Renaissance Europe

By the time of the Renaissance, heavy armor, guns, and masses of disciplined infantry were the norm in warfare. On the battlefield, arms designed for use by ranked troops overshadowed those suited to individual combat. In the civilian world, though, there was a growing need for weapons and training useful in street skirmishes and duels.

The first important civilian weapon of the period was the rapier. Its long blade was designed to let the wielder hit with a thrust before an opponent with a shorter, broader sword of comparable weight - like a military sword - could attack. Early rapiers could cut and thrust, but as time went on, tactics favored the thrust so much that later blades were rarely edged. Rapiers became the center of an arms race, with longer and longer rapiers emerging to increase the wielder's chances of scoring the first strike. These were unwieldy against other weapons but their length gave them an edge in a rapier vs. rapier fight - very useful when dueling!

The rapier's length made parrying difficult. Most rapierists relied on the off hand to parry, using a cloak, main-gauche, or mail glove. Some preferred a second rapier - not for its parrying ability but for the increased odds of defeating the foe before needing to parry! Fencers in this period sought the botte segrete (p. 86), or the secret unstoppable attack. This might have been the lunge - an extended thrust that took advantage of the rapier's length and thrusting ability.

Long blades eventually went out of fashion as masters discovered that shorter ones had a defensive advantage. This led to a cycle of new tactics that inspired even shorter weapons and necessitated further refinements in technique. The smallsword was the end result: a short, light, stiff blade designed solely for thrusting and equally useful for offense and defense. The quest for the parata universale - the universal Parry, which could stop even the botte segrete -replaced the search for the unstoppable attack. For more on such "ultimate" attacks and defenses, see Secret Techniques (p. 86).

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