About Medieval Martial Arts

Martial arts are developed as a response to cultural needs, and these needs intersect with the technology of the culture to produce an art appropriate to the context in which it will be used. Some common contexts in which martial arts are used include war, cases of civil unrest, duel, sport, and the need to demonstrate prowess in these areas. A given art can actually encompass all of this: it is clearly stated by Sigmund Ringeck, a 15th century German master, said that “Princes and Lords learn to survive with this art, in earnest and in play.” Other masters and authors have written about use of their arts both in potentially lethal and in sportive contexts also. It is well-documented that European society from the medieval, Renaissance and modern eras have employed various forms of law-enforcement officials, and in the ordinary course of their duties these men would have needed martial expertise that was scalable – that could be used to subdue rather than kill, but also to kill if necessary. And even the use of the arts of war does not necessarily dictate an all-or-nothing “scorched earth” policy: the condotierri (mercenary soldiers) of medieval Italy were businessmen who practiced war as a trade, and frequently resorted to less than total war in the execution of their battles, the better to preserve the assets (soldiers) that allowed them to do business in the first place. Finally, these same arts were used by “policemen” of the era: soldiers attached to the office of the podesta, an investigating magistrate with wide-ranging judicial powers. Fiore Dei Liberi, the founder of Armizare tradition, was at various times in his career an officer in such a “police force,” and a condotierro engaged by Italian communes (city-states).