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William J Welch




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 7:06 am    Post subject: Question of the off hand in Messer, Saber, and Rapier         Reply with quote

Something that just dawned on me the other day while looking thru some fight manuals.

I noticed that in most manuals that cover Messer, Saber, and some single sword manuals (cut and thrust) the off hand is held out of the way to (presumably) prevent it being chopped off, But in most Rapier (later) texts it is kept at the ready to grab or set aside the Blade. Now the use of the off hand is of course not prevented in Messer, Saber, and small sword (cut and thrust), but is reserved for once you have closed range with the opponent.
In Talhoffer 1467 starting with tafel 223 it clearly shows the off hand firmly placed at the small of the back, and In Hans Lecküchner 1482 the pictures show the fighters their hands behind their backs.. Once they get in close to grappling distance the off hand comes into play. I noticed the same thing in Meyer.

To my way of thinking it seems that this observation, shows the less than lethal cutting power of the Rapier.

I was just wondering on others thoughts and opinions.

William J Welch

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Gary A. Chelette




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 7:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Using the hand to parry the flat of a rapier that is used more for thrusting than hacking is quite viable.
I would not try to grab the blade or else suffer a mean cut if the weapon is sharp. The quillons and/or basket is more desirable to control the weapon.

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George Hill




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 8:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rapier isn't a solid definition. Rapiers can cut, and many did, (but not nearly as well as a messer) but you can't cut well from a long point position with any sword, you haven't got the leverage.

So if the rapier guy lunges, and you have you hand forward, you can, if you time it right, smack his sword out of the way and counter thrust.

If I was fighting a guy with a messer or longsword, and he did a fencing lunge, I could still shove his blade out of the way with a bear hand without being cut, since he wouldn't have the leverage to cut me.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 8:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
To my way of thinking it seems that this observation, shows the less than lethal cutting power of the Rapier.


Well, yes. In a thrust oriented style, the off hand is more useful for deflections against the blade than against a cut oriented style, as you said. You sound as if you thought there was a debate about this? Happy

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:
Rapier isn't a solid definition. Rapiers can cut, and many did, (but not nearly as well as a messer) but you can't cut well from a long point position with any sword, you haven't got the leverage.

So if the rapier guy lunges, and you have you hand forward, you can, if you time it right, smack his sword out of the way and counter thrust.

If I was fighting a guy with a messer or longsword, and he did a fencing lunge, I could still shove his blade out of the way with a bear hand without being cut, since he wouldn't have the leverage to cut me.


That's very true, George. Even Talhoffer grabs longsword blades at longpoint.

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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary A. Chelette wrote:

I would not try to grab the blade or else suffer a mean cut if the weapon is sharp.


It it certainly possible to firmly grab the blade of a sword that even has a more cutting oriented blade without getting cut badly at all. It might draw blood but all you need is a moment of controlling the other person's sword.

The word rapier seems to have been initially used to refer to the increasingly slender cut and thrust blade. Certainly there was a time when the sword called a "rapier" could cut as well as thrust. However, as the sword progressed it became edgeless and unable to cut into flesh. So earlier teachers of the rapier show cuts and thrusts whereas later teachers focus on the thrust. This is because the weapon itself had changed over time without the word for the weapon changing.

We have all these technical terms for the different kind of swords so we can keep track of them. We say "greatsword" to distinguish those two handed swords before the "longswords" but we also keep in mind that the term greatsword can also refer to larger two handed swords of the 15 and 16 centuries. But we don't call any of these "two handed swords" as a proper name because there are then the biddenhanders of the 16 century. The historic usage of the term "rapier" was not as technical and covered the slender cut and thrust sword which was a progression of the arming sword as well as the latter edgeless swords which were new.

What I mean to say is that there is the cut and thrust rapier and then there is the rapier without an edge. If we are talking about the later rapiers then they wouldn't really cut at all. The later rapiers cut about as well as a car antenna. They will lacerate skin but not cut through flesh. There is a significant difference in function here that I think deserves the acknowledgment of being different from earlier rapiers if not a distinct name all together.

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 11:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Coffman wrote:
Gary A. Chelette wrote:

I would not try to grab the blade or else suffer a mean cut if the weapon is sharp.


It it certainly possible to firmly grab the blade of a sword that even has a more cutting oriented blade without getting cut badly at all. It might draw blood but all you need is a moment of controlling the other person's sword.


While I agree, it should be noted that period rapier masters also said not to grab the sword. Salvator Fabris in particular disdained the use of the off hand, which he seemed to feel was more of an artifact of fencing in the salle than real life fencing, where he says one would easily be injured. Further, Fabris talks extensively about defeating people who rely too much on the off hand, something he considers very clumsy fencing, used by people without skill.

Quote:
The word rapier seems to have been initially used to refer to the increasingly slender cut and thrust blade. Certainly there was a time when the sword called a "rapier" could cut as well as thrust. However, as the sword progressed it became edgeless and unable to cut into flesh.


I'd argue that this is what the word rapier evolved into, not the weapon. Many of the late period swords we'd call a "rapier" are quite capable of cutting, and many of them are not.

Quote:
So earlier teachers of the rapier show cuts and thrusts whereas later teachers focus on the thrust. This is because the weapon itself had changed over time without the word for the weapon changing.


As I said above, I'd argue that it's the other way around. Unless if you think of the weapon that George Washington carried as a rapier (because the term at that time was often used for smallswords).

Quote:
We have all these technical terms for the different kind of swords so we can keep track of them. We say "greatsword" to distinguish those two handed swords before the "longswords" but we also keep in mind that the term greatsword can also refer to larger two handed swords of the 15 and 16 centuries. But we don't call any of these "two handed swords" as a proper name because there are then the biddenhanders of the 16 century.


Fiore used "two handed sword" to describe what most people would call a "longsword". As far as I know, using the term "two handed sword" as a specificly Renaissance term is a purely modern idea that seemed to first crop up in the late 1990s.

Quote:
What I mean to say is that there is the cut and thrust rapier and then there is the rapier without an edge. If we are talking about the later rapiers then they wouldn't really cut at all.


That's a huge generalization. Every single Italian master using what we would call a rapier made heavy use of the cut. Many of the 18th century rapiers will cut just as well as a contemporary saber. (Likewise many can't.)

Quote:
The later rapiers cut about as well as a car antenna. They will lacerate skin but not cut through flesh.


You will have to tell that to Bondi di Mazo, or Francesco Antonio Marcelli. Both masters wrote rapier treatises on the cusp of the 18th century (and indeed talk about their dislike of the new smallsword). Both master make liberal use of the cuts. Interestingly enough, they talk about cuts MORE than Capoferro, Fabris, Alfieri, or Giganti.

Quote:
There is a significant difference in function here that I think deserves the acknowledgment of being different from earlier rapiers if not a distinct name all together.


Personally, I reference the sword of Marozzo as a "Spada da filo", because that's a term he used. And yes, that is a different sword than what Capoferro used. But to say "later rapiers" didn't cut is like saying "later cars are not stick shift". It simply isn't true all of the time (or even most of the time).

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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Quote:
What I mean to say is that there is the cut and thrust rapier and then there is the rapier without an edge. If we are talking about the later rapiers then they wouldn't really cut at all.


That's a huge generalization. Every single Italian master using what we would call a rapier made heavy use of the cut. Many of the 18th century rapiers will cut just as well as a contemporary saber. (Likewise many can't.)

Quote:
The later rapiers cut about as well as a car antenna. They will lacerate skin but not cut through flesh.


You will have to tell that to Bondi di Mazo, or Francesco Antonio Marcelli. Both masters wrote rapier treatises on the cusp of the 18th century (and indeed talk about their dislike of the new smallsword). Both master make liberal use of the cuts. Interestingly enough, they talk about cuts MORE than Capoferro, Fabris, Alfieri, or Giganti.


Not to mention all the Spanish fighters who were apparently well known for their use of the cut even with rapiers. I just skimmed through Liancour's treatise and even though his weapon is a smallsword, there is a chapter about how to face Spaniards and their nasty use of cuts... I don't know the works of later Spanish masters but Thibault (not technically Spanish but close in style) has a whole lot of cutting.

I think saying that rapier masters (of any period) were focused on thrusts because their weapon could not cut or was less and less capable of cutting is a misconception. The focus on thrust was mainly tactical, and then some weapons were built with this focus in mind.

The use of the left hand follows the same rules. Using your hand to oppose a thrust from any weapon is a viable option tactically, using it to stop a cut is not. Even with rapiers I don't think I've seen a period manual saying that you should parry a cut with your hand. Fighting a messer, you have to expect cuts, and so the off-hand is better where it does not risk anything and does not interfere with your own motions...

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 12:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good call, Vincent. If I recall correctly, Domenico Angelo (also of the 18th century) also says similar things, and even remarks how even though it may be tempting to get in close with your smallsword past the tip of the longer rapier and grab the blade, it is foolish because you risk having your fingers cut off by the opponent.
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--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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Steven Reich




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Nov, 2007 6:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Question of the off hand in Messer, Saber, and Rapier         Reply with quote

William J Welch wrote:
To my way of thinking it seems that this observation, shows the less than lethal cutting power of the Rapier.


Actually, I think it is reflective of the type of play of the rapier systems. Since the point is in line, in order to make any cut of consequence, the point must be lowered or raised in preparation. You really don't have to worry about your hand: if your opponent prepares for a cut, you should counterattack with a thrust that simultaneously strikes your opponent and parries his cut. Of course the rapier is not likely to dismember your opponent even with a good preparation and a cut from the shoulder (although some of them might remove a hand, and many would likely remove fingers), but a cut to the bone on the outside of the forearm or to the outside of the leg by the knee can be enough (which might be why those are common targets for cuts in the various rapier manuals).

In the rapier manuals, the offhand is kept ready, but not really extended out as a target. Look at Fabris' guard--any cut the the hand could also reach the head or face. However, while it might be ready to parry a thrust, I wouldn't say that it is kept ready to grab the blade; as Bill Grandy noted, many masters warn against grabbing the blade and the possible consequences of doing it. Yes, it would be better than taking a thrust to the vitals, in the same way that taking knife cuts to the arms is better than taking them to the face (i.e. putting your hands up in defense against a knife attack)--i.e. something you do in desperation, but not something you train to do.


Steve
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