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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Mon 30 Mar, 2015 9:28 pm    Post subject: Top Ten Historic Fighting Manual Translation/Interpretations         Reply with quote

Over in the Historical Arms Talk forum, I have created a thread about the top ten books on arms and armour. In this thread, I'd like to do a slightly different variation. If you were to compile a list of the top ten books on historic fighting manual translations/interpretations, which ones would you choose?

Notice that this title is deliberately geographic-neutral; your titles could all be to do with historic European martial arts, but they could also be books about historic Asian martial arts or other historic fighting forms as well. For the purpose of this exercise we're counting published books only, not texts found on Wiktenauer , other web sources, or DVDs/videos.

My list is admittedly Western-centric, and German long sword-centric, with three of the ten books specifically on translations of different glosses of Liechtenauer's teaching. That having been said, I tried to include what I perceived as the most important works of other European masters, as well as a few books on weapons other than the long sword. Undoubtedly, my list is highly problematic, but that inevitably happens when you are forced to choose only ten books.

What are your top ten historic fighting manuals that have been published in book form?

My List

1) The Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi's Classic Book of Strategy- It might seem strange that this book tops my list, given that almost every other book is on Western martial arts. However, this is a really crucial text. More than any other work I know, Musashi's Book of Five Rings focuses on the principles of how to fight, and the mindset or “spirit” that is the essence of lethal combat. Although Kaufman's translation has taken some flak because it's a somewhat liberal interpretation, I have personally found it very useful in guiding and shaping my historic European martial arts practice.

2) The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: A Facsimile & Translation of the World's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise- Jeffrey Forgeng's book is still the most important edition available for Ms. I.33.

3) Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Art of the Longsword- Ringeck is one of the most important commentators on the Liechtenauer glosses, so it was inevitable that one of his translations be included. This one was a tough call, since Mr. Tobler has also done a translation of Ringeck in Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship. While that text is better in terms of completeness--it includes all of Ringeck's manual in one book instead of two--I have found that I tend to prefer Lindholm's interpretations of the text.

4) In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts- While the essays in this book are interesting, it's the translation of Codex 44 A 8 that makes it so valuable. The so-called Peter von Danzig commentary on Liechtenauer's blossfechten is the other key gloss, along with Ringeck, and this book and Lindholm's translation of Ringeck are my two primary sources (in both meanings of “primary”) for my study of historic European martial arts.

5) The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570- I'll confess: I personally do not like Joachim Me˙er. His work on the long sword shows an unnecessary profusion of strikes beyond the five core strikes of the Liechtenauer tradition, he was practicing long sword at a time when it was fading and becoming part of schulfechten, and his philosophy of fighting does not strongly align, in my view, with earlier texts on ernst fechten. Nevertheless, Me˙er is beloved by many practitioners, especially in North America, and I would be remiss for not including this book based upon personal bias.

6) The Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris' Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606- I was going to include the translation of Ridolfo Capo Ferro's Gran Simulacro, but reading the glowing reviews from myAmoury readers convinced me to select this text instead. I do not own a copy of this book, but apparently, it is the one book to have if you are interested in Italian rapier.

7) Fiore de' Liberi Fior di Battaglia Second English Edition- I'm not really a Fiore guy, but I have to include this text especially because the Getty edition was the “Holy Grail” for Fiore practitioners for years. The main disadvantage of this book is that it doesn't have illustrations, but that's not Tom Leoni's fault—the Getty Museum hasn't given permission for their reproduction in a book to date.

8) Medieval & Renaissance Dagger Combat- This book combines a wide-range of sources on dagger fighting and synthesizes them, with numerous photographs to illustrate Vail's interpretations of the techniques.

9) Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth Century Manual of Swordfighting and Combat- An old book, but one of the first printed editions in English with a translation of Hans Talhoffer's work. Part of the reason this book makes the list is that it includes techniques on weapons besides the long sword.

10) Sword Treatise- In an effort to make this list a little bit less Western-centric, I have included this text translated by Jack Chen. The title is a bit misleading because although the first section of the book is a translation of a work called “Sword Treatise”, it's a short text that mostly deals with the principles and concepts of fighting. The remainder of the text includes techniques for the staff and a few for the trident. Chen's translation of the text of Jian Jing by Yu Da-You, a Ming Dynasty general, is probably one of the only versions available in English for the general, non-academic reader.
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Luke Adams

Location: NYC
Joined: 10 May 2014

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Tue 31 Mar, 2015 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Art of War would be my book of choice. Historically, in East Asia, military strategy was everything and it was absolutely essential that any classical warrior understand its key concepts to cultivate a complete awareness of their surroundings. Instincts like 兵法/平法 (jap: hyoho; tactical theory/circumventing conflict), 残心 (jap: zanshin; awareness), and 間合い (jap: maai; spacing) are the main things a martial artist strives to learn about in their "dojo".

I understand this point of view might give the illusion of Eastern mysticism, but I find it more useful to use one cultural system to fully understand a concept rather than superficially apply teachings from Europe, Western Asia, Eastern Asia, etc. As the saying goes, better a mile deep and an inch wide than a mile wide and an inch deep.

With that being said, I have the utmost respect for HEMA and European explanations for these same concepts. Otherwise I wouldn't be on this forum. Wink

"God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them."
- German proverb
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Craig Peters

PostPosted: Thu 02 Apr, 2015 10:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The thing about The Art of War is that, while it's incredibly useful for military purposes and of value for warriors, it's not quite what I meant by "fighting manual". Perhaps I should have clarified: I mean manuals that teach an individual the art of sword fighting, or other forms of historic weapons, rather than books on armies, tactics, logistics and military strategy.

Do you have nine other books you'd like to contribute to your list, Luke? ;-)
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Luke Adams

Location: NYC
Joined: 10 May 2014

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Fri 03 Apr, 2015 8:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah! I was wondering about that since, in your list, you posted "The Book of Five Rings," which doubles as a kenjutsu manual and as what are basically cliffnotes for "The Art of War". This makes sense however since if I recall correctly Miyamoto Musashi belonged to the group of samurai and daimyo, including other important figures like Yagyu Munenori, that studied under the Buddhist monk Takuan Soho, who advocated a philosophy that saw values in zen and war as one in the same.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I have much of a complete "top ten" list, but here are some manuals that I like (once again, forgive the Far Eastern homogeneity of them) :
The Life-Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori - a manual for practitioners of Edo- lineage Yagyu Shinkage-ryu kenjutsu
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - kenjutsu manual; however, I forget if he goes over techniques from Niten Ichi Ryu in it...?
Martial Arts after Farm Work (great video can be seen here: - miao/wo dao manual. This one has relatively close cultural value to me since my ancestors came from the Zhoushan islands (舟山), which basically served as a base for Japanese pirates during the Ming dynasty period. Anyway this manual was put together by Qi Jiguang, a famous Chinese general who took techniques from what looks like [Aizu?] Kage-ryu and slightly changed them to better suit his army in their battle against wokou.

I could list more but I'm feeling pretty sick and cloudy-minded right now, so I think I'll have to stop here for now. Happy

"God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them."
- German proverb
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