Musing regarding German school stance   5 comments

Of late I’ve been reading through my copy of Codex Wallerstein (I blame Rhonwen) and thinking thoughts about German footwork.

The 15th century manuals show a very upright and almost straight-legged stance:

Wallerstein (1470)

Talhoffer (1460)













The 16th century sources show a wider, lower stance

Meyer (1570)

And of course my homeboy, Mair (1540)
[Whose handwriting is preserved in Codex Wallerstein, where he took notes]

The obvious conclusion, the one I’ve been operating under and which most people seem to operate under, is “stance changed over 100 years”.  In the 15th century the Germans had the feet closer together, the legs straighter.  In the 16th century they took a wider, deeper stance.  Geoffrey Athos, the local armored-fighter-turned-Liberi-ista, teaches the more upright position (Liberi predates the Germans cited above by half a century or so), as it is familiar to him from his heavy fighting experience.

Originally I figured the 16th century stance was probably an incorporation of the Italians’ footwork.  Except that Meyer and Mair predate those Italians (contemporaries like Marozzo and Manciolino have narrower, shallower stances than those portrayed here), so it looks more like these were an independent evolution from the 15th century stance.  Still anacceptable conclusion.  Except I don’t buy it.  Any of it.

The first longsword and grappling sections of the Wallerstein Codex prescribe “the balance stance” frequently, and early in the grappling section specify “the balance stance low to the ground.”  These sections include many explosive movements of the legs (e.g. lunging the lead leg between and behind the feet of the enemy).  The narrow stance illustrated does not support these instructions.

It wouldn’t be the first instance of wrong art; examples come from across the centuries.  Little information is available of the method for illustrating the 15th C manuals (were fighters posing for an artist, or did the author draw from his mind’s eye?), though in both sample texts the result is disproportionate and stylized figures.  The artists and models who illustrated the Mair volumes were hired professionals, and Meyer employed a professional artist and used himself and his students as the models.  Their accuracy is far more certain than the 15th Century illustrations.

The wider, deeper stance provides more defense (Ox becomes defensive against most attacks, rather than a weird contorting of the arms useful only for delivering cuts).  It also enables more power generation: this showed up in my own experience applying an Italian firm-footed attack to armored spear fighting, wherein I basically ended up in the spear/long staff positions illustrated in Mair, and could build on rotational momentum in my hips, as well as shifting my body weight forward to drive the spear.


Of course, in our community there’s only one real way to find out, so there’s a German longsword tourney next month where I think I’ll try it out.

Posted November 12, 2012 by Wistric in German HMA, Musings

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