A rapier. Italian: spada or rapière. French: espee rapière, rapière. German: das rappier. Spanish: rapiero or estoque.
The essentials of rapier:
Brief history: What we call the rapier came about in the late 1400s as the single-handed cut-and-thrust side swords got longer and thinner as an emphasis on thrusting came into vogue. The rapier peaked around 1650. By 1700 swords became shorter and lighter until the smallsword was more popular.
What we call a rapier is a single-handed, double-edged sword mainly for thrusting. The blade was roughly 110 cm = 43 inches. The weight was roughly 1.3 Kg = 2.8 pounds.
The four parts of the rapier guard:
The point guard. The primary offensive part. The primary defense by its threat. Keep in presence (within the opponent's profile as much as possible).
The forte guard. A barrier and shield. This is what is aka the four guardia (gueards). For convenience, I also put in the four thrusts. Assuming a right-hander.
Salvatore Fabris style: Leaning forward presents a smaller target and reduces a lunge to largely a motion of the legs instead of the body and legs.
Ridolfo Capo Ferro style: Leaning backwards refuses the body, i.e. keeps the body away from your opponent.
The off hand guard. A last line of defense.
The lunge (botta lunga = long blow by Cappo Ferro; distesa = extension by Salvatore Fabris) is at the very heart of rapier. A lunge is long adjust forward with the right foot. The sword is not popped forward but placed and pushed into the attack so that the sword can change as needed during the lunge itself. The attack should have a unity of forces. When a person takes a hit, he can acknowledge the blow by interjecting touché! (touched in French).
The four lines. Assuming a right-hander.
Inside (dentro). To the left of your sword.
Outside (fuori). To the right of your sword.
Above (di spora). Above your sword.
Below (di sotto). Below your sword.
The cone of defense.
Progressing through the guards forms a cone where the point is at your opponent, the cone is your sword as a barrier, and the base of the cone covers your body.
The cone is extended forward for a variety of reasons:
If you hold the sword closer to your body, then your hand is nearer the base of the cone, and you have to move the hand nearly a full body width to cover the body. However, if you hold the sword further from your body, then your hand is nearer the tip of the cone, and you only have to move the hand a small distance to cover the body.
If you withdraw your hand, then the threat of your point is withdrawn. However if you extend your hand, then the threat of your point is extended.
The tip of the cone
A dynamic wedge is greater than a static wedge because it has more momentum behind it.
Tactically there are four stages:
From out of measure have your sword drawn. Relax, conserver energy. Form a counterguard or counterposture by one step out of measure at the closest. This is simply forming opposition, usually by positioning your true edge forte, as well as positioning your body, so that the forte is between your opponent's line of attack and your body. Your forte is your "shield".
As you get closer to measure, try to acquire and maintain the advantage with your sword. Not letting your opponent acquire the advantage is keeping your sword free. Of course try to do this in tempo.
Finding the sword means that when your blades intersect, try to have the intersection closer to your hilt than his. This is simply a matter of having a shorter third class lever.
Strengthening the sword means having your sword point towards his by a small degree. Said another way: A stronger sword points over the other sword. Said another way: A stronger sword is of such an angle and line that it can push the other sword aside.
If you are in seconda and you opponent is on the outside of your debole, and he pushes forward, then your point will be displaced.
If you are in seconda and your opponent is on the inside of your debole, and he pushes forward, then your point will not be displaced. Plus you could then easily roll into quarta so that his debole is now on your forte while your point is on line.
Note that an angled blade is strong on one side and weak on the other side, and yet the weak side may also has the true edge forte on it.
True edge. The true edge (filo dritto) of a sword is stronger than the false edge (filo falso).
Gravity. A sword above (di sopra) has an advantage over one below (di sotto) because of the weight.
Occupation (occupare). Your sword must be sufficiently close to the other (practically touching) in order to impede their movement.
A cavazione is a noun for the act of changing lines by moving the tip, i.e. disengaging from one side of your opponent's blade to the other. (Note that the words "engage" and "disengage" are more modern words that are more applicable to modern fencing where, because of the lighter blades, there is more "engaging", i.e. contact between blades) While a cavazione is usually done with a horizontal motion, it could also be done vertically. You should not do a cavazione simply to change lines (especially anywhere near measure), but that it should be done to improve your position. That is, while Fabris might tolerate moving from a bad position to a neutral position, what he would really want is to move to a good position.
A contracavazione is a cavazione in the tempo of the opponent's cavazione.
A ricavazione is a second cavazione to counter the opponent's contracavazione.
A mezzo cavazione is a movement of the tip that catches the opponent's cavazione halfway.
Even if you do not gain a strong advantage, at least have the counterguard in place as you get into measure.
The transition from approach to attack can occur any time you get close to measure. Hence it is key to be constantly aware of the change in measure.
As in all fighting, it is advantageous if you can utilize an opponent's tempo/movement, that is longer than your attack.
It takes experience to be able to recognize and act upon tempi in real time.
It takes experience and cunning to be able to create tempi.
Nearly all rapier attacks are done with opposition. Rapier attacks are almost always done while closing your opponent's line of attack. If you cannot oppose with your sword hand, then oppose with your other hand or void with the body or both.
Holding the center and attacking straight is important in rapier for reason such as lengthening your attack and unifying your forces and physical structure. Any lateral movement (like parries and voids) should be minimized.
Recovery. As in all fighting, your attack may fail.
Attack again if possible.
Fly back if needed.
Continuing forward can also put you past your opponent's point.
Recover while maintaining a counter guard if possible.
While the rapier is primarily about thrusting, it can cut. Instead of striking with the sweet spot or center of percussion, rapier cuts should be done as a stramazone, i.e. slicing with the quarta = bottom fourth of the blade.
The rapier extends on the radial (thumb) side of the hand.
The force vector of a rapier is primarily that of a thrust.
Obviously the blade must be aligned with the forearm. Thus the handle needs to lie diagonally across the palm from ulnar palm heel to the radial knuckle palm. This position is most easily found by placing 2 or 3 of the lower fingers upon the upper handle and placing 1 or 2 of the upper fingers upon the lower handle.
The issue of immobilizing the weapon is related to hand placement.
If the hand is up the handle (towards the pommel) then
immobilizing the weapon is almost entirely dependent upon gripping the weapon more strongly since
placing 1 or 2 top fingers behind the cross guard is fairly weak planting.
If the hand is down the handle (towards the guard) then
the weapon may be immobilized by gripping the weapon more strongly and by
placing the top 1 or 2 fingers behind the outer guard and planting the cross guard into the V between the thumb and the index finger is very strong planting.
The range of hand placement on a rapier.
Placing the hand up the handle (towards the pommel) has 0-1 top fingers on the ricasso.
Increases range. 2-5 cm = 1-2 inches on a rapier.
Increases 3rd class leverage. A fair gain but swinging is not so important for rapier except for cavazione.
Makes the weapon seem heavier. A very large negative issue with rapiers but not as large an issue with OSF weapons such as foils, epees, and sabers.
Decreases precision. Precision is very important for rapier.
Immobilizing the weapon is almost entirely dependent upon gripping the weapon more strongly since only weak planting is allowed by placing 1 or 2 top fingers behind the cross guard.
Placing the hand down the handle (towards the guard) has 1-2 top fingers on the ricasso.
Decreases range. 2-5 cm = 1-2 inches on a rapier.
Decreases 3rd class leverage. A fair loss but swinging is not so important for rapier except for cavazione.
Makes the weapon seem lighter. A very large positive issue with rapiers.
Increases precision. Precision is very important for rapier.
Immobilizing the weapon by gripping the weapon more strongly, or by planting, or both. This is possible since placing the top 1 or 2 fingers behind the outer guard and planting the cross guard into the V between the thumb and the index finger is fairly strong planting.
So the deciding issue on rapier gripping is dependent upon placement preference.
The range difference is not insignificant.
The leverage difference is ignorable.
The apparent weight difference is remarkable.
The precision precision is vital, especially for doing cavaziones.
The immobilization difference is significant given that a rapier is primarily a thrusting weapon.
Whether you have one or two fingers on the ricasso is a more subtle choice than gripping up or down the handle.
Gripping down the handle is preferred over gripping up the handle.
Rapiers should have shorter handles and pommels to discourage gripping up the handle.
The basic rapier stance (assuming you are right-handed):
The right foot is almost always forward and pointing forward.
The stance length is short, approximately 1 body width.
The stance width is narrow, i.e. just wide enough such that your left foot can move straight forward and easily clear your right foot.
There are two main schools for the orientation of the body:
Salvatore Fabris style: Leaning forward presents a smaller target and no need to take time to lean forward during the lunge.
Ridolfo Capo Ferro style: Leaning backwards refuses the body, i.e. keeps the body away from your opponent.
The knees are sufficiently bent to allow quick movement. The left knee in particular is quite bent in preparation for a lunge.
The weight is usually on the rear foot unless you are doing a doing a passata or left-foot giratas.
Most historical rapierists keep their dominant (usu. the right) foot forward most of the time. See Footwork for explanations of footwork terminology.
Most rapier foot work involves very small shifts where the lead foot moves and then the lag foot moves by the same amount.
The lunge (botta lunga = long blow by Cappo Ferro; distesa = extension by Salvatore Fabris) is at the very heart of rapier. A lunge is long adjusting step forward with the right foot while thrusting with the sword. The sword is not popped forward but placed and pushed into the attack so that the sword can change as needed during the lunge itself. The sword, arm, body, and legs are streamlined as much as possible for greater reach and unity of forces.
Other adjusting steps with a single foot are common: to adjust distance or to refuse the leg.
Compassing is done but most fights are largely linear. Any traversing close to the center line and is usually done only during particular attacks.
Here are some footwork particular to the rapier:
A girata is a forward step with a voiding element.
A right foot inside girata is an adjusting forward step (and slightly to the right) with the right foot landing pointing left (so that the body can turn for a tight void) while the right hand attacks and covers the inside line.
A left foot inside girata is a passing step forward where the left foot passing on the right side of the right foot and landing pointing rearward (so that the body can turn for a tight void) while the left foot turns pointing rearward and the right hand attacks and covers the inside line. This girata should be followed by a recovery.
An inquartata = quarter turn, is a not quite a girata because it is more about voiding than thrusting forward. The left foot swings around to the 3 o' clock position, i.e. adjusts since it does not pass the right foot. It comes from the pre-thrust emphasizing times.
A left foot outside girata is a passing step forward (and slightly to the left) with the left foot landing pointing left (so that the body can turn for a tight void) while the right hand attacks and covers the former outside line. This girata should be followed by a recovery.
A right foot outside girata is an adjusting forward step (and slightly to the left) with the right foot while the right hand attacks and covers the outside line. Careful with this one since you will essentially have your back to the opponent.
A pasatais actually two passing steps. A pasata attack hits on the first passing step with the right foot forward with the left foot facing left (to keep the body facing left) and recovers on the second passing step forward with the right foot. Variants include outside, inside, and low.