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Johannes Liechtenauer

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Die Zettel
The Record
Johannes Liechtenauer.png
Full Title A Record of 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 13th or 14th century German fencing master. He was apparently born in the early to mid 1300s, possibly in Lichtenau, Mittelfranken. 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 Ms. 3227a, the oldest text 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 it is stated before. Instead, he traveled and searched many countries with the will of learning and mastering this rightful and true Art."[1] He seems to have been alive at the time of the creation of the Ms. 3227a (or the manuscript from which it was copied),[2] generally assumed to be in 1389. The estimate of his lifetime is based on this assumption, and could be significantly earlier or later, depending on the actual origins of that manuscript.[3]

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


Liechtenauer's teachings are preserved in a brief poem of rhyming couplets, which due to its apparent nature as a summary is often labeled an "epitome". These "secret and hidden words" were intentionally cryptic, probably to prevent the uninitiated from learning the techniques he presented; they also seem to have offered a system of mnemonic devices to those who understood their significance. These verses were treated as the core of the Art by his students, and masters such as Sigmund Schining ein Ringeck, Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt, and Jud Lew wrote extensive glosses (commentaries) that sought to clarify and expand upon these teachings.

The longest version of the Record by far is found in the Nuremberg Ms. 3227a, and contains almost twice as many verses as the others. However, given that these additional verses consist of either repetitions from elsewhere in the Record or use a very different style from Liechtenauer's text, they are generally not considered part of the standard Record. The other surviving versions of the Record all show a high degree of consistency in both content and organization.

The following tables contain only those manuscripts that quote Liechtenauer's Record in an unglossed form. Note that in the case of Hans Folz, the verse is presented in a disorganized form; this rendition has been reordered to match the others, but you can find the original sequence in Folz's own article.


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".[17] 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. 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.
  2. This assumption is based on the fact that the author neglected to include the traditional blessing on the dead when mentioning his name.
  3. Tobler, Christian Henry. "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
  4. Kein eindeutiges z.
  5. The first letter has been corrected so that the word is ambiguous to identify.
  6. Written larger than normal.
  7. In the Bavarian dialect: freien = freuen, a freit = eine Freude.
  8. Between "Dupliere" and "doniden" there is a lack of space, possibly the "d" was added later.
  9. There is probably a missing letter here, making it "durchwechseln".
  10. W has been corrected to V.
  11. Erster Buchstabe schwer zu lesen. Eve. Könnte auch "in" heißen.
  12. This appears in place of the Durchwechseln verse.
  13. "oder"
  14. The meaning is unknown, but may be a part of the bridle.
  15. There are dots above the e, but it is not clear whether it really is an umlaut.
  16. "Vecht" (sound shift b→v)
  17. Paurñfeyndt, Andre, et al. Ergrundung Ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey. Hieronymus Vietor: Vienna, 1516.