Monday, October 13, 2014

Fencing Treatise: Part Manual, Part Resume


I have in previous articles discussed period sources and their uses. These discussions have been focused on the uses of the treatises in a practical sense and also understanding the language within them. There is a slightly different approach in this article with regard to the treatises. This approaches the manuals the manuals as they are and how they were presented to the public and gives something of an explanation as to how they are written and what is presented in them.

What will be noted in many manuals is the lack of basics presented. Even though there is the demonstration of theoretical knowledge and scientific principles, this is more designed to present the knowledge of the author than to present principles. For the most part there is a demonstration of a high level of skill presented in these manuals, rather than the essential skills that a combatant would need to know to learn to survive. This knowledge and skill base presented is designed to present the skills as noble and a noble intention in their teachings. Thus many of these manuals are more resume than practical manual.

The idea of the manual being a curriculum vitae rather than a more practical approach to how the skills should be used. This is more common in the later manuals of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries, but is also present in earlier ones as well. A perfect example of this is Talhoffer's treatise of 1467 in which skills are presented but also other elements of warfare. These manuals were designed to present the author as a knowledgeable individual with great skills, designed to draw attention to the author's skill with the hope of future employment. This is perfectly presented if any time is taken to read the dedications in these manuals, in which it is clear that he is selling his skills in book form.

All this being said, it cannot be ignored that the manuals and treatises present useful skills that can be learnt. Even present a system of defence for certain weapons. Thus it is clear that they should be treated partially as practical manual, but also part resume. In some cases the skills presented cannot be learnt as they are without a teacher, and some where it is claimed that it can be learnt without the assistance of a teacher. The latter type tends to be the more practical and the one where more basics are found. Regardless, both types of treatise are useful not only for their practical skills, but also for the social aspects which are presented. It simply needs to be understood which is which and their multiple uses regardless.