The Italian rapier practice group trains 17th-century Italian swordsmanship. The sword we use is called a rapier — a long, narrow, one-handed sword with a complex hilt. The rapier was a popular sidearm among civilians in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Our martial art is an expression of the intellectual, artistic, cultural, and social movements of its time. The rapier era took place during a period of profound cultural and intellectual development, spanning the lifetimes of Galileo, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, and Newton. It was a time of great change for western Europe and near the peak of post-classical Italian cultural influence.
By the early 17th century, many distinct methods of fighting with the rapier had emerged. Ours is a recognizably Italian form of swordsmanship with several notable characteristics. We train to attack and defend simultaneously within precise windows of time. We try to control the center with dominant positions whenever possible, which leads us to prefer to strike by thrust (with plenty of exceptions). In addition to physical control, we like to stack multiple layers of protection, which is why our art is also known for fairly dramatic and agile evasive actions.
Physically, you can expect this art to challenge the strength and flexibility of your lower body with deep, open stances and explosive footwork. We learn to use our entire bodies to move quickly between positions of safety and to compress our moments of vulnerability as much as possible.
Both the weapon and the art are fairly specialized compared to their predecessors. Unlike many older arts, ours focuses on a single type of weapon (sometimes with an offhand weapon as well). It is designed for unarmored civilians, and though we can’t say for certain that it was specifically designed for formal dueling, we can safely say that the art is more optimized and consequently less versatile than the sort of swordplay which might be practiced by a typical soldier.
Sources and Methodology
We train a specific martial art. We do not train “rapier” in the generic sense, nor do we practice for the sake of competition (though we value sparring). Instead, we train one specific system of swordsmanship, even though we triangulate it across several sources.
Our art is reconstructed from 17th-century historical texts. Our sources include books written by Salvator Fabris, Nicoletto Giganti, Ridolfo Capoferro, and Francesco Alfieri, among many others.
We focus primarily on the points of apparent consensus across multiple related authors. In that sense, our approach is synthetic. However, there are many systematic approaches to swordsmanship which are mutually exclusive and we do not mix and match between them.
This is not a typical martial arts class. We are a practice group. The group exists so that self-motivated students can find practice partners. There are no experts in this class and no one here claims to be an authority. Nevertheless, we provide instruction and our practice time is very structured. This class will not be appropriate for all students, but only you can say whether it is right for you.
Is this class open to beginners?
We are a beginner-friendly environment. If you’d like to watch or participate, send us a message and we’ll get you taken care of. Some beginners will be better served by a normal martial arts class rather than a practice group.
Do you train with offhand daggers or other secondary weapons?
Yes, but not right away or else it can become a crutch. Sword and dagger training is a major part of our system. However, we don’t work with offhand weapons until we learn to use the sword alone.
How does this martial art relate to modern fencing?
This martial art is quite unlike modern (or classical) fencing. Our method is in not built upon artificial tournament restrictions, nor is it designed for modern fencing equipment. Moreover, our art is based on priorities, goals, and contexts which do not exist in modern fencing. That means we begin from a fundamentally different set of assumptions which produce a very different method of fighting. It may be possible to practice modern fencing with a rapier in hand, but that is not what we do.
What are the physical requirements of this art?
Regardless of your level of fitness, if you believe you can work hard to improve, then we invite you to be a good influence on the group. This art can be one of the most physically rigorous swordsmanship arts in Europe. It can be difficult for those who have limited mobility, prior knee injuries, or an aversion to physical conditioning. We can work around many injuries, though at some level we have to acknowledge that this art is designed to be fast and explosive. Under no circumstances should this art degrade your joints or cause permanent injury.
What does it mean for a martial art to be reconstructed?
We call this martial art “reconstructed” because there is no unbroken lineage of living practitioners with whom we can train. More precisely, this art may not have died out per se, but it underwent enough change over the centuries that we feel the need to return to the source. Thankfully, the 17th century was a time when swordsmen were very interested in recording their ideas in great detail across many books for posterity. We cannot draw from the strength of a living tradition of masters, but we can draw upon the exact words and images of the founders of the art. We must supplement that knowledge with a thorough understanding of mechanics and a lot of practical experience.
We use gloves, fencing masks (CEN level 2), gorgets, jackets, and rapiers. Typically, new students purchase gloves and masks rather early on, but visitors are not expected to bring gear to their first class. Students will need athletic shoes with non-marking soles, preferably with as little heel as possible (basketball-style sneakers are not ideal).