What Ars Gladii does is referred to by several names. In a modern context, the art that we practice is broadly categorized as Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA. In the historical period we study, it was sometimes referred to as Kunst des Fechtens, the Art of Fencing, or more appropriately the Art of Defense to remove the modern connotations with the term ‘fencing’. In the Italian, it was referred to as Armizare, the ‘Art of Arms’. Ars Gladii itself calls it Chivalric Arts, as it encompasses a significant part of the martial tutelage the late Medieval knight would have been expected to be proficient in.
Ars Gladii has built our pedagogy from the study of surviving manuscripts, primarily those written in a range of German dialects. These works feature detailed instructions on how to wrestle and fight with a range of medieval weaponry in several contexts. Ars Gladii has interpreted these works and ‘filled in the holes’ with an understanding of body mechanics and movement, as well as hints and suggestions from other period sources.
The Chivalric Arts as Ars Gladii teaches them includes several different weapons and combat systems:
The longsword, also referred to as the sword in two hands, is the primary weapon taught at Ars Gladii. All students begin their studies with this weapon. Almost all of the sources make use of the longsword and most place this weapon first in the ordering of their pages. Techniques and principles learned with the longsword are then transferred to other weapon systems, making a strong understanding of this weapon key.
Wrestling, or Ringen is probably the oldest martial art. Ars Gladii teaches a wide range of wrestling techniques designed to round out the combatant’s understanding of the fight, instill sensitivity to pressure and force, and learn more modern applications of the art.
No medieval knight’s kit would be complete without a dagger. This weapon took on many different forms during the late Medieval period, but all were long and had a strong point. The dagger and wrestling are often two sides of the same coin, with the same technique taught under both contexts.
The sword was also used in just one hand. The late medieval knight could be seen with several different variants from the classic cruciform sword, sharply pointed for thrusting; the heavy cutting falchion, meant for imparting a strong blow to an armored opponent; and the Messer, a short, single-bladed, sword similar to the falchion but with unique qualities. Used primarily in Central Europe, the Messer is used in a similar manner as the longsword, but with minor changes to techniques to account for the physical characteristics of the weapon.
The sword in one hand was often paired with the buckler, a small round shield. The earliest known surviving fencing manual, often referred to as Tower Manuscript I.33, details a highly developed fencing style using only these two weapons.
A medieval knight’s most iconic possession, at least in modern eyes, is his armor. Ars Gladii teaches several armored fighting styles, pairing many of the unarmored weapons with the use of period armor. The spear, one of mankind’s earliest weapons, was a common weapon found on both the battlefield and the dueling field. Many depictions and descriptions of the judicial duel in armor found in Central Europe highlight the use of the spear as the first weapon in contest. Ars Gladii teaches the use of the spear in a dueling context, both in and out of armor.
The spear wasn’t the only weapon used in armor. The axe, also called the poleaxe or pollaxe, was a specialized weapon tailor-made for use against the full-coverage plate armor of the late-14th and 15th centuries. Capable of using every inch of the weapon in an offensive and defensive barrage against the opponent, the axe was another common weapon seen in the judicial duel.