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Daniel Parry




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 5:29 am    Post subject: Defensive Rapier Hilts         Reply with quote

This is just a thought I had this lunchtime popping into the Wallace Collection and wondered whether anyone had any thoughts. This may well be something people have thought about and written about already.

The more expensive cup-hilt rapiers of the 17th century often had pierced cups, forming sometimes very elaborate decorative patterns. Clearly this has two initial purposes : decoration ; and reduction in weight, as a cup guard could be quite heavy.

Something else crossed my mind today when looking at the size of the piercings in guards. In modern epee fencing and I would imagine when duelling with a cup-hilt, the size of the guard gives great protection to the hand, so much so that it affords you a greater scope of attack as the incoming steel can be taken on the guard while retaining your point in an offensive position. To the extent that you can to a degree use your guard 'actively' to block your opponent's steel. I would think the same applied to cup-hilts.

The piercings in many cup-hilts I've seen are of a quite similar size. They are obviously not too large or your opponent's point would reach your sword-hand. But they are very often just large enough to allow a few millimetres, or maybe even a centimetre of the incoming point (judging by the narrowness of rapier points) to penetrate the guard. I wonder was this deliberate ?

It struck me this could give you a nice little helping hand. Firstly, your opponent's steel could be momentarily controlled by your guard by being stuck through it. This could give you the second you needed to drive your opponent's blade away and counter attack either on an inside or oustide line. Secondly, given the extreme slenderness of many rapier points, you might break the tip or even a few centimetres off your opponent's blade. I would think even a broken rapier tip would be lethal against the body but it would greatly reduce light disabling attacks on the fencing arm, as well as affecting reach and upsetting your opponent's psychology.

Clearly the up-turned, rolled rims of some cup-hilts are designed to prevent a glancing blade from continuing to the extended arm or body. I just wondered whether pierced guards might also have had a more deliberate combat purpose to them than just decoration and weight. Any thoughts ?

A friend has a replica pierced cup-hilt, I might ask him to see what happens if he hits the guard with a narrow point (assuming he's prepared to risk damage that is)

Daniel
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Aaron Schnatterly




Location: New Glarus, WI
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 6:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting question you pose, Daniel!

I canít speak from exact experience, but I will first offer a tangential one, then look at your thoughts and comment.

I have two schlager-bladed swept-hilted rapiers that I use for period fencing. They were made by Triplette Competition Arms. For anyone who isnít familiar with a schlager blade, itís fairly heavy, diamond cross section, 1.5-2mm edge (if I recall correctly). The pics below show the hilts, but these are fitted with different blades.




The ends are blunted with archery blunts Ė heavy rubber tips that slip over the squared-off blade tip.

For the record, my experiences with Triplette have been excellent. I placed this particular order in the morning via phone. I had a lot of questions answered by a pretty friendly and knowledgeable individual. I received two calls by noon, one to clarify, and one to offer an alternative since something was not in stock in the color I had requested. The order shipped that afternoon.

It isnít uncommon for one of the tips to get caught in the V-shaped features of the hilt Ė happens a couple of times per session. When this happens, there are two possible outcomes. First, you gain momentary control over the opponentís weapon. Second, you catch the blunt, and it tugs the opponentís blade as it slips off (obvious when it happens) and the blunt remains stuck in your hilt.

Again, this is not an exact answer, but I think it does have some bearing on your original question. Could a tip get caught in the piercings? I believe so. Would you be able to control the opponentís blade? Possibly, for a split second. Would damage result? Perhaps, but I donít know how often sufficient shearing forces would develop. Were these things part of the reason for inclusion of these piercings? Speculative, but I would think it is plausible. Other pieces were designed as such Ė example: the upturned cross on a main gauche could be used to trap the blade by twisting and pushing away.

-Aaron Schnatterly
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Daniel Parry




Location: UK
Joined: 08 Apr 2005
Reading list: 39 books

Posts: 184

PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 7:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Aaron, that's exactly on point for what I was thinking about. I don't have an exact answer either.

It occured to me when writing it whether this would be something encountered by people who do historical fencing a lot, but then it also occurred to me that this particular issue of narrow points getting stuck wouldn't largely be encountered in any safe fencing environment because either blunts or sport fencing blades are used. Therefore it wouldn't arise, save for the point you make about blunts getting stuck in swept-hilts, from which you drew the same conclusion (experience) as I did about a momentary stopping of the blade (presumably also a nasty jarring vibration in your opponent's steel if the point hits a guard arm).

As the rolled rim cups show, such a protective or tactical measure certainly wasn't beyond the contemplation of armourers. Also as you refer to, the wide variety of left-hand daggers, serrated, three pronged, up-turned quillons, gloves with maille palms for seizing the blade etc etc all suggest that in the mind of the 17th century duellist and armourer any potential advantage was considered.

It's just a thought but interested what people think.

(PS although this would be a separate topic and not for this thread, I'd be interested at some future point to hear your opinions on period fencing with swept-hilts. Coming from a modern fencing background but collecting antiques, I tried fencing with a swept-hilt blunt once or twice. Lovely things though they are, I felt very conscious about the exposure of my sword-hand through the guard-arms. But I suppose many swept-hilts were of an era when it was a bit of cut and a bit of thrust rather than all thrust. I just kept imagining if it was a real one, and that needle point going through the back of my hand)
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Joe Fults




Location: Midwest
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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 8:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Danial,

I can't offer much to the discussion, but I have wondered about piercings and what they might be able to do.

I also noticed that my hand felt exposed when playing with swept hilts after owning a Pappenheimer for a bit.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Aaron Schnatterly




Location: New Glarus, WI
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Posts: 1,244

PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2005 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Daniel! Glad I could provide something useful for you. I will consider putting together some thoughts and perhaps some pics for a separate thread as you suggested. It'll be in the future, though... too much on my plate right now, and no access to my steel.

Joe - the two hilt designs I have, I use interchangeably. I pick up one, my friend the other, without much thought. Granted, these are not period pieces, but the points do enter the cage even with the blunted tip. I have never taken a hit on my hand with either, nor have I scored one on my opponent (and heck yes, I have tried!)...

I purchased one of each primarily so I would not have identical pieces in my, well, at this point, I suppose I can call it an armoury. Razz I had thought that I would really try to grab the Pappenheimer-styled one for the reason you mention, but I haven't noticed any significant change. Again, these are not accurate reproductions of period pieces; rather this has been my experience with these.

-Aaron Schnatterly
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(He is stronger who conquers himself.)
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