When I released my video book version of I.33, I expected to receive a small reaction from the minority of Western martial artists dedicated to the subject. I was not at all prepared for the outpouring of praise and camaraderie I received, and I am greatly humbled by it—and inspired!
Original codex photo courtesy of Michael Chidester
I decided to follow up my freshman effort by taking on the longsword portion of Johannes Liechtenauer’s Zettel, the most important poetic piece in the Kunst des Fechtens. And before anyone’s gotten a chance to hear the finished piece, the payoff has already been staggering. I’ve learned not only about the work itself, but about what it means to make a work like this come to life, and what an awesome community the overlapping world of WMA really is.
Before I get into the weeds, let me start by telling you about my relationship with Liechtenauer’s seminal contribution to the Kunst de Fechtens. I read it for the first time the day after my mother died. She was German to the core, and came to the US in her mid 30s. Over the next few decades, her English improved, but she was always more comfortable speaking German, and since I grew up speaking German in the house, it was no hardship to keep up on it for her sake.
When she finally succumbed to cancer, I felt a connection to my heritage slipping through my fingers, and perhaps out of desperation to retain that connection, I picked up a side-by-side translation of Liechtenauer’s Zettel and began plodding my way through the text in the original language. Man was that ever a challenge! But the experience transformed me, and it was my first initiation into the world of Western Martial Arts.
Long before I dreamed of creating a I.33 video book, the seeds of this project had taken root in my mind. Even in my first few readings of this relatively short piece (if you skip to 4:02 in my audiobook, you get right to the Zettel itself, which takes only 10 minutes to read aloud), I already found my taxed attention span longing for an audiobook version. Unlike the I.33 video book, however, this project posed one serious roadblock in my way: the translation was restricted by copyright to the original translator, the one and only Christian Henry Tobler.
In my experience, the name Tobler has been associated with the Kunst des Fechtens for as long as I’ve had a glimmer of interest in the subject. His longsword fencing book was one of the first modern manuals to cross my desk, and his videos on the messer technique found in the Glasgow Fechtbuch were instrumental to my love affair with that weapon, which paved the way for my obsession with I.33.
Though several of my friends have had good relationships with the man for many years, I’ve never met him, so begging permission to produce this work (after I’d already done the recording) was more than a little intimidating. I quickly discovered that my reservations were totally misplaced, as the author responded to my inquiry with an enthusiastic “yes” within a few hours. I am humbled by the experience.
Known as Warder Philipp Reimer von Wolfenbüttel in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Phil is a lifelong historical fencer and martial arts instructor. He specializes in I.33 sword and buckler and avidly enjoys late-period Italian rapier (primarily Giganti).