The project will be realised in cooperation with the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw, Poland. Currently we are applying for a three-year grant from the National Science Centre in Poland – the results will be announced in December 2017.


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A summary of the project proposition:


The project will be aimed at verifying well-established opinions expressed in the literature regarding late medieval fighting arts. The commonly accepted notion that martial arts in European Middle Ages, and especially sword-fighting, were based solely on brutal strength with little finesse and devoid of any sophisticated techniques such as thrusting with the point or feinting will be confronted with contents of an authentic martial arts manual from the 15th century. To this end, combat techniques described in a fighting manual contained within the GNM 3227a manuscript held by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg will be analysed. It will result in a methodical reconstruction of elementary fencing actions comprised therein (according to the ADVISE method). The research will be performed by the project leader (an archaeologist, fencing instructor and active fencer) and a team of carefully selected volunteers-fencers possessing sufficient experience and physical fitness to be able to learn and test the reconstructed combat techniques in sport fights with historical weapons. The outcomes will be documented and made available to the wider audience through the use of motion-capture technology, photographs, and videos. Moreover, the project will be the first systematic initiative of the kind involving experimental archaeology of martial arts. Thanks to this, it will provide other researchers with valuable insights into methodological challenges posed by such endeavours. It will therefore form a solid basis for further research and deeper understanding of the question of martial arts in late medieval Central Europe.


The modelling of elementary actions will be performer according to the ADVISE method devised for reconstructing ancient martial arts. The motor units, i.e. the basic components of combat techniques will be modelled to fit the instructions contained in the source. Next, their mutual interrelations and conditions for use advocated by the source will be examined. It will allow for identifying general principles governing the researched combat system and training experienced fencers, so that they will be able to demonstrate the techniques in practice using accurate replicas of medieval weaponry. The particular actions and their sequences will be analysed with the BTS motion-capture system and documented on photographs and videos.


The project will result in a pioneering study of what is perhaps one of the oldest surviving European martial arts manuals. It belongs to a group of similar works jointly referred to as ‘the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer’ which were extremely influential in regard to fencing, wrestling and related arts or skills in use within the area influenced by German culture between the 14th and the 17th century. Gathering the results of all previous researches in a single publication, state-of-the-art reconstruction of the combat skills contained in the source, and comparison with similar works will allow for formulating well-grounded generalisations about the status of martial arts and related didactics in Europe in the Late Middle Ages. The results will enter the scholarly circulation, and so they will serve as a basis for further studies by experts in history of culture, experimental archaeology, physical education, or martial arts. The final outcome will be a comprehensive bilingual monograph available locally as well as internationally supplemented with several preliminary articles – scholarly and popularising, some of which will make use of the digital documentation of the reconstructed combat techniques.

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