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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 Nuremberg Hausbuch, 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 the Nuremberg Hausbuch, 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 Nuremberg Hausbuch, 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 Nuremberg Hausbuch 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 the Nuremberg Hausbuch 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.

Seventeen manuscripts contain a presentation of at least one section of the Recital as a distinct (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 the Nuremberg Hausbuch, 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 Beringer (which is also included in the writings of Hans Folz).

The following concordance tables include only those texts that quote Liechtenauer's Recital in an unglossed form.[2] Most manuscripts present the Recital as prose, and those have had the text separated out into the original verses to offer a consistent view. For ease of use, this page breaks the general Wiktenauer rule that column format remain consistent across all tables on a page; the sheer number of Liechtenauer sources made this convention entirely unworkable, so instead the long sword table uses one layout, the mounted and short sword tables use another, and the figures use a third.

In addition to the verses on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six "figures" (figuren)—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".[32] 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. A fragment of the short sword is often given as a preamble to the short sword teachings of Martin Huntfeltz, and the figures for the gloss of Jud Lew, but those instances will not be included below and instead treated as part of said treatises.
  3. The text diverges here, omitting Liechtenauer's couplet and inserting this quatrain instead:
    Dagge swert stãge lãse schon
    Messer bockler has vñ rõken
    Taegñ darde vnd schilt
    Miden allen zu ringe~ uff du wilt
  4. First letter almost illegible.
  5. First letter illegible.
  6. Text terminates at this point. The leaves with the rest of the text are gone, probably lost.
  7. kam
  8. deinen
  9. faler
  10. Text adds an additional couplet: "hastu es vernomen zu kain / schlag mag er komen".
  11. Text adds an additional couplet: "hast dus vernomen / zu kaim schlag mag er komen".
  12. Text adds an additional couplet: "hastu es vernomen / zu kainen schlag mag er komen."
  13. Text adds an additional line: "das son ich vernomen".
  14. Text adds an additional line: "ha das han ich vernomen".
  15. There is no space between "Dupliere" and "doniden", the "D" was possibly added later.
  16. Text adds an additional line: "dz haw ich vermunen??".
  17. Corrected from »Im«.
  18. The text doubles the title of this section.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Corrected from »Twir«.
  20. haust
  21. Talhoffer adds an additional couplet: [4r] Page:Ms.Thott.290.2º 004r.jpg
  22. Hier hat der Schreiber offensichtlich ein Häkchen vergessen.
  23. should be "dreffen"
  24. This section is followed by one titled "Von durchlauffen ab seczen", which repeat the verse on Absetzen.
  25. Text adds an additional couplet: "Das schwertt bind / zu der fleche truck in die hend".
  26. Text adds an additional couplet: "Das schwert binden / zu der flech trukh in die hand"
  27. Text adds an additional couplet: "thutt er sich gegen dir greisen / schlagen das er seisse".
  28. Text adds an additional couplet: "thutt er sich gegen dir greifen / schlagen das er Seise".
  29. Text adds an additional couplet: "thuet er sich gegen dir raisen / schlagen dz er seisse."
  30. ";" in a circle
  31. A guide letter “w” is visible under the “U” (apparently ignored by the rubricator), making the intended word “Wer”.
  32. Andre Paurñfeyndt, et al. Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey. Hieronymus Vietor: Vienna, 1516.