Syllabus vs System: The Teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer || Michael Chidester

Michael Chidester || Wiktenauer

Lecture

Johannes Liechtenauer, grand master of the oldest known German fencing tradition, recorded his art in a 358-line poem called the Zettel. To unlock the secrets of this poem, we rely on the writings of his students and associates, as well as later masters in his tradition.

This lecture consists of two parts. The first will explore the different kinds of fencing manuals that have been preserved and how they relate to and inform each other, tracing the evolution and expansion of this literary tradition from early recordings of the Zettel, through the process of glossing and commentaries on the glosses, and eventually into lavish illustrated artbooks.

The second part will take a step back from the raw instructions in those sources and consider what they tell us about the fencing system itself. It will argue that the Zettel and its glosses are not intended to describe a system of fencing in an orderly or comprehensive fashion, but rather contain a syllabus for teaching that system to students. At the same time, clues in the text can lead us toward an understanding of the shape and nature of the system or method of fighting that underlies that syllabus, and suggest ways in which we can escape the trap of "fencing according to the lessons".