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Joachim Meyer

Joachim Meyer

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Joachim Meyer was a self described Freifechter (literally, Free Fencer) living in the then Free Imperial City
Free Imperial City
In the Holy Roman Empire, a free imperial city was a city formally ruled by the emperor only — as opposed to the majority of cities in the Empire, which were governed by one of the many princes of the Empire, such as dukes or prince-bishops...

 of Strassburg in the 16th century and the author of a fechtbuch
Fechtbuch
Martial arts manuals are instructions, with or without illustrations, detailing specific techniques of martial arts.Prose descriptions of martial arts techniques appear late within the history of literature, due to the inherent difficulties of describing a technique rather than just demonstrating...

 Gründtliche Beschreibung der kunst des Fechten (in English, Thorough Descriptions of the Art of Fencing) first published in 1570.

Meyer's book was reprinted in 1600, and may have been an influential source for other 16th and 17th century German fencing books, including a 1612 book by Jacob Sutor
Jacob Sutor
Jacob Sutor was a German fencing master who published a fighting manual in 1612, called the Neues Künstliches Fechtbuch...

.
Meyer's book itself describes a system of combat designed primarily for sportive, civilian swordplay – an early form of fencing
Fencing
Fencing, which is also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing, is a family of combat sports using bladed weapons.Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games...

 – rather than a system meant for the duel
Duel
A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period especially among...

. His book mostly consists of descriptive text, with only a few dozen woodcut
Woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

s, each of which depicts several players enacting various techniques described in the text itself. The book consists of five chapters, covering the long sword, dussack
Dussack
A Dussack is a type of short, single-edged sword from Central and Eastern Europe ....

 (a training weapon not unlike the messer
Grosses messer
Messel during the German Late Middle Ages and Renaissance  was a term for the class of single-edged bladed weapons, deriving from the medieval falchion and preceding the modern sabre.Its hilt included a straight cross-guard and...

), rapier
Rapier
A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword, ideally used for thrusting attacks, used mainly in Early Modern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.-Description:...

, dagger
Dagger
A dagger is a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. The design dates to human prehistory, and daggers have been used throughout human experience to the modern day in close combat confrontations...

, and pole weapon
Pole weapon
A pole weapon or polearm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is placed on the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range. Spears, glaives, poleaxes, halberds, and bardiches are all varieties of polearms...

s.

Meyer's system generally flows from, and uses the terminology of, the German school of swordsmanship
German school of swordsmanship
The German school of fencing is the historical system of combat taught in the Holy Roman Empire in the Late Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern periods , as described in the Fechtbücher written at the time...

 as set down by Johannes Lichtenauer
Johannes Lichtenauer
Johannes Liechtenauer was a 13th or 14th century German fencing master. He was likely born in the early to mid 1300s, possibly in Lichtenau, Mittelfranken . Unfortunately, no direct record of his life or teachings currently exists, and all that we know of both comes from the writings of other...

, though Meyer's civilian system also appears to draw from contemporary Italian swordplay, including Achille Marozzo
Achille Marozzo
Achille Marozzo was an Italian fencing master teaching in the Dardi or Bolognese tradition.Marozzo was probably born in Bologna. His text Opera Nova dell'Arte delle Armi was published in 1536 in Modena, dedicated to Count Rangoni, then reprinted several times all the way into the next century...

.

Meyer's book itself consists of detailed explanatory text describing the guards or postures (huten) for each weapon, cuts, footwork and specific and often quite complex plays or devices (stücke), accompanied by a series of finely executed woodcuts, each of which depicts scenes set amongst somewhat fantastical fight school (fechtschule) settings. These woodcuts typically depict the postures, cutting schemes (signs or 'segno' in Italian) as well as several players enacting various techniques described in the text itself. The book consists of five sections, covering the longsword
Longsword
The longsword is a type of European sword designed for two-handed use, current during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, approximately 1350 to 1550 .Longswords have long cruciform hilts with grips over 10 to 15 cm length The longsword (of which stems the variation called the bastard...

, dussack
Dussack
A Dussack is a type of short, single-edged sword from Central and Eastern Europe ....

 (a training weapon not unlike the Messer), rapier
Rapier
A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword, ideally used for thrusting attacks, used mainly in Early Modern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.-Description:...

 (in Meyer's case, a single-handed sword utilised for both cut and thrust), dagger
Dagger
A dagger is a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. The design dates to human prehistory, and daggers have been used throughout human experience to the modern day in close combat confrontations...

 and wrestling, and polearms including the quarterstaff
Quarterstaff
A quarterstaff , also short staff or simply staff is a traditional European pole weapon and a technique of stick fighting, especially as in use in England during the Early Modern period....

, halberd
Halberd
A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. Possibly the word halberd comes from the German words Halm , and Barte - in modern-day German, the weapon is called Hellebarde. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on...

 and pike
Pike (weapon)
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the...

. In general, the system described in Meyer's book generally flows from, and uses the terminology of, the German school of swordsmanship
German school of swordsmanship
The German school of fencing is the historical system of combat taught in the Holy Roman Empire in the Late Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern periods , as described in the Fechtbücher written at the time...

 as set down by Johannes Liechtenauer, though Meyer's civilian system with the rappier also bears some resemblance to contemporary Italian swordplay, including Achille Marozzo
Achille Marozzo
Achille Marozzo was an Italian fencing master teaching in the Dardi or Bolognese tradition.Marozzo was probably born in Bologna. His text Opera Nova dell'Arte delle Armi was published in 1536 in Modena, dedicated to Count Rangoni, then reprinted several times all the way into the next century...

. In common with earlier German sources, Meyer's system gives pride of place to the longsword
Longsword
The longsword is a type of European sword designed for two-handed use, current during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, approximately 1350 to 1550 .Longswords have long cruciform hilts with grips over 10 to 15 cm length The longsword (of which stems the variation called the bastard...

, which is both the first weapon discussed, and the weapon treated in most detail, forming an exemplar-teaching tool for the rest of the system. By the time of publication in 1570, the longsword had largely become a weapon for use in the fight schools, somewhat ritualistic and sporting in nature, and as a result Meyer's system is sometimes characterised (perhaps unfairly) by modern writers as "sportive" in nature. However, the rapier, dagger and polearm techniques and devices described in Meyer's book do not appear to concede much to sporting considerations, featuring as they do the thrusts omitted from the longsword section, as well as a range of possibly lethal fight ending techniques. Furthermore, the longsword section of Meyer's book in particular shows definite descent from the earlier corpus of the Liechtenauer tradition (Meyer mentions Liechtenauer by name), and remains one of the most detailed, systematic and complete sources for this weapon.

Life


Meyer's book was reprinted in 1600 in Augsburg
Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, and became a highly influential source for other 16th and 17th century German fencing books, including a 1612 book by Jacob Sutor
Jacob Sutor
Jacob Sutor was a German fencing master who published a fighting manual in 1612, called the Neues Künstliches Fechtbuch...

 and a book from 1672 by an Italian, Theodor Verolinus, both simplified redactions of Meyer's more detailed work. Meyer is mentioned in a brief Latin treatise on martial arts by Heinrich von Gunterrodt (1579) and is also the only German among the famous masters listed in the late 17th century fencing treatise by Giuseppe Morsicato Pallavicini. 1 Little is known about Meyer himself. Some information on Meyer's life has come to light as a result of recent scholarship (Dupuis). "Originally from Basel
Basel
Basel or Basle In the national languages of Switzerland the city is also known as Bâle , Basilea and Basilea is Switzerland's third most populous city with about 166,000 inhabitants. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany...

, he (Meyer) became a burgher of Strasbourg by marrying a widow in 1560, most likely during his apprenticeship as a cutler. He made a living as both a cutler and a professional fencer until 1570, in which year he published the book that was to make him famous. The making of this book left him deeply indebted, and the search for potential buyers led him to leave Strasbourg and work as a Master-of-Arms at the court of the Duke of Schwerin
Schwerin
Schwerin is the capital and second-largest city of the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The population, as of end of 2009, was 95,041.-History:...

. Unfortunately, death seized him a short time after his arrival, leaving the burden of his debt to his widow and brother-in-law." 2

External links

  • Wiktenauer A brief biography of Meyer's life.
  • Die Freifechter A partial transcription of the first (1570) printing.
  • Higgins Armory Sword Guild A facsimile of Meyer's 1600 edition.
  • http://pagesperso-orange.fr/fcognot/od.htm Abstract of a biographical article on Joachim Meyer by Olivier Dupuis.
  • http://www.freifechter.de Martial Arts Study group dedicated to Joachim Meyer Art of War.
  • http://www.freifechter.com Martial Arts Guild with Study groups around the U.S.A. dedicated to Meyer's Art of War.