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Instructions on how to fight
Martial arts manuals are instructions, with or without illustrations, specifically designed to be learnt from a book. Many books detailing specific techniques of martial arts are often erroneously called manuals but were written as treatises.
Prose descriptions of martial arts techniques appear late within the history of literature, due to the inherent difficulties of describing a technique rather than just demonstrating it.
All other extant manuals date to the Middle Ages or later. The "combat stele" at Shaolin Monastery dates to 728 CE. The earliest text detailing Indian martial arts is the Agni Purana (c. 8th century), which contains several chapters giving descriptions and instructions on fighting techniques. It described how to improve a warrior's individual prowess and kill enemies using various methods in warfare whether they went to war in chariots, horses, elephants or on foot. Foot methods were subdivided into armed combat and unarmed combat. The former included the bow and arrow, the sword, spear, noose, armour, iron dart, club, battle axe, chakram and trident. The latter included wrestling, knee strikes, punching and kicking methods.
"Illustrations only" manuals do not become extinct with the appearance of prose instructions, but rather exist alongside these, e.g. in the form of the Late Medieval German illuminated manuscripts.
Historical European martial arts
fol. 2r of the Cod. 44 A 8, depicting two fencers in the vom tag and alber wards.
Fechtbuch (plural Fechtbücher) is Early New High German for "combat manual", one of the manuscripts or printed books of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance containing descriptions of a martial art. Usually, the term is taken to include 15th- and 16th-century German manuals, but the nature of the subject matter does not allow a clear separation of these from treatises from other parts of Europe on one hand (particularly from the Italian and French schools), and from manuals of later centuries on the other hand.
Johannes Lecküchner (1558) (this is a reprint from the Altenn Fechter anfaengliche Kunst, printed by Egenolph).
Joachim Meyer "Gründtliche Beschreibung der freyen Ritterlichen vnnd Adelichen kunst des Fechtens in allerley gebreuchlichen Wehren mit vil schönen vnd nützlichen Figuren gezieret vnnd fürgestellet" (1570)
Gunterrodt: "De veris principiis artis dimicatoriae" (1579), Wittenberg
The Italian school is attested in an early manual of 1410, at which time it is not yet clearly separable from the German school. Indeed, the author Fiore dei Liberi states that he has learned much of his art from one "Master Johannes of Swabia". The heyday of the Italian school comes in the 16th century, with the Dardi school.
Andre Pauernfeindt "La noble science des joueurs d'espee" (1528)--This is a French translation of Pauernfeindt's 1516 work. One notable difference between it and the original is that the "noble science" print has colored images, unlike the German.
Henry de Sainct-Didier "Traité contenant les secrets du premier livre de l'épée seule, mère de toutes les armes, qui sont épée, dague, cappe, targue, bouclier, rondelle, l'espée deux mains, et les deux espées, avec ses pourtraictures, ..." (1573)
Gérard Thibault d'Anvers "Académie de l'epee, ou se démontrent par reigles mathématique, sur le fondement d'un cercle mysterieux, la theorie et pratique des vrais et jusqu'a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes, à pied et a cheval" (1623)
Monsieur L'Abbat "The Art of Fencing, or, the Use of the Small Sword" (1734)
Alfred Hutton "Cold Steel, A Practical Treatise on the Sabre" (1889), "Old Sword-Play" (1892)
Scottish manuals detailing the use of the basket-hilted Scottish broadsword, besides other disciplines such as the smallsword and spadroon, were published throughout the 18th century, with early and late examples dating to the late 17th and early 19th centuries, respectively:
The Scots Fencing Master (the Complete Smallswordsman) - Sir William Hope (1687)
Advice to his Scholar from the Fencing Master - Sir William Hope (1692)
Complete Fencing Master - Sir William Hope (1691-1692)
The Swordsman's Vade-Mecum - Sir William Hope (1692)
New Short and Easy Method of Fencing (1st Edition) - Sir William Hope (1707)
New Short and Easy Method of Fencing (2nd Edition) - Sir William Hope (1714)
A Few Observations upon the Fighting for Prizes in the Bear Gardens - Sir William Hope (1715)
A Vindication of the True Art of Self-Defence - Sir William Hope (1724)
Expert Swords-man's Companion - Donald McBane (1728)
A treatise on backsword, sword, buckler, sword and dagger, sword and great gauntlet, falchon, quarterstaff - Captain James Miller (1737)
The Use of the Broad Sword - Thomas Page (1746)
Anti-Pugilism - Anonymous (Captain G. Sinclair, 1790)
Cudgel Playing Modernized and Improved; or, The Science of Defence, Exemplified in a Few Short and Easy Lessons, for the Practice of the Broad Sword or Single Stick, on Foot - Captain G. Sinclair
Lecture on the Art of Defence - Archibald MacGregor (1791)
The Guards of the Highland Broadsword - Thomas Rowlandson (1799)
In 1599, the sword master, Domingo Luis Godinho wrote the Arte de Esgrima, the only fencing manual preserved that preserved the older "Common" or "Vulgar" system of Spanish fencing which has its traditions in the Middle Ages.
17th-century Spanish Destreza is very much steeped in the Spanish Baroque noblemen mindset, so doesn't contain much graphical explanations of the fencing techniques so much as hard to understand explanations based on mathematics and philosophical sciences in general. The subsequent difficulty on interpreting the theory and practice of Destreza correctly has led many times to this school of fencing being misunderstood.
^fechten is cognate to English fight and still meant "fight, combat" in general in Early Modern times; in contemporary Standard German, fechten translates to "fencing", while the noun Gefecht retains the generic meaning of "fight, battle".
^ abcdeHighland Broadsword:Five Manuals of Scottish Regimental Swordsmanship, by Paul Wagner (editor) and Mark Rector (editor), Published by The Chivalry Bookshelf (July 2004)
^Anti-Pugilism, or The Science of Defense Exemplified In Short and Easy Lessons for the Practice of the Broad Sword and Single Stick Illustrated with Copper Plates, By a Highland Officer, London, Printed for J Aitkin, NO 14, Castle-street, corner of Bear Street, Leicester Fields 1790, www.hroarr.com/manuals/boxing-pugilism/Anti-pugilism.doc