For Beginners: Fiore or Liechtenauer?
In terms of teaching longsword to a new group of people who have not studied the discipline before, my current thinking is that in fact it would be better to teach Fiore’s style than Liechtenauer’s style.
There, that is my contentious statement, and I would like to see people debate the subject a little.
As a little background, I have been practicing Liechtenauer’s longsword for a few years now, and have delved heavily into the manuscripts and sources. I have made a translation of Ringeck’s longsword gloss (from Andreas Engström’s Swedish translation, unfortunately my German is not very good) and I think that the Liechtenauer tradition contains some exceptionally cool things.
I have been introduced to a little bit of Fiore’s longsword, first by Fabrice Cognot, then by Tim Gallagher, Sean Hayes and Matt Easton. I have looked at the manuals a little bit and I think it makes an awful lot of sense, although I haven’t studied these sources anywhere near as much as I have studied the German stuff.
Now, what is my rationale for making this controversial statement?
Fiore’s longsword stuff makes distance an explicit concept. He covers what to do when the blades meet at long range, middle range and close range, and he presents this in a very sensible and logical fashion. By comparison, the Liechtenauer stuff doesn’t treat this anywhere near as explicitly and relies upon the skill of the teacher to make this known to the class.
Fiore has fewer strikes and is more explicit about how they are done. This is a good thing for beginner I think – I have yet to see any of my newer students pull off a good Krumphaw or Zwerhaw or Schilhaw or Sturtzhaw or Flugelhaw or suchlike… They can manage the Oberhaw/Fendente, the Underhaw/Sottani and maybe even the Mittelhaw/Mezzani on a good day, along with a thrust or two and maybe a pommel strike. By concentrating more on the basic building blocks of hitting the other person, Fiore’s system is perhaps better suited to giving people a grounding in how to strike with a longsword.
The guards in Fiore are more helpful for beginners. Yes, a lot of them look somewhat similar to guards in Liechtenauer’s system, and yes they perform a lot of the same functions. But the Liechtenauer tradition as it is commonly taught places fairly equal emphasis on most of the guards, and so the students will switch between the guards pretty much at random with no thought going into what they are doing. Good teaching will correct this error of course, but it is quite a lot more difficult to instill this good behaviour with the German guards. Fiore’s positions can be conceptualised as stable, unstable and pulsing, and these conceptualisations can really make things much easier for students trying to get a grasp of where to put the sword and why.
Fiore’s stuff is simply shorter and more concise, allowing students to get to grips with all the material faster, and they can then become good at the system as a whole. Liechtenauer’s tradition is so huge and encompassing that most of the instructors at the moment tend to focus on just one area of the tradition, maybe a couple; let alone any of the students who are trying to learn the discipline!
In my opinion, it would be best to start off a new class by teaching Fiore to the students. The students could then absorb the simpler and more explicit concepts faster and could develop a grounding in how to use a longsword much more swiftly than if they had to learn the Zettel and everything explaining it.
Then, for an advanced class, people could learn Liechtenauer’s system. People could take their basic grounding and refine it in the stylistic fashion described by Liechtenauer. They could learn a few more guard positions, they could learn about other strikes that are performed in a very un-Fiore-like fashion (and could also learn *why* Fiore does not do things with crossed wrists and so on), they could be introduced to the concept of the master strikes and how these break guards.
The concept of the master strikes is a very tricky thing, and there have been various articles about just this subject on this blog before:
So given the complicated nature of the subject, surely it would be best taught to experienced swordsmen and not to beginners? Why burden beginners with the complex nature of these strikes and principles? It would be much better to teach them the basics of fighting and then to introduce the complex stuff.
Furthermore, there have been various forum discussions about “common fencing” and why Fiore is a good example of skilful “common fencing”, and why Liechtenauer’s style is designed to be used against a “common fencer”. For example:
So if Fiore’s style is “common fencing” and Liechtenauer’s style was designed to beat a “common fencer”, why start by teaching everyone the “exceptional / uncommon” style? This does not seem to make a lot of sense, and results in a lot of people having an incorrect understanding of body mechanics, distance and range, timing, and such “soft” skills that are not mentioned explicitly in the German texts. This in turn leads to a lot of poor interpretations of Liechtenauer’s system.
If people started with Fiore and made the effort *not* to combine it with Liechtenauer system, and made a point of sticking just to Fiore’s treatise without adding anything (yes, you *can* do a true edge Sottano with crossed wrists from the left, but there is little evidence in Fiore’s treatises to suggest that you *should* ), then I believe that people would gain a very solid grounding in fighting and would then become much more capable of understanding and performing the more complex Liechtenauer system.
This process would take some honesty and integrity, as well as discipline. Yes, you *can* do a Zwerhaw or a Krumphaw or a true edge rising cut from the left, but to practice Fiore’s system properly you would have to eschew these techniques. This might not be a bad thing: Fiore may well have excluded them from his system for a reason. I think it is very short sighted to presume that masters created incomplete systems and that therefore it is reasonable to “bolster” the system by taking techniques from elsewhere. Practice the system as it is written, build a solid grounding in how to use the weapon, and then look at another system as a completely different entity.
I think I need to spend some time studying Fiore’s manuals in more depth so that I can begin to teach longsword in this fashion.
Do you agree with this theory? Do you disagree? Do you believe that it is alright to take techniques from different styles and say that it is all found in the same system? Comments, suggestions and discussion would be appreciated!