Power of the Rapier.....how strong is it?

Discussion in 'The European Art of Fencing' started by Cobra, May 8, 2004.

  1. Cobra

    Cobra Guest

    Many say the rapier is usful as far as speed and agility, but many say as well it lacks the power it needs to deliver a critical blow or thrust.

    What is the power of the of a rapier's thrust? Can it go through a man if stabed and reach to the otherside of the man's back (can it go through a person and come out through the back to the point were you can see the blade on the otherside?)? Is the thurst strong enough to peirce armour?

    And what about the Sword Rapier with a sharpened balde, can it severe limbs and reach the power of a katana?
     
  2. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    While I've never used a rapier per-se, they were/are fearsome weapons in the right hands. Of course that is true with ANY weapon. Rapiers are capable of being run through a man, provided that the wielder of the sword has the skill, speed, muscle and accuracy to do so.
    Think upon this for a moment to answer your question and/or watch any fencing match... why else do the ends have large blunted tips and the fencers wear thick padded chest protectors and tight wire mesh face guards. It says something about the capability of those weapons does it not?
     
  3. Nikolas P.

    Nikolas P. Guest

    The short answer to this question is 'yes.' The long answer is that a rapier can go through a man, but it can't pierce bone. That means no thrusting straight through the ribcage. You might, however, be able to impale someone through the stomach, armpit, or neck.

    No. As I understand it, the rapier was invented in a period where firearms were becoming more prolific, and thus armor more and more of a hindrance than a help. With armor disappearing, a new sword was invented that didn't need to be large enough and heavy enough to break armor, as the old longswords had been.

    No, an edged rapier is still too thin to cut something as large as an arm.
     
  4. Cryozombie

    Cryozombie Grandmaster

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    So, in the grand scheme of things... say you were in a sitaution/time period that required the use of the sword in "life or death" combat... Would the rapier be a good choice, given that you had the time to learn to use it? Or would you be better off with something like a Cutlass, Saber, or Katana? Or maybe the old standby European Longsword?

    Hmmm.
     
  5. Nikolas P.

    Nikolas P. Guest

    Firstly, as the parable goes, a sword is just a tool. It's the arm that wields it that makes it deadly.

    Secondly, your question is too vague. The reasons there are specialized designs of swords are because they were refined to meet the needs of the era. The rapier was the perfect weapon for its time, because armor was on the decline, and man-to-man dueling was becoming more prevalent than frequent large scale wars.
     
  6. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    Not to mention that the rapier was/is an elegant weapon of a far more civilized day (that sounds familiar ... hmm :jedi1: ).
    True an edged rapier isn't capable of slicing off an arm or a head but it would inflict some nasty cuts.
    I've seen re-enactments where both a rapier and a dagger were used at the same time to achieve the effect that one or the other couldn't.
    I think that a rapier could pierce through a rib-cage and into the heart muscle provided that the weilder was skillful enough to make that accurate of a strike... or mebbe just lucky. Either way it would inflict aseries of serious puncture wounds and thus create a hellva distraction for the "opponent". For my money the katana and other similar "broadswords" are more effective for creating damage.
     
  7. Nikolas P.

    Nikolas P. Guest

    To be honest, I can't imagine a rapier making much of a cut. It might make a painful laceration if whipped across the skin, but not a serious injury.

    Fighting with rapier and dagger (or rapier and shortsword) is called florentine fencing. Fencers often held a secondary weapon in their off-hand; knife, cloak, net, and, of course, in later years the pistol.
     
  8. Michael Billings

    Michael Billings Senior Master

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    The rapier I fenced with was a shorter thicker version of the foil. You did not want to be poked with it, as it bent very little. I see it as more likely to penetrate soft tissue and probably likely to cut bone enough to get stuck or bound.

    I thought it may be a good slicing weapon, not slashing. Saber was much more about whacking down your opponent. I like the post, function dictates form, a saber would be used in combat, a foil in training (and some duels - longer reach), and a rapier in dueling. I am not even sure it was ever intended for more than this. My learning was limited to a couple of college classes and frankly, I just don't remember the history of the weapon. But my thought is, you could get a very nasty, to the bone cut from a rapier, using the tip to cut, and certainly enough to cut a throat or artery in the arm or leg.

    -Michael
     
  9. Nikolas P.

    Nikolas P. Guest

    I agree. A rapier is quite the weapon for precision "slicing." It's just not going to be taking any limbs off. :)
     
  10. pesilat

    pesilat 3rd Black Belt

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    To the best of my knowledge, a rapier isn't intended for slicing at all.

    It's intended for thrusting. And, as it was explained to me, the flexibility/springiness of the blade is part of what makes it so lethal.

    When it first makes contact with cloth, skin, etc, the blade begins to bend. At the thrust continues, a point of critical mass gets reached. Either the surface being stabbed (skin, cloth, etc.) gives way or the blade snaps. If the surface being stabbed gives way and the blade enters anything of less resistance then the tip of the blade will gain momentum as the blade springs back toward straight. So, in slo-mo, if you press the tip against something and begin pushing, when the surface breaks and the tip goes through, it will shoot forward, propelled by the tension of the bent blade, as if it had been thrust very violently.

    If the blade breaks, of course, then you end up with a smaller, more rigid, still very sharp tipped blade which can still be used.

    But, anyway, that's how the concept of the rapier was explained to me - and it makes a lot of sense to me.

    Mike
     
  11. loki09789

    loki09789 Senior Master

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    Sabers: Generally hack and slash, not great at stabbing, usually a mounted weapon.

    Foil: Diputed as either a 'training weapon' to establish a very strict and precise skill of fencing OR a 'killing weapon' because the entire foil system and weapon is to accomplish the goal of thrusting into the trunk and groin triangle (lethal targets) of the body.

    Epee: short, stiff thrusting weapon. Easy to carry unmounted and used for 'duels of honor' when first blood is generally the goal. Less strict than foil because the entire body is a 'legal' target.

    Rapier: Lethal/Powerful because it had some cutting ability as well as thrusting ability, also it was a weapon advancement because it was a design specifically created as a result of improvements in metalwork and refinement of the raw materials as well as the precision of the craftsman. This advancement allowed it to maintain strength and flexibility in a longer and lighter blade than had previously been possible.

    It was primarily a thrusting weapon - but unlike the epee/foil - it could effectively 'gore' the opponent because of the cutting edges allowing for more internal damage while inside and as it was withdrawn from the body....

    Rapier's power came from the metal and the engineering that was cutting edge for the time. It still comes down to the person handling it to use it as well as it was crafted though.
     
  12. dohap

    dohap Guest


    It was intended also for slicing, and the first rapiers were not bending so much. You are talking about later models designed only for thrusting motion.
     
  13. Kenkaku Knight

    Kenkaku Knight White Belt

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    Hello everybody, I've been fencing for four years now, and I want to make a few clarifications, and a brief history of the rapier.

    Full plate armor ==> medieval longswords and broadswords (aka Human can openers)

    Gunpowder ==> armor = obsolete ==> human can openers = overkill

    Now, people found out that smaller, lighter swords move faster than the heavier swords, and because nobody wore armor anymore, the smaller swords are just as deadly.

    Thus, we have the rapier, a long, thin weapon with a cutting edge on it. As a slicing weapon, the rapier is still fairly ineffective, and the edge is more as a deterrent from someone grabbing the blade.

    The extreme length made the rapier, with its thin, narrow blade, a very effective thrusting weapon, but because of its length, it became a cumbersome weapon to defend oneself with. So people armed themselves with a dagger, shield/buckler, or another rapier as a defensive weapon.

    The next step in the rapier's history is its descendant, the small sword (court sword). This sword is shorter than the rapier, and was much more adept at switching between offense and defense. And because of the minimal slicing ability of the rapier, getting in past the thrusting tip became a cake walk for the smallsword, which modern day fencing is based on.

    Just my history of fencing.
     
  14. RITFencing

    RITFencing Orange Belt

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    This is true, and even later versions (there was no one 'true' rapier) were still capable of cutting. Look at German Schlager dueling; it involved two people standing close to each other and basically trading attacks and parries (not my preferred method, but to each their own.)

    Also, as far as thrusting vs cutting weapons when dealing with an unarmored target: On a good shot, the thrusting ones are much more lethal because of the ease with which they can penetrate to vital organs. It's not actually as easy as one might think to chop through a ribcage (along with all the muscle and fat associated) but if a slim point finds its way between a pair of ribs, say good night, Gracie.

    Incidentally, this is why modern fencers wear an extra layer of protection for the ribs, shoulder and upper arm on their weapon side; if someone penetrates the jacket at the seam running up this side (why manufacturers choose to put a seam there in the first place baffles me) or just penetrates the material, there is another layer of ballistic nylon with seams nowhere near the one on the jacket that will either stop the broken weapon or cause it to only penetrate an inch or so, as opposed to destroying any combination of the heart, lungs and spine.

    Fortunately, these events are extremely rare (in ten years I have been at one tournament where someone took a blade in their body, and then it was a minor thigh puncture) but we have to prepare for them nonetheless. :)
     
  15. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Keep in mind that swords were not the primary weapon against armour. That job fell to the pollaxe, mace and warhammer. Swords could be used against armour, so a longsword would be half-sworded to thrust into vulnerable targets, such as the palms of the hands, eyeslits, armpits, etc. Otherwise, it could be reversed to use the pommel or crossguard like a mace or warhammer. The advantage of the longsword is that it's easy to carry around, unlike a pollaxe. It's strength is its versatility.

    This is an oversimplification. Armour started falling out of favour before firearms could easily breach it. What did start happening was towns fielding commoner militia, who couldn't afford plate. Nobles started leaving warfare, since commoners couldn't take nobles for ransom, and might perhaps execute them on the spot rather than have them hanging around draining resources. Fewer noble customers = fewer armourers = less armour on the battlefield.

    Also, the rapier had its heyday as a civillian weapon. Civillians in the towns don't wear armour in the first place.

    I disagree. The rapier is quite agile in defence. The buckler and off hand weapons have a long and storied history, and were not an innovation. See MS. I.33, which is a sword and buckler manual from about 1290, long before the advent of the rapier. It details civillian combat, not military combat.

    The smallsword did not "defeat" the rapier. Fashion did. A rapier has a bulky, elaborate hilt and is fairly long. When fashions changed, people wanted swords they could wear at court without the hilts getting in the way. Thus you have a compact hilt and blade length that don't get caught on tables, one's fellow courtiers, and one's own garments. Since only nobles/officers were wearing smallswords, it became the nobles' duelling weapon. We use what we have to hand. Facing a rapier with a smallsword is something I wouldn't do if I could help it. :)

    Just my $0.02.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  16. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    True, thrusts are more lethal in general, but cuts have more stopping power. A reasonable cut to a wrist from a longsword will end the fight instantly (Pinocchio has his strings cut), but rapier duellists would suffer many puncture wounds, keep fighting but die in their beds days later. I would rather hit someone with a cut, put them into shock and finish them off at my leisure than give someone a mortal wound from a thrust, and have him live long enough to take me with him. :)

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  17. RITFencing

    RITFencing Orange Belt

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    Fair enough point; the heavier weapons certainly can have much more force behind them (simple physics, and the cutting motion can take advantage of different muscle groups.)

    As far as the damage from shallow cuts, though, like tendons in the wrist, even a rapier would be able to deliver enough. For a real system shock, you'd want something cutting to the bone and still delivering a hard impact.

    Again, this can be achieved with a lighter, thrusting weapon, though certainly with more difficulty (perforated lungs, for example, and arteries tend to take the fight right out of a person.)
     
  18. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    A rapier isn't any lighter than a typical longsword. Both weigh in at about three pounds, give or take. It's the distribution of the mass. Less mass at the point of impact equals shallower cuts. :)

    Yup, that'll drop you like a sack of excrement. ;)

    It can, but adrenaline is a powerful assistance to those who are mortally wounded. It's better to sever something that produces an instant effect that can't be affected by adrenaline, such as severed limbs or major tendons. The loss of control is instant, whether you know you've been hit or not. Superficial cuts and even severe punctures can be ignored temporarily if you're of the right physical makeup, but a severed hand cannot, if it's holding your weapon. :)

    But we're splitting hairs. I'm enjoying the discussion nonetheless.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  19. RITFencing

    RITFencing Orange Belt

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    I pretty much agree with everything there, except when I'm talking about lighter, I do not mean the overall weight of the weapon, but rather the balance (or the torque due to the center of gravity's position relative to the hand, if you will.)
     
  20. kaizasosei

    kaizasosei Master Black Belt

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    my uncle told me that the original foil fighting style was the quickest deadliest style of swordcombat. he would always tell me how fast it is and that all you'd see was a flash and the next thing would be a penetrating hole right between the eyes...
    i dunno, but that's what i was always told. i briefly took a fencing class in a summer camp one time. later on when i started learning about swordfighting especially japanese swordfighting, i tried to integrate the stabing into my style. especially with the ninjato. i have never had a taichisword but i think it would be some good for stabing too.
    i have seen some of the foils that have very ergonomic handles which would suggest a high level of dexterity that is being amped with even more responsive handle.
    interesting are also the downwards pointing swords with bent handles of the mongols and centralasian nomads...the quality seems bad,but i wonder why they were like that and how they were used.
    i would think that with a smallsword, you might also under right circumstances even easier breach the gaps in armour rendering it useless.
    definately a weapon of skill as opposed to sheer power.

    j
     

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