Welcome to fencing with the SCA. This article will guide you through the very basics of rapier fencing in our great society. I won’t be talking about Cut and Thrust fencing here as there is enough in that discipline to fill another article. This article will deal only with Rapier fencing.
So what is a rapier?
The term rapier was applied to a wide variety of civilian weapons from the early 15th to the late 17th centuries. The example pictured below shows the most common features of a rapier.
Rapier handles can feature some or all of the parts highlighted in the image and labelled below. As a rule of thumb the less complex the handle the earlier the likely date of the rapier.
1. The Crossguard or quillions, developed to protect the hand of the fighter.
2. A complex hilt comprising of rings and ports to protect the users hand and to allow them to safely grip the quillions with the forefinger of the sword hand. This grip allows for greater speed and control when attacking with the rapier.
3. The knucklebow allows the hilt to totally enclose the fighters hand and provides great protection against cuts to the hand.
4. Handles were made from a variety of materials allowing a greater level of grip or comfort in the fighters hand.
5. The pommel provides a counterweight to the blade and balances the weapon allowing for greater control and speed
The blade is typically divided into three parts:
1. The weak or tip of the blade
2. The Middle or mezzo
3. The strong or forte near the hilt of the sword.
A rapier is a double edged weapon and for training purposes we discuss the edges separately. The forward edge is known as the true edge while the back side is known as the false edge.
In the SCA we fight with reproductions of these weapons that aim to be as close as possible in performance to these blades whilst maintaining a very high level of safety. The most obvious safety feature is that our blades are blunt and the tips are rounded. We all attach blunts to the tips and wear puncture proof armour to ensure safety.
Some less civilized regions of the Knowne Worlde use modern sports weapons for practice. Thankfully, as good quality reproductions become more readily and affordably available this practice is dying out. In almost four years fencing in the Society I have never seen one of these on the field.
If you are coming along to your first practice you don’t need to worry about kit. All you need to bring along is comfortable clothing that you can move in.
A typical practice begins with a short warm up and then moves on to drills. The drills we do come from manuals written in period by masters of the art of defence. These drills aim to give you the motor skills needed to fence effectively at full speed.
We will guide you through some very basic drills to begin to get your from and movements correct. After one or two sessions of drilling you will normally be able to begin controlled free play in our loaner kit. Free play, sparring with an opponent, is the ultimate aim of our practice and something we try to introduce new fighters to as soon as we deem it safe. This brings me neatly to the armour standards for SCA rapier.
To fight safely you must wear:
1. A rigid fencing mask on your head and protecting your face.
2. A rigid gorget to protect your neck and throat.
3. A Puncture resistant hood (defined as capable of withstanding 550 newtons of forward pressure) covering your back of head and neck.
4. Puncture resistant body armour covering a hands breadth inside the armpit. 4 t-shirts from Pennys (Primark in the UK) have proven to be a cost effective way to meet this standard.
5. For men a rigid box or cup protecting the groin area is required. For female fighters we suggest rigid chest protection but this is not required.
6. Abrasion resistant gloves covering the hands and wrists.
7. All skin must be covered with abrasion resistant material. (Long sleeve T-shirts and tracksuit trousers are usually fine.)
Freeplay is a fight controlled by our safety rules. The most important thing to consider during the fight is calibration. Any hit from the tip of the sword with forward pressure is valid. This means a very light touch is all you need. We will talk you through correct calibration at practice. For now it is enough to know that all hits should be light.
Fencing with the rapier takes skill and practice in order to really get good. Natural talent and previous experience with a martial art can certainly help but they are no substitute for practice and hard work. I cannot over state the importance of fighting as many different opponents as possible in order to improve. At our practices and events there will be lots of opportunity to fight with fencers of all levels of experience.
If you notice someone is wearing a braid of any colour on their arm it means they are a member of the Drachenwald Academy of Defense and as such have made a commitment to teach, practice and promote fencing within the kingdom. These fencers should be happy to give advice and support to novice fencers and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask them for support.
Black braids are Free Scholars, fencers on the first level of the academy. Provosts wear black and red braids and are more experienced fencers. Prefects wear black and gold braids and are highly skilled and experienced fencers.
There are two other types of braids that you may notice fencers wearing. Solid red braids indicate that the fencer is the scholar of a fencing master. Red, black and gold braids indicate that the fencer is a member of the order of the Dragon’s Steel, the highest award given for fencing within the Kingdom of Drachenwald.
I hope this guide has proven useful to you and I look forward to meeting you at an event or practice soon. I feel I should also mention that this article is based on my own experiences over the last few years as a fencer in Drachenwald and does not necessarily reflect the views of the fencing community.
I have included some links below that may come in handy.
Provost of the Academy of Defence.
The current rules for rapier fencing:
A source of good quality basic kit. As they ship from the US deliveries can take some time.
Darkwood make some of the best blades currently available.