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Resources for the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) student, with a particular focus on the ars gladiatoris of Paulus Hector Mair.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"The Half-Swording of Paulus Hector Mair" by Keith Myers

The following commentary and translation are copyright 2010 by MFFG member Keith Myers and reproduced here in accordance with the license granted by the author:

Paulus Hector Mair was an avid collector of Fechtbucher/Fencing Manuals. He eventually undertook the task of producing a large Fechtbuch of his own that brought together material from various sources in his collection. Several variations of this work were made. This was an expensive undertaking, since each one was hand-made and heavily illustrated by talented artists of the day. Mair was employed as a government official by the city of Augsburg and was driven to embezzle municipal funds in order to bankroll his projects. He was hung for this in 1579.

The material you see here are my translations from the edition of Mair’s Fechtbuch that is in the collection of the Sachsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden Germany. It is dated to 1540 and is in two volumes, labeled as C93 and C94. It is one of the most artistically illustrated Fechtbucher known. The SLUB has put a scan of C93 on-line here:

Mair has an extensive section on the Longsword consisting of 120 illustrated plates. He concludes this section with eight specially numbered plates containing what he refers to as “Kampfstuck.” This translates as “combat device” or “combat technique.” It is the term Mair uses for half-swording. Half-swording involves gripping the sword blade with the left hand so that it is wielded somewhat like a short spear. It originated as the primary way of fighting with a Longsword while wearing full plate armour.    Strikes with the edge of the sword would have minimal effect against a fully armoured opponent, but holding the sword like a spear allowed one to thrust into the gaps of the armour. Mair’s half-swording techniques are an adaptation from armoured combat, but he shows them unarmoured and clearly intends for them to be used that way. They are related to the staff and halberd techniques that Mair covers later in his text. By putting this material at the end of the Longsword section and numbering it individually, the implication is that Mair considered this the culmination or final stage of mastering the Longsword.

Note that Mair makes heavy use of striking with the pommel of the sword while gripping the blade with both hands. Mair does not give this technique a name, but in the earlier German tradition it is known as the “Mordtschlag/Murder stroke” or “Tunrschlag/Thunderclap stroke.” Mair also makes heavy use of a defensive technique he refers to as “Kron/Crown.” This involves holding the sword horizontally above the head. Mair seems to be unique in how he applies this term, since in the earlier German tradition “Kron” usually referred to a defensive position in which the sword was held vertically to catch a downward stroke on the crossguard.

Some half-swording techniques show up in Mair’s Longsword section prior to the final eight plates that feature it specifically. There is a series of four plates that lead into the half-swording section and involve either using the Kron or countering the Kron. There are also random plates that feature a half-sword grip in a grappling situation. To present Mair’s overall approach to half-swording, I have included the Kron series leading into the half-swording series and some of the additional plates after the ones dedicated specifically to half-swording.

Of incidental interest is Pg 116. This shows a fighter standing over several objects lying on the floor below him. There appears to be a wooden form representing a human foot, a piece of leather in the shape of the sole of a shoe, and a specialized knife. The fighter himself appears to be wearing a leather apron over his pants. He is clearly a cobbler by trade. The fighting guilds of the period were known to be made up of tradesman and merchants rather than professional fighting men.    This fellow must have been particularly proud of his craft, to have the artist include his tools with his picture!
The page numbers reflect the numbering of the plates in the Longsword section of the Dresden version of Mair’s Fechtbuch.

Pg 109
The First Technique in the Kron

It happens hence that you close against the Kron. Strike him with the long edge to the top of his head such that your right foot stands forward. If he displaces this with the Kron, then step in with your left leg, take your strike once again and wind your point to his chest. If he sets your point aside also with the Kron, follow outward with your right foot and grip with your left hand at the mid-point of your blade and thrust powerfully to his face. If he goes on to displace this, then step with your left foot on his right side and thrust to his groin.

If you come to perceive such a groin thrust and stand with your left foot forward in the Kron, then set it aside with the Kron, follow outward with your right foot, and thrust with your point to his face. If he displaces this, then strike him with your crossguard to his head.

Myers' complete translations can be downloaded as a PDF here.

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