The meaning of sport and martial arts in a 14th century poem

The discussion about the meaning of the sporting competition for fame with medals and titles in martial arts is neither new nor completely dissolvable. We want to treat ourselves to the fun of reading the historical state of discussion from the early 15th century on the basis of the song poem “Kloster der Minne” from the manuscript Cod. Donaueschingen 104 (around 1433). In the poem the protagonist looks at a tournament together with an acquaintance. He is of the opinion that tournaments should be hard and brutal. Because then the winner would win fame and the favour of the women. The acquaintance, however, contradicts. Tournaments are there to practice the arts in competition, which are necessary for the defence of house and honour. Men who would fight for the honour and gust of women in the tournament would not have understood the meaning of the tournament.


We have loosely transferred the essential passages here into the more modern English. The transcription of the manuscript edited by Josef von Laßberg in 1822 can be found below.

The protagonist to his acquaintance:
“At all times you like to see tournaments and pricks in which legs break, back and arms crack and such things. That hurts body and soul.
Many a man must die before his time, in order to acquire the favour of the virgins. He hurts (others at) body and soul and still needs luck, otherwise all his efforts will be in vain”.

The acquaintance answers:
“You stupid man! What I can tell you, which is not clear to you: The sport has been conceived, in old times exactly like today, so that young knights and servants learn to ride, and so that they do according to their status, what the need dictates. When one asks them to storm and fight. Those who are not practiced will suffer from the unfamiliar, they would not know how to move.

It easily happens during a few years that one gets into a battle. Whoever comes into fencing without practice will tire quickly, so that he can hardly move.”


parzifal eschenbachJr secht ze allen zitten
gern Turnieren vnd stechen
Da müssen bain zerbrechen
Mit sölichen sachen
Musz ruck vnd arm krachen
Daz tut lib vnd hertzen we
Vnd dazmanig man defter E
Musz siner zit ersterben
Durch daz er mug erwerben
Gunst der rainen wiben
Er tut we sel vnd liben
Daunocht lit ez an gelückes rad
Das muss jm machen weg vnd phatt
Ald dü arbeit ist verlorn
Min gespil sprach mir ist zorn
An dich vil tumben man
Als ich dir wol gesagen kan
Wer daz es dir nicht versmacht
Der schimpf ist dar vmb erdacht
Hie vor by alten zitten
Das man lere ritten
Jung ritter vnd knecht
Vnd das sy irem wappem recht
Könden thun so ez jn not beschäch
Vnd man dez sich versäch
Ze stürmen vnd stritten
Solt ainer als lange bitten
Daz er sich nit wappent E
So tät im die vngewonhait we

Er könd nit gebaren
Ez geschicht licht ze zechen jaren
Das man ettwan kom ainest vicht
Ob im ze vächtent dann beschicht
So wär er ain müder man
Daz er sich nit gerüren kan

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