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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > "Flos duellatorum": Blade handling Reply to topic
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D. Nogueira




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Joined: 26 Aug 2006

Posts: 42

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 7:12 am    Post subject: "Flos duellatorum": Blade handling         Reply with quote

Hi all, this would be my first post here, and firstly I must apologize for the faults in my english, since this is not my primary language.
I also apologize for what it seems to me as a stupid question, but my burnt out brain can´t find an answer! :-)

It has come to my attention so many plates in this great book (Flos Duellatorum), depicting the fighters handling the blade section of their swords for further control/handling. Even a couple of plates show a fighter grabbing his opponent's blade.
Was this practice done bare handed? Were some kind of leather gloves (Or any other material) normally used to achieve this?

On the other hand, if no protection was used whatsoever, should I imagine that these swords, designed for the cut and thrust, were not as sharp as I firstly imagined?
I have a spadona-like replica myself, which I use for practice and can be perfectly handled as depicted in the book... but I consider it to have no sharpness at all. It surely can´t cut paper cleanly, nor the skin on my hands (At least during handling).

Thank you very much for any feedback!
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Sean Belair
Industry Professional




Joined: 08 Aug 2006

Posts: 147

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 8:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

probably leather gloves, unfortunately no plate i have seen shows gloves.
my group had a test cutting accident with a cut hand from the A&A german bastard sword. our study group leader was teaching a friend of his how to cut and the guy grabbed the blade without thinking and put a cut into his palm and fingers. very little pressure was applied with a bare hand but it still cut.
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Eric Allen




Location: Texas
Joined: 04 Feb 2006

Posts: 207

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 9:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't have a suitable sharp to confirm with, but I have heard that you can hold the blade without gloves, even an especially sharp blade, as long as you hold it by putting pressure on the flat of the blade.
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 10:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Allen wrote:
I don't have a suitable sharp to confirm with, but I have heard that you can hold the blade without gloves, even an especially sharp blade, as long as you hold it by putting pressure on the flat of the blade.


As long as the hand doesn't shift forward or back it might be reasonably safe and one would also avoid having the blade twist inside one's grip.

I would be most worried when thrusting should the hand slip back or forward or if the sword received a violent blow.

The degree of risk might have been acceptable, using the right technique, when one was facing the greater danger of an opponent trying to kill you with his sharp sword.

In a modern training context it would seem like a much greater risk made worse if one is just learning how to do it.

And then there is sharp and there is SCARY sharp. ( Just my opinion as I don't have the practical experience to affirm anything with certainty: Only what seems logical with my limited experience. )

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Bryce Felperin




Location: San Jose, CA
Joined: 16 Feb 2006

Posts: 552

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 11:12 am    Post subject: Re: "Flos duellatorum": Blade handling         Reply with quote

D. Nogueira wrote:
Hi all, this would be my first post here, and firstly I must apologize for the faults in my english, since this is not my primary language.
I also apologize for what it seems to me as a stupid question, but my burnt out brain can´t find an answer! :-)

It has come to my attention so many plates in this great book (Flos Duellatorum), depicting the fighters handling the blade section of their swords for further control/handling. Even a couple of plates show a fighter grabbing his opponent's blade.
Was this practice done bare handed? Were some kind of leather gloves (Or any other material) normally used to achieve this?

On the other hand, if no protection was used whatsoever, should I imagine that these swords, designed for the cut and thrust, were not as sharp as I firstly imagined?
I have a spadona-like replica myself, which I use for practice and can be perfectly handled as depicted in the book... but I consider it to have no sharpness at all. It surely can´t cut paper cleanly, nor the skin on my hands (At least during handling).

Thank you very much for any feedback!


Speaking from experience and practice I can tell you that yes, you can grip the blade with bare hands or gloved. Essentially, you first have to stop your opponents blade by a block or sometimes a parry, then you grip around the edge using your fingers and not your palm. If you have a solid grip, then your opponent can't pull it away. Even if he does, if you palm isn't in contact with the edge, you won't get cut. The goal is immobilize your opponent's sword while you are doing something else nasty to him. Bonus points if you get your opponent so wrapped up in trying to get his sword away from you that he isn't concentrating on what YOU are doing. If you let it become a wrestling contest over his sword, then you've lost already.

In summary, you first stop his sword, then you grasp it (don't "grab" it though), then you hit him with your sword, pommel, guard, etc.

If you and your opponent are practicing German Longsword styles, then you both throw your swords away and go to grappling. :-) (Old joke us Italian Longsword students use)
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D. Nogueira




Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Joined: 26 Aug 2006

Posts: 42

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies! Honestly, before asking this question, I thought the answer was going to be either one of these:

A) Don't mind the plate drawings! Those guys always wore some kind of hard leather gloves (or some kind of gauntlet) which allowed them to accomplish the crazy task of grasping their opponent's blades.
And yes, those type of swords ("Spadonas", or great war swords optimized for the thrust) usually had nasty-sharpened edges.

B) No, those kind of swords were not much sharpened as to easily cut skin upon contact, because their lethality relied more upon their acute point than their blade cutting capability, so they could be handled without much danger of receiving a nasty cut.

I didn't imagine that some answers would contemplate the fact of the swords indeed being sharp, and a fighter trying to actually grasp the blade with an unprotected hand! (Though leather glove or no leather glove, a sharpened blade may inflict serious damage anyway)
I would consider this a dangerous move in the already dangerous business of fencing! At least, I would admire someone with enough cold blood as to successfully perform this kind of movement without being hurt.
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Bryce Felperin




Location: San Jose, CA
Joined: 16 Feb 2006

Posts: 552

PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 4:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Nogueira wrote:
Thanks for the replies! Honestly, before asking this question, I thought the answer was going to be either one of these:

A) Don't mind the plate drawings! Those guys always wore some kind of hard leather gloves (or some kind of gauntlet) which allowed them to accomplish the crazy task of grasping their opponent's blades.
And yes, those type of swords ("Spadonas", or great war swords optimized for the thrust) usually had nasty-sharpened edges.

B) No, those kind of swords were not much sharpened as to easily cut skin upon contact, because their lethality relied more upon their acute point than their blade cutting capability, so they could be handled without much danger of receiving a nasty cut.

I didn't imagine that some answers would contemplate the fact of the swords indeed being sharp, and a fighter trying to actually grasp the blade with an unprotected hand! (Though leather glove or no leather glove, a sharpened blade may inflict serious damage anyway)
I would consider this a dangerous move in the already dangerous business of fencing! At least, I would admire someone with enough cold blood as to successfully perform this kind of movement without being hurt.


Bear in mind that sharpness is not too much of a worry if:
a) You grasp it right with out bringing the palm into direct contact with the blade.
b) You stop the opponent's blade first with your sword so you can grasp it when it's inert.
c) That you don't wait for your opponent's reaction to you capturing their blade, but act decively immediately.
d) Be willing to let go or drop it if the circumstances demand you do so (such as already grappling).

Also be aware that if you mess up and grab it bare handed and your palm comes into contact, it won't hurt or cut deep unless your opponent draws it back or pushes the blade forward. Small cuts, even from the sharpest blade, are small concern if in the process you are killing your opponent. :-)

There is also a technique where you can hook it with your arm so that it TOTALLY immobilizes the captured blade, thereby not allowing them to draw or push it. Remember, most longsword fighters would have been wearing either heavy clothing or armor, so this wouldn't of been as dangerous as it sounds either.

Also note that in a battle you wouldn't be worrying about the blade's initial sharpness any more since after a little use you'd have nicks and dullness to it from hits on armor or into bone or due to blocks and parries. Of course nicks cause their own problems since enough of them make your blade act as if it's serrated, which is something you have to worry about even when sparring with dull blades.
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Sep, 2006 6:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, just went back to the original post and I just noticed that I misread it: I jumped to the conclusion that you were talking about halfswording were you grab hold of your own sharp blade with your off hand to better control the point when trying to find gaps in an opponents' armour.

The way one holds a sharp blade should be similar in both cases I think ? Just make sure you re-read my earlier post keeping in mind what I had in mind and see if it still makes sense to you.

These things happen when one reads what one expects as opposed to what is actually written. Blush Laughing Out Loud

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Nicholas Zeman





Joined: 09 May 2005

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Tue 12 Sep, 2006 11:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a Fiorist myself, I think I can add somethign to this discussion. We are essentially talking about 2 places in the manuscript where the grabbing of the blade happens:

1. In employing "half-swording" where you have one hand on the hilt and the other on the blade in the middle
2. In grabbing your opponent's debole (end of the blade) to control his weapon


First of all, when "half-swording" in the unarmored section, Fiore specifically says that these techniques are "better done in armor than without" which means that when you have an armored gauntlet on, it's no problem to grab the sword blade. Second of all, I strongly suspect that the swords were generally not sharp all the way down, as modern ones are sometimes made. Vadi says that the sword should be sharpened three or four fingers from the tip, which means it doesn't need to be super sharp in the middle of the blade, where contact with the other sword might take place. So I think we have a distorted view of how sharp a sword needs to be. I have done some thrusting from the half-sword with my Albion Mercenary and Atrim 1506, both very sharp all the way down, and I did get some minor cuts on my hand, not really enough to disable me but it did hurt a little.

As far as grabbing your opponen't blade, well if you have controlled it to a stop it's really not that hard to do, and you don't risk serious damage to the hand as long as you don't try and fight him for it. If you have bare hands and you're afraid of getting cut, you can even push the sword laterally off of yours, it won't be as assured of a hit as when you grab it, but it will give you a tempo to hit the other guy, and that's what this play is all about. I wouldn't hesitate to grab any weapon by the blade if it meant taking down the other guy and saving my life.
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Keith Nelson




Location: Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

Posts: 44

PostPosted: Tue 12 Sep, 2006 12:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also, I think we have to remember that Fiore's accounts of unarmoured duels with other masters consist of him wearing "nothing but a doublet and gloves of chamois" and that specific mentality of what is unarmoured may permeate his use of sword disarms & "half-swording" (which he shows in the unarmoured sword in two hands and sword in one hand).

However, something to keep in mind is if you can immobilize the blade of the other person, then grasping it is much simpler. Also, I find that the grasp is there to keep you from being slashed while you do unto them, so the impetus to grasp it despite some slight superficial cuts on the hand is pretty high. Now, in the half-sword, you're 95% of the time wearing gauntlets, so it's a bit of a moot point. There are plenty of better tactics to use in unarmoured combat, so the half-sword is both rarely shown and rarely used when unarmoured.

And, as Nicholas points out, there may be some degree of variance in the sharpening of the swords and there quite likely would be different swords and or blade profiles used for unarmoured versus armoured combat (Fiore and Vadi both show a bizarre armoured combat sword with an unsharpened area for grasping in the halfsword...can't remember if a similar weapon is shown in any of the German treatises...)

Keith
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Sep, 2006 10:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As with so many things, there are multiple factors one has to consider.

One of the often neglected aspects of grasping a blade is this: Not all swords are the same. A slender, thrust oriented blade such as the Oakeshott Type XVII is going to lend itself to half-sword techniques much more easily than a broad cutting blade with a thin cross section such as an Oakeshott Type XIII.

There's evidence that gloves were worn, but there's plenty of evidence that people fenced barehanded as well (such as in illustrations of many period manuscripts). Some of the points above have already been addressed, but let me recap some for simplicity (and add some of my own) in addition to the issue of blade type:

1. Pressure is primarily applied to the flats, not the edges of the sword
2. The hand is stationary, and not sliding around on the blade
3. In grabbing an opponent's sword, the sword cannot be in motion when attempting to grasp it
4. Let's face it, medieval hands are not the same as modern hands. As much training as I do with swords on a daily basis, my hands still probably spend more time on a keyboard than they do on a hilt. Not to mention I've lived a very easy life compared to my ancestors. My hands don't have the same kind of calluses that Fiore most likely had.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
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Keith Nelson




Location: Kalamazoo, MI, USA
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

Posts: 44

PostPosted: Wed 13 Sep, 2006 9:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
4. Let's face it, medieval hands are not the same as modern hands. As much training as I do with swords on a daily basis, my hands still probably spend more time on a keyboard than they do on a hilt. Not to mention I've lived a very easy life compared to my ancestors. My hands don't have the same kind of calluses that Fiore most likely had.


I think this is definitely a key point. My hands are softer than they were when I did physical labor over the summers and certainly softer than they'd be if I was riding horses, using weapons as a profession, and such-like. Great point, Bill.

Keith
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Sep, 2006 9:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I' sure that time had exacted its toll on the blades I examined, when I had the occasion of handling real ancient weapons in a private collection I found that blades could be touched with a bare hand without any risk of a cut.
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Carl Goff




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Sep, 2006 3:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And, if you're willing to consider not-quite-period solutions, heavy leather gloves with mail over them pretty much eliminate the risk of cuts.
Oh, East of sands and sunlit gulf, your blood is thin, your gods are few;
You could not break the Northern wolf and now the wolf has turned on you.
The fires that light the coasts of Spain fling shadows on the Eastern strand.
Master, your slave has come again with torch and axe in his right hand!
-Robert E. Howard
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