Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Differences in Holding Rapier and Smallsword Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
David Fictum





Joined: 12 Aug 2006

Posts: 22

PostPosted: Sun 12 Nov, 2006 8:53 am    Post subject: Differences in Holding Rapier and Smallsword         Reply with quote

Hello all,
In my research of the 17th century, I have come to read that the actual holding of Rapier and Smallsword is different. But I wish to learn more. So far all I can figure is that the small sword arms are not suppose to be wrapped around by the finger, rather the fingers are suppose to pinch the ricasso. Then I assume that means the arms of the Rapier are supposed to have the fingers go through them. Could I get some more detail on how to properly hold both the smallsword and rapier? How do both these different hold affect the performance of the use of the swords in combat?
View user's profile Send private message
Martin Wilkinson





Joined: 05 Mar 2006

Posts: 155

PostPosted: Sun 12 Nov, 2006 11:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Rapier is generally held with the index finger over the ricasso, giving better control of the point.

Smallsword, i haven't got a clue, not my weapon at all... too pointy, so is the rapier, but i can't avoid the damn things...

"A bullet you see may go anywhere, but steel's, almost bound to go somewhere."

Schola Gladiatoria
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 4,146

PostPosted: Sun 12 Nov, 2006 2:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi David,
Yep, you've got it right. In the rapier you pass your finger around the ricasso (see our Call to Arms: The Italian Rapier article for an illustration of this). With the smallsword, the ricasso is pinched between the thumb and the index finger. I guess a way to describe it would be if you were pressing a button on a remote control... that would sort of be the grip you would be using for a smallsword.

Both methods of gripping are to facilitate better tip control, though the rapier, being typically longer, requires the slightly different grip.

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


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Tim Harris
Industry Professional



Location: Melbourne, Australia
Joined: 06 Sep 2006

Posts: 161

PostPosted: Sun 12 Nov, 2006 5:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The arms in some smallswords, particularly later ones, are actually too small to get a finger through. They seem to have become a stylistic hangover.

Inserting a finger through the arm where possible is tempting, but it is a great way to get a broken finger when disarmed.
View user's profile Send private message
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Sun 12 Nov, 2006 9:11 pm    Post subject: Re: Differences in Holding Rapier and Smallsword         Reply with quote

[quote="David Fictum"]Hello all,
Quote:
In my research of the 17th century, I have come to read that the actual holding of Rapier and Smallsword is different. But I wish to learn more. So far all I can figure is that the small sword arms are not suppose to be wrapped around by the finger, rather the fingers are suppose to pinch the ricasso. Then I assume that means the arms of the Rapier are supposed to have the fingers go through them. Could I get some more detail on how to properly hold both the smallsword and rapier? How do both these different hold affect the performance of the use of the swords in combat?


Hi David, I practice both small sword and rapier and I believe I can help you out. You are correct in that the small sword is pinched between the thumb and index finger. More interestingly is that the small sword can be held supplinated (palm up knockles down) or pronated. This allows you to dip the point behind the other mans sword and tag him. The small sword was mostly used by itself rathe then with an offhand weapon because of its lightness and quickness.


The rapier was used almost always with and off hand weapon because it is slower. The off-hand weapon was usually a dagger. The dagger being lighter and quicker is mainly used to parry and occasionally close in. It was also used with a cape, a cane and a second rapier ( known Case or Florentine). The rapier was always used pronated (palm down, knuckle up). There is a number of ways to grip it and it often depends on the guard. I have one rapier that I hold pistol grip with one finger around the quillon as it passes through the swept hilt. I also place the thumb on the quillon for stability on this one. I have another that I feel more comfortable holding an assassins grip, both finger and middle finger over the quillon with the blade passing through the middle. Thumb hangs loose on this one and the stability comes from the double fingering. The key aspect to both grips is that the pommol rest on the underside of the wrist. You see, the rapier is too heavy to hold supinated. To use it effectively you must rest the pommol under your forearm for support.

The use of these two different grips and their weight differences makes for a very different type of fight. The tip of smallsword tends to move around a lot more. In contrast with the rapier which the tip tends to stay fixed and you move the guard around. Try to picture a funnel with the point aimed at the target. As a result the rapier tends to make more use of the quillons which are used to move the other blade aside and also the dagger. normally when you attack with the rapier you will twist your hand from the pronated position into the supplinated position in order to employee the quillons effectively and catch the other blade, then twisting back into a pronated position, perhaps catching the other blade there too. With the smallsword, you make more use of the forte (lower and middle part of the blade) to move move the opposing blade around.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 4,146

PostPosted: Mon 13 Nov, 2006 8:14 am    Post subject: Re: Differences in Holding Rapier and Smallsword         Reply with quote

Hi Vassilis,
I'm afraid much of what you posted are common misconceptions, and some of it just isn't true.

Vassilis Tsafatinos wrote:

The rapier was used almost always with and off hand weapon because it is slower.


The rapier was very commonly used by itself: Every single Italian manuscript starts with the single rapier, and spends far more time talking about it alone than with any off hand weapon. I would agree that it is more common to see rapier taught with an off hand weapon than with smallsword, but I would in no way conclude that it was almost always done this way.

Also, if the rapier needed an off hand weapon because it was slower, this would contradict what period masters said. Fabris constantly says that the off hand is easier to decieve and slower to use, and that the sword will be quicker to maneuver around it. It is only a modern affectation of people to seem to believe off hand should always be used to defend because too many modern rapier fencers are "playing" rather than studying.

Quote:
a second rapier ( known Case or Florentine).


The term "Florentine" is a modern term, seemingly made up by the SCA. I doubt there is a single reference to it in regards to two swords before 1980.

Quote:
The rapier was always used pronated (palm down, knuckle up).


This is a strange notion. The guard quarta is palm up, and is in fact far more suppinated than the guard carte in smallsword. All attacks to the inside are defended with the true edge, and because of the nature of how it is gripped, the hand will suppinate far more than when using a smallsword.

Quote:
I have one rapier that I hold pistol grip with one finger around the quillon as it passes through the swept hilt. I also place the thumb on the quillon for stability on this one. I have another that I feel more comfortable holding an assassins grip, both finger and middle finger over the quillon with the blade passing through the middle. Thumb hangs loose on this one and the stability comes from the double fingering.


What are these gripping terms? I have never seen a historical reference to a pistol grip, and especially not to an assasin's grip.

Quote:
You see, the rapier is too heavy to hold supinated. To use it effectively you must rest the pommol under your forearm for support.


This doesn't make sense... how do you parry to the inside? And while rapiers can be much heavier than many people realize, they aren't THAT heavy.

Quote:
The tip of smallsword tends to move around a lot more. In contrast with the rapier which the tip tends to stay fixed and you move the guard around. Try to picture a funnel with the point aimed at the target. As a result the rapier tends to make more use of the quillons which are used to move the other blade aside and also the dagger. normally when you attack with the rapier you will twist your hand from the pronated position into the supplinated position in order to employee the quillons effectively and catch the other blade, then twisting back into a pronated position, perhaps catching the other blade there too. With the smallsword, you make more use of the forte (lower and middle part of the blade) to move move the opposing blade around.


The differences between smallsword and rapier have far more to do with the fact that the rapier is typically longer, and also uses many cuts. Smallsword is purely thrust oriented, and smaller, thereby changing certain techniques. Rapier has a preference for attacks and defense to be done in a single fencing tempo, whereas smallsword has a preference (due to its length and lightness) for defending first and attacking second. And rapier makes no less use of the forte: Rapier masters practically never stop talking about to use of the forte.

And relying on the quillons of your rapier to catch another rapier blade is another example of a modern practice. Find me one example of historical master who actually advised to do so ON PURPOSE. I'd love to find the reference. To do so takes far too much of a movement of the arm, which is always slower than the movement of the tip, and a good rapierist can escape that before it's even happened.

I hope this post doesn't come across as rude, Vassilis, because it isn't meant to be. But what I see here are common misconceptions that I hear too often, and they're pet peeves of mine. They are based on backyard fencing and not studying what people actually did at a time when they really used these things for self defense.

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


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Mon 13 Nov, 2006 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I fence with the Rapier once a week in a group of 10 to 15 people in Brooklyn NY. There is another affiliated team in NJ that has 20 to 30 people and one more in Long Island that has about 10 people. Some of these people have been fencing for 20 plus years and have fenced many diffrent styles and practicly have manuals memorized as they refer to them all the time. I have learned from them and their methods seem to work well.

People normaly start learning with a single rapier to learn the basics, the dagger comes in later when the bassics have been established. Perhaps that is why the masters focus on single rapier in the manuals you mention. I can not imagine holding the rapier supplinated (palm up too long), holding pronated and resting the pommol under the forearm really gives an advantage.

Perhaps I am not communicating correctly or am otherwise not being clear. The terms I use are rather lame. Would happen to have a link to some of these manuals so I can look at it. Thanks.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 4,146

PostPosted: Mon 13 Nov, 2006 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vassilis Tsafatinos wrote:
I fence with the Rapier once a week in a group of 10 to 15 people in Brooklyn NY. There is another affiliated team in NJ that has 20 to 30 people and one more in Long Island that has about 10 people. Some of these people have been fencing for 20 plus years and have fenced many diffrent styles and practicly have manuals memorized as they refer to them all the time. I have learned from them and their methods seem to work well.


I can't comment on that because I don't know any of these people. Maybe they're spot on, maybe they're not. Regardless, I'm not sure why you bring this up. The amount of time they've been doing it in the modern day doesn't change what period fencing masters said.

Quote:
People normaly start learning with a single rapier to learn the basics, the dagger comes in later when the bassics have been established. Perhaps that is why the masters focus on single rapier in the manuals you mention.


No, its because single sword was used all the time. What would a person do if they lived in an area where carrying both sword and dagger at the same time was illegal? Heck, what if they just don't like using the off hand? I only use a dagger on occassion myself, even against fencer who like to use the dagger.

Quote:
I can not imagine holding the rapier supplinated (palm up too long), holding pronated and resting the pommol under the forearm really gives an advantage.


Then you are discarding over 75% of the most FUNDAMENTAL techniques, because only one of the four guards has the hand held in pronation, whether you're talking about the Italian or the Spanish schools. Cappo Ferro and Fabris both describe gaining the advantage of your opponent's sword to the inside first, describing it in quarta (i.e. palm up). Now, that's a technique that works to either side, meaning if the opponent's blade is on the outside, you need your palm down, if the opponent's blade is on the inside, you need your palm up.

If you are resting the pommel under the forearm this means you are using far too much of your arm to control the sword. The angle of the blade is controlled more by the wrist than forearm (though you need both).

Quote:
Would happen to have a link to some of these manuals so I can look at it. Thanks.


There used to be an english translation of Capo Ferro's work at the Tattershal School of Defense's website, but I can't seem to find it at the moment. You can also find a published version of the work through Greenhill publishing called Italian Rapier Combat: Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro' (see our books section for a link)

You can also find Tom Leoni's awesome translation of the work of Salvatore Fabris (in my opinion one of the best written manuscripts of all of the surviving manuals, made incredibly accessible through Tom's fantastic language skills) through Chivalry Bookshelf. The book is called The Art of Duelling. Again, see our books section for the link (since all books bought at Amazon through our links give a portion of the money back to this site).

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


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 4,146

PostPosted: Mon 13 Nov, 2006 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

By the way, it is worth noting that Capo Ferro's treatise makes a big deal about staying in terza, which is a position that puts your hand as if you were shaking someone elses hand. This is the most ideal guard, according to him, and should be used almost exclusively until it is time to change the hand position for defense. In other words, the guard he recommends for generic use is neither in supination nor pronation.
Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Differences in Holding Rapier and Smallsword
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum