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"Can the Rapier Cut?" Topic

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Tango0128 Nov 2017 11:49 a.m. PST

"For centuries in arguments between fencing theorists, the debate about whether to cut or thrust has been a heated one. A subset of that debate within the rapier community comprises perhaps one of the oldest and most prolific controversies, a hot-button of a question: can rapiers cut in the first place?

To explore this debate, we must first establish what we consider a rapier. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. The general time of the rapier's dominance as a sidearm spans close to two centuries, from Camillo Agrippa's 1553 treatise to, arguably, the early 1700s. The number of rapiers produced in that time varies widely in every possible dimension: blade length, cross-sectional width, thickness, taper, etc. Some designs would clearly be better suited for cutting than others. Thus, our focus should be on single hand swords from the mid-16th to late 17th centuries which were capable of possessing a sharp edge but optimized for thrusting.

The origins of this controversy stretch back several centuries. It does not appear to have originated with the original users of rapiers, with the possible exception of the 16th century English fencing author George Silver and his noted disdain of the rapier in all its forms. The controversy most likely began in the Victorian era, a time when many sword-based myths first appeared and were promoted by fencing enthusiasts attempting to understand historical weaponry through the context of their own contemporary styles, such as the predominance of the exclusively thrust-oriented smallsword and foil fencing styles…."
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SBminisguy28 Nov 2017 2:46 p.m. PST

Short answer, yes. Longer answer, the rapier is not a heavy cutting weapon, it is a primarily a stabbing blade with a cutting capability akin to a light sabre (which is still a heavier cutting blade). Cuts with a rapier are swift cuts at unarmored or light armored parts of the body intended to disable and distract an opponent -- face, hands, neck, etc. Another use of the edge of a rapier would be a draw cut, a sliding cut or flicking cut to a hamstring, wrist, hand, etc.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP29 Nov 2017 10:49 a.m. PST

My son fences. Can't speak for centuries past. However, in modern day fencing the saber is the beginners weapon and it is stab and slash. The rapier is definitely stab only and the next level up.

Therefore, my guess is a rapier may cut, but it was minor in effect, as most modern fencing dates its premises back to original weapons.

Tango0129 Nov 2017 11:01 a.m. PST



Elenderil29 Nov 2017 11:59 a.m. PST

To quote Duncan Idaho from Dune "Killing with the edge lacks artistry. Here is how to do it!"

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP29 Nov 2017 6:34 p.m. PST

Cut, yes,

Hack into gobbetes, no.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2017 7:28 p.m. PST

"Saber is the beginner's weapon?" Since when? There is no "beginner's weapon" in fencing, unless you count the foil, which is only "beginner" in the sense that foil is the most common form of fencing, thus it is the weapon most commonly first taught.
Saber fencing is an entirely different style of combat to foil, designed to mimic to some extent horseback cavalry combat, with slashing blows, compared to foil's mimicry of (in fact, training for) dueling. Saber combat incorporates both slashing cuts (and unique parries vs. the same) and point thrusts. It also treats the entire upper body, including arms and head and back as well as torso as legitimate targets, though not the groin. Foil allows only blows to the torso (including groin), but not the head.
Neither is superior or more or less difficult than the other; they are merely different.
The remaining form of Western fencing is epee, which uses a longer, heavier, stiffer blade, and is a point thrust style, with the entire body as the target. (You haven't truly "died" in fencing until you've taken an epee thrust to the throat! Yeepers, that hurts!) The epee is thus most similar to the rapier. It's been a while since my fencing days (I was primarily a saberist, though I fenced with all three), so I don't recall of a cut being a legitimate touch with an epee (it's not with a foil), but as placing point on target using the epee's reach was my concern at the time (a short epeeist has no hope to cut), I certainly took no slashing moves, but jabbed for all I was worth!

As to whether or not a rapier was a cutting weapon, of course it was. But the slash wasn't the primary killing method; the thrust was.

Dave Crowell02 Dec 2017 10:15 a.m. PST

Can a rapier cut? It can if it has a sharp edge. QED.

The question at hand seems to be more if it was used for cutting. The fancing manuals I have read suggest yes, but the edge was secondary to the point.

MikeTJ03 Dec 2017 7:53 a.m. PST

In his 1570 Fechtbuch, Joachim Meyer clearly has the "Rappier" being used for cuts and thrusts. He splits the cuts & thrust pretty evenly. He specifically says "every missed thrust is a chance for a cut and every missed cut is a chance for a thrust.
Most of his cuts are chopping rather than slicing/push/draw cuts. Think of the heaver rapiers carried by Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim or King Gustavus Adolphus in the 30 years war, not a later period, lighter, flimsy, (almost court sword) rapier.

42flanker03 Dec 2017 12:11 p.m. PST

As I understand it, the subtext of the animosity betweeen Mercutio and Tybalt in William Shakspeare's 'Romeo & Juliet' was, despite the setting in of the action in Italy, the emergence in London during the 1590s of 'foreign' fencing schools where swordsmen were taught to fight with the rapier, thrusting with the point, as opposed to honest-to- goodness 'English' slashing.

The result of this was an increase in fatal injuries in street fights or other contests, as men took thrusts to body and limbs, which either pierced vital organs or cut main arteries, whereas previously injuries caused with the edge of a blade were showy but survivable.

In the play, Mercutio warns his friends of the bully-boy, Tybalt 'Prince of Cats', the trained duelist with his deceptively mannered style of sword play; whose fighting "by the book,' like a dancing master, might nonetheless prove lethal:

"MERCUTIO: Oh, he's the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion. He rests his minim rests— one, two, and the third in your bosom. The very butcher of a silk button, a duelist, a duelist, a gentleman of the very first house of the first and second cause. Ah, the immortal 'passado', the 'punto reverso', the hai!

BENVOLIO: The what?

MERCUTIO The pox of such antic, lisping, affecting fantasmines, these new tuners of accents!"

Later, when Mercutio provokes a fight with Tybalt, to divert him from taking on and killing Romeo, he dies from a sword thrust that appears not to be serious but from which Mercutio bleeds to death invisibly while making light of his wound:

"MERCUTIO: I am hurt.
A plague o' both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone and hath nothing?

BENVOLIO: What, art thou hurt?

MERCUTIO: Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, 'tis enough.
Where is my page?— Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.

ROMEO: Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.

MERCUTIO: No, 'tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world…"

Thus admirably illustrating his own warning.

That's what they told me at university, anyway.

Did somebody say 'light sabre'?

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP03 Dec 2017 5:21 p.m. PST

Parsifal. I can't speak to your experience. I can only say out here the fencing schools near us require everyone to start with the saber.Just saying what my son had to do.

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