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Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 14 Nov 2014 12:26
by Reinier
Something I keep spending a lot of time thinking about is distinguishing between rapier fencing and smallsword fencing. At some point the distinction is easy, early 1600s - rapier, late 1700s smallsword, but in the late 1600s there is a period which is generally seen as transitional.

Now, a transition can be gradual, in that all/most aspects that differ between two endpoints gradually change at the same time, or a transition can be gradual when different differences pop up at different times/in different treatises. So, how did this transition take place? Are there any ideas on that?

What I need to do now is read more smallsword treatises to get a better idea of what the differences are.


But, while translating De la Touche's treatise (1670 - working together with Antoine), one thing that tipped my interest is a large difference in some basic tactics compared to earlier works, including Besnard (1653). Most (Italian-based) rapier treatises recognize the four openings (high and low, inside and outside). They then proceed to close three lines, and leave the fourth open, so that the opponent has only one choice of where to go. (Usually the low lines, sometimes seen as one broad opening are closed by removing them out of range due to the back-weighted posture combined with a forward leaning upper body, following Fabris, but perhaps less extreme as time passes.)
Besnard (1653) has a very nice way of explaining this. Imagine you are in a room with a door in each wall, and you know that you will be attacked by people from outside. What do you? - You lock three of the four doors, and stand ready behind the fourth to hit whoever comes through.
Now, De la Touche breaks this. He tells you to stand with the sword in the centre, neither to the left nor to the right to limit the size of the opening on either side. (IIRC he even refers to Besnard, though perhaps not by name, and points out this is wrong.)

So, is this it - is this the point where we see the change?

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 14 Nov 2014 13:29
by Dave B
I think he's an outlier.

The vast majority of smallsword treatises, right back as far as Liancour, consider three lines, inside, outside and below, and always close one line (nearly always a high one with tierce or quarte)

seems to me that the real difference is the emphasis on one two attacks, and simple parry riposte, and a distrust of any single time counters (because the smallsword can make such fast disengages) but it's very much a difference in emphasis rather than a clear line.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 14 Nov 2014 14:07
by Reinier
I know of the change in emphasis towards more and more complex blade actions, like parry-riposte, multiple feints etc. But indeed, with a shift in emphasis it is difficult to draw a line. Yet - that is what we modern people want to do.
Having said that, I do not want to draw a line if it is not possible, feasible or sensible, but I want to explore the options once more before I decide (and accept).

So, De la Touche could be an outlier. Yet, at the start of his treatise, he has this:

We, Trustee and Guard of the Company of the Masters of arms of the city and suburbs of Paris, Supported by several wise Masters of the Company. Certify to all who will possess it, to have read and studied the book entitled “Les vrays Principes de l’épée Seules” dedicated to the King by Sir La Touche, Master of Arms at Paris and one of the trustee of our said Company: in which we have found nothing that was not in the order with the true Principles, Even giving a pure understanding of the theory and showing the ways to practice well this Art, with all the accuracy, sharpness and all the sureness possible. That is why we gave him the present certificate to serve him in any way he finds good, even to put it in the front of his book. Written in Paris this twenty fourth day of July 1670.

Thomas de la Chapelle, Trustee of the Company.
Beneton de l’Isle, presently Guard of the Orders of the Company for the second time.
Marais, previously Trustee of the Company.
Maugin Galland, previously Guard of the Orders of the Company for the second time.
Soret, old Master.
De Lorme, old Master.
Filleul, old Master.
Morin, previously Guard of the Orders of the Company.
Heron, old Master.
Fargeot.
Le Perche.
Chardon.
Mongin the younger.



So, I would say that either he was powerful enough (instructor of the queen's pages) to get these masters to sign despite them disagreeing, or they signed because they agreed with them (or they thought this was a minor point, of course).

Closing only one line rather than three is quite different from what I described though, or do I misunderstand what you mean?

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 14 Nov 2014 14:39
by Reinier
One other change that happens around this time is in the position of the upper body during the lunge - De la Touche is one of the earliest showing an upright rather than a forward leaning upper body in the lunge.

Would this be a valid point of distinction (one of several I mean)?

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 14 Nov 2014 15:56
by Dave B
Reinier wrote:So, I would say that either he was powerful enough (instructor of the queen's pages) to get these masters to sign despite them disagreeing, or they signed because they agreed with them (or they thought this was a minor point, of course).


I honestly don't know, but generally smallsword treatises don't recommend having the sword in the middle. Having said that I'm not sure that earlier treatises are explicit in saying to close the line, but they generally start an attack by disengaging which seems to assume that the other guy is doing so.

Reinier wrote:Closing only one line rather than three is quite different from what I described though, or do I misunderstand what you mean?.


I think I explained badly.

There are some smallsword masters who try to reduce things to two lines by having the sword quite vertical (like Hope) so there are only two lines, within and without, and one of them is always closed.

However typically you would start in both in Tierce, so you are holding the other chaps sword to the outside with your true edge. Without is closed, within is open. Below will also be open because you want the point to be in his face, which means that your hand is at the height of your ribs.

So your enemy must disengage to hit you. He can either disengage around your blade and thrust quarte to the inside, or disengage down to second and thrust to the flank or leg.

So to me that's one closed line, two open. If the sword is in the middle all three are open.

One thing that causes confusion is that (in my opinion and not all smallsword practitioners agree) Liancour and his followers that make up the early french school generally like to start each engagement out of measure. They start in half-quarte, in the middle, out of lunging range.

Then if they are attacking they step into measure, and take the opponents blade in either Tierce or quarte to close the line against a time thrust, then attack. When defending they find the other chaps blade in either tierce or quarte when he comes into measure.

So the sword in the middle is described, but they still close a line when in measure.

Reinier wrote:One other change that happens around this time is in the position of the upper body during the lunge - De la Touche is one of the earliest showing an upright rather than a forward leaning upper body in the lunge.

Would this be a valid point of distinction (one of several I mean)?


I don't think so.
Liancour, in 1686, is very like much later smallsword in the actions he used with the blade, but his lunge is extremely leant forward. Abbat, who is pretty much copying Liancour, is not as forward, but more so than Angelo say, and he's still being translated and reprinted in the 1730's so I guess cannot be too 'old hat'

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 06:28
by KevinMurakoshi
I think that it may be a mistake to talk about a transition between rapier and smallsword within the Italian fencing tradition. While the weapons certainly become lighter, and possibly more thrust oriented. I don’t think the Italians move away from the rapier in the same way that the northern Europeans do (or the Spanish in the late 18th century).

It was claimed by maestri in my tradition that the Italians kept the old dueling system alive. Certainly most late 19th century texts don’t distinguish between a foil and an epee. They call both Spada. A 1904 Serafino catalog shows hexagonal cross section dueling sword blades right next to triangular cross section blades. Maestro Toran’s museum the Agora shows these mid 19th century foils.
https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpf1/v/t34.0-12/10799356_10101742670920712_357632776_n.jpg?efg=eyJvbGF0IjoyMDB9&oh=23ce7d2d9c471eb3341bfcb410fd8c42&oe=54708BB0&__gda__=1416684484_75579fb85b0253a8fdf81a0b9c8d5faa

These are not smallswords, they’re effectively rapiers.

Going further back in time, Scorza and Grisetti (1803) who say that the Sicilians and Neapolitans were using a foil blade of 4 palmi, while the rest of Italy uses one of 3.5 or 3.66 palmi(1). Rose gives a length of 10.23 inches per Neapolitan Palm in 1900 (2), for a foil blade of 41" in length. Rapisardi also uses the 10.23 (26cm) number, and in his appendix to Scorza and Grisetti, lists the Neapolitan foil blade at 104 cm, the Italian at 91 cm and the french spadino at 70 cm. Scorza and Grisetti advise a dueling blade that is of diamond cross section and 2.22 cm wide. This, combined with the guards that include knucklebows, a usable ricasso and quillions seems much more like a rapier than a smallsword.

Given this, I’m not sure that the Italians ever really “transitioned” to smallsword. There were certainly smallswords in Italy, and there is at least one Italian smallsword book. However, Their fencing may have become more conventional (more parry/riposte based), but I don’t think they ever transitioned to smallsword in a meaningful way.

As such, I think that it’s difficult to use the date of a text as the delineating mark for a rapier or smallsword text. I think we should instead look at changing nomenclature and theory as marks of “transition.” Clothing and weapons can certainly also help, but given the wide differences in costume and weapon choice in texts, such markers would be far from conclusive. We should also consider origin, as texts more closely related to France and northern Europe (where the smallsword becomes dominant) are more likely to show a transition in progress.

As I’ve recently been looking at Reinier’s translation of Paschen’s 1661 text, let’s use that text as an example. I think there are some interesting technical elements that make me want to classify it as a transitional text. When I compare to “Italian fencing” as a whole, I’m going to generally be comparing to contemporary texts like Pallavicini, the 19th century Parise, and the classical Italian fencing I learned through Gaugler’s program.

First, Paschen seems to differentiate between binds[binden] and engagements[attaquiren/stringiren]. He says:
Binding is almost like engaging, which will afterwards be displayed in a copper plate. You can bind both outside and inside, high and low, as the opportunity arises, except that you must not push so strongly on the adversary’s blade, but only bind as it were.


That distinction doesn’t seem to exist in much other Italian fencing, even in the Classical systems, there is only one engagement, and that one dominates the opponent’s blade.(3) Classical French theory on the other hand, defines binds as merely touching the opponent’s sword, and use liement (engagement) to define transports, or prise de fer to define the process of obtaining Italian engagements. This distinction between binds and engagements seems to be a departure towards French theory.

Second, the thrusts on the outside are often taken in third, rather than the second that would be more common in Italian texts. Paschen says:
2. Thrust the Tertie over the adversary’s arm a little low, so that the adversary cannot easily make a Volta, as No. 8. shows.

This thrust, appears to be one of the more common attacks. I don’t, however seen the same action (with the hand lowering) in many Italian texts. Other texts often attacks in 3rd, but they tend to be with a very straight arm. What this action does seem similar to is the “linea en cruz” of Destreza, which features a similar action. I’m not as much a smallsword expert, but I believe that many smallsword texts also include a thrust in tirce. Beyond this, the French croise is an action unique to the French system. It bears similarity to some the "linea en cruz" and this could be an early version of that.

Third, Classical Italian parries tend to be quite conservative, with the arm well extended and the blade on top of the opponents (4) Classical French parries, tend to be somewhat larger, and often with the point remaining in the center, while the hand moves away. While Paschen does not give us any detail on how his parries should be executed, the ones he illustrates are considerably larger than those of L’Ange, or other mid 17th century texts.

This is relatively minor, but Paschen’s left hand is dropped to the height of the leg. Contemporary Italian authors fly the hand quite high. Later French systems tend to drop the hand to the left thigh:
Image

There is far more in common between contemporary Italian texts and Paschen then there are differences, but that’s much the same as between the classical French and Italians. There really is one way of fencing, and the differences in theory and execution end up being relatively minor. I do hope, however that this example might help define a way to work examine texts for being “transitional” rather than using a dating system, guard positions, or a preference for parry riposte.

References:
(1) Scorza and Grisetti "La Scienza della Scherma" Senica Edizione 2009
5. length of the blade. the length of the blade is indeterminate, and cannot, as in the spada, be exactly established.It depends on the prejudices and on the desires of the one who uses it. The turks, for example, are intimately persuaded that the short blade is of the greatest advantage, seeming to them to go with the greatest speed of the hand while the neapolitans and the spanish, induced by plausible reasons, recognize in the sphere of activity of the long blade a great superiority they not only embrace the half-edged sword of four palmi, but also the doubled edged of the same length, which serves to wound with the cut more than the thrust. I think i must be of the opinion of those, modifying, however, the dimensions, and fixing the length of three palmi and a half, or four less a third, as was already established speaking of the sword alone.
Width of the blade (s. 6) The width of the blade also varies. they are generally, however, in the forte, of the diameter of a thumb (pollice = inch) and six lines (a half inch). It seems however that the larger had to have more efficacy than the narrow, although the narrower can revive more velocity, and is also on account of its lightness, more manageable. (Scorza and Grisetti 1818)
(2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_(unit) (Rapisardi, 241)
It’s important to note that in this definition of engagement [legamento] is the one common to the Neapolitan school. The northern Italian school uses legamento the same way that the French use “liement” as a term for diagonal changes of engagement (flanconades).
As in Reinier’s recent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTbtPjHE1MU

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 06:46
by KevinMurakoshi
I realize that I didn't really address the makers earlier in the thread.

On the central guard:
Alfieri argues for what he calls the guardia mista
Its nature is to partake of both terza and quarta. This consists of knowing how to adjust the sword hand and arm, ensuring … and that your point is aimed at the center of your enemy. This last consideration ensures that your sword’s forte and debole are close to where they need to be, either to defend or to wound as shown in the figures opposite, 6 and 7.

I think this pretty clearly shows that central guards were part of early 17th century rapier as well, even if they weren’t as common.

With the upright lunge, we see that in other Sicilian texts (Pallavicini for example), so I’m not sure that’s a good marker either.

The left hand, however might be an interesting marker as would actions peculiar to the French system like the croise.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 07:42
by Reinier
Just a quick note so I don't forget. I will look at the post in length later today. I have to be off to work now.

"binding" is my translation of "Ligiren" (see footnote 4) I really struggle with a good word to translate "Ligiren", but there is some basis to use "bind"* - I understand that "Ligamento" does occur as a term in both the northern and the southern Italian traditions (meaning slightly different things IIRC). Bruchius defines Ligéren (slightly different spelling in Dutch than in German) as: "This means so much as seizing your opponent's blade with a half-circle, either on the inside or the outside of the body. With this the under-thrusts are mostly parried."

So, my "binding" is a translation of the same word as where the French "liement" comes from.


* L'Ange defines "Ligiren" as "den Degen anbinden oder umbtrehen" - which I translated as: "binding or turning around the sword" - again a circular motion is implied (probably in this case a transport).

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 08:44
by Reinier
That is a very interesting and thoughtful discussion, thanks for posting.

I often feel that I should know more about classical Italian fencing. There definitely is a lot to learn there.
In Bruchius's definitions, I feel safe to say that "engage" (strengeren, attaqueren) means the relatively linear, standard engagement where you place your blade to close the direct line. "Bind" (ligeren) is clearly defined as a circular motion, either to parry (most often I think) or to engage, and transport the blade away.
A third blade action given by Bruchius and some others is the "Rumperen" - which is a parry with a vertically hanging second and a sideways motion, the same as described by Godinho a century earlier. Not exactly the same as Pascha's hanging second.

I find it hard to determine what to make of Pascha. He feels like an outlier compared to the other German sources of that time.

Good points on Alfieri, I had not thought of that. And about the upright lunge as well.

Also an interesting point on the left hand. The lunge in third with a somewhat low hand is also shown by Bruch as the default outside lunge, as it helps close the line. Secunda seems to be reserved more for attacks under the opponent' s arm/blade, which fits with the idea of keeping the hand on (or close to) the centre line.

If I remember correctly, Marcelli addresses the smallsword separate from the rapier (but I think he only discusses how to fight against one).

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 13:08
by admin
Very interesting thread - the subject of guards in this case also relates to sabre, as we see that whilst many sabre manuals choose an engaging guard which closes a line with Tierce or Quarte (called by various names), some do not - for example Hutton in 1889's Cold Steel adopts the Medium Guard as his engaging guard (whereas until 1882 he had used other engaging guards). He seems to have taken Alfieri for his inspiration and the only reasons that I can glean for his decision was to make the salle sabre play more varied in both attack and defence, and also due to the argument that with a light weapon the Medium Guard is on average slightly quicker to get to any other point (although with more open lines, and therefore perhaps more risky).
However, it's a very good point that when you engage an opponent and your blades are close enough to cross, you will always be either inside or outside, regardless of how many openings you seem to have. If I engage in Medium on the outside, as opposed to Tierce, what is the real difference? The opponent theoretically has an opening on my outside line to attack into - this could be viewed as either an advantage or disadvantage. It means that I don't know whether they will attack straight on the outside or disengage to the inside - however, if we were engaged in Tierce then being only able to attack on the inside line, they are still able to attack or feint to the inside - if they feint and I fall for it then I will essentially find myself in Medium Guard in that second anyway.
It could be said that the High Seconde of Victorian British sabre fencing (as seen in Waite and Allanson-Winn) is an inverted Medium Guard - it does not close any line as such, but rather sticks the blade of the sword diagonally across the centre of mass.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 21 Nov 2014 19:09
by tim_stl
Reinier wrote:A third blade action given by Bruchius and some others is the "Rumperen" - which is a parry with a vertically hanging second and a sideways motion, the same as described by Godinho a century earlier.


Almost - Godinho's "romper" is upward, rather than sideways.

Tim

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 22 Nov 2014 06:28
by Chris Holzman
admin wrote:Very interesting thread - the subject of guards in this case also relates to sabre, as we see that whilst many sabre manuals choose an engaging guard which closes a line with Tierce or Quarte (called by various names), some do not - for example Hutton in 1889's Cold Steel adopts the Medium Guard as his engaging guard (whereas until 1882 he had used other engaging guards). He seems to have taken Alfieri for his inspiration and the only reasons that I can glean for his decision was to make the salle sabre play more varied in both attack and defence, and also due to the argument that with a light weapon the Medium Guard is on average slightly quicker to get to any other point (although with more open lines, and therefore perhaps more risky).


I think it's also worth noting that this is a conscious departure on Hutton's part from the 'modern Italian school' which he otherwise bases his system on (that of Masaniello Parise). In the Italian schools, north and south, 2nd guard with the arm fully extended, weapon hand at the height of the shoulder, and the knuckle-bow turned to 1st in 2nd position (01:30 on the clock for a right hander), point directed to the opponent's flank (curved blade) or chest (straight blade), is the default guard that it is said 'must be preferred in the bout' because it keeps a constant threat or obstacle toward the opponent, and is fastest to the preferred three parries, 1st, 2nd, and 5th.

And yes, legamento was used differently in the north and south. In the north it was a transport of the opponent's blade from one engagement to another, without losing contact, and if made to the flank, was called fianconata di legamento. In the south, legamento was an engagement, and invito was taking one of the positions of parry or guard, without blade contact. In the north, engagement and invitation were 'attacco material' and 'attacco d'invito' respectively. Unfortunately, attacco also meant attack, and the phrase 'attacco sullo ferro', had its own meaning, which could lead to confusion, i.e., 'molinello mediante attacco sullo ferro' is somewhat open to interpretation, as to whether it is a molinello by means of an attack on the blade, or by means of an engagement of the blade. In either case, in that context it would be a molinello made in response to the opponent's attempt to engage or attack your blade. Needless to say, I don't find it hard to see why the southern Italian version of the terminology eventually won out.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 22 Nov 2014 07:20
by Reinier
tim_stl wrote:
Reinier wrote:A third blade action given by Bruchius and some others is the "Rumperen" - which is a parry with a vertically hanging second and a sideways motion, the same as described by Godinho a century earlier.


Almost - Godinho's "romper" is upward, rather than sideways.

Tim



A bit more precise then - the Rumperen of Bruchius, as I see it now, is a more or less rectangular motion.
For example, when you stand in guard in a low secunda with an opening over the arm, and the opponent thrusts into that. You then lift your hand+hilt up while dropping/leaving the point, and once you reach ~shoulder level you move your hand+hilt to the left while the blade hangs down, setting the enemy blade aside to that side. So, up first, then sideways.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 23 Nov 2014 04:16
by DavidCoblentz
I'm curious about what sorts of differences we see as the preferred method of holding the sword changes? Reinier, you hold your weapon so that your thumb is aligned with the flat of the blade right? That's the way that an Italian foil is held and it makes the hand position of fourth the most natural position to be in. In Italian saber, the thumb is aligned with the back edge of the weapon (which is how I hold a rapier as well) and this makes third a more natural position to be in. (Which is also the primary guard that Capoferro recommended). The different grips has an impact on the way that I would make certain actions, especially actions which close the outside line. With the thumb on the back edge, you'd typically rotate your hand to second or second in third to close off your outside line, while with the thumb on the flat, it's much more feasible to leave your hand in fourth for actions on the inside and outside.* I wonder if the different grip could also account for the tendency to raise the hand and break the wrist with a lunge like we see in a lot of smallsword texts?

*by the 19th century, the Italians recognized that you could close your outside line with your hand in second or fourth, but they still seemed to default to second. By the early 20th century everyone tended to default to fourth.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 23 Nov 2014 15:14
by MugginsToadwort
For me, having dealt with both the late 16th century German sidesword material, the 17th century Italian rapier tradition, and now some 18th century smallsword, I can't get over the extreme similarity of Meyer's rapier system (1570) and some of the later smallsword material. It's primarily two tempo parry-riposte, there are circular parries, a short weapon, and a lot of other similarities.

My own feeling is that, at least in Germany, some swordplay bypassed the long rapier stage and moved directly to smallsword. Sutor is still using a sidesword-like weapon in 1612, and later smallsword sources refer to a peculiar type of German play using the hanging and reversed grips, which are not part of most rapier systems.

Should we be talking about parallel development and not transitions?

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2014 10:29
by Reinier
DavidCoblentz wrote:I'm curious about what sorts of differences we see as the preferred method of holding the sword changes? Reinier, you hold your weapon so that your thumb is aligned with the flat of the blade right? That's the way that an Italian foil is held and it makes the hand position of fourth the most natural position to be in. In Italian saber, the thumb is aligned with the back edge of the weapon (which is how I hold a rapier as well) and this makes third a more natural position to be in. (Which is also the primary guard that Capoferro recommended). The different grips has an impact on the way that I would make certain actions, especially actions which close the outside line. With the thumb on the back edge, you'd typically rotate your hand to second or second in third to close off your outside line, while with the thumb on the flat, it's much more feasible to leave your hand in fourth for actions on the inside and outside.* I wonder if the different grip could also account for the tendency to raise the hand and break the wrist with a lunge like we see in a lot of smallsword texts?

*by the 19th century, the Italians recognized that you could close your outside line with your hand in second or fourth, but they still seemed to default to second. By the early 20th century everyone tended to default to fourth.


This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and want to write something about. Just need to find the time to collect images to demonstrate my points here. Indeed, based on what is shown in Bruchius, I have my thumb on the flat, this makes quarta the preferred position, and Bruchius uses quarta on both the inside and outside lines (he also uses tertia outside, but reserves secunda mainly for when you go in under the sword of the opponent). Fabris also uses the quarta on the outside line. DiMazo describes a similar guard with the thumb on the ricasso.

The sword is
held well according to these principles: the point of the thumb should be held against the quillion block, that is right in the midpoint between the two quillions on the inside; and on the outside between the two joints of the following [i.e. index] finger, in such a manner that the fingertip does not go over and beyond the quillion. The remaining three fingers should be strong around the handle, bottom part of the hand, which is called the body, is laid over the pommel of the aforesaid.


One thing I want to address once I get writing is that even in the early 17th century the index finger does not always go around the crossguard in Italian rapier. This is so very often assumed, but none of the "big three" describe this, and they do not always show this.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2014 10:32
by Reinier
MugginsToadwort wrote:For me, having dealt with both the late 16th century German sidesword material, the 17th century Italian rapier tradition, and now some 18th century smallsword, I can't get over the extreme similarity of Meyer's rapier system (1570) and some of the later smallsword material. It's primarily two tempo parry-riposte, there are circular parries, a short weapon, and a lot of other similarities.

My own feeling is that, at least in Germany, some swordplay bypassed the long rapier stage and moved directly to smallsword. Sutor is still using a sidesword-like weapon in 1612, and later smallsword sources refer to a peculiar type of German play using the hanging and reversed grips, which are not part of most rapier systems.

Should we be talking about parallel development and not transitions?


There are quite a lot of 17th C German treatises referring directly to Italian rapier, often even in their titles (Heussler, Schöffer, L'Ange, Köppe), and they definitely do not favour the high or hanging guard as their main guard, even though the earliers notion of this being the "German guard" might actually be Liancour in 1686 (if my memory serves me well).

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2014 12:24
by Dave B
DavidCoblentz wrote: you hold your weapon so that your thumb is aligned with the flat of the blade right? That's the way that an Italian foil is held and it makes the hand position of fourth the most natural position to be in.


But because it's the most natural position does not mean it's the preferred guard. For example from Memory Liancour likes the guard of tierce, but says that Fourth is the straightest truest thrust. The way I read it he's taking Third as a guard because he knows he'll start his attack with a disengage, and wants to make his attack in fourth with a disengage so that he thrusts in the most natural hand position and with his true edge facing the opponents false edge.

DavidCoblentz wrote: I wonder if the different grip could also account for the tendency to raise the hand and break the wrist with a lunge like we see in a lot of smallsword texts?


This is discussed in a number of smallsword texts, and different reasons are given, but I feel it's mostly because it's so easy to loose engagement with smallsword, and that the hand is kept high so that if the chap being stabbed straightens his arm you don't loose engagement with his blade passing over the top of your hand and end up with his point in your face - either through a deliberate cut-over / coupe or accidentally. My suspicion is that it's not particularly martially sound but that it is an artifact of practicing without masks

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2014 12:53
by MugginsToadwort
Reinier wrote:
DavidCoblentz wrote:I'm curious about what sorts of differences we see as the preferred method of holding the sword changes? Reinier, you hold your weapon so that your thumb is aligned with the flat of the blade right? That's the way that an Italian foil is held and it makes the hand position of fourth the most natural position to be in. In Italian saber, the thumb is aligned with the back edge of the weapon (which is how I hold a rapier as well) and this makes third a more natural position to be in. (Which is also the primary guard that Capoferro recommended). The different grips has an impact on the way that I would make certain actions, especially actions which close the outside line. With the thumb on the back edge, you'd typically rotate your hand to second or second in third to close off your outside line, while with the thumb on the flat, it's much more feasible to leave your hand in fourth for actions on the inside and outside.* I wonder if the different grip could also account for the tendency to raise the hand and break the wrist with a lunge like we see in a lot of smallsword texts?

*by the 19th century, the Italians recognized that you could close your outside line with your hand in second or fourth, but they still seemed to default to second. By the early 20th century everyone tended to default to fourth.


This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, and want to write something about. Just need to find the time to collect images to demonstrate my points here. Indeed, based on what is shown in Bruchius, I have my thumb on the flat, this makes quarta the preferred position, and Bruchius uses quarta on both the inside and outside lines (he also uses tertia outside, but reserves secunda mainly for when you go in under the sword of the opponent). Fabris also uses the quarta on the outside line. DiMazo describes a similar guard with the thumb on the ricasso.

The sword is
held well according to these principles: the point of the thumb should be held against the quillion block, that is right in the midpoint between the two quillions on the inside; and on the outside between the two joints of the following [i.e. index] finger, in such a manner that the fingertip does not go over and beyond the quillion. The remaining three fingers should be strong around the handle, bottom part of the hand, which is called the body, is laid over the pommel of the aforesaid.


One thing I want to address once I get writing is that even in the early 17th century the index finger does not always go around the crossguard in Italian rapier. This is so very often assumed, but none of the "big three" describe this, and they do not always show this.


Oddly enough, Meyer places the thumb on the flat of his sidesword for a number of plays, duplicating the grip you are discussing.

Re: Rapier, smallsword and "transition"

PostPosted: 24 Nov 2014 12:59
by MugginsToadwort
Reinier wrote:
MugginsToadwort wrote:For me, having dealt with both the late 16th century German sidesword material, the 17th century Italian rapier tradition, and now some 18th century smallsword, I can't get over the extreme similarity of Meyer's rapier system (1570) and some of the later smallsword material. It's primarily two tempo parry-riposte, there are circular parries, a short weapon, and a lot of other similarities.

My own feeling is that, at least in Germany, some swordplay bypassed the long rapier stage and moved directly to smallsword. Sutor is still using a sidesword-like weapon in 1612, and later smallsword sources refer to a peculiar type of German play using the hanging and reversed grips, which are not part of most rapier systems.

Should we be talking about parallel development and not transitions?


There are quite a lot of 17th C German treatises referring directly to Italian rapier, often even in their titles (Heussler, Schöffer, L'Ange, Köppe), and they definitely do not favour the high or hanging guard as their main guard, even though the earliers notion of this being the "German guard" might actually be Liancour in 1686 (if my memory serves me well).


I'm aware of all these, some of which are almost direct copies of Fabris, others with more variation (and I've ordered your new book). However, Sutor uses a short blade, and Verolini refers to the older shorter weapons, so the shorter weapon didn't die out during the height of the craze.