Tag Archives: historical 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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

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