Aristotle and the Martial Arts of Medieval Europe: The Idea of “Arte”, Pedagogical Method and Historical Context in the Surviving Fechtbuchen

Interest in the martial arts of Europe has, since the late 1990s, focused on surviving fighting treatises that date from the late thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Most of this work is focused on the recovery of technique and the reconstruction of fighting techniques through what amounts to experimental archaeology, sometimes blended with the tools of kinesiology, art history, history, philology, and paleography. Comparatively little has been done to establish the treatises’ historical context and importance. This paper looks at the Aristotelian foundation for the use of the medieval martial “arts,” termed L’arte by Aristotle, and the transformation of art into the “science of defense” during the late fifteenth and into the early sixteenth centuries, establishing a linkage between the teaching methods in grammar schools and the methods whereby urban-based fighting masters recorded some of their teachings in books, in the process answering part of the contextual question for why the books take on their surviving forms.

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