Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Discussion of the Form of the Longsword (Part 1)


What follows is 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.




“a most noble weapon which once had high significance in the minds of men, and fulfilled the most vital and personal service in their hands.” (Oakeshott, 1998:11)

            The question of the sword is one which has delighted the minds of many for many years. For some reason this weapon above all others has excited and interested people of all kinds for many years, even into ancient history. There is no other weapon which, even cross-culturally, has achieved the level of attention of the sword.
There are many different types of swords over the ages in order to cover all of these swords over all of these times takes a great deal of work and time. It is better that efforts are more focused on single types of weapons and to this point, and as the title has indicated, the focus here will be the longsword. Some will question the time period of the weapon, and as such the focus will be on the medieval longsword, taking a lot of the information from the Oakeshott Typology of swords. This would seem to miss out the longsword of the Renaissance, but the weapon passes through into this age, the weapon was changed to the purpose to which it was suited, as will be demonstrated.
What needs to be emphasised is that what is presented here is foundation research. It lays the foundation for much a much more in depth study of the weapon, both as an artefact, but also as a weapon of use. The both of these are connected in that the form of the weapon will determine the most appropriate and effective use, this a weapon which is primarily designed for less armoured targets will do less well than a weapon which is designed for it. Thus part of the aim of what is presented here is to address practitioners and encourage them to investigate the weapon which is being used and consider whether or not the form of the longsword which they have chosen to use is actually the most appropriate for the actions and the form of combat that they have chosen.
            What will follow in the body of the discussion is three parts, each pertaining to the longsword in their own way. Each of the three sections is significant for the understanding of the weapon and to see the weapon in a different way. The order of the discussion proceeds from more general ideas about the longsword to the more specific elements present in the weapon.
The first part of the discussion is about terminology in order that the longsword may be found with regard to the terms used for it. This is in order that the weapon which is being discussed may be understood from a literary, and will address the varied names given to the weapon. This is followed by a general discussion of the form of the weapon from different points of view and will present some of the issues with regard to the classification of weapons by type and date. The final and most technically specific part of the discussion will look at Oakeshott’s Typology of the sword, and address the longsword by the type of weapon as specified in this typology.
As has been stated already this is an overview of the longsword as a weapon, and much more information can be found on this weapon in many different texts. Indeed more than what is being presented can be found in the Oakeshott sources and in museum pieces. This discussion presents the longsword not as a standardised weapon but one of many different forms which changed over time to suit the circumstances in which they were used. The changes in the weapon are as significant, if not more so, than what stayed the same as this also marks different usage of the weapon, affected by the form of the weapon and vice versa. These considerations should be significant for any person interested in the weapon either from a curatorial point of view or a more practical one.

A Question of Terminology: What is a Longsword?

“Sword types tend to blend into each other:” (Windsor, 2013:30)

            In the discussion of the longsword, one of the greatest issues is one of terminology. The issue of the of sword types blending into one another means it is difficult to identify the longsword, or even terms which mean similar or the same weapon. Unlike some weapons, there is no one single form of the weapon; so many terms are created to describe them. What is presented in this part of the investigation into the longsword is an introduction to terminology.
            The following discussion will attempt to clear up some of the issues with the identification of the longsword, especially with regard to terminology. What will be evident in this discussion is that the terminology which is presented here will re-appear in other sections of the investigation, and some other terminology, explained in the parts where they are found, will also emerge. The first discussion that will be made with regard to terminology is the difference between the longsword, the bastard sword and the two-hand sword. This will be followed by a more practical approach to the definition of the weapon from a certain point of view. These two questions, for the most part will cover the foundation questions with regard to the weapon and assist in its identification so that the form of the weapon can be discussed in a later section.

Sword Type Terms

            To begin with the weapon needs to be described at least in general. The weapon being discussed here is one which has a handle which can accommodate the use of one or two hands which has a blade which is of a length to be suited for this use and may be used for both cutting and thrusting. With this general idea of the weapon established, terms can be discussed. There are five terms which are often used with this form of weapon: longsword, bastard or hand-and-a-half sword, war sword, great sword and two-hand or two-handed sword. The fact that there are five terms would indicate five different weapons however this is not necessarily the case.

“In fifteenth-century English “longsword” referred to a two-handed sword. What we call a longsword today was, in English up to quite recently (late twentieth-century), usually called a hand-and-a-half sword, or bastard sword.” (Windsor, 2013:30)

            Already three of the terms have been used above to describe a single weapon; the first referring to the form of the weapon as being used with two hands, as it is referred to in the few English treatises on the weapon, and the other two being used to describe the weapon in a similar sense. It would seem by this that the terms have all been used either replacing or being used at the same time as one another to describe the same weapon. The clearest delineation in this with regard to the terms is the presence of one or two hands on the weapon, however as will be demonstrated this is not necessarily a clear line drawn, and it would seem neither is the purposed use of the weapon.

“We may perhaps take it, since there are as many references to "swords of war" as there are to "great swords" and since both seem to indicate the same sort of weapon that it was indeed so—the type was used in war, and was not the everyday sword of the knight such as might be shown on his monument.” (Oakeshott, 1998:46)

            So the terms “war sword” and “great sword” are also introduced into the question of terminology. As is stated above, at least it is indicated that both of these terms refer to the same sort of weapon, a weapon suited for use in war. These weapons would be indicated to be large, hence the use of the word “great” in their description, however this does not divorce them from any of the terms previous, thus also having these terms refer to the same weapons which have already been indicated previously.

“Thus it seems that the war-sword was not regarded as a two-hander. What other, then, can it be but this very big sword of a kind which, in its later forms, is familiar as the Bastard or hand-and-a-half sword? We find it distinguished in a class of its own, for instance, in the inventory of the effects of Humphrey de Bohun (ob. 1319)” (Oakeshott, 1998:43)

            So, it would seem that the war sword, and great sword by association of the terms, bastard or hand-and-a-half sword are the same weapon, and by association this would also mean that they are also longswords and two-handed swords as indicated above. Thus it would seem that all of these terms, rather than referring to separate weapons, actually refer to the same ones, or do in this particular case. Evidence for this is further supported by Philippo Vadi’s referring to his weapon as a “de ſpada da doi mane.” a two-handed sword (Porzio and Mele, 2002:44). A note should be made that this weapon is not to be confused with the much larger cousin of the longsword, which was a purpose-built weapon designed to be used with two hands, not the longsword, a weapon which could be comfortably used with one or two.
            What needs to be stated here is that there are five terms which have been indicated, and each has been used to describe the weapon about which this investigation is being made. Where a hand-use is indicated would imply the only time where some level of specificity may be made. For example a bastard, or hand-and-a-half sword, would indicate a weapon which has a handle which may accommodate one or two hands and be used with one or two hands, where as a two-hand sword would indicate a weapon which has a longer handle and thus is more suited to be used with two hands. This being said, in this particular context, both weapons could be referred to as longswords, or great swords, or even war swords, depending on their use. With this being said it is necessary that a practical definition of the longsword based upon its use, and clearly defining it, is most helpful.

A Practical Definition

“For convenience, I prefer to define them by the length of their handles. An arming sword’s handle con only comfortably fit one hand; a longsword can fit two, but the weapon is light enough and the handle short enough, to be wielded with one hand (a very long handle gets in the way if your other hand is not on it), and a two-handed sword has a handle and mass that clearly requires both hands.” (Windsor, 2013:30)

            Windsor (2013) describes the weapons from the single-handed sword, increasing in size to the two-handed sword. These definitions are based upon the use of the weapon and thus are useful, as it is the use of the weapon which gives us the best definition of the weapon. Curatorial descriptors can only do so much, especially for the practitioner. His definition of the longsword is broad enough that it does cover the five terms which have been indicated, and focuses on the use of the weapon, which leads to the form of the weapon, which is often the best way to describe the weapon.
            There are many terms which are used to describe weapons of many different forms, not just the longsword. There is a certain assumption in the discussion that the reader will already understand the parts of the sword, and thus no description or explanation has been of these. These parts of the weapon are an inevitable part of the discussion as are other terms and elements which have not been described here. Where necessary, these terms will be indicated and discussed within the text as it follows. What has been presented is the idea of the weapon which is being discussed and the terms which have been used, and are being used to describe it indicated. With this foundation laid it is possible to move on to the general form of the weapon.

The Form of the Longsword

            The terminology which was discussed in the previous section lays a simple literary foundation for the discussion of the longsword. The aspect of the weapon which will be addressed in this part is the form of the longsword, its actual physical form. This is being presented in order to give a general idea of the form of the weapon used. It should be noted that there are many different forms of longsword, and many of these will be dealt with in a later section.
            The following is a general introduction to the longsword, to give its basic form. This will address its physical characteristics in a general sense and also examine a very brief examination of its usage and how this affects the form of the weapon. The different forms of longsword and the changes and developments of the longsword, affected by changes in armour and usage, will be addressed also. The final element which will be examined is the classification and dating of the longsword as a curatorial artefact. This will lead on to a more in depth discussion of the particular forms of the longsword in the section which follows this examination of the general form of the longsword.

Usage Affects Form

            The use of a weapon will affect its form. A military weapon will have to take into account any sort of armour that the opponent may be wearing. Likewise, if the weapon is to be worn there is the question of length and size which needs to be taken into account. With regard to this Guy Windsor (2013) demonstrates how effectively the longsword was taken into civilian circles due to its form, and of course this affected its form.

“As a civilian side-arm, the longsword had many advantages. It was the longest weapon that could reasonably be worn at the hip. Indeed, the ideal length for your longsword is the longest on that you can draw in one movement from a belt-slung scabbard. This gives you the maximum reach for your point, and the maximum tip-speed for your cuts ... The sword being primarily used with two hands, and manoeuvrable enough for a strong defence, ... The beauty of this weapon is that being light enough for single-handed use, the left arm was available for disarms, locks and throws.” (Windsor, 2013:31)

            In his description Windsor highlights certain aspects of the longsword which need to be taken into account when considering the weapon. The length of the weapon is one which was discussed, and will have more detail given to it further along in this discussion. More importantly in discussing the form is the description of the weapon being able to be used both single and double-handed. This specifies a weapon which is purpose-designed to be used alone. “The longsword was probably the first sword designed primarily to be enough on its own.” (Windsor, 2013:33), Needless to say the weapon had to be suitable to be used for both attack and defence in simple or complex motions. This indicates a weapon which is not overtly heavy or cumbersome, likewise that was suited to defend and attack alone without the use of any other device, “it should be light enough to be used with ease and to come back easily into guard.” (Porzio and Mele, 2002:12).


            The description above given by Windsor indicates a weapon which is reasonably light, so that it can be moved relatively easily. More to the point it is a weapon which can be advantageously wielded both single and double-handed; this simple characteristic limits the weight of the weapon to a certain degree in order for the swordsman to achieve this. The concept of the heavy, cumbersome medieval weapon has been disregarded as false thanks to research made.

“In fact the average weight of these swords is between 2 lbs. and 3 lbs., and they were balanced (according to their purpose) with the same care and skill in the making as a tennis racket or a fishing-rod. The old belief that they are unwieldable is as absurd and out-dated,” (Oakeshott, 1998:12)

            The weight indicated above by Oakeshott (1998), who made great strides in the understanding of medieval swords, and swords in general, means that the longsword as depicted was actually quite light in comparison to some weapons. This lightness allowed for a better balance in the weapon and also better handling. Along with the question of weight is the length of the weapon, especially as one affects the other quite markedly.

Measure of Weapon

            The measure or length of the weapon is important as this will determine its best use and how effectively the owner of the weapon may use it. For the most part, many masters of the longsword do not describe how long the weapon should be, possibly due to inherited weapons or that it may be the swordsmith’s job to know the appropriate size of the weapon, or it may be determined by the conditions of a duel.
However, Filippo Vadi does specify the weapon to be, “proportionate to the wielder, reaching from the ground to the armpit, with a long hilt, rounded pommel and an equally long, squared and pointed cross guard.” (Porzio and Mele, 2002:12). This means that the weapon should be not too long or too short for the wielder being fitted to the user. He does give further details as to the form of the weapon which is most interesting, he states that the handle should be a hand span, and the cross to be the same length as the handle and pommel together (Porzio and Mele, 2002:45). This gives all the measurements a student would need in order to order a weapon which is appropriate according to Vadi.

Change in Weapons Due to Armour

            Weapons change to suit the armour against which they are fighting against, as has been indicated previously. In the case of the longsword, the weapon was to change to suit the circumstance to deal with armour. “During the latter part of the thirteenth century a type of blade whose chief purpose was to thrust had come into use.” (Oakeshott, 1996:301). This thrust-orientated weapon was designed to deal with the developments in armour at the time however the change in weapons would match the change in armour, so much so that the form of the longsword changed radically in the medieval period.

“During the transitional period between 1320-50, when more and more pieces of reinforcing plate were being added to the old harness of mail, blades of a transitional type were developed too, though the old blunt-ended cutting blades were still popular. These transitional forms combine the acute, rigid points capable of effective thrusting with the wide, flat, fullered section in the old manner.” (Oakeshott, 1996:302)

            What can be seen in these transitional blades is an attempt to combine the advantages of the thrusting point with a cutting edge in order to achieve a more rounded weapon; one that could be used effectively for both cutting and thrusting. As more and more plate was added to armour, the cutting weapon lost its effectiveness against such armoured targets, so once again the thrusting longsword re-emerged. “After 1350, when the complete harness of plate was universal, blades became instruments designed almost entirely for thrusting;” (Oakeshott, 1996:303). These weapons were clearly biased to thrusting in their form, and had very little cutting edge, if any at all. The dominance of the thrust-orientated weapon, with very little cutting ability was not to remain, but was to be over-shadowed, once again by the dual-function weapon designed for both 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 chronology and form of the longsword will be presented in some detail in the next section which addresses those weapons appropriately identified as longswords from the Oakeshott Typology. This would indicate that the weapon, due to its form is a relatively easy piece to identify and place in a particular period of history. This is simply not the case, the classification and dating of swords is not as cut and dried as it may seem.

Classification and Dating

“when we consider sword types of the later Middle Ages we have to reckon with many differing blade forms which have an all-important bearing on classification:” (Oakeshott, 1996:203)

            What needs to be stated here is that it is blade classification more than any other part of the sword which is the key to identification of the weapon. The hilt may be changed from one to another. The blade is where the work of the sword happens and thus is the more significant part. So dating should be a simple matter of identification and placement, this is not actually the case.

“Though it has been possible to classify the European sword into clearly defined types and sub-types, it is not possible with the knowledge and material at present available to lay down any precise definitions of date or place.” (Oakeshott, 1998:14)

            The types and sub-types, which will be described and had significant detail presented in the next part of the discussion, are a way to classify the weapons and get a general idea about where the weapon belongs. This does not necessarily give a confirmed date as to when the sword was made or used. A perfect example of one of the complications with regard to this is the concept of generational sword-passing. The passing of a sword from father to son means that a sword may be passed down generations from when the sword was originally made.

“in trying to date a sword or a sword-type, it is perhaps more practical to look for a period during which it could have been in use, though this might cover a span of time too long to be of value.” (Oakeshott, 1998:16)

            This means that weapons can be classified by type in some form but dates are much more difficult to come by which are useful. A generationally passed weapon may be hundreds of years old by the time it is laid to rest. Further to this complication is that as communications increased in the medieval period so too did the passing of weapons. “In the High Middle Ages we do not even have these regional classifications to help us.” (Oakeshott, 1998:19). A blade forged in Spain may have an Italian hilt attached to it and then presented to a noble of England. This makes the original location of the weapon difficult.
Those in the archaeological community would claim that the weapon should be dated and located by where it was found. This is not necessarily as useful as it might seem and Oakeshott (1998) clearly states, “So I firmly adhere to the archaeological heresy that knowledge of the find-place of any sword is utterly valueless in dating or placing it.” (Oakeshott, 1998:20). A weapon may be found in a particular place, but was it dropped, buried or placed in that particular position. Misdating of weapons has occurred due to the location and association of other items found in the same location.
Further to the classification and related dating of weapons it should be noted that the popularity of a weapon form may emerge and then dissipate and then re-emerge. This can be found in at least two classifications of weapons identified by Oakeshott and then had these weapons follow the exact pattern which has been described.

“Another thing to remember is that certain types – particularly XIII and XIV – lasted for a very long time. In the last two decades of the fifteenth century, for instance, Type XIII became very popular again, so much so that many old blades of the early fourteenth century were re-mounted in fashionable hilts;” (Oakeshott, 1996:212)

Needless to say much care must be taken in the classification of the longsword to a particular period. It needs to be recognised that the form of the longsword existed over centuries and changed over this period. The significant thing is that there is a general form of the longsword and more specific classifications as well. The indicated weapon is one which is of an appropriate length to be used with a single or double-hand action, weighted and balanced to be suitable to be used alone. The length of the weapon is dependent on its form. This is a general idea of the longsword.
Much more detail will be presented using the Oakeshott Typology in the next part in order to give a clearer, more curatorial and academic examination of the weapon. This information is useful even to the practitioner in order to find the most appropriate weapon to the style which is being performed with the weapon as function is important to the form of the weapon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Perfect Weapon Length: A Discussion of Weapon Proportion


            The original thought for what follows was to seek weapons of perfect length for own purposes. This would be not to go out and actually acquire said weapons, but to examine the lengths and compare them to the ones that I am currently using. Instead, I thought it would be more useful to examine various theorists’ preferences for weapon length, and what follows is not an exhaustive list of weapons or theorists. This can then move on to a discussion of other things related to weapon length such as weapon proportion and its importance.
            With regard to weapon length preference, there is a general organisation between determined and proportional for the examination of the theorist’s preferences. There will also be the question of the importance of choosing a weapon length as several theorists do not designate a weapon preference, the reasons for the choice of weapon length, and how the weapon length relates to both the form of combat and its foundation.
            With regard to the evidence presented, some will come from primary texts and others will come from secondary texts, based on primary texts. The conclusions drawn from the evidence and discussion made with regard to reasons for these choices of weapon length are, however, my own and based upon my own understanding of the various weapons and their use. Please excuse the lack of bibliographical details where they have not been included, in most cases period works simply are referenced by author and date.

Length Determined

            What is most interesting is that some theorists discussed weapon length while others did not. More interestingly is that there is a clear trend for theorists not to discuss the dimensions of the weapon rather than to discuss them. This could come down to a couple of reasons, either the length of the weapon was not considered important, or that the student should be appropriately fitted for his weapon before consulting with the teacher. Another reason could also be is that the weapon length could be decided for a duel, so weapon length would be up to the chooser and thus not appropriate to be discussed in the context of learning. In any case, what will be found below is a mix of weapons proportional and also simply determined.
            The length of a weapon could be chosen for different reasons. The proportional measurement of weapons makes most sense as this fits the weapon to the individual who would be using it and thus, by rationale make it the most suitable weapon for the individual to use. Other measurements of weapons however are simply determined by the author. Swetnam states "thy weapon fowre foot long or there about," (Swetnam, 1617). He gives no rationale simply a statement of fact. It would be assumed that this length of weapon is the one that either he is most comfortable with or has found most suitable for what he is teaching. What is most interesting is that a similar determination for length is also made with regard to the Spanish Tradition.
            While Swetnam gives a weapon length approximate and would seem to indicate a weapon length which may be longer, the Spanish seem to go in the other direction determining the maximum length of the weapon. “According to the canonical authors, the length of the weapon should be no longer than 5/4 vara. That’s an upper limit just a bit over 41 inches.” (Curtis, 2010). This indicates that a weapon should have a maximum length, but a preference for a shorter one. The weapon length determined here is echoed by Pacheco de Narváez and Francisco Lórenz de Rada (Curtis, 2010). This would indicate that for the Spanish tradition it is better to have a weapon shorter than longer, this weapon preference and choice of form and method of play have a clear relation to one another.

Length Proportional

            To broaden the scope and moving on to a shorter, but equally essential weapon, examination needs to be made of Vadi’s determination for dagger length. The length of this weapon is proportional to the user, as are all Vadi’s weapons. He states that “The length of the dagger should be just to the elbow, with an edge and two corners. The grip should be the length of the fist, as the shape is shown depicted here below.” (Windsor, 2012:173). This keeps the dagger proportional to the user, a shorter dagger would not cover the forearm for some of Vadi’s defences and a longer one would likely get in the way.
            Vadi applies a similar reasoning with regard to proportionality with regard to his primary weapon the longsword, “proportionate to the wielder, reaching from the ground to the armpit, with a long hilt, rounded pommel and an equally long, squared and pointed cross guard.” (Porzio and Mele, 2002:12). Clearly the weapon is proportional to the user of the weapon as determined by the length of the weapon overall. What is also noted is that such proportionality in the weapon is further highlighted in the formation of the hilt. The handle is determined to be a span long, and the cross guard, the same length as the handle and pommel together (Porzio and Mele, 2002:45).
Even George Silver states that the two-handed sword needs to be proportional to the user’s other weapons, “The perfect length of your two handed sword is, the blade to be the length of the blade of your single sword.” (Silver, 1599). It should be noted that there was little considered difference between the long and two-handed swords in their description in the treatises. Needless to say, with all of his vehemence against the long Italian weapons, he makes clear statement as to the perfect length of his single sword.

“To know the perfect length of your sword, you shall stand with your sword and dagger drawn, as you see this picture, keeping out straight your dagger arm, drawing back your sword as far as conveniently you can, not opening the elbow joint of your sword arm, and look what you can draw within your dagger, that is the just length of your sword, to be made according to your own stature.” (Silver, 1599)

            In some ways, and at the other end of the length question is found Ridolfo Capo Ferro, whose determination for the length of a weapon is at the highest end of length of all weapons. Capo Ferro’s weapon is quite long and eminently suited to the point-orientated system which he presents in his treatise. For him the weapon can be determined by three different measurements.

"Therefore the sword has as much for its length as twice that of the arm, and as much as my extraordinary step, which length corresponds equally to that which is from the placement of my foot, as far as it is beneath the armpit." (Capo Ferro, 1610)

Once again the weapon is proportional to the user of the weapon, however in his measurements, some of them do not always correspond to one another and the reader is left to either determine which is best or average out the results. Regardless of the mathematical determination, the weapon ends up being quite long and most suited to the form of fencing which is presented in his manual.
In a similar method of measurement Girard Thibault determines that the cross-guard should be at the navel of the fencer and the blade length goes so that the tip touches the floor (Thibault, 1628). Obviously this makes a clearly shorter weapon than Capo Ferro however it does present a weapon proportional to the user. The shorter weapon can also be attributed to Thibault’s use of the Spanish system of fence.


The perfect weapon length was either determined by a specific length, as described by Swetnam and some of the Spanish, or left to be measured to be proportional to the user, as described by Vadi, Silver, Capo Ferro and Thibault. These two methods of determining weapon length result in different weapons used for different purposes. Even within these determinations there are clear differences in preference for weapon length, the clearest being the shorter weapon of Silver and the much longer weapon of Capo Ferro, both determined by proportionality.
Essentially one determination of dagger length, two for longsword and a couple more have been presented for the single handed sword, rapier or otherwise. This is not a complete catalogue of weapons in any way shape or form. Nor is it a complete catalogue of all of the theorists and their various measurements of weapons and off-hand devices. What have been presented are some ideas about why the various lengths and determining factors were used by various theorists. How this information is used is entirely up to the reader, practitioner, and swordsman.  
The search for the perfect weapon length is a slow process, and for the most part while information can be found in manuals of the period, it is really up to the user to determine the weapon which is the most appropriate to their use at the time, and in the style which they are using. This is evident by the clear difference in length as determined by the proponents of the various schools which have been presented. Finding your own perfect weapon length is a matter of using different weapons and finding the one which suits you best. Advice can be gained from different sources, but in the end it is your weapon and you will be using it.


Curtis, P. (2010) Destreza: Choosing  a Weapon for the Spanish Tradition

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

Windsor, G. (2012) Veni Vadi Vici: A Transcription and Commentary of Philippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, The School of European Swordsmanship

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Saviolo-Shakespeare Connection


This is an unscheduled post to advertise a post on another blog of mine. It is one which should be of interest to those interested in Saviolo, but also those interested in the connections which fencing masters made to their wider communities.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Fencing Treatise: Part Manual, Part Resume


I have in previous articles discussed period sources and their uses. These discussions have been focused on the uses of the treatises in a practical sense and also understanding the language within them. There is a slightly different approach in this article with regard to the treatises. This approaches the manuals the manuals as they are and how they were presented to the public and gives something of an explanation as to how they are written and what is presented in them.

What will be noted in many manuals is the lack of basics presented. Even though there is the demonstration of theoretical knowledge and scientific principles, this is more designed to present the knowledge of the author than to present principles. For the most part there is a demonstration of a high level of skill presented in these manuals, rather than the essential skills that a combatant would need to know to learn to survive. This knowledge and skill base presented is designed to present the skills as noble and a noble intention in their teachings. Thus many of these manuals are more resume than practical manual.

The idea of the manual being a curriculum vitae rather than a more practical approach to how the skills should be used. This is more common in the later manuals of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries, but is also present in earlier ones as well. A perfect example of this is Talhoffer's treatise of 1467 in which skills are presented but also other elements of warfare. These manuals were designed to present the author as a knowledgeable individual with great skills, designed to draw attention to the author's skill with the hope of future employment. This is perfectly presented if any time is taken to read the dedications in these manuals, in which it is clear that he is selling his skills in book form.

All this being said, it cannot be ignored that the manuals and treatises present useful skills that can be learnt. Even present a system of defence for certain weapons. Thus it is clear that they should be treated partially as practical manual, but also part resume. In some cases the skills presented cannot be learnt as they are without a teacher, and some where it is claimed that it can be learnt without the assistance of a teacher. The latter type tends to be the more practical and the one where more basics are found. Regardless, both types of treatise are useful not only for their practical skills, but also for the social aspects which are presented. It simply needs to be understood which is which and their multiple uses regardless.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Italian Blow Translation: A Proposal


What follows is less of a blog entry in the usual sense and more of a proposal for the dissemination of information useful to the community at large. This is designed that two different and yet similar communities may be able to communicate their usage of similar weapons in a fashion where both may learn from one another. This is merely a proposal to be considered by all parties concerned.

In a similar fashion to the masters of old, the heavy combatant members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) have referred to their various blows with their weapons by somewhat arcane names. Examples including the "Scorpion Wrap" and "Barrel Roll" being a perfect example. This makes the intent of the blow easy to communicate to similarly educated individuals, but more difficult to the wider sword-using community. On the other side the civilian, or rapier combatant community of the SCA has begun research into period manuals, using the terms which are present in order to communicate actions, which also allows the to communicate with the wider sword-using community. Admittedly, this is more prevalent in some areas than others but the situation is the same. The result is a lack of communication results in some lack of appreciation, both ways.

What is being proposed here is to translate the named blows of the SCA into first into the Italian nomenclature of the masters of the medieval and Renaissance period, with the possibility of further translation into other languages. This translation of the blows, and giving them their Italian counter-part names, would enable both communities to be able to communicate the blows that they are using along with their techniques and thus both communities could gain an appreciation of what each does, and result in further learning for both. This could be then further expanded to communication with other sword-using groups, such as western martial artists and other recreation groups. Such communication can only enrich the knowledge of the sword for all of the communities concerned.

Needless to say, for this project to work, or even be possible, there needs to be a lot of mutual communication between all communities concerned. This communication needs to be founded on respect for the martial capabilities and knowledge of the communities involved. A lack of communication will result in aspects from both sides being omitted and flaws will then develop in the overall project. This proposal is designed to encourage such communication to start.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

di Grassi – Case of Rapiers – From the Second Part


This is a transcription from the second part of di Grassi's (1594) His True Art of Defense. No spelling, punctuation, or grammar has been altered in any way. The only difference is the formatting which has changed due to the difference in width in the original text as compared to the transcription. This has been posted as a public service, anyone who would be interested in a more convenient version is free to contact me with regard to this.



Of the falſes of the two Swordes: or Rapiers

THEIS kind of weapons haue ſo great libertie of ſtriking and warding, and are ſo entermedled the one with the other, as no other ſorte of weapon is, which I may compare with theis. There may be framed an infinite cõpanie of wardes with theis weapons, and all of them ſure, except two, which are framed and borne without, and are theis as followeth.
            To bear both ſwords with their points backward: for this maner of warding, is as if one would of purpoſe cauſe himſelfe to be ſlaine: or elſe to beare both aloft, which a many may hardlie ſuſtaine, conſidering the paizes of the ſword are naturally heauie and tend downewards, ſo that the armes are much cumbred thereby. Therefore from theis two which are framed without, ſhalbe laide downe, all thoſe which may be founde and may be framed in the handling of theis weapons: as for example, high wardes, lowe, wide, latered, diminiſhed, and al thoſe wards which are mixt, as to frame with one ſworde the high warde, with the other the broad warde, and to frame the lowe and broad warde, the high and lowe ward, two lowe wardes, and two broade wardes: but yet theſe laſt two are as painfull as the two high wardes, and therefore ſhall not be vſed. Moreouer, a man may beare one ſworde with the poynte forwards, and the other backewards, and may further, verie eaſely finde out and practiſe diuers other waies, if he conſider in how manie waies a man may moue his hands, his armes, his feete, and his whole perſon: for each of theis motions are ſufficient of themſelues, to alter the warde. In all theis wardes, he may with either hande and ſword, practiſe to falſe againſt the enemie, ſometimes by fayning, ſometimes by diſcouerie. And this is properlie belonginge to theis weapons, to wit, to falſe with one, and to ſtrike home, either with the ſelfe ſame, or with the other weapon: & likewiſe diſcouerwith the one, and ward with the ſelfe ſame, or with the other, which neuer yet to this daie was or might be done with any other weapon. For in the handling of other weapons, that which falceth, doth in like manner ſtrike home, ſo that of force, there are ſpent two times: for which conſideration men hold opinion, that falſing is occaſion both of great hurte, and alſo of loſſe of time. But yet this happeneth not in theſe weapons, which foraſmuch as they are two, and are of equall power both in ſtriking and defending, may be handled both after one faſhion. And preſuppoſing alwaies that one is as skilful to handle the one aſwel as the other, he may diſcharge at ſelfe ſame time two thruſtes, two edgeblowes, both right & reuerſed.
            But if he would exerciſe himſelfe onelie in ſporte & plaie, he ſhal then continually vſe to ſtrike his enimie with one, and defend his perſon with the other. Therefore when one dealeth againſt an enemie that hath two ſwords, one of which maie alwaies encreaſe a pace, and ſtrike either with a thruſt, or with the edge, from that ſword he muſt take heede to warde himſelfe, for it is verie forcible, and alwaies bringeth great daunger and perill with it: The other ſworde which was before, maketh no increſe of pace and therefore cannot ſtrike more then the defence & ſtrength of the arme will beare, and that is weake to ſtrike, but yet verie ſtrong to defend: and the ſelfe ſame accidentes and qualities, which are found to be in the enimie, are incident alſo to ourſelues. Wherefore when one findes that he ſtandeth with his right foot before, be it in any warde whatſoeuer, he may falſe with the forſword and ſtrik home with the ſame, or elſe he may falſe with his hinder ſword, & ſtrike with the ſelfe ſame: or elſe after a third waie, to wite, to falſe with the one, and hit home with the other: And this kind of falſe, doth more properlie beling to the two ſwords then any other, but yet he muſt take heede and verie well remember that whileſt he falceth with the one, and would alſo ſtrike home with the ſame, that he beare the other directly oppoſite againſt the enimie. For whileſt the enimy is bound to warde the falſe, and homeblowe of the one ſwordm he may come in with the other and ſtrike, if he finde any place either diſcouered or eaſie to enter: So that bearing this rule continuallie in remembrance, which is in the fight of two ſwords, to beare alwaies the one directly againſt the enimie, to the entent to hinder him, that he reſolue not himſelf to enter, he ſhall indeuour to falſe, ſometimes with the one, and ſometimes with the other ſword, ſome times a thruſt, ſome times an edgeblowe, and then to driue it home, either with the ſame ſword that falceth, or elſe with the other. But in practiſe, and doing all of this, it is required that he be of deepe iudgement, knowing preſently vpon the falſe, what parte of the bodie the enimie diſcouereth, increaſing thither, and inueſting the enimie with that ſword which is moſt nigh to that parte, and with the which he may moſt ſafelie ſtrike.
            And it is to be conſidered, that it is a verie ſtrong & ſhort waie of ſtriking, to falſe with the fore ſworde either a thruſt or an edgeblowe, and to falſe them not once or twice, but diuers times, now alofte, now beneath, ſometimes with a thruſt, ſome times with an edgeblowe, to the entent, to blinde and occupie the enimies both ſwords, and at the laſt when fit occaſiõ ſerueth, to ſtrike it home with the hinder ſworde: but yet alwaies with the encreaſe of pace. The falce which may be practiſed with the hinder ſword, is vnprofitable being made without the motion of a pace, for it is ſo ſhorte that it is to no purpoſe. Therefore it cannot buſie the enemies ſwordes in ſuch manner, that it may force him either to diſcouer or diſorder his bodie. From whence it may be gathered, that after this falſe of the hinder ſword, it is not ſure plaie to ſtrike either with theſelfe ſame hinder ſword, or elſe with the fore ſword, becauſe the enimie was neither in any parte diſcouered or troubled. The beſt thing therefore that may be don, if one would falſe with the hinderſword, is, to driue either a thruſt or an edgeblow, reſolutelie ſtriking with the encreaſe of a pace, and as the enimie moueth to defend him ſelfe, to ſtrike with the ſame ſworde, in ſome place that is diſcouered: For he cannot ſtrike with the other ſword, for that by meanes of the encreaſe of the hinder ſword, that ſword which was before, remaineth now behinde, So that it may not ſtrike, except it encreaſe of pace, and to encreaſe againe, were to ſpende much time. Therefore when one endeuoreth with the encreaſe of a place to force his ſword within, he ſhall aſſaie to ſtrike it home, with the ſelfe ſame ſword becauſe as I haue before ſaid, to ſtrike with the other were to long. Wherefore I wil laie downe this for a rule, in the handling of theis weapons, that if a man falſe with the foreſword, he may alſo ſtrik home with the ſame, or elſe with the other, ſo that he increaſe a pace. And if he falſe with the hinder ſword, he ſhall preſently, and reſolutely force the blow home with the ſame ſword, but yet with the increaſe of a pace: but if he doe not fullie deliuer it, he ſhall againe procure immediatly to ſtrike home with the ſelfe ſame ſword, either with a thruſt, or edgeblowe, be it high or lowe, as at that inſtant ſhall be moſt commodius to ſerue the turne.

An Aduertiſement concerning the defences of the two Swordes, or Rapiers.

IN ſport or plaie one may ſtande euerie waie againſt the enimie, to witte, if the enimie be on high, to ſettle himſelfe at his warde, lowe or broad. But it is more gallant to beehold and more commodius indeed to place himſelf againſt thenimy in the very ſelf ſame manner as he findeth him, with the ſelfſame foote before, and in the very ſame ſite that he is in, either high or lowe. For ſtanding in ſuch manner, the enimie may hardly endeuour with his falſe, to troble or buſie both ſwords. And moreouer it muſt be conſidered, that the fore ſworde is that which wardeth both falſes, and reſolute blowes, the which it doth verie eaſily perfourme: For it be borne aloft, then by bending of the point down, it defendeth that part of the bodie, to which it is turned. Remembring therefore theſe rules, which are, to ſtand euery way as the enimie doth, & to warde his falſes or blowes come: then as ſoone as he hath warded them with the fore-ſworde, he ſhall encreaſe a ſlope pace, & with the hinder ſworde deliuer either a thruſt at ſome diſcouered place, either a right blowe with the edge at the legges, or els (which is better) ſhall fetch a reuerſe, either athwart the face, or els athwart the armes, and this blowe doth moſt eaſily ſpeede: for the enimies fore-ſworde is occupied, and his hinder ſworde cannot come to oppoſe it ſelfe againſt this blowe: neither may it ſo eaſily ſtrike, becauſe (by encreaſe of the foreſaid ſlope pace) the bodie is moued out of the ſtraight lyne, ſo that the enimie may not ſo commodiouſly ſtrike with his hinder ſword, but that he ſhalbe firſt ſtricken on the face or on the armes.

            Wherefore, let euery man reſolue himſelfe, (as ſoone as he hath encountred the enimies ſword with his owne foreſworde) that he ſtep in and ſtrike with his hinderſworde. Neither, let him ſtand in feare of the enimies hinder ſworde: for either it cannot hurt becauſe the bodie is voyded (as I haue ſaide,) or els, if it may, it muſt preſently prouide to ſtand to his defence, and thereto is ſo bound, that it may do no manner of hurte.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Giacomo di Grassi's Case of Rapiers


Some months ago I posted an article called "Case of Rapiers: A Bluffer's Guide". This was a rather rudimentary discussion of Giacomo di Grassi's case of rapiers and did not include any information from the second part of his treatise. What is presented here is a much more in-depth investigation focusing on what is found in the actual manual and putting this into more useful language for the modern reader. While I have no qualms about leaving the previous article, this one is much more focused upon what di Grassi actually presents in the 1594 version of his manual.



To the Reader

“Euen as from our ſwathing bands wee carrie with vs (as it were) an vnbridled deſire of knowledge:” (di Grassi, 1594)

            We all have a desire for knowledge; indeed it is more than likely that it was this desire for knowledge which has led you to read this. What follows is a discussion of the form known as the case of rapiers; this is the use of two rapiers at the same time, one in each hand. Giacomo di Grassi will also refer to this as the two swords as in his manual the word “spada” was originally used and was translated by Thomas Churchyard as “rapier” in many instances as it is this weapon which was in most common usage amongst the English gentry and nobles, hence the translation.
            Regardless of the weapon stated the use of both weapons is most advantageous to the reader as di Grassi (1594) states; “practiſe in all ſortes of weapons is praiſ-worthie,” thus regardless of what it has been translated as the same principles which di Grassi presents apply. As far as it is concerned a sword is a sword and while the form will dictate some of its use the principles presented here still apply to both.
            Returning to the subject at hand, the principles of the art are important and as such these will be presented in the first part as it is vital that the reader have a foundation in di Grassi’s system before proceeding to a specific form. What is presented here is a three part description of di Grassi’s method for using the case of rapiers. The first, as indicated deals with his foundation principles, the second deals with the case of rapiers as a weapon form in general, and the third deals with the elements found in what di Grassi calls the “False Art”, all of these are necessary in order to understand the system as a whole.
For those who are already very familiar with his work, the first part can be skipped, but it is advised that at least a cursory reading is made in order to re-familiarise with the material presented. Indeed much of what is presented is paraphrasing of di Grassi, with some elements of analysis of the material presented. This is designed to present di Grassi’s instruction in a clear and concise manner.

Part 1: The True Art of Defence

            Giacomo di Grassi’s His True Art of Defence was published in English in 1594. The original was published in Italian in 1570. It is important to note that it is the English translation which is being used rather than the original Italian and this does make a difference as already indicated. However, whether using a “sword” or a “rapier”, the same principles which are described still apply.
            In his manual di Grassi discusses Judgement and Force as his primary and purposeful foundation. Both are required for the swordsman to strike at the correct time and place, and also the correct manner. The first piece of knowledge that is required in order to achieve this is that all defence and offence comes from the use of the straight and circular lines as this describes the movement of the sword, but it is not sufficient to have knowledge, but also required to have the ability to perform the actions required.

“It is requiſite not onelie that he be-able to iudg, but alſo that he be ſtronge and actiue to put in execution all that which his iudgement comprehendeth and ſeeth. And thus may not bee done without ſtrength and actiuitie of bodie:”

The Means How to Obtain Judgement

            In his section on how to obtain judgement, di Grassi presents five, principles which he calls advertisements as to how to operate a sword with skill. These five principles form the foundation of his entire system of attack and defense with regard to all weapons. The advertisements present five statements with regard to the art of defense.
The first states that the straight line is the shortest. This is essentially that an attack or weapon which follows a straight line to its target follows the shortest path. This is a logical statement as it follows a mathematical principle also.
The second states that the closer hits sooner. This means that the weapon which is closer will strike before the weapon which is further away, once again, a very logical statement.
The third states that there is more power at the circumference of a circle than there is closer to the centre. This is based upon the swinging of a sword where the sword is the diameter and the point describes the circumference of the circle. Clearly there will be more power at the edge of this circle than closer to the middle (see Diagram 1).
The fourth is another statement of logic stating that a man may more easily resist a smaller force than a greater one. This is related to the previous statement and the cut and the circle. A man who is able to pass the circumference of the circle and thus catch the edge of the weapon closer to the centre will more easily withstand the blow.
The fifth and final advertisement of di Grassi is that every motion is accomplished in time. This refers to every action that the combatant makes; footwork, attacks, defences and movements of the body. All have to be taken into account with regard to how long it takes to move this statement also implies that the movement which takes the lesser time and the combatant which takes the lesser time has the advantage. It also states that an action which is performed as a single motion, or tempo, will be quicker than the one which is performed as two.
He then explains things a little further and with more direct reference to the actual using of a weapon. Indeed he clearly states how the opponent should be struck with advantage. He states to strike along the right line with point or edge where it carries the greatest force, striking the enemy before being struck, when closer to enemy than he is to you. This statement actually has all of the five advertisements within it. Further to the idea of efficiency presented in the fifth advertisement he also says that a combatant should use as small amount of motions as possible and thus spend less time in striking or defending. This means that the combatant should be efficient in his motions, only performing those actions which give him some advantage.
With reference to the use of real swords in real combat he also states that a man who is about to be struck will defend rather than be struck. Thus he highlights that a man who strikes first has the advantage in that time. The opponent must do something in a defensive form in order to stay safe and prevent himself from being struck. All of the above statements demonstrate clear principles which the swordsman must use efficiently if he is to do well.

The Division of the Art

            In the division of the Art, di Grassi divides it up into the True Art and the False Art. The True Art is those techniques in which direct actions against the opponent, whereas the False Art uses feints and similar actions in order to deceive the opponent. In di Grassi’s case he claims that the False Art has no advantage and is dangerous and should only be used for sport and play, however he does supply some information about how it is to be used.
            With regard to the False Art he states that it is full of falses which work sometimes against some opponents and are used because of this. He also states that such men who do use them get deluded as to their actual utility with regard to this and such men are often slain in their use. However, he does state that in order for it to be used effectively it has the requisites of deep Judgement, a valiant heart and great activity, but they must be used correctly, as will be discussed in the third part of this discourse.

Of the Sword

            In order to understand the art it is requisite that the primary weapon is properly understood, and from the perspective of the theorist who is discussing the weapon, thus a discussion of di Grassi’s sword is necessary. For di Grassi, a weapon is defined as an item for offending and defending in any manner, further he states that the sword is the best weapon and the most usual to be found amongst Gentlemen. This sword is found to have a reasonable length, a point and two edges. Unlike some of the other theorists he does not go into detail about the actual length of the sword, merely that it should be reasonable.

Diagram 1: The Sword

            With the sword defined, he then delves into the question of striking stating that in the cut all are circular, with the hand at the centre and the sword being the diameter, as depicted in the diagram above. This diagram and the associated details will become more important as the weapon is discussed. With regard to the striking, the hand must be nimble and the attack must be made at the time of advantage when you are closer to the enemy than he is to you.
He also states that the thrust is more dangerous, but to be effective the combatant must stand properly or lose time. This idea of the importance of footwork is one which will reappear. Further with regard to striking properly, he also states that extra time taken gives the enemy opportunity to counter the actions so the combatant must be situated properly in order to strike, thus linking the movement of the hand and the foot, which will be explained in more detail further along.
With regard to the placement of the body, distance and the placement of the feet, he states that the closer combatant should strike while the other should defend. The strike of the closer prevents the fall of the other’s weapon. This is the idea of priority with the attacker always having it; the defender must defend or be struck. This idea applies more with real weapons but still in any form of fencing the same applies.

Division of the sword

            Each part of the sword has a different effect and di Grassi divides the sword up into four parts, as can be seen in the diagram above. The first part is closest to the hilt, and the fourth includes the point of the weapon. He states that the third and fourth parts of the weapon are for striking and that the position on the fourth, four fingers in is the best for striking. Obviously the point is best for the thrust. The first and second parts are the best for defending as they are the strongest and resist the most violence and are also the slowest and carry the least force. From a more modern or traditional point of view with regard to the division of the sword, the first and second could be referred to as the forte and the third and fourth as the debole.

Cut circular and thrust straight

            In another part also called “Of the sword” he also details some information about the cut stating that the cut may be made from the shoulder, elbow or wrist. The wrist is the fastest, but weakest. The cut from the shoulder is the strongest but slowest. The cut from the elbow is a good compromise between the two. With regard to the use of this weapon, he states that the cuts from the wrist and elbow are swift sufficiently strong.
            In the following section from the above he discusses the actual movements of the sword and the arm in the delivery of the blow. These are the bio-mechanical movements of the attack. This is focussed on the action of the thrust. He states that the blow of the point is both circular and straight. The arm moves circularly from the shoulder, thus things carried by the arm also move circularly. The action of the thrust moves straight due to the circle of shoulder and circle of wrist. The shoulder moves the circle upward, and the wrist moves the circle downward or upward to direct the point to its target, thus the thrust is the result of two circular motions which result in a straight attack.

Diagram 2: The Thrust


            In the case of all martial arts, footwork is an element which is essential for the system to work. The art of swordplay is no different and di Grassi clearly states that footwork is the foundation of offence and defence; this has also been found and discussed previously. Also in common with other actions in fencing it is important in these actions that the fencer use as little time and motion as possible.
            Further, he states that the body must be stable at all times regardless of the movement. The body should be kept stable with the shoulder toward the target to present a small target. It should also bend more backward than forward in order to move away from danger rather than toward it. In this movement it is directed by the head and the way it moves. Regardless of this the body needs to be kept firm and stable. This is rather than bending and changing position as this takes time. This will be reflected in the position of the wards.
            The foot movement itself must be controlled. The fencer should place their feet exactly where they need to be and at exactly the correct time. With regard to this control di Grassi also states that the swordsman should step comfortably to ensure no chance of falling. The steps are self-measured never shortening nor extending them as this would decrease stability.
            With the foundation of the footwork made, it is possible to examine the specific steps which are described by di Grassi. These steps are divided by movement into whole, sloped or crooked, retreat, half, and circular or compass paces. Each one of these serves a purpose. What will become clear is that there is some overlap between the steps.
            The whole pace is when the foot is taken from behind and placed to the fore. The fore-foot remains still. These steps are seldom done in a straight line. The action of the whole pace is also that of the sloped or crooked pace, in which the hind foot moves forward past the fore-foot crossing as it goes forward out of the straight line. This is a diagonal pace, based on the same action as the whole pace. The back pace, or retreat is one where the fencer moves straight backward. This action is again based on the action of the whole pace. The back pace is one of the few where it is more often made straight rather than crooked.
            The two paces which are different are the half-pace and the circular or compass pace. The former is where the hind foot is brought to the fore-foot, or fore-foot is brought to the hind. A following action making a similar action is also possible both of these may be made straight or crooked. For many people these steps are referred to as the gather and slip. The circular or compass pace is made with the hind or fore-foot, to the right or left. The foot circles around behind or in front of the other foot. This may move the combatant forward or backward, as with the slopes the compass is designed to take the combatant out of the straight line.

Of the Agreement of the Foot and Hand

            The hand and the foot are tied in movement, the right foot to the right hand and the left foot to the left hand. If this particular rule is not followed it leads to instability in the movement and also a loss of strength in the attack. Further to enhance stability, it should also be noted that in all cases the step is made normally with one foot always grounded. This is the reason for the single foot movement descriptions.
            Following the rule of the agreement of the hand and the foot results in stability and security in movement, it also results in a more effective attack, regardless of whether the attack made is a cut or a thrust. The thrust made with the accompanying leg is not only longer it is also more efficient and much more stable, elements which are essential in an effective attack. The same agreement of hand and foot is also essential for an effective defensive action and instability if the same is not followed.

Of Wards

            According to di Grassi, the wards or guards are a place of safety. It is in these positions, in his opinion that the combatant has a safe spot for defence and consideration of the opponent and also his next action. These wards at the single sword also form the foundation for all di Grassi’s other forms and thus form part of the foundation for his system. With regard to the wards, he only uses three, High, Broad and Low ward. They will be discussed in this order as this is the order in which they appear in the treatise. In all cases they are formed with the body upright, the front toe pointed toward the opponent, and the feet shoulder width apart. In all cases they may also be formed with either the right or left foot forward depending on the situation.

High Ward

Diagram 3: High Ward

            The High Wards is the first ward, and called so by di Grassi, this is formed by the drawing of the sword from the scabbard, in much the same way as Camillo Agrippa forms his first ward. The sword arm is extended directly from the shoulder upward. It is not merely enough that the weapon is drawn from the scabbard, the arm and the sword are high, but the point must be directed at the opponent. A thrust from this position should describe a straight line from the point to the target which is most likely to be the face or breast. The point of the weapon must not be too high or the opponent will pass beneath it, or too low otherwise the opponent will capture and bind it.

Broad Ward

Diagram 4: Broad Ward

            In similar fashion to Agrippa the Broad Ward, di Grassi’s second ward lowers the arm to shoulder height. Unlike Agrippa, however the arm is extended from the shoulder to the right or left depending on the handedness of the combatant. This places the weapon far out to the side of the combatant. As with the High Ward the point must be directed at the opponent or the fencer will have trouble.

Low Ward

Diagram 5: Low Ward

            The Low Wards is also referred to as the base ward or lock ward. This is the foundation ward, it is the best for attack and defence, and it is also the most comfortable. The arm is directly down by the side on the outside of the knee with the point raised and a little to the left side. Once again the point should be menacing the opponent. This is di Grassi’s preferred ward as it is the optimum position for the thrust and also defence. There are two depictions of this ward found in the 1595 version of the treatise, as presented in the diagram above.  The foundations of the ward are, however the same in both versions of the ward.

Attack and Defence

            The following section discusses di Grassi’s descriptions with regard to the delivery of blows and also the defences against them. Clearly without some sort of knowledge and description it is difficult to proceed with the description of any weapon form and how it is used to attack and defend. Some of this has been presented previously; this, however deals with the application in a combative scenario describing how they should be performed.

The manner how to strike

            For di Grassi, the thrust is better than the cut; it takes less time and is more deadly, as such he uses the thrust for the foundation of his system. The thrust itself is easier to deliver and is more dangerous to the opponent. However, di Grassi states that, being performed with the right hand, it should be accompanied by the left foot compassing behind the right to the straight line of the hand and the sword. This is for alignment of the body with the attack. This is further accentuated by the hind foot being drawn forward a half-pace in the completion of the thrust in order to send the point further. Thus it can be seen that di Grassi’s thrust when made is a committed action. The cut however is not merely discarded.

When it is Better to Strike with the Edge

            In his instruction di Grassi states that the cut should be used over the thrust only due to Time, as this is most important. In all situations the blow which is best is the one which spends the least amount of time to arrive at the target, regardless of the action. The thrust, when on-line takes one time, however when the point is out of line and thus takes two times, the cut should be used instead due to the lesser time taken.
            With regard to opportunities one of the best times for the cut to be used is when the sword has been beaten. The momentum and power of the beat can be transferred to the sword in order to swing it and turn it in order to strike with the edge. In this di Grassi states that the enemy will have no time to defend against this due to the beat performed and the strike which follows the beat. Needless to say the combatant should take himself out of the line in order to strike safely.

The Means to Defend

            Finally, there is the question of defence, what follows forms the foundation elements for all responses for all forms. This description of how to defend yourself tends to wander a bit here and there in his description. These wanderings form foundations for what he is stating in his instructions.
            There are three defences against attack which di Grassi describes. The first is to oppose the blow with a weapon or other item, the second is to perform a counter blow and the third is to void the body out of the way. Obviously more detail is required for each of these and will be presented, along with di Grassi’s arguments for their use.

First Defence

            In his first defence di Grassi states that the defence can be made by opposing the blow with the weapon or other item. In order to enhance this he states that the fencer should learn how to defend himself with all devices. In this he states that a true soldier knows how to do this. Further to this he states that the Art requires training and that there is much to learn; “He that perſwads himſelf that he can learn this Art by the exerciſe of a few perticuler ſtroks of the point and edg is vtterlie deceiued:” (di Grassi, 1594).
In order to learn how to defend himself properly and with safety the fencer needs to have knowledge of all principles and rules. It is only through training that the trained instinct can then use what is available to him. The simple opposition of one weapon against another is not sufficient, judgement is required and this is gained from the knowledge attained in training.
He also states that to withdraw the body and foot is also not beneficial. Firstly the weapon is then encountered where it has the most force, and secondly if the combatant then wants to strike he must then return to his position taking more time to do so. Instead the combatant must make a slope pace forward and encounter the enemy’s weapon low, and if it is a thrust beat it aside. The advantage lies in the body being out of line due to the slope pace, but near enough to offend the opponent. Should the opponent withdraw he can also be followed with a straight pace. This form of defense is the standard one that di Grassi uses, moving toward the opponent rather than away.

Second Defence

            The second defence, which is actually hidden within the text and takes a little searching to find is to act in counter-time. Strike in counter against the cut with a thrust taking short time to do so, where the blades are sharp a man will generally not run into a sword if it is perceived, but will withdraw his weapon and himself. Even a minor wound will give him pause for thought.

Third Defence

            The third defence is to take the body out of the line of the attack. This uses a void in order to achieve it. With regard to the void, di Grassi states that it will rarely be used alone, but by slipping the blow a combatant may counter attack against the opponent in the same action. This is the simplest defence. These three form the core of the defences which di Grassi uses in his system.

Part 2: Of the Case of Rapiers

            With the foundations of di Grassi’s system laid out it is now possible to investigate the specifics of the case of rapiers form. This description will deviate from the original in parts in order to better present the details which di Grassi elucidates. This being said the foundation material and the thoughts are all the same as presented in his treatise. The first part of this process is to look at the form in general in order to gain a basic understanding of it.
            The case of rapier is to use one rapier in each hand. In order to perform this effectively it is necessary to be able to us the left hand as well as the right, this being said this skill is useful in all weapon forms. Further, the fact that it is two weapons also clearly establishes that both weapons are able to do all the actions of offence and defence, not relying on one or the other but using both together. Needless to say, this takes a lot of practice in order to master this skill-set. On the subject of such practice, di Grassi clearly states; “And he which is not much practiſed and exerciſed therein, ought not to make profeſsion of this Arte: for he ſhal find himſelfe to be vtterly deceiued.” (di Grassi, 1594). This is clear demonstration that this form is not for those without practice and that it takes time and effort to master.

The Manner How to Handle Two Rapiers

            There are two weapons in the form meaning that both are able to perform offensive actions. Indeed, both may strike at the same time in paired blows however this is not the most advantageous way to use the form. It is better that one weapon is used to defend while the other is used to offend. With regard to this, di Grassi states that this is the case, but the defence must be made first and the strike made second. What should be noted is that the roles of each weapon can change, striking with the right and defending with the left, and striking with the left and defending with the right; at no time is or should any weapon be used only for a single purpose.

Of the High Ward at Two Rapiers

            The principles of the High Ward have already been discussed from the point of view of the single sword. These foundations remain true and are only modified to suit the High Ward at the case of rapiers. In the High Ward at the case of rapiers there are actually two wards, one with each foot forward, yet in essence they are the same. The hind arm is held in the high position, while the lower arm is held in a Low Ward. This is actually the case for all the wards that follow. The rear arm is the “descriptor” weapon and position in the ward.

 Diagram 6: High Ward

            A special note needs to be made which is only found later on in his description of the Low Ward and that is that for di Grassi to stand “within” means to have one weapon between the opponent’s while “without” is to stand with both weapons on one side or the other of the opponent’s. When striking the ward is maintained, while a high thrust is given with the hind foot to a low position, the other hand is lifted to the high position, thus maintaining the ward. In order to strike, the combatant should stand without, find the enemy’s weapons with the fore-sword, beat with this weapon, thrust from high with an increase of pace and follow with another.
            There is actually another form of the ward with the right foot to the fore or behind. In this the weapon and the foot are separated and so with the separation it has less strength. Thus di Grassi gives no detail of this ward as it does not follow his foundation principles.

Hurt of Broad Ward at Case of Rapier

            In the original text, di Grassi presents his defence against the High Ward before proceeding to the Broad Ward. However it is better to look at the wards first and their offensive actions and then examine the defence against each. In this way the offences and defences are kept together, and a better understanding of the action of each ward is better understood.
            Just as with the High Ward, in the Broad Ward there are two wards one with the right foot to the fore and one with it behind, and just as before it is the rear foot which has the extended arm for the Broad Ward. The foundations for the ward are once again found in the single weapon and these principles are important for the ward to be correctly utilised. In the offence the opponent’s weapon is found with the fore-sword and forced outward. A slope pace is then made in order to strike the enemy in the thigh, flank or head, however the thigh thrust will hinder the opponent’s weapon due to its position. It is important to note that in the attack to always stand without and always re-set to Broad Ward with the other arm, just as in the High Ward.

Hurt of the Low Ward at Case of Rapier

            The Low Ward is di Grassi’s third ward, and as with the others, the foundations for this ward are found in the original principles of the single weapon. Just as with the others there are two ways to form the ward, one with the right to the fore and one with the right to the rear. In the form of the Low Ward, the rear should be kept a little to the rear and not extended in order to not have the weapons to close to one another and thus easily bound.
            In the attack, di Grassi claims one blow from within and two from without. He states that there are six blows total but three are copies of the other three and as such he will only describe three. With the right foot to the fore and within, the left is used to oppose the opponent’s right, then the right makes a disengage to the inside and makes a thrust. The opponent may make a thrust but by holding the rapier with the hand down and the point up it is defended. There is no extra defence needed as the opponent must defend or be struck.
            With the right foot to the fore and without, the first method is to beat the opponent’s rapier with the fore-sword and thrust with a slope pace into Low Ward with the hind-sword. The second method is to make a slope pace and thrust with the fore-sword above the rapier, the hind rapier thrusts under the opponent’s rapier strongly. The opponent must save himself backward or be struck, then follow the opponent and thrust with the increase of the right foot into Low Ward.

Defence of the High Ward at Two Rapiers

            Now that the wards have been established and the foundation of the offensive actions has been made, it is important to examine the defence against each one of the wards. This will not be a simple defence with no reply; rather this discussion will also cover counter-offensive actions as well. These defences usually accompany each ward in the original text, but separating them allows the clear delineation of the wards and also the clear examination of offensive and now defensive actions.
            The Low Ward is used against the High Ward as a sort of contra-postura against it. This is no doubt in di Grassi’s mind because of the preference for this ward due to the advantages which have already been described for it. However, it is not merely standing in the ward, there are further instructions presented. He also advises to stand with the same foot forward as the opponent and also without. This is in order to position the fencer in the most advantageous position both to receive the attack of the opponent, but also in order to make a counter-attack.
            When in the Low Ward and without, allow your sword to be beaten as it has less effect due to the position which the opponent is in. The swords are far from one another so the position is weak. The Low Ward is strong due to both weapons being closer. As the enemy thrusts make a slope pace with the right and with the hand drive the high attack out to the right. The other beaten sword should be used to advantage, returning the beat against the opponent’s weapon. When the slope pace is made and the thrust defended, make a straight pace and make a low thrust, continuing the beat against the opponent’s weapon. This is the surest method of defence.
            In the Low Ward, oppose the beat by turning the edge of the weapon toward it and lifting the point of the weapon. This position will defend against both the beat and the thrust from high due to its position. In fact both weapons will be hindered by this position. Once defended, make a straight pace with a thrust against the enemy. 

Defence Against the Broad Ward at Case of Rapier

            In much the same fashion as the High Ward the opposing position for the Broad Ward is once again the Low Ward. This is for the same common reasons as presented above for the High Ward. It is then advised by di Grassi that you should observe the opponent for information.
            Depending on the side which is Broad on the opponent will decide the position and movement against him. Void the part to be hurt by the broad thrust, and also strike against the part which is striking. More specific instructions detail the process. When the enemy finds your sword, at the same time he comes forward to thrust, opposing with your own sword make a slope pace as strike against the part striking broad. This would imply the arm or the shoulder of the opponent. This is the best and only real target as the body is in motion.

Defence Against the Low Ward at Case of Rapier

            The final defence consideration for di Grassi’s method is against the Low Ward, and it should be of little surprise that he instructs the reader to use the Low Ward against it. What is most interesting about his approach with regard to this defence is that while the others spent most of their time opposing the weapons, his first instruction does not.
            The first instruction is to void with a very sloped pace as soon as the enemy thrusts, or if nimble make a traverse pace and strike against the opponent. This is clearly designed to avoid contact with the opponent’s weapons completely. The second instruction or method is more of his traditional thought. Before his weapon is closed in as instructed in the offense, make a slope pace in order to void the attack and make a thrust to the opponent’s face. The first instruction is counter-offensive, this one is more defensive but carries many of the same attributes. Clearly he wants to keep the weapons free and at liberty and not bound with the opponent’s.

Part 3: The Second Part Entreating Deceits and Falsings

            The previous instructions present how the combatant should both attack and defend against the attacks of di Grassi’s three wards at case of rapiers. This lays the foundation for the system in general, followed by specifics for the case of rapiers. For the most part this is where the investigation will stop for many people however there is more to be found in his treatise in the second part. This will be addressed in the following. The second part of di Grassi’s manual is often forgotten as it often does not deal with specifics, merely general instruction however it is most useful to understand the complexities of the weapon form. What needs to be presented first is what he means by this.

Of Deceits and Falsings

“For Diſceit or Falſing is no other thing, then a blow or thruſt deuered, not to the intent to hurt or hitt home, but to cauſe the enemie to diſcouer himſelfe in ſome parte, by meanes whereof a man maie ſafely hurt him in the ſame part.” (di Grassi, 1594)

            Deceits and falsings, or feints as they would be called today are, as far as di Grassi is concerned, only useful for school-play and bouting, not to be risked in an actual fight with sharp weapons. In order to use these skills the combatant needs to have a good handling of the body and also precise use of all parts. This implies that there is most definitely a level of skill presented however this can lead in to traps.
            Some men become so blinded by conceit that they think that they are better than others and thus can use these skills in an actual fight. Their experiences in using the falsing and due to successes with this they become arrogant and think themselves to be undefeatable, and think that the falsings have no defence. For the most part these are defeated by simple actions and slain. This is due to the falses adding more time and complexity to the actions performed. Thus the falses should only be used in sport and exercise, or against slower, unknowing opponents. He does, however give quite a bit of instruction as to how they should be used, and defended against, for each form he presents.

Of the Falses at the Two Swords or Rapiers

            What would seem to be the case is that di Grassi would spend time only on the falsing, however there is a lot more detail to be found in this section about the weapon form. The first thing he acknowledges is that while he details three wards, there are other wards which can be used with the weapon form. These need to be considered and he states that while most are sure, there are some which are not.


            A ward which has both weapons on the outside of the opponents is unsure, as is a ward where both weapons are backward or upward, or both in the Broad. There are many combinations which may be made of the positions. These combinations can be learnt and used as wards. Indeed he even states that it is possible to learn how to use a ward with one weapon forward and one backward, and to be effective with it.

Weapon Usage

            Either hand may false. Indeed it is possible to false with one and then strike with the same or the other weapon, and the same in defence. To false and strike takes two times, so is considered by di Grassi to be hurtful because of the loss of time, however case has two weapons so each may strike or defend in diverse fashions.
What should be noted is that there is more danger from the attack with the increase pace. The fore-sword is weaker for offence, but stronger for defence. The hind is stronger for offence due to the increase pace, but weaker for defence as it is further away. It is possible to false with the fore and strike with the same, false with the hind and strike with the same, or false with one and strike with the other.
Regardless of the action, always one weapon should be pointed at the enemy in order to hinder him. In defence it is important to have judgement in order to know which part the enemy has found when he falses so the defence may be made against the weapon threatening and strike with the weapon closest to him, more detail on defence against the false will be provided further along.


The false is most commonly made with the fore-sword in order to occupy the opponent’s weapons, and then strike with the hind-sword with an increase of pace. This is the primary method in di Grassi and follows his principles. Falsing with the hind-sword is less profitable as it is not close enough to threaten the opponent, or to occupy the weapons, therefore it is not safe to strike against the opponent.
If a false is made with the hind-sword it must be accompanied by a pace, as the enemy moves, strike with the same sword not with the other as it is now hind and requires an increase of pace to strike and thus time taken. If a false is made with the fore-sword, the strike may be made with the same or the hind with an increase of pace. With regard to falsing, di Grassi presents the following rule:

“I wil laie downe this for a rule, in the handling of theis weapons, that if a man falſe with the foreſword, he may alſo ſtrik home with the ſame, or elſe with the other, ſo that he increaſe a pace. And if he falſe with the hinder ſword, he ſhall preſently, and reſolutely force the blow home with the ſame ſword, but yet with the increaſe of a pace: but if he doe not fullie deliuer it, he ſhall againe procure immediatly to ſtrike home with the ſelfe ſame ſword, either with a thruſt, or edgeblowe, be it high or lowe, as at that inſtant ſhall be moſt commodius to ſerue the turne.” (di Grassi, 1594)

An Advertisement Concerning the Defences of the Two Swords

            A statement was made previously about the defence against the false with the case of rapiers, and indeed indication of further information presented. The information which follows is that information as to how to deal with the false at the case of rapiers. For the most part it is quite generalised as is much of the information presented in the second part of di Grassi’s treatise.
            In order to defend the combatant may use any ward, but it is indicated that it is better to imitate the opponent as this makes it more difficult for them to false against the fencer. The fore-sword is used to defend against falses and blows, and of course may be used to perform the same.
The fore-sword is used to defend against all, and as soon as the blow is defended a slope pace should be made and thrust with the hind-sword. A mandritta is then made to the legs or riverso against the arms or face. The enemy’s fore-sword is occupied and so cannot threaten, and the hind cannot oppose or strike due to distance and the body being out of line. As soon as the enemy’s sword is encountered by the fore-sword, strike with the hind. There is no fear of the opponent’s hind-sword as it cannot reach, or else is defending and so cannot offend.
The defence principle is essentially to defend against the opponent’s attack with the fore-sword; then while stepping off-line then counter-attack with the hind-sword. The opponent’s hind-sword is of no threat is it cannot reach to offend, and is most likely defending against the attack of the fencer. The following cuts instructed are designed to disable the opponent should the initial thrusting attack not be conclusive. This following attack is common in di Grassi’s instruction.


            What has been presented is a three part discussion of the use of the case of rapiers as described by di Grassi’s 1594 treatise His True Art of Defense. The first part was designed to give the reader a foundation in the essential material found within the treatise; those parts which flow through the rest of the discussion and are included in all the weapon forms. The second addressed the case of rapiers as presented by di Grassi in the first part of the treatise, and finally the third examined the information which is found in the second part of the treatise on deceits and falsings. Each one of the three parts is necessary in order to understand the weapon form completely from di Grassi’s point of view, however it is only with all three that a complete grasp of the system presented can be understood.
            The system presented by di Grassi is indeed a system. Admittedly in many ways he only actually scrapes the very upper levels of this system in his treatise, but the follow-through of core ideas and principles which is present in this and other weapon forms demonstrates that there is a system present. The treatise itself is more of an introduction to the weapon forms most likely encountered by a gentleman of the period with simple instruction so that the gentleman can competently use the weapons. It is not an in-depth study as the more vague aspects of the second part of the treatise demonstrates. This being said, there is enough present in the treatise that the intelligent reader with appropriate attention to detail can learn how to competently use the weapon forms and hold his own against an opponent.


di Grassi, G. (1595) His True Arte of Defence, Signe of the Hand and Starre, London