Reply To: Hans Talhoffer

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Hans Hellinger

A lot of HEMA people and related researchers – especially club leaders, have all kinds of theories about fencing masters, (and have done since the current revival started about 20 years ago) even veering into theories about secret societies and all kinds of other ridiculous stuff. Some of them, I’m embarrassed to say, think they are better than the masters from the era when people still actually fought for real with swords. This is an age of rampant narcissism.

We also have the general theory which goes back to Sydney Anglo that the German fencing in general was at least eventually degraded and became a sport for the burghers after it got away from the ‘real knights”. But none of this is actually based on any real data – in fact a lot of my own research into the context of fencing has shown that this theory is B.S. since we know that the burghers were just as warlike as the nobility, and in fact quite a few burghers were knights themselves. This isn’t all that well known in Anglophone circles though I guess.

That isn’t to disrespect Sydney Anglo who is an legit academic and vastly more erudite on the subject of historical fencing than 99% of HEMA people. That particular context ust isn’t really his field. Unfortunately most of the English speaking and especially the American HEMA / WMA folks know very little history beyond what is in the fencing manuals themselves, especially when it comes to the regions where the older fencing manuals come from (Holy Roman Empire and Italy, basically).

The truth is we have the barest fragments of data about the lives of most of the fencing masters, so anything we do learn (like this) is a big deal. I think some people jumping to the conclusion that Talhoffer losing a fight means he was a bad fencer or a poor fighter – and some have said stuff like that on Social Media – even though there isn’t a HEMA fencer alive who hasn’t lost a fight, is pretty ridiculous. Nuance is not one of the strengths of our current cultural moment in general, and sadly most people aren’t going to get anywhere near understanding much beyond how to do a zwerchau.