How to Fight with a Rapier

Once fencing with rapiers was invented in the mid-sixteenth century, swords were continuously evolving to suit the new method. The rapier saw continuous changes from its birth until it gradually lost popularity to small swords at the end of the seventeenth century and spada da terrena by the waning years of eighteenth.

A rapier typically a long, thin sword with an intricate handle. This type of sword is optimized for the thrust and can still deal significant cuts since it has great control in its point during penetration.

A rapier typically had a blade length that ranged between 42″ and 48″, weighed approximately 2.5 to 3 pounds, and it was capable of parrying or deflecting longsword strikes. The rapier’s swept hilt was an heir to arming sword at the turn of 16th century, which later gave way for many such occurrences during the 17th century due to cup-hilt getting popular then.
How to Fight with a Rapier

Parts of the Sword

In the rapier, there are multiple parts to consider, but only a fraction of them are actually necessary to understand. The sword is composed of two parts: the blade and the hilt. The hilt has a gripping area, hand guard (frequently a caged piece or sometimes completely covering your hand with a plate), and pommel which balances the entire sword as well as counterweights it.

There are two major parts to the blade. The strong part of the blade is from where it is held to where it connects with the hilt. Meanwhile, the weak portion of the blade includes everything past that point – all the way up until its tip.

The strong part of the sword has the most leverage, and is used to parry an incoming attack, but takes more time to move. The weak part of the blade can be pushed aside easily due to its position away from the hand, which doesn’t require a large motion by your wrist.

If you grip the sword so that your knuckles face away from yourself and place it point up, holding it so that your knuckles point towards you is called the True Edge, and the edge facing you is called False Edge.

Basic Footwork

Different fencing masters will have varying opinions about basic footwork initially but there are a few general tenets that can be agreed upon. The feet should generally be shoulder width, with one in front of the other and pointed forward at roughly a right angle. Most historical manuals suggest that 75% of your weight rests on the back leg and only the torso is exposed to potential strikes. For some masters, such as Alfieri, maintain a posture with minimal forward lean while others (such as Salvator Fabris) prefer more forward lean. At the moment, stick to what is most comfortable. Also, keep your back shoulder turned away from harm while avoiding over-profile movement that will make it stiff and uncomfortable. Finally, keep your hand not holding the sword relaxed and held by your eyebrow out of the way but ready to be used defensively if necessary.

In addition to being able to execute many movements, there are certain footwork things you need to be capable of such as the advance and retreat. Italians rapier often occurs in a linear fashion so we’ll not spend time on side stepping for now.

To walk forward, lift the front toe and bring your heel back into your stance. Then repeat by lifting your other foot up to move it forward. To walk backwards, do the same motion you did to go forward but in reverse order. Practice walking with something on top of your head to maintain balance and fluidity of movement.

In the Capo Ferro system, extending your arm to launch a powerful lunge is an important part of this attack. If this step isn’t taken, then there’s no reason for your opponent not to attack you. Leading with your body means that you’re moving out ahead instead of just “throwing” yourself forward – in which case, your opponent can avoid any threat without having first dealt with it. While on one leg, lift the other foot and kick it forward into the air. Use your back foot to propel you forwards. Remain flat against the ground with your extended leg (the one without a raised knee) while keeping that raised knee straight. Once both feet are planted on land again, flex both knees at once; this is when there will be a moment of bending in both legs simultaneously.

When practicing the passing step, start in a guard position with legs shoulder width apart. While keeping your feet planted at a 90 degree angle to each other, pass one leg forward as if you are walking. Moving your front foot back and bringing the other one to its place is called passing steps. There are many reasons why you would have to take pass steps, such as if you feint an attack on one side of your opponent’s body before weight has shifted forward onto the front leg.

Holding the Rapier

While there are several ways to grip a rapier, we’ll keep this lesson simple by focusing on one of the more common grips. By wrapping your index finger over the ricasso and across to touch your thumb, you will have greater control of the tip.

The most common positions for holding a fencing weapon are classified as: prima (first), seconda (second), terza (third) and quarta (fourth). These can be applied to other fencing techniques, but they don’t work in every instance.

As the third guard position, your primary role will be to provide cover for other guards. Capo Ferro states that in his book of fencing, the “third” is a type of guard which is beneficial as it naturally provides protection and stability.

Four out of five fencing stances are used in general actions. Fourth hold the hand palm up, and second is with the palm down. While these positions are simplest to learn first, they will be expanded upon later. The stance which happens least frequently is when holding your weapon with your thumb pointing down and towards your side; this position will not be explored in depth within this beginner’s guide.

The Art of the Duel: Early 17th Century Rapier Fencing

The first truly civilian fencing technique, rapier fighting was used for single combat and did not require secondary weapons or protective armor. It developed in Italy and later spread throughout Europe where it branched off into several distinctive styles, with Spain having the most unique style that persisted until the early 19th century.

With a curriculum coming from the great Italian masters of the turn of the 17th century such as Grand Master Salvator Fabris (1544-1618), we believe CSG can help students become internationally-celebrated swordsmen. Kaspar might have had a long and illustrious career without his notorious debt, but the rising costs of producing his rapier-fencing manual Lo Schermo, overo Scienza d’Arme (“On fencing, or martial knowledge”) put him in excessive debt.

As Fabris’ style of swordplay continued to spread across the European continent, his manual sold well after its initial release. His book was reprinted several times from 1606 to 1713; it was also translated into other languages and plagiarized by followers.

How to Fight with a Rapier: The Method

In the old “chicken and egg” question of rapier evolution, it can be said that the origin of fencing was changing due to a change in tactical focus. The Dardi School (which focused on unarmoured civilian dueling) influenced changes in technical elements. This is best expressed by architect-turned-fencing theorist Camillo Agrippa who emphasized thrusting above all else instead of using many guards like before. In the seventeenth century, it was usually used either alone or with sidearms that a gentleman would carry at all times: daggers and capes.

Salvatore Fabris presents a detailed yet concise, and surprisingly modern explanation of the guards, measure, tempo, strengths and weaknesses of blade-sections and blade-angles as well as lines in Lo Schermo, overo Scienza d’Arme (On fencing), alongside a huge technical repertoire for using the rapier alone or with some additional accessories such as pistols.

Fabris’s approach to fencing is typically for an action made in tempo. This means that he would advocate for his students to perform both defense and offensive actions simultaneously, rather than consecutively.

A rapier sword cannot cut, only thrust

Many people assume they know how a rapier was used in historical combat due to the popularity of certain misconceptions, but those who are actually experienced with using them often discover slight nuances that contradict these stereotypes.

A rapier is sharp just like any other sword, so it can be used for purposes such as cutting.

A number of fencing treatises discuss the topic of cuts.

  • Alfieri’s La Scherma di Francesco Fernando Alfieri (“The Fencing of Francesco Fernando Alfieri”) depicts cuts.
  • In Gran Simulacro dell’Arte e dell’Uso della Scherma, Ridolfo Capoferro devotes a section to the topic of cuts.
  • Giganti discusses cuts in his book, Libro secondo di Niccoletto Giganti.

Some later period rapiers did not sharpen the strength of blade, but typically they still sharpened the weak.

Historical fencing with rapiers are capable of making cuts even if the blade isn’t sharp due to its tip being used for attacks. The tip of a rapier is just as effective against opponents lightly-armored, and typically duels happen in civilian clothing.

Now it is widely understood that wide rapier style cuts are too risky to deliver during an actual sword battle, and this is primarily due to the fact that a cut with greater width will create an easier opportunity for your opponent to counter successfully. Cuts in rapier disciplines tend to consist of smaller circular measurements (in comparison to other traditional swords) if they have any distance at all.

The rapier sword is a very light easy to use weapon

Prior to engaging in rapier fencing, beginners often believe that the light sword won’t be as physically demanding as a two-handed longsword. But, due to the manner of wielding prescribed by historical masters, this is not correct.

In reality, a two-handed long sword is generally held out in front of one’s body with both hands as it shares the weight. The fighting style utilizes low and high guard positions. Maintaining a high guard is tiring whereas maintaining a low guard is less tiring. Sword fencers can switch to the less tiring position by switching to a low guard and then returning to the higher one.

As opposed to the rapier sword, this weapon is almost exclusively held in high guard positions above the chest with one hand extended out toward the opponent for nearly the entire match.

This allows the rapier to act as a lever, multiplying its weight many times over as force exerted upon the arm. When held, the index finger becomes a fulcrum for this lever and wraps just under the ricasso. When you are fighting against another fencer, your goal is to use your weapon’s stronger end as a lever against the opponent’s weaker end. This makes it so the opponent’s blade feels much heavier and they cannot attack. During a fencing match, the weight of a rapier on its own is determined by its mass and to be 2.2 lbs only shows what it reads on a scale, but without considering the force your arm exerts onto the whip weight.

The rapier sword is a very light easy to use weapon

Prior to engaging in rapier fencing, beginners often believe that the light sword won’t be as physically demanding as a two-handed longsword. But, due to the manner of wielding prescribed by historical masters, this is not correct.

In reality, a two-handed long sword is generally held out in front of one’s body with both hands as it shares the weight. The fighting style utilizes low and high guard positions. Maintaining a high guard is tiring whereas maintaining a low guard is less tiring. Sword fencers can switch to the less tiring position by switching to a low guard and then returning to the higher one.

As opposed to the rapier sword, this weapon is almost exclusively held in high guard positions above the chest with one hand extended out toward the opponent for nearly the entire match.

This allows the rapier to act as a lever, multiplying its weight many times over as force exerted upon the arm. When held, the index finger becomes a fulcrum for this lever and wraps just under the ricasso. When you are fighting against another fencer, your goal is to use your weapon’s stronger end as a lever against the opponent’s weaker end. This makes it so the opponent’s blade feels much heavier and they cannot attack. During a fencing match, the weight of a rapier on its own is determined by its mass and to be 2.2 lbs only shows what it reads on a scale, but without considering the force your arm exerts onto the whip weight.

Add comment