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:
- The other scholars in my school had not chosen him
- He has a major influence on modern HEMA
- 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 had become overly reliant on cutting rather than incorporating thrusts. This made my fencing more predictable. Thrusting is mostly absent from the Meyer longsword system as thrusting 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… or so I thought.
A few months ago I took up the study of Meyer rapier as it looked interesting and was something I could do while home during quarantine. I found the material very interesting as thrusting as a single-time counter is a major component of the system (straight parrying). I decided to try some of the rapier ideas in my longsword fencing and found that they worked very well indeed. Areas of the rapier material often referenced ideas mentioned in other weapon sections, so I decided to also read the dussack section and found a wealth of information on footwork that was equally applicable to the other weapons. I believe I had made a mistake that other people make when it comes to Meyer; you have to read his whole book to understand his system, not just the longsword section. When I read the entire book and put all the concepts together through some simple extrapolation of ideas, the system becomes much more robust.
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. Meyer was writing his material for the various fencing schools that were popping up at the time to serve the growing mercantile class that wanted to take up hobbies that were traditionally the domain of the nobility. These people were training for tournaments, not life or death battles and his manual is written accordingly. The brechfenster and flat blade plays are good examples of techniques that work better with a feder than they would with a sharp sword. Further, because the material is written for students, it is easier to pick up (in my opinion) than many other sources that were written for knights or the nobility and assume a certain level of knowledge. I believe this makes Meyer an ideal source for those just starting out with interpretation.
Perhaps Meyer is a bit of a “sport fencer”, but there is no denying he left behind some of the most complete and easy to interpret material we have in HEMA. There is always something to be learned from a master, and that is a point we can all appreciate.