What is Rapier Combat?

Rapier combat is a martial art whose origins can be traced to the Renaissance. It was developed to provide training in an efficient and deadly form of personal defense devised in Europe for the sword. Rapier combat is the one of the final developments of European swordsmanship. Its history extends from the beginning of the 15th until the last half of the 17th centuries. It is the culmination of centuries of theory and practice. In this kingdom it consists of one primary weapon, the schlaeger bladed practice rapier. There are many styles which make up rapier combat. They differ in their mental approach, weapon design, technique and form. Each school has a pedagogy or teaching style that defines its character.

SCA Training in this martial art should be geared to learning and practicing techniques for personal combat. However, that is only one aspect of what the practice of rapier combat encompasses. It also teaches discipline, self control, physical, mental, and spiritual awareness. Conducting yourself with Honour, possessing perfect form, and proper execution of technique are of paramount importance.

Egerton Castle, author of the 1892 "Schools and Masters of Fence" (a survey of the development of European swordsmanship), expresses it as "...the courteous and academic 'assault' of modern days, where elegance and precision of movements are more highly considered--or ought to be than superiority in the number of hits."

To learn to fight in the historical manner requires the same amount of training and practice as any other martial art. The techniques must be learned, perfected, and mastered.

Rapier combat fosters self-reliance, confidence, as well as courtesy, good manners, and a high level of etiquette. It is also excellent for the constructive release of the stress that is so prevalent in society today. It trains both the mind and the body, and when practiced consistently provides a high degree of fitness and health for both.

What is historical swordsmanship?
The term "historical swordsmanship" is used within these confines in reference to all methods and techniques of European swordsmanship before they finally evolved into rapier combat.

The methods and practices of ancient warriors to the Medieval period are often obscure and open to interpretation. Generally it is surmised that the methods utilized evolved out of the personal experiences of the veteran fighter who then passed his favorite tricks on to those he taught. There was no real system that can be documented with absolute certainty. The few manuals that have survived from the Medieval period must not be confused with fencing treatises. Their focus is with military weapons in the context of armored and unarmored combat, as they pertain to battlefield encounters.

It was not until the end of the Medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance that the first attempts at a systematized approach to civilian swordsmanship took place, in Spain. This is known through the writings of Pedro de la Torre and Jayme Pons, whose treatises were published in 1474. These works have since disappeared but are referred to in the writings of Narvaez (1600), Pallavicini (1670), and Marcelli (1686), all of whom were prominent fencing masters of their times.

It is in this historical context that we see the evolution of the sword along with technique. The rapier is believed to have first developed in Spain. One of the definitions for the term "rapier" is derived from the Spanish term espada ropera, which means dress or costume sword. At first the rapier was a relatively heavy sword and the emphasis was on cut-thrust technique. As the rapier and its technique evolved the emphasis shifted from the use of edge to that of the point. It became a weapon that was used primarily for thrusting.

There were two schools or systems that developed for the management of this weapon. The first was the Spanish school. Its characteristics were the emphasis on circular form, the upright posture of the swordsman, and the singular guard position with the arm held out horizontally, threatening the adversary with the point. The school was structured, formal, and uniformly systematized throughout its development.

The second was the Italian school. Its characteristics were an early emphasis on circular form which later changed into a linear form. The postures were low, and the guard and arm positions were varied. Within the school the systems taught were varied according to the experience of each master.

What is theatrical fencing?
Theatrical fencing should not be confused with historical swordsmanship, rapier combat, or modern competitive sport fencing. Theatrical fencing has also evolved from historical roots. However, although some of the techniques and methods have some historical basis, it was never intended to be taught as actual combat technique. It is an entirely different discipline. Its sole purpose is to create the illusion of swordplay in the mind of the audience.

What is modern competitive sport fencing?
The history of fencing as a modern sport is approximately only 80 years old. Since the foundation of the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime in 1913, fencing has been constantly modified and reformed. Since the introduction of the electrical scoring apparatus fencing has undergone even more drastic changes. Today fencing is dominated by dynamic and explosive actions executed with athletic power and speed.

What is a martial art?
A martial art is a systematized form of personal combat for the purpose of self defense, physical fitness, mental clarity, and spiritual awareness.

It must be clearly understood that the practice of martial arts is not limited to the various styles and systems of Asian origin. Different forms of martial practices were engaged in by other countries and cultures.

There is a vast difference between the practice of a sport and a practice of a martial art. In the practice of martial arts the training is primarily geared to self-preservation in an actual combative situation. Pedagogy has been formulated to ensure that the most effective, logical, and economic techniques are taught and learned. The secondary aspects of this type of practice, the physical, mental, and spiritual areas, are different levels that arise from the training. These are then interconnected with the practice, aiding and complimenting the development of a complete martial artist to a higher level of mastery in whatever style or system.

When a martial art is turned into a sport it loses its very essence. In a sport the goal is to win at a game. The techniques that are taught and learned are geared to win the game using prescribed rules and regulations, which are subjective. The participants in the sport develop a style which is totally artificial, taking risks and attempting techniques that would not be used in a serious combative situation.

II. Further Questions About Rapier Combat

Is rapier combat choreographed?
No. It is actual fencing. It is not staged in any form or fashion.

How is rapier combat different from modern fencing?
Rapier combat is a martial art and is taught in the dueling combative tradition. Because the techniques of rapier combat evolved from a fighting tradition, the focus of the training is to enable the fencer to survive in an actual combative situation. These techniques were and have been utilized in armed confrontations of this type well into the 17th-18th centuries.

Modern fencing is a sport and is taught in the sporting tradition. Modern fencing evolved from the martial art of rapier combat but it is not in fact a martial art. The techniques of modern fencing have evolved solely to enable the fencer to win at a game and sport that has completely divorced itself from its combative roots. The focus of the training is to enable the modern fencer to win at a game.

Do you fight real duels?
Yes. We fight serious and deadly duels. The challenge can come at any time from these our mortal enemies: Ego! Falsehood! Prejudice! Compromise! Vanity! Cowardice! and Ignorance!

Our weapons of defence against these are: Honor! Self-control! Truthfulness! Understanding! Firmness! Humility! Bravery! and Knowledge!

Is rapier combat dangerous?
Rapier combat and historical swordsmanship are practiced safely. Protective equipment is used, e.g. masks, doublets, gloves, etc. The weapons have no sharp edges or points. In addition, the safety is further enhanced by the high level of supervision, control, and manner in which fighting is conducted.