02 December 2018

On Sanctum Secorum Episode #38 and "Fencing" Weapons


Last week I listened to Sanctum Secorum Episode #38 Nine Princes in Amber. I  have some mild criticisms for what is an overall excellent episode on one of my favorite books.  Around 17:25 Bob Brinkman talks about the use of "fencing" weapons, rapiers, sabres, smallswords, and courtswords, stating that "fencing of that nature is different from hacking someone with a shortsword or a longsword." The thing is, the use of a rapier IS different from the use of a short sword, and I am not going to travel down the rabbit hole of defining a short sword or a long sword, yet. But they aren't different because "you're really trying to bludgeon them with whatever you hit them with." That right there is some Victorian malarkey.

There's a whole lot of stuff going on with this.

"short swords" and "long swords" are not used hack and bludgeon people with. Or to be more specific, they are not designed for that and only bad fencers would use them in such a manner.
If a sword has a point, it is designed to use it. If a sword isn't meant to use the thrust it would not have a point. That is literally the point of having a point. 

Short and long are very vague descriptors of swords, same with broad. For the sake of this I'm assuming that they refer to the description in the DCC book and rpgs in general and not the single-handed basket-hilted sword or the long-bladed rapier as described by George Silver. Or the longsword as is depicted in historical fencing manuals. So let's just assume the really bad pop culture definition of short and long sword given to us by the Victorians by way of Gygax and D&D.

Just because pop culture says rapiers are a more elegant weapon etc etc doesn't mean a rapier is a more elegant weapon. It is due to pop culture in general that folks say a long sword is used to bludgeon about artlessly. Unskilled fencers universally attempt to use brute force, battering about with whatever like a club. Regardless of how the weapon is to be used.  

When all you have exposure to is sport fencing and swashbucker films, it can be easy to assume the common knowledge about long swords is true. This is pretty much why folks think nihonto are universally super cool weapons. The Japanese have multiple schools on the arts of war. And anime.

At the same time, if you are trying to replicate fencing by way of Zelazny in your game, then totally stick to the "point fencing is superior to the artless hackery" dichotomy because he straight up wrote a fight scene on that premise in Madwand. However, I do not recall Zelazny ever writing about the weapons themselves, only the manner in which they are used. He clearly felt that fencing as it was in his day was superior to the way swords were used prior to modern fencing. 

Now in the Companion, I find the assertion that the small sword's strikes are so fast that they are quicker than the eye and by extension all other blades are not, to be bogus. And by that I mean damn near every sword moves quicker than the eye. Binding and actions at crossed or halfswords (not to be confused with halfswording which can still include being crossed or at halfswords) has been a known thing since at least the 14th century, and were done to control the weapon because the hand is quicker than the eye.

A list of online transcriptions and facsimilies of 14th-17th century fencing manuals
Walpurgis Fechtbuch  14c Sword & Buckler
Fiore de Liberi Grappling, batons, dagger, dagger vs sword, sword in one hand, sword in two hands, sword vs spear, sword in armor, axe in armor, spear, spear vs other weapons, while mounted
MS Dresd.C.487 15-16c Longsword, sword and buckler, grappling, more grappling, even more grappling, short sword (spear and halfsword in armor), and while mounted
Joachim Meyer 16c (long)sword, dussak, rapier, dagger, staff, halberd and long spear
George Silver 16c short sword vs the like, short sword & dagger vs the like, short sword & dagger vs the long sword & dagger or long rapier & poniard, sword & buckler, the two hand sword vs the like, the short staff vs the long staff, the forest bill against the like or the staff, the morris pike vs the like, dagger vs the like.