Saturday, February 2, 2008

The New Messerfechten DVD From

Thanks to Mark at Gaukler’s Medieval Wares:
I just received my new Messerfechten DVD from Agilitas.Tv.

My first reaction, after watching the entire thing, was “Wow!”; this is a great piece of work and is even better done, if that’s possible, than their earlier Longsword DVD (and *much* better than the DVD they misleadingly called “medieval wrestling” that turned out to be anything but). The production values are superb, the sound is great, the camera positions perfect for seeing each technique, and the way they “froze” the action while technical points were explained was really well done and very helpful.

Before I go any farther, let me say that I don’t study Messerfechten; not really. I use some of the Codex Wallerstein Messer techniques as part of my arming sword material and I use Talhoffer’s arming sword/messer techniques as stand-alone material (but with arming swords, not Messer), but that’s about it. And I certainly don’t know much at all about Lecküchner’s teaching other than spending a few hours staring at the hundreds of plates in the Fechtbuch, so I can’t comment on whether anything was “right” or “wrong” in this DVD in any specific technique sense.

Having said that, the DVD shows a discrete set of techniques and explains them very clearly and precisely. The DVD is organized well, with clearly-defined sections, each of which has a primary technique and then variations and counters clearly developing from the initial technique.

I found the techniques presented in the DVD to be fascinating. Some of them represent ideas I haven’t seen in any other German text but which I know from Japanese martial arts. Many of them are quite clearly taken almost precisely from Liechtenauer (albeit with modifications for the nature of the weapon) while others are clearly aligned with Liechtenauer’s principles but represent developments of the art specifically designed for the Messer. I confess some of the techniques seemed overly fussy, especially some of the grappling techniques; in some of the grappling techniques you are in contact with your opponent’s Messer, right on the edge, while you perform techniques that require two or even three fencing “times” without adequate control being applied to your opponent’s sword, implying, to an outside observer, that a withdrawing Schnitt should be possible. Again, without actually practicing any of this I wouldn’t want to make that sound like a condemnation—clearly this will require study and practice.

I missed the opening “duel” with steel swords between Alex and Hans with which the Longsword DVD opened, but its absence was more than made up for by the inclusion of a fascinating vignette done in a castle in period clothing which showed Master Johannes having two of his students demonstrate techniques while an artist busily drew out the Fechtbuch. I think this was a *fantastic* bit of business that should really show people how Fechtbücher were made, and it was very well done.

I also loved the “show fighting” chapter. Lecküchner includes a number of techniques that are intended more for showing off than serious combat, and these were presented very well, too, especially when Hans picked Alex’s pocket while holding him in a bind, and the one where Alex pinned Hans and then played backgammon while holding him down, which is *right* out of the Fechtbuch:
And I *loved* the demonstration of how it’s easily possible to perform halfsword techniques even with a very sharp sword without cutting yourself. Just having that demonstration is almost worth the price of the entire DVD.

One thing really bothered me, however: The vast majority of the cuts did not seem to be performed according to Liechtenauer’s principles. Specifically, in the vast majority of cases the demonstrators did not “Follow the Blow” by starting their cut and then stepping as Liechtenauer instructs. Moreover, in a number of cases they actually moved the tip of the sword backward, then started to cut rather than cutting as if a string pulled the edge to the target; this is the behavior of a “Buffel” according to the masters. They also made most cuts that failed to connect with the target drive all the way to the ground rather than stopping in one of the Hengen or in Long Point (in spite of discussing this in one section), a point admittedly open to a great deal of argument among those who study the Fechtbücher, but to my mind a serious mistake. All of these mistakes are indicative of too much test cutting practice in which the art of swordsmanship is sacrificed on the altar of clean, neat cuts through tough targets. Admittedly, as I said, I don’t study Lecküchner and he may say to do these things differently, but I find that hard to believe. Yes, how far to go with a cut that doesn’t connect is a debatable issue, but the other mistakes are clear telegraphers and I was disappointed to see them.

All in all, however, this is a magnificent video and everyone should get a copy as soon as possible, even if you don’t intend to study Messerfechten.

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