Most of the images in the gif above are from a type of book called a Fechtbuch, a German combat manual from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Fechtbüchen often depict fencing techniques, knife-fighting techniques, and the use of strange weapons like the thrusting shield, in addition to combatants wrapped in seemingly loving embraces, or doing…other things.
According to Wiktenauer, which is probably the best online source for medieval fighting manuals, these were not quite manuals the way we would think of them today, but were “more often general treatises on a variety of martial subjects, and even those treatises that include details and illustrations of specific techniques generally fail to present a set of instructions that a reader can easily follow.”
Combat manuals were by no means limited to Germany. There were Italian manuals, French, Greek, and many others.
Among the most famous combat manuals from the time is The Book of Five Rings by Japanese swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi. The scope of the book goes well beyond sword fighting and includes discussions on strategy, philosophy, and even what one might consider management. For example, this nugget of wisdom:
Men use equipment to sell their own selves. As if with the nut and the flower, the nut has become less than the flower. In this kind of Way of strategy, both those teaching and those learning the Way are concerned with coloring and showing off their technique, trying to hasten the bloom of the flower. They speak of “This Dojo” and “That Dojo”. They are looking for profit. Someone once said, “Immature strategy is the cause of grief.” That was a true saying.
I feel like he never quite got to the punchline there. But I think what he’s saying is that most people do things only to look cool and make money. This is not The Way and ultimately will lead to grief. On the one hand, that’s pretty timeless wisdom. On the other hand, it’s a cardinal rule that the most important thing in combat is looking cool.
From what I can tell, The Book of Five Rings is totally lacking in pictures of swordsman-on-swordsman erotic takedowns. In that regard the European combat manuals are superior.
(Side note: While Musashi claims in The Book of Five Rings that he was wholly self-taught, it’s possible he was influenced by Takuan Sōhō, a Zen Buddhist monk and supposed inventor of the pickled radish which today bears his name.)
And now, a sampling of a few Fechtbüchen, for thy viewing pleasure…
🤣 I always chuckle at these strange nuggets of medieval wisdom. Thank you! Haha