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Johannes Zenker





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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2022 3:31 pm    Post subject: Practice Weapons used in the Middle Ages         Reply with quote

Hello everyone, it's been a hot minute since I posted something here.

I've recently started wondering (more intensely than before) what implements the people who wrote our fencing manuals used for practice.

For later sources, especially after 1450 we often do have strong indications that the Feder was widely used (cf. illustrations in Paulus Kal, MS Goliath, Meyer etc.), yet fencing treatises prior to 1450 by and large only show swords that are not clearly distinct as blunted. The Renaissance era is quite a lot more transparent in that regard. We see narrower and wider Federn as well as wooden Dussacken in German treatises, Manciolino writes about practice with blunted swords and sharp swords alike.

Hence I'm wondering: Do we have any evidence as to what type of simulator/implement was used by Clericus Lutgerus, Fiore dei Liberi and Johannes Liechtenauer himself? We see the latter depicted with at least one (possibly) two Federn in his famous portrait, but what other evidence do we have to go on?

Do we have evidence that blunted or even sharp steel was widely used? Do we know if wooden swords were actually commonly used, as is often said?
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2022 3:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sources from Vegetius onwards talk about fencing with clubs. Sticks also appear in descriptions of legal proceedings after someone died in sword-and-buckler play in the late middle ages. Some of these sources also mention fencing with your sword in the scabbard.

I never wrote this up (its a lot of work and the fencers are not a receptive audience), so read the research literature by people like Sidney Anglo and Steve Hick and well-known primary sources like Vegetius, the Norwegian King's Mirror, the Regime of Petro Fagarola, and Dominic Mancini.

Edit: Matt Easton compiled some sources from England in a ScholaGladiatoria forum thread in 2010. Roland Warzecha may have something on his Patreon or in his video lessons.

Edit: also don't forget Viggiani and Swetnam

Quote:
How you should button your foiles for your practice.

To make your buttons take wooll or flocks, and wrappe it round in leather so bigge as a Tennis-ball, then make a notch within a halfe an inch of your woodden foile or staffe, but if it be an Iron foile, then there be an Iron button rivetted on the point, so broad as two pence, and take your button being made as beforesaid, and set in on the end of your Staffe or Foile likewise, and then take leather and draw hard upon it, and binde it with Shoomakers-ends of parck-thread in the notch, and another leather upon that againe, for one leather may bee worne out with a little practice.



So as late as 1617, many working-class people in England were fencing with wooden rapier foils (just sticks, or something with a hilt?). This continued into the 20th century in the form of singlestick. The trouble with blunt steel swords was that before the 20th century they were expensive, whereas every big farm or little village had people who could work down some round wood or planks into something suitable. I have not seen clear evidence for any kind of blunt metal practice weapon in Europe before the 15th century.

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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Dec, 2022 11:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is artistic evidence for use of wooden like clubs in tournaments, as well as dull swords without points. That would have been used by knights who could afford special armour for tournaments and in combination with plate armour.

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Johannes Zenker





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PostPosted: Mon 12 Dec, 2022 12:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for your input.

I asked Matt Galas and Roland Warzecha as well, and they each had at least some insight to provide.

Matt speaks of "mentions of 'espee rabbatue' (blunted swords) being used in the early 14th century", so I guess there must be some textual evidence for blunted steel in French sources of that time?
He also mentions "the practice of fencing with the flat, and [how] various accidents that happened are documented."

Roland also mentions Vegetius as the single source for wooden swords and, in keeping with his style of practice and interpretations, argues that the use of sharp swords may actually have been widespread, at least before the 15th Century/early Renaissance.

Guess it's time I delve into some more literature!
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Dec, 2022 5:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Although just to clarify, while early on its hard to tell when people are describing how they train and when they are proscribing how Vegetius said soldiers should train, by the 15th century we have sources like King Duarte of Portugal, Dominic Mancini (ScholaGladiatoria thread), and the deposition of John ffelerd (ScholaGladiatoria thread) which mention play fighting on foot with wooden weapons and are not trying hard to show off their classical learning. And we have other ancient sources for training with sticks, reeds, or wooden weapons, they just were not widely available in Latin in the middle ages.

Sticks and wooden weapons have lots of disadvantages, but blunt steel training weapons were not always available and affordable (and sharps are dangerous).

I would not be surprised if some people in cities in the 14th century fenced with blunt steel weapons, but I have not seen convincing evidence for that. If Matt Galas has seen such evidence, I hope he publishes!

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Last edited by Sean Manning on Tue 13 Dec, 2022 12:04 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Dec, 2022 6:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I found a translation of King Rene’s Tournament Book and thought I would quote the most relevant part:

Quote:
Item, the rebated sword should be in the form and manner hereafter painted, and similarly the mace.

Hereafter is shown the fashion and style of the sword and the mace.

Of the size and fashion of the swords and maces, there is nothing much to say except about the length and width of the blade. It should be four fingers wide, so that it cannot pass through the eyeslot of the helm, and the two edges ought to be as wide as a finger's thickness. And so that it will not be too heavy, it should be hollowed out in the middle and rebated in front and all in one piece from the crosspiece to the end, and the crosspiece should be so short that it can just block any blow that by chance descends or comes sliding down the length of the sword to the fingers. And it ought to be as long as the arm with the hand of the man who carries it, and the mace similarly. The mace ought to have a little rondel well riveted in front of the hand to protect it. And you may, if you wish, attach a light chain, braid or cord to your sword or mace around the arm, or to your belt, so that if it escapes your hand you can recover it before it falls to the ground.

As to the fashion of the pommel of the sword, this is at your pleasure. And the weight of the maces and the weight of the swords ought to be checked by the judges on the vigil of the day of the tourney. And those maces that are not of unreasonable weight or length should be stamped with a hot iron by the judges.


The whole translation: https://www.princeton.edu/~ezb/rene/renehome.html
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Dec, 2022 6:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Datini, an Italian merchant, in more than one of his sales lists "fencing swords" (spade da schermire), always sold in pairs, and with their scabbards.

This is from circa 1365.

I believe these are swords for practicing, most likely blunts.

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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Dec, 2022 9:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Augusto Boer Bront wrote:
Datini, an Italian merchant, in more than one of his sales lists "fencing swords" (spade da schermire), always sold in pairs, and with their scabbards.

This is from circa 1365.

I believe these are swords for practicing, most likely blunts.


That is very interesting, I was just thinking that the best information would be some sales record. Do you happen to know how much they cost?

Another question; when were Europeans capable of making spring steel? This seems to be very important for the development of training swords, and necessary for Federn(Feder is German for spring).
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Wed 14 Dec, 2022 12:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No, unfortunately there's no price, just the listing.

And spring steel for blades was available at least since the XIIIth century in Europe, if not earlier.

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 14 Dec, 2022 9:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Augusto Boer Bront wrote:
No, unfortunately there's no price, just the listing.

And spring steel for blades was available at least since the XIIIth century in Europe, if not earlier.

Yes, some Europeans have been making spring-steel blades since at least the 2nd century BCE (Philon of Byzantion + extant sword blades from Alpine lakes) the only question is when did they become available enough that some fencers started to use blunt steel practice weapons. Springiness definitely makes a blunt sword safer to thrust with (and increases its lifespan). The references in the Datini archive could absolutely be to blunt practice swords although its hard to understand why blunt swords would have black scabbards.

Edit: I think when someone with the right skills starts to research fencing in Italy from the 1200s to the 1400s they will find all kinds of things that are not quite the same as fencing in Prague or fencing in England. Until then we just have bits and pices like the bit of the Datini papers you found.

Swetnam speaks of iron foils, so it may be that many working-class fencers in England in 1617 used foils which we would think of as quite unfriendly to thrust with.

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Johannes Zenker





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PostPosted: Thu 15 Dec, 2022 4:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another question that kinda plays into the relevance or viability of blunt training weapons is protective gear and how it shapes the mode of training.

IIRC we have very little evidence for protective gear for training as well. We have some mention of padded gloves that sometimes reached to the elbow from Fechtschule-Style tournaments of the 16th Century (as well as some depictions I recall), but precious little for earlier periods.

Gauntlets may very well have been used to protect the hand while training, but as far as I understand, we do not know this.
Likewise there were no fencing masks. Special helmets for tournaments existed, sure, but that's another area than Bloßfechten.

As such, fencing to the blow (except for special occasions like fencing to the bloom at a Fechtschule event, though the use of force was still very much limited then ) is completely out and fencing to the touch may also not be the best option without head protection.
Thus it may be that the "advantage" of being able to make contact ""safely"" in freeplay wasn't as big as we make it out to be today, while other factors like caution and respect for the opponent's blade may have been emphasized even more than today (cf. also this article detailing various accounts related to that question.

I have done a lot of freeplay without protective equipment (particularly with S&B), though never with sharps (club won't let me, also don't have a sharp arming sword yet), so I can't directly comment on the viability of that approach yet. It does apparently lead to interesting insights though.[/url]
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Thu 15 Dec, 2022 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:


The references in the Datini archive could absolutely be to blunt practice swords although its hard to understand why blunt swords would have black scabbards.



If you're carrying them around town from place A to place B, you surely don't want to walk around with a bare blade. Town guards would pretty quickly subdue you. It would be like walking with a revolver in your hand. Much safer if it's in the holster.

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Last edited by Augusto Boer Bront on Fri 16 Dec, 2022 9:22 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Dec, 2022 9:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A blunt sword is less dangerous than many tools people in a late medieval town carried every day, and I don't know of a lot of evidence for practice swords needing to be transported in medieval or early modern Europe. Then and now, kit was normally kept at the training place (and anywhere in a traditional town is a 20 minutes' walk from anywhere else, so neighbours would get used to Antonio going to Stefano's house in the next street to fence on Friday nights). For example, Don Duarte suggests keeping a variety of wooden weapons so you and your friends can train at armoured fighting. If anything, its the scabbard which raises questions whether the sword or sharp or blunt!

Edit: Duarte of Portugal's Regimento pera Aprender Algunas Cousas D'Armas (written before his death in 1438) after Hick p. 66

Quote:
Later he returns to his house, and there he has arms of fine steel (armas de fynos ferros), but for other men he has there lances and axes and swords of wood (lanças e fachas e espadas de pao) ... and if in eight to ten days there is no one with whom to practice, // He may rehearse with anyone with whom he wants.


In the 16th century, the rules for Fechtschule at Prague say that the weapons belong to the Cutler's Guild and any broken steel weapons must be replaced at the organizer's expense. By the late 16th century we have references to or prints of racks of practice weapons at fencing schools.

Edit: and if you have to carry several practice weapons, you tie them in a bundle or up or put them in a sack or case right? Easier and less likely to draw attention.

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Last edited by Sean Manning on Mon 19 Dec, 2022 9:41 am; edited 1 time in total
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Fri 16 Dec, 2022 9:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The point is that at 50 meters distance a town guard won't be able to discern if it's a blunt or a sharp sword, and will tackle you regadless, they are not taking chances.

Swords are often allowed in Italian cities, just keep them in the scabbard. Again, a dude walking around with a bare blade would raise lots of suspicion, and perhaps even be perceived as a thug that is up to no good.

Also, why do you assume that the weapons have to be kept at all times in a fencing hall? What if the studends prefer to carry them from home? Scabbards make perfect sense, and I don't see anything strange with them being used with training swords, really.

Also there's XIVth century statues, for example in Cividale, where if there is an altercation, there's a more severe fine if done with a bare blade compared to one in the scabbard.

Again, I don't really see the oddity of having training swords coming with their scabbard.

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 16 Dec, 2022 10:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't seen a mention of whale bone (baleen) weaponry yet. They were certainly used during tourneys and I wouldn't be surprised if they were used like modern nylon swords in practice.

To add on to the theme there is also a paper from the Netherlands which argued certain archaeological finds of leather armor were practice gear. The finds include leather vambraces of popular imagination.

https://oud.drechtsteden.nl/download/files/fF9zY29wZT1zaXRlfGZpbGVPYmplY3Q9MTE3Njk1MzI0OXxfY2hlY2tzdW09ZDU2YjQ2YTcwYjMxZWJiYzc4ZGFlNjYyYTliNGY1ZTlkN2RmNjRmODM3ZGQ4MTE5ZmFhMjZkNzJkNzlmNTk4OXw%3D/leather-in-warfare-late-medieval-leather-armour-from-excavations-in-the-netherlands-marloes-rijkelijkhuizen-and-marquita-volken

A conjectural sketch of the leather and textile training gear is included:

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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2022 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah yeah, the famous reconstruction where they mistook a leather cuisse for a chest protector. Fun times =).
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2022 2:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Augusto Boer Bront wrote:
The point is that at 50 meters distance a town guard won't be able to discern if it's a blunt or a sharp sword, and will tackle you regadless, they are not taking chances.

Sounds like a scenario out of the 21st century USA not trecento Tuscany! The watch are your neighbours right? Marco the shoemaker and Francesco who runs a tavern. They have a good idea of who in their neighbourhood is normally active when carrying what, and can ask questions or raise the hue and cry if they see something suspicious.

I provided sources from the 15th and 16th century where the host provides practice weapons. If this were an article not a forum post, or if I already had transcribed some of the texts and located some of the pictures, I would have given chapter and verse, but I gave enough information to find them if you check standard references like Sidney Anglo's book and well-known primary sources.

Edit: the famous print of a fencing school at the University of Leiden with racks of foils, swords, wooden dussack, guns, and staves on the wall is from 1610 and is by Willem Swanenburgh (one link to a photo)

Edit: we can invent all kinds of stories why a blunt sword might have a scabbard (maybe the cutlers and furbishers wanted to get paid for making them?) but I am just saying that most practice swords to not have them so its weak evidence against interpreting these swords as blunts.

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Ryan S.




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2022 8:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I find that Sean makes a convincing case for doubt. I think that economics back up the idea that most practise weapons were without scabbards and kept at the fencing school. First, a scabbard is expensive, I know that today they can cost as much as the sword. I agree it is unadvisable to carry even a blunt sword point up through a city, however, one can always hold a blunt sword point down by the blade. With everything that is based on expense, it is very much YMMV. Second, a practice sword is a major expense, so much that requiring every new student to buy one would be a bad business decision. It would also make sense if most of the fencing practice took place at the school. If fencing is happening elsewhere, it is probably a duel or a some other type of real combat. Also, in times when people carried a real sword, they might not carry their practice sword because they are already carrying a sharp one. Could the fencing swords be duelling swords?

Also, I found a reference in a German Saga about Dietrich of Bern referring to blunt swords. A prince insists on using sharp swords instead of blunts in a match with his brother.
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Sun 18 Dec, 2022 10:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:


Edit: we can invent all kinds of stories why a blunt sword might have a scabbard (maybe the cutlers and furbishers wanted to get paid for making them?) but I am just saying that most practice swords to not have them so its weak evidence against interpreting these swords as blunts.


Sure, we can invent all the stories we want, it doesn't change the fact that they are called fencing swords. So they are not regular swords.

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Johannes Zenker





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PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2022 4:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan S. wrote:
Also, I found a reference in a German Saga about Dietrich of Bern referring to blunt swords. A prince insists on using sharp swords instead of blunts in a match with his brother.


You wouldn't happen to know when the references to blunt swords were first recorded?
I have since had more people speak of references to wooden training swords, but without citing specific sources, which just won't do.
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