Monday, July 13, 2015

How Many Times This Week? A Question of Practice


Practice is something which has been mentioned time and again to us all in many different activities. I have no doubt that if you were to go back through the posts that I have made on this blog that I will have mentioned it many times. For the most part these articles have been focused more upon how a persons should practice and what they should practice. This post will focus on a different point of view on the same subject, frequency.

The first thing that must be said about the frequency of practice is that regular practice is great. It gets your body and mind into a pattern that it can work with and work to. This enables the body and the mind to prepare for the practice and thus be prepared to learn and enhance skills which have already been attained. However regularity is not the only key, there is the question of frequency.

Regularity of practice is only the first step, frequency is also important. Some will decide that only one session a week is all that they can do. This will result in a truly slow rate of progression unless they are doing some substantial work at home. In reality three sessions are required to really improve, more sessions after that are only improving on that. For the most part, many schools run two sessions a week which students are expected to attend. One of these will focus on the learning aspects while the other will focus on the more practical aspects. The third session, the students are expected to make up in solo drills on their own at home.

What you will find is that if you attend one session a week and do no work at home, you will often have to do repeats of skills to truly learn them. If you do one session a week and then go home and do some sort of solo practice on the new skill this will establish this new skill in a rudimentary form in your skill-set. To really establish a skill you will need three sessions and one of these being drills with a responsive partner to find action and reaction. If your school does not have the sessions in the week to do this then it is up to you do make the time.

We all get homework from school and other learning institutions, this is to encourage us to practice what we have learnt so that it will make connections in our brains. Fencing is no different. You need to do work at home between practices to establish skills for yourself. There are some very simple things that you can do to practice fencing at home.

1. Sitting in Stance - Sit on a chair in your usual on guard stance and do whatever that you were normally going to do with the upper part of your body. I have found this usually works best on an office chair in front of a computer.

2. Footwork in the House - Use your fencing footwork to move around the house. This will make the movements natural to you so that you do not have to think about them.

3. Hand and Foot - Move your hand before your foot. This adds on to the previous one, always remember to move your hand before your foot in your actions. Approach the fridge, extend your hand, step closer to it. Approach a bookshelf, extend your hand, step closer to it. Do this consciously.

4. Hanging on a String - Hang a piece of string, attach a tennis ball to it, have a stick the same length as your sword next to it. Every time you pass the stick, pick it up and strike the ball 5 times from proper distance on guard. Once you are striking it more times than not, change it to a lunge. Then shrink the target and repeat.

5. Stationary Target - Cardboard box flattened approximately the same size as your torso. Hang it on a wall. Divide it into quadrants. To start, simply thrust at the box from on guard. Once you can hit the box without missing aim for each individual quadrant. Add footwork once you can strike each quadrant and strike each quadrant on the move, including on a lunge.

These are five simple physical practice elements that you can do so that you can practice solo at home. If you do not have a sword, the weapon can be swapped for a stick of the same length that you would normally use. These drills are simple and apply to all fencers regardless of their level. While the footwork drills are less applicable, we can all use a brush-up now and then.

Exercise the Mind
"Accidents happen", an unfortunate but true fact of life. Regardless of how we protect ourselves injury and illness are only a step around the corner. The result of these is often time off where we cannot do the physical practice which the art of the sword requires, however, there is not an end to it. There is always the mind to exercise.

Studies have shown that individuals who exercise their minds as well as their bodies do much better than those who just exercise their bodies. Reading about the actions of fencing and practicing them in our minds actually goes some distance to assisting us in our training. It familiarises us with the ideas of fencing and the theoretical aspects and these explain the physical. If you cannot go out and actual do fencing your should be at least reading or thinking about it.



Saturday, June 13, 2015

What's In A Name?


We need to be careful about our naming conventions in order that we do not misname our sources. This can become more difficult when we are dealing with foreign names, be they of a different nationality, from a different time period, or even both. This particular issue can result in a misnaming of a source over a long period of time. There are two examples I would like to cite a this point in time, one French, and the other Spanish.

The first is an author who is often referred to as "Liancour". His name is Andre Wernesson, Sieur de Liancour. Someone has taken the last part of his name and thought that this was his surname or family name, because it was the last bit of his name. Incorrect. Liancour, or Liancourt, is a geographical location. Andre Wernesson is the Lord of Liancour. So the author should be referred to in the text as "Wernesson", sometimes spelt "Vernesson".

The second author is often referred to as "Narvaez". His name is Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez. Once again someone not knowing naming conventions has simply taken the last part of the name and used it as the surname. Once again, incorrect. Again Narvaez is a geographical location. Luis Pacheco, is from Narvaez, and has the title of Don. So the author should be referred to as Pacheco.

In our research into various martial arts and the use of the sword we need to examine the sources carefully, but we also need to look at the authors carefully to make sure that we are naming them correctly. This allows anyone who would follow our research later on to find the same sources and gain the same knowledge that we have gained. Misnaming sources by their authors can cause all sorts of issues in finding the sources for other readers and researchers. This could lead them to believe that the source does not exist and even question the research. Take care in your research, and give credit where credit is due, and to the correct author.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Watch Your Assumptions


We all come to fencing through different paths and from different backgrounds. Some come from sport fencing backgrounds, some come from oriental martial arts. The result of this is that well all carry a certain amount of "baggage" with us. A certain amount where we read something and rather than going off exactly what is read we assume that we know what is being said based on our previous knowledge. This can lead us into issues.

We must remember to read the manuals that we are reading and read them with a similar perspective to the one which the writer wrote them. For example: in the case of an Elizabethan manual, it is important that late Italian knowledge is not read into it, or even later. This can often happen as a result of our history and our background and thus our assumptions. The classical fencer, with his foil and epee has four distinct parries which he remembers. The rapier combatant may use actions which may in part be similar to these but the actions may not be named or used in the same way. If the classical fencer reads these parries into a rapier manual then he can find himself horribly confused. We must ensure that we do not put anachronistic terms, theories and practices into a manual as it will cause problems with the interpretation.

This particular situation became most evident for me when teaching a class on di Grassi, and more to the point his single sword. This would seem to be relatively simple except my own assumptions got the better of me and began to cause issues. Giacomo di Grassi states:
For the defence whereof it is needefull that he ſtand at the lowe warde, and as the thruſt cometh, that he encounter it without, with the edge of the ſword, and increaſe a ſlope pace forward, with the hinder foote at the verie ſame time, by which pace he moueth out of the ſtraight line, and paſſeth on the right ſide of the enimie. And he muſt remember to beare alwaies the poynt of the ſword toward the enimie: So that the enimie in comming forwardes, ether runneth himſelfe on the ſword, which may eaſely happen, and ſo much the rather, when he commeth reſolutelie determined to ſtrike, or elſe if he come not ſo farre forwardes that he encountereth the ſword, yet he may be ſafelie ſtroken, with the encreaſe of a ſtreight pace:
So my first reading, all assumptions engaged stated this: Parry the sword in third with a slope pace forward with the hind foot with the point toward the enemy, which he should run upon. If he does not move forward to strike if he does not. Easy, right? Wrong. Problem here is that with a parry of third, the point tends to be a little high, so there are hilt issues with the opponent's weapon coming in at the downward angle from the High Ward. This did not result in the nice clean execution that di Grassi describes at all. Working through it again, if the thrust from the High Ward is encountered with the blade of the sword in the fashion of a cut, a mandritta tondo, not a parry, the action works much more cleanly.

Be careful about when you are reading and interpreting the manuals and figure out what your assumptions are before they make a mess of things. Or at least be aware of them so that you can understand them and so that you can fix them. Manuals need to be evaluated from the point of view of the time in which they were written and using the terms from when they were written. Mistakes such as these were made by many fencing historians, it would be best for us not to repeat them and gain a greater understanding of these works.



Monday, April 13, 2015

The Myth of Speed


Interested in learning how to be amazingly fast, performing actions faster than your opponents? Do you want to know the secrets? Unfortunately the secrets are not really secrets. In fact, there are no secret methods or practices to make you faster. It comes from practice.

Now, it is true that muscle use does have a part to play and this has an effect upon the skill being performed, but where the muscles end the hard work begins. There is only a finite amount of power that can be added to an action before it starts to be a problem. Too much power added to the action can actually decrease the efficiency of the action. Practicing the action allows control to be added to the equation thus the right amount of power is added.

The reason that the more experienced combatant seems to move faster is that they have had more practice. The result of the practice is that the actions of the combatant become efficient thus making the action seem faster. So practicing the skills is one of the most important elements in becoming more efficient, however there is also one more element which a fencer can only develop over time and through experience, and that is timing.

Timing is about knowing when to perform an action, when to defend, when to strike, even when to move and when to stay still. Timing is developed through engagement with other opponents, thus through fencing. This is a comparative scale worked out in the mind between the actions of the fencer and the actions of the opponents, this builds a record of patterns of actions and reactions, and the time it takes for these to occur. Timing is about using the correct action at the correct time.

All of these elements will build together to create a fencer which will seem to be faster to other combatants, but as can be seen, it is actually the result of practice and experience.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Proper Fitting Armour


            The purpose of this article is to address the question of the proper fit of armour on combatants. Proper fitting armour is one of the keys to safety of combatants. While this is primarily designed for the combatants participating in “Swordplay 2015”, held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, it is also useful for other combatants involved in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). One of the prime issues that will be addressed is that of the proper fitting and constructed gorget. This is a subject which has emerged both locally and in the wider HEMA community of late. It is a subject which will be addressed in some detail due to its importance. Armour in general will also be addressed in a general sense to complete the picture.

Proper Fit

            Wearing armour is one thing but wearing armour with a proper fit is another. Armour which does not fit properly can impede a combatant’s performance as it may rub against the combatant or restrict certain movements. More to the point, armour which does not fit properly can offer negligible protection, and in some instances can actually cause safety issues.
            Armour is very individual and in most cases needs to be fitted to the individual. Even “off the shelf” armours often need some modification and wearing-in by the combatant before they fit properly. The armour must fit the individual and should be fitted to the individual, borrowed armour will never be the same and never fit, nor be effective, as your own armour. This is primarily due to body shape, but there are other factors which can affect this such as age of the armour itself. All new armour needs some time to “wear-in”. To be really safe, you need your own armour, and you need it fitted to you. As the article below progresses, more will be said of the proper fit of armour along with what the armour should be protecting. These two elements work hand in hand as often armour which does not fit properly will not cover what it is supposed to protect.

What Needs to Be Protected?

            Vital areas are the highest on the list in the answer to this question, but more detail is required. The following will examine what needs to be protected both from a general point of view and also more specifically for weapons of note. It will also address the idea of minimum armour, areas of importance and some recommendations also.

Minimum Armour

            Each HEMA group will, or should, have a document somewhere, or a known standard, which describes the minimum armour which each combatant requires for participation in free-sparring and most forms of bouting in their particular club. The same can be said for HEMA events, once again these describe the minimums required to participate in these events. In the case of Swordplay 2015, the armour requirements are displayed below in an appendix.
            These rules, regardless of where they originate, describe the minimums required to participate. What is important is that they are not necessarily the same as a person’s personal minimums. Each individual should consider what they require to be safe and if this is above and beyond the minimum, they should feel no issue in wearing such armour, it should be encouraged.
            The foundation of a minimum armour standard is that the armour is designed to protect those areas most significant with regard to significant amounts of damage to the individual. The armour is designed to prevent serious injury as a minimum standard. In this there are areas which are common to all weapons and these are the ones where the most significant amount of damage can occur should they be struck.
            The armour needs to be appropriate to the weapon, and thus there will be differences in armour standard between weapons. This is due to the nature of the weapons being used and the potential damage that the weapon may cause. In this particular case some weapons will require more armour, some will require less armour, and the armour may focus on different areas of the body to be protected. The weapon needs to be taken into account when considering armour.

Areas of Importance

            There are some areas of importance which need special attention paid to them when considering armour. These are the focus of the minimum armour requirements. Depending on what weapon is being used will decide how much armour is required.
            First of all is the head and neck. Of all the areas of the body this is the most significant. Improper protection of the head can cause serious and lasting injury. The importance of this area will be highlighted in a focused discussion below.
            The groin for males is a special consideration for males, as is the breasts for females. Females should also have some consideration with regard to groin protection also. These special areas need to be protected as the damage to these areas can also be long-lasting.
            The next area to look at is the limbs and more specifically the elbows and knees. These joints are particularly exposed to damage and need to be protected from percussive hits as they can be damaged relatively easily. The entire joint in the case of both elbows and knees need to be protected.
Protection for the hands and wrists are also important and should be a significant consideration. This is most important for longsword use however the same can be said for any weapon of significant cutting ability. This is less important for the rapier however the hands should still be covered. Suitable hand protection should be a serious consideration for any combatant. Damage can occur to hands and fingers quite easily where proper protection is not being worn. The entire hand and wrist needs to be protected and covered.
Finally, there are feet and ankles. For the most part this can be protected by the correct kind of footwear. Many combatants underestimate the importance of footwear which is suitable to their activity. A lack of decent footwear can lead to damage to both foot and ankle.


            While the following are only recommendations, they are some which should be considered seriously, regardless of the weapon being used. While a puncture-proof jacket will protect against a broken blade penetrating the torso, it is also recommended that some supplementary armour be worn on the torso for simple impact protection. This is especially aimed at the protection of the chest, fractured ribs are no joke. The other recommendation is for lower leg protection. The upper leg is mostly protected by muscle however the shin is quite exposed to damage.

Skin Coverage

            The final recommendation that will be made is with regard to skin coverage. This is for protection against burrs and the like from damaged blades. While these lacerations may be small they can be quite significant and have the potential for infection. It is therefore encouraged that all skin is covered at least by a simple layer of material to protect against this. This coverage can also do something to protect against other types of damage to the combatant.

Armour Coverage

            A piece of armour is designed to cover a specific area of the person wearing the armour. Needless to say, it is important that the armour covers the area properly for the area to be protected properly. Needless to say, in the case of those areas mentioned above indicated to be of importance, it is vital that the armour can do its job properly.
            The head and neck will be covered by some combination of gorget, mask or helm and coif. This combination of armours will be discussed in some detail later on. For now it is important to highlight that the entire neck and head need to be covered in some fashion, and the most vulnerable parts in rigid material. Groin and breast protection need to be fitted properly, and any lack of coverage here or lack of fit will be noticed very quickly.
            Knees may be covered by a simple covering, but it is important to ensure that the entire joint is covered this is the same for elbows. Often the protection will protect the tip of the elbow or knee very well, but will leave the sides of the knee or elbow exposed. The same can be said for the upper and lower parts of the knee or elbow. Proper fitting armour in both cases will cover all of these areas.
            Like the elbows and knees, special attention needs to be paid to hands and wrists. In some cases the hand will be protected well but the wrist will be exposed to damage. With regard to this coverage it is important that the entire hand is protected properly. In this particular case, special attention needs to be paid to the tips of the fingers and thumbs, and also the knuckles. When examining the hands protection do not forget about the sides of the fingers as well.


            Next in this topic, is the discussion of overlap, it is more useful if armour overlaps as this provides better protection and ensures that there is no exposure. This is especially significant when examining skin exposure. Each place where a piece of armour joins up with another should be inspected to make sure that when the combatant is stationary and moving there is no exposure and no gapping. In some cases this should also be inspected for individual pieces of armour, especially where they are made from multiple parts.

Head and Neck Protection

            With regard to the protection of the head and neck there are three pieces of armour concerned, the gorget, the coif and the mask or helm. In the discussion of these three there needs to be certain things discussed, individually and how they fit together. For the most part the helm or mask is a relatively simple item, so most of the discussion will be on the coif and the gorget, two items which are surprisingly often forgotten. There will, however be some discussion of the mask and helm.

Mask or Helm

            When discussing the mask and helm, it is often that the front of the head is the focus of discussion, so much so that the rear of the head is an after-thought. For the most part this is covered by a fencing mask or similar steel covering, and is often the first piece of armour bought. The back of the head needs to be protected by rigid material. This is something that will not flex when it is struck and can take the impact of a weapon. A simple rigid covering would seem to be enough, but padding is also highly recommended for any contact with the rear of the head. This is enhanced by the presence of a coif.


            The coif is a simple cloth covering which is designed most often to go under the mask. This is best made from either abrasion or puncture resistant material for the best effect. Frequently this piece of armour is disregarded as excessive or supplementary, however it is highly recommended that the combatant obtain one. Its purpose is to prevent abrasion of the mask against the combatant’s head. It also supplies extra padding for the back of the head, and also coverage for the skin on the head and the neck. As a piece of convenience this item is also good for soaking up sweat. Purpose-made ones can be bought which are made of the same puncture resistant material that is found in fencing jackets.


            The subject of the gorget has been particularly topical of late and in this particular case will occupy quite a large amount of the discussion. This simple piece of armour can decide the difference between a combatant being seriously injured or even killed or not. In order to address this properly, this particular piece of armour will be discussed in and of itself.


            The first thing that needs to be stated is what qualifies as a minimum and what does not. A simple padded collar is not enough. A stiffened jacket collar is not enough. The gorget needs to be rigid and padded on the inside in order for this piece of armour to do the job properly. This is a very simple description for the requirements of a gorget, more detail is obviously required.


            First is the question of rigidity and what qualifies under this particular heading. With regard to the concept of rigidity, it is a material which will not bend when put under a certain amount of stress, following the safety standards of the fencing mask that would be a 12kg pressure. In this particular instance it would have to withstand the blow of the weapon being used without bending. Materials which would qualify under the concept of “rigid” in this particular case would be: 0.8 mm stainless steel, 1.0 mm mild steel, 1 layer of hardened leather (8oz, 4mm), or their equivalent.

Necessity of Rigid Material

            The rigid material is necessary to prevent penetration and crushing damage from a weapon. Penetration is most likely going to come from a broken weapon or one which has had a tip punch through. Crushing damage would be the standard damage which would be caused by the tip or edge striking the target. Such damage applied to the neck can be severely damaging or even lethal.


            Something has already been said about armour coverage with regard to the other armours discussed and also with regard to the head and neck armours. In the case of the gorget and what it is supposed to cover, this is especially important. The entire neck needs to be covered. It is a simple as that. There are areas of special importance which need to be noted.
            The front of the neck is especially important and needs to be covered. This includes the hollow of the throat which sits a little lower than the typically considered “neck”. This is the first reason why the simple collar gorget is simply not enough. It needs to be extended downward to cover this area at the front, and far enough that a blade cannot slip up underneath it. Usually a simple flap is added to cover this, however it should be considered that something substantial should be added to cover this area.
            The back of the neck also needs attention to be paid to it. In this case it is the vertebrae which need to be protected. The protection should extend down to below the shoulders to cover all of the cervical vertebrae, the second reason why the simple collar gorget is not enough. Once again, often a simple flap is added to cover this but it should be covered by something more substantial.
            This covers the two really obvious areas which need to be covered. The sides of the neck should not be ignored. While the sides of the neck are protected by substantial muscle, this does not mean that rigid protection should be missed. A substantial hit to the side of the neck can cause quite an issue for the combatant and as such rigid protection should be used for the sides of the neck as well.


            In the combination of gorget, coif and helm or mask the combatant needs to make sure that the armours combine properly and still cover the required areas, both stationary and in movement. This is especially significant when considering the gorget and the helm/mask combination. In some instances there will be a gap left between and this can leave an area of serious vulnerability. The combatant should put all three of the armours on and then have them inspected by a buddy to ensure that they are covered in all areas. Of all the times to ensure that you are covered, the head and neck are the most important.

Appendix: Swordplay ‘15 Armour Requirements

6 Armour Requirements
6.1 The minimum armour levels (for all weapons) are as follows:
6.2 Three-weapon fencing mask (often known as 12kg masks) or masks / helmets of full metal construction, similar to ‘That Guy’s’
6.2.1 Fencing Mask is fitted with a reinforcing bib. Any non-standard (custom made) mask must have a bib or some construction to stop sword tip reaching the neck or face
6.2.2 It is strongly recommended that fencing masks have an external (padded) protective layer
6.2.3 A basic coif / cap must be worn such that the mask cannot directly impact scalp.
6.2.4 A back of head / neck covering is to be minimum rigid material (hardened leather, plastic or metal).
6.3 Fencing jacket of padded material construction of no less than 10mm in the uncompressed state with outer materiel to be of durable material (ie: drill cotton / canvas / wool blend / gabardine); commercially available HEMA / fencing specific padded jackets are also suitable for rapier and sword;
6.4 Neck protector (gorget), puncture proof and specifically including rigid plates to cover front, sides and back of neck;
6.5 Groin protection and/or breast protection as appropriate;
6.6 Simple gloves when using any complex hilted sword
6.7 All longsword competitors must wear additional protective gloves, IE padded with hardened leather, plastic or steel plating. These can be custom made or otherwise, but must cover entire hand and wrist. Motorcycle gloves are not sufficient. Lacrosse gloves are not sufficient. Any non-standard (hand-made) gloves are at the discretion of Safety Marshal and Event Coordinator. Gloves should have no uncovered areas on the back of the hand / fingers / wrist (including fingertip coverage).
6.8 Hard knee and elbow protection is highly recommended, especially for longsword.
6.9 Enclosed footwear (with ankle support highly recommended); and
6.10 Arms and legs are also to be covered (however kilts are acceptable)
6.11 All competitors armour will be checked at the start of the Swordplay 2015 weekend by the Safety Marshal(s) at same time as weapon checks.
6.12 Any competitor not wearing minimum armour will be refused entry to any tournament
6.13 Competitors are encouraged to wear additional protective gear for their own comfort level. Some form of rigid torso is recommended for Longsword. The level of protective gear described is the MINIMUM required to participate in the Swordplay 2015 and all participants are encouraged to adopt additional safety gear if they feel inclined to do so. However please note that minimum or additional armour does NOT reflect an increase in any tempo or power of strikes delivered in combat.
6.14 The Swordplay 2015 Event Coordinator may delegate any responsibility to Swordplay 2015 Crew for weapon & safety requirements but retains veto power over any decision made thereunto.
6.15 Competitors must provide own weapons and safety equipment. Equipment will not be supplied by event organisers. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

What is a Rapier?


The question which is asked in this article is one which needs to be considered by anyone who would consider using a rapier, talking about rapiers, or indeed having an interest in rapiers. For the most part the question itself belies the complexity which is involved in such a discussion. There are many elements which need to be discussed to have a complete discussion of this particular topic, and what is presented are some of the arguments toward that discussion.

            What is a rapier? This is a question that has been posed by curators and historians alike, and contrary to some beliefs, it is not exactly the easiest question to answer. The biggest problem is, “it is hard to define something which comes in many shapes and sizes.” (Anglo, 2000:99). This is one of the greatest problems associated with answering the question. The fact that the rapier came with many different hilts, blades of different lengths and widths makes defining exactly what a rapier is a very difficult prospect. There are types of rapier which contradict one another in their form as well.

“the ambiguities of the rapier are, however, in a class of their own. As A.V.B. Norman puts it, with masterly understatement: ‘the evidence for what is meant by the word rapier at a particular period is confused’. This would matter little had historians of fencing not tended to equate scientific swordsmanship with the Renaissance,” (Anglo, 2000:99)

            What historians of fencing feel is that the rapier is an evolutionary step toward the perfection found in the foil and epée found in modern fencing. From their point of view, the arts found in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were not particularly well formed and required development. In order to circumvent this particular problem in many areas it is best to go back to the original sources, but in the case of the rapier, this is not particularly helpful as contemporary definitions are hazy at best, even those which had practical experience with the weapon (Anglo, 2000:101). This creates a real problem in the definition of this particular weapon. The word itself does appear in period, but its presence is very limited.

“there never was any general agreement as to what a rapier might be. It was only in England and Germany, around the middle decades of the sixteenth century, that rapier came to be used to denote a long sword which, though designed both for cutting and thrusting, placed emphasis on the use of the point rather than the edge: and in neither country has it been possible to establish a conniving etymology.” (Anglo, 2000:99)

            What this means is that there was only two countries and only for a short period of time where the word “rapier” was actually used in a period context. Of course there have been many who have decided that to establish the meaning of the word it is important to look at its origin, and thus establish an etymology of the word and thus find its origin nationally. This would seem to be a great idea, but it has led many curatorial experts and fencing historians along a very interesting path. One of the many sources cites this as the origin.

“The origin of the term “rapier”, first noted in 1474 in a French document, is believed to be from the Spanish words for costume sword – espada ropera. By the early 16th century the term had come to mean a sword for use by gentlemen; and shortly after the middle of the century is was accepted as meaning a long, pointed and slender fencing sword for use by civilians.” (Valentine, 1968:7)

            The French term found was “epee rapiere” and this was compared to the Spanish term which has been cited for re-emphasis and legitimisation. What will be noted later on is this is not necessarily the case, and that calling this the origin is not necessarily accurate. Of course through searches of etymological data, several ideas have been expounded. Bull (1990) gives three different origins for the word rapier; from the German “rappen” meaning to tear, from the Spanish “raspar” meaning to scratch and finally from the Spanish “espada ropera” meaning robe sword (Bull, 1990:96). If an examination of the period documents is done, the results put some of these discoveries and theories in a bad light.
            The best source currently available for this information about the rapier is Anglo’s (2000) The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, in which he states that the French and Spanish never used espee rapier or espada ropera (Anglo, 2000:100). Further in the English translation of many manuals from the period of the popularity of the rapier, especially in England, and later, Italian manuals in which the word spada, meaning sword, was used, this is often interpreted as “rapier” (Anglo, 2000:100). This is how such manuals which were translated into English in the Renaissance period such as Di Grassi’s His True Art of Defence of 1594, were the word spada is used and it is translated as “rapier” as this was the weapon commonly used in the period and also the one which was most popular at the time.
            What is also important to note is that even in the case of the places where the practice of rapier-play originated, “Italian, French and Spanish authors had several words indicating different types of sword; but rapier was not one of them.” (Anglo, 2000:100). This gives us pause for thought at this point in time. Had some other word been used in the English translations, would that be the one that was used now? It is not to say that some of the original words proposed were not used, this is not the case. There is a rare occurrence of rapiere in French Renaissance account, keen edge, alludes to cutting sword (Anglo, 2000:100). This is exactly what the rapier was not, truly it could cut but it was not primarily a cutting sword.
            The Italians did have a different word, which does appear in period texts, for a primarily thrusting sword, but it is not “rapier”. This weapon which is described is also often mistakenly said to be the precursor of the rapier, where actually it is not.

“the only weapon given a specific name was the estoque... occurs only twice in the Valencia documents to indicate on of a number of long, sharp, narrow-bladed thrusting swords” (Anglo, 2000:100)

            These long, sharp, narrow-bladed thrusting swords were designed to be used from horse-back against armoured opponents. They were often used as a substitute for the lance or as a sword when the other had broken. This weapon was designed to puncture through the gaps in armour something that the rapier was certainly not designed to do. Also the fact that this was a military weapon and not a civilian one also removes it from contention as the father of the rapier. Some of the reasons for this evolutionary history of fencing have already been given, but in order to understand this issue, more detail is required.

“central issue for nineteenth-century historians and their followers was the development of the rapier - a notion which they used to denigrate the medieval masters and, indeed, most swordsmanship prior to the seventeenth century. Nowadays the word rapier conjures up visions of a long, thin-bladed, sharp-pointed weapon capable of being wielded with virtuosic speed and dexterity to delude and, ultimately, to run through an opponent.” (Anglo, 2000:99)

            Historiographically, especially with regard to the nineteenth-century historians, they had a particular thought in mind when writing these histories and this needs to be taken into account. The fact that they were attempting to show the medieval and Renaissance masters in a less pleasant light than the later ones who worked with the small-sword and later weapons demonstrates the idea of an evolutionary point of view with regard to the weapons used. The estoc evolved into the rapier, which evolved into the small-sword, which evolved into the epée and other modern weapons. With new research that has been done of late this problem is being addressed, of course problems still persist.

“the polyglot nature of fencing literature further complicates matters; and, for anyone interested in how people used swords for fighting, curatorial concerns (more with hilts than with blades) are of limited value. It is self-evident that, in order to understand sword play, one must understand the types of sword used.” (Anglo, 2000:99)

            The multiple different languages of fencing literature make the discovery of the “true rapier” problematic to say the least. Even in translations of other languages into English the bias of the interpreter needs to be taken into account. For the more practical angle for the Renaissance fencer, studies of hilt types are less useful as how the sword was used is vastly more important. Even where a curatorial study is made, hilts are more the focus, rather than the blades, this gives an incomplete description and often mislabelling of weapons occurs.
            Even in the use of the weapons if that is to be the primary delineation as to what a rapier is and is not there are issues to contend with, “for most of the period with which we are concerned, cutting was as important as thrusting.” (Anglo, 2000:99). If the point is the focus, as it was in histories of fencing, those weapons which could also cut effectively were often discarded, even though they may fill the criteria perfectly in other areas. For the purposes of description of the period rapier, it is to the manuals which actually used the weapon where some answers lay.
            How the weapons are described along with those illustrations found in these manuals can give a doorway into discovering an accurate description of the weapon and therefore some answers (Anglo, 2000:101). Of course, in the case of pictures this relies upon the artist depicting the weapons as they actually were and not an interpretation of their own, and in translation it once again relies on the person who actually wrote the book. For those translated into a different language it again relies upon the actual translation.

“The blades of the single-hand sword shown in Marozzo’s Opera nova are all fairly wide at the hilt and generally provided with a side ring and finger ring, while the edges, although not completely parallel, are more or less straight until they suddenly taper to a point.” (Anglo, 2000:102)

            This would describe a weapon which has utility for both cutting and thrusting. The hilt design is something close to an earlier rapier also. Of course this is contradicted by the fact that Marozzo describes many cutting actions with these weapons which would eliminate them from being rapiers according to some interpretations. This is one example of the problems associated even when dealing with the weapons from one manual, but this problem actually exists across manuals also. Many different rapiers are depicted by different masters, in some cases different within the same treatises. There is however, a distinct change from broader blades to narrower blades as time progresses, but still there is no uniformity. (Anglo, 2000:102).

            The result of the above description could be the question of whether or not the rapier in the classical sense actually existed at all. It is important that in the discussion of a weapon assumptions are disregarded and the facts of the matter are stuck to in order to get the most accurate answer presently available. 
            What needs to happen for any discussion of the weapon to occur in any sort of reasonable way is a common understanding of what this most perplexing weapon is. For the most part this will be dependent on the point of view of the people discussing the weapon. For my own purposes I assume that the rapier is a long-bladed, single-handed weapon, designed for civilian use, which may be used for either cutting or thrusting, but is primarily designed to thrust. This gives a general form of the weapon and how it is used, both of which are significant, needless to say it is vital for a common definition to be made for people to discuss this weapon.


Anglo, S. (2000) The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, Yale University Press, London, UK

Bull, S. (1990) An Historical Guide to Arms & Armour, Victoria and Albert Museum Press, London, UK

Valentine, E. (1968) Rapiers: An Illustrated Reference Guide to the Rapiers of the 16th and 17th Centuries, with their Companions, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, USA

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Discussion of the Form of the Longsword (Part 2)


What follows is the second part of a discussion of the longsword. This is from a more curatorial examination rather than a practical "how to" discussion of the weapon. This is designed to introduce the reader to the form of the weapon and encourage some thought as to the weapons actually being used to recreate what is presented in the manuals.



Oakeshott’s Typology

“So the following typologies are based purely and simply upon an aesthetic standard, form and proportion being the only criteria. This may seem to be a serious archaeological heresy; the only excuse I can offer for it is that it works.” (Oakeshott, 1998:22)

            Oakeshott’s Typology has become the standard for the classification of the medieval sword at least. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the typology works for the higher proportion of weapons, more to the point it is based upon the actual form of the weapon and in comparison to other weapons rather than some arbitrary classification. These two keys to the classification of the weapons takes into account not only their form but also their use and this is because it is based upon blade forms.
 Oakeshott Typology (Oakeshott, 1998:24)

Blade Classification

            The previous section on the form of the longsword introduced the idea of the classification of the sword and indicated that this was based on blade classification. The blade is used because it is the truly operational part of the weapon, “for the form of their blades gives the essential key to any classification. In fact, to attempt to classify these later weapons on hilt forms alone is impossible;” (Oakeshott, 1998:21). This is especially the case as hilts could be removed and replaced. A weapon of one nationality could be re-hilted with a hilt from an entirely different region, and especially in the case of generational swords, could be replaced to suit the current fashion. Thus the classification of “the sword itself must depend upon its blade-form and the relative proportions of its parts,” (Oakeshott, 1998:22). Of course, even with this foundation for the basis of classification, it does not mean that external factors may not alter the form of a blade and thus possibly its classification.

“one thing about these sword-blades needs to be said: the variations in their form for the most part are very subtle, especially between Types XII and XIV; many surviving swords cannot be pigeon-holed into a type at all, because the shape of their blade’s outline has been changed either by corrosion or by grinding.” (Oakeshott, 1996:212)

            The fact that there are subtle differences between the types in many instances, and changes in the blade through various factors can change the classification means that some weapons are difficult to classify as one or the other type. This makes dating and classification somewhat difficult and the examiner of the weapon needs to take into account various factors in the classification of any single weapon, and in some cases the weapon cannot be classified due to these external factors.

Weapon Types

“The typology of swords may seem to have serious omissions, but these are deliberate. It is for the straight, two-edged, cross-hilted sword of the kind which is generally (and very rightly, if somewhat romantically) called "Knightly". ... Two-hand swords, before about 1520, are only very big examples of some of the ordinary types,” (Oakeshott, 1998:23)

            In some ways this simple statement should invalidate much of what is presented, especially in relation to the longsword, however the typology is still useful even for the longsword, as will be demonstrated as even though double-handed weapons seem to be omitted, they are present in the typology and it will be these weapons which are the focus of this investigation. More to the point, as has been previously presented the longsword is clearly not simply a two-handed weapon but one which may be use with one or two hands.
The process of the investigation will highlight those types found in the typology which are most clearly weapons of the appropriate type to be called longswords and will highlight their characteristics. This will enable the reader to get an appreciation of the development of the weapon over time in somewhat more detail than has been previously presented. These weapons will be presented in the same order as they are found in Oakeshott’s typology.

Type XII

            While the Type XII is not identified as a longsword per se, and is clearly a single-handed weapon, “The grip is a little longer than in the preceding types, averaging about 4½".” (Oakeshott, 1998:37). This weapon could indicate a pre-cursor weapon to the longsword having a blade of the same length as a single-handed weapon but a longer handle to accommodate the use of a second hand. This general shape and development in the style of the weapon is continued into the Type XIII.


“Swords of Type XIII are of a very striking and individual shape; some of them are very large – “swords of war” they were called in the time of their popularity between about 1280 and 1340. These Epées de Guerre are massive weapons, but are not to be confused with two-handed swords. There were a few such as early as 1350, but they were considerably bigger and were always referred to as Epées a deux Mains or even “Twahandswerds”. The War Sword had a blade some 36 in. to 40 in. long with a very long hilt, from 6 in. to 8 in. between cross and pommel, but it can be wielded in one hand, though provision is made for using it with both. Most Type XIII swords are large like this, but there are several of more ordinary dimensions, though they have hilts long in proportion to their blades. These are broad and flat, with edges running nearly parallel to a spatulate point;” (Oakeshott, 1996:207)

            The form of the Type XIII is clearly in a longsword form, this is evident by the image in the typology, but also by the description of the weapon given. These war swords were clearly a development to allow the use of a second hand on the weapon, as indicated in their description. What needs to be noted here is the clearly defined difference, as asserted by Oakeshott between these weapons and the Renaissance two-handed sword. The naming of two-hand here is based upon the use of the weapon; indeed the weapon described above is clearly a longsword.
The blade length of these weapons along with the handle length means that the weapon could be comfortably used with either a single or two hands, thus falling into the definition of a longsword as established. This weapon shows the clear progression toward a weapon which was purposefully designed for the dual use of either one-handed or two-handed operation. Further to this particular element is the form of the weapon itself, tending toward a weapon which has a dual purpose of cut and thrust.

“During the second quarter of the fifteenth century swords seem to have reverted to the dual function of cut and thrust. A type of blade which appears early in this century gives an admirable all-purpose sword, much lighter than the massive late fourteenth-century thrusting swords (about 2½ to 3 lb. as against 4 to 5 lb.) with very sharp points but of sufficient breadth at the centre of percussion, and a flat enough section, to provide perfect cutting edges. This blade, with minor variations of breadth and taper, was used extensively throughout the fifteenth century and remained popular until the eighteenth.” (Oakeshott, 1996:303)

            The indicated weapon is one which fell out and came back into favour due to its shape and its ability to be used for both cut and thrust. What will be found in this discussion is that some weapons were clearly biased toward one direction or another, obviously in order to deal with armour however the dominant weapon form will be one which serves the dual purpose of both cut and thrust. The weight of the weapon is significant as indicated in the form previously, the fact that these weapons were lighter means that they could more easily be wielded by the combatant, and thus used more effectively. The form of the weapon clearly indicates a multi-purpose weapon designed to be used single- or double-handed.

“A broad blade, nearly as wide at the tip as at the hilt. Most examples show a distinct widening immediately below the hilt, thereafter the edges run with an imperceptible taper to a spatulate point. The fuller generally occupies a little more than half of the blade's length. The grip is long in proportion to the blade—average length 6".” (Oakeshott, 1998:41)

Type XIIIa

            The separation of Type XIII and Type XIIIa is a matter of size. The Type XIIIa is a larger sword as depicted in the image for the typology presented in the early part of this presentation. “This is generally the same shape as Type XIII, only much larger. The blade, of similar form, is generally from 37" to 40" long, while the grip ranges from 6½" to 9" in length.” (Oakeshott, 1998:42). The separation between Type XIII and Type XIIIa would seem to be a piece of pedantry however the size difference is significant as this would affect the operation of the weapon. This is one of the few times in the typology in which the size is the determining factor for the type.

“The size of a sword has not hitherto determined its type, but here, and in swords of the 14th and 15th centuries, it will be found to do so. The reason here is partly that the XIIIa's are very big weapons, partly because in their own time they were distinguished from their smaller contemporaries by the term "espées de Guerre" or "Grete Swerdes".” (Oakeshott, 1998:42)

            The term “great sword” has often been used to refer to a two-handed sword in the spirit of the two-handed sword of the sixteenth century. What is of significance here is that the term is being used to describe a weapon, admittedly large by comparison to other contemporary weapons, but clearly in the same class as the longsword as it has been so far depicted. This idea of the “great sword” is more likely a nomenclature in order to describe the size of the weapon in comparison to other weapons of a similar period, namely single-handed or arming swords.

“The expression "Grant Espée" would distinguish Types XIIIa from the "epée courte" or "parvus ensis" which may have been the short weapon of Types XIV or XV, better known by its 15th century name of "arming sword".” (Oakeshott, 1998:44)

            More to the point, and especially with regard to the relative size of this weapon as compared to other weapons in the “longsword” category, this weapon while clearly larger than some, was clearly one which could be used in a single-handed fashion or a two-handed fashion. Further to the point and going back to the previous description of a longsword as one which could be worn and drawn from the belt there is evidence of this type of sword being worn on a belt (Oakeshott, 1998:45), clearly placing this weapon, while large, in the longsword category. What is even more interesting with regard to this is the evidence presented that not only was this weapon worn and used alone, but also the distinction is clear that the longsword was considered a separate weapon type.

Type XV

“A strongly tapering, acutely pointed blade of four-sided "flattened diamond" section. The edges are straight, and taper without noticeable curves to the point, which may be strongly reinforced. The blade may be broad at the hilt (some 2"–2¼") or quite narrow (about 1¼").” (Oakeshott, 1998:56)

            The Type XV presents a weapon which was clearly biased toward the use of the point, merely due to its shape. This is further evidenced by the reinforced point of the weapon. This is a weapon which was designed to defeat the armour of the day. “Type XV seems first to have appeared in the second half of the thirteenth century.” (Oakeshott, 1996:307), about the time that armour was changing and the addition of plates on armour was beginning to occur. This weapon was clearly designed to punch through mail and get in the gaps in plate. This form of weapon has clear trends toward the form of the longsword as depicted.

“Many swords of this type [XV] have long grips, like the war-swords of Type XIII. After about 1350 nine swords out of ten seem to have such grips, and are to-day variously referred to as “Hand-and-a-half” or “Bastard” swords. The latter term was used in the fifteenth century, but it is not certain that it was applied to this particular kind of weapon. “Hand-and-a-half”, though modern, is a name far more apt for it; these swords were single-handed weapons, but being furnished with long grips, could at need be wielded easily in both.” (Oakeshott, 1996:308)

            The idea of the “bastard sword” is one where the hilt of the weapon was suitable for the use of one or two hands. This obviously would have to be complemented by the rest of the weapon in the form of balance and length in order for this to be useful. These weapons were referred to as “bastard” due to the hand-and-a-half grip which was neither single- nor two-handed in nature. The advantage in this design was the resulting versatility presented by the use of one or both hands if required.

“All these [Type XV] are hand-and-a-half swords, with grips about 7 in. long, sharply tapering blades of four-sided section about 32 in. long, straight crosses tapering towards the tips, which are abruptly turned downwards and large pommels of Type J.” (Oakeshott, 1996:309)

            Once again, the description presents a weapon which has a substantial grip presented, which could be used for single or double-handed use. The blade sharply tapers toward the tip giving it a great advantage in the thrust, rather than a broad blade for use in the cut. This is a weapon by its form is able to be used in true longsword-fashion, utilising its shorter blade and longer handle for speed and accuracy, while maintaining the advantage of a double-handed grip should the wielder require.

“The type [Type XV] seems to have gone out of favour for a time in the early fifteenth century, but after about 1440 it became extremely popular again in its earliest form, particularly in Italy.” (Oakeshott, 1996:309)
            This is no doubt the type of weapon which Filippo Vadi describes as being his perfect weapon in his treatise, and which Fiore dei Liberi alludes to in his. This is a weapon which is designed for the use of both edge and point, but would seem to bias itself toward the point. The Type XVa which follows is a clear follow on from the principles of this weapon.

Type XVa

“The blade is similar [to the XV], though generally narrow and slender. The grip is much longer, from 7" to 9" or even 10". Forms of pommel and cross are the same as for Type XV.” (Oakeshott, 1998:59)

            Once again, as with the Type XV, a weapon with a slender and pointed blade is presented with a longer handle to be used by one or two hands depending on what is required by the user at the time. In this particular instance the weapon is clearly biased toward the use of two hands due to the extended handle as compared to its predecessor. What is even more interesting is that this weapon was heavily biased toward use against armoured opponents in the additions to the form of the weapon.

“In the Tower of London is another (with a "scent-stopper" pommel) of Type XVa; this is particularly interesting as it has, just below the hilt, a piece about 6" long where the edges are thickened and squared off, forming a long "ricasso". The purpose of this was to enable the wielder to bring his left hand forward to grasp the sword below the cross, so that he could make a powerful two-handed thrust with a shortened blade in close fighting.” (Oakeshott, 1998:60)

            While this is a specific example of the Type XVa sword, the addition of the ricasso, combined with the already tapered and reinforced point of the weapon heavily biases this weapon toward foot combat between armoured opponents. The two-handed thrust of the weapon in what is known as “half-swording” is evident in many period manuals. This is designed to allow the weapon to be levered into place so that a short hard thrust may be made between plates, or in some instances, to punch through the plates of the opponent. Just like their parent type, the XV, they are well known in form as “bastard swords”, having utility for actions with both one and two hands.

“These swords are of the well-known "Bastard" or "hand-and-a-half" kind. Eight out of ten military effigies and brasses of the period 1360–1420 show swords like this; there is only a limited variety in the forms of hilt, and the blades are long and slender.” (Oakeshott, 1998:60)

Type XVI

            The Type XVI is a single-handed form of weapon and thus would seem to be out of the scope of this investigation however it does form the basis of the following longsword form which follows it. Thus an examination of this weapon will reveal some of the characteristics which are found in the following type. The first note which needs to be made about this type is in comparison to two previous types the XIV and XV.

“Type XVI is really a compromise between Types XIV and XV, for the upper half of the blade retains the old flat fullered section while the lower half (the business end of the sword) is four-sided and acutely-pointed.” (Oakeshott, 1996:309)

            This is a weapon which is clearly designed for both cut and thrust actions. It has the tapered point for thrusting actions while retaining a broad blade clearly designed for cutting actions. This demonstrates a shift in ideas about how the weapon can be utilised against an opponent and the realisation that both cut and thrust can be effective.

“The most striking thing about these blades [Type XVI] is that they seem very clearly to be made to serve the dual purpose of cutting and thrusting. The upper part of the blade is in the old style, while the lower part is acute enough, and stiff enough to thrust effectively.” (Oakeshott, 1998:61)

            The idea of the utilisation of the weapon for both cut and thrust is one which forms the basis for the following Type XVIa, a larger weapon, formed in such a way that it can be equally used for both cut and thrust. This is weapon is based on the form of the single handed Type XVI, which is presented above. It is necessary to see the foundation of the weapon in order to understand it.

Type XVIa

“A long tapering blade, broad at the hilt, with a sharp point often strongly reinforced. The fuller is well-marked, often quite short (about 1/3 of the blade's length) rarely more than half the length. The lower part of the blade is not of diamond section, but of a stout, flat hexagonal section. The grip is long, as in Types XIIIa and XVa, the tang of stout rectangular section, often with the fuller running up into it.” (Oakeshott, 1998:63)

            What can be seen in the description above is a lot of similarities in the form of the weapon between it and the previous XVI. Both have blades which are quite wide at the hilt and with a strongly reinforced point, thus giving the weapon the dual function of both cut and thrust. The grip in the case of the XVIa is long, as can be expected and thus it clearly falls into the idea of the longsword in form. Much has been argued about the origin and dating of these weapons and their relationships to other types.

“These swords are generally said to belong to the late 14th—early 15th centuries, but the evidence does not uphold this. It might be said that Type XVIa is merely another variety of Type XIIIa, but it does seem, on the whole, to be a development of it, though undoubtedly in use at the same time.” (Oakeshott, 1998:63)

            The questions of dating and form in this particular case highlight the issues of dating and classification in general. The similarities between the Type XVIa and the Type XIIIa bring in questions about the form and the dating of the weapon, and as to whether or not they are too similar not to be ignored. The biggest difference is in the point, where it is tapered and reinforced in the Type XVIa and not so in the Type XIIIa. Further questions arise as to the dating of this particular type.

“There are many of these swords, nearly all once thought to be of the late 14th or early 15th centuries. The earlier dating which I suggest is well supported by a number of clearly shown swords in Italian paintings of the early 14th century.” (Oakeshott, 1998:65)

            Regardless of the dating of the weapon, what is presented in the form of the weapon is clearly that the weapon is presented in such a form that it would be utilised for both cut and thrusting effectively by the user of the weapon. The addition of the longer handle and the longer blade from the previous single-handed type, XVI, clearly puts this weapon in the hand-and-a-half or longsword bracket. The type which follows, the Type XVII, is an interesting weapon as it seems to be designed for a single purpose, rather than the dual of the XVIa.


“Type XVII ... was perhaps the sword most in use during the period 1370-1425. Its section is usually hexagonal and very solid with sometimes a very shallow fuller in its upper half.” (Oakeshott, 1996:311)

            The fact that this type was most used during this period is fascinating in some ways and quite expected in others. More detail is required to examine the weapon more fully, but needless to say it is the shape of this weapon which is the most significant in this instance. In some ways it is similar to the previous weapon, but there are also significant differences which must also be noted.

“A long, slender blade acutely tapering. Many are reminiscent of 16th century rapier blades, but others are nearly as broad at the hilt (1½"–2") as some of the XVIa blades. The section is generally hexagonal. Many examples have a shallow fuller in the upper quarter of the blade, though some do not. The grip is always long. The tang usually very stout, of a quadrangular section.” (Oakeshott, 1998:65)

            Being that the blade of the weapon is most significant to the use of the weapon this is the focus of the description above. The form of the cross-guard and pommel has no real significant effect on the use of the weapon, at least in comparison to the blade of the weapon. The slender form of the blade would imply that the primary purpose of this weapon is thrusting. This is further reinforced by the solid shape of the weapon.
The form of the weapon is similar to the XVIa; however this weapon is heavily biased in favour of the thrust, with much less cutting ability. In some ways it is much like an estoc, a specialised thrusting weapon, “It is essentially a thrusting sword, some being more like stout, sharp-pointed bars of steel.” (Oakeshott, 1998:65). This is a weapon which is designed to either punch through the armour of an opponent, or have the point moved around the plates to find the gaps in the armour. The idea of using the weapon to thrust with and thus get around armour is reinforced by the presence of the ricasso.

“Type XVII with one of these pommels [T3]. Its blade, incidentally, has a ricasso about 6 in. long, the purpose of which seems to have been to allow the left hand of the man wielding it to be brought forward to grasp the blade below the hilt so that the sword can be “shortened” in close fighting on foot.” (Oakeshott, 1996:315)

            Clearly this weapon was designed primarily for armoured foot combat against an opponent who had a significant amount of armour and plated at that. The shortened grip on the weapon is designed for a much stronger thrust against an opponent in armour, and images of the weapon used in this fashion can be found in the manuals of the period such as Fiore dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum.

Fiore dei Liberi Flos Duellatorum (1410)

This shortened grip is also designed so that the weapon can be more easily used in close quarters combat for leverage against the opponent’s weapon and also to move the point of the weapon into a position to thrust against any gap in the armour. While this is not the common form of the weapon its presence does easily represent this idea and direction in use.


            The Type XVIII is an interesting weapon to say the least. This is one weapon which could be really referred to as general purpose and generic, both in terms of use and also in terms of form, “Type XVIII is a general all-purpose sword which varies a good deal in the shape of its blade’s outline as well as in its hilt styles.” (Oakeshott, 1996:313). The variation in the weapon is one thing which makes this type difficult to isolate, and thus there are some sub-types present. The weapon is depicted as a single-handed weapon going by the image of the typology, so the question is why is it present in this discussion? The description of the weapon assists with this.

“A broad blade (2"–2½" at the hilt) of four-sided "flattened diamond" section; the edges taper in graceful curves to a sharp point. The grip is of moderate length (3¾"–4") but some are big swords with grips over 5" long. A feature of the grips of these swords—many are preserved—is a noticeable swelling in the middle (as plate 46D, fig. 75, p. 104).” (Oakeshott, 1998:67)

            What the description gives is a weapon which has a hilt which can vary in length, along with variation in the blade length. This means that there are examples of the Type XVIII which quite comfortably fit into the form of the longsword as well as those which do not. The sub-typing of the weapon presented by Oakeshott, some of which will be discussed in the following types assists with classification of this type. The form of the weapon was very much generic in form having various variations depending on the actual weapon.

“This type [XVIII] of blade was used extensively all through the fifteenth century, some being broad like Henry V’s and others much narrower. Most of them had a four-sided section showing a definite mid-rib and slightly concave faces to each of the four sides, but after about 1450 many of them had sharply defined ribs and flat faces, similar to the later blades of Type XV” (Oakeshott, 1996:313)

            These variations make it a little difficult to specify exactly the form and attributes of this particular type, however the variations do fall within a general form and thus type of weapon. What should be noted, and is of real interest in the actual use of the weapon, is that unlike the Type XVII which came before it, the XVIII reverts back to the idea of the use of the edge as well as the point, thus cut and thrust in operation, rather than purely thrust.

“In XVIII, the edges run in curves, and the lower part of the blade looks broader. The type is, in fact, admirably adapted for a cut-and-thrust style of fighting, and seems to be a logical development of Type XVI. The strong midrib gives great rigidity, yet toward the point at the centre of percussion there is plenty of width to each edge.” (Oakeshott, 1998:68)

            The form of the weapon allows it to be used equally effectively for both cutting and thrusting actions, and as indicated, it bears resemblance to the Type XVI which came before it, and carrying much of the same characteristics. Needless to say this generic form of weapon would have great advantages being able to cut and thrust and this would assist in its longevity simply due to its utility. Being that this is the primary weapon and having sub-types, it is of importance that such sub-types, and such a wide variety of sub-types, would have only eventuated had the original type been of such use, and also in such a generic form that modifications could be made from it. Needless to say, as far as types go the XVIII and its sub-types have one of the greatest sustained longevities.

“This type, and its four sub-types, were the most widely used swords between c. 1410 and 1510 all over Europe. It may well have been in use in the late 14th century, but the earliest date we so far have for it is 1419;” (Oakeshott, 1998:68)


            Three of the sub-types of the XVIII will be discussed being XVIIIb, XVIIIc, and XVIIIe. These weapons are the ones which conform to the idea of the longsword the closest. While the others may have similar characteristics, they are missing an element which is necessary for this classification, and thus have been omitted from the discussion. What will be noted are their common characteristics which can be found in the parent-type, the XVIII.

“A long, slender, acutely pointed blade, generally of "flattened diamond" section, often with the point reinforced. The grip is very long, often as much as 10"–11". The pommel is most frequently of one of the wheel forms, but second to those in popularity seem to have been the scent-stopper and fruit shaped ones of Types T and T5. Crosses are generally long and slender, more often straight than curved. The grip is of a very characteristic shape, with a waisted lower half which merges with a slender upper half.” (Oakeshott, 1998:70)

            The Type XVIIIb has the main characteristics of its parent-type, as can be expected. The reinforced point on this type is one area in which this sub-type varies with the original. This is continued with the extended and waisted shape of the grip on the weapon. The flattened diamond cross-section of the blade allows it to give it the extra length of the weapon while maintaining a true cutting edge. Thus the weapon has equal utility for cutting as it does for thrusting. The characteristics of this weapon clearly place it in the expected form of the longsword as presented previously.

“One may unhesitatingly say that here [Type XVIIIb] is the very epitome of a "hand-and-a-half" sword of the second half of the 15th century, a German one exactly similar to so many carried by Dürer's saints and knights.” (Oakeshott, 1998:70)


“A broad, heavy blade, of "flattened diamond" section, the faces nearly always flat or slightly convex, generally about 34" long. The grip is long, rather like those grips of some type XVIII swords with a sharp swelling in the middle. As these big swords are hand-and-a-half weapons, the swelling is nearer to the cross than to the pommel. The pommel is generally of one of the wheel forms.” (Oakeshott, 1998:71)
            The Type XVIIIc conforms to the “classic” form of its parent-type. It has the flattened diamond cross-section on the blade. This weapon is a little shorter than the Type XVIIIb, both in the blade and the handle, but it has the same shaped handle with the swelling in the middle of it. The weapon here is broader than the previous one thus giving it more ability to cut, however it retains the tapered point typical to the parent-type, thus also giving it thrusting capability. This weapon has more in common with the parent-type than it does differences.


“A long, narrow blade generally with a long (5"–6") ricasso narrower than the blade itself; occasionally with a fuller running most of the length, but more commonly of "flattened diamond" section. Pommel of pear form, and the cross is curved sharply downward.” (Oakeshott, 1998:72)

            The basic design of the Type XVIIIe is much the same as the parent-type for the XVIII however it is not all the same. The addition of the ricasso is significant as it allows the user to gain more leverage over the opponent when placing a hand on the weapon, known as half-swording. This idea has been presented previously in the form of the Type XVII. This weapon is more unique in form however and is most likely Danish in origin going by examples of the weapon; this is a different form of weapon, purpose designed (Oakeshott, 1998:73). This makes this type one of the few which can, for the most part, be identified by location. This is rather unique amongst swords, as has been previously indicated. This weapon, purely by its longer shape and the presence of the ricasso would be more likely used for thrusting than cutting, while retaining at least some ability to cut.

Type XX

“A large, broad blade sometimes extremely wide at the hilt. Many examples have three shallow fullers in the upper half, two side by side immediately below the hilt, and a single one in the middle of the blade below them. Others may have two very narrow, deep fullers side by side extending about a quarter of the blade length. Hilts are usually long (about 8"–10") with scent-stopper pommels of Type T. Some may have wheel pommels. Crosses are generally long and slender, curved slightly—or rather, each arm inclines at an angle downward, but remains straight” (Oakeshott, 1998:75)

            The reinforcing fullers on the weapon are designed to both strengthen the blade but also to keep it reasonably light in the hand. The longer handle places it clearly in the form of the longsword, being able to be used either with one or two hands. The Type XX has a broad blade, much like the earlier types. This makes the weapon primarily designed for cutting rather than thrusting. “Some of these swords are war-swords, a sort of late development of Type XIIIa, in use at the same time as the late examples of that type.” (Oakeshott, 1998:76). This relationship demonstrates how the weapons were very much developed based on the experiences gained from the previous forms.

Longsword “Type”

            After examining the thirteen types of sword as presented by Oakeshott, what can be clearly said is that there is no one type of sword which is clearly “the” longsword type. Rather that the longsword came in many different variations and shapes. These shapes were heavily dictated by the use of the weapon, and thus the weapon needs to be classified by the blade of the weapon rather than by any other part. Hilts and other attachments can and often were changed to suit the style at the time.
            What have been presented are some different forms of the longsword for examination. What is important is that this is merely a glossing over of the information which is presented by Oakeshott and a person should treat it as such. This is an introduction to the Oakeshott’s Typology and much more can be said of it. What has been presented here is designed to point the researcher in the right direction as to where to find the longsword in amongst the many weapons which are described, and also to demonstrate that this weapon is present in the Typology even if it is not clearly separated from other weapons.
            The modern researcher and indeed the modern recreationalist should take note of which weapon that they are using and how it is being used; ask whether or not it is actually the best weapon to be recreating what they are doing. The information found in more curatorial sources such as Oakeshott’s Typology is significant as it details much of the form of the weapon and also approximately when this weapon would have been in use. It is important to be able to match the appropriate weapon to the appropriate use in order to perform the actions presented in manuals of the period properly.


            The discussion which has been presented has been designed to present the longsword as a weapon and it has been designed to discover the form of the longsword and what the weapon actually is. This means that the discussion, for the most part, has been from a curatorial standpoint in order to classify the weapon and demonstrate its differences and similarities with other weapons.
            The first place for identifying the longsword was with regard to terminology. This did not go into the very simple aspects common amongst all swords but kept to terms which are more directly associated with the longsword, and like terms. The result of this was that the weapon now called the longsword was also called a two-handed sword, a hand-and-a-half sword, a bastard sword, a great sword and also a war sword. All of these terms were demonstrated to indicate the same general form of weapon, while having some particular characteristics of their own.
            This then moved on to a practical definition of the weapon, one which was based on how the weapon is handled and fits into the hand. In this particular case the longsword was identified as a weapon which had the facility to be wielded with two hands due to the grip, but also had the length and weight characteristics which enabled it to be used with a single hand. Thus the longsword was identified as a weapon of great utility.
            The second part moved on to the form of the longsword. This searched for common physical characteristics of the weapon which could be identified easily. The first identifier was that the usage of the weapon affected its form. Thus it was long enough to be used two-handed but short enough to be used single-handed. This measurement characteristic was further emphasised in the weight and length aspects which were identified both as a matter of fact and also advice from one of the masters of the period. This led on to the discussion of the changes in the weapon due to the developments in armour. The weapon changed to suit the situation in which it was found some weapons having distinctive thrusting aspects while many retained the equal ability for both cut and thrust. This led on to the question of classification and dating which set up for the discussion of the Oakeshott Typology.
            The Oakeshott Typology has been used, and various weapons selected from the typology to fit into the form which is the longsword, and these types were discussed in some detail. The idea of this was to identify the longsword of various periods in a curatorial form in order that the changes in the weapon could be identified. What should be noted here are the difficulties in clearly stating to which period or even nationality a weapon belongs due to the many influences the weapon may be subject to. Thirteen types were identified as either distinctively longsword in form or at least related to a form which was. These forms give us an idea about how the weapon changed and the various different forms of the longsword. Its place in history and the location and use of a particular type should be at least in the back of a practitioner’s mind in order that the correct or at least passingly similar form of longsword is used for the method that is being used.
            There are many different forms of the weapon which is called the longsword. This investigation has identified a general form of the weapon and also some more specific examples of the weapon. The research presented is designed to introduce the idea of the form of the longsword and what it was, and to clear up some of the confusion with regard to terminology. What is presented is foundation and introductory research; there is much more to be found about the longsword and it is encouraged that further research is made upon this subject.

For convenience a pdf version of the complete discussion is available here:


dei Liberi, Fiore (1410) Flos Duellatorum,

Oakeshott, R. E. (1996) The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour From Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry, Dover Publications, Inc., New York

Oakeshott, R. E. (1998) The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The Boydell Press, Woolbridge

Porzio, L. and Mele, G. (2002) Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi: 15th Century Swordsmanship of Master Filippo Vadi, Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City

Windsor, G. (2013) The Swordsman’s Companion: A Modern Training Manual for Medieval Longsword, Guy Windsor