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rapier
rapier combat
narrow blades
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Sword Types - The Rapier
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It is difficult to say how many times people have watched the invigorating swordplay in the Princess Bride, avidly absorbing the theatrical tricks and verbal exchanges throughout. For many this represents the essence of classical rapier combat. Just where exactly did the rapier come from however? Were such duels with rapiers typical or were they used differently? Join us in the examination of this singular weapon which ruled Europe as the principle civilian weapon throughout the Renaissance.

The rapier made its debut as a weapon designed primarily for use by civilians in self-defense of body and honor upon the streets of Europe, most notably Italy and Spain. It became the weapon of choice for duels and as such proved to be extremely lethal due to its relatively smaller size and weight as compared to other broadswords of the period. Despite being somewhat lighter to handle, the rapier retained its length, enabling the fencer to make lethal thrusts from distance and from a wide variety of postures and angles. While it is possible to cut with most rapiers, their narrow blades tend to make lethal cutting more effort. Therefore the blade would have been used to slice, irritate, and weaken an opponent over time in longer bouts thus increasing the likelihood of an error being made due to fatigue or pain.

Due to the primary method of assault being the thrust, rapier duels proved to be extremely dangerous. One single error could lead to death. Therefore fencers focused upon proper techniques including lunging from distance and fighting with companion tools ranging from shields or capes to the popular main gauche (left hand) daggers. These implements performed similar roles in the fight however accomplished these roles in a decidedly different fashion. Shields may be used to hide attacks and effectively cover and protect the fencer's body form all direct assaults. The cape may hide an attack as well, however they are more often utilized to ensnare the opposing fencer's blade to create an opening. Seeing as how most people would have access to their coat on the street, these would have been particularly useful techniques to learn for self-defense against not only rapiers but other weapons as well. The main-gauche was primarily utilized for parrying thrusts, however it could also be used to incapacitate or kill during closer quarter binds wherein both duelists have locked their blades.

Throughout Europe, a multitude of sword masters wrote discourses and manuals on the proper application and technique of rapiers in both sport and self-defense. Ridolfo Capoferro is one of the most recognized masters today, whose works have been translated from their original Italian into English. Perhaps the reason he is one of the most well known is due to his mention, along with Rocco Bonetti, Camillo Agrippa, and Girard Thibault; all are fencing masters with the rapier and focus on slightly differing techniques and applications of the rapier to both offense and defense. Their treatises are still studied and practiced today amongst enthusiasts and for reenactments.

In conclusion, the rapier proved to be one of the most effective thrusting weapons of its time. The Italians and Spanish continued to rely upon it straight through the Renaissance well into the modern era. Even the French and English, despite adopting the smallsword, still utilized many of the techniques mastered by the Italians and Spanish with the rapier.


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