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The art of fighting is brutal, bloody and incorporates an unhealthy mindset based on the most effective destruction of human life. But it is unquestionable an art. And as a art it is cultivated and honored as one of the high and noble arts during the history of mankind. The article series on “The virtues of fighting” puts a spotlight on the correlation between the virtues of mankind and the brutal slaughter of the killing art as it was presented in the late medieval manuscripts.

In the second article of the series we have a look on virtues in one of the oldest manuscripts on fighting, the first manuscript of the Liechtenauer art of fighting we know of.

The previous article: The virtues of fighting: the cardinal virtues

The “cardinal virtues” of the GMN 3227a

The cardinal and knightly virtues had great influence on the educated, and from these well educated men and very few women we can learn the aspects of the virtues in the art of fighting. The first mentioning of the virtues in a martial arts treatise that still exists is the naming of “Kunheit / Rischeit / Vorsichtikeit / list / vnd klukheit” – “braveness, celerity, cautioness, cunning, and prudence” in the manuscript GMN 3227a currently dated to 1389 from an unknown author.

We can see these virtues as the Cardinal Virtues of Master Liechtenauer. These are named at Page 17r, 18v, 27r, 53r, 64v, 78r, 86r. They are displayed in every single treatise of that book with the exception of the Other Masters, Dagger, Ordealfighting, and Buckler & Sword (the latter are both rudimental). So these virtues were a key issue in the fencing lore of Johannes Liechtenauer.

Temperantia – Maze – Modesty – “Vnd och yn allen dingen moze” – and in all things be modest – without being listed in the five cardinal virtues of the manuscript, it is the base of all others. This is fundamentally in the  Cardinal and Knightly Virtues. Every virtue may be turned into evil if it is not done with modesty. If you are too brave you are foolhardy, if you are too swiftly you are hectically, if you are too cautious you are hesitant, if you are too smart you trick yourself, or if you are too prudent you think too much. Same thing with not respecting the virtues enough. If you show fear, are too slow, risk too much, are without ideas, or did not learn how to fight, you will lose. So being modest in all things, you do everything right, not too little, not too much.

Audatia (Fortitudo) – Kühnheit – Braveness – we find several passages that recommends us to be without fear and get into the fight and do what it is needed: “kunlich an alle vorchte” – keen without any fear. This is directly related to the picture of the brave knight. Attacking without fear, letting no space for reluctance, is the key to that virtue. If the fear of death, getting wounded and hurt forms our adaption to fighting, we won’t be able to fight at all. Because it is the essential part of fighting with weapons: someone will get hurt, will be wounded, or die. The virtue of braveness is taught as the very first thing in the lore in the treatise on the Zornhau. Liechtenauer expects us to answer a strike with a strike without a thought on defending ourself.

Celeratia – Raschheit – Celerity –  in connection with Audatia the author tells us to “dar hurten und rawschen” – “hurry and rush” or “ane forchte haw dreyn und hurt dar / rawsche hin“. The aspect to be fast if you are brave is stressed by the doubling of the verbs. Doubling of words with same meaning was (and is) a stylistic way to be emphatic on something. The elementary rule of the Vorschlag and Nachschlag is included in the chapter or the Zornhau. In this chapter you have to train what the author explains heavily in the common lore of swordfighting before. You have to learn to be the first who adopts changes. The Zornhau chapter is full of key words to that issue (“sterker, siet her is, weich ader herte“). It is the first introduction into Fühlen (Feeling). So Celerity is not about being fast and ignoring the opponent, it is about being the first who reacts on any situation in a fight with the correct answer. But you should not wait to see what he might do, you always should try to be the first: “Dorvmme schaffe / das du yn allen sachen des fechtens der erste bist”. React only if there is something you must react on. And you can do that only if you have no fear that occupies your mind. Celerity without braveness is nearly worthless. Fighters who are fast without being brave hope to hit before they get hit by sheer speed. This is not intended. It is nothing wrong with being fast with the arms. But it is much more needed that you are faster with your perception and your mind. Cold minded without any fear you see very soon that the fearful is just hacking frequently without any chance to get you really. And you are much faster because you can threaten him as he cannot. That is why Audatia and Celeratia are strongly connected in the manuscript.

Providentia – Vorsichtigkeit – Cautiousness – The virtue is doubled by “vorbetrachtung” (providence, appraisal) in the side note. This touches the anciant Roman public virtue Providentia (providence, forethought). But the ancient meaning is not covered by the text. As you should not try to guess what he will do. Because that leads you to blindness for what he really does. You would be a victim to Fehler and Zucken. So what is meant is stated in phrases like “deme krige sey nicht goch” – “do not be greedy for and in the war”. We are taught that sentence in the same chapter in which we are told to be brave and fast. With the Krieg we learn to be passive without waiting for something. There is no winning of the Krieg without an error of the opponent. It is the opponent who had to start the war by doing something wrong. So be calm do not force the hit. “den ab dir eynes velet oben / des du remest / zo triffestu vnden” – “cause if you have longed to hit above, and you miss, you will hit below” – as long you follow the lore. So cautiousness is not about waiting for the other to react. It is about being open minded to feel if he reacts at all and how he does. It is about not being greedy for the hit. And you are taught not to act on your assumptions how the other would react. You cannot feel anybody if you are the one pressing. You cannot adopt a change if you are the one that urges for the change. But you must be able to do both to win the fight.

Dolus – List – Cunning – is described as a key feature in Liechtenauer’s art  “das eyn swacher mit syner kunst und list / als schire gesigt / mit /als eyn starker mit syner sterke ” – “that the weak with his art and cunning may win just as well the strong with his strength”. And how this is done is written in 85r “Und das get of dy woert / vor / noch” – The basement of Cunning are the words Vor, Nach, and Indes. Cunning as stated in 85r is threatening with one action but doing another as the opponent is occupied reacting on the first one. It is connected to the essential fighting system of Liechtenauer. It is not what Joachim Meyer meant when he talks about misleading or seducing. It is not offering an opening in a guard as a trap. Liechtenauer is teaching us cunning in the piece called “Fehler”. The “Fehler” does not work on intention but what the fencer should have learned regarding perception and feeling. You intend to hit, but if you see or feel that the opponent reacts on the threading of the hit way too early or intensively, you have the cunning to take advantage of that situation.

Prudentia – Klugheit- Prudence – “wen ubunge ist besser wenne kunst / denne übunge  tawg wol ane kunst aber kunst tawg nicht wol ane übunge” – training is better than art, because training works without art, but art not without training. There is no art without training. So if you want to do it “noch worhaftiger kunst” in true art, you have to train Liechtenauers lore. You won’t find prudence in the plays or lessons, the learning of the art itself is the prudence .

The general virtues of the GMN 3227a

The later on the bottom of page 18v added general virtues “Vornunft, verborgenheit, moße, vorbetrachtunge, festikeit” – reason, secrecy, modesty, appraisal (as a preliminary consideration), firmness are repeated more or less in the book. They are found first on 17r. The difference to 18v is the crossed out word “hobsheit” and the crossed out syllable “bevorbetrachtunge”.

And we find more virtues in the book: “Irschrikstu gerne / keyn fechten nymmer lerne” – “Are you startled easily, do not try to learn fencing.” (18v). This is a special remark regarding the virtue of braveness that is not covered by the image of the brave knight. It is not enough to stand up and fight bravely, you must have your reflexes controlled by your will. You shall not twitch if he does as a startle response, or be startled because of the point of his sword that is only threatening but in fact out of reach.

Ratio – Vernunft – reason – is found at 15v,17r,18r,18v. If we look at Plato’s Phaedrus, section 246b in the chariot allegory, we see that “reason” is something that keeps us away from the dark side of ourselves. Reason helps us to find the correct “Maße” in our life. “When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess.” (Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett). Not to be dragged by our needs and feelings like greed or anger to a not reasonable action is recommendable not only in fighting. The manuscripts warns us on several occasions not to be hasty or greedy. And it recommends to stay calm and reasonable without slowing down.

Taeiturnitas – verborgenheit – secrecy – “vnd das ist gar swer vnd unbedewtlich / wen das das ist sein zetel gewest / dorvm das ist nicht yderman vorneme / der is wörde lezen” – and this is difficult and not interpretable, this is how his verses had bee, thus nobody would understand only reading them. The author of this manuscript does not extend the matter of secrecy like Hans Talhoffer does. But there are two reasons for that: the book was always a personal item (or for people sharing the same house and knowledge), and Hans Talhoffer had the job of a trainer for judicial duels. In executing the lore in the fight itself the author does not care about hiding the intention by secrecy. There is a bag of tricks is included in the virtue of cunning, but  the tricks are based on the same principles as the real attack. He would not care about a non-telegraphic-strike, that is why he would care a lot about hitting in the shortest way always to an opening without stopping, as he stated in the manuscript very often. Because if one does that fast, there would be no time for reacting on visual perception. So secrecy in the intention of most of the authors refers to keeping the true lore a secret. Like it is in most martial arts until today.

Honor et Temperantia – Limpf und Maß – Honor and Modesty –Dor auf dich zoße / alle ding haben limpf lenge vnde moße /” – “On this you can mount, all things have honor length and modesty (or measure).” – The authour crossed out the virtue glimpf – honor and replaced it with the word “länge – length”. So the first intention of the author was a comment on the virtues Honor and Modesty. Later on he crossed out the virtue Honor and by setting the word Length over the crossed out word he changed the meaning of the sentence completely. The change leads us to two more possible translations: “Duration and Measure” or “Greatness and Smallnes” there is no 100% indication what might be the correct translation of the words, and I don’t want to discuss them in this article. The more interesting aspect is the former meaning of the line “Honor and Modesty” because the author follows the meaning of “Glimpf und Maße” in the rest of the paragraph on (18r). “habe frölichen mut / mit limpf / So magstu achten vnd mit gutem mute” – “be lighthearted, spirited, with honor, so you might be respectful and brave”, and he tells us why “Wen guter mut mit kraft / macht eyns wedersache czagehaft”  “cause good braveness with strength makes a a opponent faint-hearted”.  And he insists to be modest  “Tumkunheit meide”  “daredevilry avoid”  and “…nicht….Mit deynem öbermut” – “..not… with your high spirits”. So he recommends  “bis sitik das ist dir gut” – “be modest that agrees with you”. So if we look at the whole paragraph in context, the sentence “alle ding haben lenge vnde moße” kept its original meaning, a reminder to follow the cardinal virtue of being modest: to do enough (length) and not more (measure) as needed to gain your target. In this context as a state of mind and a order for behavior, in a larger context as the foundation for efficiency of any martial art.

If we look at 22v we see that “limpf und moße” – honor and modesty is repeated two times “Vnd was du treibest vnd beginnest / zo habe io moße vnd limpf” – and in everything you do or begin, do it in honor and modesty. “Dorof dich zoße / alle dink haben limpf vnd moße” – on this you can mount, all things have honor and modesty. Interesting to note, that this is followed by “daz selbe vornym och von den schreten” – and the same you should learn about the footwork. Here the word “length” should match the meaning better than “honor”. We must assume that the intended meaning was something between honor and length, it was intended that you do it just right. And that meaning is connected again to the modesty and the correct measure. Not too much, not too little.

Elegantia – hobischheit  – elegance – It is somehow confusing to find elegance and courtesy in the list of virtues on 18v, and lucky for us: it is crossed out. Because elegance is nothing the author really cares of in most of his treatise. He even rants about the masters teaching the elegant parries. He made but one exception in 52v “in schulvechten / zo du schimpf / vnd höscheit gerest treiben”. It is the small chapter about doing a good show at the Fechtschul and fighting with dull sporting weapons. Interesting to note, that the elementary rules of Vorschlag and Nachschlag still count in the Fechtschul and tournament fighting.

Animi Magnitudo (māgnanimitās, confidentia) – guter, fröhlicher Mut –  self confident – found on 15v, 17r, 18r, 37v, 38r,  is the medieval version of being self confident and lighthearted based on believe on god and on the will to do the right thing without doubt. Of cause there is no space for doubt in a fight that you want to win.

Constantia – Festigkeit – constancy – is another of the knightly virtues that is easy applied to the martial arts. It means that if you go into a fight there is no turning back once the decision is made. So stand your ground and fight.


Like there had been seven liberal arts for the soul and mind, there had been seven more physical arts for the body in medieval times. In this manuscript we find the more “physical virtues” of “Vbunge, motus, gelenkheit, schrete gut” – training, mobility, agility, and footwork. They are pretty much the same like in any modern martial art today, so there is nothing to explain that is not found in any good martial arts book. They are the physical basement of any fighting done with art.