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What is Rapier Combat?

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In simple terms, it’s good old fashioned swashbuckling. If you’ve watched a Three Musketeers or Zorro movie, then you have seen the Hollywood version of this kind of swordplay. If you’ve seen modern fencing at the Olympics or a college, then you’ve seen the kind of fighting that descended from rapier combat.

Rapier combat is a recreation of a duel with swords. The combatants are considered unarmored (though armor is worn for safety) and wield rapiers. A rapier is a lighter sword than a broadsword. It was designed largely to attack with the point as a stabbing weapon, though it was sharp and could still cut. (As opposed to the hacking attacks of a broadsword being their primary use.)

Fighting with a rapier is generally less about strength, and more about finesse and skill.

(Soon we hope to have some videos showing rapier combat!)

SCA rapier combat has a lot of similarities to modern fencing – and that’s not surprising. After all, modern fencing is the evolution of period rapier combat. There are differences though.

  • The swords are heavier – many of the techniques used with the modern foil, epee or saber will not work as well with the heavier rapiers.
  • The action is slightly slower – this is partly due to the weight of the blades and partlly due to the greater stiffness of the blades. The stiffer blade can hit harder and therefore we require more control and restrict some of the more aggressive tactics.
  • We use more weapons – it wasn’t uncommon to wield a sword and a dagger in period, and we do the same in our combat.

All that said, anyone who’s had training in modern fencing will find much of their technique will translate to SCA rapier combat.

If you’ve never picked up a sword before, that’s ok too – many of us got our start here!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 April 2012 16:11

What Actually Happens?

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A typical rapier fight is a lot like the videos (that we don’t have yet). Two fighters square off against each other, and fight “to the death”. “Death” in this case means when one fighter lands a blow that would kill or disable their opponent. A thrust to the torso, head, or neck, is considered a killing blow, while a thrust to an arm would only disable that arm and the injured fighter could continue.

Our activities can be generally grouped into three categories:

Many groups run weekly practices. These are for people to get together, fence, drill, train and improve their skills. Some groups have more structured instruction, while others have less. People will generally spend some time fighting each other in multiple passes. Some people will also spend time doing drills or other activities designed to improve a particular skill. All practices are run by a marshal. Marshals are responsible for the safety of rapier fighting. They also usually serve as a coordinator and instructor as well as the initial contact point for newcomers.

Tournaments usually take place at SCA events. There are a lot of different tourney formats. Most involve single combat, where two fighters duel each other. Some involve melee fights where two groups fight each other all at once. (See below.)

In order to fight in a tournament, you must be authorized. This means that you have demonstrated familiarity with the rules and the marshals have determined that you do not pose a safety risk to yourself or others. It typically takes several weeks of practice before a newcomer is ready to authorize, but this varies greatly depending on background and skills. Your local marshal can tell you more about this later.

A melee (pronounced may-lay) is combat involving multiple rapier fighters on each side. This could be as small as two vs two, and as big as a battle involving over two hundred people on each side. In order to fight in a melee, you must be authorized.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 13:44

What Equipment Do I Need?

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So you’re interested? That’s excellent.

You really don’t need a lot to get started. Most groups can loan you the equipment you’ll need initially. If you like it, you’ll eventually want your own gear, but you should definitely try it out before you spend money.

What do you need?

  1. Wear comfortable clothes, socks and sneakers – the kind of clothes you’d wear to work out. Make sure you wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants – you cannot have any exposed skin showing when fencing.
  2. For men – An athletic cup. This is one thing most people won’t lend you. But it is required when fencing, not to mention being a very good idea.
  3. For women – The rules do not require any special armor for women like they do for men. However, fencing and athletic suppliers do make some specialized equipment if you are concerned about any sensitive areas. Speak to your marshal to learn more about this topic.
  4. A little patience – As much fun as it is to start playing with swords, in all likelihood you’ll need to practice a bit and learn some basic maneuvers before you’ll be able to have a full-blown duel with someone. The blades we use are stiff, and they can injure someone if they are not handled with some care. It takes a little time, but the reward is well worth it.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 13:49

What Next?

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So you want to play with swords! What next?

Next you want to find out where your nearest fencing practice is, and probably talk to the local marshal. There are a couple ways to do this.

  1. Go to the Group Finder on the East Kingdom web site to find out what local SCA group you are in, from here there are direct links to their local web site. From there, look to see if the group has a fencing practice.
  2. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the regional marshal by looking on this page. They can direct you to the nearest practices in your area and help you with any other questions you may have.

With any luck you now know where the local practice is. You may want to contact the local marshal before you go, just to confirm the details you found. The local marshal can let you know of any special information and whether they have loaner gear for you. Contacting the marshal will also help them be more prepared to help you when you go.

When you go to the practice, the local marshal should be able to help you with any other information you need and start you on the path towards swashbuckling. Just introduce yourself and start having fun!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 09:40


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Don’t worry too much about this information at first. This is just a small list of words you might hear and what they mean. There’s a much more comprehensive SCA glossary on the SCA website. These are just a few words to get you past your first practice.


Golden Rapier

The Order of the Golden Rapier, usually referring to a member of that order. This is a kingdom award for rapier combat and the members of the order are typically skilled rapier fighters and contributors to the rapier community. They are often called “ogres” – (Order of the Golden Raper i.e. OGR).

Gorget (pronounced gore-jay)

A piece of armor used to protect the neck and throat


If a sudden safety issue occurs, a marshal will call a hold. Usually by yelling “HOLD” very loudly. At that point everyone should stop what they’re doing immediately until they understand the problem. A marshal might call a hold because someone’s blade broke, or one fighter was about to run into the wall, or step in a hole. It is important to be alert for holds.


Someone responsible for the safety of rapier combat


Typically a modern fencing mask is used in rapier combat to protect the head and face


Another term for a rapier

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 April 2012 08:46