Meyer wrote, “this knightly art is grasped with the fist and practiced with the application of the entire body, and so must be learned more through experience than out of books.” So why did he bother?
Well above all it is just easier to learn when the material is assembled, written down, and presented in proper pedagogical order than when it is recounted by word of mouth and presented in piecemeal fashion.
Secondly, the students’ intellects are not troubled to learn by memorization. The time saved may then be used for the purpose of other studies.
Thirdly, the students can refresh their memories with it once they have been taught by a proper master. Though the master is not them at all times, they may still practice every day when it is time. And thus they are less likely to forget.
Had a proper manual of fencing been already available, with the material presented in the proper order, Meyer would not have endeavored to do just that. Alas such a book didn’t exist before 1570 and as a result this knightly art was in decline and the youth fallen into gluttony, blasphemy, cursing, whoring, gambling, and the like.
The art of combat rests on two elements. The first is the cuts and thrusts with which you are harm and vanquish your opponent. The second is the parries which teach you to turn aside or strike out the cuts directed at you.
Of the cuts there are only four: High, Wrath, Middle or Horizontal, and Low. All other cuts, no matter how strange, are executed within the scope of these four.
Parries must be executed with an extended hilt or weapon so that one is ready to counter-strike before the foe can recover from his strike and throw another. (Later on Meyer reiterates the importance of extended arms when throwing powerful and correct cuts and thrusts. It seems that allowing ones arms to fall too close to the body was just as much in his day as it is in ours.)
It is also important to understand that parry’s are also the cuts. If someone is cutting across, then you throw a high cut that drives their point into the ground and, while stepping out, cut his head. Likewise if he cuts from above then you counter with a cut across the middle.
The third of his two elements is the Middle or Handwork. This is the combination of the two chief elements, using them so close together that sometimes parrying and hitting happen at the same time.
Be mindful that postures (what we call guards) are essentially just a lingering or holding a weapon at it furthest extreme so that one may decide whether to complete the cut or turn it and do something else. Paying attention to these allows one to act in both the Before and the After and thus not miss any opportunity.
For each weapon form discussed in these books the material will be presented in this order: first the cuts, which are by far the most important, then the opponent and his divisions, thirdly is how to throw the cuts against said divisions using many examples. These are just examples, for the opponent will not be idle and only opportunity and one’s own capacities will determine what action is most advantageous.