Meyer Free-Scholars is our name for the classes based in 16th century fencing, and it forms the wider platform underpinning the Scholar Victoria longsword classes. The syllabus is drawn from the works of Joachim Meÿer (ca. 1537 – 1571), a 16th century fencing Master from Germany, and the last major figure in the tradition of the German Swordsmanship attributed to Jonannes Liechtenauer. Meÿer wrote several influential fencing texts which culminated in his extensive 1570 work, printed just before his death.
His works represents an important transition in writing style from early German texts to a more elaborate renaissance style of writing. They also show a transition between popular weapon types of the time, and the influence of other European fencing styles (such as the Italians) on German martial arts.
In addition to the longsword (the classical weapon of the Liechtenauer tradition) Meÿer’s syllabus also covers use of the dussack (a short sabre like weapon common to the era) as well as the sidesword (an elegant single handed sword), the dagger, staff, and more military polearms such as the halberd and pike.
The full set of techniques and weapons we train with are described below.
The longsword is the subject of the majority of historical fencing manuals from the high medieval period and provides an important link between early and later German fencing systems. Meyer also uses many of the lessons from the longsword as a basis for his other weapon treatises.
From its earliest days the longsword was very much a battlefield weapon and remained in use in various regions through 15th century, eventually fading out of military vogue in most areas at the close of the 16th century. During this period it also became a weapon of choice for judicial duels, as well for sport fencing.
For us the longsword is used to teach all of the principles of armed combat that apply to other weapons, and as such takes up the greater part of the core syllabus.
The sidesword was a cut and thrust sword popular across Europe, lying between what we would now call a rapier, and the earlier arming-swords of the medieval period.
The Meyer sidesword syllabus shares largely common terminology and principles with the longsword, though is also distinctly similar in style to Italian swordsmanship techniques of the time, particularly those of Viggiani and Marozzo (both fencing masters who wrote their own texts on swordsmanship).
The sidesword shows a more restrained and elegant style of fencing and teaches students control of the point and techniques with the thrust.
The Dussack is an interesting weapon that represents a crossover from the earlier Messer & Falchion, to Sabre like weapons with complex hand protection. It consists of a short curved blade sharpened fully along one edge and partially along the other. The Dussack was considered one of the most popular weapons of the time in Germany and was renowned for its mobile and fast fighting style.
Training dussacks were generally constructed from wood and leather with a knuckle bow protecting the hand. This less dangerous practice weapon means that Dussack fencing teaches excellent distance, timing, and movement, in a low-risk and low-stress way.
Staff & Halberd:
The staff is a classical weapon of antiquity and has been shown in competitive contexts as far back as ancient Egypt. The staff of Meyer covers a broad syllabus for fighting with a staff of around 6 to 8 feet in length, and underpins the use of all of the other polearms. Learning the staff provides valuable training in balance and control and body movement that more dangerous and warlike polearms require.
By comparison, the standard military weapon for formations of troops in the 16th century was the pike or halberd. Both were used broadly across Europe and became one of the favourite weapons of Germanic mercenary units.
The syllabus includes fundamentals of both staff and halberd fighting for students so inclined.
Dagger & Wrestling:
The dagger is the ubiquitous personal defence weapon in Meyer’s time, and historical accounts suggest that fighting with daggers was remarkably common, especially amongst students in university towns. By this time the dagger in common use was no longer the rondel-style we are used to seeing in earlier texts such as Fiore, but instead has been replaced by a double edged blade with a short crossguard and sharp point, and a blade the length of the practitioner’s forearm. To ensure safe practice, however, safer rounded tipped training daggers were used.
The Meyer dagger syllabus combines wrestling and dagger techniques in its syllabus as a complement to the other weapon styles, while retaining stand alone applicability.