by Meg Floyd
Two years ago, I too was a devotee of Lichtenauer longsword, enjoying my longsword privilege and sneering down my nose at those who studied lesser weapons like rapier or saber. (Well, not really.) Still, I had no interest in anything other than Our Great and Holy Savior, Johannes Lichtenauer, and the various manuals of his tradition. It was a love affair that began in 2007, intensified in 2011, and burned with bright intensity right up until 2015. Lichtenauer and I had reached a lull. I suppose that comes with every long term relationship. I was a bit burnt out and bored with my fencing, so I started looking around for something else to do. Turns out a couple of our longsword students were actually quite good rapier teachers and fencers in their own rights from the years they’d spend studying before we met them. One of them offered to show me some rapier stuff in the park during a weekend practice last July. Thus my great love affair with Italian rapier was born.
A few of you may be asking, what about Destreza, or Spanish rapier? My answer to that is be a cool kid and study Italian rapier. My longer answer to that is, I don’t know anything about Destreza. Look up Verdadera Destreza and Puck Curtis if you’re in the U.S. Or Thibault and Sean Franklin. If you’re in Europe, you can probably read Spanish, so bugger off, you lucky duck.
Since I started I’ve seen more and more people pop up, many of them longswordists, looking to start Italian rapier. Where do they start? What weapons are good to buy?–the usual questions. Below’s a list of resources broken down into a few sections that I’ve found helpful on the start of my journey, including equipment, instructors, and manuals. Even if you don’t have a teacher nearby, you can probably study group Giganti’s first manual with online support, if you’re avid.
So, where to find the goodies you need for practicing Italian rapier?
One of the best things about Italian rapier is that you need so much less kit than longsword. If you’ve already got a full longsword kit, congratulations. You’re overdressed to spar rapier.
At the very least you’re going to need a mask, gorget (throat protection), light gloves, and a cup. I’d strongly suggest a chest protector if you’re female. I fight sans one in longsword, but man, rapier pokes to the boobs do not feel good. Protective equipment has been covered exhaustively elsewhere, so we’ll just talk about actual rapier blades.
Where to buy a rapier and/or dagger:
- Darkwood Armoury — I love their blades and hate their Pappenheimer guards. Much too heavy for me. Their other guards look serviceable however. They are pretty much are the standard for rapier here in the U.S. though.
- Castille Armory — These guys win on affordability and customer service, and the ability to customize your weapon. I like their blades a bit less than Darkwood, but that’s just personal aesthetic. They are 100% serviceable for someone starting out.
- Danelli Armouries — Do you like beautiful blades? Do you have money to spend? I repeat, do you like beautiful exquisite blades? Buy here. More expensive than the first two, but you get the quality you’re paying for. I may upgrade to one of these when my Darkwood blade dies.
- Giganti’s Venetian Rapier:The School or Salle translated by Tom Leoni. This is the best translation of this work. It’s short, accessible, and fairly easy to get through all of the plates with a partner if you’re study grouping.
- Fabris’s The Art of Italian Rapier translated by Tom Leoni. This is best to read after you’ve gone through Giganti and been doing rapier a while, in my opinion. It’s an excellent work, and lucky for you all, now available affordably from Lulu instead of priced for a couple of thousand bucks on Amazon.
- Capoferro’s The Art of Practice of Fencing translated by Tom Leoni. This is a great work, though a friend of mine amusingly described Capoferro as being “poorly organized and self-contradictory, much like the Bible.” Start with Plate 7 and work from there.
Instructors and online support:
There’s a wealth of information and community support out there for the budding rapierist. Below are a few I’ve found helpful.
- Rapierists group on Facebook. All of the great minds are knocking around in here and will even answer you if you ask a good question. Everyone’s friendly. (Pro-tip: take people’s advice with a grain of salt and use common sense and your own sparring to verify your opinions. It’s the internet. There’s some bad apples with funny ideas in every group.)
- Guy Windsor’s webpage and Youtube channel. All very, very good stuff.
- Devon Boorman’s Youtube channel. Also good stuff.
- Tom Leoni’s articles about rapier here.
And if you’re in the western U.S., feel free to stop by this October for a little workshop/sparring shindig I’m throwing in Denver called Rapier in the Rockies. Good luck on starting out. I want to see more rapier & dagger in the U.S.!