Sichelfechten 0: Introduction

We’re just about finalized on this bad boy (and moving on to Staff, Scythe, Halberd, and Dussack), so it’s about time to kick this off…

This is a wildly different form from any of my experience.  As with dagger fighting, it’s most definitely not fencing.  It has some similarities to the two-hander Germanic style which the martial system in Mair’s manual derives from, but is far more varied in its blows, measure, and line.  It is, ultimately, 16 plates trying to codify and systematize street brawls, which makes this section an interesting demagogic study if nothing else.

The weapon:

When reaping a large quantity of grain, the traditional tool used is a scythe.  In smaller quantities, though, a sickle can be used.  The classic sickle shape is a blade forming a bit more than half the circumference of a circle:

Classic sickle shape, seen here with a hammer and star

The Codex Vindobensis edition of Mair’s Arte Athletica shows combatants using this sort of sickle, though the Munchen codex icon 393, which we use as our source for text and art (because it’s sooooo pretty), shows a less circular, serrated weapon.

Our initial simulator for the combat was a rubber-bladed/wood-handled kama, used for training in Asian martial arts.

After determining that this was, really, too wimpy and small, we manufactured two simulators out of foam rubber puzzle mats, strapping tape, Gorilla glue, and Gorilla tape.  Total cost of materials: about $15, with sufficient wastage left over to provide spear points and polearm striking surfaces for the foreseeable future.  Testing-to-failure is ongoing.

A German HMA group a few years back created simulators out of round stock curved into a sickle shape and reports good success with those as training weapons.  This would bring a more realistic stiffness and weight to the trainer.  We are currently mulling a commission for Solvarr.

 Notes on the Text:

The translations that follow are again the work of the inestimable Rachel Barkley, who gives permission to use so long as no money is made off of the work, and credit is given.

The terminology in this section seems to vary from that of the flail beyond what would be expected due to differences of weapon (a pattern we’re noticing as the scope expands to include non-peasant weapons forms).  With the assumption standing that Paulus Hector Mair was the author of each, the difference could be due to time elapsed between the two transcriptions (and gained knowledge and experience), or a different instructor dictating to Mair.

In the translation, the sidedness of the attack is the side of the target (“Attack neck from left side” = Onside strike to neck)

All actions must (Seizures, cuts, etc) be done with sincerity for proper redirection of force to work

Stances and Guards:
“Supra Bracchio” – Above left shoulder, left arm extended or guarding right armpit
“Sickle against your opponent” – Sickle forward and vertical, left hand on hip
“Low sickle against your opponent” – As above, but with sickle held down


Point-towards-knuckle most common.

Point-towards-thumb in some illustrations (Plate 5 L, Plate 7 R, Plate 9 L?, Plate 14 R)  but not, apparently, necessary

Never “inverted” with blade held along forearm due to loss of measure and range of motion

Mostly passing steps, some lunging and slipping of front feet

Placing/Fixing vs. Putting – we have not conducted a thorough review, but it appears that the use of “placing” and “fixing” forward of a foot indicates a foot will not be moved for at least the first two pieces of the action.  The use of “putting” indicates the foot will be mobile during the play.

Additionally, rotation in the hips is necessary for many of the plays to work.  The technique includes use of the opponent’s momentum in a way similar to Aikido.


Four terms are used for blows, though distinctions between them seem vague.  Stringere (“scratch”) appears to be a point-first, slicing attack.  Scindere (“Plough up”) seems to be a more vigorous attack with a hooking motion.  Sauciare (“Wound”) and Prosternere (“”Fell”) are rarely used.


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