GW: Hello, sword people, welcome to The Sword Guy podcast. This is your host, Dr Guy Windsor, Consulting Swordsman, teacher and writer. Join me for interviews with historical fencing instructors and experts from a wide range of related disciplines as we discuss swords, history, training, and bringing the joy of historical martial arts into our modern lives. I’m here today with Dierk Hagedorn, who is something of a legend in our community. He is a translator and author of very many books. If I stacked them up, they would be taller than me. He’s translated and produced scholarly editions of Gladiatoria and Lecküchner’s Messer fencing treatise, Peter von Danzig’s manuscript, etc., etc., etc.. The list is long and we will go into many of them in the interview. I think this is actually his real claim to fame: he was the layout designer for the German edition of my Dagger book. Of course, that’s the book he’s going to be remembered for. Yes. Not all that scholarly stuff. So without further ado, welcome to the show.
DH: Sword Guy, I am happy to be here tonight.
GW: Just to orient everybody, whereabouts in the world are you?
DH: In Hamburg, which is in northern Germany, for those who do not know and have no clue where this beautiful city actually is.
GW: So northern Germany. OK, which would probably suggest why you’re so well known for your work on German manuscripts. Being German would help.
DH: Yeah, sadly, there is no manuscript from Hamburg we know of so far, but yes, since I am from Germany and speak German quite fluently that helps a lot to understand the German manuscripts.
GW: Absolutely. OK, so how did you get into historical martial arts? How did that start off?
DH: Well, I was a young boy one day, it’s hard to believe, but I actually was. I think I was seven years or so when I fell in love with knights and everything related to knights and swords, that was mostly due to the TV. With my parents, I sat there time and again and we watched Ivanhoe and the Knights of the Round Table and Prince Valiant and I ended up having a wooden sword and climbing on the little hill where they built a swimming pool across the street. And so I went there with my friends and we did some ludicrous stuff with wooden swords. But that was when it all began. And so I kept nagging my parents to please do something with swords, which was then completely impossible because that was the 1970s and well there was no such thing as going somewhere to get swords, plastic swords. That was it. And so I started actually to build my first own cardboard armour. And so at the age of nine, I had completed my first cardboard armour. That was a silly thing because it was built out of cardboard but I decided that something metal should be inserted. And so I combined the joints with little wires. So that was the metal part. But they cut the armour always in pieces. It was absolutely silly, but it was my first armour and there’s still one photograph of that armour and I cherish that photograph very much.
GW: Well, if you send me a copy, I will put it in the shownotes.
DH: Well, let’s see if I can dig that up somewhere. Well, I started actually sports fencing because that was the closest thing. So I changed my mind from where knight was impossible, to how about becoming a musketeer instead? And so I went to the sports club where they actually had a brilliant instructor who I think was on the Olympic team in sabre fencing, and so I started sabre fencing, which I enjoyed very much at the time, and, well, I still owe him a lot because the first day I went there, he said when he was a little boy and he started fencing his fencing instructor kept them doing the footwork over and over and over again. And only after months of footwork, they were allowed to hold a blade. And so he said he was so annoyed by that, that he decided if he were ever to have pupils, they were allowed a blade in the very first second. And so in that very first second I held my first sabre. And it started from there, I was 10 or 11 years old.
GW: Yeah, every fencing instructor I’ve ever had over, shall we say, the age of 50, has gone on about how when they were allowed or when they were a girl, they weren’t allowed to actually hold a sword in the first class. It was months of footwork and then lessons with the coach only. And they’d been training for a year before they ever crossed blades with another student. I’m not sure that is the only way to do it. I certainly put swords in my students’ hands on that first day, that’s what they came to do.
DH: I took that as the kind of inspiration and I liked it. And I can imagine everybody else likes it because why are people going to sword fighting class? Because they want to hold a sword and most people never have.
GW: Right, exactly. So you did a bunch of sport fencing and then how did you actually get into the historical martial arts?
DH: Well, that was kind of a journey, because I stuck to sports fencing for three years, had a three year break, did three years again, had a three year break. And then I met another inspiring person, Tim Gedershein, who became my fencing master. And he was also into stage combat. And so I took a turn in stage combat because there are a number of schools for actors in Hamburg and not every school is able to provide their own fencing master. And so had some kind of base where all these aspiring actors came to in order to learn stage combat. And I stuck with him for five years or four, I don’t know. And he constantly referred to old fight books. And in his fencing hall, he had reproductions Agrippa and Albrecht Dürer. And he always referred to Albrecht Dürer’s fight book, which was an eye opener for me because, well, I am an illustrator by trade. So that is what I have actually learnt. And so when I studied illustration, the art of drawing, one of my large and biggest and grandest heroes was Albrecht Dürer. And his way of crosshatching taught me how to crosshatch. And I learnt so much from him. And so when I learnt from my old fencing master that Albrecht Dürer actually had created a fight book, that was a very nice connection.
GW: Yeah, that’s lightning that is.
DH: Yeah. That was four years or so and that was still in the 1990s, before the Internet actually. And so actually it was laying the foundation so to speak. And a couple of years later, I think it was in 2003, I only learnt that there was a group in Hamburg who were meeting constantly or regularly in the Stadtpark, in the city park, and they’d been doing some kind of swordplay, I was told, and I thought, that is ridiculous. Nobody in their right mind would hold a sword and bash each other with an actual steel sword. But alas, it was not a lie. And so one day I went there and it was quite intriguing because it was Hammaborg and it was the club I’m still instructor of. So obviously I stuck. But back then in 2003, it was kind of as if I had stepped out of a time machine, but in a different direction, because they were at the time still very much into re-enactment of the Viking age. And so half a year earlier I had ordered my first real steel suit of armour. So 30 years earlier I created my first cardboard armour. And finally, when I was able to afford a steel armour, I ordered that. And only then I learnt that there was a sword fighting group in Hamburg. And so when I went there, there were Vikings from say, 1000. And there I was claiming to have ordered a gothic suit of armour from around 1500. So there was a time gap between us that was hard to fill.
GW: Wow. So you started training with Hammaborg and doing a bit of the Viking stuff and then your suit of armour arrives. Did it fit?
DH: Yes, of course. It was bespoke, I went to my armourer for several fittings.
GW: I’ve had trouble with armour being made. My first suit of armour fit so badly that I ended up selling it to the National Opera House in Helsinki so they can use it on stage because it was completely useless for any kind of actual combat.
DH: No, I still have it here. You can’t see it, but it is. If I stretch out my left arm I can touch it. And it is right here and I still wear it and it is still good.
GW: As one middle aged man to another, the fact that you can still fit into armour that was made for you 17 years ago is quite impressive.
DH: Well, I tell you what, I still haven’t grown entirely into my suit of armour. There is some kind of Corona belly, which means I can finally fit into it. As I said earlier, it is a good and a very nice armour, but it is not perfect and that it is still too large for me is one of those issues I have with it. Because it fits, yes, but it doesn’t fit perfectly. So yeah, but nevertheless it is in my study here and I enjoy it each and every single day.
GW: So what are your main research interests?
DH: Well, we touched that earlier, of course, being from Germany, sticking my nose in the German sources was a natural thing to do. I learned about these sources soon enough because, well, in the year of 2003, when I started sword fighting, although a bit Viking related, of course, the sources were there and the Internet was there and one was constantly scanning the Internet in order to try to find something. And actually there was something to find. But on the other hand, there was quite little to find comparing to today with online sources that have manuscripts in abundance, even from the libraries themselves. Back then, that was quite rare. There was the ARMA website, particularly the Polish one was quite intriguing because they had transcriptions of the Peter von Danzig fight book and here and there, there were some other transcriptions. And of course, I stuck to the German sources because I was able to read it. Which is OK. Which is good. You’re not German, so possibly your understanding of early new high German could be limited. I don’t know.
GW: OK, well, I can tell you the reason I do Italian martial arts primarily is because I can read Italian and I’ve also done work on English language treatises and French language treatises. That is basically it. I mean, I could maybe gotten some way through the Spanish, but the Spanish ones tend to be very, very dense and language heavy. So they’re quite hard to work with because my academic Spanish isn’t really that good. But the reason I don’t teach German martial arts is simply because I don’t read German and learning German is going to take me too long. And there’s too many people like you out there who keep taking these books and making them readable in English. So there’s no pressure for me to actually learn the language.
DH: And luckily, there are enough other languages available, as you say, Italian. Even if you are a modern German, it may be a treat to understand early new high German because, well, there are there are many false friends. And actually you need to be aware of them in order to bring them back to life. Because reading, of course, is one thing. But if you want to interpret or reproduce or recreate what is written in the book, you need to understand what is written there. And so there are many, many, many shifts in what a specific term actually meant then and what it means today. I think one of the most famous sentences is in the Zornhau. Most of your listeners will probably know what a Zornhau is. It is “from above”. And so in the original old German, it says that Zornhau is nights weiter als ein schlichter paugernschlag. So “schlicht” is the essential word here, which can be translated into modern English. Well, it is a “bad peasant’s stroke” because it says “schlicht” and in modern German “schlecht” means bad. But back then it meant “simple”. So when you say today it is a bad peasants’ stroke, yes, OK, you can say that. But what it originally meant is it was a simple peasants’ stroke so everybody could do it. It is not a particularly intriguing a technique that actually requires a lot of finesse. It is simple. And so there are many more of these words, and so you need a dictionary.
GW: Yeah, the same is true with Italian, like, for example, at one point, Fiore says to put your left foot forward and the phrase he uses is piede stanco, which means in modern Italian, your “tired foot”. Which leg is tireder? Put that one in front. No, it’s your left foot.
DH: I remember for one of my books, I can’t remember which one, I needed to translate the passage from Fiore and I put it, not into Google Translate, but an online translating tool and in fact there was the tired foot and of course the context made it clear what was meant. So yeah, couldn’t print “the tired foot”. No, but I was a bit flabbergasted. Well context means a lot in these instances, but actually I have, I don’t know, three or four early new high German modern German dictionaries and I use them frequently, and occasionally there are obscure passages that frequently need to be checked and rechecked time and again.
GW: Yeah, and there are always words that are going to catch you out because the meaning has changed and sometimes, if it’s a casual phrase, it doesn’t really make it into the dictionary because they’re expressions which have just been lost.
DH: Yeah, there are two interesting things, because there are there is one dictionary that has a lot of fencing phrases in it. And all these are taken from Martin Wierschin’s glossary from 1965. So much in Wierschin made up is a bit derogative. No, he was a clever man and so a lot of his glossary still is valid. But he wasn’t a practitioner. But still in the dictionary, everything which corresponds to fencing terminology is taken from Martin Wierschin, and every error Wierschin made is in the dictionary and so those errors travel. And so he was the authority to feed the dictionary. But we know better, so don’t trust the dictionary. And on the other hand, the sources, particularly the later sources from the 16th century, deteriorate a lot. So what was understandable in the 15th century made complete gibberish in the 16th.
GW: Yeah, we see that in every language, I think. George Silver is the most famous English language treatise, and he wrote his Paradoxes of Defensive in 1599 and I’m right now having it recorded as an audio book with two actors, one who is a classical actor who’s doing in Modern Pronunciation. And I’ve got a chap called Ben Crystal, who is very well known in the original pronunciation Shakespeare world. And his dad is actually a linguist who has done probably the definitive work on how it was pronounced back then. And listening to Ben read George Silver in the original pronunciation, all sorts of things just come clear. It was perfectly intelligible before, it’s not difficult English, but the way it’s pronounced, the rhythms of it and everything, it gives it a kind of depth and colour that it just did not have before.
DH: That’s intriguing because I tried to read Silver, and actually for me as a non-native speaker, it is really, really hard because I have to read each and every single word aloud in order to tell what actually was written there, because it deviates very much from modern orthography.
GW: Yeah, but that’s actually how the original pronunciation thing works, because the spelling was non-standard. So they would spell it the way they said it. And so you get all these clues for how it would have been said. I think in many ways it’s a good thing that gives us a kind of window into how the language used to be spoken. But is a real pain.
DH: And then there are rules how to speak the written word. And you need to know that.
GW: In English.
DH: In German too. Because for instance, that is where the two letters st for instance, let’s say stück. So it is a “sch” sound in the beginning, but there is no sch or something written that would indicate that sch sound. So you need to know that. And so when you apply that same rule to every connection between the two consonants, the first one being an S. Whichever follows it, it has to be pronounced as sh. Today, it’s only with “st” and “sp”, but back then it was with every consonant. So if a treatise says “swert” it isn’t supposed to be pronounced swert, but schwert instead. And so the writing is different from today, but it was pronounced the same way as today. And you need to know that. And that is a much clearer understanding to the sometimes strange phrasing of words, or the strange orthography, because it isn’t that strange after all, if you know the rules.
GW: OK, now I’ve been thinking about asking you some specific questions about translating German manuscript sources and how you approach that, but it does sound to me like you need to write the book on the subject. Not a book, the book. Oh, yeah, absolutely.
DH: Well, Guy, I’m writing a lot of the books. Actually I do lose track on which book I’m actually writing. And so last summer I was actually writing seven books simultaneously. And so it’s getting really, really, really out of hand. And at least two or three of them were the books. Another one of the book issue. So yes, one day. But I think that I learnt at least five books that need to come before it. But then again, why me? I don’t think so, there are people who deal professionally with language who do that much cleverer than I could ever do, because I need to stick my nose in things and I didn’t study that stuff. And so people know that and they have inhaled every inch of that. And so I just dabble on the surface and I know stuff, but I don’t go into these depths. So with what I’m doing actually with these books anyway is going to great depths and gathering knowledge. And time and again, I realise that I know next to nothing which is so well, it’s not frustrating. It is a bit of a humbling experience because I think I can claim that I know a lot about the German sources. But then time and again, I need to check my notes and I’m surprised how little I know. And so there is a whole world of new knowledge to be gathered. These five books that I have on my slate, they need to come first in any place.
GW: OK, so what are those five books?
DH: One you know of.
GW: Yeah, one I know. Dierk and I are writing a book together. I actually have a mockup of the cover on the wall behind me. It’s called Lemon and Vinegar. That’s the working title. And it is a comparison of Fiore’s martial arts and the contemporary German martial arts at the time. And yes, it is coming very, very slowly because it’s very, very hard.
DH: It’s not exactly that hard, it is just my time frame that doesn’t allow it, but I think we can start in summer or autumn to actually really dig into the details, because before that, I need to finish two books. Actually, currently, I’m working on my books number 12 and 14.
GW: OK, which one is 13?
DH: Yeah, it doesn’t have to do with superstition, but books 12 and 14 are well, I don’t know if it’s a secret. When is this series going to get broadcast?
GW: This one is about eight weeks from now.
DH: OK, ok, cool. Possibly I’ll be ready with that. OK, I can give you a little secret, which today is a secret, but in eight weeks it may no longer be. OK I spoke earlier of my great hero, Dürer. And of course, people know Dürer has produced the fight book, or at least he and/or his workshop were part of that huge typo. And there was an edition published in 1907 and 1910 by Friedrich Dörnhöffer and he published the images. And there are, I think, one hundred and twenty images, and they were produced in state of the art colour type images. There is a printing type that is no longer in use today, and it produces magnificent quality, but only in black and white. Colour is mediocre. But what Dörnhöffer didn’t publish was the second part. And the second part is text only. It is a massive volume and it contains everything, including the kitchen sink. It has an abridged version of Lecküchner’s Messer fencing, it has armoured combat, it has mounted combat, it has even more armoured combat. It has dagger, it has more dagger. And some of these sources when I started to work on that book six years ago, on the invitation of Daniel Jacquet, there were one or two passages or sections that were completely unique. Meanwhile, we figured out or found out that, well, we didn’t actually discover a lost manuscript, but a manuscript that up to now was completely unknown to the fencing community. And so this section about dagger fencing can be found in another manuscript, which I can’t claim to have discovered because it was commented on in a footnote in a book about the life and the correspondence of Albrecht Dürer. And the book was out, I think, in 1969. So it is out there for quite a while. But nobody in the fencing community has ever paid attention to that particular footnote.
GW: Sorry let me just say this. This gives you a perfect window into Dierk’s head. He is astonished that the fencing community has not paid attention to a footnote in a book published in 1969. That does not compute. How could we have missed it? It is right there in the text!
DH: Yeah, it’s there for everybody to read it. Why don’t people do that? I don’t know. I have no clue.
GW: Yeah, I had no idea that other half of Dürer’s treaties even existed. I always thought it was just the pictures. That’s all I’ve ever seen. So you’re producing a proper edition of the Dürer source with the pictures and the text?
DH: This is going to be a cool book, because it contains each and every single image, one hundred and twenty, I think there are and I have to thank Daniel Jacquet for bringing me on board in the first place, because he asked me in 2015 to give them a little assistance with the transcription. Another deviation later on that. So I got access to the manuscript, which was a secret, so to speak, nobody knew. There was a little allusion to the text in Dörnhöffer’s text, but he didn’t print it. So there was a little murmur about it, a little mentioning here and there, but nobody has ever seen it. And so I got this top secret file and have the ability to actually transcribe it. And then things got messy and were delayed time and again. And finally, half a year ago, despite all this Corona madness, that was the best thing that happened to me last year that I finally was granted access to the files and that the book had to be produced.
GW: So where are the files?
DH: Well, they are in the Albertina, which is the Graphic Arts Museum in Vienna. Dürer is a project closer to my heart than I could even express because, well, he’s my hero and I have known about Dürer’s fight book for I don’t know, as I said, my fencing master taught me about it decades ago. And now it’s finally coming out with full colour images, full reproduction of all the images, including the text only pages and a full transcription, full translation. And as I said, these are books number 12 and 14 I’m working on because the strange thing is I have a couple of publishers, meanwhile. And so my British publisher in London was the one who proposed the project. And so I’m very grateful for Daniel Jacquet, who brought me on board in the first place in 2015. I think I mentioned it earlier, but possibly it was lost in one of those outtakes. So he brought me on board and Michael from Greenhill Books suggested to actually publish Dürer and he licenced it to my German publisher, but my German publisher is quicker than my original British publisher. So my book being published in Britain will be published is the original version after the German licenced edition will be out. And so meanwhile, my other book about Jörg Wilhalm will be published in between. And that is book 13. Book 13 is worth to elaborate a bit on also, because that is the second of my Corona books, actually it is the first of my Corona books. But it comes later when my second Corona book. Oh, it’s so confusing. All of these books, like in the manuscripts, you lose track so easily. I need to tell you the story, because it was last March, March 2020, and I had just, guess what, finished a book. And so I sat there at the breakfast table with my kids and I said, OK, kids, daddy has just finished a book. And how about you? Did you finish a book, any book?
GW: Now that’s parenting, that is.
DH: So they said, OK, Daddy we will help you with your next book. And I said, Right, I believe you. I believe you, certainly. And they said, no, no, no, really, we will do it. We’ll do it. And I said, OK, let’s see. And so the next book was already scheduled. It was Jörg Wilhalm. There was tons of work to do. And so I thought for a while and imagined what could be possibly a decent task for the kids to actually perform. And so I singled out two tasks. And my son actually was granted with a duty to work on the picture concordance, because on the Jörg Wilhalm book is illustrated, mostly illustrated manuscript, but it contains certain amounts of text too, and it contains a lot of fighting disciplines. It has unarmoured longsword, it has armoured combat and it has mounted combat in full splendour, colourful images and a lot of text too. Two hundred pages of text that goes with the images and but Jörg Wilhalm is a source that doesn’t stand in a vacuum. So he had predecessors and successors. And all in all, there were 13 manuscripts that were in more or less close relationship to that single manuscript from Munich. And so I needed to compare each and every single image from the Munich manuscript with the other sources. And so I had a giant table laid out and my little son Henry sat there with his pencil putting folio numbers in the little boxes I left open in order to say, OK, folio 27 Recto in Wilhalm compares to 17 Recto in Anton Rast to 28 Verso and Joachim Meyer. And so he compared two hundred images with those other thirteen illustrated fight book manuscripts.
GW: That is a lot of work.
DH: That was a lot of work. Yes.
GW: That is a stinker. I mean I’ve done that with Fiore but that is four manuscripts which are all pretty similar and very easy to use.
DH: It took months. My daughter on the other hand. Well, I gave her the texts to try to transcribe.
GW: From the handwriting? Wow, that’s hard. How did she do?
DH: I want you to know that the Wilhalm manuscript is from 1522 to 1523. And it is written in the Bastarda of the time in a very, very fluent handwriting. So it is not particularly accurate, but it is not sloppy either, so it is like a nice, decent every day handwriting. Nothing substantial and nothing too fancy, but you need to look closely. And so for the first two or three folios, I gave her another transcription I had on my hard drive for comparison, I don’t know who made that in the 1990s or early 2000s. I don’t remember actually. And it was an OK transcription, but it was not flawless. But it was a good starting point to compare her achievement with what somebody else has done. And so after, I don’t know, three or four folios, she didn’t need that anymore. And so it took her exactly six months in order to complete those 200 pages. And that was a huge asset because I didn’t transcribe an entire manuscript, but actually she did it. And meanwhile, I could concentrate on masking the images and writing the introduction and doing a little bit about who did what and where, and who did what to whom.
GW: This isn’t a vanity parent/kid project, the kids are actually doing real solid work. That’s amazing. How old are they?
DH: Well, Henry was 11 and Helen was 14. Now they are older, of course, because it was a year ago.
GW: That is very young for being able to do that kind of work.
DH: And you know what the best thing is? I didn’t press them. They pressed themselves. I thought, well, they really did. Of course, it is the proud daddy speaking, but nevertheless, I think they did truly amazing stuff. And so I insisted that both of their names are to be put on the cover.
GW: Of course. Absolutely. They have to be.
DH: And so it’s really a family business.
GW: I’m going to have to get my daughters to listen to this and see if they go, oh, daddy it is boring sword stuff. We don’t want to do that.
DH: You know, I don’t know whether it was in one of your podcasts or whether it was some random Facebook discussion where people talked about their daughters or their children in general and whether it is cool what their parents do. And so I don’t know. But my daughter last year, she got her first sword and a couple of months ago she got her first fencing mask. And so I do hope she does it a little longer. And Henry has his sword, too. And his Messer, the whole armoury. I mean, we have three armouries.
GW: Fantastic. Yeah. My daughters, when they were really little, anything Daddy did was cool and they wanted to go to the salle and play with swords and play with other weapons, you know, but since basically since they were old enough to have their own interests at six, seven or whatever, they were just not into swords at all. Somehow it skipped a generation.
DH: You can’t force it because I have no idea who I was, I was the Star Wars geek in my younger days. And so when I brought the kids to the kindergarten, I always told them bits and pieces of Star Wars episode four to six, of course.
GW: Real Star Wars. None of that modern shit.
DH: It took me one or two years in order to turn the entire trilogy. And so, of course, they were enthused. And that was the time, I think, when Clone Wars was on TV or somewhere. And so everybody was dressing up as clone troopers. But that didn’t stick. They don’t despise Star Wars. Not at all. And we are watching it on May the 4th. We are watching Star Wars, of course, and everything. But that was some kind of excitement that didn’t make the jump to the next generation, although I tried, and swords I didn’t try at all. So it just came naturally. I don’t know.
GW: Yeah, I think it’s just luck and yeah, you’re absolutely right, you can’t force it. I don’t want them to ever look at a sword and see it as a duty. That would be that would be a terrible thing to do to a kid. But now, I have a note here. Before I forget, there have been rumours on the Internet that Talhoffer is a complete fraud who couldn’t win a fencing match to save his life. I am referring, of course, to the note in a manuscript that has recently surfaced suggesting that Mr Talhoffer got whacked on the head and the arm. Would you care to tell those who don’t know what I’m talking about, what we’re talking about, in some detail? Go for it.
DH: Oh my goodness. Yes, there is a lot of stuff to talk about. Well, OK. Well, where to start? Well, actually, if I were that famous that somebody cared to write about that I lost in a duel. I’d be truly famous. So losing in a duel. Well, why not? I lose constantly in bloody duels, but nobody writes about it. OK, so concerning context, everybody loses every once in a while. But then again, Talhoffer is, of course, one of the household names in fencing history. And I think that is due to the fact that Talhoffer was known to the masters before every other fencing masters. In the 1880s, there were books published by Gustav Hergsell, about three of Talhoffer’s manuscripts. So he was the fencing authority and suddenly he got whacked in the head and sliced in the hand. How on earth could that happen? And it happened obviously some time in the 15th century. And the strange thing is, well, I said earlier that I didn’t discover a manuscript, which I discovered. And this, again, is something I didn’t discover, which I discovered. People who are a bit versed in the art of German fencing have heard the name Peter von Danzig. Peter von Danzig is one name of one author in a companion with, I don’t know, a dozen or so fencing treatises bound together in a book that are sources based on Johannes Liechtenauer’s teachings on unarmoured combat with a sword, with mounted combat, armoured combat, wrestling techniques, etc., etc. Because one of the authors, the last author actually, has a name Peter von Danzig, it is commonly referred to as the Peter von Danzig fight book. It is disputable. There are other names floating around and some prefer other names. But Peter von Danzig is the household name. So I stick to that, too, because it makes communication easier. And in this book, which I incidentally happened to have here, there was a deleted, cancelled passage, so what possibly is important to note, this book is from 1452 and it has been around the Internet for, I don’t know, more than 20 years. So people transcribed it. I transcribed it because I looked at those transcriptions and once I got hold of the actual images, I noticed one or two misreadings. So I created my own translation. And that was, I think in 2004 or 2005 or five and then in 2007 or 2008, I can’t remember exactly, I published that book with a transcription and a modern German translation, and it has seen three print runs so far.
GW: It’s a standard text.
DH: It’s the longsword by Liechtenauer, which you refer to constantly. And I think particularly because it was a cheap book, it cost, I don’t know, 26 euros or so. Everybody has it in Germany, or Austria or Switzerland, in the German speaking countries.
GW: I’ve got it.
DH: Oh yeah. You’re cool. OK, so everybody has the Red Book because it has a red cover, so and finally last year, I chatted with Christian Tobler and we just talked and we came up with the idea why not join forces? Because he had the translation done in 2010 in an anthology, in St. George’s name. And it was stuck there and my transcription was there, but not available to the English speaking market. And so we decided to make a similar edition with the transcription juxtaposed to the translation, left hand side transcription, right hand side translation. So for easy reference, because what I said earlier about schlicht, schlecht, bad, simple. So if you are able to understand a bit of the old German, you can instantly refer where the translation falls short, because every translation falls short because there’s so much density in the old texts. Well, we know that, but it is easier if you can cross reference and you have a direct comparison of the original and the translation. OK, so we decided to do that last July. I think it was July, August. And I rechecked my transcription, because no transcription is as good as it can possibly be. There are always things you discover and I looked at the old image sources. And finally, I remember there was a deleted, a cancelled passage on Folio 19 Verso. And so I rechecked that passage and, well, it’s a bit hard to describe that now verbally, but the manuscript consists of headlines written in red and the text written in black. And there were six lines written in red which were crossed out and scratched out and erased very, very thoroughly, crosshatch hatched with black dots on them. So somebody took great pains in order to eradicate these six lines. And so when I looked again after 10 years or so, I suddenly could decipher the last three lines without much trouble. There were six lines, and so I took great pains to copy paste single letters from the other red headlines throughout the manuscript and pasted them over similar looking letters. And of course, the medieval scribes had a certain variety in how they wrote single letters, but only to a certain extent. So an “N” wouldn’t look completely different from another “N”. Slightly different, but not entirely. And so I copied pasted tons and tons of single letters and so I could decipher after a while five out of these six lines. And they said, “Meister Hansen den Talhoffer vor meine Herren Gnadenherzogin Albrecht zu München, in die Hände geschnitten und auf den Kopf geschlagen.” which translates roughly to, “Master Hans Hoffer in front of My Lord and the Grace Duke Albrecht in Munich, cut in the hands and hit on the head.” A very rough translation because it’s quite word by word, but the first line really, really, really gave me trouble, because there was a word completely illegible, except some dots. The meaning of the context made it clear that “Stück”, piece, technique, was the word that needed to be inserted there, and so I copy pasted the word Stück from somewhere, and it fitted quite decently with all of the remaining little tiny red remainders of what previously have been letters and so “mit dem stück hat Meister”, with this piece, Master … has struck master Hans Talhoffer. Who was that? And that was the most difficult word to decipher because it didn’t make any sense. So the first letter had a descender. So it could be only a long S or a P or a Q or whatever, and another letter certainly was either an L or an H. And again, I copy pasted tons and tons of letters. And suddenly there appeared a name which actually is a name, Pertold. And so there was it. It took me quite a while actually to do that. Like the three investigators who did some kind of strange little tricks in order to clear some crime, but there I had it, I had the text quite decently deciphered. And suddenly it became clear that some ominous Pertold who nobody has ever heard of has obviously struck Master Hans Talhoffer on the head and sliced him in the hand. OK, and the strange thing is, why was it put there in the first place? Because in Peter von Danzig the fight book is pretty straightforward. There are no anecdotes in there. It is just technique followed after technique. There is nothing anecdotal in there, nothing whatsoever, except possibly the introduction where it says young knights learn to honour women, etc, etc., which is not anecdotal either. And so suddenly we have some kind of biographical notice in there. So was it is a scribe copying from a template and there was a random scrap paper laying there and oh, I need to copy that too. And it was simply an error. Or not, it was deliberate, I don’t know. Nobody knows. And then why was it deleted? Did Master Hans Talhoffer get his hands on the book and said, oh, no, that doesn’t sit well with me. I need to erase that instantly because I my fame would be in ruins. So anyway it has been cancelled very, very thoroughly, but it has been deciphered and now is everybody’s guess what actually has happened and in what order.
GW: OK, my first question would be, given the existence of Palimpsest, where you have a book written on vellum that you don’t particularly like very much, and vellum’s expensive. So you scrape all the ink off and you have a new book written on top. Very common practise. So we know that you can just scrape the ink off.
DH: You do that on vellum, you don’t do that that frequently on paper.
GW: Oh, was it on paper? Oh, fine, OK, that explains that.
DH: And it is in the middle of a page. And it says so it refers actually to the piece before or the piece after, which is some piece from the Zwerhau, which is that horizontal cut where you strike with a short edge to the opponent’s head. So it actually refers to a specific technique. And to my knowledge, there is only one other fight book that refers that somebody has actually performed a technique described on the page to his own profit. And the other one is Paulus Hector Mair, who did the same thing in the 1550s, 1560s when he had the sketch book for one of his huge masterpieces done where he said, with this piece, I have struck Master Aratne Platner[54:43], which is I think is from the Scheitelhau[54:47]. It is in the text in the correct red writing.
GW: I have a theory. The scribe was a fencing fan, and he happened to see that bout, and he was thrilled to get the job of writing out this particular book because he’s a sword fan, but Talhoffer or somebody like Talhoffer had been mean to him in the intervening time. So he thought he would just throw it because it’s in the same hand, it’s the same scribe. Talhoffer had maybe run off with his wife or something like that. And so he thought I’m going to get that little fucker just somewhere in the text hoping that no one would notice. He just wrote this little story. And then his boss came along and was like no, you will scrub that out right now.
DH: He should have been cleverer than and not using red because that is reserved for headlines and this is definitely not a headline.
GW: But he wanted everyone to see it.
DH: It’s just a complete miracle. And it is very, very intriguing because who the heck is Master Pertold? But then again, I may be completely mistaken and read something into the text which actually doesn’t stand there. But then again, I like everybody to prove me wrong. Of course, it is hard to actually tell, and best thing, of course, would be to go to Rome where the manuscript is kept and have your X-ray scanner with you and just X-ray the page. That would possibly clarify a lot more than some random dude sitting there night after night, night again in order to copy paste singularities on a passage. That was really, really nerdy, I felt.
GW: But it’s the kind of nerdy we appreciate on this show. So you’re amongst friends.
DH: And you know what? That gave me so much pleasure. I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that. And so I just was a bit hesitant, I couldn’t really believe Master Pertold. And I gave that to Christian, of course, to check and recheck and he couldn’t come up with a more reasonable reading. And so just we put it in the book and now it is in the book for everybody to see. And if it is utter nonsense, what I have deciphered but the strangest thing is of course I thought, OK, that is a cool discovery. I think I never, ever can expect to make such a bizarre discovery again. But the Internet, my personal bubble was going wild for one and a half days. It’s really, really intriguing.
GW: It’s fantastic. And the sort of detail that you only get when you look at the books over and over and when you’re willing to spend the time unpicking the difficulties.
DH: And that is particularly because you asked earlier what actually keeps me looking in the sources and what is my main purpose or my main research interest. Actually, after an hour, I didn’t really properly answer that question so far, but it is actually the desire to have an overall view of these sources. Well, I think we can’t expect to come to an urtext. So the original source, where most of the German sources stem from, that would be next to a miracle. But by comparing different sources, we can keep guessing and even in good sources, there are errors. And so by comparing them to other sources, you can try to diminish those errors in order to get a clearer reading and a better understanding of their sources. And then again, we must not forget that Liechtenauer, which many of these sources are related to this also, which I spoke about isn’t the only truth. So there are many, many more German sources independent of omnipresent Master Liechtenauer.
GW: Yeah, that’s really worth highlighting, I think, because everyone in the so-called martial arts community who is not a raging manuscript geek will tend to conflate the German stuff as Liechtenauer, the Italian stuff as Fiore, and the later German stuff that is Mair. And the later Italian stuff is Bolognese. And it’s all basically like this continuous thing and it’s just one branch so that basically we tend to see a continuum rather than what it really is, which is this branching network effect with some completely unrelated trees growing next to it.
DH: The most intriguing thing is that from our 21st century perspective, it is an inextricable web, because everything is interconnected with everything. And then again, when we go say to the middle of the 15th century when there was no Joachim Meyer and no Paulus Hector Mair the picture is, well, not entirely clear, but it is not so completely messy because, Paulus Hector Mair, possibly is hard for people to differentiate between Meyer and Mair because they sound quite similar. One is Paulus Hector Mair and the other is Joachim Meyer. Joachim Meyer is the famous fencing master who is in the tradition line of Master Liechtenauer and has created a huge fight book on his own with all kinds of disciplines such as Dussack and staff weapons and longsword, of course, and everything. And so his first printed edition is from 1570. So rather late in comparison to, say, Peter von Danzig from 1453. Paulus Hector Mair is roughly the same, the same timeline as the other Meyer because he collected books. Well, he was part of the city magistrate in the city of Augsburg. And he collected manuscripts and he created manuscripts. So he actually did what I do. I don’t collect original manuscripts but I have a huge digital vault and I create books based on other books. And possibly in 500 years people will see my editions of books and will be puzzled and say, how on earth does that relate to the 15th century? I can’t understand that. And so that is the messy thing, because people like Paulus Hector Mair assembled what they could lay their hands on. Had it written, rewritten, didn’t always or Paulus Hector Mair didn’t include an author’s name, and so just put everything in a single volume, pressed it between two book covers and issued it. And so a lot of information can be gathered from him, but no information of authorship. And so since he collected from various sources that are related to Liechtenauer and not related to Liechtenauer, he just had his compendia created and since they connected so far unconnected material, which makes it so difficult to disentangle these connections in order to go back to the sources. And so we have those sources like Baumann’s fightbook, commonly known as Codex Wallerstein, which is completely unrelated to Liechtenauer, saying what is completely unrelated because there is a certain vocabulary like for vor and nach, such as “before” and “after” in English translation that appears in in Baumann’s fight book, which also appears in Liechtenauer’s terminology. So what can we deduce from that? Was it common knowledge of the early 15th century or was it something Liechtenauer learnt? Because in one of the manuscripts it said that he has travelled many a country in order to gather knowledge. And so we will probably never know that. But this whole entire network of manuscripts is so … Occasionally it is very dense and occasionally it is very, very loose. And then we have stuff that is completely unrelated to Liechtenauer like, for instance, Gladiatoria those five books that only deal with armoured combat in complete harness. That was a long sentence, really.
GW: Yeah, and again, now we have so much material to work with. And one of the advantages, I think, of being an Italianist, is in the 15th century, at least, you really only have Fiore, and then you’ve got Vadi 70 years later. And so you can just concentrate on these sources. And yes, it would be awesome to have dozens of other ones which are kind of contemporary, related, like when we get to the 16th century Italian sources, we have a similar sort of question is how related is Manciolino’s stuff to Dall’Agocchie’s
stuff to the anonymous Bolognese? And you can draw these sort of webs and make concordances and all that sort of thing, but if we found a whole treasure trove of 15th century fencing manuscripts from Italy. I would be obviously thrilled, but I would also be dismayed because suddenly my life would get a hundred times more complicated.
DH: If you are into sword and buckler, life is easy because you have one manuscript and you can well, like my colleagues Roland Warzecha and Cornelius Berthold. The most famous fencing masters. Well, honestly. But they are sword and buckler enthusiasts. So of course, they have one single source they can base their training on. OK, you can interrelate, possibly there are later sources you can look into, but then again, 1.33, that first fight book that ever that still exists is completely with sword and buckler. And so it is the only source of its kind. On the one hand it is a brilliant starting point because you don’t lose track, you can concentrate on one single source, but then again, what if this single source was written by somebody who knew nothing? We don’t know who to actually trust and only because twenty nine manuscripts that contain Master Liechtenauer’s sources and they were copied over and over again. But back then, what was worth copying was what was worth copying. That is, it goes in circles. But what was good had to be copied again. And so it’s like some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And so possibly Liechtenauer wasn’t that good after all but he was copied because it was available. Just Liechtenauer, the Liechtenauer.
GW: God. OK, I’m going to take that little snippet of audio where Dierk Hagedorn himself says “possibly Liechtenauer wasn’t that good.” And I’m just going to play that on repeat.
DH: Take that in context please!
GW: I’ll take it out of context and repeat it 100 times. And that’s the episode. And all of my Italian people will be jumping for joy going, yay, we knew it all along!
DH: Exactly. No, that is really a strange thing with all of these sources, because the longer you look into it, I can’t claim that it has become any clearer and there is still so much to do and actually, you know, sometimes I wonder why are there so few source nerds, actually, it isn’t so special after all. Or is it?
GW: No, there are there are lots. I mean, most of my friends probably. Yeah, so say two thirds of my friends would qualify because some of them will have a really deep experience and academic training and the rest of it. But there are a lot of people out there and dozens and dozens of my students even, who spend significant amounts of time trying to work with the original manuscripts.
DH: Yeah, OK. Yeah, granted.
GW: And many of them actually go to the extent of learning to read Italian or learning to read German or learning to read whatever language of the sources they are interested in so that they can start to know the original text. The people are out there. But most of them didn’t start in the early 90s. They started maybe in the last 10 years or so. So we should just give them some time.
DH: Yeah, yeah. I was possibly being overdramatic, but one of the most rewarding moments in my regular training is when I observe people and how they actually work with and read the sources, because I create a little something for my students and that is a little booklet. Depending on what we’re dealing with, it is a 16, or 20 or 32 page booklet that concentrates on a specific technique, say, for instance, the Zwerhau or the Krumphau. And so I gather all the sources and put them in a little booklet and I have it printed. And so I hand it out in the beginning of, I don’t know, I say, OK, we deal with that for the next two months.
GW: Stop! Every single one of my students is now going, “Guy, we want booklets! It’s not fair. How come Dierk’s students get those booklets, it’s not fair!”
DH: You have something better. You have video. I don’t have video.
GW: I’m sorry. I think actually most of my people would prefer booklets.
DH: Say video is cool and they will believe you. Actually, I have the sources in there and compare them page by page and so I have the same section written by different authors. And so you see, OK, here, somebody skipped a line and there a specific technique is described in a bit more detail. Here author A adds something, Author B deletes it or didn’t think it is worth mentioning. And so people start to actually read the sources. And this gives me great pleasure, I must admit.
GW: Yeah. It is really nice when they start actually looking at the books.
DH: You need to understand the sources, I think. Whether it is my humble or feeble opinion that you actually need to understand the sources at least a bit in order to be able to recreate this old art. You need a lot of things more, but without a proper understanding that gets even trickier.
GW: Although with the right fencing instructor, a student can become a really good fencer without ever reading a book. It sort of goes without saying that for historical martial arts, you really have to know the sources that you’re dealing with or what you’re doing might be exactly the way it appears in the text. But if you haven’t actually studied the text and you don’t know there’s a certain depth missing.
DH: Well, yeah, it depends, of course, on the priorities. I’m a bookworm. Actually, fencing has been very, very mean to me, historical fencing in particular, because it’s tricked me into doing sports and I despise sports, and so here I am exercising regularly, which I wouldn’t have expected a couple of years ago, say, 20 or 30 years ago. That’s me. I like the books. I like to stick my nose into those old pages. But then again, there are people who concentrate on athleticism and on tournaments and winning medals, and that’s not me. And so, of course, there are, I think, possibly millions of people out there who mop the floor with me when I fight with them because they are much more athletic, fit, younger, taller, stronger and more competitive, I don’t know. So that is a different approach. And it’s a different approach.
GW: Yeah, and it really depends on what you’re after. And the thing is, my view is those medals get lost and forgotten very quickly, but those books will still be in libraries hundreds of years from now. And it’s possible some of them, somebody will actually read them. Now we are we are running out of time, so I need to wrap things up with a couple of questions I asked most of my guests. And the first is, what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
DH: I am not unprepared to that question. Actually, I have been following your podcast quite thoroughly. And so actually there are a couple of best ideas I have never acted on. So “best” is to be put in parentheses. And of course I have to admit failure because since I didn’t act on it, I failed completely. And one of my biggest failures is, number one we start with the biggest one. I never was an excavation draughtsman.
GW: What is an excavation draughtsman?
DH: An excavation is, you know what an excavation is?
GW: Archaeological excavation. OK.
DH: So I need to I need you to look that term up because in German is “Grabungszeichner”. I have no idea what that actually is in English. In archaeological excavations, you photograph things you dig up out of the mud, but you have a draughtsmen too because a drawing can convey occasionally much more detail than a photograph can. So artefacts are still being drawn by draughtsman. And I had the opportunity to be an archaeological draughtsman, whatever the name actually may be.
GW: You’re probably right. I just don’t know the term.
DH: Let other people look it up. I had the chance to be one in Pergamon because my art teacher had a brother and the brother was the leader of the excavation in Pergamon. And I had the opportunity and the possibility to go there, and I couldn’t. I had to decline, and that bugs me until today. And as it occasionally is in life, you get a second chance. Thirty years later, I got a second chance because I got to know on a vacation the leader of the excavations in Cairo. And I told him the story and how sad it was after all these years that I have never had the opportunity to be in an excavation and draw. And said, no problem, you might come. And I was tempted for a moment, but then in Egypt, hell broke loose and I decided against it.
GW: Yeah, OK, bad timing.
DH: And so I think meanwhile, I’ve had two chances. I think I’ll never draw at an excavation any more and I have to make my peace with it. But still, on the other hand, who knows what I’m doing when I’ve retired, when I’m 70, possibly Egypt or Pergamon or whatever. But no, possibly I wouldn’t.
GW: Well, if there any archaeologists listening who are looking for a draughtsman, I can definitely recommend Dierk’s drawing. It is superb. OK, so that’s the best idea you’ve never acted on. OK, so my last question then is somebody gives you a million euros or some equivalent large amount of money. It’s imaginary money, so you can pretty much have as much as you want to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend it?
DH: I’d pay somebody. I’d pay somebody to do research work for me or for everybody. What should that person do? That person should go into libraries and research the vaults for actual mentioning of judicial duels that actually took place. To look for mercenaries in Eastern Europe. And look for more lost manuscripts.
GW: OK. Why only one person, why don’t you have an army of 200 of them? Because you want them from lots of different countries and cultures and speaking different languages.
DH: So, of course, we need somebody in St. Petersburg, somebody in Istanbul, somebody in the Vatican and somebody here in Augsburg, and in Vienna, of course. OK, it’s virtual money so expenses don’t really matter. So, yes, let’s employ a host of people looking for judicial duels and mercenaries in Eastern Europe. Because, you know, I think Eastern Europe may be intriguing because many, many, many of the of the German fencing masters have a Eastern European name, Peter von Danzig, Danzig is definitely Eastern Europe, and von Krakow, etc., etc.. There are many names from Eastern Germany, which is today Poland or Eastern Europe in general. And if we take into consideration that these names are all mentioned in the Gesellschaft Liechtenauers. What does that actually mean? There has been a lot of speculation about that Gesellschaft and what is this society? But I don’t know. It’s a wild guess, of course. But when we say “societas” is the Latin word for what in Italy, for instance, mercenary troops called themselves and they were called in the 14th to 15th century after their leader. It is not unlikely that Liechtenauer was just a bloody mercenary.
GW: That is not unlikely.
DH: It’s not unlikely, and there is a very thorough investigation about the mercenary troops in the trecento in Italy, about mercenaries by Stephan Selzer, which is really, really intriguing and a highly recommended read, actually. And actually, there is a little something, but I haven’t really tracked that down, or I tracked it down, but I haven’t read it so far about the kreuzen fahrten, these excursions of, say, knights or mercenaries who tried to conquer the Wild East and bring Christianity to everybody, whether they like it or not. And so possibly there is something to be found.
GW: I’m sure there’s a lot to be found. Compared to where we were 20 years ago, we’ve already found a mountain of stuff but I think we are just scratching at the foothills.
DH: We have at least discovered 20 more manuscripts. You know, Hans-Peter Hazel’s famous list from 1985 has, I think, 55 manuscripts, German manuscripts, that is. And now we have next to 80. And I recently got word that there is another one that has been found recently. And so I believe it won’t stop there.
GW: Yeah, so the question is, how long is it going to take you to make authoritative editions of each one of these manuscripts? You are going to have to live for a very long time.
DH: There will never be one. Also, what I put down, which would be worth spending the money on, publish all the bloody sources. Yes, because, well, I have tons of images on my hard drive. I bet you have too and possibly zillions of people have zillions of gigabytes of worthwhile data. It is of no use on my hard drive, but I’m trying and trying hard to get rid of that stuff from a hard drive in order to put it on paper. It lasts so long to get out a bloody book. I need a year for every book.
GW: Yeah, for most people, a year is pretty quick for a book of that kind. I mean, I don’t know when you sleep or whether you actually show up to work at all or not.
DH: You know, what I usually answer is I don’t watch TV.
GW: OK, all right. The secret of productivity revealed. You don’t watch TV. Wonderful. Well, Dierk it has been it’s been a delight talking to you and education, as always. Thanks for coming on the show.
DH: It was my absolute pleasure. See you again.