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Michael Olsen

Joined: 28 Aug 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 46

PostPosted: Sun 28 Sep, 2008 6:08 pm    Post subject: Book Review - The Ambraser Codex         Reply with quote

I recently finished reading through this recent purchase of mine and thought I would let you all know what I thought.

From The Fightschool:
In my humble opinion, Hans Talhoffer's Ambraser Codex of c.1449 is unfortunately underrepresented and under appreciated works of the Fifteenth Century Fechtbücher. The work itself begins with a small guide to preparing for a judicial duel, followed by a small amount of instructional material. An account of a judicial duel fought by Leutold von Königsegg, a student of Talhoffer's, completes the first section of his work. The account begins with Talhoffer arming von Königsegg and the entrance and presentation of opponents in the list before moving on to the combat - spear, longsword (at the half-sword), Ringen am Schwert (wrestling at the sword), and the mortal dagger blows. Von Königsegg's opponent is then stripped of his harness and placed into his bier, while von Königsegg prays for thanks whilst Talhoffer stands knowingly in the background. The second instructive portion of the text includes commentary and visuals of Ringen, Spiessfechten, and Rossfechten (wrestling, spear fighting, and mounted combat, respectively). Altogether, the work provides insight into the workings of the judicial duel, the training recommended by a renowned Master, and a compilation of techniques of nearly all the knightly weapons (leaving out the Pollaxe and unarmoured combat with the Longsword).

The author presents Talhoffer's work completely. He begins with an introduction, discussing the context of the work and providing much needed information for those unfamiliar with the Fechtbücher. He goes on to offer a brief biography of Talhoffer, discussion of the judicial duel, and a short instruction in the armour of the period. The author provide a very complete look at the Fechtbüch and presents each page of Talhoffer's work paired with his own. On the left page he gives the number of any given plate, its text in transcription and translation, along with his interpretation and commentary. On the opposing right page the author gives us a clear look at Talhoffer's work reproduced in facsimile.

The author's writing is clear and consistent and provides an uncomplicated look at the Art of Combat. He offers his own interpretations without hesitation when appropriate, but when the situation in the text and imagery is less clear he does not take the risk of making a poor interpretation by guessing. Rather, he prompts the reader to explore the situation for themselves by providing alternative interpretations and/or directly posing a question to them. The author uses Sydney Anglo's dossier approach (explained to the reader in his introduction) to support his interpretations and offers both textual references to other works describing and images, presented directly under the interpretive text, from other Fechtbücher including Talhoffer , Gladiatoria, Codex Wallerstein, Paulus Kal, and Auerswald.

The final portion of the book includes a Glossary of over fifty common terms, a bibliography providing ample fuel for further reading, a recipe for Johanissbrot (a bread suggested by Talhoffer to be eaten as part of training for a duel), followed by acknowledgments and a brief section about the author.

I recommend this work for anyone interested in armoured combat at any level or in the practice of judicial duels. Talhoffer's commentary and depiction offers a Fechtmeister's view of the mortal situation, rounded out by a large amount of instructional material on a variety of important weapons. The author's dedication to historical accuracy and interpretation through the use of temporally and geographically related works (rather than using texts written hundreds of years later or techniques from thousands of miles away) is marked throughout and provides a great basis for practice. This book is available in either a hardcover ($28.27) or softcover ($15.80). I reviewed a hardcover copy, in which the images are of respectable quality, the print is dark and clear, and the binding is stout and appears reliable.

Michael Olsen, Reviewer

Michael Olsen
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