Monday, September 13, 2021

Things You Can Do To Improve Your Fencing


I usually don't do the "list of things you can do to improve your fencing" thing, because I think that it is rather simplistic. I think that my time is better spent focusing on particular elements and focusing on these elements to a greater degree. However, there are some things that people should be aware of that they should keep in mind that will improve their fencing overall. I will go through these things one at a time in a kind of list form, not in order of importance, because they are all important in their own way. Indeed each is necessary for a complete methodology and learning process.

1. Practise

Let's start with the really obvious one, practise. Practise is important to improving your fencing. If you are not practising in some measure, on a regular basis, you will not improve it is as simple as that. I recommend, if you are not practising fencing, in some measure, at least three times a week you will not improve. You need one lesson to learn a technique, one lesson to work on that technique, and one lesson (at least) for that technique to become a part of your active fencing. Many people do not have access to this opportunity. So, in the main, we can examine practise in two parts: Group Classes, and Solo Training.

1.1. Group Classes

This is what most people think of when they think of as training. A most-often, structured school-type setting with a senior individual who gives lessons, which goes for a period of time. Where, hopefully, there is warm-up, lesson, bouting and cool-down periods. This may happen once or twice a week. Maybe even more, if the individual is lucky or attends different schools. This form of training is usually administered by a teacher, the student essentially only has to have the motivation to turn up and follow what the teacher says.

If you attend these, at least you will improve gradually, depending on how many classes you attend, and how regularly you attend. It will also depend somewhat on the teacher, the classes, and the other students, as this is the nature of this structured approach. Each one of these things can have a positive or negative impact on your experience, and thus your training.

1.2. Solo Training

I am not talking about having the attention of a teacher to yourself, that is personal training, specialised to your requirements, that is something else and fits in between these categories (a sort of 1.1.5). You are lucky if you can get this sort of training as it can advance your improvement a great deal if you harness it properly. This is also likely to cost you, and quite a bit, unless you are extremely lucky. 

If you are one of these lucky people who gets personal training, don't take it for granted.

In regard to solo training, I am talking about the training a person does by themselves. This must be self-motivated because you do it. You need to choose to get out and do it, but the benefits of this sort of training is that you will improve, even if you only focus on the basics. Doing footwork on a patch of grass, or practising your attacks against a target with footwork, are all a great asset; so long as you ensure that you are performing the actions properly. I am a great believer in this sort of practise as an adjunct to any sort of other training, and for maintaining skill where you cannot engage with other people.

This form of training is most important where a person cannot make it to classes for one reason or another. Maybe the student has moved away from where their regular classes are held. Maybe they have lost their regular means of transport. Maybe there is some external reason that training cannot occur. It should not stop the dedicated fencer's training. Practise footwork, practise your thrusts, parries and other actions. You can find ways around most problems, and find useful tools around you. I have written a previous post on this subject of solo training, focused on doing it all alone, you can find it here. I was in this situation before, it is hard, but very rewarding in the end.

2. Learn

Learn. Sounds simple, and sounds like a very broad statement, which it is. People improve when they learn because they are learning new things about their skills, and themselves. This is no different for fencing. If you read a book about fencing, even if it is not related to what you are actually studying, it will give you information about how the sword works. All swordsmanship is based on the same principles, regardless of the weapon, or its methodology. You must keep learning to improve your skills otherwise you will stagnate, and that is no good for your fencing.

2.1. Read

Reading was mentioned briefly above as something that you can do. Ask your teacher what texts you are using or if there are any texts which might be suitable. Have a look at a period treatise, even if you just give it a quick scan to have a look at the pictures and examine them, you will get an idea of movement patterns. Read things about duels, social aspects of the period, history of the periods in which the sword was used. You will be surprised how much is explained by small social elements, especially how the sword was used. The best thing, you can read in many places where you cannot swing a sword, or even practise simple practical aspects of fencing.

2.2. Watch

Watch other people fencing, watch how they move and how their actions are formed. You can gain a lot of information about fencing by watching two fencers bout. The internet has given us great access to visual aids to allow us to watch other people fence, YouTube has many different videos of people fencing, which you can watch and analyse. Have someone film you and watch it after, this is a great aid to assisting you improve. Repeat the process to check for improvement.

3. Listen

The Stoic philosopher Zeno of Citium is credited with the origin of the saying that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason; we should listen twice as much as we speak. It is good to sit back and listen to other fencers talk about fencing, listen to how they describe their actions, describe fencing theory. You should accept what people say, and ideas that they have about fencing, even about your fencing, with open arms. Try everything properly at least once, you never know, you might find something really useful that will improve your fencing a lot, a thought may be given to you which will enable a break-through.

4. Ask

I believe that there is no such thing as a "stupid" question. When it comes to improving your fencing, this counts double. If you have a question about something that a person has said when it comes to a technique, or a theory, ask them. Remember to phrase your question politely, but make sure you ask the question. Wait until you can ask it one-on-one, but ask the question. If you are unsure about something in your fencing, ask a teacher, ask a friend, ask the question. Asking questions is how we find answers. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves questions and find the answers ourselves, but the question still needs to be asked.

5. Accept Criticism

Where something does not work, it needs to be fixed. Some people might even offer suggestions about how you might improve aspects of your fencing, and this will come across as criticism. Accept the criticism, take it in, learn from it. It may be valid, it may not be valid. Until you examine the criticism, you won't know. If you go blindly along ignoring all criticism you will not improve, and you will miss the chance for some useful advice along the way.

There will also be those which will criticise any time they get the chance. Often these individuals also have no solutions to go with their criticism and the only reason they are presenting the criticism is because they believe they have some sort of right to be heard. Examine all criticism in the same light, examine it rationally and see whether it is based on evidence or not; where it is you can use it to your advantage and improve; where it is not, you know you can ignore it and not be concerned, understanding that there are some who are only happy when they are complaining about something.

Broad Terms, Lots Present

So, some ways to improve your fencing have been presented. Each one is important in its own way. Each one will allow you to grow as a fencer, but each will require some truthful examination and dedication on your part. Take the time, think about ways that you can improve yourself as a fencer. Plan out some ideas how you can utilise aspects which have been presented here, and others that you may come up with. I hope that this helps.



Friday, August 13, 2021

Etiquette for Facing A Seated Opponent


A long while ago I wrote an article entitled No Footwork Fencing Or Fencing From a Chair, intended to teach people some of the ideas that I had gained from my practice of fencing from a chair. This is no gimmick, no trick. This a legitimate way for those who are not able to stand, to participate in rapier combat, from a period foundation, and from a comfortable position. This article has been quite popular and people have taken these principles on board, and this is great. I would like to thank all of those who have promoted these ideas. I will not name names, to prevent embarrassing myself by missing someone, you know who you are.

Now, we have the problem in reverse, people who do not understand how to fence a person who is seated in a chair. They do not know what to expect from a seated fencer. They do not know what they should and should not do so they can treat their opponent with courtesy, so both can have an enjoyable encounter. I have seen some really good things, I have also seen, and experienced, some not so nice things. Here, I will explain how to face an opponent who is seated, so you both have an honourable encounter, and an enjoyable one as well.

Precedence: For all of those who are looking for precedence for fencing from a chair, look no further than the Paralympic Games. For those who want a more period approach, I believe there is an incident in one of the many duelling books, where it is reported that one individual fought seated, even in a chair, while the other stood. I don't have the story to hand, if I find it I will include it later on.

Not Often Seen

Facing a seated opponent is something that does not happen very often. Even when a person is legged in SCA rapier combat, most will choose either to go to their knees or post, rather than sitting on their behind. Personally, I find this quite odd. The seated position, is quite stable, and substantially more comfortable for an extended period of time, especially for a person with dodgy joints, but I digress. 

The fencer who chooses to start their fencing bout from a chair, by choice, does not happen all that often, though there are is a small number who are doing so more often. This is an unusual situation, and there are some important things to consider when facing this opponent, seated as they are. These are things which should be considered above and beyond facing an opponent who has been legged, but should also be applied in the same situation.

"It's a Trap!" ... No. It's not.

One of the things that runs through some people's minds about the seated combatant is that the chair is some sort of defensive device that the seated combatant is going to use all of a sudden (especially with some recent discussions about di Grassi's approach to defensive items and the concept of off-hand chair, a discussion for another article). Another thought is, the combatant is going to lure their opponent in, and then spring out of their chair to launch a devastating attack against their opponent. 

Put these fears aside. If your opponent is starting fencing from a chair, there is likely a good reason for it. It is not the best position to start from as the person loses most of the control of Distance by doing so. They may lure you in, but they are not going to be springing out of their chair at anytime, so you can put that one to bed.


Just like any combatant who has had their mobility impaired by your action, you should check your opponent's comfort. You should check whether they are comfortable, is the sun in their eyes, or glare affecting them. Ask them whether they are comfortable in their position. We will return to this comfort area shortly.

While it is a true courtesy, I would suggest that you ask whether they want to check their Distance, and check yours as well. This is useful for at least a couple of reasons. First, it allows your opponent to check their Distance knowing when they can strike you, thus giving you an idea of when they can strike you. Second, when you check your Distance, it allows you to give the same courtesy, and a rough idea of how close you have to be to strike your opponent safely. The seated combatant isn't going to walk into your blow after all. There are some things that the seated combatant can do, but mostly it is up to the standing combatant, hence checking Distance is useful.

When we come to the combative elements of facing the seated combatant, there are some two main headings that things can be placed under: Line and facing. The Line is the more straight-forward one and has less discussion so it will be dealt with first, but this belies its importance. Likewise, just because the subject of facing is being placed second does not mean that it is of "secondary" importance, they are both of equal importance if you want to have a bout that both you, and your opponent, will enjoy.

The Line

The Line is determined by the position of the hilt of the sword, in most standard ward positions this usually divides the individual through the waist, or thereabouts, unless you are from an Iberian school. A person who is seated is not likely going to be performing something from one of those schools from a chair due to the movement requirement. This means that the target for the Low Line is the hips and legs, maybe the lower belly.

Forget the Leg

Why am I discussing the Low Line? Unless you are aiming for the lower belly or femoral arteries of the seated opponent's legs, striking at the Low Line is a waste of time. Indeed, I would say that striking a seated opponent in the leg is just plain rude. Just don't do it, "Just to be sure." or for any other reason, leave the legs alone. Yes, incidental contact happens, and this needs to be accepted, but targeting the legs of a seated combatant, not polite. It's not like the fencer in the chair can be any more immobile, or any more seated.


The facing of the opponent is important when it comes to the fencer who is seated, it becomes more important when the fencer is seated in a chair. Like any opponent who is grounded you should not "corkscrew" (move around your opponent) this is just plain impolite. In the case of the seated combatant, they have no way to move, except to possibly swivel on their chair, if they are able, in most instances they can't, or simply won't, as this will affect their comfort. In regard to this, remain to their front.

Don't Turn the Opponent

The seated combatant will have placed their chair in a particular position facing you in a particular way so it is comfortable for them. This will likely result in the back of the chair not being directly behind them and other similar factors involved. Further the stability of the combatant is likely founded on the position of them in their chair. While it is convenient for you to change the facing so you can stand front facing to them, so the chair is front-on as this will give you the bigger target, this is certainly not convenient for them. 

Their stability is likely compromised due to this positioning. If they try to lean backward, they could topple the chair over and hurt themselves. Remain to the seated combatant's front. Consider your opponent's comfort as well as your own. Doing so will make it a much more pleasurable bout for you and your opponent.

Be Polite

In all of these instances, put yourself in your opponent's place. Would you appreciate your opponent doing the same to you? This is one of those times when you need to ask yourself, what is more important, the win, or the experience? 

We should always be considering how we can make the experience of fencing better for our opponent. This involves being polite, greeting a new opponent and introducing ourselves. Saluting our opponent in an honourable fashion. Giving our opponent the benefit of the doubt, in all instances. It does not mean that we should not use our skills, or seek to win the bout, but we should try and make the experience as enjoyable as possible. The way that we know that we have achieve this is by, both combatants coming off the arena both with smiles, and more so when the same combatant seeking us for follow-up bouts afterward, because the experience was so enjoyable. 

Have fun with your fencing, but take your opponent's fun into account as well.



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Myth of Speed Part. 2


I wrote a previous article on the Myth of Speed in which I indicated that speed had little to do with the muscles of the fencer, and more to do with the efficiency of the fencer performing the actions. This comes from practising these actions so that they become smooth and efficient. A similar idea was raised in the discussion concerning the learning process, especially in slow training, which starts here. This article will examine the subject of speed and the myth of speed a little closer, taking another look at the subject.

Of the things that people notice, one thing is that the experienced fencer does not appear rushed in his actions there is a certain sprezzatura, assumed easiness, in their actions. They have control over what is happening. This is reflected in an expression of Musashi concerning speed, “Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, ... Whatever the Way, the master does not appear fast.” (Musashi, 1974:91). 

The actions of the practised swordsman look deliberate and purposeful from the outside, they do not look fast or hurried. Facing them may be a different matter, they may certainly seem fast, but it is because the combatant has practised the actions so they have become efficient. This means there is no wasted energy and no wasted time, so they seem fast.

In discussing the actions of the smallsword Monsieur L'Abbat also discusses the subject of speed in his Chapter XXVI: Of Swiftness. There is much said about the subject of swiftness, but it is linked to practise. This is even stated in his first comment on the subject.

"Swiftness is the Shortness of Time between the Beginning and End of a Motion: It proceeds from a regular and frequent Exercise, joined with a good Disposition; that is to say, Vigour and Suppleness, which form Agility." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)
The action which proceeds with swiftness results from regular practise, or exercise as he calls it, but it also comes from a good disposition. This means that the individual has to be prepared to perform the action, the body has to be prepared with the appropriate amount of agility. So, he acknowledges that there is a physical fitness aspect as well. He then emphasises that the speed cannot be gained without practise and the disposition of the body to gain the speed.

L'Abbat then notes that, "every one is earnestly desirous of it, tho' most People are ignorant of the Means necessary to acquire it." (L'Abbat, 2007:75). Much is the situation in our current age. Many a student of the blade will see the more experienced fencer performing a feat with the blade and attempt to copy it, and fail. They will then attempt to speed up their hands or body, thinking that this was the reason, where it was the efficiency of their action, and thus timing was truly at fault. As L'Abbat indicates, "The Situation requires this advantageous Point of all the Parts, to communicate Freedom and Vigour to the Action, that they may act with Quickness." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)

Speed, as it is seen, needs to come from efficiency of action. Brute strength without knowledge and practise behind it will not give the results that the individual requires. A certain amount of speed may be acquired, but there will be a lack of accuracy in the technique, and this will result in the action falling short of its mark, being false in its timing. The action must be quick and accurate.

"As to the Motion of the Hand, it must not only be animated, but also the Action must not be wide, whether in Disengagements, Engagements, Feints or Riposts; because if you would be soon at your Mark, it is not sufficient to go quick, but it is also necessary that the Action be close." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)

Accuracy in an action comes from practise. Through the practise the action becomes efficient because the performance of the action becomes accurate, this results in the action becoming quicker, or seeming so. This improves the timing of the action and allows the fencer to hit their mark. 

Speed is a myth, the secret is efficiency of action and motion, but this needs to be matched to the opponent. There is little point in performing your actions with one timing if your opponent is performing them with another. Unless you have no intention of your weapons coming into contact, and intend to play with Absence of Blade; even then there is still the timing of the movements of the opponent to consider. Control of the actions is important, efficiency of action is important, speed is really only required for brief moments.




L'Abbat (2007) The Art of Fencing, or, the Use of the Small Sword, Translated by Andrew Mahon, Dodo Press

Musashi, M. (1974) A Book of Five Rings, The Overlook Press, Woodstock,  New York, USA (Translated by Victor Harris, originally written 1645)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gripping the Sword


For starters, don't grip the sword hold the sword. The subject of how to hold a sword is a subject that I am back at AGAIN. It would seem that most people when they approach the subject, give little consideration to its importance, and then wonder why they are having difficulties with the more precise actions of fencing later on, or in some cases find themselves with injuries. Yes, at least one injury, or strain, can be traced back to holding the sword in an incorrect manner, as will be described below.

Hold the Sword

Let me say this again, DON'T grip the sword, hold the sword. The weapon should be placed in your hand and you should hold the sword in natural fashion. The weapon needs to become a natural extension of your body, not something that you are gripping on to for dear life. 

Hold the sword firmly so you can feel it against your fingers and hand. It is described as like holding a small bird, firmly enough that it will not escape, but not so hard that you will crush it.

The previous article was quite short, and went over some of the basic details about how to hold a sword. It indicated that it was dependent much on the weapon that was being used at the time, and this is very true. You don't hold a foil the same way that you hold a longsword, or a sabre. Each has a slightly different hilt construction which will affect the way that you wrap your fingers around the hilt.

The previous article indicated that the sword should not be held too tightly not gripped but held. It indicated that a sword that was gripped too tightly would reduce the amount of control the fencer had on it rather than increasing the amount of control the fencer had on it. Clearly if it was gripped too loosely there would be little control over the weapon. The weapon needs to be held properly, with the correct amount of pressure from the fingers on the handle of the weapon. 

The article then went to discuss holding the sword by the index finger and the thumb primarily, and then the different types of grip that could be used and some discussion of which method may be more beneficial to a fencer and for which reason. Here, there will be a little more discussion about the physical characteristics of the sword, which will affect the method of holding the weapon, more specifically the handle.

The Handle

There are many options for buying a weapon for the practice of Historical European Martial Arts, many more than I had options for when I started. There are all the options available from simply buying an "off the shelf" model all the way up to a fully-customized weapon of the fencer's choice. The fencer can often choose hilt, blade, and pommel shape. Of little concern quite often is the handle. Most often the options available are whether it is covered in leather, wire bound, plain wood (and what type of wood) or what combination of these. The handle usually comes in a standard shape, only the length is of concern. The shape of the handle is of concern, as is the size of the handle, all of these things affect how effectively the individual is able to hold the weapon.

The shape of the handle does have an effect on how effectively the fencer is able to hold the weapon. If the handle is too thick, then the individual may not be able to wrap their fingers all the way around the handle, this will result in them gripping the handle, and often too tightly. This is often for fear of losing the weapon, the result of this hard grip is discomfort and potential further issues as will be described. If the handle is too thin, the individual's fingers will overlap, resulting in discomfort similar to that of the thick handle. The correct size should enable the tips of the fingers to touch the palm comfortably. This will enable the handle to be held properly.

Further, the handle can be shaped to fit the hand of the fencer making the handle even more comfortable for them. Thinning out certain parts to add more grip, adding hatching for more grip, or simple removal of certain areas so the handle simply sits in the hand, all add to the ease of holding the handle of the weapon. 

Likewise the length of the handle should place the pommel of a single-handed weapon just below, or at, the grove at the bottom of the hand. A shorter handle can be uncomfortable, placing the pommel in the hand. Likewise longer handles can get in the way of performing actions. These physical characteristics of the handle are often forgotten, but can make a comfortable sword into an excellent sword.


Did you choose your method of holding your sword, or were you told that this was the way to do it, and just followed? Have you considered why you hold your sword in this particular manner? Have you considered the effects of this method, as compared to other methods? These are questions that we should always be asking ourselves about how we hold our swords. A change in method may open new opportunities.

At the beginning of our fencing careers, we are often told how to hold the sword, and usually just follow what is said without question, because we do not know any better, and that is expected. If that method does not work for the fencer it should be expected that the individual will change their method. This is the reason that the teacher should offer options for how to hold the sword. In my previous article on the subject two options were discussed, and also some considerations of their effects. You need to consider why you are holding your sword in this manner.

Does the method give you better control of the sword? Does the method give you better strength in engagement? Does the method give you a balance of these attributes? Is the method that you are using actually comfortable? Frankly, if it the answer to the last one is not a resounding "Yes," then you need to think about seeking another option for holding your sword.

We will examine two typical methods of holding the rapier, and one extreme method. Each will be examined for its advantages and what it gives the fencer. This will describe the effect holding the sword in this manner applies to the sword in a functional sense, which is the most important, rather than any other consideration. Each will be examined to see what the fencer is given by using these methods.

Single Finger

In the single finger method, the index finger is placed about the forward quillon, or ricasso. The thumb is then placed on the back of the ricasso, or placed on top of the tip of the index finger by preference. There is a different effect from both of these positions, the latter gives more strength to the edge when making parries and actions, but has the thumb activated all of the time. The former has the thumb relaxed and can be used as a counter-lever to the index finger to control the weapon.

The advantage of the single finger method is that it allows the lower fingers freedom for use to manipulate the weapon, and leaves the wrist freedom of movement for manipulation of movement of the weapon. This allows the weapon to move freely as the fencer desires. This is a very basic form of grip where the sword is essentially held between the index finger and the thumb, with the other fingers and the hand assisting in the movement of the sword, and nothing more. They can, should it be required, be used for strength actions, but most of the time, they should not. There is a lot of freedom of action in this method.

Two Finger

In this method, the index and middle fingers are placed about the ricasso. The thumb touches the tip of the middle finger. More of the handle is placed in the hand for this method, and the more of the hand is used to hold the weapon. This means that the hand is used to manipulate the weapon.

The advantage of this method is that the sword is held firmly which means it is useful especially for longer weapons. The fingers lock the handle against the hand and the hand is moved rather than the fingers to manipulate the weapon. This means that it is primarily up to the wrist and forearm to move the weapon about. This method gives the weapon strength in its engagement with others and results in no change depending on whether strength or fine actions are required. This method is more common to the later period treatises.


 "Pommeling" is an extreme form of holding a sword more common to sport fencing than it is to the rapier, but worthy of mention in this discussion. In this method, the pommel is placed in the palm of the hand and the index finger is extended so it is either just over the quillon, or just below as in a normal grip. The other fingers are placed around the grip as they are usually.

The greatest advantage of this method is that it gives the fencer the extra reach of the handle usually taken up by the hand. There are some claims that this method also gives superior leverage in the sword due to its extended position, but this is disputed. It is recommended that this method is only used by more experienced fencers as it is quite easy to lose the weapon through disarming. There is also some control lost of the weapon due to its extended position, unless the fencer has a particularly strong hand and fingers.

Different Methods

There are lots of different methods for holding a sword, and only three have been discussed as they are the most commonly used with the rapier. The first two are the most commonly taught, with the last being an extreme example given to show an extreme approach to gaining a little more advantage of reach over an opponent. Serious consideration should be given as to what method a person uses and what advantages the method gives. 

The question of comfort should not be ignored when using a particular method of holding a sword. Find something that is comfortable for you, because holding the sword is the thing that you are going to be doing the most while you are engaged in swordplay. Talk with your teacher if you are finding your current method uncomfortable. Examine each aspect of the method and see if there are any aspects that can be changed to make it more comfortable for you. The importance of a correct method of holding the weapon cannot be denied.

Importance of Correct Method of Holding

Only a correct method of holding the sword will allow you to perform actions correctly when you are engaged with an opponent, or even in drills. The feedback that you will receive through the sword is important as this will allow you to respond correctly to the stimulus that your opponent gives with their sword. Holding the sword correctly will give you the correct feeling through the sword (senso di ferro) which will allow you to anticipate the actions of the opponent.

Correct blade engagement actions, especially when engaged with an opponent relies on senso di ferro which relies on holding the sword properly. If you are gripping the sword tightly you will not be able to feel these sensations through the sword. Likewise, if you are not holding the sword tightly enough, you will not feel the sensations through the sword and you will miss your opportunity to respond to the actions of your opponent. Further the Actions on the Blade, both the Attacks on the Blade and the Takings of the Blade also require you to have such sensations and to be holding the sword properly so you can manipulate it properly so you can perform these actions correctly. So much of fencing comes down to how you hold the sword.

Even the performance of offensive actions in the correct manner result from the correct manner of holding the sword. A thrust made with a hand that is gripping the sword tightly will likely strike hard each time, almost regardless if the opponent is even at correct Distance. A thrust made with a hand that is holding the sword correctly will likely strike the opponent with just enough force that they will feel it sufficiently, especially if they are at correct Distance. If they are too close, for some reason, there is flexibility in the hand to compensate for some of this.

A cut made correctly with a rapier should impact and then slide along the target allowing the edge of the weapon to do the intended damage. The cut should not strike and bounce off. Test-cutting experiments that I have performed have demonstrated that a cut which is delivered where the edge is driven into the target, will simply bounce off, doing little damage. While a cut which is performed so the edge strikes and then the edge is drawn through the target does damage to the target, quite a bit in fact. The difference often lies not only in the method, but in how the sword is held.

A cut which is made where the sword is gripped in the hand hard, is likely to result in the cut bouncing off the target with little effect. A cut which is made where the sword is held properly with a more firm, but relaxed hand will impact and then slice through the target with great effect. A lot of cutting correctly with the rapier comes down to how the sword is held. Further, holding the sword tightly while cutting can result in damage to the fencer.

Injury from Cutting

A fencer who persistently cuts with a had grip on their sword can eventually damage themselves if they are not particularly careful. If the fencer is not careful when they are careful the stress from the impact of cutting can be transferred through the hand, through the wrist, to the elbow, resulting in damage to the elbow. This damage also results from the full extension of the arm in both cutting and thrusting.

The damage that can result from cutting with a stiff grip is damage to the tendons of the elbow, this is known as Tennis Elbow or Golfer's Elbow, depending on which tendon it damages. The damage results because the hand is locked and the impact has to go somewhere, often it travels through the hand to the wrist, this may take some of the impact out. Often it travels further to the elbow resulting in the two conditions mentioned. This is especially the case where the arm is fully extended. The same can result where the arm is fully extended in a thrust. A way to stop some of this damage is to not fully extend the arm in either the thrust or the cut, however a proper method of holding the sword is also effective. It is best if both of these methods are used.

Hold the Sword

Holding the sword is one of the beginner lessons that is taught at the beginning of most swordsmanship courses. A method is often told by the teacher how the sword will be held and the student follows the instructions, in the worst case, the lesson is skipped, or is absent and the student is left to figure it out for themselves. It is often the case that the lesson is never revisited by the teacher or the student.

The lesson should be revisited, especially if the student is having trouble with their lessons. It could be as simple as the student is having trouble with holding the sword, or they might have a handle which is the wrong shape, or too big. In this case a simple solution can change the fencer's ability to progress. The student should be aware from the beginning of their lessons that if something is not comfortable, their grip included, that they should check in with their teacher about the issue.

The effect of the method of holding the sword should not be underestimated as it does effect senso di ferro and as a result if effects all the skills that rely upon this important aspect of swordsmanship. If the student's hand or arm is tiring quickly during lessons, the sword may not be too heavy, it may simply be that they are gripping the sword, rather than holding it. There is a difference between these two, it is subtle, but there is a difference. 

If you grip the sword and cut, especially with your arm fully extended, you are likely not going to make an effective cut. Further you are headed down a road toward damage of your elbow and a lifetime of issues with that joint. Simple correction at the early stages can prevent this issue. Holding the sword and cutting with an arm which is not completely extended will result in a much more effective cut, and also reduce the damage to the elbow. The same applies to the thrust. This is something that both students and teachers should pay attention to all the way through the fencing career.

Remember to hold the sword correctly, and revisit your method of holding the sword, especially if you begin to feel it to be uncomfortable, or you feel actions to be more difficult than they should be. The method of holding the sword is simple, but essential do not just push it aside and forget it.



Thursday, May 13, 2021

Of (School/Guild) Ranks


Some schools have a formal ranking structure, some don't. All schools have ranking structures whether they realise it or not. This post talks about both formal ranking structures and also less formal ranking structures which result from the relationships that inevitably occur. It compares and contrasts these relationships and demonstrates how one gives people a step-by-step method of attaining a particular position, whereas the other is more fluid. Neither structure is better than the other, they simply just are. One may suit some better than others, it is just the way things are.

I will be examining a structure used by the London Masters of Defence which formally operated in England in at least the sixteenth-century, and possibly further. This structure has been adopted by various schools of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) around the world as it provides a structure by which a student can observe their increase in learning and skill. Others have modified this structure to add steps within it, or previous steps to it to ease students into it. I will address the ranks in general terms, examining the meaning of the ranks, some of the meaning of the words and how this affects the ranks themselves.

Formal Ranks

The London Masters of Defence had four ranks: Scholar, Free Scholar, Provost and Master. Some schools in our current era have sandwiched in a rank between Free Scholar and Provost, others have added ranks before Free Scholar, but the essential structure has remained the same. Then, of course there is the contention, which I have mentioned previously about the word "Master". You can find my discussion on that topic here. In the discussion of these ranks, I will be examining what these words mean, and some of the implications of their meaning based on their position in the learning process.


The Scholar is the lowest rank on the tree, and is the one where the individual, like the indicated "scholar" is learning about the Art of Defence. At this stage, the individual is likely being taught by another, being given information, and direction for their study. At this rank, the individual learns the proper form and theory of the Art which they have chosen to practice. The fundamentals should be present at their weapon in any individual who wishes to examine for this rank, should there be an examination for such. 

The individual really is at the "monkey see, monkey do" stage of development. Those who teach a student at this rank need to be especially careful as what they teach can decide the difference between the student progressing with an understanding of the true foundations of the Art, or floundering in ignorance. It is not only the practical aspects of the Art which are taught, but also respect for the Art, and respect for their fellow individuals who are progressing along the same path. The actions of the teacher will be reflected in the student, especially if actions of a negative fashion are not caught early. It is at this stage that the seeds of the swordsman or duellist are established.

Free Scholar

In some schools this rank is an entry-level, or beginning stage. By the nature of the two words put together, this should not be the case. The Scholar who was under the tutelage of some individual, making the decisions for them, deciding what they should learn, should be now freed. Free to do what though? Free to make decisions as to where they want to go. Free to learn what they want to learn. Free to study the texts that they want to study. The teacher now becomes a person who guides the Free Scholar in particular directions in their study and attempts to keep them focused on the task at hand. The Free Scholar should even be encouraged to take their first (supervised) steps in teaching, especially if their goal is to go further.


In every case where I have written about the Provost I have at some stage referred to them as an assistant teacher. They are there to pick up the slack where the Master cannot handle the numbers or needs another teacher to handle another aspect. In other cases, it is at this rank that an individual is given permission by the Master to open their own school. It means that the Provost must have skills as a teacher an not just be skilled with their weapons. They must also be well-read and have presented evidence of such reading to demonstrate their reading. Their must be some foundation upon which a school could be based. The Provost must demonstrate clear knowledge of the principles and theories of the Art of Defence and be able to demonstrate these. Becoming a Provost is no easy task, nor is it an easy path to follow, especially if the same individual aspires to the rank of Master.


What is a Master? If nothing else a Master is a skilled teacher. The Master is well-read in the Art of Defence and has internalised the knowledge they have discovered over their time teaching and practicing. The Master demonstrates clear skill, not only in regard to the practical aspects of the sword, but also concerning the teaching of students, and the theories and concepts which surround the Art of Defence. The Master has the skills to teach and open a school, should they wish, and produce students of a respectable calibre. The rank of Master is one not easily attained and may take a lifetime's worth of work. Most continue to work, discovering new information that the Art presents as their life progresses. 

These formal ranks are not the only ones that can exist in schools and not the only ones that do exist in schools. Indeed, informal ranks can, and do, exist side-by-side the formal ranks. The Japanese call it the senpai - kohai relationship, the more experienced to the lesser experienced student. Each person is a student in the path of swordsmanship, it is just a matter of experience in particular aspects.

Informal Ranks

There are also informal ranks which result when one begins to learn from another. Here there is the teacher and the student. Often, this relationship and these ranks are disregarded. Anyone who teaches is a teacher, and anyone who learns is a student. This is regardless of what other rank they might hold. In this way, where the lowly Scholar discovers some interesting aspect, even the Master can be the student again (and this is a good thing as you should always be learning). These are the two essential ranks that all schools, or teaching situations of any kind have.


The teacher is a person who teaches. They are the person who imparts knowledge to another person. In most formal situations the teacher will have more knowledge than the student on the particular subject that is being taught. This is really a role that a person plays rather than a kind of rank, though it is often assumed to be, hence it was placed under the heading of such. Teachers can be found in all sorts of places. In the case of those who have formal positions in schools there are some more specific things that need to be said.

I have previously discussed the difference between a teacher and an instructor, you can find that discussion here. There is a preference for a teacher because there is a two-way flow of information. Questions can be asked, and answered. A teacher should always be willing to answer any question a student may have, regardless of how "stupid" it might seem. There are no "stupid" questions. If the teacher does not know the answer, not only should they admit it, they should go and find the answer and come back to the student with it, and not expect the student to go find it. The teacher should always be expanding their knowledge. Even better would be if both teacher and student went and investigated  the question so they could compare their findings, then both get to share their learning experience when they make their comparison.

The teacher should always have a regard for the health and future of the student, this not only includes their safety, but also how the student will be perceived. Lessons on etiquette and other social concerns should be part of standard training practices. In the same way the teacher should be aware that the student will learn everything from them, even things you do not expect.


The student is the one who learns (this means that a really good teacher is also a student). They are the one who receives knowledge from another person. In a formal situation, the student will likely have less knowledge than the teacher on the particular subject that is being taught. Again, this is a role that is being played rather than a rank. The role of the student and teacher can be swapped in certain circumstances where the student has knowledge about their movement or their perspective. The student has their role to play.

The student has a role to play to be a good student. The prime job is to learn what the teacher is teaching. This means being attentive in class. Listening to what the teacher has to say, and even if you disagree with it, taking it in to see where it has value. All information has some sort of value to it. The student should not be disruptive as it distracts other students. They should also follow drills as they are laid out, there is a reason that the drill is presented in this fashion. If you do not understand what that is, ask. They should also ask questions in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time. The role of the student is as important as that of the teacher as without them there would be no teacher, but likewise the reverse is true. A student can leave a class, but a teacher can also do the same.

Why is it important?

It is important to acknowledge that the ranks exist whether we realise that they are present or not. Some have formal ranks, some do not. In any case, there is always the presence of the informal ranks, the teacher and the student. The formal ranks are easier to define, so they were. Then some information about the each rank and what it means was presented. This information was designed to elucidate what it means to be at these ranks, and some of what is required to attain them as well. Regardless of how a particular school, guild or other structure uses the terms and ranks it is useful to address each one of them and understand what they mean. These are my interpretations of their meanings.

For the informal ranks there was some information about how to get the best out of the situation and what the role of each person was. There can be good teachers and bad teachers, but there can also be good students and bad students. Both can make for a good or poor learning environment. Both must do their part.

Who is important? Each student and each teacher is as important as the other as they exist in a symbiotic relationship. The one does not exist without the other. Sure there will be teachers who are not so good, likewise there will be students who are not so good. We will experience both in our path and through our travels. The vital thing for our personal growth is that we strive, as individuals, to be good students and teachers, to ensure that we are doing the best we can to make the best learning environment that we can. This is not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of others.



Monday, April 19, 2021

In Response to Criticisms of "Just Another Fencer"


I don't usually release a second article before the next month but the previous article Just Another Fencer seems to have caused some contention, at least among some circles. To wit, and in answer to those particular contentions, I present the following:

There is no editor who goes through and reads my posts before I post them. They are all my writings, there is no one else who writes them, just me. I also rarely edit them once they have been posted. I also tend to write about subjects that I feel passionate about, and so write straight from the heart, meaning that there will occasionally be some passionate language which will be present, but also means that they are subjects that I believe in. These are my fencer's ramblings, so my opinions.

Some of my statements in my articles have been accused of being provocative, indeed some of my entire articles have been provocative, I find this to be a good thing. I do not want some passive reader just mulling through my words, I want them to be engaged, I want them to think. Sometimes this requires a little provocation.

Where there is some sort of statement made, there will be an argument and conclusion to back it up. You only need to read further along. To find these arguments and conclusions, you need to read the entire thing, not just skim over the article or you will miss something.

In certain circles, the previous article was claimed, by some parties, to be "mansplaining" and "condescending." This was not my intent. I have the greatest appreciation for the female fencer, indeed of any fencer. It is not an easy skill to use, and that you have chosen to take this up and follow it through, this instantly gains my respect, regardless of your skill level. 

I use personal anecdotes, because these blogs are personal to me. They come from my personal experiences. I write because I have been inspired from some part of my life, something has happened which has resulted in me having a think about something long enough to write it as a blog. They don't happen over-night, I tend to think about these things for extended periods of time, however they remain personal.

I teach my students as individuals. Yes, there is a certain core set of skills, but even those are modified to suit the individual should they be required. Short, tall, long armed, short armed, slim, not so slim, even with certain disabilities, each one of these will make a difference, and will require some sort of modification to their fencing style. This is how I teach. I have been teaching this way for at least two decades.

There was a claim made that what I meant when talking about the opponent was "just another MALE fencer." It was not what I wrote, so it was not what I meant. I do not take gender characteristics into account. I do not fence female fencers any different than I fight male fencers. Let me be clear. I do not fence female fencers any different than I fight male fencers. 

The only thing that makes any difference is their skill level, and how they fence. I will be cautious with all opponents at first until I have had time to read my opponent, and see what they do. Then I will make the decision how I will play my game, but it will have nothing to do with their gender. The game that I play against my opponent is directly in response to the actions the actions that they choose to give me. Again, nothing to do with their gender.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Just Another Fencer


With the title of "just another fencer," it could be thought that I would be speaking about a person being left behind or forgotten. This is not the purpose of this article, but it is one of recognition. If you feel that you are "just another fencer" this is something that you need to look at, a problem that you need to solve and ask yourself why you are thinking this way. Some of this article will approach the fencer as an individual and will recognize the individual characteristics of the individual, but this article discusses the question of approach.

The following touches on gender issues in fencing, and somewhat of a personal approach to it, actually it is a different approach in two different circumstances. One of the things that a person will find is that they get treated differently depending on the situation. This will also be dependent on the attitude the pair of individuals take to the situation, as the situation is always two-way street because it is communication. For the moment, at least at the beginning, I will be assuming that both parties are taking a positive attitude to the situation, I may get to different attitudes, who knows, we will see how it goes.

The Female Student

Do I treat my female students differently to my male students? Yes, yes I do. They are different from male students, just as a short student is different from a tall student, from a purely physiological point of view and they also have a different psychological make-up, which means they think differently as well. So, of course, I treat my female students differently to my male students. I did a series of articles about how the female fencer is different. (This is the first one, the second one, and the third one), more to the point, how the female student is different, and how to approach training from that different point of view. If you are a female and a fencer, I humbly recommend you read these. I also recommend that you read these if you are teaching female fencers.

You should not, as a female, try and mold yourself around male patterns of movement. You will find difficulty doing so, it is not going to work for you. You will move differently, you should use these aspects to your advantage. To begin with, your hips are a different shape, so the standard position for the male's hips is likely not going to work, rather than being so angled, you are likely going to want to be more sqaure-on to your opponent. This is just the beginning. Read the articles, and if your trainer/coach/teacher is not modifying things to suit your body-shape, ask them why. The Art is for human beings and so the Art should be molded for the humans not the other way around.

Do I treat my female students differently? Yes, I do. I train them in a way so the skills that I teach them suit their bodies and their make-up, rather than getting them to suit the skills. Where a student is having difficulty with a skill, the cause of the issue needs to be examined. If the student cannot physically perform the action in the prescribed manner then the skill needs to be modified; you don't break something so it will fit in a container, don't do the same to your students. 

When it comes to opponents, this is where things change. 

The Female Opponent

Now I am going to tell you something that shocked an ex-girlfriend of mine. I do not treat female opponents any different to male opponents. If they step out on to the field and present themselves on guard against me then they should be ready to give me their all, and not expect any different treatment from me, just because they are female.

As soon as the opponent has their mask on and they are standing across from me on a tournament field I consider them "anonymous" just another fencer, completely gender-less. Their status as one of my students, or known as a beginner, may hold some sway; this may give me a reason to give them some time, use essential skills, tone down my usual approach, and give them a chance to fence for a while. But it is never because of their gender.

Likewise, I will fence against an opponent as they fence against me. If they decide that all they want to do is go straight to business and move to the rougher end of the stick, so to speak, then they will receive the same response. If they would rather play a longer game to learn more about one another through senso di ferro then I will happily engage with them in kind. We will certainly keep one another honest, but it will be a different engagement to the other. I will play such games with an opponent regardless of their gender.

"The male has superior strength to the female, and the contest can never be equal.

I fence primarily with a rapier and the individual who has to resolve every encounter through the use of strength does not know how to use a rapier properly. I would rather use the blade of my weapon to decide the encounter. I am here to fence, not wrestle. I give the same response to those who think there should be weight categories for rapier combat. Yes, the actions of closes and grips occur during rapier combat, but they should not be the combatant's focus. 

Much of the encounter, and whether or not the two enjoy the encounter, starts with the attitude that the pair take to the match or bout to begin with. If the attitude is positive from both, then it is likely that they will both have a good time and learn something from the encounter. If it is negative from both, then it is likely that there are going to be issues during the encounter, and likely that neither is going to walk away happy with what has occurred. The problem is that if even one of the combatants is negative it can draw the other into a negative space. 

Stay positive about your encounters, enjoy your fencing. Learn something from every encounter you have with every opponent. Treat every opponent with equal respect and courtesy. You will find that if you follow these simple things you will have a much better time. If everyone did, the community would be much improved.



There have been some criticisms of this post so I have made a response.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Learn Your Lessons Well


The idea for this post was sparked by a student of mine, Helen Gilbert. I am writing the post, but the idea and the foundation is all hers. It is something that we should all consider, especially in approaching those parts of lessons, and techniques which we may not enjoy or prefer. The well-rounded fencer always has the advantage.

There are fencers who fight with a quick pace, fast thrusts, moving quickly all of the time.
There are fencers who fight with a slow pace, slow thrusts, moving slowly all of the time.
There are fencers who fight with variable pace, who vary the speed of their thrusts and the speed of their movement.

There are fencers who prefer to fight at distance, preferring to use long thrusts and lunges.
There are fencers who prefer to fight up close, preferring to close with the opponent and cut.
There are fencers who can fight both at distance and up close depending on what the situation requires and what is to their advantage.

In both of the cases which have been described above, the fencer who can vary their speed has the advantage because they can out-pace the slower fencer, and use Time and slowness to defeat the faster fencer. This concerns using Time, and Timing, against the opponent to put them where they are uncomfortable, likewise it does not matter what speed the opponent fences at the same fencer is comfortable at the variable speeds demonstrated. The same can be said for the use of Distance. A fencer who can just as easily fight at distance and close has the advantage over the fencer who prefers one, as they can close on the one who prefers distance and remain at distance from the one who prefers to close.

The same situation can be found with blade engagement where there are those who do not like to use blade engagement, thus prefer Absence of Blade, likewise there are those who rely on the contact of blades in blade engagement. The true advantage lies with the fencer who can use both sets of techniques and can use them to their advantage in the situation that they find themselves in.

Everyone has favourite and favoured techniques and they will use them more often than other techniques. This does not mean they should not be conversant with the other techniques which they do not prefer. The fencer should always learn all of their lessons to the same degree so they can pick and choose, using the technique which is most suitable to the situation at hand, and where they can find an advantage.

There is a rather hefty quote that you can find in Thibault's Academy of the Sword at the beginning of "Chapter Eighteen: On Cuts to the Right Arm" that I will paraphrase, in which he discusses a garden and the diversity of herbs, flowers and other plants in it. He eventually comes to the point, how one must enjoy all the different techniques that fencing has to offer and not focus on particular techniques.

The true fencer is the one who has studied all parts of their art and practised them, so they are familiar with all of their techniques. This way they can use whatever technique is required at the time. A fencer who achieves this can deal with whatever problem the opponent presents to them, and especially whatever preference the opponent presents. This fencer is marked as the most difficult and challenging fencer to face.



Saturday, February 13, 2021

Read the Whole Thing


I posted a document in October of last year, which I had been working on for a couple of months. It was a recreation of an Elizabethan political pamphlet, which I spoke about on my blog about Elizabethan English you can find that post here. Now, I did this because I wanted to try writing my own Elizabethan political pamphlet and it gave me the chance to have a play with the language, so it was a bit of fun. The reception was not what I expected.

It was thought that I was decrying the use of rubber-band guns (RBGs) on the rapier melee field in the SCA, complaining about their use. I merely used the subject of firearms and their impact upon  swordsmanship, a very Elizabethan political topic as my focus. I however focused the argument primarily on the unreliability of the weapons and their primary source of ignition, black powder. The issue was that most read the first part of the argument, where the initial complaint was made, and did not bother to read the rest where the argument unfolded. This, unfortunately happens with a lot of texts, and I have not been immune.

When I first was introduced to the rapier and all things about it, I went madly searching about for treatises about their use. Well, back in the late 1990s there was the choice of three manuals: Saviolo, di Grassi and Silver. For my initial starting I started with George Silver. I started to read his Paradoxes of Defence, only to find that the man was decrying the use of rapiers and telling the reader how useless they were and other such opinions. I did not finish reading the treatise in that sitting feeling that there was nothing of use that I could find in his treatise, indeed I almost avoided anything to do with the author. 

Some almost ten years later I circled back to his treatises. Had I read further than I did, in among his complaints about the Italians and their practices, there are actually some gems which are quite useful and I have been using in my training ever since. So for ten years I missed out on useful information because I did not bother reading the whole thing because I thought I knew what he was on about from the first part of his treatise.

Don't fall into the same trap that I did and others often do, don't assume that you know what the author is talking about just by what they have said in their introductory comments. This goes once for modern documents, double for any document which is either not originally written in our language, and triple for any which is not in our time. Arguments were formed differently in different periods. In the pursuit of arms of different periods, or indeed the pursuit of scholarship of anything from a different period this needs to be taken into account. Read the entire thing before you make your opinions about what the author is trying to say, and their evidence.

Scholarly articles in the modern world, have an abstract which give the reader a precis of what the writer will be writing about, describing in very general terms the ideas which will be presented and a very basic idea of the argument. This is not sufficient to know the argument presented. 

Scholarly articles are usually set out with an introduction, body and conclusion. Sometimes these are even given headings so that they are easy to find. When a person is skimming through lots of documents it may be sufficient to read just the introduction and the conclusion, but this only scrapes the surface of what the author is speaking about and what evidence they use to support it. Only the basic idea of the argument is then known.

Only through reading the entire document will the reader understand where the reader is coming from, what data they are using as evidence, and how they are forming their argument. This is the only way that the reader can understand whether the argument is strong enough to be supported or not. The paper may be well-written but the data may be rubbish, and you won't know unless you read the whole thing.

In terms of a novel, would you only read the beginning and the end? No, you want to see what trials the character went through and how they got to the end. This is the same with anything else that you read. If you want to make a decent argument about something you need to read the whole thing. If you don't you will make assumptions about what is in there and your argument will be poor, and it will become obvious that you haven't actually read it.

You never know, you might actually find something of real interest in something that you read that you thought at the beginning was not going to interest you.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Rotella: Considerations of Form and Size


Considerations of the form and size of our companion items tends to be relegated to secondary discussions. In this discussion there will be a short investigation of the rotella, with these considerations in mind, it will be one of my more formal posts.




          A fencer needs to consider the size of their companion item as much as their primary weapon. The discussion that follows addresses the size and form of the rotella directing the investigation toward the proportion of the rotella in reference to the individual who uses it. This investigation is derived from extant images from different sources including martial art treatises, to found these ideas in the period in which the rotella was used, and to give the discussion some practical consideration.


          When the rotella is considered by many, there is the consideration of a ubiquitous round shield which is used by the combatant to perform various actions. There is rarely any consideration of the form of the rotella or its size. When the form is considered, small things such as its strap configuration and how the combatant holds the rotella make a difference. When size is considered the size of the rotella can determine whether or not the rotella is effective in protecting the combatant who is using it or is too cumbersome for the combatant to use it as effectively as it could be. For the examination of the rotella there will be an examination of images from period eight period pieces, including five treatises from Renaissance martial art treatises. From this it is hoped that a greater understanding of the rotella in its form will be gained.


          The first is an image by Bernat Martorell Sant Celoni, from 1452, an altarpiece of Saint Vincent, referred to as MNAC 15797.[1] This piece depicts several armoured individuals, but the one in the foreground is armed with a round shield, so is of great interest to this study. This is the earliest piece and gives a preview of the rotella, rather than its final product.

Chronologically, the next two images come from Marozzo’s treatise of 1536[2] and represent the rotella in its more usual situation, in a civilian context, or the context in which many know it from. What is most interesting is this form is actually more a military than a civilian form intended for use in pike formations, adopted for civilian use. This depicts the rotella as it is more commonly known.

Next are three images which come from Agrippa’s treatise of 1553[3] and present three situations with pairs of combatants in civilian attire combating with sword and rotella. The images are quite clear about the actions and the form of the rotella is quite established by this time. Again it is the civilian use of this form.

Following after this is the first of the images from Giacomo di Grassi’s treatise. First there is the image from his original treatise of 1570.[4] This is from the original treatise. This should not be confused with the later treatise by the same author as this is the translated treatise of 1594.[5] Both depict an individual with arm extended holding a sword in one hand and a rotella in the other, strapped to the arm.

Lovino published his treatise in 1580[6] however the images which were used for this discussion were sourced from a different location.[7] This was to get better images so the detail could be seen more clearly. The rotella which are present in these images are somewhat different to the others which are present in the others which make an interesting difference, even if it is only slight.

An image from the British Museum of an individual standing with a sword and a large round shield was used, the original image made by Jacques de Gheyn II in 1587.[8] This is clearly a military figure with the line of soldiers marching past behind him. It demonstrates that the shield, and sword, had not been completely outmoded on the battlefield, it also gives a good example of a shield of the period.

Next are two images from Capo Ferro’s treatise of 1610,[9] which depict two civilian combatants fighting with rapier and rotella. The rotella are very plain having only the essential details that are required of them for the image to make sense and for their effect to be known. It gives the reader enough of an impression to know what’s going on but not so much to be distracted.

Finally there is a portrait of Alessandro Farnese from 1611.[10] This depicts an interesting round shield with a very large spike on the front of it. The shield is one of the ones which will be made note of in the discussion as it has features which stick out as different from the more standard format, more discussion will be made of its distinct features. The portrait depicts the individual in a military situation, which places the rotella firmly at the cross-roads of civilian and military use as is known of it.

The Form of the Rotella

          The two prime elements of the rotella which have been presented through the examination of the images which have been presented are that the rotella has two straps on the back of it and that it is primarily convex in shape. The first strap is held by the hand and the second strap goes about the arm. The convex shape is important, it is not merely a round, flat shield, the convex shape is important as this shape serves to deflect the incoming blade of the opponent.

          While the face of the shield in MNAC 15797 cannot be seen, from the back of the shield and the shape present, it is likely that this shield is flat. This makes it more likely that it is in fact merely a round shield rather than an actual rotella. It can be seen as the precursor to the rotella as it possesses the other elements found in the later forms of the rotella.

          Later additions such as the shoulder strap seen in the Jacques de Gheyn II example and the portrait of Alessandro Farnese are examples of how the weight of the shield was taken up to relieve the individual who may be carrying the shield for an extended period of time or to move it out of the way, but again, do not appear to be a standard form of the rotella, likewise the spikes seen on both of these examples can likewise be seen as additions to the form rather than standards of the form.

          There is also noted in the di Grassi 1570 and Lovino 1580 examples where the straps seem to be mounted rather than in the middle of the rotella, but slightly lower on the rotella. This may enable the fencer who is using the rotella to more easily be able to protect their head, again this is not a standard form found in all examples. Further on the di Grassi 1594 example the straps seem to be mounted more toward the “back” of the rotella, giving more distance from the hand at the front, pushing the rotella forward. This could be to give the fencer an additional advantage, or it could merely be a mistake in this woodcut example in copying the 1570 during translation to the 1594 edition.

          Further on the location of the straps, some have the strap for the arm located on the forearm, while others have it located in the crook of the elbow. This may be from the artists’ impression or, it may be deliberate to change the effect of using the rotella. All seem to have a similar location for the strap, however which makes this location more likely dependent on the individual who is using the rotella rather than the make of the rotella itself, or by design. Such considerations are important when considering the size of the rotella, especially in proportion to the user.

Size and Proportion of the Rotella

          The size of the rotella, especially in proportion to the user is significant as this determines the best size of rotella for the individual, and will determine such things as how much room there is between the hand and the edge, and also where the second strap sits across the arm. Further the proportion of the rotella to the individual in regard to its size will also determine how effectively an individual will be able to use the rotella, especially considering specific rotella actions. Too large and the combatant will not move it effectively, too small and the rotella will not sufficiently cover the combatant.

          In regard to the size in proportion to the individuals depicted some interesting results have been gained. Five results where the rotella measures from shoulder to the middle of the thigh, six results where the rotella measures from a fist in front of the hand to the mid-bicep, two results where the rotella measures from shoulder to waist, or a little in front of the hand to mid-bicep, and a single result where the rotella measures from the shoulder to the top of the thigh.

          In the images supplied by Agrippa 1553, there is an equivalence gained where the rotella is determined as above the shoulder to mid-thigh, or one fist in front of the hand to about half the bicep, or one fist behind the elbow strap. This could mean that the two highest results could be combined together to form a single result due to the equivalent measurement presented.

          The proportion of the rotella to the fencer is important as it will determine how the fencer can use the rotella. A rotella which is smaller in proportion to the user will move more freely, while a larger one will cover more easily. The fencer has to make a decision about what approach they will be taking, indeed which treatise they are studying and whether the rotella is appropriate in size and proportion to themselves for the actions described.


          The rotella is a most interesting a useful device when used properly. To use it properly the rotella itself has to be of the correct form, strapped correctly, and of the correct proportion to the user. The consideration of what proportion to use will depend on the approach taken, thus the particular treatise which is chosen. Particular attention should be paid to the form and proportion of the rotella which is depicted in the treatise as this will make a difference.

          There have been examples presented of various round shields from the simple round shield in the earliest example to later military examples of shields with extra additions made to them to create different effects in their use. The attempt has been made to cover various different forms so that examples are present of the widest range and the greatest variety. This was to find the proper form and proportion of the rotella. The result was that there was a general idea of what the rotella form was, and a couple of ideas about the proportion, but these are dependent on the use of the rotella as determined by the particular treatise which is being followed.



Agrippa, Camillo (1553) Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con vn Dialogo di Filosofia,,_con_vn_Dialogo_di_Filosofia_(Camillo_Agrippa)


Capo Ferro (1610) Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma,


de Gheyn II, Jacques (1587) British Museum No: 1864,1114.465,


di Grassi, Giacomo (1570) Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme,


di Grassi, Giacomo (1594) His True Arte of Defense,


Kirby, Jared (ed.) (2004) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro', Greenhill Books, London


Lovino, G. A. (1580) Traite d’Escrime and


Marozzo, Achille (1568) Opera Nova,


Martorell Sant Celoni, Bernat (1452) Altarpiece of Saint Vincent, Museo Nazionale di Arte della Catalogna - MNAC, Barcellona, MNAC 15797 (Photo by Andrea Carloni (Rimini)),


Mondschein, Ken (ed.) (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Italica Press, New York


van Sichem, Christoffel (1611) Portrait of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma,

[1] Bernat Martorell Sant Celoni, 1452 Altarpiece of Saint Vincent, Tempera and gold on wood with gold leaf. Museo Nazionale di Arte della Catalogna - MNAC, Barcellona, MNAC 15797 Photo by Andrea Carloni (Rimini),

[2] Opera Nova, images are from the coverplates of the 1568 edition,

[3] Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con vn Dialogo di Filosofia, the modern version is available translated:  Agrippa, Camillo (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Italica Press, New York (Edited by Ken Mondschein)


[8] British Museum No: 1864,1114.465; Date: 1587; By: Jacques de Gheyn II,

[9] Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma, a translated version is available Capo Ferro, Ridolfo (2004) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro', Greenhill Books, London (Edited by Jared Kirby), or

[10] Portrait of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, by Christoffel van Sichem, before 1611,