Deadly Knives: From Martial Combat to Fechtschule

Instructor(s): Christian Tobler

Disciplines: Messer, Dussack

Arising in the Holy Roman Empire in the early 15th century, the messer – a single-edge, falchion-like sword, but one constructed like a knife – became a favored sidearm, gaining popularity with commoner and noble alike. Over the course of three days, we’ll explore basic techniques drawn directly from surviving German treatises, with a focus on their adaptation to fencing in both play and in earnest. From there we will progress into leveraging that knowledge into a framework for defensive and offensive strategies. Finally, on Day 3, we’ll conclude by tying everything together through coached bouting – so expect to experience something of the flavor of a Fechtschule, the fencing contests held in late medieval German towns.

Day 1, General Lessons on the Messer, will involve training in the fundamentals of movement and basic strikes, thrusts, and parries. Stance, footwork, and gripping the messer with a supple hand will be key focuses of this session. We will also set the stage for understanding what separates earnest fencing from play.

Day 2, In Deadly Earnest, will focus on a simple suite of techniques for preserving your life with a messer where this is genuine peril, whether on the battlefield, the street, or the roads and byways of 15th century Germany. The day’s watchwords will be: defend and dispatch!

Day 3, The Dussack in Play, will conclude our intensive, transporting us from the 15th century – and the use of the messer – to the early 16th century and the play of the messer’s cousin, the dussack. We’ll explore training, and then bouting, with a limited ruleset similar to those employed in 16th-century German cities – one where grappling, and even the thrust, are forbidden. We will end the day with a competition between volunteers with the dussack – a mini Fechtschule – and you get to be one of the judges!

Equipment Requirements: Students should have a steel messer or arming sword. If you have a leather or wooden dussack, that would be most welcome! Protective gear should include a fencing mask, jacket, gloves or gauntlets, and throat protection.