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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Dec, 2004 11:38 pm    Post subject: Italian Rapier vs. German Longsword         Reply with quote

Tonight my group and I decided to have some fun and do a little bouting between Capo Ferro styled rapier and Liechtanauer styled longsword. Nothing too serious, just for a little bit of fun.

One thing I can really say about this: It really is the person, not the weapon, that makes the difference. I'm sure we all know this, but it really becomes obvious when you really do it. On top of that, another major factor is that the person who knows the other weapon better has a huge advantage. The guys who seriously practice both weapons were the ones who really shined.

Now, it is important to understand that my observations are just that: A modern practitioner's observations. These are not the words of historical masters, whom understood these arts in a way that we modern hobbyists can only dream of. On top of this, we as practitioners have to make concessions to realism due to safety, such as pulling blows. I put this disclaimer here because too often people quote modern so-called "practical"experience to mean historical fact, and this can sometimes lead to some large misconceptions. That said, here are some observations of mine:

It is true that once the longswordist gets past the rapierist's tip, he has a strong advantage. This is often stated as a reason why the rapier is an insufficient weapon. But this is MUCH easier said than done. I'd like to think of myself as a competent longsword user, but this is no easy task when the rapier user knows what he is doing. The reach of the weapon is really something you can't undermine, and the ease at which it can disengage around the blade makes it deceptivily deadly.

When I was the one using the longsword, about two thirds of my success stories were due to strikes to the leading forearm. Most of these were by using the schielhau, or the "squinting strike", a master strike that is unique to the Liechtanauer syster in which the false edge is used to cut downwards. The strike, amongst other things, is used to defeat a longsword that is held outstretched, which made it perfect for dealing with the rapier, though it is ordinarily aimed at the body, not arm. Due to the nature of the rapier, doing so wasn't very easy.

The other third of my successful strikes was using a hanging parry to close in, then using my off hand to press the rapier blade aside as I attacked. In theory this always seems so much easier than in practice. Happy There were several times that I tried this, only to have the rapier easily go around the sword for me to run into it. When I was the rapier fencer and my opposing longswordist tried to close in such a manner, I was able to perform the exact situation every time.

Non lethal cuts: The rapier did have some success at making debilitating cuts to the head or forearm. Such a cut with a sharpened rapier could sever muscle, and put the fighter out of business. But having test cut with both rapiers and longswords, the longsword has more potential here even with small slices (schnitt, the German term) to the hands. Both swords had sucess in making slices that would more than likely been severe in a realistic duel, but far more were made with the longsword than the rapier.

Another thing was that we hardly had any double kills, which always makes me feel good. I hate double kills, because while they can be realistic, they are usually a product of people "playing tag" as opposed to practicing realistic techniques that were designed to save your life. I point this out because of the George Silver philosophy of rapiers being an unsure weapon where double kills are common. Granted, Silver was talking about rapier vs. rapier (though I respectfully disagree with good ole' George, but that's another thread altogether).

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw this out there for anyone interested.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 2:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill;

Just want to say that I enjoyed reading the above subject and would look forward to more of the same.

I don't have the practical background to understand or visualise in detail your impressions but found them so well described that I almost feel like I understood the main " thrust" of it! ( If you can forgive the pun.......LOL.)

With advances in the quality of computer games I wonder if it could be possible to program in a control set-up using realistic physics that would permit testing out real life moves that would be impossible to practice without the real danger of killing ones' trainning partners: Although moving a joy stick is very different from using ones' body, it is the mind that reacts to the situation and chooses a move or a countermove.

A mix of real life trainning and computer simulation might be an interesting mix of trainning methods.

I do find that with certain games one can become so immersed in reacting to what is happening on the screen that one feels almost as if they were reacting to real objects.

The challenge would be finding a control system that would permit a crossover of the skills acquired within the game that would translate into real life skill or the reverse were real life skill could be applied to the game.

Just wishfull thinking at this point: I don't think that we will get a Star Trek style Holodeck anytime soon......LOL.

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 3:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Again, l haven’t had the opportunity to try this, but I would like to theorize a bit anyway… Wink

When it comes to broadsword/longsword vs. rapier, I tend to emphasize the different nature of these weapons.
While the broad bladed weapons are essentially weapons of war, the rapier is purpose made for fighting duels to first blood. Consequently, it excels at this. A rapier fighter will have a quite easy time scoring a wounding hit on an opponent. He will, however, have a considerably harder time scoring a crippling hit.
From a duellist point of view this is a good thing. You can lose, and not be crippled for the rest of your life. (first blood with a longsword could take you arm of…)

It of course entirely possible to kill with a rapier. But delivering a mortal rapier thrust requires deliberation. You are less likely to kill someone “by accident”.

Another item of note is that thrusts, like those of a knife or rapier, might be quite deadly, but not instantly.
This might be the source of Silver’s critique of the rapier “double kills” : In a rapier duel to the death, like a knife fight, it is entirely possible to receive a mortal wound, and go on fighting for quite a while before blood loss or organ failure kills you. The same holds true for the opponent. Thus it is possible to have a fight which ends with both the combatants dead, even if they did not strike each other simultaneously, in a standard re-enactment double kill. (we usually stop fighting after that first hit.)
This is particularly the case with dagger fighting, but would probably hold true for a to-the-death rapier fight, as well.

Just a couple of toughts.

Yours
Elling
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William Goodwin




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

good reading Bill....Thanks for posting this observation....


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Joel Whitmore




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 6:14 am    Post subject: Great post Bill         Reply with quote

This is the type of post that really zings the imagination. Thanks again Bill for posting it and kudos to your study partners for trying it. Bill was there any situation where teh longsword person was willing to accept a wound from the rapier for a devastating cut? Did anyone mention this? It's an interesting premise and I am sure that no one was intentionally trying to get hit, but taking a wound for a kill or crippling blow is one strategy, albeit depserate. Overall a great post. I would lvoe to hear what your fellow swordsmen had to say about it too.


Joel Whitmore
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Elling,
I do agree with a lot of what you said, though there are some points where I have a different opinion.

Elling Polden wrote:
...the rapier is purpose made for fighting duels to first blood. Consequently, it excels at this. A rapier fighter will have a quite easy time scoring a wounding hit on an opponent. He will, however, have a considerably harder time scoring a crippling hit.


I can't agree that the rapier's purpose was for fighting duels to first blood simply because masters talk about killing your opponent. Rapier masters talk about how they feel the thrust is more deadly. It really depends on the time period, too. Later Renaissance duels were much more focused on first blood (particularly after things such as Henri III's forbidding of duelling on pain of death), earlier duels much less so. (One can argue culture is a factor as well. It would seem the France had a higher penchant for duelling to the death than other countries.) There are plenty of accounts of duels that were from the start intended to end when one person was dead.

I also disagree that a rapier has a considerably harder time scoring a crippling hit. Yes, I think cutting swords are more efficient at crippling the opponent, but a thrust through the chest or head is very debilitating. I think people downplay this a lot. I suddenly forget the exact quote, but it was either Saviolo or Digrassi (I believe tha latter) who said that a wound two fingers deep was fatal. Nevermind Capo Ferro's images that show the rapier going through the head and sticking way out the other side. Eek!

Quote:
From a duellist point of view this is a good thing. You can lose, and not be crippled for the rest of your life. (first blood with a longsword could take you arm of…)


I agree that this is very likely a huge factor as to why the rapier and later smallsword were quite popular choices for settlements of honor amongst the priveledged classes.

Quote:
It of course entirely possible to kill with a rapier. But delivering a mortal rapier thrust requires deliberation. You are less likely to kill someone “by accident”.


Actually, I think it is *more* likely to kill someone by accident with the rapier. That's one of Silver's problems with it.

Quote:

Another item of note is that thrusts, like those of a knife or rapier, might be quite deadly, but not instantly.
This might be the source of Silver’s critique of the rapier “double kills” : In a rapier duel to the death, like a knife fight, it is entirely possible to receive a mortal wound, and go on fighting for quite a while before blood loss or organ failure kills you. The same holds true for the opponent. Thus it is possible to have a fight which ends with both the combatants dead, even if they did not strike each other simultaneously, in a standard re-enactment double kill. (we usually stop fighting after that first hit.)
This is particularly the case with dagger fighting, but would probably hold true for a to-the-death rapier fight, as well.


You are absolutely right, it is possible that rapier thrusts are not as instantly debilitating as a cut, and yes, this is one of Silver's beefs. There are accounts of people who had been wounded by the rapier and continued to fight, just as with knife wounds. I do think this is sometimes overstated, because as I said earlier, a thrust through the head or chest is probably going to put a man out of commission, but it certainly is a major factor nonetheless. It is also, as you brought up, a limitation in bouting where we do stop after the first hit. Our group tries to be open minded about our hits, and we will often say, "I definately hit you, but that may not have stopped you from continuing the fight." A lot of variables can't be taken into account when bouting, which is why it's important to rely on period sources as well to get a good understanding.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 9:38 am    Post subject: Re: Great post Bill         Reply with quote

Joel Whitmore wrote:
Bill was there any situation where teh longsword person was willing to accept a wound from the rapier for a devastating cut? Did anyone mention this? It's an interesting premise and I am sure that no one was intentionally trying to get hit, but taking a wound for a kill or crippling blow is one strategy, albeit depserate.


Hi Joel,
Not intentionally, no, though occassionally it accidently happened. We try to avoid this route as much as we possibly can. The reason is that it is easy to do this when wearing protective gear and amongst friends. It would be quite different when fighting with sharpened weapons with enemies. The human sense of self preservation plays a part in this... when facing a sharpened weapon, even when you're pumped on adrenaline, you don't want to get hit no matter what! Happy There is also the fact that it's might be hard to judge what is going to be crippling and what is going to be a light wound when it happens so fast. Our bouts are over very quickly: The longest stretches are when neither person is attacking and still trying to size up the situation.

There is also the fact that both sides are trying not to only lightly wound the other side.

So I don't think it's realistic to say people used this as a strategy per se, but I do think it's realistic that people won fights because it happened that way.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William Goodwin wrote:
the other Bill G.


Ha! You don't know how long I've been tempted to write that! Happy
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 9:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
With advances in the quality of computer games I wonder if it could be possible to program in a control set-up using realistic physics that would permit testing out real life moves that would be impossible to practice without the real danger of killing ones' trainning partners: Although moving a joy stick is very different from using ones' body, it is the mind that reacts to the situation and chooses a move or a countermove.


Hi Jean,
It's an interesting idea. Though, funny thing about me is that I don't like my video games to be too realistic. Happy I like games that allow you to blast through 50-60 foes in seconds, with plenty of backflips and bouncing off walls. Maybe it's just because I get to do the real stuff in real life (well, sort of Wink ), so I prefer to do the fantasy stuff in video game life. Not that I call blasting through 50-60 foes in seconds fantasy, naturally. *cough, cough* (hopes no one from my group is reading that last line! Wink )

*edited to fix typo*


Last edited by Bill Grandy on Thu 16 Dec, 2004 10:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All martial artists through out the ages have always maintained that their style is the most deadly.
Otherwise, none would pay them to teach it Wink
This is second in priorty only to declaring all other systems to be worthless crap.

For prime exaples of this, gather Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing, Aikido and Kung Fu practitioners in a room. Wait about 5 seconds, and observe...


Yours
Elling
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 10:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
All martial artists through out the ages have always maintained that their style is the most deadly.
Otherwise, none would pay them to teach it Wink
This is second in priorty only to declaring all other systems to be worthless crap.

For prime exaples of this, gather Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing, Aikido and Kung Fu practitioners in a room. Wait about 5 seconds, and observe...


Happy No argument there.

My point in bringing up that rapier masters said the thrust was more deadly was not to say that it was true. Rather, it was to say they were focusing on lethal application, not first blood duelling.
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 10:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:


Not that I call blasting through 50-60 foes in seconds fantasy, naturally. *cough, cough* (hopes no one from my group are is that last line! Wink )


Now, see, I fantasize about watching you plow through those 50-60 foes with a longsword in one hand and a rapier in the other. Wink

Seriously, I'm disappointed that I wasn't watching last night. It sounds like it was interesting and a whole lot of fun.

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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2004 12:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:

Another item of note is that thrusts, like those of a knife or rapier, might be quite deadly, but not instantly.


An excellent pair of articles titled "The Dubious Quick Kill" deals with exactly that. I found them years ago and they are well cited and contain some interesting data.

http://www.classicalfencing.com/articles/bloody.shtml
http://www.classicalfencing.com/articles/kill2.shtml

When speaking of rapier vs. longsword I often use the analogue of a .22 versus a .45 - despite their differences in "stopping power" they can both kill quite handily. You can look at this in a number of ways, but it is merely a matter of how energy is transfered to the target, the sort of wounds thereby inflicted, and the level of incapacitation then produced.

-Eric
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Dec, 2004 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

McBane's autobiography in Highland Swordsmanship suggests many thrusts were not lethal, nor did they end a fight. Of course, this is an old soldier talking, so some allowance must be made for exaggeration. At Blenheim, McBane receives four bullet wounds and five bayonet thrusts, and is left for dead. A couple years later, he has a duel with a Gascon in the Dutch service, and gives the Gascon a half thrust to the breast, then in the next flurry a thrust to the body, and finally a thrust to the belly. The Gascon lies down, but McBane does not say he died later, merely that he was "off the stage".
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Dec, 2004 4:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix Wang wrote:
McBane's autobiography in Highland Swordsmanship suggests many thrusts were not lethal, nor did they end a fight. Of course, this is an old soldier talking, so some allowance must be made for exaggeration. At Blenheim, McBane receives four bullet wounds and five bayonet thrusts, and is left for dead. A couple years later, he has a duel with a Gascon in the Dutch service, and gives the Gascon a half thrust to the breast, then in the next flurry a thrust to the body, and finally a thrust to the belly. The Gascon lies down, but McBane does not say he died later, merely that he was "off the stage".


I think that in both cases this sounds more like luck than anything. I'd say that taking five stabs from anything, be it a rapier, a longsword or a butterfly knife, doesn't give you a good chance for survival. That, on top of four gunshots... I think the likelihood of living through that is pretty small. Of course their are exceptions to every rule. For example, rapper 50 cent was shot nine times and is alive and well now. Tupac took five and survived. Despite both of these examples I don' t think that anyone will despute the lethality of a gunshot wound.
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Dec, 2004 4:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix Wang wrote:
McBane's autobiography in Highland Swordsmanship suggests many thrusts were not lethal, nor did they end a fight. Of course, this is an old soldier talking, so some allowance must be made for exaggeration. At Blenheim, McBane receives four bullet wounds and five bayonet thrusts, and is left for dead. A couple years later, he has a duel with a Gascon in the Dutch service, and gives the Gascon a half thrust to the breast, then in the next flurry a thrust to the body, and finally a thrust to the belly. The Gascon lies down, but McBane does not say he died later, merely that he was "off the stage".


I think that in both cases this sounds more like luck than anything. I'd say that taking five stabs from anything, be it a rapier, a longsword or a butterfly knife, doesn't give you a good chance for survival. That, on top of four gunshots... I think the likelihood of living through that is pretty small. Of course their are exceptions to every rule. For example, rapper 50 cent was shot nine times and is alive and well now. Tupac took five and survived. Despite both of these examples I don' t think that anyone will despute the lethality of a gunshot wound.
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Dec, 2004 11:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix Wang wrote:
McBane's autobiography in Highland Swordsmanship suggests many thrusts were not lethal, nor did they end a fight. Of course, this is an old soldier talking, so some allowance must be made for exaggeration. At Blenheim, McBane receives four bullet wounds and five bayonet thrusts, and is left for dead. A couple years later, he has a duel with a Gascon in the Dutch service, and gives the Gascon a half thrust to the breast, then in the next flurry a thrust to the body, and finally a thrust to the belly. The Gascon lies down, but McBane does not say he died later, merely that he was "off the stage".


Yes, but Felix, you are failing to take into account that McBane is one bad muthah! Wink (I swear there needs to be a movie made about that man, one that is totally accurate to the writings with no creative liberties. It would be an action blockbuster hit!)

Yep, there's tons of evidence of people surviving thrusts. On the other hand, there are examples of people surviving cuts as well (though fewer, certainly). There's plenty of thrusting done with other weapons, too (longsword, for instance), where there is no mention of follow up cuts, implying that the thrust *should* finish the fight. This is one of those hazy areas: it's difficult to say what kind of stopping power the thrust would have in a fight, as there are so many variables. Obviously it didn't always work as intended.

I think Jack's analogy of the gunshot wounds is a good parallel.
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PostPosted: Sat 18 Dec, 2004 4:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Felix Wang wrote:
McBane's autobiography in Highland Swordsmanship suggests many thrusts were not lethal, nor did they end a fight. Of course, this is an old soldier talking, so some allowance must be made for exaggeration. At Blenheim, McBane receives four bullet wounds and five bayonet thrusts, and is left for dead. A couple years later, he has a duel with a Gascon in the Dutch service, and gives the Gascon a half thrust to the breast, then in the next flurry a thrust to the body, and finally a thrust to the belly. The Gascon lies down, but McBane does not say he died later, merely that he was "off the stage".


Yes, but Felix, you are failing to take into account that McBane is one bad muthah! Wink (I swear there needs to be a movie made about that man, one that is totally accurate to the writings with no creative liberties. It would be an action blockbuster hit!)

Yep, there's tons of evidence of people surviving thrusts. On the other hand, there are examples of people surviving cuts as well (though fewer, certainly). There's plenty of thrusting done with other weapons, too (longsword, for instance), where there is no mention of follow up cuts, implying that the thrust *should* finish the fight. This is one of those hazy areas: it's difficult to say what kind of stopping power the thrust would have in a fight, as there are so many variables. Obviously it didn't always work as intended.

I think Jack's analogy of the gunshot wounds is a good parallel.


Look at archeological evidence like that found at the Battles of Towton and Visby. Many of the subjects had experienced prior cutting wounds and had survived. Jack's analogy of the gunshot is a very good one (having had more actual experience with that than poking and chopping people with swords myself). It also touches on one of the inherent flaws in this type of analysis. Any analysis of the lethality of weapons techniques will be inherently flawed when statistics of who lived and who died are used. There really isn't any other way to do it, yet it won't give you definitive proof either. One of the biggest factors in survivability is the human psyche. Some people simply have a stronger will to live than others. Some are just simply a lot meaner and nastier than others. Some will take fairly minor wounds and give up the ghost. Others will endure severe injury and react with "Not today", or "You're coming with me."

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Esa Etelävuori





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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2004 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Patrick Kelly wrote:

Look at archeological evidence like that found at the Battles of Towton and Visby. Many of the subjects had experienced prior cutting wounds and had survived. Jack's analogy of the gunshot is a very good one (having had more actual experience with that than poking and chopping people with swords myself). It also touches on one of the inherent flaws in this type of analysis. Any analysis of the lethality of weapons techniques will be inherently flawed when statistics of who lived and who died are used. There really isn't any other way to do it, yet it won't give you definitive proof either. One of the biggest factors in survivability is the human psyche. Some people simply have a stronger will to live than others. Some are just simply a lot meaner and nastier than others. Some will take fairly minor wounds and give up the ghost. Others will endure severe injury and react with "Not today", or "You're coming with me."

The human psyche is the word here. I have been dealing with lots of elderly humans. And their mind is the first
which gives you the word of death. They just say, "I can't live", and then they die from the first disease/fall.
But the others say: "I might die but I still want to live, I'll fight for me!", and still they survive after many "near
the death diseases/accidents".

I'm sorry to say my Gradmother, which I loved deeply, was the first one-type. Ok, I understood, she fought
the 2nd world war and survived, but still her fight for "the fall" was inadequate. After all I have though, she
had the spirit of living it all through. I still see dreams of her almost every night. I really just miss her. Sad
But that's how the life's go. Someone's just fight and keep alive for long, and someones just die for first
"accident".
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2004 6:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Previously posted on Bugei Sword Forum in a very similar conversation...

Discussions like these are inevitably futile, since individual skill seems to play the biggest part in determining victory. Also, we only have our own skills to compare. I'm a fair hand with an epee or rapier and I'm in no danger of cutting my own foot off with a katana, but I'm neither Capo Ferro nor Musashi, nor is the average modern fencer or kendoka. If we could pull a Bill and Ted and go around gathering past masters of each individual style of swordsmanship throughout history and then pair them up in bouts to see how the styles, blades and armor stand up to one another, I'm sure we'd have some fantastic fights to study, but I'm not sure that any style would come out on top.

Incidentally, a kendoka friend of mine and I tried once to answer the rapier vs. katana question one fine San Diego afternoon when we were in college. He wore my fencing gear, I put on his kendo armor and we proceeded to cause each other pain for the better part of an afternoon. We discovered that if Capo Ferro and Musashi had fought, they both most likely would have died. With the dynamics of a fencing lunge, plus the ten additional inches my epee had over his shenai, I had a solid advantage in striking range, but it wouldn't have done much good in a real duel. Every time I'd lunge and hit him in the chest, he'd bring his blade down on my head or shoulders or arms for an almost simultaneous hit. Our conclusion was that many styles of swordsmanship just aren't compatible with one another and don't answer the threats that another style might pose. Our situation might have been different if we'd had other weapons, like a wakazashi for him and a main gauche or a buckler for me, but in the end, we were pretty evenly matched and both had several good bruises by day's end. But it was fun, even if we didn't come away any wiser for it. Big Grin

Thoughts? Comments? Accusations of heresy?

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides
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