Thank you so much Ondřej Vodička for finding, and translating this wonderful text for us! 1597, Rules of fencing society in Old Town of Prague
The council of the Old Town of Prague declare and decide, that:
1) There are lazy people coming to Prague from other places, who intend to organize fencing tournament and otherwise stay idle, visit inns and wander in the night. This causes many scandals, brawls, wounds and murder.
2) Organising the fencing tournament has always been in the power of the knife-smiths’ guild in order to train bravery and manly fencing. 3) The fencing tournament was established so the knife-smiths, who live an honourable and humble life, may improve their fencing skill. 4) The elder fencers elected to govern the fencing society must be either burghers or long living in the Old Town of Prague and behave decently. 5) The audience at a fencing tournament must not disturb the fencers. 6) The fencers, who are organising the fencing tournaments and otherwise have only little income, should be given some fair amount of money from the fee collected at every fencing tournament organised by the society, so they are more willing to organise it. 7) Every single fencer, be it Federfechter or Marx-brother, and especially the members of the guilds, who are not lazy idlers, should be written down in a special register. 8) A fencing tournament should be organised every single Sunday and Holyday by Federfechters and Marx-brothers in turns. 9) Everyone wanting to organise a fencing tournament must ask the elder knife-smiths in advance, so they accompany him and put in a good word for him before the town council. 10) It must be very well cared for, the organiser of a fencing tournament is neither an idler nor a troublemaker but a decent craftsman. 11) Should be there an idler wanting to take part in a fencing tournament so he may just show off (“play a peacock”) and thus make money for living, he should not be permitted to enter it. 12) A fencing tournament requires the usual wooden weapons, such as dusacks, staffs and halberds, as well as the steel weapons, such as swords and rapiers. These weapons must be held ready in sufficient numbers by the knife-smiths’ guild and they are obliged to lend them to the organiser of a fencing tournament. If a weapon gets damaged or broken during the tournament, the knife-smiths will make a new one. 13) For this reason, everyone organising a fencing tournament should pay the knife-smiths’ guild the appointed fee of threescore of Meissner groschen. In case a sword or rapier breaks during the tournament, the organiser will pay them another thirty kreuzer for making a new sword and twenty for a rapier, however there is no such payment for breaking a wooden weapon. 14) There are usually many good people and honest young men, even noblemen coming to watch the tournament. It is strictly forbidden to any viewer to come among the duelling fencers, because by neglecting this rule many got hurt or were blinded. If anyone breaks this rule, the one able to fence will be forbidden to take part in the tournaments for some time, the one unable to fence will be brought before the town council and punished by them. 15) Some cowardly fencers use elbow-long gloves, which is against the ancient tradition. This be forbidden from now on. The fencers should use gloves covering only the fist, so no one builds his fencing skill on long gloves. 16) No one should be permitted to take part in the tournament, unless he received proper fencing training. 17) When the duelling fencers close the distance, they should not jump against each other wrathfully, but they should engage “cleanly and lengthily” according to the tradition, no matter which weapon they wield. 18) Fencing masters and apprentices should act solemnly and respectfully during the tournament, without any foolishness like shaking the head or sticking out the tongue. 19) Fencing masters and apprentices should stand on the side during the tournament, Marx-brothers on one side and Federfechters on the opposite side, so people may recognise them easily. They should neither obstruct nor “stick together like geese” on the duelling ground and so block the view. 20) Every single fencer is obliged to start the duel according to the tradition, unlike a peasant, who runs insanely for a weapon, grabs it and wants to beat with it like a witless ox. 21) No one unauthorized and unable to fence should enter the duelling ground, obstruct the fencers, lecture them nor step between them. Such behaviour will be punished with beating. 22) It also happens that peasants and journeymen whistle and shout at a fencer, like he was a fool. Such behaviour will be punished by the organiser, either with jail or beating. 23) Some fencers are not willing to fence at the tournament save for a prize money. They use to shout at noblemen and burghers, so they throw down money for which the fencers should fight. The tournament was however established not for winning money, but as an exercise for the youth. Any fencer should be from now on punished with fine for such behaviour. 24) It is however possible to fence for a prize money, if someone in the audience is freely willing to give it. Such money should be given to the organiser and he would give them to the winner of the duel afterwards. The one who gives the money may choose the two fencers fighting for the prize. 25) These two fencers should not engage with full power like peasants, as if they wanted to finish each other on the spot, but they should act accordingly to the art of the fencing tournament. 26) They should also proceed through all three rounds and not finish the duel after the first hit, when the blood appears, so one of them runs off for the money. The other one may succeed in the second round with “higher hit”, because the higher hit is always more valid than the “lower one”. They should go through all three rounds without any secret agreement. 27) If anyone fights for the prize money under secret agreement, he will be punished with jail and the prize money will be confiscated by the organiser. 28) If one fencer is drunk and the other sober, the drunk one will not be permitted to fence, as fencing drunk causes heavy injuries. 29) One should not be called fencing master and permitted to organise a tournament unless he learns properly to fence with each of the weapons. For this reason, any fencing master organising a tournament must withstand one duel to the first blood with each of the weapons. 30) If it rains, the tournament will be postponed so the organiser suffers no loss. Already collected money should be used for common good. 31) If the tournament takes place on Sunday, it must start immediately after the lunch and not later in the afternoon, when many fencers are already drunk. This “theatre” would also tempt people not to go to the church, for which reason the tournament must end before the vespers. 32) If a tournament takes place in a house, the owner will get one groschen per person and must secure suitable sitting or standing places according to the social status of the viewer. 33) There should also be a fence built around the fencing ground, so no one unauthorised goes there. Lords and knights should be watching from a balcony. 34) A column should be pitched close to the fence and a small shovel hung on it. If anyone enters the fence without authorisation or behaves badly, he will endure beating with that shovel three times. Anyone chosen by the elders or the tournament organiser to proceed with the beating must oblige. Vladimír Šindelář: Šermíři, rváči, duelanti: encyklopedie evropského šermu, Praha 1994. This supplement can be found on the pages 189-194. Translation by Ondřej Vodička