Joachim Meyer, the flawed master

At my club, we practice a mixture of Fiore and Liechtenauer traditions with a slight emphasis on Liechtenauer. As I progressed through the program and achieved my apprentice rank, I needed to pick a treatise for independent study in order to move to the rank of scholar. I decided to go with Joachim Meyer’s 1570 “Art of Combat” for a number of reasons:

  1. The other scholars in my school had not chosen him
  2. He is a major influencer on modern HEMA
  3. I like the look of his book

A few of the more advanced people in my class gave me grief about Meyer being a sport fencer, but I decided to find out for myself what he was about.

I really, really liked the system when I first started. The book reads well and I found it easier to interpret the plays than many of the other treatises I have looked over. Additionally, there is a huge following of Meyer practitioners on YouTube that can help with the finer points of movement and body position. I started using what I was learning in class more often with good to very good results. I found myself questioning why our class curriculum was focused on the other Liechtenauer traditions over Meyer.

As time went on, my classmates became familiar with my slightly different style and I was not nearly as effective as I was when I first stated incorporating Meyer into my fencing. I first attributed this to getting over the initial learning period but when I really paid attention, I was simply getting beat by thrusts. Thrusting is often absent from the Meyer system as thrusting with a sword was frowned upon during the time Meyer lived in Germany. As such, the system does not incorporate thrusts into its (longsword) attacks and it often does not account for them in defense. When facing a Fiore or KDF fencer from another master that fully incorporates thrusts the Meyer system is at a disadvantage.

I still very much enjoy the Meyer manual and use a number of techniques in my fencing but I only use the material as a source for my fencing rather than as complete system. It is worth noting that I believe the “Art of Combat” to be a treatise on the use of feders and other training swords rather than the use of sharp swords like most other sources. The brechfenster and flat blade plays are good examples of techniques that work better with a feder than they would with a sharp sword. So, perhaps Meyer is a bit of a “sport fencer”, but there is no denying he was very accomplished and there is always something to be learned from a master. Just watch out for those thrusts.

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