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zu sehen was des andern fürnemen sei (auff das er jhm dester  füglicher wisse in seinen eigen stucken zufangen) solches nicht ewert / allein das er zusehe und seines fürnemen gewiß sei / dann zu solchem warten gehöret kunst und grosse erfahrung.  Joachim Meyer

Our perception is by nature and physics always in the past. Not only that light and sound needs a time to travel to you, that is indeed so small that it does not effect your perception but by the way your senses and brain works. Every decision we do based on our perception is based on things that had happened in the past. If we would follow a simple action-perception-decision-reaction process we would stay in the past. But our brain is – if it has the necessary imagination, ability and/or experience – in the future. No tennis player in the world rankings reacts to the ball, but to the movement of the opponent and the position and posture of  the opponent at the back-swing. Only when the brain “thinks ahead” the tennis player can reach the ball at all.

The human eye takes about 30 light stimuli per second, our brain can perceive about two thirds of them, process and make conscious choices based on them we can do a lot less. Even worse, because our brain is working so slowly, nature created a kind of filter in our brain to avoid an overload. The preattentive perception,  filters out everything which we probably do not understand or with what we can not cope. So there is a lot in the world that does not reach our awareness and more that does not overcome our threshold of consciousness.

Knowledge and Imagination

But our brain knows a trick. It gives us the apparent motion. Apparent motion is well known from the effect that we see a start picture and an end picture and fill the gap with an imagined motion. But apparent motion can do more for us, it can give us the end position from only the start and a intermediate position and the knowledge about the probably moving object. We know the human body very well and have often seen it in action. If an arm is at the top, we know from years of observation it will be coming down again in some time. We also know or are able to appraise the duration of any possible movements that the arm can make when it is accelerated to the limit. We need therefore to the end of the movement not all intermediate images, but only enough to appraise the duration of the complete movement. Do we have the base for an assumption by the first intermediate data for the entire period of time, then we know what kind of movement it is or will be, will it be directly or indirectly. I.e. if the movement duration is greater than 200ms, our brain assumes that the arm makes a detour. Otherwise, our brain takes the shortest path as given. Since we can perceive so slow the shortest path is always preferred, and if necessary with a “Caution Detour” corrected.If the movement is very slow, we receive unsolicited intermediate images, that let us appreciate new in the future. But slow movements in fencing are rather not our problem.

Prestidigitationists of fighting

Fast movements we cannot see, however “percept”  without seeing it. We simply get different options for the future provided by our brain and the shortest, or the most likely (we’ve seen so far as the most common) is presented to us. Have seen and experienced many variations and can we recall them, we have proposed several options and can distinguish them by minute differences. This all happens “long” before the motion is completed. This perception of apparent movement and the filtering by the preattentive perception, that hides  seemingly unimportant perceptions in the background are the tools for any manual illusion: the magic tricks of illusionists and prestidigitationists.
Twitching (Zucken), failure (Fehler), feint (Finte) are a few of the illusions on the fencers. They present you an illusion of apparent motion, which is often not completed. Who lurks as a fencer in the guards needs “art and great experience,” as Joachim Meyer writes rightly. For only those who have experience in decades of fencing, do not blend out the small details that tells us which way the sword will really travel. Then you are really masterful, and even these tricks won’t “effen” you.

Fighting for your life with the handicap of perception

The inexperienced or normal amateur fencer has had neither the magic trick of illusion (a varied pattern of movement) nor the knowledge of the movement variations or the skill to foretell the correct movement based on minute features in the beginning of the motion. Even worse, his brain filters out the the important stimuli in the preattentive perception such that he is not even aware of them.

Today the science gives us the reasonable explanations why and how we can learn to foretell a motion, but even if we are able to know how our perception is tricked we are not able to avoid being tricked. And the frustrating notion may be, that the opponent did not even try to trick us, he is just doing something new that does not cope with our experience and needs to be handled the slow way of the action-perception-decision-reaction process.

More than 600 years ago they did not have our science but by experience and knowledge of the art they came to the same reasoning, that waiting for a “trigger” to start the own counter reaction is only something for the masters of the art. Loaded with the task to prepare somebody for a duel of life and death in a very short time they developed a lore of fighting that changes the process in that way that the perception of the opponent is only needed in the direct contact of bodies or weapons.

Lurking in the guards was rated completely pointless for others than the masters. Therefore, one must necessarily hurry and rush (“hurten und rawschen”) at which he may score a hit or provoke the binding, engagement, and act in it immediately based on the categories given in the lore. In the binding, you can learn to feel. For learning to feel, despite all the difficulties, is still much easier than the foretelling of an motion just by sight. And if your life depends on your abilities to foretell something and you are not a master or a gifted person, you should follow the recommendations of the earlier masters.

But if it is just a sport (or a duel of honor for first blood) – things changes a lot. The risk of being killed by misjudging a movement is not given. You may lose a play but not your head. In sport teachings tell us to present invitations, we should try to seduce the opponent to attack a certain target, provoke an unguarded attack. This may help us to reduce the number of variations in which we are attacked so that lurking in a guard or for a certain trigger may work. In the sports we train our brain to react as fast as possible to such triggers by repeating the same again and again. And we win on statistics reacting on the most common movements.


The teaching for the fight of life and death differs (no surprise) from the one for the more sportive versions. That does not mean that learning to fight in the brutal sports of the Renaissance does not prepare a man for the real thing, but that it is a different approach that was hidden by the tradition. The first part of the lore of Liechtenauer is to learn to attack without any fear, fast and without an attempt to protect yourself. This is not compatible with seducement, invitation, or lurking. But it may save your life and if not it will probably kill the opponent before you die and that may save your soul (according to the believes that the loser of an ordeal may go to hell and the winner to heaven). The tradition kept the structure of the lore but the condition changed. So the lore became a mixture as illustrated in the books of Joachim Meyer.

The conclusion of that article raises some questions. The first one is, that we have to ask ourself if we are able to learn an art that had a certain approach of teaching with modern methods, are we able to learn the unblended art of Liechtenauer? Or do we have to move forward in time to more modern manuscripts in which the sport had a major impact? I leave these question unanswered for everybody to decide for themselves.

Remarks: the translation of “Zucken” to “twitching” is not exactly matching. It is a small backward or forward movement with the blade. There is no perfect translation to that word. On one hand it means “withdrawing” the blade a bit, on the other hand it means to threaten with the weapon.