In Liechtenauer’s Zedel and some of the gloss explaining the verses, we find the statement about certain techniques and behaviours “that I will praise”. It might just be poetry or an attempt to rhyme, or it might be a genuine attempt to draw attention to specific behaviours or techniques that are particularly important.
To use this as a thinking exercise: what behaviours would I praise? What could I say is particularly praiseworthy in the practice of HEMA?
The source material
There is a section of verse in Liechtenauer’s Zedel that discusses some of the fundamental behaviour that good fighters should show:
Haw drin hart dar
Rausch hin triff oder las farñ
daß in die wÿsen
hassen den man sicht brÿsen
Strike in fiercely!Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden, Germany, MS Dresd.C.487, folio 11v, transcription by Dierk Hagedorn (Wiktenauer), translation by Keith Farrell (unpublished, 2019).
Rush in: hit or miss.
If you know this,
you will soon receive praise.
Similarly, there is a section of gloss describing the Five Strikes, that gives the advice:
And try, if you can, to hit with one of these five cuts with your first strike. By doing these, you can break whatever he shows; by doing these, you will receive praise from the master of the Zedel, and your art will reward you more than another fencer who cannot fight with the five cuts. And about how you should make the five cuts, you will find written hereafter.MS Dresd.C.487, folios 17r-17v, translation by Keith Farrell (unpublished, 2019).
In the Zedel about the Krumphaw, there is the couplet:
Wenn es kluczt oben
so stand ab dz will ich loben
When it clashes above,MS Dresd.C.487, folio 25v, transcription by Dierk Hagedorn (Wiktenauer), translation by Keith Farrell (unpublished, 2019).
stand off, this I shall praise.
And in the Zedel about the Uberlauffen, there is the couplet:
Wenn es klutzscht oben
so störck dz will ich loben
When it clashes above,MS Dresd.C.487, folio 39v, transcription by Dierk Hagedorn (Wiktenauer), translation by Keith Farrell (unpublished, 2019).
be strong: that I will praise.
Clearly, within our source material, there is the concept that there are behaviours that the master “will praise”: holding strong, maintaining the right distance under threat, using the correct techniques from the Hauptstucke, and striving to be in the Vor and calling the shots in the fight rather than being defensive.
What behaviours might I praise?
We have it in black and white in our source material that these are the behaviours that the master would praise. This is an interesting idea, and although it might just be poetic licence (or, indeed, an attempt to make the Zedel rhyme), it is a good thought exercise today. What behaviours might I praise when I see them in my students?
Being a good training partner
I believe strongly that everyone should learn how to be a good training partner, and should thereafter always endeavour to be the best and most helpful training partner it is possible to be.
There can be a very selfish component to this: if I am a good enough training partner, then the people I train with will become better fencers. That means I will have better training partners who can help me learn better, so we all win, and I can get better at fencing and enjoy my practice more.
Another selfish component could be that if I break all my training partners because I am hitting too hard, then I’m going to run out of training partners and won’t have anyone willing to fence with me. If I learn to play nice, and to be helpful to other people instead of just destructive, then I will have more people who feel able and willing to fence with me. Again, we all win, and I can become a better fencer and have more fun at practice if I am a good training partner for my club mates.
People who are good training partners are good people, and this I would praise. People who are not yet good training partners really should put some focus on learning this skill, so that they will receive my praise.
People who are (deliberately) bad training partners are probably not very good people, and need to become better people. No praise for people who suck.
Learning to do things properly
If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
This is a saying that I learned from my family when I was younger, and is quite a common sentiment in many families and organisations across the world. If I were to try to make the saying a bit more Liechtenauer-esque in sound, then I might change it to be like this:
If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, and this I will praise.
So if you are performing a technique, do it properly. Don’t mess it up and then think that it was “good enough”. It wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t deserve praise. You need to learn to do it better.
Of course, if you are still in the early stages of learning, and you do something to the best of your ability but it still isn’t quite right, then this is quite understandable. Everyone has to begin somewhere. My techniques were pretty rubbish when I started learning. It is praiseworthy to try hard and to keep working towards excellence. However, it is important to keep working towards excellence, no matter how your techniques begin to look or feel. Don’t slack off!
Developing grace of motion
Pretty fencing is good fencing, and this I will praise.
Why might I say that pretty fencing is good fencing? Well, we tend to think that things which are well-put-together and well-proportioned and well-structured could be considered pretty. If fencing is pretty, that is because it is well-structured and well-proportioned and well-put-together. That sounds like a very good example of “good fencing” to me.
To offer a selfish reason, if you develop grace, poise, balance, coordination, and structure, then you will be able to perform any given technique more effective. You will also be able to stop any given action and turn it into something else with relative ease. Whereas if you do not develop grace, poise, etc., then you will always fall from one technique into the next, never quite being in control of your body or sword or opponent. Developing grace is part of becoming a better, more skilful fencer.
Graceful fencing also looks good. It helps to attract new people to our clubs and schools, it helps to show members of the public that historical European martial arts can be every bit as skilful and effective as eastern martial arts.If you develop grace, poise, etc., then you will be a better ambassador for our art, and this is praiseworthy.
These behaviours that I have chosen for praise are fairly abstract ideas, and are not just concrete techniques. While I would be inclined to show appreciation for a well-formed Schilhaw or flanconade, such praise is relatively fleeting. I’m more interested in showing real praise for people who develop real personal skills and personal characteristics.
I like to think that I show and embody the three items that I have chosen for praise as often as possible. Of course, sometimes I have bad days and am not quite as graceful, and sometimes I totally screw up a technique instead of doing it properly, and sometimes I might just be less helpful for my training partners than I could be. We all have bad days. But if we are always striving to show and embody the values and skills that we believe are praiseworthy, then this itself as a great and praiseworthy attempt.
If you think of other fencers or instructors that you know, perhaps you could suggest what values these people consider to be most important. We can usually see this sort of thing quite quickly when watching someone’s practice. This is a good exercise. By observing other fencers and instructors, and assessing how they do their fencing and how they hold and comport themselves when dealing with people, what do you think they value above all else?
What do you value, and what behaviours would you praise? Is there something that comes to mind that you could work a little harder to show and embody in your own practice? If so, work on it, and see how you can improve yourself.
This I will praise.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.