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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 18 Jul, 2006 8:34 pm    Post subject: Rapier cutting ability         Reply with quote

This was touched on in another thread, so I thought I'd continue the discussion here. It has been remarked on many occassions that rapier either do not cut, or else they don't cut well. Part of the problem with this is that not all rapiers are the same. A more accurate statement could be "Not all rapiers cut," or "Not all rapiers cut well".

If one looks at examples of later period rapiers, it is clear that the edge geometry of most of them do not allow heavy cuts, appearing mostly as long epee blades. As I understand it, certain Baroque rapier masters of the 18th and 19th centuries comment on having a preference for rapiers that retain some cutting ability, implying that it was common during this time period for rapiers to be edgeless. (I am far less versed in these later rapier masters myself, though, than I am of earlier ones, so I'm actually basing this off of discussions I've had with people who are far more knowledgable in that area.)

But if we look at rapiers from the 16th and early 17th century, there are many with fairly keen edges. Not every single one, but far too many to discount the cut. Perhaps the edges aren't like a typical Oakeshott Type X, but edges that could certainly ruin someone's day. These are not swords that one could easily dismember a limb with, but certainly one could cut down to the bone of a forearm or sever the muscle tissue of a leg with such swords. I've done plenty of test cutting with modern replicas that were made by people who've been very faithful to originals (Arms and Armor and Angus Trim in particular), and have found that they can make pretty devastating injuries with historically accurate techniques. I've tested against both meat and canteloupe before it was ripe (so the husk was still very hard).

And we certainly can't ignore period masters. Cappo Ferro's manuscript feels like almost every other technique mentions a cut as an alternative technique to the thrust. Fabris less so, but he still has many cuts, and spends a good amount of time dealing with guards and counters against a cut. Even though the styles show a thrust dominant method, the cut is still clearly valued.

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PostPosted: Wed 19 Jul, 2006 1:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for bringing this up as a separate topic.

What you say is according to my impression as well.
Although I have not studied the written work of the rapier masters to any extent, I have looked at a fair number of rapiers.
Those I have handeled number more than a hundred.
Of these I have documented just a small number to great detail, but enough to feel my impression is not just uneducated guessing or whishful thinking.

This is just to provide a background for my thoughts.

Rapiers are enourmously varied. It is not diffiult to understand why no one has attempted to make a typology of rapier blades.
I would say that there are as many variations to rapier blades as there are Oakeshott types with subgroups, and this is if one would indeed be able to make such a wonderfully flexible typology as Oakeshott dd for the meideval sword.

Adding to this we have the historically documented fact that what we call a rapir today is not neccesarily describing the same swords as was meant by contemporary users back in their time.
Historical texts clearly show that the very same swords were called both rapeirs and thrusting swords by different people. These same weapons were issued to the military.

If we want to state that a true rapier cannot cut, that is only making the definition of the rapier very exact: any weapon that retains some cutting capability is by that definition not a rapier, but a cut & thrust sword. It might be a way to define modern interpretation of the rapier in the study of the historical masters, but it clearly leaves many weapons rather undefined that by their contemproraries might well have been called rapiers.

The ability to cut to the bone is something that seems rather charactersitic for many of those fairly slim blades with well defined edges. When you heft them you can feel how they respond well to cutting motions, generating both speed and power with the typical heft of a sword well capable of delivering effective cuts. If aimed at the arms, legs, tendons in the joints or the neck and face of an opponent, the cut might not be instantly killing, but enought to incapacitate, or slow your opponent down enugh so that you might more easily deliver a killing blow by dagger or a well aimed thrust. Again, I am no fencing master, but handling these weapons you get a strong imporession of substantial and capable weapons.

I have made a few rapiers myself, and also some late medieval style swords with blades of the same mass and general character as some rapiers (if you disregard the style of the hilt of some of the late 15th C civilian swords, the blade length, balance and blade charactersitics were really quite like that of many rapiers). These weapons Ive made were definately capable of cutting. Perhaps not amputating cuts, but enough to offer effective options in a fight. Tests I have done with these show that a cut can sever muscle and even leave marks in the bone. Such a cut is no trifle.

Those blades that have less agressive cutting capablity might still cut well enough to give a lacerated opponent casue to think twise about continuing the fight. In a situation where the rapier is the weapon of a civilian, it might be a good idea to be able to hurt your opponent enough to scare him of without actually killing him outright.
If he still means you serious harm with his nose hanging loose or his face slit open, you always have the option of running him through or running away...
Again, speculation.

Then there are many, many rapiers that do not have really effective edges: if they are to be used as killing weapons, you would have to poke, stab or skewer your opponent somewhere that bleeds copiously.

A study of rapier blades describing their variation and characteristics would be very interesting.
We often tend to take much for granted with these weapons.
Stiffness, sharpness, weight, balance and placing of pivot points can quite surprice you.
Not all rapiers are what you might think, just from looking at photographs.
When you get to gently heft them you get a feelings of both surprice, recognition, understanding and wonder. The very same sword can float, defying gravity and thrust with incredible control but also turn quickly in narrow curves and deliver cuts with good force.
One would perhaps think that the forward pivot point would typically be placed very close to the point on a rapier. I have found that many have the pivot point placed quite far back. I think this is to make the blade move more naturally around an opposing blade in fencing, but also help in making the blade faster as it is moved in circular motions during preparation and dlivery of a cut.
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Jul, 2006 3:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having seen the cutting ability of a rapier via the hand of the one Mr. Bill Grandy (turning a cantalope into fruit salad), very good points and
observation in all accounts.


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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:

One would perhaps think that the forward pivot point would typically be placed very close to the point on a rapier. I have found that many have the pivot point placed quite far back. I think this is to make the blade move more naturally around an opposing blade in fencing, but also help in making the blade faster as it is moved in circular motions during preparation and dlivery of a cut.


By "forward pivot point", do you mean the pivot point associated with the cross, or that associated with the ricasso where your index lies when fingering the blade, as I understand was the common method of use (possibly even with two fingers, I recall having seen an illustration of that but I can't remember where...).

I'm asking the question since those two points could be quite far appart, given that the mass of the weapon is mostly concentrated near the handle. In fact that's what I measured on my Milanese Rapier from A&A, which is unfortunately the only real rapier (in as much as it should be called a rapier and not a cut & thrust sword, but that is another question) I ever handled...

That could explain some of what you describe, since depending on the action of the hand you could have both a pivot point favouring tip control, relative to your finger, and a pair of pivot point giving a much smaller pendulum, associated with the back of your hand, allowing for quick circular motions.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 4:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
If we want to state that a true rapier cannot cut, that is only making the definition of the rapier very exact: any weapon that retains some cutting capability is by that definition not a rapier, but a cut & thrust sword. It might be a way to define modern interpretation of the rapier in the study of the historical masters, but it clearly leaves many weapons rather undefined that by their contemproraries might well have been called rapiers.


This is pretty much where I stand on the issue in terms of how I define rapiers. I realize that in the Renaissance that sword terminology in terms of types was far more generic and that swords with cutting ability were almost certainly called rapiers. However, the difference between weapons that can cut reasonably effectively versus those which are pretty much entirely dedicated to the thrust is sufficient to warrant a different name for the sword.
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
However, the difference between weapons that can cut reasonably effectively versus those which are pretty much entirely dedicated to the thrust is sufficient to warrant a different name for the sword.


Perhaps, but if you mean the word rapier to include the swords depicted in Cappo Ferro, Fabris, Giganti, Thibault, Carranza, Pallavicini, Narvaez, Alfieri, or any of the masters who are typically considered "rapier" masters, then this definition can't apply. All of these masters make regular use of the cut, and talk of defenses against the cut. In fact, despite the fact that these masters are more reliant on the thrust, is is quite common that the cut is the first attack, with a thrust only being an optional version of the technique.

The problem as I see it is that we moderns still see these historical aspects in far too narrow of terms. It's probably just left over preconceptions from the Victorians, I don't know. If we wanted to give a thrust-dominant sword a specific name, we have to keep in mind that this is a modern convention, and that period people didn't see it this way. Personally, I've grown more and more of the opinion that we shouldn't do such things. First of all, it's clear that those in period didn't draw such distinctions (else we wouldn't have so many of these discussions). More importantly though, the more I study "rapier" treatises, the more I realize they aren't "rapier" treatises. They're fencing treatises. They explain the rules, theory and techniques that are the foundation of combat with the sword (and other weapons as well). They use the rapier as a pedagogical tool, but that doesn't change the fact that everything Fabris teaches I can do with a longsword (with some minor modifications based on design). This is very much like classical fencing, where the foil is taught first, even if the fencer will move onto saber eventually.

So, more directly to the point, only focusing on the term "rapier" to mean a thrust-only weapon tends to ignore the vast majority of historical data, which shows a far more dynamic definition.

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 10:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just for fun, how do we categorize this sword?


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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 12:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Just for fun, how do we categorize this sword?


Oakeshott Type XVIIID
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 7:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason Elrod wrote:
Oakeshott Type XVIIID


Heh, good call, I hadn't thought of that! And it actually furthers the point I was making because this picture is actually just a photoshopped image of an A&A Henry V hilt married to an A&A Writhen rapier blade. I did my best to keep it as close to scale as I could, too. Since I don't think anyone would argue that the Writhen rapier is in fact a rapier, I think this shows that a rapier blade has the potential to be more versatile than we give often give them credit. Depends on the particular blade, of course.

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 7:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

More photoshop fun (this time a little less well done). What is this sword? (bonus points if you know the exact two sword used to create this hybrid)


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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 8:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Without taking the time to do a little Photoshop, and probably not needed, as one can find equivalent blades with earlier simple guards or with rapier like complex guards.

Just compare the blades of the A & A Black Prince with the statistics of the blades of the Cavalier and the even larger Dresden Rapiers: Put a rapier hilt on the Black Prince or put a simple crossguard on the Dresden and IMHO the blades would work as well as cut and trust weapons. ( Just consult the review section for quick reference to picts. )

Rehilting might be done as a way to change the balance and handling to favour one style of fighting over another and improve the speed or ease of accuracy of thrusts. Question Question Question

Not, being a practitioner of swordsmanship I'm guessing that my Black Prince could almost be used with rapier techniques even without rehilting it, and a heavy wide bladed rapier like the Dresden could use some longsword techniques that are adaptable to one handed usage: Again, guessing, and asking the above as questions much more than saying that these speculations are facts.

Bill. I think you said it, that in period people were not learning so much " rapier " fighting so much as just " Sword fighting techniques ".

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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 8:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wouldn't call the A&A Cavalier or A&A Dresden rapiers, myself. They have compound hilts much like other rapiers, but the blades are too stout. The Dresden, in particular, is a broadsword. It had the same basic profile and mass as the First Generation Albion Crecy that I owned. Perhaps it's better to class it as a Reitschwert. Who knows? As discussed, the term rapier is quite ambiguous.
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 10:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan Robinson wrote:
I wouldn't call the A&A Cavalier or A&A Dresden rapiers, myself. They have compound hilts much like other rapiers, but the blades are too stout. The Dresden, in particular, is a broadsword. It had the same basic profile and mass as the First Generation Albion Crecy that I owned. Perhaps it's better to class it as a Reitschwert. Who knows? As discussed, the term rapier is quite ambiguous.


As somebody else has said on another topic we do tend to want to a neat, orderly and consistent descriptions or definitions of these things. In part this is to be able to discuss them without ambiguities about what we are talking about.

I sort of agree that the Cavalier and Dresden are broadswords with complex hilts and I'm personally not very preoccupied by what to call them.

If I pict up my Black Prince or something like the Dresden or pict up a rapier with almost no usable edge I still get a different and instant response to each and how I might use each: What I call it doesn't make much difference to this feeling.

Another thought is that maybe we are looking at sword designs through the opposite end of the telescope and with the knowledge of hindsight: We judge a rapier in part by our knowledge of the smallsword and the later evolution of duelling and sports swordsmanship making us see a clear distinction between cut and thrust swords and pure thrusting rapiers.
In period the evolution and distinctions of types and the nomenclature could be inconsistent ?

Although, I think Silver was also very aware of the differences between cut and thrust swords and more exclusively thrusting swords, and hated the latter. ( I know you are very aware of this history. ) Maybe, the problem is that complex hilts and narrow edgeless blade may have evolved independently of each other or at least complex hilts are not exclusive to rapiers ?

Also, the range of blade types has no precise point where all would agree that a blade is a cut and thrust or a rapier blade: At the extremes there is no problem saying that a specific blade is more one or the other. It's only in a more or less narrow grey zone where a blade would be difficult to classify or would get people into heated arguments about which it is.

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 20 Jul, 2006 10:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Craig Peters wrote:
However, the difference between weapons that can cut reasonably effectively versus those which are pretty much entirely dedicated to the thrust is sufficient to warrant a different name for the sword.


Perhaps, but if you mean the word rapier to include the swords depicted in Cappo Ferro, Fabris, Giganti, Thibault, Carranza, Pallavicini, Narvaez, Alfieri, or any of the masters who are typically considered "rapier" masters, then this definition can't apply. All of these masters make regular use of the cut, and talk of defenses against the cut. In fact, despite the fact that these masters are more reliant on the thrust, is is quite common that the cut is the first attack, with a thrust only being an optional version of the technique.


Bill,

You'll notice if you check over my posts that I've been careful not to say that "true" rapiers cannot cut. In fact, I'd say we hold essentially the same view about rapier's cutting capacity. Perhaps the main differences are that I would be less inclined to use cuts with certain swords than perhaps the masters might have been (Cappo Ferro comes to mind) and that I prefer to distinguish between swords that are designed to cut a la cut and thrust swords versus rapiers which aren't really designed for it but can still do it, with a limited capacity, anyways.

Quote:
The problem as I see it is that we moderns still see these historical aspects in far too narrow of terms. It's probably just left over preconceptions from the Victorians, I don't know. If we wanted to give a thrust-dominant sword a specific name, we have to keep in mind that this is a modern convention, and that period people didn't see it this way. Personally, I've grown more and more of the opinion that we shouldn't do such things. First of all, it's clear that those in period didn't draw such distinctions (else we wouldn't have so many of these discussions). More importantly though, the more I study "rapier" treatises, the more I realize they aren't "rapier" treatises. They're fencing treatises. They explain the rules, theory and techniques that are the foundation of combat with the sword (and other weapons as well). They use the rapier as a pedagogical tool, but that doesn't change the fact that everything Fabris teaches I can do with a longsword (with some minor modifications based on design). This is very much like classical fencing, where the foil is taught first, even if the fencer will move onto saber eventually.

So, more directly to the point, only focusing on the term "rapier" to mean a thrust-only weapon tends to ignore the vast majority of historical data, which shows a far more dynamic definition.


I think this is one case where going with the looseness of historical terminology confuses things. For one thing, it's clear by terms like spada de lato that distinctions between true rapiers and cut and thrust swords were made historically. The other thing is that there is quite a radical blade difference between the earlier "rapiers" and the later ones. As you know, cutting is one of the three fundamental forms of attack with a sword. "True" rapiers, for all intents and purposes, lack the capacity to cut. Yes, it is still technically possible to cut with one, but the ability to cleave into bone or cause serious soft tissue damage like you could with a medieval sword or cut and thrust sword just isn't there. This is borne out by several lines of reasoning: test cutting with rapiers against meat, the duel that I linked in the other thread James Martin's search for a sword, and from the fact that I know of no period writings that indicate anyone was seriously wounded, incapacitated over the long term, or otherwise harmed in this manner from a "true" rapier's cut.

The difference between these two types of sword is quite radical then. Their blades are not really similar, and this difference is evidenced by how poorly true rapiers can cut. Moreover, a spada de lato is still useful as a military weapon because of its capacity to cut, slice and thrust; in contrast, the true rapier is pretty much exclusively a dueling weapon or a sword worn as a sign of rank or significance in the military. While I won't say that true rapiers have never been used in a military context, they are not well suited for it, and generally they were not used thusly.

Therefore, I'd argue, it's important to distinguish between the earlier types of cut and thrust sword and the later rapier, even if Europeans frequently referred to them as the same weapon historically.
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 3:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A few comments.

The term cut and thrust sword was used historically to refer to the spadroon and shouldn't be used to describe early rapiers. Similarly, while the term spada da lato appears a couple of times in historical sources, it refers to the sword being worn on the side and does not appear to be a name given to a type of sword.

As far as cutting goes, it is clear that thin bladed rapiers are nowhere near as good at cutting as, for example, medieval arming swords. It is also clear that every rapier master taught cuts. Anyone who says that rapiers, whatever their blade shape, can't cut has obviously never been hit with one. Three pounds of steel smashed into your head is going to do serious damage, regardless of the point of balance and the acuteness of the edge.

Can a rapier cut as well as a cutting sword? Undoubtedly no. Can it cut well enough to make cuts worth delivering? Undoubtedly yes.

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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 6:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, I'll definately accept that what most people refer to as a rapier today probably generally won't cut as well as many other swords due to it's specialized design. But as Stephen said, the terms "cut and thrust" and "spada da lato" are not Renaissance terms. While I agree that there's certain a difference between blade designs of swords, I tend to feel it had more to do with a particular swordsman who said to his cutler, "I use more cuts, so I want a sword to reflect that," or "I'd prefer a longer weapon, and one that I can rely more on thrusting with." Functionally I think we moderns make a bigger deal of that difference than I think period people did (at least until you get to a more extreme reliance on the thrust, in which case the English certainly made a distinction).

Tom Leoni did a nice article relating to this:

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

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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 6:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen I'm using cut and thrust mostly as a description of what a specific blade would be more or less suited to do depending on design and not in any precise historical context or system of recognized sword classification.

If there was some system to classify swords as to " cut and thrust " it could go like something like this:
( My own personal way I look at a blade and try to make come to an " opinion " on how it might be used or designed for. )

A type 14th like the Sovereign might be classed as 50 / 50, cut / thrust.

A type XIII like the Tritonia might be 90 / 10: Mostly cut and some thrust if the target is lightly or not armoured.

A type X like the Gaddhjalt might be an 80 / 20 being still mostly a cutting sword like the Tritonia but with a narrower point.

The above just as an example and I'm sure that taking all sword types into account would mean more than my giving values off the top of my head: With a very thick square rapier blade one could say 0 / 100 or 10 / 90 or even 20 / 80. An actual system would take a lot of figuring out and probably a lot of disagreement before some consensus was arrived at..

I see a scale like this being comparative in terms of design and not an absolute scale i.e. two swords with the same numbers like 50 / 50 doesn't mean that the 50 cut of one is the same as the 50 cut of the other in capability. I only see this at a guesstimate of how much a blade is intended to be used as a cut or as a trust weapon and is not a one for one comparison of different sword in absolute effectiveness.

As to historical usage it is very important to be careful to explain when we are using historical usage or just using the words in a modern context only in a descriptive way. So, I'm not disputing at all what you said and appreciate the information. Cool Big Grin

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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 6:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, and by the way, the photoshopped "rapier" up there is the A&A Writhen rapier's hilt with the A&A German Branch sword's blade. The blade in it's normal context wouldn't be thought of a rapier blade, but it's really not so different than many rapiers:


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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 1:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some very enlightening posts, in particular by Bill Grandy and Peter Johnsson. All I know is that I have the Arms & Armor Italian 3 Ring Rapier which is 7/8 where it meets the ricasso and I can cut thru milk jugs like nothing and I can cut thru large water filled degergent jugs not quite as easily but certainly all the way thru.
I am only someone very early in this interest and my only venue was that though I have a thin and stiff rapier it surpised me that I was able to cut right thru even the heavier plastic and large sized detergent jugs. I certainly would not compare this rapier to the cutting ability of my A&A Highland Claymore or my brand new just bought today Albion Berserkr.
The latter of which I will tend to in a different thread but it was an early birthday gift to me from my mother that I picked up this morning at Kult of Athena which is very near me.

Once again, thank you so much for your posts, I learn so much from you who are indeed the experts, I know so very little but I am most eager to learn and have been acquiring quite a library.

Thank You Very Much!

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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jul, 2006 4:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Jason Elrod wrote:
Oakeshott Type XVIIID


Heh, good call, I hadn't thought of that! And it actually furthers the point I was making because this picture is actually just a photoshopped image of an A&A Henry V hilt married to an A&A Writhen rapier blade. I did my best to keep it as close to scale as I could, too. Since I don't think anyone would argue that the Writhen rapier is in fact a rapier, I think this shows that a rapier blade has the potential to be more versatile than we give often give them credit. Depends on the particular blade, of course.


Don't mean to quibble too much, but that's a French Medieval Sword hilt, not a Henry V.

Happy

Gordon
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