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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 1:52 pm    Post subject: An excellent article on the definition of a "rapier&quo         Reply with quote

Tom Leoni wrote this excellent article a little while back, but has recently gone back and updated it a bit. It includes a nice little challenge, offering a $100 bounty if you can provide a bit of evidence for a certain "fact" that gets thrown around a lot. Happy

http://www.salvatorfabris.com/WhatIsTheRapier2.shtml

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


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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 6:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for posting that. A thought provoking article indeed...

As far as I understand these matters, the problem is that we are trying to define something (the rapier) that was never uniquely identified back then. Maybe there was no such common name for all those swords at the time for good reasons...

Personally I tend to think of rapier in terms of specific techniques. Not excluding the cut, but favouring thrusts in general, dealing with an unarmoured opponent, with a single handed weapon and optionally a companion weapon. Of course you could argue that I.33 describes just that Happy So adding a specific time-frame and context of use as the author does makes good sense.

To me a rapier is anything that can be used, and is used, effectively with these techniques. Defining the name according to use and not shape seems more robust to me as the shapes vary tremendously (and the photos in the article are an excellent illustration of that, it's not just hilts but also blades that vary). Of course the use varies as well, but maybe less so?

I'm not really knowledgeable in rapier fighting, but I suspect that the techniques exposed in the manuals require/favour a certain balance and length of the weapon. Not a precise one of course, but there could be some acceptable limits? I would really like to have some stats about period weapons (not just balance point, weight and lengths, but maybe more importantly inertia or equivalently pivot points), but I'm mostly sure now that those do not exist.

That's the closest I can think of to classifying weapons according to their use: classifying them according to their balance. Well, I guess this gives me something to endeavor for the next 40 years or so Wink

As to the bounty I'd better leave it to the experts Laughing Out Loud

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James Holczer




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 9:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Under the context of that article, I think Mr. Leoni’s money is pretty safe. Tom makes an excellent point in the following quote:

“These characteristics were mixed and matched at the time, as surviving examples prove; which is further evidence that Italian swordsmen of the time thought of a sword as a sword--with a longer, shorter, thinner, wider, lighter, heavier, military or civilian blade perhaps--but a sword nonetheless.”

The above statement, in my opinion is dead on balls accurate. I think at times certain elements of the WMA and sword collecting community get a little carried away by trying to rigidly pidgin hole the definition of what we now term as a rapier. As Mr. Leoni points out, it is apparent that the period masters refer to the type of sword used within their fencing systems as spada, meaning a sword with two edges and a point. This definition covers an awful lot of ground.

Jim Holczer - Student
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Allen Johnson





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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 8:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

but what about when they use spada and its a sword with a sharp tip and little to no edge? Such a weapon will certainly change your method of use than if it had edges. Or the blade mass is so small that cuts result in next to no damage to bare skin, much less wool covered targets.
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 8:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen Johnson wrote:
but what about when they use spada and its a sword with a sharp tip and little to no edge? Such a weapon will certainly change your method of use than if it had edges. Or the blade mass is so small that cuts result in next to no damage to bare skin, much less wool covered targets.


Then you rely more on thrusting techniques. Happy The point of the article isn't that a sword that you suggest could do more than it's capabilities. The point is that we modern people are far too black and white with our definitions. We tend to think of renaissance swords as being either a "rapier" or a "sidesword", and that one is completely exclusive of the traits of the other. We think, "if it's a rapier, it can't cut well". Well, sometimes that's true, sometimes it isn't, and we shouldn't make such broad stroke assumptions just based on what modern people use for terminology.

Last night I bouted with a student where I used a medieval sword, and she used a rapier. I confined myself purely to Italian rapier techniques, and it worked perfectly fine. (we video taped it, maybe I'll edit it later today and put it up on a hosting site). I'm becoming more and more convinced these days that the so called rapier fencing manuals are not actually so specific: They are fighting manuscripts that happen to use the rapier as the pedagogical tool. The principles are the same with just about any weapon, though the finer points will have to be modified based on the specific traits of the weapon (such as whether you rely more on thrusting or cutting).

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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 9:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I most certainly would not compare my knowledge to the others in this thread, but only to share experiences of my own for whatever they are worth with my Arms & Armor Italian Three Ring Rapier which as you know has a very narrow blade.

This past October while at Shane Allee's bottle cutting gathering I did in fact cut clean through water filled plastic cat litter jug, that was both very large in size and thick in plastic. Not that I would compare a plastic jug to a human body by any stretch of the imagination, I also had another plastic jug that was a 4 gallon jug of very thick plastic that I used the same rapier on and it cut clean through all except for a total of 1 and a half inches of material, in other words it was cut in half except for hanging by a small flap. Others witnessing these cuts could not believe their eyes, one person said, "A Jug Like That, Not With A Rapier I Would Never Have Believed It if I had Not Seen It With My Own Eyes!"

For whatever it is worth or maybe "not worth" I just thought I would toss this in the thread, for those of far more knowledge than myself to make of it what they will.

Sincerely,

Bob
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Randall Pleasant




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 10:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From Tom's article we can note the following:

1. The word "rapier" was used by the English to describe a type of sword with a thin blade suitable mostly for thrusting. In other words, a rapier is not a good cutter.

2. "Rapier" represented a very narrow definition to the English.

3. "Spada" was used by the Italians to describe all swords with two edges capable of cutting.

4. If shown a rapier, as defined by the English, it is very possible that an Italian would have identified the sword as a rather specialized sword unsuitability for military use.

The foundation of all sciences is a good clean system of classification of the phenomenon being studied. By extending the narrow English definition of "rapier" to include almost all one handed swords of the Renaissance period it appears that Toms article is an attempt to do the opposite for the modern science of defense. Therefore, I cannot help but question the value of extending the definition of "rapier" since it confuses rather than clarifies. What is the value of such a definition if readers don’t clearly understand what type of sword is being discussed? It bears repeating ad nauseam that moving from narrow, well defined, definitions to more general less defined definitions is not good science. The modern study of swords and swordsmanship does not have a problem with being far too black and white with definitions. Rather the problem is that we don't have clean, narrow, well defined classifications for the large group swords discussed in the article. To argue otherwise one would have to dismiss the benefits of Ewart Oakeshot classifications. For those swords that are not covered by the English definition of rapier why not used the terms already used by many scholars in the field today, such as "side sword" or "cut & thrust"? Both of these terms allow scholars to more clearly understand the type of sword being discussed.

Ran Pleasant
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 11:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

With all due respect, Randall, I think you missed the point of the article. Nowhere in the article does it say we shouldn't use modern categorization. The whole purpose of the article is to challenge the current MODERN form of categorization, which in many cases causes more myths than helps. It also says Tom's preference to use the word "rapier" in a broader sense, but does not say that we should not categorize based on more specific criteria.

Quote:
What is the value of such a definition if readers don’t clearly understand what type of sword is being discussed?


What is the value of making up definitions if they are based on modern opinion instead of historical fact?

Let's look at this from a different angle: Let's say Oakeshott never created his classification, and what we did instead was divided medieval swords by two types: The single hand swords and the two-hand swords. This is actually very common for people who are not acquainted with Oakeshott to think in those terms because it seems logical to do so. But then we start seeing people say, "Two handed swords are heavier than one handed swords," or "a two handed sword is designed to fight plate armour, and a one handed sword is designed to fight mail", or "two handed swords are more powerful, one handed swords are more agile." Hopefully we can all agree that such statements are far too broad and general, as there too many different swords that defy each and every one of those comments.

Yet that's EXACTLY what people do with the terms "rapier" and "sidesword", the later word not even being a period term. And personally, I hate the term "cut and thrust" sword, because it immediately implies that "one sword only thrusts, the other does both". Again, a black and white view. I hear myths all the time about, "the rapier does x,y,z" and "the sidesword does x,y,z" without any sort of historical evidence other than "common sense" (just as "common sense" would tell us that great swords weighed 50 lbs).

Quote:
Rather the problem is that we don't have clean, narrow, well defined classifications for the large group swords discussed in the article.


I somewhat agree with that. I do think that a good classification of Renaissance swords would be immensely helpful, and I happen to know that Tom would agree. My only issue with any major classification is the tendency to focus too much on stats and miss the big picture, but that happens with Oakeshott's system as well. In that respect, no classification is perfect, and we'll just have to live with that.

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Martin Wilkinson





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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 11:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What i think is needed is for someone to do an Oakeshott with "Rapiers" and define certain blade types, so for example the wider blades more suited to cut and thrust are type I, the really narrow blades with sharp points only are type II, etc. That might help clear up the mess of what is a rapier, because as Bill said, (using his example) it's not as simple as saying one handed swords do this and two handed swords do that, there are many different types of each, and they need to be defined to help people understand them better.

I hope what i said makes sense.

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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 5:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting discussion. It's becoming clear as more research is done that the English had longer, more thrust orientated "rapiers" earlier than anyone else. However, the other main country that used the term rapier, Germany, used it to refer to something very akin to the contemporary Italian spada, so even historically rapier meant many things to many people at many times.

Incidentally, English rapiers are not great cutters but are certainly useful cutters. Anyone who claims otherwise has obviously never been hit with one.

Terms like Sidesword and Cut and Thrust Sword are problematic for several reasons. Sidesword appears to be a curator's definition but is at least useful in distinguishing the earlier Italian spadas which are demonstrably shorter and broader than the later ones. However, what's wrong with the word spada?

Cut and Thrust Sword is extremely misleading as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to refer to the sword otherwise called the Spadroon, a sword that combined the properties of the broadsword and the smallsword. It should never be used to refer to 16th century swords.

I am completely convinced that there are three distinct populations of "Spada". If you compare the size of single handed swords with the height of the user this becomes quite clear. In fencing treatises, medieval arming swords are fairly consistently 55% of the height of the user, 16th century spadas are between 60 and 70% of the height of the user, the ratio increasing over the century and 17th century rapiers are fairly consistently over 75% of the height of the user. A figure showing this will appear in an upcoming book that I've mostly written. The three distinct populations are obvious and dramatic.

Cheers
Stephen

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Dec, 2006 9:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Last night I bouted with a student where I used a medieval sword, and she used a rapier. I confined myself purely to Italian rapier techniques, and it worked perfectly fine. (we video taped it, maybe I'll edit it later today and put it up on a hosting site). I'm becoming more and more convinced these days that the so called rapier fencing manuals are not actually so specific: They are fighting manuscripts that happen to use the rapier as the pedagogical tool. The principles are the same with just about any weapon, though the finer points will have to be modified based on the specific traits of the weapon (such as whether you rely more on thrusting or cutting).


I got around to getting that video up. You can view it here:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8428781260330923822

It certainly doesn't really prove any hard facts, but it does show that the techniques that are considered specifically "rapier" techniques really aren't as specialized as they are often made out to be.

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Jean-Carle Hudon




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PostPosted: Fri 08 Dec, 2006 6:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Mr Leoni for that article. It explains in great part why weapons known to many language groups as rapiere, including stouter bladed weapons, encounter modern reclassification when discussed in english. I really hope that this will help to dissipate some confusion about curator labels and such, which discussions seem to be ongoing for some years now in english language forums.
I would not have gone so far as to post a reward for information , as I have not gone through all the sources you refer to in such a comprehensive manner, but the readings I have done since I began fencing in the 80's, and visits to museums in the Netherlands, Great Britain,and of course North America, lead me to think that you will not soon be disbursing that hundred dollars.
Again, many thanks.
Jean-Carle Hudon

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PostPosted: Fri 08 Dec, 2006 12:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess the reason I popped out the post I did was as an example that perhaps these "thrusting" rapiers were used in the "cut" more often than modern day rapier thinkers and teachers thought?

I am posing a question and "not" making a statement, as I would certainly not be the person to know this kind of information.

Bob
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Randall Pleasant




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
What is the value of making up definitions if they are based on modern opinion instead of historical fact?


Although Toms is using the historical term “rapier” he is doing so in a non-historical manner. In other words, Tom’s definition is, in fact, a modern opinion. But the problem is not that Tom’s definition is a modern opinion. The problem is that is it is a move towards a more general level than was used historically.

I can give you an example that removes a great deal of the confusion. But first let me point out that I am not suggesting that we adapt these terms, they are used only as an example. Albion has two swords in their Maestro Line named the “Capoferro” and the “Marozzo”. The Capoferro is clearly what the English would have called a rapier. The Marozzo is clearly what the Italians would refer to as a “spada”, or what is often referred to as a sidesword or a “Cut & Thrust” sword. Calling both of these swords rapiers just adds confusion because a historical term is being used in a non-historical manner. When people visit the Albion web page there is absolutely no confusion about what type of sword is being discussed. Think of the confusion there would be in the Albion sales department if both swords were named the "Rapier".

Tom’s use of “rapier” adds future confusion when the discussion moves to the cutting abilities of swords. A sharp sword similar to Albion’s “Marozzo” would indeed be a very good cutter since it has the blade mass. Of course one has to cut with the part of the blade that does have good mass, as Tom points out in his article it is not the tip. This is true even for a type XVa sword, such as Albion’s Talhoffer. A sharp sword similar to Albion’s “Capoferro” would not be a very good cutter since it lacks the blade mass. To the best of my knowledge there is not a single historical case of someone dying from a cut from a sword similar to Albion’s “Capoferro”. Since Tom’s definition of “rapier” includes both the Marozzo and the Capoferro should we say that rapiers cut well or should we say that rapiers don’t cut well? There is not a correct answer due to the confusion added by the term “rapier”.

Clearly the Albion web site has a better and less confusing classification than is offerred by Tom's article. Again, I will suggest the need for a classification system that is completely non-historical. The classification system needs to be based solely, 100%, upon the shape of the blade. Oakeshott’s classification is so effective because it is not historical. I would encourage Tom to reconsider his work and do for the swords being discussed what Oakeshott did for earlier swords.

Ran Pleasant
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 1:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Randall,

I'm sorry, but again I think you've missed the point.

The article DOES NOT say we shouldn't use modern terminology. That's not even what the article is talking about. It says we're using the word rapier incorrectly and drawing false conclusions that have no historical evidence. I happen to agree that there needs to be a form of categorization based on rapier blades, but that's not what the article is about.

Quote:
The Marozzo is clearly what the Italians would refer to as a “spada”


Actually, so is the Capo Ferro. Wink In fact, the sword in the Capo Ferro manuscript is called, by the master himself, a "spada".

Quote:
Since Tom’s definition of “rapier” includes both the Marozzo and the Capoferro should we say that rapiers cut well or should we say that rapiers don’t cut well?


We shouldn't say EITHER! That's the point! We shouldn't say what a rapier can and can't do because we're making gross generalizations that simply aren't true much of time time. If I made a generalization that broad about someone's nationality, you can bet that I'd be in a lot of trouble, so why make a generalization that broad about something we're supposedly passionate about?

Quote:
Tom’s use of “rapier” adds future confusion when the discussion moves to the cutting abilities of swords.


And if someone defines the "rapier" as a sword that doesn't cut very well (which I know I certainly have in the past), then they are misrepresenting history, because that's only true for SOME swords that are called "rapiers". I would hardly call the sword in Saviolo's manuscript a sword with limited cutting capability, but the manual still says "rapier".

It would be one thing if the weapons were used today and the definition has evolved, but they aren't. The weapons have been archaic for centuries now, and if we are to discuss a *historical* weapon, then we need to understand what the context was in *history*. If we use a historical term (i.e. "rapier"), then we need to understand what it meant at the time. If Again, though, I agree that a modern classification would help immensely so that we can discuss them as modern people without implying non-historical facts. (i.e. that the "rapier" is a poor cutter)

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Randall Pleasant




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 2:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Quote:
Since Tom’s definition of “rapier” includes both the Marozzo and the Capoferro should we say that rapiers cut well or should we say that rapiers don’t cut well?

We shouldn't say EITHER! That's the point! We shouldn't say what a rapier can and can't do because we're making gross generalizations that simply aren't true much of time time. If I made a generalization that broad about someone's nationality, you can bet that I'd be in a lot of trouble, so why make a generalization that broad about something we're supposedly passionate about?


Of course we should say what a sword can do. How else are we to make useful interpretations of the works of the historical masters? There is a significant difference in the cutting abilities of these two types of swords. In noting the physical attributes of swords, their cutting abilities, their thrusting abilities, etc., one is not making a gross generalizations, rather one is making very specific statement about the swords. A sharp sword similar to the Marozzo can take off an arm or a head. On the other hand, a sword similar to the Capoferro cannot. These differences are easily and clearly seen in test cutting on meat and bone. Noting the abilities of a given sword is a requirement for the proper study of the use of that sword, it is part of the interpretation of the use of that sword.

Ran Pleasant
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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 3:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall,

Once again you have fixed on a piece of information that supports the view you already hold (that view being the one presented by John Clements in his book Renaissance Swordsmanship) and you steadfastly refuse to listen to any evidence that might suggest a different view. Then YOU accuse others of being unscientific!

I have pointed out that although English rapiers were generally longer and thinner than contemporary weapons used in Italy, the swords that the Germans called rapiers were not. German rapiers are very solid weapons and very fine cutters (I had the privilege of handling quite a few German rapiers in the Wallace collection a couple of years ago). In fact the German rapiers were almost identical to the weapons being called Spada in contemporary Italian manuals, weapons not dissimiliar to the Albion Marozzo.

Even among English sources, the weapon that Saviolo calls a rapier is broad bladed enough to cut very well. I used to prune 1-2" tree branches with my blunt "Saviolo" rapier. The English translation of Di Grassi also shows the interchangeability of the words spada and rapier at this time.

As I also earlier stated, although some rapiers are not great cutters, anyone who claims that some rapiers can't cut has clearly never been hit by one. I defy anyone to get hit in the head with three pounds of steel and be in any fit state to continue fighting.

And can we just let the term "cut and thrust sword" die a natural death when referring to 16th century swords. A cut and thrust sword is a spadroon, a sword that did not exist until the 18th century. The use of the term to refer to 16th century swords is grossly anachronistic and highly misleading.

In short, the term rapier was used historically to refer to all of the types of weapons that the Italians called a spada and that Tom is classifying as a rapier. Trying to fix on one piece of information, that English rapiers were generally longer and thinner than contemporary Italian spadas is simply selective use of available information and as such is poor scholarship.

Stephen Hand
Editor, Spada, Spada II
Author of English Swordsmanship, Medieval Sword and Shield

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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 5:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well like I said, I know what I have cut with my Italian 3 Ring Rapier from Arms & Armor and it's only .8 at the quillon and I had several people from this website witness some of my cutting. Though I am "No" expert on the rapier by a long stretch, I do know what I have cut and what I can cut with a long thin rapier Exclamation

Sincerely,

Bob

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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 8:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The question is whether we should stick to the English masters' definition of rapier or attempt to produce our own modern one. As for me, I'm in two minds about Tom's definition because it sets out with the admirable goal of removing the artificial distinction between rapiers and side-swords/"cut-and-thrust" swords but in the process it makes the definition so broad as to become nearly useless because it would practically include almost all straight-bladed Renaissance one-handed swords.
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Dec, 2006 9:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Pleasant wrote:
Of course we should say what a sword can do. How else are we to make useful interpretations of the works of the historical masters?


By going on what the historical masters said, not by making up our minds first and putting that filter over the historical masters' words. Does Liechtenauer say that his style absolutely must be used with an Oakeshott type XVIIIb, and that no other blade will do? No. That's ludicrous. He says a sword that can cut and thrust that can be used with one hand if necessary but with a long enough grip for two hands. That's the only criteria. So when we look at Renaissance masters, who in general were far more articulate and precise in print than their medieval counterparts, why should we assume that the manuals depicting rapiers require that their swords have XYZ traits and no other? The reason I posted the video above with me fencing using Fabris's style with a medieval arming sword was to show that just as sword types are not black and white, neither are fencing systems. Fabris's techniques are principles for a greater system, one that can be applied to a multitude of weapons. He uses a rapier as a pedagogical tool, but a student of Fabris should easily be able to adapt those skills to other hand to hand weapons (and we know that Fabris taught more than the rapier).

Quote:
There is a significant difference in the cutting abilities of these two types of swords. In noting the physical attributes of swords, their cutting abilities, their thrusting abilities, etc., one is not making a gross generalizations, rather one is making very specific statement about the swords.


Quote:
A sharp sword similar to the Marozzo can take off an arm or a head. On the other hand, a sword similar to the Capoferro cannot. These differences are easily and clearly seen in test cutting on meat and bone. Noting the abilities of a given sword is a requirement for the proper study of the use of that sword, it is part of the interpretation of the use of that sword.


Noting the differencese of a particular sword is important, yes. Knowing the difference between a longsword, a bastard sword, a greatsword, and a two-handed sword, is not so important, considering that they can all be the same thing or all different. Again, I'm agreeing that having a modern system of classification is a welcome thing. But I'm also not buying into the idea that we should be altering the historical meaning of words: That's historically irresponsible. And yes, giving the term "rapier" a definition that is comfortable to you, but not making the concession that this is a modern definition, is altering the historical meaning.

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


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