The French Connection: Christmann’s Practical Self-Defence

Readers of The Lazarus Smile will no doubt remember that it was F.C. Christmann, Professor of the Art of Fencing and Member of Several Academies, who started the whole darn mess by handing Ernst Moritz Arndt a stack of classical manuscript scraps. But unlike the Byzantine cascade of events that find their preliminary end in the Sherpur Cantonment Cemetary in Kabul, his self-defence advice is straightforward…

by J. Christoph Amberger

(If you arrived at this page searching “Mainz income”—I may have a prime piece of swamp land you might be interested in… but the following article is about facts….)

Among the publishing fencing masters of 19th-century Germany, Friedrich Christian Christmann, a native of Mainz and Member of the Académie at Boulogne, occupies a special position. While the development of Deutsches Hiebfechten proper would be untinkable without its connection to the spirit of national awakening in the resistance against Napoleon—most academic masters felt and thought deutschnational—Christmann had a bit of a problem.

He had fought on the wrong side, as a member of the French Imperial Guard.

That in itself wasn’t unusual. Just like in the American Revolutionary War, Germans were fighting on all sides: During the Napoleonic Wars, there were Germans riding for the Brits in the King’s German Legion. They were fighting in the armies of a dozen German states, as often against as alongside each other.  The Memoirs of Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin de Marbot (inspiration for the still highly commendable Exploits of Brigadier Gerard by Arthur Conan Doyle and, thus, of George McDonald Frazier’s immortal Flashman) make repeated mention of Alsatian cavalry not speaking a lick of French.

Christmann’s collaborator, Dr. Pfeffinger, makes up for this biographic faux-pas in the foreword to his 1838 Theoretisch-Praktische Anweisung des Hau-Stoßfechtens, which  he dedicates to the “deutschen Krieger.” Still, Christmann’s method has more in common with the Skandinavische Wehrgymnastic of the “gymnasiarch” Paul Ling than with German cut fencing proper.

Christmann’s approach to the handling of the saber is an immensely practical one. While the edged weapon as such was already retreating from military use as a battlefield or self-defence weapon to the more regulated environment of the Paukboden and dueling ground, his method is a purely antagonistic one, aimed at applying the saber against all comers—straight-bladed swords, sabers, bayonets, even mounted uhlans.

His appendix includes a few practical civilian scenarios how to neutralize an armed attacker empty-handedly or armed with a cane or hiking stick. Christmann’s contemporary Heinrich Heine, poet and tag-along of a Göttingen Corps, still makes much ado of the pistols he packed on his Harzreise—where he expected to encounter brigands and highwaymen. This passage indicates that the traveling journeyman or student might have been called on to defend life and limb against rough-looking fellows wearing the garbs of the ne’er-do-well.

FencingClassics ends its monthlong NaNoWriMo hiatus by bringing you the first-ever English translation of these techniques(p. 12f):

Self Defence without a Weapon against One armed with a Nature or Edged Weapon

The attack of an armed man, as he raises his weapon for an especially high blow (Hieb), which is usual for untrained fencers, we eitheir lunge (Ausfall), or step or jump forward, grasp his wrist with the right hand. With our left, we grasp his weapon close to the hand and twist it backward out from his hand. At the same time, we use the left or right leg to kick at his lower body, Knee, etc., and jump back, now using his own weapon against him. (See image above.)

If the opponent cuts left, grasp his wrist with your left hand and disarm him with your right.

As usual, click for the larger, pilferable picture.

Defence with a Stick against one with a Nature or Edged Weapon

Against a high inside cut, execute a Prime or Contra-Tierce Parade with an advance, lunge, etc.. Grasp the wrist of the opponent from the inside or outside, and then hit him across the head, chest, etc. (see figure 5)

Against a high outside cut, parry with a forceful Tierce Parry, with advance or lunge, his wrist from the outside and hit him where you like. Instead of the the Tierce Parry, one can do a ramassierende tierce, and cut into the opponent’s opening. (see figure 9)

After the tierce parry, after advancing or lunging behind his right heel, you can also grasp him by the collar, or throw him to the ground with a beat of the hand’s edge into his throat, after which you can do as you like.

Against a low outside cut, advance with a Seconde parry, grasp your opponent’s wrist from above, and cut or thrust as you like. (see figure 11)

Against a low inside cut, execute a parry Prime-Coupée with a volte right and cut or thrust as you like.

Against one who attacks you with a sword cane or such in the manner of thrust fencers, (…) we can execute a jump or Volte backward as he thrusts and hit at the same time across his arm or wrist.

2 responses to “The French Connection: Christmann’s Practical Self-Defence

  1. The whole Christmann fencing manual was transcribed by myself and Gerhard Gohr from “Der Fechtsaal” after having read the first entries about Christmann in this Blog. The work was done in November 2010 but it took some time to proof-read and edit the following pdf:

    I hope this transkription will motivate many people to give it a try.

  2. Hello, my name is Sean Clark, and I run a HEMA club in Phoenix, AZ (USA), and I am looking for an English translation of this work. My German is nicht sehr gut, and an English version would be immensely helpful. Thanks!

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