Practice Notes: Rapier and Rotella

This was an Adrian Empire practice, so hands, wrists, knees, and lower-legs are off limits. Thrusts are to the lightest touch and all cuts are allowed as long as they are with the edge. We were using complex hilts, but since hands are off limits that hardly matters.

Touching, but not bashing or pressing, is allowed with bucklers and shields. That means you can pull off this action as long as you are reasonably careful.


Because the rotella is not allowed in the Adrian Empire’s rapier program, being more than 18” in diameter, my opponents were using large bucklers. Historically both the SCA and Adrian Empire have this backwards; the buckler was used with the arming sword and sidesword but never the rapier. Meanwhile Capoferro shows using the rotella with the long rapier.

First Impressions

Defensively the rotella worked great. It closed the lines much faster than I had anticipated. Not quite as maneuverable as the buckler, but I had no major problems with it when using either my short blade or my 45” monster.

Defensive Problems

While minor, I had a couple of defensive problems. The first is that, being unused to the larger size, I occasionally hit my own sword arm or face with the rim.

Another issue was tabling the shield. With the buckler I parry the tondo with the edge. Since it is strapped to my arm, my attempt to bend my wrist results in the whole arm rotating instead. Which in turn causes the shield to flatten out like a table, allowing the cut to come above or below.

The final issue is that there isn’t a boss or dome. Though slightly curved, there is nothing to make a glancing blow stop like there is for a buckler. This means some shield parries that feel good are but speed bumps before getting whacked.

Again, all of these are minor issues in my mind. It shouldn’t take long to work past these issues.

Prima is Hard to Use

First a disclaimer: I haven’t mastered the disengages in prima yet and without those prima is a hard enough to use effectively.

Prima with the rotella is problematic. The ideal targets from a prima disengage are naturally covered by the buckler or shield. That’s not to say it isn’t useful, but you often have to look at secondary targets.

Using the long blade mitigated this somewhat, but it is rather fatiguing.

Shield behind the head?

Look at this illustration showing the right fencer throwing this shield behind his head. Looks crazy, doesn’t it?


Turns out it works remarkably well. Not only does it allow me to attack very quickly, I can recover backwards incredibly quickly by throwing back in front of me.

I wasn’t using that specific play, but rather just mutating from prima or terza into quarta and back as needed.


Though I was using Agrippa’s system for my guards, I found that cutting came into play a lot more than I expected. Especially false edge cuts, which with the longer weapon reach were able to sneak past the opponent’s bucker or hilt.

Riverso to the Leg

Ugh, this one is hard to ignore. All to often the thigh is oh so inviting from terza, it just takes a quick riverso thrown with a turn of the wrist. Sometimes I pulled it off to good effect just like Manciolino recommends. Other times I was severely punished for it as seen in Capoferro.

Being no longer constrained by the SCA’s no cutting rule, I’m surprised by how often the leg presents itself. I’m not sure it is bad form or an intentional invitation, but everyone I fought with seemed to offer it.


Don’t do it. Seriously, just don’t.

My last opponent of the evening wasn’t doing well, but wasn’t completely embarrassing himself either.  Then a more senior member of the club told him to start jabbing.

Now keep in mind that by this point I’m nearly exhausted. I’m using a large shield for the first time and a 45” blade that I haven’t sparred with picked up in months. By all rights I should be easy pickings.

But as soon as he started jabbing it was all over for him. Nearly every attempt was meant with the smallest of contractions followed by an immediate counter-attack as he jerked back. He was reducing his range down significantly and became so incredibly predictable that it was laughable.

I don’t know if the other fencer honestly thought the jab was a good idea or if he was just messing with the other guy, but either way it was bad. Really bad. Now I see why Fabris was so much against it.

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