Why do you lean back with the rapier?

We often see people leaning backwards with the rapier. Why do they do this? Well there are a number of reasons. Capoferro writes,

The purpose for the vita to be bent thus is: first, because in this way you are more lengthened and more covered and this is better to guard and defend the parts that can be offended because a target that is more distant is much more difficult to strike. Moreover, as well in striking it carries the attacks longer, quicker, and with more strength. Therefore, the offenses coming from far away are much more secure and best.

Here is an illustration depicting said lean.

File:Capo Ferro 4.jpg

One of the reasons I like the lean is that it is deceptive. My opponent can’t easily gauge the distance between us, yet I can still keep my arm extended for my safety.

If my opponent moves in, I can quickly shift to a balanced stance, without moving my feet, in order to gain control of his blade. You can see this stance in plate 15 wherein fencer C (right) constrains fencer D.



Note how fencer C, though not leaning, is still carrying his weight back. As you can see from the illustration, this keeps him further from his opponent’s point than the opponent is from his. And as Capoferro stated, he is ready for the attack.

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How much for Fencing Lessons in the 1400’s?

To start with, consider Dardi’s approval for teaching fencing. Dardi wants to charge 7 lire to teach the sword and buckler while the city thought 3 lire was more appropriate. They settled on 4.

So how much is 4 lire? Well one lire is one troy pound or 12 oz of silver. Silver has been reasonably stable in buying power over the centuries, so we can directly translate that into US currently. The spot price of silver is 15.73, making one lire approximately 188.76 USD.

According to the same letter, it takes 1 month and half of theory to learn the sword and buckler, followed by a month and a half of practice. Classes are 2 hours per day, and lets assume 5 days a week to allow for church and leisure. All told, that is 130 hours of instruction.

A four lire or 755 USD, we’re looking at 5/hour or 58/week for classes. This isn’t unreasonably for modern instruction on the martial arts or even a typical college course. (And much better than the 102/week that Dardi wanted.)




Cost Lire

Cost USD

Per Week

Per 2 hour Lesson

2-Handed Swords
5 10 1887.60 87.12 17.42
Sword and Buckler  3 4 755.04 58.08 11.62
Dagger  2 6 1132.56 130.68 26.14
Arms (polearms?)  2 5 943.80 108.90 21.78
Shield  2 4 755.04 87.12 17.42
Stick  2 4 755.04 87.12 17.42
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Beating vs. Slicing Off with the Rapier

Since it came up in my last post, I should talk about what I mean by “beat”. When I hear that term I think of a sharp strike that leaves the point more or less online. It is used to create a small opening that you work from.

By contrast, slicing off is an actual cut at the sword. It over binds and drives the opponents sword downward, but at the cost of your own point also moving off-line. This is quite effective for sideswords and is used a lot by Meyer, but I don’t like it for the long rapier because it takes so long to bring the point back online.

Looking at this photo, I would describe this action as slicing off, not beating.


Posted in Arming Sword, Capoferro, Meyer's Rapier, Rapier | Leave a comment

The Problem with Distance in Capoferro

Another problem with Plate 20 was pointed out to me. This play is part of a set that looks at what you should and should not do when constrained on the outside as per this illustration.


Also consider this quote about the stringere:

First, the debole of the sword is acquired with one palmo of the debole of yours. In the second tempo the beginning of the forte of the adversary’s sword is acquired so that he will cavare and you contracavando or not.

Now lets look at where D’s disengage starts in the video:


In the illustration the points are over the opponent’s forearms. Here they don’t even reach the mid-point of the opponent’s blade. This discrepancy is caused by several factors:

  • The swords are far too short for this style of fencing
  • The left fencer is leaning back instead of forward.
  • The right fencer is leaning back instead of being upright
  • The left fencer isn’t extending her arm.
  • Both fencers are in too narrow of a stance
  • The distance between the front feet is too far

Also note that the blades are held at a very shallow angle with the points chest high. Were they held at the angle depicted by the illustration, points level with the face, they probably would cross barely at all.


At this distance the constraint hasn’t been won. The left fencer should have either used a compass step to create her own constraint or waited until the the right fencer was stepping forward to perform the disengage. Attacking from this distance is foolish and draws into question the interpretation of the rest of the play.

Another thought. Consider the beat at the beginning of the video. I don’t for a second believe that you could really throw someone’s point that far offline. But let’s say it is real for the sake of argument. Why do it when the illustration doesn’t show it?

Well, we’re back to distance. This play requires you to swiftly move beyond the point so you are safe from a thrust. (The grapple protects you from a cut.) If we start as shown in plate 15, you have to clear half an arm length. If we start as shown in the video, that distance increases to a full arm’s length plus more than half a sword length. That’s a huge distance when you have no control over the opponent’s weapon.

Continue reading

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Blade Length and Capoferro

Something that has been bothering me for quite some time is the insistence on using short blades for Capoferro. Consider this passage:

Therefore the sword has to be twice as long as the arm, and as much as my extraordinary pace, which length corresponds equally to that which is from my armpit down to the sole of my foot.

Now look at this photo from Plate 20.


That isn’t even remotely close to the correct length. Even though he is leaning, the sword is still quite far from reaching his armpit.

When we look at the actual plate 20 we can see why this is important. Were the left fencer to really beat his opponent’s sword so hard that his hand turned down towards the ground he would risk injury to his leg. Instead, Capoferro has us leave beat the sword so that it moves just enough to leave an opening.


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L’Ange Style Rapiers by Darkwood

This photo shows a pair of L’Ange style rapiers by Darkwood Armory (except the lower pommel, which I made myself). The blades are 45”, which according to the translator puts it right around the author’s recommended length as estimated from the illustrations.


L’Ange, says that the sword should be of moderate length. You may think of that a 51” sword is well past “moderate”, but the author Capoferro would recommend a 56” sword for someone of my stature.

We had our first lesson on L’Ange today and at first there was a lot of skepticism. Part of this derived from the blade length, as we are a Bolognese focused group accustomed to much shorter swords. The simple hilt also confused everyone, as it felt clumsy and dangerous to use a typical Italian grip with a finger over the quillon.

Once the proper, um.. “thumb grip?” was demonstrated most concerns evaporated. No one had any problems using his variant of Quarta for based thrusts. The sword felt lively in the hand and this style of grip allowed for remarkably fast disengages.

I say “most concerns” because the thrust in Third seemed to leave the top of the hand far too exposed. But given that we’re just starting out, this probably more of a technique issue more than a manual or equipment problem.

Lessons on the Thrust by L’Ange was translated by Reinier van Noort and is available from Purpleheart Armory.

Posted in L'Ange, Rapier, Weapon Design | Leave a comment

Longsword: A Routine for Meyer’s Guards

Though not common in the German tradition, routines are a very important learning tool for learning martial arts. Known as an Assault in Italian or Kata in Asian traditions, this serves as both a good workout and a way to memorize the postures, cuts, and other techniques. Note that while many routines are designed meant to be used in actual fights, this particular one focuses on just moving through the guards.


1.       Stand at attention with the sword resting on your left shoulder.

2.       Pass  the  right  hand  across  the  body  and  seize  the  grip  close  to  the quillons.

3.       Bring the sword perpendicularly in front of the body with the quillons in line with the mouth.

4.       Step back with the right foot while raising the sword into Tag (High or Day).

5.       Turn out the right foot while winding the sword into Zornhut (Wrath Guard).

6.       Pass forward the right foot while cutting a Zornhauw through Langort (Longpoint) into Left Wechsel (Changer).

7.       Pass forward the left foot while slashing with the short edge through Langort into Right Ochs (Ox).

8.       Passing back, throw an Underhauw through Left Ochs into Einhorn (Unicorn).

9.       Passing back again, throw an Underhauw through Right Ochs into Einhorn.

10.   Lower the sword into Schlussel (Key).

11.   Pass forward the right foot while thrusting into Gerade Veratzung (Straight Parrying).

12.   Pass back the right foot into Eisenport (Irongate) with the pommel to your left and the arms uncrossed.

13.   Pass forward the right foot with a Mittlehauw through Langort into Left Mittelhut (Middle Guard).

14.   Pass forward the left foot with a Mittlehauw through Langort into Right Mittelhut.

15.   Pass forward the right foot while cutting an Oberhauw into Olber.

16.   Pass back the right foot while drawing the sword up into Nebenhut (Side Guard) on the left side.

17.   Pass back the right foot while cutting into Right Pflug (Plow).

18.   Gather back the right foot to the left while extending the arms into Hangetort (Hanging Point).

19.   Push forward the right foot while crossing the arms into Schrankhut (Crossed Guard).

20.   Pass forward the left foot forward while slashing into Langort (Longpoint).

21.   Pass back the left foot while winding the sword Right Nebenhut.

22.   Pass forward the left foot forward while cutting into Left Pflug.

23.   Pass forward the right foot while slashing into Tag.

24.   Turn out the left foot while winding into Left Zornhut.

25.   Draw back the right foot while returning the sword to the left shoulder.

Posted in Longsword | 1 Comment

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