Not only is the German school dominating modern European martial arts, but almost everyone who talks about late medieval fencing refers to German fencing manuals as the primary source.

Why are German fencing manuals the most well-known today? The Italian states were also well developed by that time, and Spain and France were also famous for their well-trained armies and skilled swashbucklers. However, today even martial artists form those countries refer mostly to the German manuals and use German technical terms, instead of their own.

What contributed to the German school of fencing to become so dominant? Was it also dominant in its own time (Germans were used in a lot of armies as mercenaries), or is the major cause that just more books have been written (Germans did invent the printing press after all) or more books survived?

  • 2
    I do not know how relevant it is, but it seems that fencing was quite more popular in Germany than abroad from the XIX onwards; it would then make sense that German manuals would have been reedited more often as the public demanded them en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_fencing
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 19:50
  • @SJuan76 Academic fencing is a very special kind of fencing that not much to do with military fencing, neither in techniques or tools. Fencing was very popular in all over Europe, and sword/saber etc was a very important weapon.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 5:37
  • Europe were rather multilingual, and German was one of the more common languages. E,g Thibault was Dutch, though his style Destreza. Though he wrote his book in French, he lived most his live in the Netherlands.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 5:47
  • pretty sure ancient china invent printing press, which later spread to middle east, or you mean the first to own printing press in europe?
    – Li Jun
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 8:07
  • @LiJun : no, what the Germans invented was something completely different. Printing (in the sense of pressing a painted surface unto a flat piece of material) existed much earlier, in different cultures, even in Europe, and yes, in China too. What Gutenberg developed was a practical way of mass-producing books in a way much more affordable than ever before, using a mechanism which didn't require carving out the shape for every single page individually. This allowed books to be owned by other people besides royalty and the richest of the rich.
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


Honestly I do not have the complete historic reference for this, but the Germans were one of the first groups of people to actually print manuals for fencing. Johannes Liechtenauer was a famous weapon master of the 14th century and most of the people that wrote the initial manuals claim to have trained with him. With the manuals of combat being written out they spread and were used more and more through out the region. Later on the Italian rapier fencing style eclipsed the older methods and that is what led to the modern day sport of fencing.

From a modern perspective, the Johannes Liechtenauer based manuals are good and teach a solid set of techniques orientated to the arms and armor of that time. These manuals are one of the most sourced manuals for the recent European Martial Arts movement. This is purely opinion, but during the time these manuals were written, it was around the time that Europe was coming out the dark ages and things were beginning the process of calming down and stabilizing. If the Germans jumped on the bandwagon of print a bit faster it could very well be that they spread do to initiative and met a demand for a desired service. Then using the teachings of a master that were a solid base for training and techniques, battle tested and tried and true, the style of fighting spread among the fighting class because it was available and more importantly because it worked. This is based off the modern concept of how mixed martial arts is spreading in popularity due to its overall effectiveness in competition. If something works well in the situation given it becomes popular and expands through out the area. In the case of the German style it probably had to do with surviving battles and having a high kill count.

References Grady, B. (n.d.). Call to Arms: The German Longsword. Retrieved from MyAroury.com: http://www.myarmoury.com/feature_arms_gls.html Wikipedia. (n.d.). German School of Fencing. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_school_of_fencing Wikipedia. (n.d.). Historical European martial arts. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_European_martial_arts Wikipedia. (n.d.). Johannes Liechtenauer. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Liechtenauer

  • Well reasoned; if it included sources/citations, I would upvote.
    – MCW
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:35
  • 1
    I am away from my books currently, I would have to do some research on the patterning of fighting style trends during that time to go much beyond the theory stage with this. Trends of medieval martial arts are an interest for me. I will go ahead and expand on this answer after work. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:46
  • Sadly I realized my books and notes on this subject are in storage. So I added some sources that can be used as a spring board for further research. The dynamic of this question from a complete scholarly point is something that would require some extensive research on cultural trends and the political influence of the times to completely answer. Which would make for an interesting paper for a history major. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 20:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.