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Jared M. Olson




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 10:50 pm    Post subject: The Evolution of the Sword         Reply with quote

Hello again. I have been pondering what little I know about the evolution of the sword and I am quite puzzled by one thing: the rapier. Now, it seems that sword production was limited by and catered to resources, abilities and of course, the state of armor of their day. For the first centuries the evolution makes sense, we being with relatively small, one-handed swords, which proceed to grow in length and cutting ability, and eventually we are left with large two-handed swords for hewing and stabbing alike. So how does the rapier fit into this as the successor to the large swords of the medieval age? I understand that they are quicker and more agile, but could a man with a rapier really stand up to a man with a large sword? And if not, then I fail to understand why the sword took a turn for the worse. My apologies to those who love rapiers, but am confused as to their existence. If anyone can help explain this and explain my error, please do.
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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Mon 09 Jan, 2006 11:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One theory that I have encountered and that somewhat makes sence to me is to look at the late 15 c longsword and the ways of fighting with them. But compared to what seems to be the case with the cneturys before the fightingstyle is getting more and more thrusting. (not at all exclusevly thrusting at all ,though.) This is evident in the form of the blades on the longswords of the later 15 c and in preserved manuals from the period. The crossguards on the longswords from around the turn of the century shows more complex hilts with fingerrings and thumbguards. If one looks uppon these indicators the transition is more evident than the first brief glance.

As for the question on Rapier vs. Longsword, well, from what period is the longsword. And what kind of blade do it have. even so it´s as usual up to individual skill mostly. The rapier is fast, realy fast. The longsword generally heavier, around a pound. To win the rapierfighter should move alot diagonaly and try to get around the longsword when there he/she should stab or if close use the hilt to smack into the opponents face. He/she could also grapple to get the foe to the ground for a easy kill.

Dirty, yes ... and effective.

Another thing is that the rapier turned out to be more of a civilian weapon. A lot of text talk about ruffians and streetthugs using them in their brawls and fights in the citys of the time.

Swordsman, Archer and Dad
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Joachim Nilsson





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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 2:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?"

It's not the weapon that counts. It's the man behind it and how he handles his weapon.
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 3:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Martin Wallgren already pointed out, the Rapier is almost exclusively a civilian weapon. It was used for duelling and self-defence.
It was perfectly suited for nightly ambushes - faster than any other sword-like weapon, it had more reach as well.
A true Rapier (not to be confused with a complex-hilted cut and thrust sword) was used for thrusting only (some schools taught cuts as well though). A stabbing wound is harder to treat than a cutting wound. The people back then were mighty afraid of punctured lungs - you had to be very lucky to survive such a wound.

Despite popular belief (greetings to Hollywood Cool) Rapiers were not used on the battle-field. Rapiers were not lightsabers and therfore useless against armor Eek! (sorry, I couldn't resist *g*)

I agree that there was probably a connection between that late longsword manuals and the new thrusting-fencing.
When you look at the Talhoffer plates you'll see still lots of cuts, but even these often resulted in a binding-action and eventually a thrust. It's simply faster and more effective in duelling. Even if you cut someone he might not be instantly disabled/dead due to the thick padded clothes worn back then. A thrust requires less effort.
It's quite difficult to get past the point of a Rapier......
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Michael Moss




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 4:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, as these gentlemen have already said, the Rapier was a civillian weapon, not a battlefield weapon. This, of course, puts you in an entirely different set of circumstances, for, as you may imagine, walking around the street with a great big heavy sword on your back would prove tiring, uncomfortable, unnecessary (if facing brigands armed with knives or cudgels... talk about overkill), and rather antisocial as you'd look like you're looking for trouble.
The rapier, by the way, wasn't quite as fast as many people imagine (the dui tempi speed more typical of the smallsword and late rapier), nevertheless, it was much longer than its other civillian competitor, the cut and thrust sword, which gave it a great advantage in reach.
Thus, things must always be looked at in their particular set of circumstances, which in this case make the rapier better than the longsword, but not so on a battlefield.
Many, for instance, scoff at the smallsword calling it a "toothpick" or other such unpleasant names. Verily, as its name implies, it can't stand up to a battlefield weapon, but, placed in its milieu, it will save you tripping kids in the street, knocking mugs off tables, or getting tangled into the curtains, it suits duelling greatly, and will swiftly dispatch the average thug without any trouble (unless he's got a pistol of course Wink )

Compare a snub-nosed .38 to a .50 caliber machinegun... Nobody's saying the snub-nose is better, but I'd think twice about shaking your hand if you walked around with a .50 cal!

La Garde meurt, mais ne se rend pas!
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Kirk Lee Spencer




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This question always makes me think of the last duel in the excellent movie "Rob Roy."

If you haven't seen it... you should!

ks

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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 7:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk Lee Spencer wrote:
This question always makes me think of the last duel in the excellent movie "Rob Roy."

If you haven't seen it... you should!

ks


I just saw that movie again last night on tv!
I wonder if the last duel is true to the facts. Liam Neeson was using a basket-hilt sword, but I couldn't figure out what kind of sword Tim Roth had in his hands. Don't know if that was Rapier, but it was at least a light cut-and-thrust sword.
The cuts were rather shallow, but Roth was almost twice as fast as Neeson. Excellent footwork there Cool
Maybe he didn't stab him because he wanted to play a little longer Wink
However, that duel was surely much more realistic than those shown in other movies.

Another great and rather realistic movie is The Duelists (at least when it comes to small-swords).
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Michael Moss




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wolfgang Armbruster wrote:
Kirk Lee Spencer wrote:
This question always makes me think of the last duel in the excellent movie "Rob Roy."

If you haven't seen it... you should!

ks


I just saw that movie again last night on tv!
I wonder if the last duel is true to the facts. Liam Neeson was using a basket-hilt sword, but I couldn't figure out what kind of sword Tim Roth had in his hands. Don't know if that was Rapier, but it was at least a light cut-and-thrust sword.
The cuts were rather shallow, but Roth was almost twice as fast as Neeson. Excellent footwork there Cool
Maybe he didn't stab him because he wanted to play a little longer Wink
However, that duel was surely much more realistic than those shown in other movies.

Another great and rather realistic movie is The Duelists (at least when it comes to small-swords).


I think it was supposed to be a smallsword, but I can't guess why he attempting all those cuts Confused

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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 7:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll respectfully challenge the basic premise of the question Big Grin

I would suggest that the history of these weapons is not neat enough to allow us to talk realistically about evolution in terms of the entire class of weapons. Within a given sub-category (rapiers, for example) we might see something like evolution, but it's a popular misconception that broad cutting swords gave way to another type, which in turn gave way to another type, and so on until we get the smallsword. That's akin to thinking that we started with the hammer, which was replaced by the saw, which was replaced by the screwdriver, etc. These tools are specialized to distinct tasks and are independent of each other. Keep in mind, after all, that cutting swords and sabers survived as combat weapons long after the demise of the rapier and smallsword. Also note that no less an authority than Oakeshott notes the many ancient weapons that were, essentially, rapiers.

Dedicated cutting and thrusting weapons served alongside each other throughout human history. You could make an argument that, for example, the design of the rapier was influenced by the estoc, which served alongside broad, double-edged cutting swords with acute points for thrusting. On the other hand, I don't think we can say that the two-hand swords of the 16th century have any relation to the large medieval swords. The weapons were used in very different ways, as I understand it.

So, while I think it's valuable to compare and contrast all these weapons and examine their design in the context of thier use, I think it's a dead-end to try to force them into an artificial evolutionary timeline.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)


Last edited by Sean Flynt on Tue 10 Jan, 2006 7:52 am; edited 2 times in total
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 7:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That rapier where not used on the battlefield is a slight oversimplification.
They where issued quite extensively to officers, artillery soldiers and others.

But these troops where not really expected to use them extensively in combat. Kind of like issuing pistols to present day medics and officers.
Sweedish Military Rapiers from 1640 to 1850;
http://www.armemuseum.org/foremal/blankvapen/varja/varja.html

The rapier has a number of advantages; mainly, that it is fast, and simple. Teaching someone to fight efficiently with for instance a sword and buckler or longsword takes a lot longer than teaching someone to fight with a rapier.
It is pretty "point and click"; the attacks are made more or less by moving into the opponent with your rapier in front of you;
In modern sport fencing rookies often do quite well compared to more experienced fighters.
Sliver notes the same in his "paradoxes of Defence"; Of two valorous men, one who has studied rapier fencing, and one who has not, the one that has NOT has the advantage.
Of course, the entire purpose of Silver's book is to discredit rapier fighting, but anyhow, it shows that the same happened back then.

"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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Michael Moss




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
That rapier where not used on the battlefield is a slight oversimplification.
They where issued quite extensively to officers, artillery soldiers and others.

But these troops where not really expected to use them extensively in combat. Kind of like issuing pistols to present day medics and officers.
Sweedish Military Rapiers from 1640 to 1850;
http://www.armemuseum.org/foremal/blankvapen/varja/varja.html/


Most often, rather than being "issued", many officers chose the gentlemanly smallsword being men of position... more of a social issue in my view.

Elling Polden wrote:
The rapier has a number of advantages; mainly, that it is fast, and simple. Teaching someone to fight efficiently with for instance a sword and buckler or longsword takes a lot longer than teaching someone to fight with a rapier.
It is pretty "point and click"; the attacks are made more or less by moving into the opponent with your rapier in front of you;
In modern sport fencing rookies often do quite well compared to more experienced fighters.
Sliver notes the same in his "paradoxes of Defence"; Of two valorous men, one who has studied rapier fencing, and one who has not, the one that has NOT has the advantage.
Of course, the entire purpose of Silver's book is to discredit rapier fighting, but anyhow, it shows that the same happened back then.


Do you think so? I believe the cut is more natural and instinctive to man than a lunge with extended arm... Maybe not the "poking" gesture some modern fencers use, but I believe a chopping cut (not a draw cut, or any more "scientific" method) is more instinctive than a thrust.
Now if we talk in terms of high-level swordsmanship... Well, all styles have their many refinements.
About Silver's quote... I respect Silver and believe he makes many good points in his works, nevertheless, and pardon my bluntness, I believe this assertion is nonsense. It absolutely denies the use of learning, and defies thus any notion of progress through training, which is evident in competitive fencing and has been so for the past hundred years.

La Garde meurt, mais ne se rend pas!
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C. Stackhouse




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's amazing to think how medieval Europe went full circle. They started with the spear and ended with the rapier etc..(essentially a mini one-handed spear)

But honestly, I think Michael Moss hit the nail square on the head. The rapier was a weapon meant for easy transportation (and in the case of the law abiding) a means of self preservation against the unruly thugs of the day. Just as the PPK (or some such pistol) is used today.

The rapier wasn't so much a regression in arms design but rather an adaptation.
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C. Stackhouse




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

made a mistake here. revised it further down.
Above all else, be armed

-Niccolo Machiavelli


Last edited by C. Stackhouse on Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:21 am; edited 1 time in total
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

@ Sean Flynt: I agree with your theory and I don't really see where our interpretations differ. Different tools for different jobs. Cut and thrust swords, Sabers and the like for military purposes (especially after the end of plate armor) while you have Rapiers and Smallswords for civilan defense/duelling Happy

@ Elling Polden: Some of these swords look more like real cut and thrust swords, the first one is quite similar to the sword the Munich townguards were using in the 16th century. However, I think you're right. I remember having read somewhere that soldiers used to wear smallswords/rapiers while being "engaged" in civilian things like partys, taking a walk and stuff like that. So when you had a date with a nice lady you were supposed to leave your military sword in the camp.
Hmm, so it appears that non-direct-combat troops used to wear these swords as well.
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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Moss wrote:
Yes, as these gentlemen have already said, the Rapier was a civillian weapon, not a battlefield weapon. This, of course, puts you in an entirely different set of circumstances, for, as you may imagine, walking around the street with a great big heavy sword on your back would prove tiring, uncomfortable, unnecessary (if facing brigands armed with knives or cudgels... talk about overkill), and rather antisocial as you'd look like you're looking for trouble.
The rapier, by the way, wasn't quite as fast as many people imagine (the dui tempi speed more typical of the smallsword and late rapier), nevertheless, it was much longer than its other civillian competitor, the cut and thrust sword, which gave it a great advantage in reach.
Thus, things must always be looked at in their particular set of circumstances, which in this case make the rapier better than the longsword, but not so on a battlefield.
Many, for instance, scoff at the smallsword calling it a "toothpick" or other such unpleasant names. Verily, as its name implies, it can't stand up to a battlefield weapon, but, placed in its milieu, it will save you tripping kids in the street, knocking mugs off tables, or getting tangled into the curtains, it suits duelling greatly, and will swiftly dispatch the average thug without any trouble (unless he's got a pistol of course Wink )

Compare a snub-nosed .38 to a .50 caliber machinegun... Nobody's saying the snub-nose is better, but I'd think twice about shaking your hand if you walked around with a .50 cal!


It's amazing to think how medieval Europe went full circle. They started with the spear and ended with the rapier etc..(essentially a mini one-handed spear)

But honestly, I think Michael Moss hit the nail square on the head. The rapier was a weapon meant for easy transportation (and in the case of the law abiding) a means of self preservation against the unruly thugs of the day. Just as the PPK (or some such pistol) is used today.

The rapier wasn't so much a regression in arms design but rather an adaptation.

Above all else, be armed

-Niccolo Machiavelli
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Michael Moss"]
Elling Polden wrote:

Most often, rather than being "issued", many officers chose the gentlemanly smallsword being men of position... more of a social issue in my view.

Most of the weapons on the above page where issued by the army to the troops, not bought by individuals. They where bought in bulk, and made after a royally approved prototype.

[quote="Michael Moss"]
Elling Polden wrote:

Do you think so? I believe the cut is more natural and instinctive to man than a lunge with extended arm... Maybe not the "poking" gesture some modern fencers use, but I believe a chopping cut (not a draw cut, or any more "scientific" method) is more instinctive than a thrust.
Now if we talk in terms of high-level swordsmanship... Well, all styles have their many refinements.


Hitting something is more instinctive. Fighting with a sword is not;
Stuff like blocking, feinting, or how to maneuver your sword in a fast and efficient manner.
We practice sword and buckler, my experience with rapiers is pretty limited. But I have the responsibility of teaching people to fight, and from my experience, a practiced sword and buckler fighter has VERY clear advantage over one that is untrained, even if he has the guts to attack; He will lack the coordination to make swift series of blows, to use his buckler efficiently while attacking, the footwork to keep himself from being hit...
Most of all, he will be confused because there are lots of different angles, and things to focus on.

In rapier fencing, both attack and defence are essentially matters of footwork. All the attacks come from the front, and all the blocks and binds are simple turns of the wrist or arm.
Also, it is simpler to sneak a rapier point through an opponent's guard by dumb luck than to hit a sword and buckler or rapier fighter with a swing.

It is also "faster" because the rapier attack is basically one "Step", while a sword attack is usually two or more; Step and strike, bind, control, enter with the final attack.

As for what is most efficient, they all get beaten up by a sword and shield fighter; But noone bothers to duel with shields, because it's kinda boring and involves more stuff to carry... Wink

"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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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wolfgang Armbruster wrote:

@ Elling Polden: Some of these swords look more like real cut and thrust swords, the first one is quite similar to the sword the Munich townguards were using in the 16th century. However, I think you're right. I remember having read somewhere that soldiers used to wear smallswords/rapiers while being "engaged" in civilian things like partys, taking a walk and stuff like that. So when you had a date with a nice lady you were supposed to leave your military sword in the camp.
Hmm, so it appears that non-direct-combat troops used to wear these swords as well.


They would wear them to battle as well, but it would not be a primary weapon; most of the fighting would be done with bayoneted muskets.
A paralell could be the short Katzbalgers carried by 16th cent Landsknects, A short, handy weapon to fall back on when you dropped your polearm.
After all, you spend A LOT more time carrying the thing around than you do fighting...

There where heavyer chopping blades as well, like the Pallasch. But by the end of the napoleonic war these where being replaced with sabres and rapiers...

"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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Michael Moss




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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 8:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I must admit I have no experience in sword and buckler fencing, so I'll take your word for it.

If I may correct you in one thing on your last post, by the time of the napoleonic wars the rapier was long dead and buried, and the smallsword had almost entirely disappeared as well except for duels, &c...
For what's heavy chopping weapons, how's a a Chasseur's sabre, or the 1796? I also love the cuirassier's latte... Great-looking sabres, those Happy

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 10:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The term "rapier" is a huge term, and can mean several things, just as there is not one type of longsword. That said, if we are referring to the "classic" long bladed, thrusting weapon, these were not any lighter than longswords, contrary to popular belief. Some of these weighed more than longswords, in fact, in the 3.5 lbs range. It is not until the heyday of the smallsword that you see "transitional" rapiers that become lighter.

Rapiers do cut, by the way. I'd say about a quarter of Capo Ferro's techniques with the rapier are cuts. I won't try to say that a rapier will sever a limb, but a solid cut to the unarmoured skull, forearm, or leg could cut deeply enough to end the fight, particularly if it cuts into the muscle.

As Elling pointed out, rapiers were indeed carried into combat, and were sometimes even military issued. Granted, some of these were with broader cutting blades, but many were no different than the so-called civilian blades. The sword, especially at this time period, was not a primary weapon, so it's role on the battlefield was already limited. Plus the rapier isn't nearly as limited in combat use as many people imagine. The rapier may not necessarily have been the best choice as a sidearm in combat, and may not have been as common as other swords, but that doesn't mean it was useless.

Sean put it best when he said that there isn't enough historical evidence to suggest a direct evolution to the rapier. That's an old Victorian mode of thinking. The rapier developed primarily in a civilian setting, and in a civilian setting it was developed primarily for unarmoured duelling.

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


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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 10 Jan, 2006 10:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling,
I agree with you that the rapier is only "faster" than some other styles because of the use of single time defense. Truth of the matter is that the rapier is really not any faster than most other weapons.

Having said that, I must respectfully and completely disagree with you with many of your thoughts on how the rapier is used. (And disagreement is why these discussions become interesting! Happy )

The rapier is certainly not any simpler than other swords. In fact, I would actually go as far to say that the rapier is harder to pick up for the beginner. There is a huge amount of subtlety to the art of defense with the rapier, and I don't think even George Silver understood that. (Not to mention Silver, while certainly understanding combat, seemed to have an agenda against Italians moreso than the rapier itself.) Remember that it was called the art of defense, not offense. The fact the thrust comes in a straight line does not make the art simpler, as you still have to deal with attacks from all angles, and you are not going to "strike" another blade out of the way, which is a more instinctive method of parrying.

I find that people pick up the longsword and sword & buckler much faster because they are more instinctive. Rapier is more scientific, which appeals to me, but doesn't come as natural to everyone.

Quote:
In rapier fencing, both attack and defence are essentially matters of footwork.


No more than in any other type of sword fighting.

Quote:
We practice sword and buckler, my experience with rapiers is pretty limited.


Please don't take this the wrong way, as I am not trying to be insulting, but have you had formal rapier training? I ask this because I've known a lot of people who've picked up the rapier and learned a few moves, then spent most of the time fencing trying to figure things out. This type of fighting is indeed limited, but that is true for all weapons. When the rapier is practiced as the full art that it is, under any myriad of historical masters, it is an incredibly complex and diverse system that allows the user to deal with any number of situations. Salvatore Fabris has some 300 pages or so devoted to the rapier, surely he would have run out of things to say long before then if the weapon was so limited? Even modern Maestros spend years and years of intense training and study before taking that title on... surely there has to be more to the rapier than simple jabbing and poking, yes?

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


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