The Art of the Long Knife, German Langes Messer, is a martial art. For the beginner the Long Knife is an excellent weapon to become familiar with the principles of all the one handed weapons. The one who knows how to fight with the Long Knife will handle any one-handed weapon or a simple stick just as easy.
Categorization of the Long Knife
The Long Knife is a single-edged cutting and thrusting weapon. It is characterized by a hook-shaped knob, a long riveted handle, a cross bar, attached by a nail driven through the blade, a hand guard and a long straight blade.
The knob can be worked as severe pommel or just an end cap. Weapons of war were provided with more heavy pommels, while everyday and hunting weapons preferred a cap. The handle is sufficiently long that two hands can fit. The cross bar is almost straight and simple.
The protection of the hand differs in type. We find everything from a simple nail that will only prevent the slipping of the opponent’s blade, to a richly decorated shell. In swords the blade is usually riveted or bolted together with the pommel, so that the handle and crossbar is pressed between blade and pommel and is fixed that way. In the Messer the handle is riveted on both sides with three or four rivets to the blade. Usually these rivets are hollow.
The cross bar guard is riveted by a nail which is driven through the blade. This nail is used as the hand guard in the very simple versions like in the “Bauernwehr” types. In the more fancy weapons the nail ends in an elaborated hand guard. The name of this hand guard is nail, German “Nagel”, coming from the original meaning of the bolt holding blade and crossbar together.
The Long Knife is related to the Falchion and the “Bauernwehr”, the peasant long-knife. The difference with the Falchion is easily recognized by the handle and the nail. The method of mounting the handle at the Falchion is similar to the sword, so the Falchion is a swords handle with a knife blade.
The peasant long-knife only differs by the shorter grip. Also, it is usually somewhat smaller. The Long Knives and the peasant long-knife is a weapon of war and battle. At the same time they have the sufficient characteristics as a tool.
Also related to the Long Knives is a long hunting knife (also called hunting sword), which differs only by a slightly slimmer blade. Machetes are not related. Although the Espada Ancha of the Spanish Colonisation is similar to the Long Knife and the saber, but the later hacking knife types have less common with the Long Knife. Furthermore the characteristic hooking knob and the protecting nail is missing.
The fencing of the Long Knives
The main difference to the fencing with the Long Sword, German “Langes Schwert”, and with the sword and buckler, is the distance dependening that you ar single handed. This results in a different posture and a different footwork.
While you can attack the lower regions of the body of your opponent with the Long Sword or sword & buckler with relative low risk, nothing protects your head or upper body if you attack the opponents hip or knee with the Long Knife.
With this single handed weapon starts a body movement, which is a bit like the later saber of the 17th Century. But it is very different from modern fencing stance and also by the attitude of the Italian fencing rapier or sword of the French. The reason for this is that by developing better hand-guards, the buckler is mounted on the weapon, thus allowing to bring the hand into range.
For pure thrusting weapons you can afford to get a stab in the off-hand that does not handle the weapon. This is neither a fatal nor serious injury, it can even be considered acceptable if it results in an advantage. So the off-hand can be used for parrying the thrust.
Loosing a hand completely like it would be if a heavy cutting weapon hits the hand is nothing you can accept. Therefore, the left, weapon-free hand is placed on the back. Only special blade positions or the proximity to the enemy allows the left-hand to come fast forward and participate in the fight.
The interpretation of the Long knife
For the reconstruction and the teaching of martial arts we are particularly interested in the use of the Long knife as a weapon of war and battle. It plays only a minor role, if a peasant long-knife or a knightly Long Knife is used as long as the blade is fairly long, the handle is long enough, the blade is very pointy.
Hans Lecküchner was the author of the most comprehensive treatises on the fencing with the Long Knife in the 15th Century. For the interpretation and teaching in the manuscript BOD Cgm 582 should be used as a guideline, because it is the final version of the fencing book. Additional sources should be used for comparison in the interpretation among others Cod Pal. Germ 430 as an early version of Lecküchner, the manuscript MI 29 (Fencing book) as a commented copy of Lecküchner’s work, Egenoplhs “The Altenn fencers initial art” as a combined interpretation and other sources such as the fencing manuals Talhoffer, Paulus Kal and the Codex Wallerstein.
Hans Lecküchner builds his theory on the basis of a now lost source of the Long Sword. This source has been copied and founded a line of fencing books. Her oldest copy is the manuscript 44a8 (Peter von Danzig). It is entirely possible that this book was a work of a man named as “Meister Stettner” – but this is merely speculation.
Why Hans Lecküchner structured his work similar to the 44a8 is not known. His knowledge differs in content from the structure and the use of the weapon does not fit into the structure of the Long Sword. It even results in some kind of unrealistic movement that will sure lead to the death of the fencer trying int in combat.
Often another teaching and style appears between the lines and it is very brutal and war like, while the 44a8 style is more like sport. In addition Lecküchner adds show pieces, which do not fit into the martial arts at all. But this is not enough, even the first influences of the Italian Rapier is to find in the book (which, however, was described by contemporaries as “Spanish sword” because the connection with Spain to that times was pretty close). Therefore you find the following factors in the teaching of Hans Lecküchner:
- First – The teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer analogous to the structure of the 44a8,
- Second – An unknown war teaching of a one-handed sword or knife
- Third – The spectacle of fencing schools of the guilds and universities
- 4th – The Italian spada da filo or spada da lato becoming the German Rapier
These factors make it difficult to reconstruct, since they are contradictory. While some pieces can be easily identified and assigned, most will remain with a question mark.
Leger and Huten – The Guards of the Long Knife
Main Guards in the Long Knives there are only four, that are watch-tower (Lug-Ins-Land), bastion (Bastei), boar (Eber) and bull (Stier).
A certain confusion exists for “Leger” (laying) and “Huten” (guards) in all sources. There is a simple way to memorize the four guards and “Langort” (long point). Just put the weapon aside and move both hands simultaneously:
- Lift both hands at forehead level and then stretch your arms forward in front of the body. By this you mimic the horns of a bull or an ox (the term in Long Sword), Lecküchner named this position: “Stier” – bull.
- Move both hands with arms slightly bent at waist level in front of the body with the palms facing down. By this you mimic a medieval farmer holding a plow (expressed in Long Sword). Lecküchner Huten used for this name: “Eber” – boar and “Schrankhut” – barrier, depending on the orientation of the point.
- Put both hands together above your head, we get a roof (“Dach” the term in Long Sword, also named “Tag” – day). Lecküchner does this guard with one arm and therefore has not a connected roof, but a tower. His term is: “Lug-ins-Land” – watch-tower, a common name for a high tower (such as the one in Nuremberg built in 1377 some miles away from his home).
- Bring both hands together at the height of your crotch, the result is a downward-pointing triangle (which is called “Alber” in the Long Sword. The origin of the term is unclear.). Lecküchner called the associated single handed guard: “Bastei” – bastion.
- Taking the two hands together with arms outstretched at chest level, one obtains the “Langort” – long-point, an important position that it is the same in nearly all fencing manuscripts of the middle ages.
The position of the hands and arms and not of the weapons gave most of the names to the guards. Which may be a result of the fencing terms coming from wrestling. The renaming of some of these positions by Lecküchners is probably an attempt at modernization. Influenced by military innovations such as the bastion and the Italian art of fencing, changed the doctrine of the Long Knife. The renaming reflects again the mix of medieval and renaissance art of fencing you find in Lecküchner’s book.