Here Commences the Fencing with the Staff

Within the fencing traditions of the staff, we find a written entry in the manuscript Cod.Hs.3227 of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany. This manuscript dates from around 1390. It is the first work which documented the fencing theory of Johannes Liechtenauer. On fol. 78r is found the following self-explanatory text on “fencing with the staff.”

[78r] Here Commences the Fencing with the Staff

He who wants to learn fencing with the staff should first know and note that a proper staff should be twelve spans long [somewhere between 1.80m and 2.40m]. And the fencing with a staff is derived from the fencing with a sword. And just as one fences with the sword, so he should also fence with the  staff. And the principles that belong to the sword, such as audaciousness, quickness, stratagems, intelligence, etc, also belong to the staff.”

About 20 years later, Fiore dei Liberi published the Flos Duellatorum (1409 or 1410). Fiore had studied unter German fencing master Johannes Suvenus (Johane dicto suueno), whom Fiore himself described as his principal teacher from among all of the many German and Italian masters he had studied with during the late 14th century.

The places of Fiore’s activity– Udine, Padua, Pavia, and Ferrara – at that time belonged to the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, which can be said to have begun with Otto the Great (Italian: Ottone il Grande) – German king from 936, Italian king from 951, and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 – and lasted until 1806.

While Fiore himself might not be considered a significant master in the evolution of fencing in Central Europe, he did prepare one of the first illustrated fencing books which shows a potpourri of techniques derived from the eminent “German” and “Italian” fencing schools of that era. Besides the regular armed or unarmed fight on foot or horseback, Fiore also covered topics such as the bastoncello, or plays of a short stick, such as shown below and bearing the description:

With a short staff I bind your neck, And if I fail to bring you into the ground, you can consider yourself lucky.”

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program. Translation by Colin Hatcher.

Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Translation by Colin Hatcher.

© 2018, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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