Monday, November 9, 2009


The book is dated 1443. The armour is awfully good for that date. Though I have no reason to doubt the provenance...the date is clearly written on the flyleaf. Two men are going to a formal duel. Above is the place where they will be fighting, their coffins have been brought to the site to drive home the serious nature of the situation. Talhoffer was part of the German school of fencing of Johannes Liechtenauer.

There were four main editions of Hans Talhoffer's fight book...1443, 1450, 1459, and 1467, and only six copies of any of them exist. Often the illustrations are the same, but done by different artists even in the same edition. Often, it seems, the artist who did the engravings were only slavishly copying another book, and very frequently, they get their right and left hands and footwork all wrong because they have to mirror image when they cut the engravings. Usually the illustrations are not captioned, you would have to go to the text, where he may or may not actually match up the plate number with the explanation of what is going on. Each edition bears little resemblance to the previous edition, and people who study the forms improperly tend to get quite proprietary over the "proper" way to do a particular move. Four books, four ways to do it. Also, the book won't tell you "everything". Some tricks are deliberately obscure, requiring a paid instructor to decode them.

All of Talhoffer's fight books assume that you already KNOW how to fight, and these are only tricks which will help you win the duel. Therefore, "Talhoffer" is a really bad introduction to the art of fighting. His was an excellent "advanced" style, he was a professor in good standing of the German school of fencing (sort of an ad hoc organization made up of lawyers, diletanttes and ex soldiers who studied Liechtenauer's system and he was one of the founders of the "Brotherhood of St. Mark"...a gentleman's club who studied fencing.

As they march in, their seconds check out the ground, make sure there are no rocks or footing difficulties. The "ring" is pretty secure, and one reference suggests that if anybody gets thrown out of the ring, they will be summarily executed by the bystanders. The guy in front with the nice outfit is probably the bailif (sherrif's representative), the guy in behind is likely the fellow's lawyer, and the man to the armoured fella's left with his hands on his hips without a care in the world is the armoured guy's "second". Or possibly his surgeon.
Here they face off. The guy on the left drives a spear point at his opponent...
and his opponent ducks.

The parry swings around and its a shoving match. I have decided not to put the rest of the match up on these pages...not only can you find it yourself by googling "Hans Talhoffer, 1443", but it is too graphic for casual reading. If anybody "really" wants to see how this turns out, leave a comment to that effect down below, and I'll put the denoument of the fight up here.

This early book seems to be many things....a fighting manual, a warning about what can happen if you do things wrong, and in this case, even being dumb enough to get into a duel in the first place. Observing a century of development in style is a very fulfilling study.

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