Tag Archives: fencing

What would be the disadvantages of sword fighting while wearing a cloak/cape?

It depends on the sword. During the Renaissance, the cloak and cape were like the dagger and the buckler, used as a supplementary in the offhand to the rapier. It could be used for defense, to distract, lock up an opponent’s sword, and other uses.

Cloak and Dagger.

A discussion on Italian fencing master Di Grassi’s techniques for fencing with the cloak.

The Arte of Defense.

HOARRs discussion using cloaks.

On the usage of Cloaks and Capes.

If you didn’t know how to use a cape, then it would be liable to get in the way. Get caught on the arms, tangled in the legs, distract you as much as your opponent. The cape and cloak are period clothing, much like a jacket would be for us today, which means if you’re a man (or woman) during the Renaissance you’ve got a choice when the time comes to fight or duel about what to do with your clothes. You can discard it, risk losing it if there’s no one to hold it for you, or use it as part of your defense.

If there’s one thing that is worth thinking about when you’re setting up your fight scenes and your characters it’s the concept of “using what you have”. Combat is joined with culture, it isn’t an abstract or separate. One uses the tools in their environment, designs their weapons around where they’ll be fighting and the threats they’ll face as much as how. Your character’s clothing, their culture, fashion choices, all reflect back into their defensive options (or lack thereof).

The cape was one of the common accoutrements, so it got used by some fencers when they were caught without their buckler or their dagger.

Humans utilize tools well, and adapt well. When looking through the links pay close attention to why the cloak works and how it aids a fencer as a combat tool. This will help you when looking back on modern clothing or other day to day items you may never have considered before that easily become natural extensions of a fighting style.

-Michi

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What challenges would a character with extensive training in modern fencing face in switching to *real* blades and using them for the first time in a life or death swordfight?

Dying.

Modern fencing and historical fencing are different beasts. The sword weight is different. The sword length is different. The weapon class is different. Everything is different, including the vectors of attack and the possibility of death. Now, to be fair, someone who went from historical (HEMA) fencing into a sudden life or death duel with a historical personage would also be screwed. They’d be slightly less screwed, but still screwed. The same is pretty much true when you put most sports martial artists up against cops or professional soldiers. They’re not trained for it.

Modern fencing has moved in the direction that is beneficial to itself as a sport rather than as a form of combat. There are a great many techniques performed by fencers that are excellent in competition but would get you killed (or at least a double suicide) in a live bout with live weapons.

This is true of any type of sport martial art. When you remove death from the equation, people have the opportunity to be more reckless and, in some ways, more creative than they would be if there was a chance of actual impalement on an enemy’s blade.

The real problem for this character though is going to be the blade weight. Even if they’re just shifting to a historical epee from a modern one, they’re going to pick up a few pounds. Given no time to adjust, that additional weight will hamper everything from speed to accuracy to their endurance. The time they waste adjusting to blade weight is time their enemy has to break their defenses and stab them. They will face similar difficult with the historical sabre. That’s if they’re lucky enough to hit a historical period with a blade they recognize. They won’t know what to do with the rapier, or any of the other swords.

There are also three types of modern fencing blades that each have their own associated rule set. This could be a problem for them.

Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent has a good breakdown, but I’ll list the basics here.

The Foil – thrusting only, hits only count when struck with the tip of the blade. Striking is limited to the torso, but covers the groin, neck, and back.

The Epee – the epee like the historical epee is a dueling sword, strikes include the whole body. Thrusting weapon, scored only with the tip.

The Sabre – the traditional sabre is a military/cavalry weapon, it is curved. It’s a cutting and thrusting weapon, and the entire upper body is an available target. So, this includes the arms.

It’s worth noting that “cut” and “thrust” with modern fencing weapons mean which part of the blade touches the opponent’s body. It is possible to be hurt with a modern fencing blade when not wearing protective gear, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous as the historical swords.

You don’t have to take my word for the differences though. Here’s Matt Easton talking about the differences between sport fencing and historical fencing. He refers to it as a game of “electrified tag”. Modern fencing isn’t about swordsmanship in a classic sense, it’s about scoring points and getting around the (rather restrictive) rules.

This doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t have value, it does. It’s an incredible form of exercise, show of athleticism, developing incredible reaction speed and timing. It’s great for your brain. It isn’t combat. It doesn’t prepare you for combat.

However, assuming they survive, those ancillary skills they mastered in sport fencing can be re-applied to a study of historical fencing. They go into this story athletic, quick thinking, strategic, creative, and with reaction times that are well above average. Sport fencers are fast on their feet.

There’s some good maneuvering that can be done with this character on a story level, but their skill set isn’t on a 1 to 1 parity with a practiced swordsman straight out of history.

-Michi

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Sword Fighting for Fic Writers: Chapter 7

clockadile:

You can follow the tag #Swords for Fics if you want to keep up without following me 🙂

Available Chapters:
1: Dumb Ways to Die  2.May Your Blade Be True! 3.On Your Guard!
4. Making the Cut 5.Stick ‘em With the Pointy End 6. It’s Like a Dance
7. The Measure of A Man 8.A Crossing of Blades 9.Like Chess, but with Knives
An Interlude About Storytelling
10.You Can Barely Lift Your Sword 11.Buckle Some Swash 12.Dual Wielding
13.Everything is a Weapon 14.Got Your Sword!

The Measure of a Man (or other person)
Distance and Reach

In sword fighting measure refers to your ability to reach your opponent, and their ability to reach you. If you can’t reach them you are out of measure. If you need to take a passing step to reach them, you’re in a long measure. And if you can hit them from where you’re standing, you’re in measure. I recommend you simplify this to descriptions of distance or reach for readers.

The more distance you have over your opponent, the more time the defender has to react. The less distance, the less time the defender has. But the roles of attacker and defender change quickly. If they have less time to react to your attack, you will have even less time to react to their counter.

All this stepping forwards and backwards is like a constant mind game where each fighter searches for control.

When retreating from an attack, the defender could retreat to a minimum safe distance, allowing them to make a smaller move to reach their opponent than their opponent had to make to reach them. Even a smaller person with a shorter sword can best someone with more reach than them, by better controlling their measure.

In the illustration bellow, X (on the right) and Y (on the left) have the same reach. X takes a full step forwards and makes a cutting attack to reach Y, and Y takes only a small step back to successfully dodge. Y now makes a cutting attack using a lunging step and X is too close to retreat in time. X’s full attack also left them unable to defend in time with their sword.

X could have tried retreating as their swing finished for more time to get their sword ready to defend, or done a partial cut, making their weapon a threat needing to be dealt with before Y could counter.

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So why not always use this strategy? Why would you ever attack first when this can happen?

In the next scenario, X attacks with a lunging thrust that brings them just in range of Y, but Y takes a small step back. X doesn’t stop the attack and now takes a full step forward, keeping their sword pointing at Y’s throat. Y tries to take a full step back in response, but is out of room, and even if they weren’t their full step still would not have brought them out of reach. X’s larger first step allowed them to catch their target in the end.

Y could have defended with their sword if they knew how to win the crossing. That will be covered in “A Crossing of Blades

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There are thousands of variations of stepping backwards and forwards or where Y or X could each win even these scenarios in different ways. But I hope these two examples will help you get into the mindset of why a character may advance or retreat. Often a retreat to a long distance will be simply to reset the battle from unfavourable conditions.

If you get in too close, and don’t have control over your opponents weapon, you’ll make yourself vulnerable. You might also enter grappling range. More on that in Your Body Everything is a Weapon” (chapter coming soon)

If you’re attacking and it requires more than one step, it’s often advisable to move your sword as if making an attack while you do so. If it takes two steps for you to reach your opponent, then in the time it takes for you to take one step they could take one step forward as well and be in range to strike you. Giving them an attack to deal with will make them think about defending as they enter your space instead of attacking.

And of course, most battles aren’t going to happen like a platformer video game. Circling will occur. 

You might be thinking about how much it must suck to be backed up against something or someone right now. And yea. It does. Fighting back to back is not advisable in a real battle if you can afford the space. But you know what? You can pull the back-to-back trope from my cold dead hands. If it’s that difficult to do, think of how much more impressive it actually is if your characters can pull it off. 

I’m not here to tell you how to make a battle practical or accurate. But to get you in the mindset of what’s dangerous or what’s smart. In the end, tell the story you want to.

Just stumbled across your blog. Love it. Omg the dancing thing, I trained as a fencer and while the dancers I trained with did have good core strength the problem was that in fencing you ARENT supposed to keep to a rhythm while you are moving. You can’t move in a predictable rhythmic way. We were NEVER allowed to do drills while music was playing. If you move in that fashion you will get nailed every time.

Yes. That’s pretty much the main issue with dancing. The body becomes trained to respond to specific rhythmic cues that are matched in time with the music. This is part of the reason why so many dancers have managed to cross-over into convincing stunt work. Stunt choreography is ultimately choreography, it’s predictable. The ducks and dodge rolls seen on screen are a routine, one that is practiced over and over and over again.

The performer is still working within that pattern. It’s important for safety that the pattern remains unchanged. Learning choreography can be helpful to writers when they’re trying to stage a fight inside their brains, but the issue is when this gets translated out into the belief that dancers make for superior martial artists. (A trait commonly given to female characters like Black Widow, rather than male ones. If anyone suggested that Batman train in ballet for undercover work and to improve himself as a combatant, most people would laugh. It probably would still be one of the best workouts he’d ever had.)

It’s a great point though. Thanks for contributing!

-Michi

Historical Fencing Dot Org: Ken Mondschein’s Western Martial Arts, Classical Fencing, and Historical Swordsmanship Page

Historical Fencing Dot Org: Ken Mondschein’s Western Martial Arts, Classical Fencing, and Historical Swordsmanship Page

About fighting with only one arm… What about fencing? I get how the enemy could invest more power in their attacks with two arms, but to parry isn’t just about the ability to absorb brutal force, isn’t it? Mainly, in a fencing fight or a close equivalent (like the two opponents are equipped with batons for example), is someone really THIS impaired against an enemy with a light weapon?

I was specifically thinking of fencing when I said “handguns, only.” Now, there’s a bit of a question for both of us, it’s possible someone who’s lost their arm could still fence competitively. Neither of us know enough about sport fencing to say “absolutely not” to that.

But, for fencing as a combat style? No, they’re done. The off hand is used a lot in combat fencing, this can be with a parrying blade, a buckler, or some other defensive item designed to confuse the opponent, distract them, or trap their blade or, like a cape or jacket. There’s the distant possibility that they could try anyway, but against a competent foe, they’d be at a severe disadvantage.

If your character is some kind of Jedi master, and they’re drawing on some kind of cosmic enlightenment, then you might have the option to say “screw realism.” But in a normal context, it’s just not an option.

That said, if your character is a fencing master, they could still train students with one arm, and you could have a genuinely interesting character there. But actual combat against a competent foe would be a death sentence.

And, I think that brings an end to the one armed fighter questions for now.

-Starke

Weapon Primer: The Sword (Europe)

The sword is one of the most iconic weapons you can give your character. Unfortunately, this also means swords are very contextual; depending on your setting, your sword will say a lot about the character you give it to, regardless of your intent.

This post’s going to be a little different from our normal fare. Usually, when we’re doing a write-up of a style or weapon, we just talk about how you use it in combat, and how it behaves; with swords, we’re going to also need to talk about what they mean for your settings and cover some of their history.

That said, you should not be citing this for historical accuracy. I’m going to be condensing thousands of years of history into a very short primer. What this means is, I’m glossing over some historical idiosyncrasies. If you’re using an actual historical setting, and not an amalgam of an era, then you’re going to need to do more research on the people and weapons of that time.

The Shortsword:

Shortswords are among the earliest examples of the weapon, dating back to the Bronze Age. These started out as simple blades between 12 and 24 inches in length. The length of a shortsword was limited by the available forging technology. Early Iron Age shortswords were single bladed, while later ones, such as the Roman Gladius were double edged.

The shortsword itself lacks a lot of the subtlety and grace that we usually associate with swords. The characters were likely trained to use the weapon in tight formations with other soldiers, with a focus on chopping strikes. Duels between character wielding shortswords are more like writing knife fighting.

The Greeks, ancient Egyptians, and Romans all used shortswords as standard military weapons, supplemented with spears. If your setting is patterned off any ancient Mediterranean culture, the shortsword will probably be viewed as the weapon of a soldier or a veteran. There is a catch here, single bladed shortswords doubled as machetes in climates where they were needed, so depending on your setting there may be a distinction between shortswords that are tools and those that are weapons.

The Longsword:

Longswords are dependent on more advanced forging techniques. The first longswords emerged late in the first millennium AD. By the 1100s they had evolved into the European longsword we’re familiar with. Unlike the shortsword, the longsword was, for the most part, rare and expensive in Europe during the medieval era.

As with most weapons, how your character has been trained will massively influence the way they wield a longsword. Most longsword combat you see in films is built off of dueling schools; which differs from most sword combat in the use of parries. Blade on blade parrying is very destructive to a sword. While this isn’t an issue for an aristocrat who won’t be fighting another duel this month (or was using a rapier), for a soldier or knight, it is a critical issue. Their training was to evade incoming attacks, rather than to block with the sword.

Most longswords are double bladed, allowing the combatant to rapidly reverse a hew (slash); this allows for rapid flurries of multiple strikes. Most combat with the weapon focuses on quick strikes, with as much efficiency of motion as possible. Wide heavy strikes have a limited place in combat, while spinning strikes (what you see from Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films) is almost exclusively an exposition technique.

Depending on your setting, a longsword can say a lot about who your character is. If your setting is patterned off of a Viking or Celtic themed era, then the longsword is a fairly normal weapon for raiders and warriors.

If you’re using a realistic medieval setting, then swords are very rare, and the purview of nobles, their knights, and the rare elite mercenary. If you’re using a variant of the standard medieval fantasy world, then the longsword becomes a sign of nobility. Giving a peasant a sword to subtly hint that they’re really the long lost true heir to the kingdom is, well, cliché. Even Star Wars does this, accidentally.

Fencing Swords:

Unlike other swords, fencing blades began as civilian weapons. They doubled as a sixteenth and seventeenth century fashion statement, and a weapon for dueling.

Fencing weapons are one of the easiest to study, if you have an interest, the foil, epee, and saber are have all been preserved as sport styles. With a very important caveat: unlike most sport martial arts, fencing reduces its lethality by blunting the weapon, and armoring the combatants; the underlying style is still incredibly lethal. Remove the armor and the blade caps, and a fencer’s training is as dangerous as a practical martial style.

Fencing is where we get most of the blade on blade parrying from. Rapiers are, in general, much more focused on stabbing, rather than slashing, so the blade is, somewhat less critical than the tip.

Fencing is also (probably) where we get the concept of dual wielding swords. As early as the sixteenth century, it was fairly common to pair a rapier with a shortsword or buckler. The shortsword was used to parry incoming attacks, rather than as an offensive weapon.

Fencing blades are one of the easiest weapons to justify training in, for a modern character. Fencing schools still exist throughout Europe and America. It’s viewed as an elitist sport and is usually in the domain of the rich, much like horseback riding in urban and suburban areas. It’s a very expensive hobby. (Michi Note: I looked into fencing once when I was younger, Stanford ran three to four week summer courses. For reference: it cost 400 dollars, this was in the late 1990s and didn’t cover the cost of the equipment. My martial arts lessons cost less than that to pay up for the whole year.) Part of this is because fencing is a very difficult sport to spectate; matches are fast, and the scoring is very complex. Most modern fencers are trained in styles that originated in the nineteenth century.

They’re also one of the easiest weapons to see some actual sword work with. A lot of old Hollywood films, used fencing coaches for all of their sword fights, so, there’s a large body of work out there. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good starting place. (Michi Note: the old swashbuckling films, particularly the Errol Flynn films that star Basil Rathbone such as Captain Blood or the Adventures of Robin Hood and the old Zorro movies are pretty great. But really, any of the old Hollywood swashbuckler films from the 1920s to the early 1950s.)

If you’re using a renaissance era setting, and your character’s family is wealthy (either because of nobility, or as a merchant or artisan), the Rapier, Foil, or Epee is a reasonable choice. It doesn’t carry as much baggage as a normal longsword would. This is the weapon of a fop who wants to pretend they’re a warrior, the weapon of a noble who wants the world to see his status, the weapon of an actual professional duelist, or some combination of the above.

Cavalry Swords:

Cavalry swords, like the scimitar and saber are long thin curved blades designed to be used from horseback. These are primarily slashing weapons. The blade is curved to avoid getting caught in an opponent while rushing past them on horseback. The crossguard is contoured with the same goal. These started filtering into Europe from the Middle East around 1200, about the same time the first firearms made their way into European warfare.

As European powers transitioned to using firearms as their favored weapon of war (roughly the 1400s to the 1700s), the sword, along with other melee weapons started to fall out of favor.

Probably because of the difficulty of reloading on the move, cavalry kept their swords. As with other combatants they would start with a volley of gunfire, but then switch over to swords during the charge. This disrupted enemy infantry, who were trying to reload.

Also, early firearms weren’t accurate; rifling wasn’t invented until the 1700s, before that it was incredibly difficult to hit specific targets, as the bullet would tumble randomly once it left the barrel.

This led to another significant change on who would be carrying a sword. If your setting is based on the Napoleonic era onward, the saber was the badge of office for a military officer, or cavalryman (or cavalrywoman). For that matter, the saber actually still exists as an optional part of an officer’s dress uniform in a number of martial services, and was a common as an officer’s badge of commission up into the First World War.

If your setting is an Age of Sail style world, then you’re looking at a variant; the Cutlass. It grew out of officers being given swords to indicate their rank, and wandered off on its own. It isn’t completely historically accurate to give all your pirates and sailors swords, but, because of the nature of boarding a ship at sea, cutlasses and pistols were common weapon choices. At this point, I’d say, you’re within the expectations of the genre, and have fun.

Idiosyncrasies:

I’m going to point out a couple of those idiosyncrasies I skimmed over, before anyone asks. The longsword didn’t get more expensive in the dark ages, the economy of Europe changed, and the sword became comparatively more expensive. I’m not going to do a full write up on medieval European economics, I’m sorry. (There is a very good write up on D&D economics here: http://forum.candlekeep.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=10821 which can be applied to most medieval fantasy settings.)

The saber is, historically, both a fencing blade and a cavalry blade. Actually the introduction of the scimitar into Europe might be part of where the fencing blades originated from, I’m unsure.

Finally, there were longswords before the Vikings; they date back to the seventeenth century BC. They also were a vastly different weapon in combat from the longsword that evolved from the Viking Sword.

-Starke