Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the Manner of Wearing a Sword: The Lesson


This is the lesson version of the discussion which I had previously made on the manner of wearing a sword. This takes a much more practical approach to the subject and includes references for anyone who might be interested in a little more research, or where I got my findings from. This lesson is more focussed at a recreationalist approach to the subject, but still applies overall.


“The man dancing the Balletti gravi will wear the cloak, and the sword in the manner which is demonstrated in the design of the Balletto of the Bellezze d' Olimpia: and dancing Cascarde, or Gagliarda, they will carry that as is demonstrated in the design of the Cascarda Alta Regina: keeping it as most it will please him either under the right arm or under the left; which one does not matter much: neither dance without this ever, because it makes a most brutish sight. Dancing gagliarda, and finding the sword, he shall hold that with the left hand, such that he would not let it go wandering: and finding it again in the Ballo to have little field, keeping it with the hand, it will return some with the point towards the forward part, such that it not offend the bystanders.” (Caroso, 1581)

The wearing of a sword is a subject which is often overlooked with regard to weapons, but is one which needs some attention paid to it. Some would think that this is a subject where the knowledge is automatic, but there is a great deal more attention that needs to be paid to it. The wearing of a sword, especially in public is a skill not unlike those designed to teach how to use the sword, thus it is a skill which needs instruction, especially for the modern wearer who is not used to the issues associated.

Caroso, in the above statement, gives some very specific instructions for wearing the sword and cloak when dancing. Some of the information presented above will be re-presented below as it is applicable to the situation. Caroso's instruction is primarily discussing the wearing of the sword and cloak while dancing whereas this investigation will cover a much broader consideration of wearing the sword, while covering some specifics as well.


            The first question that must be dealt with in regards to wearing a sword is whether or not it is appropriate to wear a sword in the first place. There are times when it is appropriate to wear a sword and there are also times when it is most definitely not appropriate. In this, there are times in medieval and Renaissance instances, as they are being recreated, and times in the modern world when it is and is not appropriate to wear a sword and the level of censure can be severe for some of these.

Most of the appropriateness of wearing a sword comes from the perceived social norms and conventions of the situation, as well as some legal ones. It is not normal for a person to be seen walking down the street in the modern world with a sword, this would obviously be a breach of a social norm. More to the point in this particular situation a person could also be pulled up by the local constabulary and could be charged with "going armed in public with intent to cause fear", which while it is a misdemeanour is still a serious situation to put yourself in. However, should the same person be found wearing medieval or Renaissance dress and the appropriate weapon at a medieval or Renaissance event or fair, then the situation would be different and the person would blend in. Consider whether the situation is appropriate before girding yourself with your weapon.

Weapons and Alcohol

Weapons and alcohol simply do not mix. There are many stories of people being injured and/or killed when weapons and alcohol are mixed. Some of these stories are from the medieval and Renaissance period and some are from the modern period. The two should be kept from one another regardless of the social situation, thus it is advised that the weapon be put in a safe place before going anywhere near a bar or tavern. Wearing a sword into such a situation has too high a potential for causing issues. The owner of the weapon should even consider putting the weapon away in a safe place should they be in a private situation where alcohol will be served.


“While some military swords were worn as costume decoration from the end of the fifteenth century, the rapier and dagger combination were specialist weapons designed for use away from the battlefield.” (Patterson, 2009:58)

Surprisingly enough, even when associating with a medieval or Renaissance recreation group the consideration of appropriateness still applies and needs to be considered. The first question that needs to be asked is whether the wearing of a sword is appropriate for the attire which is being worn in the first place. The common wearing of swords in a civilian situation did not really come about until the Renaissance period, as indicated, and even in that it was not really until the later period that it became common. Thus the period of the costume with regard to wearing a weapon is something that needs to be considered. You should investigate whether or not it would be appropriate for your own costume.


“as economic development generated wealth for the middle classes, many aspiring gentlemen incorporated the rapier and dagger into their everyday dress … As clothing accessories they were decorated as a set and worn in a fashionable sling called a hanger. Their decoration might also match the spurs in their boots, the pendants around their necks, and the embroidery in their clothes” (Patterson, 2009:58)

With regard to the suitability of the attire for wearing a sword with it there is also the question of rank, or to be more general, social status. Wearing a sword with a peasant outfit would look almost as out of place as being heavily jewelled. Thus we must consider whether the attire which is being worn is appropriate to be accompanied by such a weapon.

With regard to the question of rank, there are some obvious ranks which would carry swords as part of their outfits. These would be knights and the nobility. However there are also lower ranks that would wear weapons, such as the gentry. In fact a gentleman of the later Renaissance period would not be seen in public without a weapon at his side. However, to add to this we must consider the image which is being presented in this instance and whether such a weapon is suitable for it. Clearly a person should consider whether they will wear a sword in the presence of royalty as this can cause some issues as well. Obviously only people of the appropriate rank should even consider doing so. It is better to assume that you do not have the appropriate rank than to wear the weapon and possibly cause issues.


Now that the appropriate situations have been considered it is possible to look at the mounting of the weapon, or how it is worn. This would seem to be an automatic sort of thing, but actually there are things which need to be considered. The appropriate mounting for the weapon must be considered in order to be able to control the weapon. Having a weapon in an in appropriate mounting not only looks bad but also can lead to a lack of control of the weapon which can be disastrous. Thus the appropriate weapon must be placed with the correct mounting.

Suitable to Weapon

“Most medieval swords were strapped to the wearer with belts attached directly to the scabbards. They sat on the left hip, slightly angled forward so they could be controlled and drawn easily. Later swords were usually suspended from the belt at a more horizontal angle, either by various arrangements of straps or by a baldric, a broad strap hung from the right shoulder and running round the body across the left hip.” (Ducklin and Waller, 2001:34)

In the case of all swords, this must start with a scabbard. This protects the blade of the weapon and prevents a piece of steel being exposed to damaging or being damaged by passers-by. The next part is what sort of hanger is appropriate, or even if one should be used. For most medieval swords, the scabbard was mounted directly on to the belt as they had a belt designed for the purpose. In the case of the rapier and later weapons a hanger was attached to the scabbard and this was mounted on to the belt. The owner of the weapon should research for the appropriate mounting rig for the weapon.


Once the correct mounting rig has been chosen then it is necessary to consider the position of the weapon. In the case of the rapier the hanger and belt made it possible to shift the position of the weapon to suit the user and also the situation. The first thing that must be considered is to ensure that the wearer has easy control and access to the weapon. The weapon in its mounting should not be able to waggle about freely; this is the reason for the second strap often found on hangers. The handle of the weapon should be placed so it is easily accessible to the drawing hand. This position should also position it where the pommel can be accessed for control by the off hand. This will enable the wearer to control and move the weapon out of the way should it be placed in a position where it may strike another.  

Area of Effect

The area of effect of the weapon or increased personal space is something that needs to be taken into account. The position of the weapon in its mounting will often result in the weapon trailing behind the wearer, or this may be caused by the placing of the hand upon the pommel. Either way, the presence of the weapon increases the personal space of the wearer. It is actually due to this area of effect that swords were shortened in the later seventeenth century to allow for less problems with people being struck by the scabbards of the weapons, and it is the different personal space between the current period and the period in which swords were worn that needs to be considered.

While wearing the weapon, the wearer needs to be aware of their increased area of effect, this is especially so when moving through crowds. It is at these times that control must be maintained over the weapon to ensure that it does not strike anyone. The wearer of the weapon should always be aware of the position of the weapon and its increased area of effect. Look about yourself and consider your personal space when wearing the weapon and how much it has increased. This becomes especially apparent in movement.


“One of the most common faults among actors and actresses wearing slung swords is to the tendency to hold the weapon firmly by the grip in an attempt to stop it flapping around. The proper method is to allow the forearm or the hand to stay in light contact with the hilt between the weapon and the body. In this way the sword can be controlled by applying pressure to keep it lying close across the back of the hip or buttocks, especially if the performer wishes to make a bow without a sword coming into contact with those behind him.” (Ducklin and Waller, 2001:34)

In moving, the wearer of the sword needs to be aware of his surroundings. Special consideration should be made with regard to any movement which may cause the weapon to swing out and strike someone or something. In all considerations of movement care should be taken. Indeed it is a skill like any other and needs to be practiced. Consider those movements which could cause the weapon to become uncontrolled or cause issues for others about you.

Weapon Control

In walking the off-hand should be placed gently on the pommel of the weapon so that it can be controlled. Ducklin and Waller (2001) instruct the use of the forearm, but the effect is the same, control over the weapon. This prevents the weapon contacting and possibly tripping the wearer but also allows the wearer to move the weapon out of the way should an obstruction be present. In most cases it is best to move the pommel forward and upward slightly thus reducing the area of effect of the weapon when moving through a crowd of people, or to force it behind slightly. The scabbard of the weapon should also be directed closer to the wearer, but not so much that it will obstruct him.

Stand normally with your weapon in its mounting. Place your hand on the pommel and push downward and glance behind to see the increased personal space. Release the hand from the pommel and then lift the pommel forward to see the decrease in personal space. Next walk with your weapon to see how it moves in its mounting without any control over the weapon and follow this up with control by the hand or forearm. Take note of the difference in personal space. Consider how the different movements would take effect in a crowded room or other place.


            In standing the wearer of the weapon is not moving so things should be simple however there are still considerations to be made. In standing the weapon should be placed so that its area is reduced so that someone passing to the rear of the wearer will not trip over the scabbard. A useful technique in this regard is to move the weapon forward and tuck it around the leg closest to the weapon, even if it is just the point hooked over the foot or ankle. Should this be too uncomfortable, the movements described using pressure on the pommel or handle can also be utilised. If the wearer is standing out in the open then there needs to be less stringent control of the weapon, but awareness of those around you should still be taken in.


Sitting is where there can be some consternation about what to do with the weapon. If the weapon is worn in the mounting, the weapon should be pushed forward so as not to trip anyone passing behind the wearer. It is even an advantage to take the weapon out of the mounting rig then sit and place the weapon either immediately to the side or between the wearer's legs. Care should be taken that no one can knock the weapon if it is placed to the side of the wearer, and also how much room there is under the table. Placing the weapon on the top of the table is only an option when food is not being served and there are not too many others about, especially if they are wishing to do the same. Consideration should be made for placing the weapon away from the table if there is a secure place where it can be placed. A deal of practice should be taken by the wearer in sitting and then standing again as it is here that problems can really occur. Try with the weapon in the mounting and with it in your hand. Once again it is control over the weapon which is of greatest importance.


Bowing is an action which takes practice to perform with or without a weapon being worn. In the case of wearing a weapon, special consideration needs to be made about the movement of the weapon so that it does not detract from the action of the bow nor becomes a problem for others who may be near. In bowing with a weapon the handle should not be gripped so that the weapon sticks out when the bow is performed. The weapon pointing up in the air detracts very much from the bow.

The easiest way to perform the bow with a weapon is to bend the top half of the body forward while bending the left leg at the knee. The right leg is kept straight as the body is lowered. The arms part to the sides of the body. The hand or forearm is used to gently move the weapon in a small arc behind the wearer, thus keeping control of the weapon and reducing any chance of it striking another. This is especially important in crowded situations. You should practice the bow both with and without the weapon at your side so that you can see the difference. Any hand gestures should be made with the right hand, while the left controls the weapon.


            The instruction and discussion which has been presented with regard to wearing a sword presents concepts which must be taken into account anytime that a weapon is worn. Indeed the opening parts of the discussion consider whether it is appropriate to wear a sword at all. Each of the points which have been illuminated in the discussion needs to be taken into account.

            For the first time sword-wearer, or even the more experienced one, it is better that you get some practice in wearing and moving with a weapon before you go into a crowded situation. This is a skill like any other with regard to a weapon and it needs practice. The most important thing that needs to be considered with regard to this is the increased personal space due to the weapon.

            Before you even put the weapon on, consider whether it is appropriate for the weapon to be worn, if it is not leave the weapon behind. In examining the weapon, is it in a scabbard? Is it in the correct mounting for the weapon? If you do not have a scabbard or the correct mounting the weapon should not be worn. In wearing the weapon, how much more space does the weapon take up? How will you control the weapon? Consider these important points before moving toward a group. Are you comfortable wearing the weapon and moving with the weapon? If not, it is better that you do not wear it.

            The wearing of a sword is designed for the most part in the modern world to increase the effect and authenticity of the costume being worn. We have no other real reason for wearing a weapon. If the wearing of the weapon does not enhance the costume consider leaving it behind. Ceremonial purposes would be the only other reason for carrying the weapon.

What have been presented are some instructions about how the weapon should be worn and the considerations that need to be made with regard to this. In all instances the wearer of the weapon should be aware of his surroundings and other people near him so as not to strike them inadvertently with the weapon. With regard to this utmost care should be taken. Practice is required to be able to wear the sword properly and be able to control it effectively. It is advised that the wearer make time to practice these things before actually entering the situation where the weapon is worn.


Caroso da Sermoneta, Fabritio (1581) Il Ballarino

Ducklin, K. and Waller, J. (2001) Sword Fighting: A Manual for Actors & Directors, Applause Theatre Books, New York, USA

Patterson, A. (2009) Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, UK