringer and Folz, the verse is presented in an alternative sequence; they have been reordered to match the others in this rendition, but you can find the original layout in their articles.

In addition to the verses on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six figuren ("figures")—single line abbreviations of the longer couplets, generally drawn in circles, which seem to sum up the most important points. The precise reason for the existence of these figures remains unknown, as does the reason why there are no equivalents for the armored fencing or unarmored fencing verses.

One clue to their significance may be a parallel set of teachings first recorded by Andre Paurñfeyndt in 1516, called the "Twelve Teachings for the Beginning Fencer".[16] These teachings are also generally abbreviations of longer passages in the Bloßfechten, and are similarly repeated in many treatises throughout the 16th century. It may be that the figures are a mnemonic that represent the initial stage of mounted fencing instruction, and that the full verse was taught only afterward.

Additional Resources


  1. Christian Henry Tobler. "Chicken and Eggs: Which Master Came First?" In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. p6
  2. Kein eindeutiges z.
  3. The first letter has been corrected so that the word is ambiguous to identify.
  4. Written larger than normal.
  5. In the Bavarian dialect: freien = freuen, a freit = eine Freude.
  6. Between "Dupliere" and "doniden" there is a lack of space, possibly the "d" was added later.
  7. Corrected from »Im«.
  8. There is probably a missing letter here, making it "durchwechseln".
  9. W has been corrected to V.
  10. Erster Buchstabe schwer zu lesen. Eve. Könnte auch "in" heißen.
  11. This appears in place of the Durchwechseln verse.
  12. "oder"
  13. The meaning is unknown, but may be a part of the bridle.
  14. There are dots above the e, but it is not clear whether it really is an umlaut.
  15. "Vecht" (sound shift b→v)
  16. Andre Paurñfeyndt, et al. Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey. Hieronymus Vietor: Vienna, 1516.