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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > An excellent article on the definition of a "rapier" Reply to topic
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Dec, 2006 5:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In my opinion, when comparing sword cuts to thrusts it is not very useful to bring up knife cuts. A sword cut is very different from a knife cut. When a trained knife fighter talks about cuts, he is actually, in the swordmanship sense, talking about slashes. Perhaps some very large knives can be an exception to this, but in typical knife fights, a cut does not mean that an arm is severed or a torso is oponed from collarbone to hip or that a skull is split.

Earlier sword traditions such as Liechtenauer made a very clear distinction between cuts and slashes, and I see no reason to avoid that distinction when discussing rapiers.
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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Dec, 2006 6:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Allen wrote:
However, other rapiers, particularly late-model rapiers like the antique shown in the videos Randall linked to, I think its doubtful a cut with the edge would break the skin, and a slash with the tip, though it very well may bleed, would be unlikely to be lethal or immediately debilitating.


Dear Eric,

Unfortunately I know for a fact that cuts with later rapiers are effective and can break the skin. I have said and will say again that anyone who claims that rapiers can't cut has clearly never been hit with one.

I know that even the latest, most thrust orientated rapiers can cut because the masters who taught the weapons taught cuts, accounts of duels mention effective cuts and I have personally witnessed effective cuts.

No one is suggesting that there is not a lot of variation in the cutting ability of rapiers, that later rapiers are predominantly cutting swords or that cuts from them were directly lethal on more than the oddest occasion, just that three pounds of steel in the head is jolly unpleasant, regardless of blade geometry.

However, as Bill pointed out, this is a side issue. No one is debating that some rapiers cut a lot better than others. What is under discussion is Tom's assertion that the word rapier is used far too narrowly today and should be used for all the weapons historically called a rapier, not just for those weapons called a rapier in the last few decades before rapiers disappeared from use.

Cheers
Stephen

Stephen Hand
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Author of English Swordsmanship, Medieval Sword and Shield

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Kyro R. Lantsberger





Joined: 21 Apr 2006

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PostPosted: Tue 12 Dec, 2006 6:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:

In period, a rapier would be any sword that could be used with the current at the time rapier techniques and what would match a certain fashion style of hilt ( Function but fashion as well: A type XVa sword that might work with rapier techniques would just look wrong at court functions and would be called something else! )

\
This is very similar to what I long windedly tried to say on another forum about the question at hand. I think that "rapierness" is tied deeply to the Renaissance -- both the flowering of classical learning, as well as a passion for artistry and beauty in daily life. I think this connection needs to be brought into the definition somehow.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've seen a great deal of discussion on this thread about "historical" definitions and such, but it has never been mentioned once that the historical definitions themselves may not be consistent with each other. Tom's original article actually mentioned some English masters defining the rapiers as more strictly thrust-oriented swords, while we also have clear evidence that some German masters used the word 'rapier" in the very general sense to mean practically any straight-bladed, complex-hilted, one-handed sword with decent thrusting capability. Defining "rapier" one way or the other would clearly show our preference for one master over another (or at least one school over another) but wouldn't prove anything about the universal applicability of the definition during the historical period in question.

Why can't we accept that the definition of rapier varied widely from master to master and therefore any attempt to make a universal definition will contradict the definition of one master or another? I'd rather let each practitioner form his/her own ideas of the word's definition and, if we want a really precise definition without risking substantial disagreement, we'd refer to the ahistorical but more consistent numbered classification system.

Admit it. Ask twelve people on this site about the definition of "bastard sword" and some will say that it's exactly the same as a longsword (including me), some will say that it's the shorter variety of longsword, while yet others would say that it's the longer and more tapered variety of longsword. None of these are strictly wrong, and when we want to talk about the sword type without causing universal confusion we'd say "Type XVI" or the like rather than "bastard sword." We should be able to do the same with Renaissance swords if we don't want to spark flame wars every time the issue about the definition of "rapier" is brought up.
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Michael Olsen





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 7:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:

Why can't we accept that the definition of rapier varied widely from master to master and therefore any attempt to make a universal definition will contradict the definition of one master or another? I'd rather let each practitioner form his/her own ideas of the word's definition and, if we want a really precise definition without risking substantial disagreement, we'd refer to the ahistorical but more consistent numbered classification system.


I think that is really at the heart of the issue. I would rather see groups or even individuals break the rapier down into subtypes with a-historical names now and be able to discern between different types of rapiers than to be happy with a single massively broad definition. Later, hopefully, we will have an Oakeshott-type system to work with.

The problem, I think may lie in the tendency for permanent separation in the mind: if you start calling wide bladed earlier rapiers "Flabbergasters", eventually some people may stop thinking of them as rapiers in the first place and only as "Flabbergasters", losing their connection to the thinner, thicker, later "Rabblesticks", which too, may become seperate from the term rapier. Also, there is the problem of calling one portion of the swords something aside from rapier, "Flabbergasters" again, because I enjoy typing it, and leaving the other portions known simply as "rapiers". Over time, this could come to exclude Flabbergasters from the rapier category, even if they were historically named so and do indeed belong. I think it would also be prudent to avoid naming one category something that another sword is called: some rapiers are quite long even by rapier standards, and are undoubtedly swords as well, but it would be a very bad idea to go and name them "longswords".

As long as individuals or fencing organizations are mindful of their naming system and realize it's categorization purpose lies in communicating the distinction between forms, not including or excluding forms from the broader category, I see little issue with it. However, I don't think that banishing a-historical terms and calling everything a master may have called a rapier the "rapier" is necessarily a good idea: without a subset system there is simply too much variety (and, indeed, variety of usage) for it to be sensible in academic or martial discussion.

Edit: Alluding to the golf club metaphor: Even though I don't golf, I know a professional golfer wouldn't just ask his caddy for any "club". He doesn't want whatever comes out of the bag, because some forms are better for some applications, and have names accordingly. He might, however, ask for a "wedge", not a specific single club, but a general subtype suited for a relatively specific set of purposes. Even more specifically, a golfer may call for an "8 iron", one with an even more specific (though changing over time) degree of pitch and set of applications.

In much the same manner as a golfer disliking having any random club handed to him, I don't like the idea of just shouting out 'rapier' and letting swords fall where they may. It makes more sense to create a broad system of terminology to separate the wide bladed shorter rapiers from the longer ones, from the thin-bladed rapiers or however it is deemed fit. This is the "wedge, putter, etc" level. With a typology, we could be even more specific, entering the " # iron" stage, categorizing by blade features (cross-section, ricasso, etc).

I'm a pretty big fan of that metaphor, though I know nothing of golf.


Last edited by Michael Olsen on Wed 13 Dec, 2006 3:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Martin Wilkinson





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Micheal, if i understand you correctly you are calling for the same thing as most of us, a oakeshott style catergorization of rapiers so that we can discuss certain types without causing this arguement to spring up all the time.
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Ed Toton




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 12:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Admit it. Ask twelve people on this site about the definition of "bastard sword" and some will say that it's exactly the same as a longsword (including me), some will say that it's the shorter variety of longsword, while yet others would say that it's the longer and more tapered variety of longsword. None of these are strictly wrong, and when we want to talk about the sword type without causing universal confusion we'd say "Type XVI" or the like rather than "bastard sword." We should be able to do the same with Renaissance swords if we don't want to spark flame wars every time the issue about the definition of "rapier" is brought up.


With regards to "bastard" swords, is it a modern term or one left behind by the masters of the day? I'm actually asking... I don't know much about the history of some of the individual sword names we use today. I'd once heard that "bastard" in this context referred more to a sword inherited due to one's father's death in battle (but for the life of me I don't remember who said that and I consider it dubious), but of course you're right, everyone thinks of them as small or medium two-handed swords from what I've seen, with slightly different specifics.

Clearly, "rapier" is a term that was used in context, at least in a few of the surviving texts.

It seems that very little fits within our modern sensibilities of neatly categorizing things and keeping them consistent. Perhaps we'd need a new system of terminology to accomplish that. (EDIT: heh, after writing that I see that a couple other replies are suggesting exactly that)

-Ed T. Toton III
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Edelson wrote:
In my opinion, when comparing sword cuts to thrusts it is not very useful to bring up knife cuts. A sword cut is very different from a knife cut. When a trained knife fighter talks about cuts, he is actually, in the swordmanship sense, talking about slashes. Perhaps some very large knives can be an exception to this, but in typical knife fights, a cut does not mean that an arm is severed or a torso is oponed from collarbone to hip or that a skull is split.


Yes but I was just trying to compare the possible effects of the cuts or slashes if you prefer. I was using "cut" with the more general meaning "attack with the edge", sorry if it was misleading... It seems to me that many rapiers edges are at least as dangerous as a knife edge, even from a purely slashing perspective. Taking into account the greater length of slashes, I'd say that using the edge with a rapier could even be more efficient than with a knife.

Michael summed it quite nicely:
Michael Olsen wrote:
So yes, I'd say a parallel exists between knives and rapiers (assuming the broadest definition) in that both could be cutting weapons, but their value as a thrusting weapon overshadows the cut.
to which I would add that the edge of a rapier is more dangerous than that of a knife. The fact that neither of them is used as the edge of the earlier cutting swords does not change that... And it does not make them primarily cutting weapons either, it's just that their edge can be used efficiently.


I too was a bit disturbed at the beginning by the broad definition proposed by Tom Leoni, but the fact is that I can't see how to shrink it any more than that. Of course an internal classification of the rapiers would be very useful, but that's an enormous work... I even wonder if, working on how to classify the rapiers, we won't end up with something that can be generalized to other swords. Will be interesting to see how that turns out...

--
Vincent
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Stephen Hand




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Dec, 2006 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ed, I don't have the details in front of me, but the term Bastard Sword first appears in 16th century English sources.
Stephen Hand
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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Sat 08 Sep, 2007 11:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are 3 pictures in the order of the cutting of a large water filled cat litter jug with my Arms & Armor
Three Ring Italian Rapier, of which the blade is only .8 inches wide. These photographs were taken by my wife on the Sunday prior to Labor Day Weekend.


I sure love cutting jugs! Laughing Out Loud

Bob



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