The Arte of Defense
A Manual on the use of the Rapier
First Edition
March 1993
William E Wilson
Copyright 1993,1994 William E Wilson

A note to the Reader

The purpose of this manual is to give you the information necessary to begin the study of the Art of Defense with rapier. Whether you are a period fencer in the Association of Historical Fencing, the Society for Creative Anachronism, or any other group studying rapier, or simply a student of the history of defense, this manual should be of some benefit. The manual is the culmination of nineteen years of fencing experience and study of period texts in English, Italian and French. Interspersed throughout the text are modern pictures showing various techniques and copies of original woodcuts. I hope that this book is of worth to you and that it will enrich and strengthen your use and study of the rapier. You may also find more information at my main Elizabethan fencing page.

The Third Edition of my book was published by Chivalry Bookshelf.  Copies are still available from a number of sources but I have been returned the full rights to the book and over the Summer of 2011 will make the book available as an ePub book (first on Kindle) and then as a print on demand. The new edition of the book will be greatly expanded with many new pieces of information from historic manuals and expanded drills with lots of photographs of the moves.  If you have any other questions about the manual please contact me.

A version of this page is available in Chinese at:
Yours in Service,

William E Wilson

This work is dedicated to my Lady for without her I would not have the inspiration to complete such a task.

I would like to thank the following people for their inspiration and help in this endeavor: Gary McClellan, E. Paul Fischer, Joe Bethancourt, John Craft, Michael Cook, Richard Rouse and Patri Pugliese.

Table of Contents




The Guard


The four governors

The single rapier

Rapier and dagger

Rapier and cloak

Rapier and buckler

A brace of rapiers







It should be noted that most of the illustrations from the manual have been left off the site. If you would like the full manual please call Scottie Armory and order one. Thank you.


"A Discourse most necessarie for all Gentlemen that have in regarde their honours touching the giving and receiving of the Lie, whereupon the Duello & the Combats in divers sortes doth insue and many other inconveniences, for lack only of the true knowledge of honor, and the contrarie: and the right understanding of wordes, which heere is plainly set downe, beginning thus..."

Vincento Saviolo

The true Art of Defence (fence) arose during the decline of the Middle Ages and the resultant decline in the usage of heavy armor and weapons. Previously, it was believed that during the Middle Ages, offense was based on brute force and the strength of ones' arm versus. the quality of an opponent's armor.  However with the discovery of medieval manuals of fence we know that this was not true.

With the rise of civilian combat at the end of the 15th C middle class gentlemen relied more on their skill and agility than strength to win the day. Over time, while noblemen practiced at the banners, keeping alive the use of sword, lance and heavy armor, the burgesses and artisans of the rising middle class learned their skill from travelling masters.  With the onset of the age of enlightenment and the new found independence of many towns and cities, schools of defense were founded where those possessing the pluck, skill and money could take schooling in the new Art of Fence.

The change in civilian combat from armor cleaving and heavier weapons (pole axe, lucerne hammer, longsword) to lighter swords formulated fundamental changes in fighting strategy. The superiority of the point asserted itself and with cultivation of the use of the point came fencing proper. Thus, the use of the rapier became paramount to civilian combat.

The earliest and most famous schools of fence (after which all other schools were patterned) came from Spain and Italy. While the Italians discovered that simplification led to perfection of Fence, the Spanish moved towards making fencing a mysterious science. The Spanish masters were required to know geometry and natural philosophy. Carranza (1569) is a prime example of the Spanish School of Fencing. The Italian schools soon surpassed the Spanish. In fact, Italian masters were in demand all through Europe and England.

The early masters did not teach a settled method of fighting, but taught the "tricks" they had learned throughout their lives. These early duelists such as Manciolino and Marozzo were typical of the 15th and 16th Century masters. The early texts by these men deal more with dissertations on the rules of honor than actual fencing.

Morozzo (early 16th C) is generally believed to be the first writer of note on the art of fencing. Agrippa, DiGrassi, and others of the time taught more practical applications of fence and less on philosophy. It was also at this time (end of the 16th and the start of the 17th Centuries) that the thrust became the prevalent mode of attack. DiGrassi helped to change the look and feel of rapier fencing in England. His new techniques espoused a scientific approach that was elegant and simple. In general we may say that Agrippa is the originator of the rapier and DiGrassi as the precursor of the smallsword.

As noted earlier, until the 16th Century, the Italian and Spanish were the principal instructors of fencing. The French first used Italian masters and later German. Sainct Didier is the first French author on the Art of Fence. Didier attempted to classify the various modes of attack and defense; albeit his teachings were unscientific and dangerous to the user. It would be many decades before the French were considered the leaders in the art of fencing. Modern fencing is more of an offshoot of 17th and 18th Century smallsword fencing than that of rapier. To gain a feel for how the rapier is actually used it is prudent to study the period texts dealing with rapier. Although many of the attacks and defenses are similar, I would venture to say that these modern techniques would be very dangerous to the user if employed with an actual rapier in rapier combat.

Returning to Italy, Vigianni is the finest example of a master of fence during the late 16th Century. He professed the thrust superior to the cut and classified the many thrusts minutely. He also introduced the lunge. During this period, the Germans were also considered great masters. However, their favored weapons were not the rapier or small sword, but the dusek and the schwerdt (cutting weapons more resembling sabres than rapiers). All German texts dealing with rapier appear to be translations of French or Italian works.  (NOTE: in recent discussions with Stefan Dieke of Germany I am not so sure that this is completely true.  The Germans infused much of their own philosophy in rapier in their country.)

By the early 1600's, the art of fencing had a firm foundation. Many schools existed in Europe and England and masters such as Bonetti, Saviolo, Fabris, Capo Ferro and Silver taught in the finest of the schools. These masters professed principles that were not complicated by philosophy or anatomy.


A study of the art of using a rapier in the Renaissance style would not be complete without looking at the mindset of the time. In order to fully appreciate the art of dueling ,the philosophy of the duel must be understood. To help in this area I will discuss the philosophy of the duel as practiced in France, England, Spain and Italy. A brief return to the history of the duel will also be made. Honor was of utmost concern to cavaliers and gentlemen of the period. And it was to uphold honor that the duello was at times resorted to. For a full study of the duel I would suggest that you read "The Duel" by Billacois.

How and why then did the duel develop? What factors promulgated the duel and what affected the duel in France, England, Spain and Italy?

To start, it is prudent to give a formal definition of duel. A definition of the word duel may be stated thus: "An encounter between two or more individuals with equal numbers on each side that results in combat where both parties are equally armed. The purpose of which is to settle a point of honor between the parties involved. The duel was strictly organized and the rules of the duel agreed upon before the onset of the combat itself."

Duels in France (and also in other countries) were much different than brawls, private battles, jousts or tournaments and took one of two forms: judicial and extra-judicial. It may be said that the judicial duel was the descendant of the trial by combat of the Middle Ages. These types of duels were presided over by a sovereign and were formal affairs held in special locales.

To illustrate the judicial duel I will give a synopsis of the account of the combat at Moulins, France on February 17, 1538. During this duel Lion de Barbencois (Sieur de Sarzay) did combat François de Saint-Julien (Sieur de Veniers). A quarrel had been in progress for many years between Sarzay and a gentleman by the name of Sieur de La Tour-Landry. Sarzay had sworn that La Tour-Landry had fled like a coward during the battle of Pravia in 1525 (where Sarzay was not even present). La Tour-Landry's honor was placed in jeopardy by this and demanded that Sarzay give the source of this information. Sarzay related that he had gotten the information from Veniers who vehemently denied the accusation of supplying the information; thus giving Sarzay the Lie. Now, the quarrel changed from Sarzay and La Tour-Landry to Sarzay and Veniers. Thus the duel was not held to clear La Tour-Landry of the charge of cowardice on the field but to dispel the suspicion of a lie. Gossip true, but a lie. In this duel, Sarzay was the injured party since he was accused of lying. After the challenge was given the King was petitioned for a field.

Francois I did choose a courtyard for the duel in a town near where the men lived (Moulins). During the combat both Veniers and Sarzay fought with more courage than skill. At one point the defender was injured on the heel (enough to cause bleeding) and the King called a stop to the duel. He declared no winner or loser and that La Tour-Landry was doing his duty on the day of the battle at Pravia. Right or wrong the fight was over.

To start a judicial duel it was the responsibility of the injured party to call out the opponent. In the early part of the 1600's the call or challenge was made by throwing a glove, dagger or favor at the feet of the opponent as was done in Medieval times. By the end of the 1600's this practice was abandoned in favor of an oral challenge (in front of witnesses) or by a cartel (a written challenge). After the challenge was given, the Crown would be petitioned for a field. Basically requesting that the dispute be settled by force of arms.

The field was an open area typically a courtyard or open field where there was enough room to hold the combat and also allow for the judges and spectators. Judicial duels were announced and well attended. Each combatant would have a grandfather who would be the spokesperson and one or more seconds. The grandfathers would come to the terms of the combat (weapons to be used, armor to be worn if any, time of the combat, etc) and they would also check for hidden weapons, armor and amulets of protection (witchcraft was believed to be used at the time, both for protection and to cause injury or harm to one's opponent). The seconds would either fight on the side of or for the parties involved. It also may be said that they were there for moral support. Typically the duel would end when one party had been injured, when one or both had been killed or when the sun set. At times the Crown would call an early end to the duel without even the spilling of blood.

The extra-judicial duel was a private affair and it is this type of duel that most think of when discussing duels in general. The extra-judicial duel was a criminal offense and was held in contempt of the law.

As private affairs the extra-judicial duel was not announced and so did not draw the crowds like a judicial duel would. In the 1600's the Catholic church even went so far as to threaten excommunication for those individuals taking part in duels. They also stated that anyone killed in a duel could not be buried in hallowed ground. In practice this normally was not enforced but throughout the 1600's the voice of the church against duels increased.

Duelling as a practice had its climax at the period towards the end of the 1500's and then small peaks during the early and mid- 1600's. Pre-war and post-war times seemed to be the periods conducive to dueling. But what prompted men to duel? Except for duels for fun, Billacois isolated five primary causes for duels: duels fought over women, by men belonging to rival clans or factions, over public office, following differences or legal cases concerning family or seigiorial inheritances, and because of rivalry over precedence or honorific distinctions. Typically the duel did not result from one isolated incident but as the culmination of the quarrels between two individuals or groups.

The temperament and philosophy also differed between the countries of England, Italy, France and Spain. It is believed that duelling and the use of the rapier originated in Italy. At least the most favored teachers and texts were Italian in origin. Spain is also thought to be an early contender. The French and English took to the use of the rapier very quickly. In England however, there were movements to keep the rapier out of the country. Elizabeth went so far as to have the gatekeepers of London break off all rapiers over a yard in length. Silver, a prominent English swordmaster, berated the Italian teaches and taught that their practices were dangerous and that all English swordsmen should follow and adhere to good English traditions.

"Paradoxes of defense, wherein is proved the true grounds of fight to be in the short ancient weapons, and that the short sword hath advantage of the long sword or long rapier. And the weakness and imperfection of the rapier-fights displayed. Together with an admonition to the noble, ancient, victorious, valiant, and most brave nation of Englishmen, to beware of false teachers of defence, and how they forsake their own natural fights: with a brief commendation of the noble science or exercising of arms."

"The reason which moved me to adventure so great a task, is the desire I have to bring the truth to light, which hath long time lain hidden in the cause of contempt, while we like degenerate sons, have forsaken our forefather's virtues with their weapons, and have lusted like men sick of a strange ague, after the strange vices and devices of Italian, French and Spanish Fencers, little remembering, that these apish toys could not free Rome from Brennius sack, nor France from King Henrie the Fifth his conquest."

Silver was a seasoned military man and taught the use of the sword, not the rapier. However, the Italian schools flourished, the most famous of which was Bonetti's school at Blackfriars in London (opened in 1576). Unlike other countries, the English resorted more to the informal duel than the judicial duel. However, the English did not exhibit the fervor for the duel as did the French. Some believe that the English use of animal fights and their use of theater sublimated the thirst for vengeance. It is also believed that the English view of blood being worth money and that spilling blood was a waste could also have been a reason for not taking part in duels. "In England, where Puritanism, capitalism, free enterprise and freedom of thought were important in a society which was otherwise very hierarchical, only isolated and more or less anti-social individuals felt the need to fight duels." (Billacois p. 32). Looking at Shakespeare one may see in many of the plays the thoughts of the time on duelling and things Italian.

Spain at an outward level was similar to England in that few resorted to the duel although history shows that the judicial duel was a legal enterprise for many years. One would think that with the temperament of the Spanish (their values and thoughts on honor), that the duel would have found its Elysian Fields. Period documents do not back up this belief. In fact, the word duello and its normal forms do not occur very often in legal documents of the time.

The duel in Spain was legal only when a field was granted by royal decree. Although the granting of a field was a relatively easy accomplishment, still the duel was not resorted to as in France or Italy. Those that took part in illegal duels were subject to stiff penalties such as banishment or execution. Like England the need for duelling may have been abated by the abundance of other blood sports (animal fights, bullfighting) and cane fighting. One other note is that it was common practice to hire an assassin to perform a murder over slights taken:

"Murder is quite normal in this country on several grounds which are even authorized by custom . . . These things can only be avenged by killing. They say the reason is that after such insults it would not be just to risk one's life in single combat with equal arms, where the offended party might die at the hand of the aggressor; and they will wait twenty years for vengeance if they cannot carry it out before then." (Billacois p. 38)
So duelling in Spain did not take on the dimensions that it did in other countries.

It appears that Italy may be termed the birthplace of the duel. It is from Italy that the majority of the period texts may be found. Italian teachers were the rage in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. The outgrowth of the chivalric sciences (dating back to the 1300s in Italy) grow in preponderance until 1560. Masters such as Giovanni da Legnaro, Muzio, Possevino and other doctors of duels wrote voluminous works on dueling and honor. Although the duel was prevalent up until the mid-1500s, it saw a rapid decline toward the end of the century. The duel was even looked back on as one would look back on a golden era:

A generation later. . . recall that golden age when the duel was 'more practiced in Italy than anywhere else in Europe' and when renowned closed fields welcomed any man with an affair of honor to settle; but 'today' the duel is no longer practiced in this way." (Billacois p. 42)
It appears that the decline in the use of the duel, judicial or extra-judicial, occurs at about the same time that there was a shift philosophically from scienza cavalleresca (chivalric science) to the use of the pareri, opinions or discussions on points of honor. To quote again from Billacois:
gentlemen both great and small 'make declamations about duels and denounce present-day softness, but if they are offered the opportunity for a duel, they dodge it with some subtlety taken from chivalric science, a science which they have turned into a state secret.'"
So it was that even Italy did not resort to duelling in such murderous proportion even though they gave to the other countries of Europe masters of fence and arms and general codes of honor. It is the French who "recklessly engaged in duels" and who we may look to when we study or think of duelling in general. It has been stated that the French practiced duelling because of their national character.

And now, as a final question: Who should learn the right and proper use of the rapier? To quote Saviolo:

"The reason as I take it, is because that amongst Knights, Captains, and valiant Soldiers, the Rapier is it which sheweth who are men of armes and of honor, and which obtaineth right for those which are wronged: and for this reason it is made with two edges and one point, and being the weapon which ordinarily Noble men, Knights, Gentlemen and Soldiers wear by their side, as being more proper and fit to be worn then other weapons: therefore this is it which must first be learned, especially being so usual to be worn and taught."


The duelist, to be proficient, must master not only the use of the single rapier but also rapier and dagger, rapier and cloak, rapier and buckler and case of rapiers. However, prior to picking up a weapon the stance and footwork must be mastered. For, without a proper guard (stance, ward) and footwork the scholar of defense will be at the mercy of a more experienced opponent.

For the examples, illustrations and descriptions given in this manual, all references are for a right handed fencer unless otherwise noted. Please reverse all instructions if you are left handed. Please also note that the pictures used in this book are for reference only. When engaging in combat, you must wear correct protective gear. You must also select proper weapons to use for your study.  I would suggest Del Tin Practice rapier blades mounted on a proper hilt for the time period you are studying.  It must be noted that the individuals in the illustrations are not wearing complete protective clothing. The reason for this is to more easily illustrate the techniques. 

The Guard

In preparation to learning the guard, it is important to learn the parts of the rapier. The rapier is composed of five basic parts: the blade, guard, quillions, knuckle guard, handle and pommel. On some weapons there may not be a guard or knuckle guard. To fully understand the parts of the blade I will give a brief description of each and what their purpose is.

Blade -- The blade is used for offense and defense. It has a tip and two edges. The blade is typically divided into three major sections: the forte, the foible, and the tang. The tang is the section that goes through the handle and should be of sufficient strength to not break during combat. The forte is the strongest part of the blade closest to, and forward of, the guard. This portion of the blade is used for parrying. The foible is the part of the blade closest to the tip (point) and is used for cuts.

Guard -- Guards (also termed hilts) come in a variety of forms. They may also be missing from the weapon. The guard typically is present to protect the hand from cuts and thrusts. As a beginner you should choose a guard that will protect your hand well. A cup hilt or swept/cage hilt rapier would be a wise choice.

Quillons and Knuckle bows -- On some weapons the quillions and knuckle bows/guards are attached. Some weapons do not have knuckle bows. These parts of the weapon are used mainly for defense. The knuckle bow protects the hand (typically the knuckles) and the quillions are used for parrying and catching (binding) the opponent's blade.

Handle -- The handle is the portion of the weapon that you hold on to. The handle should be made out of a good hardwood that is resistant to cracking. It should be shaped in such a fashion to provide a comfortable grip. Round handles are not suggested. The handle is also called the grip.

Pommel -- The pommel screws onto the tang (opposite end of the blade from the tip) and holds all of the parts of the weapon together. You should not have a permanently attached pommel.

As mentioned previously your guard and your footwork are paramount in learning the Art of Defense. There are many different guards that may be used. Probably as many as there were masters. In this manual we will study four basic guards: high (Historical Italian Prima Guardia), low (Historical Italian Terza Guardia), broad (closest to the Historical Italian Seconda Guardia), and what I term the inside ward (historical Italian Quarta Guardia).

Before studying the guards, it is prudent to study the stance and the grip. The stance is your base and all movement will originate from it. To start your stance, face your opponent with your right foot forward, the toe of said foot pointing at your adversary. The left foot should fall behind about a shoulders' width with the toes pointing out perpendicular to the front foot. The knees should be slightly bent with the knees over the insteps of the feet and the body held upright. Depending upon which ward you will use, the right arm will be in a slightly different position. Your off-hand will be held loosely in front of your chest with the edge of the hand facing your opponent. Do not push your hand out too far from the body or it may be cut or thrust. This is the stance.

The grip is made by taking the rapier loosely in hand and by placing the index or the index and middle fingers above the quillion and wrapping the remaining fingers and thumb around the grip. Placing only the index finger around the quillion will give you a little more reach whereas placing two fingers above will give you more strength in griping the blade. The blade will be held with the palm facing down. This will allow the pommel to rest up against the wrist, putting counter-pressure on the blade, helping to keep the tip of the sword from dipping towards the ground. The following is a description of the various wards.

The high guard (ward, first) in the author's opinion may put a beginning fencer in jeopardy. However, an adept may use it to advantage. The ward is obtained by holding the arm straight out from the body with the knuckles of the hand up or by holding the blade up over the head with the point towards the opponent. Allow the point to drop slightly below the hand. There is a tendency to fatigue the hand and arm with this ward.


The broad ward or second is where the weapon is held off to the right of your body and slightly above parallel to the ground at shoulder height.  True second is held with the sword in front of the body. This ward may not seem to offer much protection but it helps to draw your opponent in closer so that you may offend them. This ward guards well against cuts while still offering protection from thrust by the blade or the off-hand.


The low ward (Historical Italian Terza Guardia (third), di Grassi Base Ward) is made by keeping the elbow within a hands' breadth of the body and by holding the weapon with the point towards your adversary and with the blade aimed at your opponent's right shoulder,  parallel to the ground or dipping towards your opponent's groin or knees. The amount that your sword point dips is up to your personal tastes. This ward guards from thrusts or cuts to the right side. This is the least fatiguing of the wards.


The inside ward (Historical Italian Quarta Guardia) is also made with the right foot forward and the blade is held at an oblique angle with the guard over your left hip and the point angling upwards to the left pointing over your opponent's shoulder. This ward is used as a starting point for launching a punta riversa (reverse thrust).


All of these wards may also be made with the left foot forward. Some of these stances are best used with daggers, bucklers or cloaks in the off-hand. Putting the left foot forward when only employing a single rapier and no off-hand weapon brings your body closer to your opponent's blade, thus placing yourself in jeopardy of being offended. It also takes your blade further back away from your opponent. One move that can be used from this position with some chance of success is the pass followed by a slight lunge. These tactics will be discussed later.

Once you have mastered the stance, the next step is to master movement. The period manuals cover a number of different methods for taking and losing ground. In general these may be broken down into three distinct movements: advance, retreat and cross- over.

The advance is made by moving the leading foot forward and following it with the trailing foot. Only move your trailing foot the distance that your leading foot went forward. Do not bring your trailing foot right up against the heel of the leading foot. Also, be careful not to take too big of a step. In so doing you may be caught off-guard by a sudden attack by your adversary and you will not be able to retreat in time. It is also important to keep your weight centered between the legs. Do not lean forward or back. You must also keep from bouncing, hopping, or dipping when you move. Any odd quirks that you develop can and most assuredly will alert your opponent to your actions. DiGrassi was explicit on this subject:

"And above all, not to skip or leap, but keep one foot always firm and steadfast: and when he would move it, to do it upon some great occasion, considering the foot ought chiefly to agree in motion with the hand, which hand, ought not in any case whatsoever happen to vary from his purpose, either in striking or defending."
The retreat is made by stepping back with the trailing foot and following it with the forward foot. Be careful to only move the forward foot back the distance that the trailing foot moved. The same is true for the advance. When moving the trailing foot care must be taken to not drag the foot or step too high; barely skim the ground. Also, make sure that the trailing foot comes off the ground and is placed back down flat. When moving the front foot precipitate the move with a raising of the toes. All movement is from the heel of the foot. Do not fight from the balls of the feet for it will drastically alter your balance.

The cross-over is used to cover ground quickly. When executing a forward cross-over you move the trailing foot ahead of the forward foot. You will immediately follow with moving the forward foot to the front again. In a retreat the forward foot is moved in a circular motion behind the trailing foot and the trailing foot is immediately moved back into its normal position. Depending upon which direction you wish to move, you may alter where you place your feet. This type of movement in a retreat may also be used to displace your body out of the way of a cut or thrust from your opponent (voiding, dodging the blade).

You should practice your foot movement enough so that you do not need to think about what your feet are doing while you are moving. Once you feel comfortable with the stance and your footwork, you are ready to go on to more advanced topics. 


No matter how good your offense, if your defense is not adequate you are dead. If you fight like your life depends on it you will end up winning more duels. Rarely should you go for fast kills. You will end up losing out to more seasoned duelists.

Traditionally the blade was not used to parry thrusts to the left side, only cuts. All of the early period texts that I have read indicate that you parry thrusts with your off-hand and you parry cuts with the blade. The only exception is parrying thrusts to your extreme right side. You must use the blade to parry these. The early parries were basically counter-attacks to the blade. Thrusts were always parried with the off hand, a dagger, buckler or cloak. The first mention of using the blade to parry was by di Grassi and further refined by Capo Ferro.

The body may be divided up into a number of different areas. In this text I will use head, upper body, stomach, arms, lower body and legs. The placement of the blade will guard these primary areas. No matter how you parry, it is of utmost importance for you to keep the point of your weapon trained as close at your opponent as possible. The further you must move your point the slower your counter-attack.

The simplest parries are performed against thrusts to the inside (left side of body for right-handers). If the thrust comes in towards your face or extreme upper body, using your off-hand you will push the blade out and away to the left. If the thrust comes in below your off-hand you will sweep the blade down and out to the left. Never sweep the blade across your body. There is a chance that you will be struck in the process. Even if a duelist was not wearing gauntlets, it was considered prudent to take a slight hurt to the hand rather than suffer a grievous injury.

If the thrust comes to your outside (right side for right- handers) and above your guard simply circle your blade under the opponents blade and push them gently out away from your body. If the thrust comes in low, circle over their blade and push their blade out and down. During your parries you will typically want to give ground. This assures that your opponent will not be able to tip cut (stramazone) you after your parry. Another note of caution -- do not automatically counter-attack your opponent after you parry. Only counter-attack when you think you have a good chance of hitting your adversary and not being offended yourself.

Cuts were typically delivered to the head, neck, flank (right side) and chest. Flank, chest and neck cuts are parried in a similar fashion. No matter which type of cut you are parrying you should always push the knuckle-bow towards the direction that the cut is coming from. To parry a cut to the head bring your rapier up over your head and hold it with the knuckle-bow held up and slightly forward. The blade of your rapier should be parallel to the ground. Do not lock your arm out. Hold it with the elbow bent and the blade about six inches above and just forward of your head. In a real fight if you took a full cut on a locked/straight arm you would probably end up with a broken wrist. The bent arm acts like the spring shocks on a carriage.

To parry a cut to your flank (right side) you will move your hand out to the right of the body and a little more forward than a normal low ward. You should raise your point, aiming at your opponents head. Catch the cut in the forte of your blade as close to your guard as possible. To parry a chest cut you will bring your hand across your body catching the opponent's blade in your forte as in parrying a flank cut (the arm will be basically in the Historical Italian Quarta Guardia).

Another tactic that may be employed in your defense is called voiding. This is where you dodge your opponents blade as they attack. You may use steps to the side to dodge thrusts or cuts. A fast retreat may also be employed. Practice dodging the blade and use this tactic to your advantage. When performed properly your opponent will not be in a position to strike you while you may be in reach of them.

The last type of defense is grappling of the blade (and, the oponent too). Early texts talk of mail gloves that allowed the wearer to safely gab their opponents blade, thus immobilizing it. This type of defense may be safely employed with theatrical rapiers. The glove of mail had "chain mail" sewn to the palm and fingers of the glove. A thrust to the palm could pierce the mail but the blade simply sliding though the hand would not cut it. Even without a glove of mail, period masters taught that grappling the blade was possible. To quote from DiGrassi:

"And each man is to be advertised that when he finds the enemies weapon underneath at the hanging ward, he may safely make a seizure: but it would be done nimbly and with good courage, because he doth then increase towards his enemy in the straight line, that is to say, increase on pace, and therewithal take hold fast of the enemy's sword, near the hilts thereof, yeah though his hand were naked, and under his own sword presently turning his hand outwards, which of force wresteth the sword out of the enemy's hand: neither ought he to fear to make seizure with his naked hand, for it is in such a place, that if he should with his hand encounter a blow, happily it would not cut because the weapon hath there very small force. All the hazard will be, if the enemy should draw back his sword, which causeth it to cut."
No matter what, your rapier is your deterrent. Always "hide" your body behind your blade and keep your point towards your opponent as best as you are able. 

Rapier may be fought at a certain metaphysical level where certain actions taken by the body are automatic based on the threats that are given. Footwork and defense should be automatic. Your judgement should not be cogitated over; you should know through "second sight" when you may most easily offend or be offended by your opponent.

Distance is a crucial element that goes hand in hand with judgement. If your distance is too great to be able to offend your opponent in a timely manner then you hold your distance too far from your opponent. If your distance is not great enough then your opponent may more easily offend you.

Time or timing is also very important. If you see an opening but your timing is off in pressing the attack, you are at risk of being injured yourself. The same is true in defense. You must defend in a timely manner to be able to save yourself from harm's way. 

The single rapier

Traditionally two primary targets espoused by Saviolo were the face and the stomach. Giganti and others of the time showed attacks to the chest and the face.  An attack to the face if not fatal immediately will cause a significant amount of bleeding and pain.  Thrusts to the belly will cause lingering deaths whereas a thrust to the chest may end the fight much quicker.

DiGrassi gave five cardinal rules for fighting with a rapier:

1) First, that the right or straight line is of all other the shortest: wherefore if a man would strike in the shortest line, it is requisite that he strike in the straight line.

2) Secondly, he that is nearest, hitteth soonest. Out of which advertisement a man may reap this profit, that seeing the enemy's sword far off, aloft and ready to strike, he may first strike the enemy, before he himself is striken.

3) Thirdly, a circle that goeth compassing beareth more force in the extremety of the circumference, then in the center thereof.

4) Fourthly, a man may more easily withstand a small than a great force.

5) Fifthly, every motion is accomplished in time.

These basic rules will help in understanding how some of the attacks were and are to be performed. Silver also taught a similar set of rules.

The first attack that all scholars should learn is the thrust. The scholar should be able to thrust just hard enough to allow for approximately four pounds of pressure when contact with the opponent's body is made. The early texts indicate that it is a matter of only thrusting so that the depth is a mere three fingers-width to kill an opponent. To quote from DiGrassi:

"Without all doubt, the thrust is to be preferred before the edge-blow, as well because it striketh in less time, as also for that in the said time, it doth more hut. For which consideration, the Romanes (who were victorious in all enterprises) did accustom their soldiers of the Legions to thrust only: Alleging for their reason, that blows of the edge, though they were great, yet they are very few that are deadly, and that thrusts, though little and weak, when they enter but iij fingers into the body, are wont to kill."

Thrusting attacks may be made above or below the opponent's sword arm and may be made to their right or left side. Attacks to your opponents right side above their blade will offer you more protection and will make it harder for them to counter attack in time to wound you or perform a double-kill. To practice this attack, extend your arm towards your opponent while pointing at the spot that you wish to thrust. Follow up by moving in to hit target. You will always cover distance by making a series of simple advances or a cross-over. Remember that the full lunge as used in modern fencing was not heavily used until the end of the 17th Century.

The Drill To drill this maneuver the maistro will bring the scholar on line in a standard ward. At the maistro's command the scholar will extend towards target and make sufficient contact to cause injury in a duel. The scholar should practice hitting different areas on the torso, the head, and the arms.



After the scholar has gained a mastery of the thrust the next step is to study the cut or blow. Three types of cuts were taught by DiGrassi: cuts from the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist.

Although DiGrassi taught that the thrust was superior to the blow, he did teach how to effectively use the cut (as did other masters of the time). His philosophy on the cut or edge-blow may be summarized in his own words:

"I have said elsewhere, that the sword striking frameth either a circle, either a part of a circle, on which the hand is the center. And it manifest itself that a wheel, which moveth circularly, is more forcible and swift in the circumference then towards the center: The which wheel each sword resembleth in striking. Whereupon it seemeth convenient, that I divide the sword into four equal parts: of the which that which is most nearest the hand, as most nigh to the cause, I will call the first part: the next I will term the second, then the third, then the fourth: which fourth part containeth the point of the sword. Of which four parts, the third and forth are to be used to strike withal. For seeing they are near the circumference, they are the most swift."
The tip cut is executed by extending towards your opponent with the tip away from the body instead of towards it. As you draw nearer you execute a wrist flip that will quickly drag the tip across the target. Tip cuts were traditionally used to cut the opponent's wrist, arm, face or stomach. These types of cuts could cause serious injury. The Italians perfected the tip cut and examples of special rapiers crafted with flared tips may be found in European collections (the Author has seen one such piece in the Royal Armouries at Leeds inthe UK).

The Drill The maistro will bring the scholar on guard. The maistro will then thrust at the scholar who will then parry the thrust with the off- hand and will tip cut the maistro on the face, sword arm or chest/stomach.


Although cuts issued from the elbow or shoulder are slower they are made with much more force than a cut issued from the wrist and can cut much deeper. Di Grassi taught the following:

"And if one would in delivering of a great edge-blow, use small motion and spend little time he ought as soon as he hath stroken, to draw or slide his sword, thereby causing it to cut: for otherwise an edge-blow is to no purpose, although it be very forcibly delivered, especially when it lighteth on any soft or limber thing: but being drawn, it doth every way cut greatly."

The Drill The master will bring the scholar on guard. The maistro will then thrust at the scholar who will parry with the off-hand and will execute a cut.

Practice your thrusts and cuts to master their usage. Try different combinations of thrusts and cuts with foot movement to facilitate striking your opponent while maintaining your own safety.

Once you have mastered simple thrusts and cuts, it is time to move on to the study of more advanced techniques: counter- pressure, beats, disengages and feints.

Counter-pressure covers a wide range of attacks that involving putting pressure on your opponents blade with your own as you are making the attack. In modern fencing these types of attacks would be called, attacks with opposition, binds, the croise, or the envelopment. In period fencing this type of attack was typically performed as a counter attack with counter-pressure to the blade (messo tempo). Proper execution of this attack requires impeccable timing and blade control. The purpose of this attack is to carry the opponent's point away from your body and to control his/her blade in such a manner that they cannot offend you while you thrust them. The ways are numerous in performing this type of attack.

The Drill The master will bring the scholar on guard. The maistro will begin a thrust at the scholar's face. The scholar will move their hand to fourth and while putting pressure on the blade to take the master's point out and to the left while thrusting the master in the chest or face.


The beat is a technique used to quickly take your opponent's blade out of line. This type of attack may take three forms, the last two related to counter-pressure. This type of attack is easier to execute with a lighter blade (such as an epee or foil) and may not be of great use when using a heavier weapon like a rapier. One thing that you will need to be careful of is not telegraphing your beats. You must not start your beat with a backswing of the blade or else your opponent may be able to time an attack during your preparation. To execute the beat correctly you should strike your opponent's sword in the area from the tip to the midpoint of the blade with your blade somewhere between the midpoint and guard. This will assure that you are able to temporarily bring their point out of line. The beat prepares for either a thrust or a cut.

The Drill The master will bring the scholar on guard, both in a low ward. The maistro will then raise his point above that of the scholar. The scholar will beat the inside of the maistro's blade taking the point out of line and will execute a thrust to the inside of the maistro's arm.

The disengagement (cavatione) is a simple attack used to fool your opponent into thinking you are attacking in one line when in actuality you will land in another. The high-low attack in modern fencing is another type of attack along this line. The disengagement is made by taking the point of your weapon in a semicircular motion around your opponent's guard. Like the beat, this attack is easier to perform with a lighter blade. The disengage is meant to evoke a patterned response from your opponent.

The Drill The maistro will come on guard in the low ward with the point aiming higher than usual. The scholar will extend their weapon towards the maistro making it look like a thrust is being made to the right breast. As the maistro begins a parry of the thrust with the blade the scholar will circle their point under and around the maistro';s guard followed with a thrust to the belly or chest. 



The feint in period texts is called "falsing"or "deceit". A feint is a move that evokes a response out of your opponent. Early master's such as Saviolo and DiGrassi thought the feint a risky technique. If your opponent does not fall for your feint you could be struck in the process of making it. Typically the feint will start with a thrust or cut at some porion of the body that will evoke a parry with the blade. The follow-up to this feint is an attack in another line. DiGrassi was very poignant on this subject.

"For avoiding of this abuse, the best remedy is, that they exercise themselves in delivering these falses only in sport, and (as I have before said) for their practice and pastime: Resolving themselves for a truth, that when they are to deal with an enemy, & when it is upon danger of their lives, they must suppose the enemy to be equal to themselves as well in knowledge as in strength, & accustom themselves to strike in as little time as possible, and that always being well warded. And as for these falses and slips, they must use them for their exercise and pastimes sake only, and not presume upon them, except it be against such persons, who are much more slow, either know not the true principals of this Arte. For deceit or falsing is no other thing, then a blow or thrust delivered, not to the intent to hurt or hit home, but to cause the enemy to discover himself in some part, by means whereof a man may safely hurt him in the same part. And look how many blows or thrusts there may be given, so many falses or deceits may be used, and a great many more, which shall be declared in their proper place: The defense likewise whereof shall in few words be last of all laid open to you."
I would suggest that you think carefully about using feints and that if you do use them that you do so infrequently.

Many of the principles covered in single rapier may be applied when using the rapier with other weapons or parrying devices. Practice all of the moves detailed in this section and then experiment to see what attacks will work or not work for you. 

Rapier and dagger

Unbeknownst to many is that the dagger was used primarily as a defensive weapon and not offensive. The reason for this is that to strike your opponent you must close distance which is dangerous. If you are close enough to offend your adversary with a dagger then they may do the same to you. It is more prudent to use the dagger primarily for defense and only secondarily for offense. DiGrassi taught that the thrust should mainly be used when defending with the dagger:

"In the second way, which is framed with the right foot behind, the sword aloft, and the dagger before, & borne as afore said, he ought in like sort discharge a thrust as forcibly as he may, with the increase of a straight pace, staying himself in the low ward. Neither ought any man in the handling of these weapons to assure himself to deliver edgeblows, because he, knoweth that there is an other weapon (and happily the weaker) to defend himself and strike with the stronger. The which stroke is painfully warded by him, who hath already bestowed all his force and power, in delivering the said edgeblow, by means whereof, because there remaineth in him small power to withstand any great encounter, let him provide to thrust only."
There are two types of stances that may be used with the dagger. The standard right foot forward stance as used with a single rapier and the left foot forward stance. Each has its advantages but in the author's opinion, when employing a dagger, the left foot forward stance should be used.

No matter which stance you use, the grip on the dagger will be the same. There are two different ways to hold the dagger. The first is performed by holding your dagger in the hand so that the tip of the dagger points down (hilt of the dagger near the edge/pinky finger of the hand). This type of grip is most efficient for guarding against thrusts or light cuts aimed below the dagger hand and may be very dangerous for the novice to employ. I would suggest using a right foot forward stance if using this grip. This stance will give you more time to defend against high-line attacks. To use this type of grip in an offensive manner will be more difficult than with the traditional dagger grip (to be discussed later). All attacks with the dagger will be made with a downward thrust. Doing so means that you must close distance with your opponent giving them ample time to cut or thrust you in the process.

The traditional dagger grip is made by holding the handle of the dagger with the blade pointing up in the hand (dagger hilt just above the thumb and forefinger) and when possible putting the thumb against the back of the flats of the dagger blade. Then, with a simple bending of the wrist the point of the dagger may be aimed directly at your opponent (the author's preferred grip), up, or down. It is also suggested that you use the left foot forward stance with this dagger grip. With this grip you may easily parry high or low thrusts and cuts to the left side of the body. The left foot forward stance brings your dagger closer to your opponent and allows you to more quickly beat aside or bind their blade. It is suggested that you hold your dagger in the opposite guard from the rapier. If your rapier is held in the low guard, hold your dagger in high, etc. Almost all attacks from the left foot forward stance with a dagger will be made by performing a crossover to gain distance.

Drills Coming on guard with a left foot forward stance, the scholar should point the dagger directly at the maistro. The scholar will then simultaneously step in and take the maistro's blade out of line. In the meantime the scholar will thrust at the maistro's face or stomach.

The maistro will perform a low thrust and the scholar will parry the thrust to the left side followed by a thrust to the maistro's face.



The dagger may also be used in a pseudo-offensive manner. I call this type of maneuver a dagger sweep. Basically the idea is to attack your opponent's blade, not their body, with the dagger, taking their blade out of line. The sweep must be followed immediately with a thrust to the opponent's belly or face. After the thrust lands (or in the event that you miss) you must quickly come back on guard keeping the dagger and sword in front of you in a defensive posture.

Drills Coming on guard with a left foot forward stance, the scholar should point the dagger directly at the maistro. The maistro will then come on guard in the high ward (right foot forward) with the sword arm extended out towards the scholar. The scholar will extend the dagger out and over the maistro's sword with the point down and will push the sword down and away from the body. The scholar will then thrust the maistro in the face or the belly.

Practice different combinations of guards and attacks with the dagger to become proficient with its use. 

Rapier and cloak

Another off-hand weapon that would have been easily at hand to a Renaissance duelist was the cloak. DiGrassi advocated the use of the cloak for rapier fighting and maintained that it could be a very effective tool. However, using a cloak may be a boon or a bane. Fighting cloaks should be made out of stiff material and should be smaller than larger in size. A late 16th or early 17th Century cape would be appropriate. The cape should be sturdy enough to withstand the abuse of being cut or thrust with a rapier. DiGrassi maintained that three things must be considered in using the cloak: its length, largeness and flexibility.

"The use whereof was first found out by chance and after reduced into art. Neither was this for any other cause, then for that nature doth not only delight to invent things, but also to preserve them being invented. And that she may the better do it, she taketh for her help all those things that are commodious for her. Wherefore, as men in diverse accidents have casually proved, that the Cloak helpeth greatly (for as much as they are to wear it daily) they have devised how they may behave themselves in all that, in which the Cloak may serve their turn. . .

As the Cloak in this Art, hath in it three things to be considered, to wit: length, largeness, and flexibility: so it is to be wayed how far each of these will stretch, to serve the turn."

The cloak, although not a strong thing in and of itself, lends itself to defense because of its very nature. Being long, it may guard against cuts to the side. Being flexible, it will absorb the strength of the blow. It may also be used to turn a thrust to the side or to entrap the blade.

Typically the cape is held either by the collar or at one edge close to the hem. In the on guard it should be held out from the body and should drape down from the hand. If you have a long cape or cloak you may fold the cloak once or twice around the hand and forearm. You must assure that you do not obscure your sight with the cloak. This can prove to be a deadly maneuver. The cloak may also be worn when being employed for defense. In this instance you would grab the cloak by the hem and use it almost as a shield.

A point to remember in these cases is that the flexibility of the cloak is what protects. If a cut lands on a cloak that is against a solid surface (i.e. your arm, leg or flank) the protection is lost and you will be cut through the cloak.

The cloak may also be used offensively. Holding the cloak by the collar or hem it may be used to entangle a blade or beat it to the side giving you the time to offend your opponent. It may also be thrown over your opponent's head thus blinding them temporarily. Throwing the cloak is dangerous in that you may lose it and not accomplish your aims. It may also be twirled or flicked at your opponent to confuse them. They will not know if you are trying to blind them with a throw or are maneuvering to entangle their blade.

Drills Coming on guard with a right foot forward stance, the scholar should hold their rapier in the high guard and holding the cloak by the collar wrap it once about the forearm. Hold the cloak a slight ways out from the body, the arm parallel to the ground and the elbow bent. The maistro will chest cut the scholar who will absorb the force of the cut with the cloak and will deliver a thrust to the face of the maistro.

The scholar will come on guard in the same fashion as previously shown except that the cloak will be firmly gripped at the collar, falling away from the hand. The scholar will use the cloak in an offensive fashion to beat or entangle the maistro's blade and will thrust to the maistro's face.

Rapier and buckler
"As the form of the Buckler, is round and small, and ought to be a shield & safeguard of the whole body, which is far greater then it: So it is to be understood how it may accomplish the same, being a matter in a manner impossible.

Let every one therefore know, that the little Buckler is not equal in bigness to the body simply, but after a certain sort or manner, from which springeth this commodity, that he which understand it, shall be resolved of the manner how to bear and handle it, and shall know that in it, which shall not only advantage him in the use thereof, but also of many other weapons."


The buckler was a small shield intended to parry an opponents blade or to trap it depending upon construction. Bucklers should be round and between twelve and twenty-four inches in diameter. They must be constructed of materials that will not easily break and that will not harm a blade. There should be no sharp edges or points on the buckler. The edge should be covered with leather or some other pliable material. You should attach some sort of strap (you may also use dresser drawer handles) to the back of the buckler that will allow you to hold the buckler firmly. Make sure that the screws or rivets are tight and that no points project or could project out the front of the buckler. On some bucklers a large cross (X) was placed on the front to help in trapping the point of the opponents blade.

Effective use of the buckler comes with frequent practice. A savvy duelist is able to out-maneuver the buckler to cause injury. There are two tactics that you may use when employing the buckler. The first is to take a left foot forward stance and to hold the buckler at chest height out in front of you. The rapier is held in a broad ward typically. The buckler is then used to divert the opponents blade to the outside (left) and you follow up with a thrust or cut. The second method is to take a standard guard and to hold the buckler with a bent arm close to the body. The buckler should still be held at chest height. It is still used to parry thrusts and cuts to the outside. Again, you would follow the parry with a thrust or cut.

Traditionally the buckler was also use offensively. Period examples of bucklers have spikes set into their face to be used offensively. The small bucklers could be used to punch with and large bucklers or targets could be swung in such a manner as to strike the opponent with the edge. These strategies may not be employed safely in period fencing.

Drill Taking a left foot forward stance, the scholar will hold the buckler out in front at chest height and will hold the rapier in a broad ward. The maistro will thrust or cut at the scholar who will parry to the outside with the buckler and will return a thrust to the face or belly of the maistro. 
Case of rapiers

The case of rapiers is most deservedly the deadliest of the rapier forms; to the defender and the offender. This fighting style will take the longest time to master and without great care and practice will be more of a bane to the student than a boon.

The primary thing to remember is that one blade is always used for defense while the other is used for offense. It does not matter which is used for offense and defense and during the course of the fight they may change.

The placement of the feet and body are very important to successful use of a brace of rapiers. Your stance should start off with your favored hand forward and in the high guard. As you become more proficient this may change. You should hold your "off-hand" in the low ward, thus keeping your tips separated all the while defending your high and your low lines. As you defend with either the right or the left hand make your counter attacks with the opposite hand. Also, maintain your upper body square to your adversary, keeping your weight balanced between your legs. "Reach" out a bit towards your opponent, keeping him/her at bay.

When fighting with a brace of rapiers there are a number of pitfalls that beginners will fall into. The first is keeping the points too close together. If you allow the tips of your blades to be too close together you are inviting your opponent to sweep both of your blades aside with one of his following the sweep with an attack. With both of your blades out of line, it will be very hard for you to defend yourself. The second pitfall is in your offense. There is a tendency to do what I call a windmill attack. That is where a person blindly attacks either by cuts or thrusts in a windmill fashion. An adept fencer can easily stay out of distance in this type of attack and counter attack in time once her/his adversary's "steam" runs out.

Drill The maistro will bring the scholar on guard in the beginning stance. The maistro will then thrust high and to the inside. The scholar will parry high inside (left) and will thrust to the face of the maistro with their primary weapon. The maistro will then attack low to the outside. The scholar will parry to the right and will thrust with the opposite hand to the maistro's underarm. 
The following is the beginning of DiGrassi's discourse on the case of rapiers:
"There are also used now adays, as well in the schools, as in the lists, two swords or rapiers, admitted and approved both of Princes, and of professors of this art, for honorable and knightly weapons, albeit they are not used in wars. Wherefore I shall not vary from my purpose, if I reason also of these, as fair as is agreeable to true art. To him that would handle these weapons, it is necessary that he ca as well manage the left hand as the right, which thing shall be (if not necessary) yet most profitable in every other kind of weapon. But in these principally he is to resolve himself, that he can do no good, without that kind of nimbleness and dexterity. For seeing they are two weapons, & yet of one self same kind, they ought to equally and indifferently to be handled, the one performing that which the other doth, & every of them being apt as well to strike as defend. And therefore a man ought to accustom his body, armes and hands as well to strike as to defend. And he which is not much practiced and excercised therein, ought not to make profession of this Art: for he shall find himself utterly deceived."

Drill The maistro will bring the scholar on guard in the beginning stance. The maistro will then come on guard with the tips of his swords too close together. The scholar will sweep the blades out of line and will deliver a thrust to the maistro's stomach. Practice the sweep and thrust with both left and right hands.

Practice different ward and attack combinations to most fully make use of this fighting form. 


Rapier combat takes years to perfect. The varied number of weapons and parrying devices that may be safely employed are as varied as the imagination. After some twenty years of fencing and over 5 years of fighting rapier I still find myself learning new moves and perfecting old ones. The main thing to remember is that for you to be proficient with a rapier you must practice regularly. Once every few months is not enough. Being well practiced will help you in the long run no matter if you will be competing with rapier or will be using these skills in the theater.

As you will doubt have noticed, the author has chosen quotes primarily from DiGrassi to illustrate specific points. It is in the author's opinion that DiGrassi provides the finest instruction on period techniques. His examples and discussions go into more depth than Saviolo or Silver. In the case of Saviolo, DiGrassi covers the use of rapier with dagger, cloak, buckler and as the case of rapiers whereas Saviolo only covers the single rapier and rapier and dagger. Silver's thrust is more for the sword and so deviates from the art of defense with rapier. 


As the quote goes, "Clothing makes the man" or woman. The Gentle Men and Women of the period took part in fence. Schools abounded and the gentile tried to master the arte. Being of a more elite nature, the fencers of the era wore fancier dress than those of a baser nature who fought with only buckler and sword.

In order to look the part of a Renaissance duelist, you should study the clothing worn during the period of the rapier's heyday, 1550-1600, approximately the Elizabethan period. A man's outfit will consist of a long sleeved shirt, a doublet of fine material or leather, a pair of trunkhose, slops or venetians (pants), stockings and boots or flat-soled leather shoes. A woman will wear a chemise, doublet or bodice, skirts, hose and shoes or boots. Proper materials for the chemise and shirt are cottons, linen or silk. Please steer away from man-made materials like polyesters since they do not look right and are very hot in warm weather. For your doublet or bodice you should pick a heavy material like a cotton velveteen, brocade or corduroy. Tapestry cloth may also be used. Linings should be of cotton or silk. There is also evidence of satins being used for doublets and pants or skirts. Typically the pants and skirts where made from the same or a complementary/matching material as the doublet/bodice. 


Proper equipment is the most important thing for your safety when fighting rapier.

One note must be made regarding the use of modern equipment. Modern fencing blades are not intended to be used in what may be termed period fencing. The act of performing a correct cut with an epee or foil will stress the blade in ways that were not intended. The use of epee, foil or sabre should be kept for what they are intended; modern fencing. Theatrical fencing blades (schlager or del tin, preferably del tin) should be the blade of choice to correctly fight rapier. These blades are available from Scottie Arms, Triplett Arms, American Fencing Supply and other retailers. They are sturdy blades that will resist breakage and that have enough flex and spring to avoid injury. In fact, in the author's 25+ years of fencing, he has seen dozens of modern blades break. He has been using schlager blades for close to 10 years and del tin blades for close to two years and has personally never seen one break. With these blades, full grappling, cloaks, and blade catching daggers may be employed safely.

You must wear a protective jacket (doublet) with sufficient padding to minimize blunt trauma to the body. All combatants must wear three-weapon olympic-style fencing masks to protect the face, some covering to protect the back of the head and a heavy leather or metal gorget to protect the throat. Men must wear a cup and women should wear breast protectors and padded groin protection (breast protectors are available through fencing supply houses). Heavy leather gauntlets are also to be worn on both hands. No bare skin should be visible.


It is not within the scope of this manuscript to fully teach the art of choreography. However, I will touch upon a few points that will help.

First, you MUST maintain order when performing demonstrations that consist of "fighting" without full protective equipment. All fight sequences must be drilled and known perfectly by both duelists. You should not take part in what I call "open choreography". All moves must be well rehearsed. Use the following guidelines to help in choreographing your routines:

Make your attacks look like they would land on the body if successful.

Never thrust at the face or upper body, all thrusts are made to the belly.

All cuts are to be pulled so the blade will stop 2-3 inches from the body.

Make all attacks look like you are using a heavy blade as was used in the period.

You are working with a partner, not an opponent!

Position yourselves so that the killing or wounding blows will appear to be so from the audiences perspective.

take care to know exactly where the audience and other members of the cast are standing so as not to put them in jeopardy.

Always maintain eye contact with your partner. Never initiate an attack unless you have that contact.

Try and wear costuming appropriate to the era you are trying to portray. The costumes in the figure just above are based on patterns from 1550 to 1650, the high point of dueling with the rapier.

A number of fine books and videos are available on the subject of choreography. One of each that I would suggest are:

Stage Fights: A Simple Handbook of Techniques by Gilbert Gordan and "The Blow to Blow Guide to Swordfighting in the Renaissance Style written and presented by Mike Loades. 


     Trattato do scientia d'arme, con un dialogo di filosofia, di
     Camillo Agrippa, Milanese.  1553.

Arnold, Janet
     Patterns of Fashion.  MacMillan London Ltd, 1985.

Billacois, Francois (Edited and Translated by Trista Selous)
     The Duel: Its Rise and Fall in Early Modern France.  Yale
     University Press, 1990.

Castle, Egerton
     Schools and Masters of Fence.  George Bull & Sons,

De Caranza, Jeronimo
     De la filosofia de las armas, de su destreza y de la
     agresion y defension Christiana.  Lucifero Fano, 1569.

Di Grassi
     Giacomo Di Grassi, his true arte of defense...  1594.

     Gran Similacro dell'arte e dell uso Scherma di Ridolfo Capo
     Ferro du Cagli, Maestro dell ecclesa natione Alemanna, nell
     enclita citta si Siena.  1610.

     Della vera practica e scientia d'armi.  1624.

Lovino, G.A.
     Traite d'Escrime, 1580

Manciolino, Di Antonio
     Bolognese, opera nova dove sono tutti li documti e vantaggi
     che si ponno havere ne mestier de l'armi d'agni sorte,
     novemente correcta et stampata.  1531.


     Opera nova di achille Marozzo, Bolognese, Maestro Generale
     de l'arte de l'armi.  1536.

Saviolo, Vincento
     His practise, in two books; the first intreating the use of
     the rapier and dagger, the second of honour and honourable
     quarrels.  1595.

Silver, George
     Paradoxes of Defense.  1599.

Turner, Craig and Spoer, Tony
     Methods and Practice of Elizabethan Swordplay.  1990

Winter, Janet & Savoy, Carolyn
     Elizabethan Costuming for the years 1550-1580.  Other Times
     Publications, 1979.


Weapons and Armor

Scottie Armory
P.O. Box 682
Williams, AZ 86046

Tattershall Arms
Box 1215 
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

American Fencers Supply
1180 Folsom Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103

Triplett Competition Arms
411 S Main Street
Mt. Airy, NC 27030


Patri Pugliese
39 Capen St
Medford, MA 02155

Tattershall Arms
Box 1215
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

Falconwood Press
193 Colonie Street
Albany , NY 12210

Costuming and Patterns

Tattershall Arms
Box 1215
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

Costume Connection
P.O. Box 4518
Falls Church, VA 22044-0518
I hope that you have found some useful information in this work. If you would like to contact me to share information or talk about period fencing, you may reach me at the email address below.



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