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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 Fifteenth century (?)
Language Early New High German
Archetype(s) Hypothetical
First Printed
English Edition
Tobler, 2010
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Johannes Liechtenauer (Hans Lichtenauer, Lichtnawer) was a 15th century German fencing master. 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 Pol 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 Pol 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 Pol 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 Pol Hausbuch may date as late as 1494 and the earliest records of the identifiable members of his tradition appear in the mid 1400s, it seems more probable that Liechtenauer's career occurred toward the beginning of the 15th century. Ignoring the Pol Hausbuch as being of indeterminate date, the oldest version of the Recital that is attributed to Liechtenauer was recorded by Hans Talhoffer in the MS Chart.A.558 (ca. 1448), which further supports this timeline.[2]


Liechtenauer's teachings are preserved in a long poem of rhyming couplets called the Zettel ("Recital"), covering fencing with the "long" or extended sword (i.e. with both hands at one end of the sword), the "short" or withdrawn sword (i.e. with one hand at either end), and on horseback. These "obscure and cryptic words" were designed 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 Lew wrote extensive glosses that sought to clarify and expand upon these teachings.

In addition to the verses on mounted fencing, several treatises in the Liechtenauer tradition include a group of twenty-six "figures" (figuren)—phrases that are shorter than Liechtenauer's couplets and often arranged into the format of a Medieval tree diagram. These figures seem to encode the same teachings as the verses of the mounted fencing, and both are quoted in the mounted glosses. However, figures follow a very different structure than the Zettel does, and seem to present an alternative sequence for studying Liechtenauer's techniques. It is not known why the mounted fencing is the only section of the Recital to receive figures in addition to verse.

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 actually found in one of these glosses, that of Pseudo-Hans Döbringer, which contains almost twice as many verses as any other; however, given that the additional verses tend to either be 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 original 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 much shorter version attributed to H. 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.[3] 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, with more columns empty than filled, so instead the long sword table uses one layout, the mounted and short sword tables use another, and the figures use a third.

Note: This article includes a prior (2010) version of Christian Tobler's translation. A revised version of the translation was published in 2021 by Freelance Academy Press as part of The Peter von Danzig Fight Book; it can be purchased in hardcover.

Additional Resources

The following is a list of publications containing scans, transcriptions, and translations relevant to this article, as well as published peer-reviewed research.


  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. There is one version of the Recital that predates Talhoffer's, recorded in MS G.B.f.18a (ca. 1418-28) and attributed to an H. Beringer; this also conforms to a 15th century timeline and suggests the possibility that Liechtenauer was himself an inheritor of the teachings contained in the Zettel rather than its original composer (presentations of the Recital that are entirely unattributed exist in other 15th and 16th century manuscripts). Alternatively, the Beringer verse, which includes only portions of the Recital on the Long Sword, may represent just one of the teachings that Liechtenauer received and compiled over the course of the journeys described in 3227a.
  3. The figures are often given as a preamble for the gloss of Lew, and a fragment of the short sword to the teachings of Martin Huntsfeld, but those instances will not be included below and instead treated as part of those treatises.
  4. 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
  5. First letter almost illegible.
  6. First letter illegible.
  7. Talhoffer adds the following couplet: "Nun merck aber furbaß / und verstand ouch gar rechte daz".
  8. Text terminates at this point. The leaves with the rest of the text are gone, probably lost.
  9. kam
  10. deinen
  11. faler
  12. Talhoffer breaks up the Haupstucke differently, and inserts the following additional couplet: "überlouffen bind wol an / nit stand luog waß er kan".
  13. Gotha inserts the title Das ist der krieck in this position, but no other version separates it in that way.
  14. Text adds an additional couplet: "hastu es vernomen zu kain / schlag mag er komen".
  15. Text adds an additional couplet: "hast dus vernomen / zu kaim schlag mag er komen".
  16. Text adds an additional couplet: "hastu es vernomen / zu kainen schlag mag er komen."
  17. Talhoffer expands upon Liechtenauer's couplet and adds two additional lines: "und erschrick ab kainem man / stand und sich in ernstlich an".
  18. Text adds an additional line: "das son ich vernomen".
  19. Text adds an additional line: "ha das han ich vernomen".
  20. There is no space between "Dupliere" and "doniden", the "D" was possibly added later.
  21. Text adds an additional line: "dz haw ich vermunen??".
  22. Corrected from »Im«.
  23. The text doubles the title of this section.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Corrected from »Twir«.
  25. haust
  26. Talhoffer adds an additional couplet: [4r] "So machst du in wol betöwben / Die faller in kunst berowben"
  27. Hier hat der Schreiber offensichtlich ein Häkchen vergessen.
  28. should be "dreffen"
  29. This section is followed by one titled "Von durchlauffen ab seczen", which repeat the verse on Absetzen.
  30. Talhoffer adds four additional verses: "und gang nach an den man / stoss mit dem ghiltz schon / wiltu denn nit schallen / so hastu zway eynfallen".
  31. Text adds an additional couplet: "Das schwertt bind / zu der fleche truck in die hend".
  32. Text adds an additional couplet: "Das schwert binden / zu der flech trukh in die hand"
  33. Talhoffer begins this section with two additional verses: "wer dir zestarck welle sin / heng fall im oben eyn".
  34. Text adds an additional couplet: "thutt er sich gegen dir greisen / schlagen das er seisse".
  35. Text adds an additional couplet: "thutt er sich gegen dir greifen / schlagen das er Seise".
  36. Text adds an additional couplet: "thuet er sich gegen dir raisen / schlagen dz er seisse."
  37. ";" in a circle
  38. A guide letter “w” is visible under the “U” (apparently ignored by the rubricator), making the intended word “Wer”.
  39. Hier ist anscheinend dem Schreiber das Leerzeichen verrutscht.