Author: James Roberts

System vs Syllabus: Meyer’s 1560 and 1570 sidesword texts

As a professional educator as well as a long-time amateur martial arts instructor, one of the issues that fascinates me about the historical fighting manuscripts is their approach to teaching. Broadly speaking, there are two types of texts: a)      “Reference” texts which attempt to preserve a system of fighting b)      “Teaching” texts which attempt to sequence the teaching of a weapon or style Reference texts aim to list everything of importance or to present memory cues for techniques learnt through physical instruction. For instance, the early German corpus revolves around the Lichtenauer verses, which are mnemonic in nature[1]. Terms in the verses are not explained, and the verses can be broken down into sections which do not necessarily link to ideas previously mentioned. Each subsequent author added a commentary or “glossa” to the verses, but retained the sequence of verses. Such a reference text works well for a reader already submerged in the art illustrated, but is not necessarily the ideal vehicle for teaching a raw beginner. A teaching text, on the other hand, aims to present material in a sequence to facilitate learning. Ideas are introduced in order from simple to complex, each building on the previous work. Many works of the 16th and later centuries are built on this model, potentially/possibly reflecting a change in mind-set by the writers from preserving an art, to transmitting an art....

Read More

Teaching progressions in Meyer’s longsword 1: the attacking skill tree

Over the last five years, I’ve given several workshops in both South Africa and Europe focused on sequencing the teaching of techniques from Joachim Meyer’s “Gründtliche Beschreibung… der Kunst des Fechtens”[i]. In my view, each section in Meyer’s 1570 text contains two or more of the following elements- a glossary of terms, a training programme (the “Stucke” or “devices”) and an advanced commentary. This progression is best shown in Meyer’s longsword and rapier sections, but the teaching programme is a core element of every section. In the teaching section (“second part”) of each weapon section, Meyer lays out a sequence of drills which I argue escalate in complexity, in which different techniques are introduced to the student in order. This series of articles will explore some of these ideas in more detail, and is written primarily for my own students, but will hopefully be of interest to many other practitioners. This particular article forms the basis for a class I gave at WWOC 2012. The attacking skill tree In a fight, attack and defence are the two sides of the fight. An attack must foil the attempted defence; the defence must foil the attempted attack. Some defensive techniques only work against certain attacks; some attacking stratagems are designed to defeat certain defensive techniques. However, many students have a limited repertoire of attacks, and often fail to sequence them particularly...

Read More