This is basically a handout from a class I gave at Aros fencing camp 2017, just lightly edited. It might not be an easy to understand or read without the parts where I demonstrate and explain, but I wanted to put it up anyway. I have lately taken some extra interest in the use of cuts in rapier fencing and therefore done some focused reading, training and test cutting with rapier.
Was cut common?
Docciolini writes in Chapter 12 of his Treatise on the Subject of Fencing that the thrust is the “best and most secure” attack, but he describes cuts. Fabris states in his Art of Dueling, in the section called On Cuts, that cuts are slow and that you can never counter-attack while parrying when you use cuts and that cuts “is not a very useful technique”, but then he describes in details different cuts. Also Capo Ferro discourses in Chapter XII of his Simulacro dell’Arte e dell’Uso della Scherma from the use of cuts since you uncover yourself when cutting, but he also writes there are “some usefulness is found in the cut” and later in his book he describes some attacks with cuts. Giganti on the other hand writes in the preface to his second book (Libro secondo) that a man that can’t use cuts “should hold himself to know nothing”. In that book Giganti also describes several attacks with cuts.
So most discourages from the use of them. But they all describe them and how to defend against them, some also has some plates with cutting attacks, so it must have been a part of the normal fencing.
How did they cut?
It is hard to find much details of how they cut, but some information can be wrestled from the manuals. interesting enough that one of the fencings masters that strongest discourages from the use of cuts are the one that describes them most in details. Fabris describes in On cuts different ways of cutting, of them he prefers the one where cuts are delivered from the wrist, since the body is better covered. But I find Capo Ferros description in the chapter Of some terms of fencing, that pertain to the use the most interesting. He states that “The cuts need to be done as if slicing, because in this manner one comes to strike with all of the debole, because little by little one will come to cut with the sharpest part of the edge”. That is also something I have found when test cutting with different weapons.
I have done some test cutting with sharp weapons on bottles, fabric, meat and myself (yes I know, stupid, don’t do it). A attack that not is a bit slicing won’t work with a rapier, hardly with a longsword but with an axe if you use enough power. A slicing cut on the other hand will very easy and without much force slice through everything I tried it on (including my fingers). You don’t need to deliver much force straight into the target to cut it in pieces. A safe way to test it at home is to take a tomato and a sharp knife. Tapp, hack whatever you like, it won’t cut the tomato, but if you use a slicing motion you will without much force (if the knife is sharp enough) elegant cut slices of tomato.
This way of delivering cuts also make sense, at least to me, if you study the use of cuts in the different masters manuals.
So all in all my interpretation of period cutting with rapier is a slicing motion mostly done with wrist and forearm and without much force delivered straight into the body of the opponent.
Some ways to use cuts with rapier
(see respective manual for exact details)
Below is some ways of using and defending against cuts with rapier that I find covers much of the period use.
A figure that parries with the dagger high to the inside and wounds with a roverso to the thigh, and in fourth to the chest as demonstrated in the picture.
A method of coming to grips and giving a cut to the head
The true method of parrying cuts with the sword
Cuts according to Fabris
Are we doing cuts wrong in the SCA?
Yes I think so, at least some of us are, if we want to do it in a period way.
As I see it the rules, both heavy rapier and cut and thrust rewards non-period ways of delivering cuts. Heavy rapier mainly due to safety, but not only. In cut and thrust it is more a reward in winning your bout. I often see (and have sometimes used, I am ashamed to admit) a quick “tap”, like a very light heavy fighting attack. An attack that maybe would have worked with a heavier weapon like an axe, but not with a rapier. But in our context It would work, the opponent will feel (and sometimes hear) the attack, the “tapping” with rapier and take it as a killing blow.
As I wrote above I have done some reading and I can’t find any description of this tapping attack. So far my tests with sharp weapons also suggests that a tapping attack won’t work.
The problem with this proper way of cutting in my experience is that my opponent don’t register my attack. It has less “ompf”, it is harder to feel and it is not making that much noise. Of course this can be avoided if we start training the proper way of delivering cuts.
So if we want to the true period fencing we have to stop using the wrong way of attack and register the right way of doing it.
Capo Ferro, Gran Simulacro dell’Arte e dell’Uso della Scherma, http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Ridolfo_Capo_Ferro_da_Cagli#Treatise
Translation by: by William Wilson and W. Jherek Swanger
Docciolini, Marco. Treatise on the Subject of Fencing: Marco Docciolini’s 1601 Fencing Treatise. Trans. Piermarco Terminiello and Steven Reich
Fabris, Salvator and Leoni, Tom. Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606
Giganti, Nicoletto; Pendragon, Joshua; Terminiello, Piermarco. The ‘Lost’ Second Book of Nicoletto Giganti (1608): A Rapier Fencing Treatise