Ringen is the German language term for grappling (wrestling). In the context of the German school of historical European martial arts during the Late Middle Ages and the German Renaissance, ringen refers to unarmed combat in general, including grappling techniques used as part of swordsmanship.
Medieval and early Renaissance wrestling treatises present both sport and combat techniques together as one art. The distinction is made more frequently by modern practitioners than is present in historical sources, but in a select few examples the terms for sportive grappling or geselliges ringen and earnest unarmed combat or kampfringen (where kampf is the Early Modern German term for "duel") were used to describe specific techniques which were only suitable for one scenario or the other.
Many manuals combine fencing and wrestling into a specialized branch of kampfringen called ringen am schwert ("grappling at the sword"), designed to be used during sword combat. This included closing techniques, disarms, weapon-seizures, pommel-strikes, and weapon-aided joint-locks.
1470. Codex Wallerstein (ringen am schwert)
Grappling techniques are particularly central to the discipline of armoured fighting (Harnischfechten).
1430 - Gladiatoria (MS KK5013) Wiena (Harnischfechten)
Several manuscripts detail grappling techniques for mounted combat or rossfechten.
1467. First plate of the mounted grappling section in Hans Talhoffer (rossfechten)
Wrestling fell out of fashion among the upper classes with the beginning Baroque period. A late treatise on ringen is that by fencing master Johann Georg Passchen, published in 1659. Maybe the last book which deals with Ringen as a deadly martial art, is possibly "Leib-beschirmende und Feinden Trotz-bietende Fecht-Kunst" from fencing master Johann Andreas Schmidt, which was published in Weigel, Nürnberg in 1713.
Johann Georg Pascha
1659 - Johann Georg Passchen - Vollstandiges Ring-buch
Johann Andreas Schmidt
1713 - Johann Andreas Schmidt
When we talk about ringen in medieval and renaissance manuscripts we can talk about two kind of them. First one is like commonplace book (or Hausbuch), fencing book (or Fechtbuch) or sketchbooks where you can find ringen techniques mixed with other techniques like longsword, messer, harnishfechten etc. Second ones are specialized manuscripts so called wrestling book (or Ringbuch). Masters who wrote only ringbuch are Fabien Von Auerswald, Nicolas Peter and Hans Wurm.
First manuscripts where is mention ringen with detail techniques was 1409. Fiore dei Liberi “Flos Duellatorum” (Pisani-Dossi MS), but in fechtbuch.
1409 - Fiore dei Liberi - Flos Duellatorum(Pisani-Dossi MS)
First ringbuch was 1509 from anonymus author “Das ist ain hybsh ring byechlin”.
1509 - Anonymus - Das ist ain hybsh ring byechlin
Fabian von Auerswald (1462 - after 1537) was a 15th-16th century German wrestling master. He served as wrestling master to John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, and mentions in his introduction that he instructed the children of the Elector and of members of the court in wrestling. In 1537, Auerswald completed an extensive treatise on grappling, which was later illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Elder and published posthumously in 1539 by Hans Lufft under the title Ringer kunst: funf und Achtzig Stücke ("The Art of Wrestling: Eighty-Five Devices"). One of the earliest printed treatises on wrestling, the book includes lucid descriptions and detailed illustrations of all of its 85 devices, including one of only two known descriptions of the game called "wrstling in the pit". This treatise saw relatively wide circulation, and at least one wrestling master went as far as to commission a careful manuscript copy (2º Col.MS.Philos.62)), to which he added his own annotations on many of the techniques. Auerswald's work also formed the foundation for Paulus Hector Mair's treatment of the subject in his own compilation fencing manuscripts of the 1540s.
Fabien von Auerswald
1539 - Fabien vo Auerswald - Ringer kunst funf und Achtzig Stücke
Hans Wurm was a late 15th century German Landshut woodcutter and printer. "Landshut" could be translated as "grounds keeper", which may go along with the description of Wurm as a "woodcutter" as well as a printer. He is responsible for printing a wrestling manual called Das Landshuter Ringerbuch. The author of the treatise Wurm published remains anonymous and its origins are unknown.
1500 ca - Hans Wurm - Das Buch von Füßringen
Nicolaes Petter (1624 – 1672) was a 17th century German wine merchant and wrestling master. He was born in Mommenheim, Germany, and took on an apprenticeship in Amsterdam, Netherlands as a young man. He then joined the wine guild and went on to become a successful wine merchant. Petter practiced a style of grappling known asluctorius, and was known in his time as an undefeatable wrestler. His clientele seems to have consisted mostly of upper-class gentlemen, and the techniques he taught were considered more "civilized" than common wrestling. Petter wrote an extensive treatise on grappling as a means of urban self-defense titled Klare Onderrichtinge der Voortreffelijke Worstel-Konst("Clear Education in the Magnificent Art of Wrestling"), but did not publish it before his death in 1672. His widow inherited the manuscript and published it with illustrator Romeyn de Hooghe in 1674, and it was reprinted and translated many times in the following centuries.Sydney Anglo describes this text as "historically speaking, [one of] the [two] most important treatises on unarmed combat ever printed", and notes that "in many ways, the finest of all wrestling books—and deservedly the most famous—was the treatise by Nicolaes Petter and Romeyn de Hooghe".
1674 - Nicolaes Petter - Klare Onderrichtinge der Voortreffelijke Worstel-Konst
The skills of grappling and the art of wrestling have a long legacy in Europe. In the early 1500s, many soldiers, scholars, priests, and nobles wrote that wrestling was important in preparing aristocratic youth for military service. The detailed depictions of unarmed techniques in many Medieval fencing manuals (such as those by Fiore Dei Liberi and Hans Talhoffer) are well known and accounts of wrestling and grappling abound in descriptions of 15th century tournaments and judicial contests. A 1442 tournament fight in Paris "with weapons as we are accustomed to carrying in battle" included in its fourth article the stipulation "that each of us may help each other with wrestling, using legs, feet, arms or hands." English knightly tournaments as late as 1507 allowed combatants "To Wrestle all maner of wayes" or to fight "with Gripe, or otherwise". The Hispano-Italian master Pietro Monte in the 1480’s even recognized wrestling as the "foundation of all fighting", armed or unarmed. Albrecht Duerer’s Fechtbuch of 1512 contains more material on wrestling than on swordplay, yet the relationship between them is noticeable. The oldest known fencing text, the late 13th century treatise MS I.33, even states, "For when one will not cede to the other, but they press one against the other and rush close, there is almost no use for arms, especially long ones, but grappling begins, where each seeks to throw down the other or cast him on the ground, and to harm and overcome him with many other means." But just how all this heritage relates to the foyning fence of the Renaissance is less well understood. This has been an area traditionally overlooked by enthusiasts and it is understandable that many enthusiasts have come to the wrong conclusions.
A Ritterakedemie or "Knight’s School" was reportedly set up in 1589 at Tübingen in Germany to instruct aristocratic youths in skills which included wrestling, fencing, riding, dancing, tennis, and firearms. Joachim Meyer offered significant elements of grappling and wrestling with swords in his Fechtbuch of 1570 and in the 1580’s the French general Francois de la Noue advocated wrestling in the curriculum of military academies and the famed chronicler of duels, Brantome, also tells us that wrestling was highly regarded at the French court. The Bolognese master, Lelio de Tedeschi, even produced a manual on the art of disarming in 1603. In 1625, Englishman Richard Peeke fought in a rapier duel at Cadiz, defeating the Spaniard Tiago by sweeping his legs out from under him after trapping his blade with his hilt. In 1617 Joseph Swetnam commented on the value of skill in wrestling for staff fighting. But as Dr. Anglo has pointed out, in 1622, Englishman Henry Peacham questioned whether "throwing and wrestling" were more befitting common soldiers rather than nobility, while his contemporary Lord Herbert of Cherbury who studied martial arts in France, found them "qualities of great use". At the turn of the 17th century in France, the celebrated rapier duelists Lagarde and Bazanez came into conflict (the celebrated "duel of the hat") and ended up on the ground violently stabbing and fighting each other.
Closing in to strike, to grab, trip, throw, or push the opponent down is seen in countless Renaissance fencing manuals from the cut-and-thrust style swords of Marozzo in 1536 to the slender rapier of Giovanni Lovino in 1580 and that of L'Lange in 1664. Jacob Wallhausen’s 1616 depictions of military combat (armored and unarmored) show much the same. Dr. Sydney Anglo calls this desperate armed or unarmed combat "all-in fighting" as opposed to formal duels with rules, and describes it as: "one other area of personal combat which was taught by masters throughout Europe, and was practiced at every level of the social hierarchy whether the antagonists were clad in defensive armor or not". He adds that, "Even in Spain, where it might be thought that mathematical and philosophical speculation had eliminated such sordid realities, wrestling tricks were still taught by the masters –as well illustrated in early seventeenth-century manuscripts treatises by Pedro de Heredia, cavalry captain and member of the war council of the King of Spain". Heredia’s illustrations of rapier include several effective close-in actions that hark back to similar techniques of Marozzo and even Fiore Dei Liberi in 1410.
There is certainly far, far more that can be said about this subject, and grappling and wrestling in Renaissance fencing alone could easily be separated into two or more distinct areas of research. The skills of entering in close to grab an opponent’s arm, hand or blade, disarm them or trap them were used and are something that today’s student of historical fencing should explore in detail. The techniques of closing to take down or trip up and opponent can make all the difference in a real sword fight and today are elements worthy of long-term investigation by Renaissance fencing students. It has often been said that we should not become prisoners to our style. Good ideas come from everywhere. There are brilliant ideas in fighting and there are foolish ones. The job of any earnest instructor is to honestly point them out. To quote the Master Vadi from c. 1480, "You can also use in this Art strokes and close techniques that you find simpler; leave the more complex, take those favoring your side and often you will have honour in the Art."
Demonstration of ringen in Pavone Canavese, Italy, 2014 at Ferie Medievali
Undermaster of historical fencing