Fencing Who was Johannes Lichtenauer


As a fencing master, L. enjoyed an unusual, almost legendary reputation for centuries. It was based on the fact that with him for the first time a fencing practitioner established a limited but comprehensive canon of simple, rhymed rules - of very different degrees - for serious combat with knightly weapons. With that the step from the purely practical to the theory was taken, the possibility of a solid tradition was given. L. deliberately put his prescriptions, which were intended exclusively for oral communication, into "dark and hidden words"; only the initiated should understand them. After the master's death, one of his pupils, the priest Hanko Döbringer, polemicized in writing against a number of dance fencing masters intended to have an impact on the public. These notes by Hanko from 1389 (in: Cod.ms. 3227 a, German.Nat.mus. Nürnberg) have remained fragments, but they established a new type of tradition, that of the fencing book, which for reasons of clarity soon differs from the pure text tradition developed into an illuminated and then into a purely illustrated manuscript. Hanko's intention was to make the dark content of his teacher's memorable verses understandable by interpreting and glossing them in prose and thus to prove that L.'s rules in nuce included the entire art of knightly fencing, and that apparent innovations could only turn out to be variations. On the other hand, however, Hanko emphasizes that L.'s art is by no means an invention of the master. Rather, he got to know an art that was conceived and invented "a few hundred years ago" on extensive study trips and arranged it into an unsurpassable system. The tradition of the art of fencing that has been preserved shows that Hanko was entitled to claim this with good reason. All important manuscripts continue Hanko's principle of prose glossing and seek to establish a technical genealogical relationship with L. (cf. e.g. Cgm 1507). Even prints from the 17th century, when the europ. The art of fencing has long been dominated by completely different weapons and techniques - Italian, Spanish, French - and we do not refrain from citing L. as a recognized authority. - Unfortunately there are no records of L. himself. The only - rather sparse - biographical source is Hanko's fencing book fragment. According to this, the master must have been a thoroughly educated personality. A noble descent cannot be ruled out. L. probably served temporarily in Upper German court services. Later he must have lived in one of the large Upper German cities and gathered a select small group of students around him. The term “fencing school”, which is often mentioned together with its name, must not be misunderstood as a pedagogical institution. A large number of documented and handwritten evidence shows that these were occasional public events intended to demonstrate the skills of the fencers who performed.


L. Merkverse in: M. Wierschin, Meister J. L.s Kunst d. Fencing, 1965.


ADB 18;
G. Eis, in: Dt. Philol, Aufriß II. 21960, p. 1200;
M. Wierschin, Master J. L.'s Art d. Fechtens, 1965;
Vf.-Lex. d. MA III.

Recommended citation style

Wierschin, Martin, "Liechtenauer, Johannes" in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 14 (1985), p. 513 [online version]; URL: https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd118761390.html#ndbcontent