The latest article by BBC Future on the Fightbooks describes what we already know: obscure, incomplete and mystifying. Titled The lost medieval sword fighting tricks no one can decode, Zaria Gorvett’s well-researched long-form article (20th December 2022) is a worthwhile read.
“No one knows how medieval knights really fought,” Garvett begins, bringing in experts such as instructor Jamie MacIver with London Historical Fencing Club, and Neil Grant, a trustee of the Royal Armouries. The article examines the surviving combat manuals, also known as “fechtbücher”, Lichtenauer, Vadi, Fiore, I.33 (Walpurgis) manuscript, and Talhoffer. They share common characteristics; convoluted, vague, and cryptic.
As Grant points out, this may have been more about marketing than integrity. Instructors promised the advantage of uncommon and ‘secret’ techniques unknown to the common man. These closely-guarded trade secrets also guaranteed the authors a livelihood through wealthy patrons.
The article references the upsurge in interest in Historical European Martial Arts (Hema). The work done by this community of amateur enthusiasts attempts to recreate and validate the techniques of the past masters.