Arms & Armor Fechtbuch Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy

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Renaissance Woodcut

Today when modern ears hear the term "fencing", the first thing that comes to mind are the white-attired and masked athletes of the Olympic-styled sport. The art of fencing, however, has taken many forms: whether with the three sport weapons of foil, epee and saber, or with earlier period weapons, such as the rapier, dussack and longsword. The weapons were practiced in formalized fencing guilds, such as the Marxbrüder and the Federfechter, where civilians trained, and even provided champions to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor in the German provinces.

Of the weapons practiced, the longsword was often considered one of the core weapons that taught the principles of all weapons. The German term for a fencing manual was fecthbuch, or "fight book", and many of these manuals are illustrated to show the teachings of the various martial arts masters. Manuscripts such as the 1570 work by Master Joachim Meyer, or the 1452 Peter von Danzig Fechtbuch, depict fencers practicing with blunted longswords with narrow-profiled blades and wide flaring ricasso. Such swords had very thick edges for safe practice, but in order to maintain a proper weight despite the thickness, the blades are made much narrower than a typical "real" sword. The ricasso is much wider than the blade in order to maintain strength near the tang.

Arms & Armor of Minnesota is an old-timer in the modern production sword world. They have built up a strong reputation for historically accurate swords. The sword up for review here, named the "Fechtbuch Sword", was created with the modern practitioner of longsword arts in mind, though a collector of period weaponry may very well appreciate it as well. It was based on the illustrations in period fencing treatises as well as originals in the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:3 pounds, 7 ounces
Overall length:48 1/2 inches
Blade length:38 inches
Edge width:1 3/4 inches at base, tapering to 5/8 inch
Edge thickness:5 1/2 mm tapering to 2 mm
Grip length:8 inches
Guard width:9 inches
Point of Balance:4 1/4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~24 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type T5 pommel, Style 2 guard

Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.

Handling Characteristics
There are many forms of blunted swords on the market. Some of these swords have very thick edges for safety, but because of the increase in mass are overweight and handle sluggishly. Some blunts handle very realistically, but to keep the mass down have very thin edges, and while this is fine for some practitioners, others do not feel comfortable with the safety level of these swords. The Arms & Armor Fechtbuch Sword really fills in the gap of training swords in this respect, as it has very thick edges but handles beautifully. It is just slightly on the heavy side, but not at all out of reason for a typical longsword, and the distal taper and balance are both superb enough to make it feel much lighter than what it is.

The sword demonstrates excellent controllability. It is a large sword, but its balance allows easy handling and quick strikes while keeping great tip control. Even though it is slightly hefty, it is not heavier than many real longswords; once again, the balance makes this sword quite a joy to wield. The pommel feels quite comfortable to hold, and the long grip allows for making many of the "snapping" types of circular cuts with either edge that are often used in the German style of fencing.

I had talked with Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor, and he told me that they had slightly overbuilt this sword, making it beefier than original practice swords. Some originals have much thinner edges with a degree of flexibility for safety in thrusting. Arms & Armor purposely decided to make their replica a little heftier, as they cannot know for certain what some people will do with the swords. Some users may be stage combatants who will need a slightly sturdier sword to handle repeated hard parries, for example. Potential buyers should keep this in mind. While the sword is suitable for the typical martial practitioner unarmoured combat, it is better suited towards heavier usage. If you want a lighter, more flexible sword, you may want to consider the Arms & Armor Fechterspiel sword instead.

When testing the sword in drilling and bouting, I was surprised at the durability of the steel itself. Doing a few slow and controlled partner drills showed little marking at all on the blade. Using the flat frequently against the edge of the oncoming sword left the finish unscratched (there will often be at least small, superficial scratches from this). Gradually the pace was picked up, and even when drilling at a much higher level of intent, the blade showed a surprising resilience to marring. The durability of the fittings alone was rock solid, which I had anticipated, but the actual steel itself went beyond my expectations.

Fit and Finish
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The Ricasso

The sword feels quite solid, and despite being a sword intended for heavy use against other blunts, has a very appealing look. The fittings are well formed, not merely hunks of metal slapped together. The guard has an octagonal cross-section which tapers smoothly as it moves away from the blade and then widens again near the tip. The blade is polished to a brushed satin finish, attractive yet suitable for a blade intended to take some beatings. In fact, this sword is attractive enough for a collector who would want it for a display piece that represents the graceful martial training of a German fechtschule (fight school), much in the way that many collectors enjoy having old foils.

The grip is covered with stitched black pig skin. It is slightly rougher looking than some other types of leather covered grips such as cow skin, but it also feels more durable. The stitching is not perfectly even, though this is barely an issue.

The Fechtbuch Sword can be praised in two separate ways, both of which influence each other. On one hand it is an excellent training weapon: one for a practitioner who needs a sword that handles like an original sword and is durable and sturdy, having the safety of wide edges. It can also be praised for being a historically accurate representation of 15th and 16th century fencing longswords, and therefore can also satisfy the collector who desires such a weapon but is not necessarily interested in bouting with it. Whether your intention is for one or the other, or both, Arms & Armor has created another fine sword that manages to be a little different from their usual offerings while being a historical representation of an original sword.

About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.

Photographer: Nathan Robinson

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