Book review

Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler, the revised and expanded edition.

Book review by Pamela Muir

Back when I started teaching historical swordsmanship the first edition of Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler was still a new book.  A fellow instructor advised me that if I was ever stuck for a class, I could just open the book at random and that could be my lesson.  While choosing random lessons didn’t fit with my teaching style, as I prefer cohesive units of study spread over several class periods, it wasn’t far from the truth.  Mr. Tobler’s book was the teaching resource.  Now we have the revised and expanded edition available.  As a reader for this edition, I had a preview of the text, but it wasn’t until I had the hardback color copy in my hands that I was able to marvel how fantastic the new book really is for both instructors and students alike.

The first thing that I noticed was the gorgeous layout and design by Mr. Robert N. Charrette. It is bright and crisp as a modern textbook, yet there are subtle nods to the medieval tradition.  The chapters and subsections are clearly marked and corresponding photos are easily found near the technique they illustrate.  Drills and flowcharts are precisely outlined.  Each page of a chapter has the chapter name faintly written in a medieval-esque text in the background.  Besides being an aesthetic touch, it is a useful feature when looking up a specific topic.  The first page of each chapter includes an illustration from one of the medieval swordsmanship treatises, an attractive reminder of what the book is all about.

The second obvious standout of the new edition is the photography by Messrs. Christopher Valli and Janusz Michael Saba.  The photos showing a specific position such as the guards, depicted from both front and side, are clear and well lit, but it is the ones illustrating the dynamics of techniques that stand out.  As Mr. Tobler and his senior students demonstrated they were photographed using a burst setting for the camera.  Thus each movement is captured “live,” resulting in a fluid feel as well as a more realistic image of the correct way to perform the action.

Besides the stunning presentation, it is its use as a curriculum guide that makes it of value to the historical European martial arts practitioner.  Like its predecessor, the first edition, it begins with the basics, presenting the footwork and guards. The footwork has accompanying movement diagrams using a medieval style footprint, a nice detail.  From there the book goes into depth on the core principles of the Liechtenauer tradition.  Those that have read the first edition will notice that some of the interpretations have been updated and the text has been greatly expanded.  Concepts are explained in greater detail and new material has been added, such as fleshing out Indes and Überlaufen and giving Nebenhut its own chapter.

As a curriculum guide, the dozens of drills are invaluable. A student could spend considerable time with the solo drills covering guard transitions and cutting patterns.  Partners can find drills to develop Fühlen,  or work on the master strokes, provocations, counterattacks, etc.  The list goes on.  And, speaking of lists, there is a pretty handy list of drills at the back of the book as well.

Another useful feature are the flowcharts/decision trees.  At the end of each of the master strokes chapters is a flowchart depicting the possible actions associated with that strike.  Though these were also included in the first edition, the ones in this addition are clearer and easier to read.  The text is larger and bolder and the question boxes are octagonal to differentiate them from the action boxes.

I have used the first edition as a training and instructing tool for a long time and it shows.  My copy is dog-eared and littered with scrap paper bookmarks and penciled notes.  Though I intend to make just as much, likely even more, use out of the second edition, I predict that my color hardback version will stay pristine much longer.  During practice sessions I will be able to use the ebook version.  While the hardback version is great for planning out a practice session in advance, the ebook will come in handy in the midst of a session.  The ebook features make it easy to use for a quick lookup of a topic.  The table of contents is linked so that you can easily jump to a chapter.  I can bookmark pages as well as highlight text and add notes.  Though the lovely layout is not as well preserved in the electronic version, the graphics, flowcharts, footwork diagrams, and color photographs, are still available.

So, though I am not inclined to open the book to a random page and proceed in a practice session from there, it certainly is possible.  The revised and expanded edition of Fighting with the German Longsword should be a useful resource in any practitioner’s library, whether beginner, following the curriculum in order, or advanced, using it as a lesson plan on specific topics.

Freelance Academy Press offers the book as a black and white paperback, a color ebook (Kindle), or a limited special edition.  The color hardback special edition is worth the cost.  Not only does it come with the ebook, but it is signed by the author.  Now, how cool is that?