PANEL 10 – Historical European Martial Arts 2
“That’s how they handled longswords…“: Historical European Martial Arts, towards a critical definition of a concept.
This paper attempts a critical definition of the concept “Historical European Martial Arts”, also known as “Western Martial Arts” to set those apart from the western modern day mental construction(s) of Eastern Martial Arts. These terminologies have been lately accepted by broad communities of practitioners and by scholars attempting to ground a dedicated field of research. The late medieval and early modern conceptions of such a “discipline” and its associated bodily knowledge would be defined from direct source material (technical literature from an heterogeneous corpus known as Fight Books) and discussed through relatively large areas (modern day North Italy up to Central Germany, early 15th up to early 17th c.) regarding their perception and place within history of ideas, especially in perspective of what A. Tlusty (2010) defined as “martial ethic”. This comparative documented approach will then be questioned through its broad reception in the late 19th c. up to today, especially in the context of groups or initiatives which intend to “re-vive”, “re-create” or “reconstruct” or even “replicate” those martial arts. At the crossroad of academic research, cultural mediation and establishment of a growing martial sport, the concept will be critically analysed. A focus point being the distance between original conceptions and its reception by epistemology of social sciences, modern day representations and myths about martial arts and the concept of tradition in the context of the creation of a “new” martial sport.
Memorizing Martial Arts: The 14th Century Notebook of an Erudite Martial Artist in the Tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer (Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Hs. 3227a)
The oldest surviving manuscript in the tradition of the German martial arts teacher Johannes Liechtenauer, the ms. 3227a in the Germanische Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, is dated approximately to 1389. It provides the first known reference to a professional fencing instructor whose system influenced martial arts treatises for about 200 years. In this paper I will discuss several questions concerning the manuscript 3227a and its genesis. After a short summary of the research history of the codex, the problem of written communication about body techniques will be addressed. These written accounts face the challenge to transmit information about the practical knowledge of experienced fighters. However, following the works of Michael Polanyi, an integral part of these skills is bound to a subjective experience of movement and cannot be expressed explicitly by the use of speech or media. The key to understanding the described body techniques therefore rests on a form of tacit knowing that cannot be verbalised or depicted. Starting from this perspective, the studies of Jan-Dirk Müller on the communication strategies of medieval fight books (which use mnemonic verses, glosses and depictions in different combinations) gain a key relevance to understanding these attempts to describe body techniques. On the basis of a codicological autopsy of manuscript 3227a I will then argue that the codex first consisted of separate notebooks which were later bound together. The anonymous scribe seems to have used these notebooks to copy the mnemonic verses used in Liechtenauer’s didactic system to preserve and memorize the concepts and techniques. He then added his own comments in different stages of writing, sometimes correcting his former statements in the light of new insights. Therefore we do have a very early documentation of the intermixture of martial arts and academic culture and of the advancement of a martial arts practitioner in the late 14th century. These observations shed light on the development of late medieval fight books as a literary genre and underline the importance of a detailed dissection of the concrete fight book to determine its genesis, intended purpose(s) and the possible situations of reception.
Glíma-wrestling in medieval Iceland: Technical characteristics and social functions in the light of Old Norse literature.
From the mythical match of the thunder god ﬁórr with Elli, personified old age, to the fights of the notorious outlaw Grettir the Strong, Old Icelandic literature is rich in descriptions of wrestling as a competitive pastime. The sources give details on techniques and rule sets: heel hooks, hip and shoulder throws are applied, and saga authors obviously aimed at an audience that had a clear understanding of wrestling terminology and techniques. The kind of wrestling described – often, but not exclusively called glíma – is a typical example of European “sports” wrestling, as we also find it in Fabian von Auerswald’s wrestling manual from 1539, in the Schwingen of Switzerland, or Breton Gouren. Glíma wrestling fulfilled several functions in social life. The wrestling ground was a stage for men to demonstrate their physical skills, but also their adherence to a socially accepted code of conduct. Social prestige was the reward for those wrestlers who dominated their opponents without breaking the rules of fair play. In this way, wrestling highlighted the Icelandic ideals of proper, manly behaviour, and enabled participants to integrate themselves into the network of friendships, mutual support, and legal dependencies that was constituting for the Icelandic commonwealth. The lecture will give an introduction into the historical properties and social implications of medieval Icelandic wrestling. On a methodological level, it will discuss how narrative medieval literature can serve as a source for the study of historical European martial arts. Furthermore, Icelandic wrestling shall be compared to practices of combat sports with similar social functions, like later European Fechtschulen, or Zulu stickfighting.