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Parrying a full-intent longsword cut with a rapier? Absolutely.
by Tom Leoni

On the last day of the Western Washington WMA Workshop 2005, leading German-longsword researcher Christian Tobler and I set out to prove that a rapier is perfectly capable of withstanding full-blown longsword cuts delivered at speed.

This demonstration occurred before numerous instructors, sword-makers and seminar attendees, including Maestri Ramon and Jeanette Martinez, Gary Chelak, Jherek Swanger, Angus Trim and others.

The weapons used for the demonstration were an Angus Trim blunted longsword and a 1998 Darkwood Armory rapier (3-ring with shell) with a Del Tin Mark II practice blade.

The test: I asked Christian to deliver a series of full-intent zornhaus (downward diagonal cuts similar to a mandritto squalembrato) to my left collar-bone. I would attempt to parry them with my rapier, with no more protection than a regular fencing glove. (My lack of further protection did not arise from bravado - but rather from the knowledge that, had I missed the parry, nothing short of full armor would have prevented me from receiving injury.)

We started the action with Christian in Vom Tag and me in a Fabris terza guard. After carefully assessing the measure of the action, Christian delivered the first full-speed cut, which I parried by turning my hand in quarta, aiming the point at Christianís fencing-mask and lunging forward.

Christianís longsword therefore impacted the true edge of my blade at a very acute angle (approximately 20 degrees), losing some of its momentum and subsequently stopping at my hilt - specifically, at the juncture between the inner guard and the forward arm.

Also, I strove to meet Christianís blade forte-on-forte so as to receive the cut from the less momentous part of the longsword. Incidentally, this is the parrying technique specifically recommended by Fabris; the only poetic license on my part was to substitute the lunge for the pass as my accompanying footwork.

Christian repeated the cut a half-dozen times, with full intent. The result was always the same. Interestingly, the angle at which I met Christianís cut greatly reduced the "felt" impact of the parry on my sword-hand and arm.

After the test, my rapier was closely examined by its maker, Scott Wilson of Darkwood armory, and no visible nicks were detected save for one almost imperceptible dent on one side of the blade (which could have been there before).

The conclusions we drew from this exercise (as I was hoping) are the following:

  1. A rapier will not necessarily be damaged when matched against a heavier weapon
  2. Most of the modern myths about a rapierís flimsiness are false
  3. Fabrisí recommended technique for parrying cuts works splendidly
  4. Correct technique is the most important aspect in the performance of an action such as this

Regrettably, we did not take pictures (or shoot a video) of the test. I do, however, hope that my good friend Christian will again oblige at the next event so that we can further document this action.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11