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Allen Johnson





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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 12:55 pm    Post subject: The "pinnacle" of western swordsmanship         Reply with quote

I'm collecting sources, both modern and period, that claim late 18th through 19th century smallsword and later "Baroque" style fencing was the "pinnacle" of western swordplay. I'm sure we've all heard claims to this regard and I'm looking to document this and prepare it's rebuttal. Thanks folks.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 2:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oakeshott wrote in his introduction to Records of the Medieval Sword, "Though the sword did not reach its peak of practical efficiency in combat until the 17th century with the development of the swift deadly little small-sword in the France of Louis XIV, the flowering of its mystical significance came at the end of the 11th century." (page 1)

I was a little surprised that he said that. about the small-sword.
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 4:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The western sword never reached a pinnacle of development because there was never a steady course of evolution from point A to point B. The sword continually changed and adapted to meet the requirements of the time. The idea of the smallsword being the ultimate achievement in western sword design is an example of victorian arrogance. Oakeshotts work was seminal in many ways but he shouldn't be considered as an irrefutable source on such things.
"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Allen Johnson





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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 4:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Roger and Patrick.
I am surprised as well that Mr. Oakeshott missed it a bit on that one. But we have all heard this statement so much it seems only natural that we find it repeated in even reputable source. My argument is exactly in line with Mr. Kelly's statement, so I'm attempting to track some of the origins of these assumptions before I try to refute them.
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 4:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You might try posting on: http://www.fioredeiliberi.org/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=31 Its Schola Gladiatoria's Victorian Martial Arts form for a English take and you can try http://www.swordforum.com http://www.swordforum.com/forums/forumdisplay...rdsmanship They may be able to help too.

You will likely have to register.

mackenzie
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Wed 23 May, 2012 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmmmmm..maybe there's a bit of social snobbery going on here. By the time the small sword came into fashion..it was just *that.."Fashion". At the time, it was only 'Gentlemen" who could be bothered to indulge in fashion By the time of the small sword, for all practical military use , the days of swords was in the past. Gentlemen played with small-swords, fencing and duels..all *gentlemans* sports. I'm not saying that small swords were purely decorative..some very serious killings were done with them. But, apart from the individuals involved, very little of serious importance was decided at the point of the sword.
Once an item becomes a fashion accessory...used by the people who *make* fashion..then the item becomes the *best* possible . Look at todays mobile phones..everyone, who'se anyone, seems to want to be seen with an Iphone..does that really mean that an IPhone is the 'best" mobile phone ??
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 1:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think one issue to consider is that the authors quoted here may not be intending the word pinnacle to mean "best", but simply to mean the practical peak of the developmental climb of the sword. This would exclude any comparative or qualitative judgment of any kind.

If that is the case then I believe an argument can certainly be made that the small-sword represents such a pinnacle for it was after that period of time that swords became more uniform accessories or items of adornment.

Regarding what was said here about the small-sword, at the time of its own pinnacle, it was much more than a dress accessory as it was most certainly an item intended and well suited for self defense duties in its time. It was intended for use and not merely a decorative accessory.

And regarding the issue of swordmanship (rather than simply a discussion of the sword itself), I would think it difficult to say that the small-sword was not the pinnacle of swordmanship. That is, if we are using the definition of the word pinnacle as I mentioned here. What came after it of any significance? I actually don't know.

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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would argue that in the time of the small sword, the place where a sword made the most significant impact was from the back of a horse. I don't think small swords are much use from horseback.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 10:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mackenzie Cosens wrote:
I would argue that in the time of the small sword, the place where a sword made the most significant impact was from the back of a horse. I don't think small swords are much use from horseback.


Sabres continued to be used for military purposes by cavalry mostly but not exclusively as well as smaller military hangers well into the the 19th century.

I wonder how a fight between a Smallsword and a large Military Sabre would look like ? Mismatched weapons wouldn't be used in formal duels so there may be very little period instructional manuals about fighting a Small sword with a Sabre ???

Although there where long discussions and arguments about Sabres being most effective being curved or strait and the use of the point versus the edge in cavalry warfare and there may have been discussions about fighting with a curved sabre against a strait sabre or backsword ?

In modern sports fencing one doesn't seem to see matches of foil/Épée versus Sabre, at least I don't think so. Wink Question Laughing Out Loud

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Matthew P. Adams




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And it comes down to the fencer, not the weapon. The circumstances of the combat, etc etc etc. This is starting to sound like the old, "knightly sword vs. katana" debate.

The true pinnacle of the sword is the repeating firearm.

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 1:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
By the time of the small sword, for all practical military use , the days of swords was in the past.


That is simply not true. Swords continued in active military use even into the 1940's and 50's. Well after the time in which the smallsword was a part of a gentleman's walking attire, which I believe was in serious decline already around the year 1800, with the French revolution making the customs of the nobility old-fashioned (and dangerous).

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
I wonder how a fight between a Smallsword and a large Military Sabre would look like ? Mismatched weapons wouldn't be used in formal duels so there may be very little period instructional manuals about fighting a Small sword with a Sabre ???
Good question... It must have happened, as there are military regulation smallswords... It is said that such a mismatch was the reason behind the colichemarde.

Back to topic: effectivity of weapons comes down to purpose. A smallsword is (in my opinion) a fairly specialised weapon. As is a zweihander. A colichemarde is already a bit more multi-purpose. A rapier or cut-and-thrust type XXI even more so. But then a type X gets specialised in the other direction, as does a cavalry sabre.

If you are faced with an unknown fantasy environment, then I would say that multi-purpose is better than specialisation. Then it would be better to have an assault rifle than a pistol or a sniper rifle...

And in terms of historical progression, there can be little doubt: modern Olympic fencing is the pinnacle of swordsmanship. It is the natural progression of western swordsmanship as it evolved through the middle ages, the renaissance and into modern times.

But would a 15th C. knight be impressed by an Olympic fencing champion? That's nearly impossible to answer and it becomes a "broadsword vs. katana" argument.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 1:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Since the idea of optimalization for optimalizations sake, and the exhaltation of science is central in the early modern period, it is not surprising that the most "advanced" swordsmanship theory stems from that era.
Since that paradigm still holds true for us, it is no surprise that we would find these systems and weapons the most apealing, since they are developed to "our" standards.

However, if we take Ewart Oakeshotts statement as an example, we can ask ourself what leads him to say what he does.
Not unlikely it is the handling dynamics of the sword. A smallsword is designed to feel good in hand, and be fast and responsive. Most other swords are adapted to a spesific tactic or fighting style. Broad bladed viking age cutters, high medevial striking swords, sturdy late medevial thrusters, and so on.

But when push comes to shove, what weapon you are using, and even how skilled you are with it is secondary to circumstances and psycological factors on the battlefield.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
[...

Sabres continued to be used for military purposes by cavalry mostly but not exclusively as well as smaller military hangers well into the the 19th century.

I wonder how a fight between a Smallsword and a large Military Sabre would look like ? Mismatched weapons wouldn't be used in formal duels so there may be very little period instructional manuals about fighting a Small sword with a Sabre ???

Although there where long discussions and arguments about Sabres being most effective being curved or strait and the use of the point versus the edge in cavalry warfare and there may have been discussions about fighting with a curved sabre against a strait sabre or backsword ?

In modern sports fencing one doesn't seem to see matches of foil/Épée versus Sabre, at least I don't think so. Wink Question Laughing Out Loud


Not my area of study but, some clue may be gained by looking at the broadsword and small sword manuals. A quick google gives and some possible starting point would be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_fencing_in_Scotland & http://dirkdance.tripod.com/id1.html . Also descriptions of encounters between Hanoverian and Jacobite forces during the "The Fifteen" and "The Forty-Five" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacobite_risings.

My trivial only memory tells me there was something called the Scottish defence where the small swordman thrusts successfully and receives a broadsword planted in his skull in change, likely due to a miss understood cues between the two swordsman because its not a result that either wants.

There are others who visit the form with much more knowledge in this area then me, I hope they will speak up. Happy,
mackenzie
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Allen Johnson





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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 5:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm grateful for all the comments and hope it will continue.

My feelings is that the smallsword can not be the pinnacle or climax of the evolution of the sword in the west for two reasons.
One, it wasn't the last sword in use, as has already been discussed. The mere presence of the sabre proves that there was a need in the martial community that the small sword was not fulfilling. Similarly, period texts simultanously teach smallsword, with broadsword, sabre and some of the other "middle" ones such as the colichmarde, cuttoe, spadroon and so forth.

The Second reason is that just because the sword stopped developing, does not mean that it reached any sort of "perfection". There arose other tools that did killing in an easier and more efficient manner (firearms). The smallsword was not a pinnacle, but merely the last incarnation of a now arcane tool. We all know that the development of swords does not look like a timeline but more like a tree. The smallsword and it's method of use was what was needed for the time it existed. Just as every other proven system and accompanying weapon that existed before it. It was just at the caboose end of it's use in a practical manner.

I also think we overstate the smallswords association with "gentlemen". I'm pretty confident that there were just as many rogues, ruffians and roustabouts who were similarly armed to anyone wearing a jabot. Happy
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 9:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen Johnson wrote:

I also think we overstate the smallswords association with "gentlemen". I'm pretty confident that there were just as many rogues, ruffians and roustabouts who were similarly armed to anyone wearing a jabot. Happy


A pair of pocket muzzle loading pistols would also have been popular for gentlemen and ruffians in the period of the Smallsword instead of or as backup for the Smallsword. Wink Razz Laughing Out Loud Cool

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William P




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PostPosted: Thu 24 May, 2012 11:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

that said, most military authorities had this idea that thrusting was generally superior to cutting, even for cavalry

as evidenced by the development of the 1908 british cavalry sword, the last british military sword design
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Allen Johnson





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PostPosted: Fri 25 May, 2012 11:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You will also run into the fallacy that somehow these folks "invented" or "perfected" the thrust. The idea should be laughable. Perhaps second only to a rock or a club, mankind's first weapon would have been a sharpened stick. That is the origin of thrusting. We see many depictions of early man bringing down large mammals with little more than these. Truly they understood and "mastered" the art of thrusting for their weapon in their time.
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Bacchus Davis




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PostPosted: Fri 25 May, 2012 4:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Are you arguing that the fencing actions of the smallsword are not the "pinnacle" or that the design of the smallsword is not the "pinnacle" or both? I realize you are thinking as you are typing. But what you are writing is confusing. What is your specific point?

Initial statement: "I'm collecting sources, both modern and period, that claim late 18th through 19th century smallsword and later "Baroque" style fencing was the "pinnacle" of western swordplay."

Rebuttal position: "My feelings is that the smallsword can not be the pinnacle or climax of the evolution of the sword in the west for two reasons."

Follow on: "...folks "invented" or "perfected" the thrust."

Your rebuttal has two reasons that try to prove by negation that the opinion of several writers concerning the design of the smallsword is wrong. Both reasons are non sequitur. You also imply (either accidentally or purposely incorrect) that the sabre developed post creation of the smallsword. The sentence also implies that the creation of a new tool in the same class supersedes all other tools in the class and makes them obsolete. The development of the mini-gun doesn't negate the development of the pistol (tool class is firearms). The development of the Phillips-head screwdriver doesn't negate the development of the flathead screwdriver (tool class is screwdrivers). Both are still useful in a given situation.

Your follow-on statement is taking a very narrow supposition about the development of the lunge specific to fencing and decontextualizing it. The statement is supported by the idea that we have all seen an artist’s rendition of a mammoth hunt drawn in a children’s book. While using this as support may seem helpful to your position, it indicates you don't understand what you read or heard.

"Perfection" and "pinnacle" are opinions based on value judgments. Those values are based on the criteria of the writer and are by definition subjective. While you could disprove the opinion statements of the authors in your own mind, the opinions still stand, because they are opinions. I don't see the value in attempting to prove your opinion position, nor do I expect you to succeed. Save yourself some research time and state something like:

"The smallsword is the nadir of all sword design and use. The design is weak and has the strength of ladies jewelry. As jewelry, it was favored by rogues, ruffians, roustabouts and horse thieves (the smallsword’s main users). Any man could break off the tip of the blade with a simple clinch of his cheeks. The design does not exhibit the manly and circumcised bravado of the sabre. It's method of use was really only suited as foreplay for fakery, fornication, and buggery. Such postures unbalance the humors. Its’ method has no defense against the modern counterpart, aerial-platform artillery." (This would the pseudo-Georgian era method)

If you really want to drive the point home, write the opinion in French.

This would be an opinion and it would stand. It lacks critical thought, research, usefulness of scholarship, facts, science, and politeness. But, all that is unnecessary for opinions based on feelings ("My feelings is that the smallsword...").

Or, if you need to be more Sesame Street in your approach, you could write, "I don't think the smallsword is the best sword! Who’s with me?"
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 25 May, 2012 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If one defines pinacle as the period of its greatest importance on the battlefield, then one could argue that the European sword reached its pinacle around 11th century, when swords were becomeing more common but before effective armor became so common as to render them useless against front line warriors.
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Robert Rytel




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PostPosted: Fri 25 May, 2012 6:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Though the sword did not reach its peak of practical efficiency in combat until the 17th century with the development of the swift deadly little small-sword in the France of Louis XIV, the flowering of its mystical significance came at the end of the 11th century."

I have to agree with Oakeshott. I also have to agree with proponents of compact Glocks regarding that pistol's 'practical efficiency' even though I would much rather have a belt fed machinegun on a battlefield or an MP5 to stop a bank robbery.
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