When recreating a fencing system as recorded in a historical treatise or manual, due consideration is needed when selecting the training tools used for such an undertaking. If these tools are not informed by the historic context in which a given treatise existed, the resulting practical experiment could have fundamental flaws. Compared to most weapons seen throughout history, for sabre fencing we are in a great position to understand what was being used by historical practitioners to train and perfect their art.
In this study, I have attempted to collate as much information specifically regarding historical fencing sabres in the treatises as I could find from the start of the 19th century to the early 20th century. By ‘fencing sabre’ I will here use the term to refer to a blunt, safe training tool that resembles a sabre, in any of the forms a sabre is known to take, which is suitable for free or sportive play between antagonists. This is in comparison to duelling and service sabres, which are generally intended to be sharpened for use as weapons, or sabres used for solo drills or non–adversarial practice.
As historical fencing is generally considered to be practised with reference to treatises and manuals, the focus of this study will be solely on the evidence for fencing sabres in these period texts. Whilst there are a great many surviving examples of fencing sabres throughout the world both in museums and private collections, further work is needed in examining and cataloguing the many surviving antique fencing sabres before such a complete study may be undertaken. As such, the aim of this study was not to ignore the surviving artefacts, but to provide a contrast for them and lay the groundwork for future studies.
In comparison to the great number of texts discussing sabre fencing, there are few individual texts which give us much information regarding the weights and dimensions of the various components and the overall handling characteristics of the sabre to be used when fencing. Nevertheless, there are many details scattered throughout these texts which can help to give us a better idea as to what kind of tool the various authors had in mind.
Whilst I attempted to consult as many sources that were available to me, there are undoubtedly many that I have not yet seen, so I make no claims of this being an exhaustive study.
The Real Thing
One of the more common assertions which may be heard in today’s historical fencing community is that the weapon one uses for fencing should be ‘as close to the real thing as possible’. In the context of sabre fencing, this is usually in reference to the relevant military unit’s service weapon for that country. Regardless of which time period one focuses on, this is an assertion which does not appear to have been quite as common historically.
Keeping our focus on sabre, where a large proportion of the sources are intended for instruction to military men, we do find a few authors that seem to agree with the proposed notion, such as Alfred Hutton, first in 1867:
The dragoon’s sabre ought, during his hours of practice—of independent practice1 I mean—to be represented by a weapon in weight, length, and shape as nearly similar to the real one as possible.2
Hutton then goes on to advocate for the soldier to begin lessons and bouting with the singlestick, and then once he is competent enough, transition to using the steel ‘practice-sword’, and later gives the following justification for his preference for these steel swords:
[The steel sabre] has many advantages over the stick; its shape being that of the real sword, enables the soldier to gain the habit of cutting with the true edge. The weight too of the steel sword is nearer to that of the soldier’s own weapon, and consequently, by its use … enable him to handle his own heavy sabre with little or no fatigue …3
This is then contrasted by his later works such as Cold Steel and The Swordsman where he recommends ‘a light sabre’, stating in the former text:
The arm I recommend for school-practice is a light sabre similar to those used on the Continent4, which, from its sleight weight, is capable of more varied treatment than the cumbersome weapons in vogue in our English schools.5
Tinguely can possibly be seen to express a similar idea as Hutton’s earlier works, saying: ‘The sabres must be generally in proportion with those of the Infantry Officers’.6 However, this cannot automatically be assumed to be the same thing as using a sabre that has specifically the same weight and handling characteristics as the regulation military service sabre.
For example, August Hermann states that ‘The sabre issued to the Austro–Hungarian cavalry and found in most fencing schools has proven to be the most suited for fencing lessons’.7 At first glance this would imply that the sabre recommended for the cavalry and the fencing hall are the same, but he then continues, saying that the blade ‘…must be light, flexible and as flawless as possible’.8 This clarification would hardly seem necessary if the cavalry sabre and fencing sabre were identical in every way, indicating that it is most likely just the form and size that should remain consistent. Further proof can be found a few pages later in the section ‘The usual requirements of a good Fencing Sabre’, where he states:
The point of balance between the hilt and blade should be found such that, when the forte of the sabre is balanced on one finger, the distance from the hilt to the finger should not exceed 2 inches [5 cm].9
Thus we see that despite Hermann’s references to regulation military weapons (he himself was a fencing instructor at the military academy in Wiener Neustadt), there are explicit special requirements that the sabre used for fencing or practice should have, outside of what the regulation service weapon may have been.
Émile André is much more explicit, separating fencing and military preparation and recommending different sabres for each. For fencing or duel preparation, he recommends sabres ‘as light as those now in use in different halls in Italy, with very thin blades’, whilst for practising handling the military weapon, he says it is alright to use a weapon that is ‘less light’ than those for fencing or duel preparation.10
In fact, this seems to be by far the more popular stance in the sources (as opposed to that taken by Hutton in his earlier works), expressed both explicitly and implicitly by different authors. In the former case we have authors like Settimo Del Frate prescribing that ‘For a sabre that serves only for fencing, it is natural that it be much lighter in all its parts than that which is intended for the soldier’.11
At the end of the same book, he gives specifications for a fencing sabre, alongside specifications for a heavier cavalry sabre. The fencing sabre has an 89 cm long blade weighing 350 g and a hilt weighing 370 g, giving a total weight of 720 g. The cavalry sabre has a 92 cm blade, weighs 985 g in total, and has a point of balance 13 cm from the guard.12 It should be noted that bouting is only included in the third section of this text which ‘completes the regular sabre fencing course’ (most likely for officers), and is not included in the syllabus for the cavalry soldier. One should therefore be careful not to conflate ‘handling’ a weapon with fencing, as there was clearly a distinction between these two in the minds of at least some authors.
In addition to Del Frate, Raimund Sebetič is also explicit in recommending fencing sabres that are different to the regulation infantry officer’s sabre and cavalry sabre, albeit with the caveat that they can create bad habits:
The sabre issued to infantry officers and cavalry of the K. K. Army is not well suited for use in fencing exercises, as even when performing such exercises under heavy regulation, the slightest mistake can lead to serious injuries or even death. For this reason alone, as well as economic and other practical reasons, the fencing sabre (spadon) is needed for fencing instruction. Although it is always considered a nuisance to use weapon simulators in fencing exercises, for sabre fencing this is the least concern. The main thing when using weapon simulators is that one does not adopt fencing habits which are permissible for such weapons, but not with the real weapon.13
G. W. Barroll gives a great insight into the gradual shift that was happening in much of Europe through the growing influence of Italian fencing when he discusses the attributes of ‘Practice Sabres’, even giving a response for whether it ought to resemble the ‘fighting sword’ or not:
For fencing-room purposes a sabre in every respect resembling the service weapon, but with a crow-quill edge, and having the point rounded off, is used. It is possible that the practice sabres used in this country are unnecessarily heavy and cumbrous. The Italian sabre is much lighter and more handy; its point, however, being rather fine, is apt to pass between the wide meshes of the mask we generally use, but it is a question whether the Italian mask, which has a closer mesh than ours, and is altogether lighter, is not better. It will be said that the practice weapon should be of the same weight as the fighting sword; but it is doubtful whether this is altogether necessary. Certainly with the clumsy practice swords in use in our schools the play is much restricted, and simplified to the verge of monotony, and the use of the point nearly barred; one might as well thrust at one’s adversary with a kitchen poker as with some of these masses of iron.14
Whether it be for the sake of safety or increased complexity, the treatises show that fencing sabres were by-and-large considered separately to their sharp equivalents. Let us then continue exploring, and see what specifics may be found from the authors.
Although it is rare that we are given specific measurements for a fencing sabre, we do find an increasing proportion of authors giving varying amounts of information in the latter half of the 19th century and beyond. Below are a few tables collating the authors who gave numbers to refer to a fencing sabre’s weight, point-of-balance from the hilt, blade length, or blade width, or any combination of these.
|Author||Approximate point of balance (cm)||Point of balance in original units|
|Betts15||?||‘as near to the hilt as possible’|
|Vannucchi16||?||‘as close to the guard as possible’|
|Pecoraro & Pessina18||3–4||2 dita|
|Van Humbeek19||3–4||‘a few centimetres from the hilt’|
|Hermann21||?–5||‘no more than 2 inches’|
|Pavese29||6–8||‘four fingers’ width from the guard’|
|Pollock30||?–7.6||‘balance within at most three inches of the hilt’|
|Lambertini31||?–10||‘… [the point of balance] should not exceed 10 centimetres …’|
|Author||Total weight (g)|
|Author||Blade length (cm)||Total length (cm)|
|Barroll46||81.3 (32 inches)|
|Lübeck48||~83.7 (32 zoll)|
|Breck49||≤ 83.8 (33 zoll)|
|Chalaupka51||~84.3 (2′ 8″)|
|Betts56||≤ 87.6 (34 1/2 inches)|
|Pecoraro & Pessina60||88|
|Cerri63||84–89 (17–18 once)|
|Author||Blade width at the base (mm)||Blade width at the point (mm)|
|Arlow & Litomyský72||16||13|
|Betts73||≥ 7.9 (5/16 inch)|
|Breck74||12.7–15.9 (1/2 inch to 5/8 inch)||9.53–12.7 (3/8 inch to 1/2 inch)|
|Cerri76||~25–29 (a mezz’oncia to a ‘mezz’oncia e un punto‘)|
|Lambertini81||≤ 20||≤ 10|
|Lübeck83||~29.4 (1 1/8 zoll)|
|Pecoraro & Pessina87||12|
|1898 Exercier-Reglement für die k.u.k Cavallerie88||20|
It should be noted that this data is a mix of authors who are explicit in stating that the specifications they provide are their personal preference, and others stating what is commonly seen in the author’s country.
Also note that when examining the data collated above, one must not be too quick in assuming the handling characteristics of the various fencing sabres based purely on the numbers. Take for example De Vauresmont, who specifies an 85 cm long blade with a width of 30 mm at the base. Despite the relatively wide blade, he states that the average total weight of the sabre itself is 600 g, indicating that the blade being used would be quite thin despite its width.89
A similar example can be seen from Federico Cesarano, writing in 1874. Whilst he states that ‘the total weight of a fencing sabre is about 0.640 to 0.890 kg’, he also states that the blade and hilt of a fencing sabre should be proportionate such that the point of balance is found ‘four fingers’, or about 6–8 cm, from the guard.90
Nevertheless, the abundance of relatively low points of balance in Table 1 may indicate a preference for fencing sabres to have relatively light blades. This certainly appears to be the case for Allanson-Wynn, who, using the generic term ‘broadsword’ to refer to any cut-and-thrust sword, including the sabre, states that ‘In practising with broadswords the blades should be as light as possible’.91
Regardless of whether it was necessarily a desirable trait for a fencing sabre, having a reduced point of balance could also be achieved with a heavier guard, as Fehn observes in his 1851 treatise:
The sabre used in the fencing school is different from the Haurappier in that its blade is curved and does not become thinner and pointier to the same degree as the blade of the Haurappier. Thus the centre of mass is placed more towards the middle and the center of percussion more forward, almost exactly to the spot with which the blade hits most often in fencing and where the curve of the sabre blade also assists the cut. In training sabres, however, the center of percussion is more than half a foot closer towards the middle, as usually the basket is somewhat heavier in order to protect the hand, moving the aforementioned spot closer towards the hilt.92
Fehn continues discussing the desirable traits of a sabre, giving differences in hilt designs between ‘training sabres’ and ‘service sabres’, and saying of the blades that ‘… a properly shaped sabre blade is somewhat heavier and broader towards the tip than the blade of the training sabre…’93
Sticks or Steel
Parallels to the lighter steel sabres can be seen in some authors’ preference for using wooden sabres or singlesticks. Whilst some authors disparaged wooden sabres and singlesticks to varying degrees,94 and some only recommended their use in lessons,95 others explicitly encouraged the use of wooden substitutes over steel when bouting.96
Maclaren believes that the ‘stick and basket’ is sufficient to represent cutting weapons for practice ‘with the utmost freedom and force without risk of injury’.97 Schneider and Probst both state that they prefer wooden sabres over steel, at least in the beginning, as they are cheaper, safer, and damage the equipment less,98 the latter even giving specific measurements for wooden sabres:
For fencing counterpoint, use a wooden sabre of walnut or ash, around 1 metre long; the blade 90 cm in length and 5 cm wide; the grip 15 cm in length and 1.5 cm thick; the grip is fitted with a shell to which the handle is attached, the blade passes through a hole in the shell; its curvature, measured from the back of the grip, is about 10 cm.99
Whether it was a basket attached to a simple stick or wood specifically shaped like a sabre, the ubiquity of wooden training weapons suggests that safety and economy were higher priorities for some fencing masters when it came to choosing the tools they used to train fencing, both in private fencing halls and in the military gymnasium.
A Military Pursuit
At first glance of the data cited so far, the question may arise as to if one of the main influences for how heavy or broad a fencing sabre a given author recommends is due to whether or not the text’s intended purpose is for instructing military men, duel preparation, or recreation.
Although blades 20 mm wide at the guard may be thought of as being on the narrower end of the spectrum with respect to service weapons, they were the fencing weapons of choice for both the 1898 Austrian cavalry regulations100 and Vittorio Lambertini, expressed by the latter as the upper limit for how wide a fencing blade should be. Despite Lambertini being a civilian fencing master, he explicitly directs his treatise towards military officers:
The infantryman is instructed in manoeuvring the musket, the artilleryman the cannon, but the manoeuvring of the sword and sabre is a separate study, one which suits everyone, but particularly army officers. And it is the latter to whom I intend to direct my care as a maestro and the edition of this volume, which I trust is well received by them—my main purpose with this compilation.101
Dealing with both sword (a predominantly thrusting weapon) and sabre fencing in his treatise, Lambertini hoped to give a full fencing education for those concerned with the use of arms. Whether or not he intended for his system to be used on a battlefield is not explicitly mentioned; however, contrary to what Julien Garry suggests,102 the presence of ‘complex’ techniques does not indicate a departure from the needs of the soldier or ‘war fencing’. One example may be found in the treatise of Giuliani-Bolognini, who, in addition to detailing his method of quickly drawing the sabre from the scabbard into a safe guard position and several methods of dealing with multiple opponents, also includes circular parries, multiple guard positions, counterattacks, and sequences of attacks and parries.103
Brunet, who also considered fencing to be a key part of military education, states students use steel fencing sabres weighing around 575 g once the instructor believes they are ready. He refers to this sabre in direct contrast to three regulation service weapons: the 1854 dragoon sabre, the 1822 light cavalry sabre, and the ‘new light cavalry officer’s sabre’, the latter of which he says weighs 680 g.104
On the other end of the spectrum, the heaviest weight to be found in this data is 890 g, albeit given in a range, from the aforementioned Cesarano, who was a fencing master not associated with any military institution and who does not discuss his system in terms of a military application.
Ferdinando Masiello’s sabre method105 was considered by some foreign contemporaries to be more suited to the fencing hall or duelling ground than any military application,106 however, the 5 cm point-of-balance he desired in a fencing sabre was also repeated in his 1891 text detailing the cavalry application of the same system, one which shows great resemblance to the Radaellian method still used by the Italian cavalry at the time.107 A 5 cm point-of-balance is also what was recommended by Hermann (see table 1), who taught fencing at the military academy in Wiener Neustadt.108
Thus from the information in these sources, it cannot be assumed that all military institutions had different preferences in their fencing sabres when compared with contemporary civilian institutions.
The evidence from fencing treatises shows that most authors did not place great importance on bouting with sabres of similar weight to what soldiers may be expected to use on campaign. In fact, some considered military training and fencing to be distinct activities, with different requirements for their respective training tools.
When authors recommended a point of balance for a fencing sabre, they specified it being relatively close to the hilt, while rarely prescribing the total weight of the sabre to be much more than 800 g. Recommended blade widths vary greatly, most likely because there are so many variables such as edge thickness, cross-section, taper, etc. which contribute to a blade’s handling. These factors make such a measurement quite variable depending on the blades that were common in a given region.
The popularity of wooden sabres, singlesticks, and the use of light steel sabres throughout the 19th century, in both military and civilian contexts, strongly indicates that the ability to train and fence safely, perhaps cheaply, and with perceived increase in complexity of play, was prized more highly than using a sabre that resembled a military service weapon.
Regardless of how light or heavy an author specified a fencing sabre should be, the intended training purpose of the sabre cannot be automatically concluded from these specifications. Thus we should not automatically consult contemporary service weapons when deciding what kind of training tool may be appropriate for any given system.
Citations & Footnotes
1. The term ‘independent practice’ was a common way to refer to bouting, being independent in the sense that it did not involve being instructed by the fencing master individually or as a class.
2. A Hutton, The Cavalry Swordsman, William Clowes & Sons, London, 1867, p. 3.
3. ibid., p. 14.
4. In both these latter texts the sabres in the illustrations show a striking resemblance to a popular Italian fencing sabre of the time known as the ‘Parise model’, and the method he details shows many similarities with Masaniello Parise’s sabre method, first published in 1884 — M Parise, Trattato teorico pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, Tipografia Nazionale, Rome, 1884. Hutton himself admitted to drawing some inspiration from Parise’s work — A Hutton, ‘To the editor of the “Army and Navy Gazette”‘, The Army and Navy Gazette, 7 September 1895, p. 749. Parise says the blade of a fencing sabre ‘… usually has a length of 88 cm, calculated from the guard to the point, including the heel, and is 2 or even 2.5 cm wide’ — Parise, op. cit., p. 241. In the 5th edition of Parise’s treatise, published in 1904, there is an added footnote stating that sabres with blades 15 mm wide at the base and 8 or 9 mm at the point are ‘tolerated’ — id., Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, 5th edn, Casa Editrice Nazionale Roux e Viarengo, Turin, 1904, p. 263. In another treatise of his published in the same year, dealing with technical and tactical advice for fencing in a duel, Parise states the sabres to be used in a friendly competition simulating a duel are 20 mm at the base and 10 mm at the point — id., Scherma da terreno, Casa Editrice Nazionale Roux e Viarengo, Turin, 1904, p. 59. These ‘sabres for fencing on the ground’ (that is, fencing sabres for duelling practice) became standard in the army and military schools for such competitions in the previous year, with the official ministerial circular stating that the blade should be 88 cm long — Ministero della Guerra, ‘Adozione di un nuovo tipo di sciabola e di spada da scherma sul terreno’, Giornale Militare, 24 September 1903, pp. 696–8.
5. A Hutton, Cold Steel: a practical treatise on the sabre, William Clowes & Sons, London, 1889, p. 2. See also id., The Swordsman, H. Grevel, London, 1891, p. 65.
6. J Tinguely, Manual of Contre Pointe Fencing, trans. Chris Slee, LongEdge Press, n.p., 2017, p. 4.
7. A Hermann, Grundzüge einer Anleitung zum Säbel-fechten, Hermann Geibel, Pest, 1859, p. 16.
9. ibid., pp. 17–18.
10. É André, Manuel théorique et pratique d’escrime, Librairie Garnier Freres, Paris, 1908, pp. 240–1.
11. S Del Frate, Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola, Tipografia, lit. e calc. la Venezia, Florence, 1868, p. 2.
12. ibid., p. 79.
13. R Sebetič, Theoretisch-praktische Anleitung zum Unterrichte im Säbelfechten, Carl Gerold’s Sohn, Vienna, 1873, p. 7.
14. GW Barroll, ‘The Sabre’, The Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine, 1 March 1889, p. 388.
15. J Betts, The sword and how to use it, Gale & Polden, London, 1908, p. 1.
16. P Vannucchi, I fondamenti della scherma italiana, Coop. Tipografica Azzoguidi, Bologna, 1915, pp. 4, 44.
17. P Carbonel, Teoría y práctica de la esgrima, Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, Madrid, 1900, p. 118.
18. S Pecoraro & C Pessina, La Scherma di Sciabola, G. Agnesotti, Viterbo, 1912, p. 15. Dita is the plural of dito, which means ‘finger’ in Italian. As a unit of measurement, it roughly refers to the width of a finger.
19. L Van Humbeek, Fencing with the Sabre, trans. Reinier van Noort, n. pub., Hagan, Norway, 2017, p. 17.
20. F Masiello, La scherma italiana di spada e di sciabola, G. Civelli, Florence, 1887, p. 380.
21. Hermann, op. cit., pp. 17–18.
22. L Hornstein, Die Fechtkunst auf Hieb, Jos. Ant. Finsterlin, Munich, 1869, p. 1.
23. G Arlow, A kardvívás, Az athenaeum irodalmi és nyomdai R.-T., Budapest, 1902, p. 7.
24. L Barbasetti, Das Säbelfechten, Verlag der ‘Allgemeinen Sport-Zeitung’, Vienna, 1899, p. 27.
25. A Sanz, Esgrima del sable, Imprenta de Fortanet, Madrid, 1886, p. 26.
26. Parise, Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, (1884), p.242. Parise clarifies ‘4 dita’ in the following way: ‘Placing the four fingers under the blade, the index, middle, ring, and little finger, with the last one against the guard, then taking the others away, the sabre must balance perfectly on the index finger.’ Rossi gives an identical description for his desired point of balance. Due to the popularity of this method within Italy at the time, it seems likely that both Cesarano and Pavese were also referring to the same method.
27. G Rossi, Manuale teorico-pratico per la scherma di spada e sciabola, Fratelli Dumolard, Milan, 1885, p. 144.
28. F Cesarano, Trattato teorico-pratico di scherma della sciabola, Natale Battezzati, Milan, 1874, p. 25.
29. G Pavese, Foil and Sabre Fencing, MD: King Bros., Baltimore, 1905, p. 102.
30. H Pollock, ‘Swordsmanship’, in Every Boy’s Book of Sport and Pastime, ed. by Louis Hoffman, George Routledge and Sons, London, 1897, p. 296.
31. V Lambertini, Trattato di scherma teorico-pratico illustrato della moderna scuola italiana di spada e sciabola, Author, Bologna, 1870, p. 89.
32. Arlow, op. cit., p. 8. Sabres must be at least 450 g to be admitted in competitions.
33. L Barbasetti, The art of the sabre and the épée, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1936, p.9.
34. Betts, op. cit., p. 73.
35. R Brunet, Traite d’escrime, Rouveyre et G. Blond, Paris, 1884, p. 72.
36. Carbonel, op. cit., pp. 118.
37. Cesarano, op. cit., p. 24.
38. K Chappon, Kardvívás kezdő és haladó vívók számára, Csokonai Ny., Debrecen, 1893, p. 13.
39. G De Vauresmont, L’escrime: fleuret, épée et sabre, Éditions Nilsson, Paris, 1912, p. 94.
40. Del Frate, op. cit., p. 79.
41. A Édom, L’escrime, le Duel, & l’Épée, Imprimerie Moderne, Paris, 1908, p. 437.
42. A Kirchhoffer, J Renaud, L Lecuyer, L’Escrime, Bibliotèque Larousse, Paris, 1913, p. 50. As the sabre section of the book is credited to Lecuyer, this and further references to this text use only his name.
43. Masiello, op. cit., 379.
44. F Murz, Vitőr-, kard- és párbajvivás, Debreczeni Ellenőr, Debrecen, 1890, p. 107.
45. Carbonel, op. cit., pp. 117–118.
46. ‘For a man of middle height, a blade measuring some thirty-two inches from hilt to point would be about the proper average.’ — Barroll, op. cit., p. 385.
47. F Vere Wright, The Broadsword, W. H. Allen, London, 1889, p. 16.
48. W Lübeck, Lehr- und Handbuch der deutschen Fechtkunst, Gustav Harnecker, Frankfurt an der Oder, 1865, p. 269.
49. E Breck, Fencing: A Short, Practical and Complete Exposition of the Art of Foil and Sabre, American Sports Publishing Company, New York, 1915, p. 156.
50. Sanz, loc. cit.
51. F Chalaupka, Leitfaden zum Unterricht im Säbel-fechten, Karl Prochaska, Teschen, 1875, p. 3.
52. Chappon, op. cit., p. 12.
53. De Vauresmont, loc. cit.
54. Lambertini, op. cit., p. 90.
55. Édom, loc. cit.
56. Betts, loc. cit.
57. Arlow, loc cit.
58. Barbasetti, Das Säbelfechten, p. 26.
59. Parise, Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, (1884), p. 241.
60. Pecoraro & Pessina, op. cit., p. 14.
61. Masiello, op. cit., pp. 378–379.
62. Van Humbeek, loc. cit.
63. G Cerri, Trattato teorico pratico della scherma per sciabola, Francesco Vallardi, Milan, 1861, p. 102.
64. Cesarano, loc. cit.
65. Del Frate, loc. cit.
66. Lecuyer, loc. cit.
67. W Franke, Anleitung zum Säbelfechten, Nydegger & Baumgart, Bern, 1897, p. 3.
68. E Probst, Instruction sur l’escrime au sabre (Contre-pointe), J. Schill, Lucerne, 1887, p. 4.
69. F Schneider, Anleitung zum Unterricht im Säbelfechten, Nydegger & Baumgart, Bern, 1887, p. 6.
70. Vannucchi, op. cit., p. 43.
71. Arlow, op. cit., pp. 7–8.
72. G Arlow & F Litomyský, Systematisches Lehrbuch für den Unterricht im Säbelfechten aus der Hoch-Tierce-Auslage, Wilhelm Braumüller, Vienna, 1894, p. 23.
73. Betts, loc. cit.
74. Breck, loc. cit.
75. Carbonel, loc. cit.
76. Cerri, loc. cit.
77. Cesarano, loc. cit.
78. De Vauresmont, loc. cit.
79. Édom, loc. cit.
80. Franke, loc. cit.
81. Lambertini, loc. cit.
82. Lecuyer, loc. cit.
83. Lübeck, loc. cit.
84. Masiello, loc. cit.
85. Parise, Trattato teorico pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, (1884), p. 241; Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, (1904), p. 263.
86. id., Scherma da terreno, p. 59.
87. Pecoraro & Pessina, loc. cit.
88. Exercier-Reglement für die k.u.k. Cavallerie, 4th edn, vol. 1, Druck und Verlag der k. k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna, 1898, p. 47.
89. De Vauresmont, loc. cit.
90. Cesarano, op. cit., pp. 24–5.
91. R Allanson-Winn & C Phillipps-Wolley, Broadsword and Singlestick, George Bell & Sons, London, 1905, p. 49. ‘Practising’ as used here is in reference to ‘loose practice’, another term for bouting.
92. A Fehn, The Art of Fencing with Thrusting- and Cutting-Weapons, trans. Tobias Zimmerman, n. pub., Munich, 2019, p. 119.
93. ibid., p. 121.
94. André, loc. cit.; Hutton, The Cavalry Swordsman, p. 14; Vere Wright, op. cit., p.8.
95. See Brunet, loc. cit.
96. See also: T Wilson, A self-instructor of the new system of cavalry and infantry sword exercise, Bancks & Co., Manchester, 1822; H Angelo, Infantry Sword Exercise, Parker, Furnivall, and Parker, London, 1845; C Balassa, Die militärische Fechtkunst vor dem Feinde, Engel und Mandello, Pest, 1860. Each of these authors only refer to bouting with sticks.
97. A Maclaren, A system of fencing, for the use of instructors in the army, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1864, p. 1.
98. Schneider, loc. cit.
99. Probst, op. cit., pp. 4–5. This treatise by Probst seems to be either a later edition or an adaptation of the regulation Swiss text from 1876 with the same title, published in Bern. The 1876 text contains an identical description of the wooden fencing sabres, albeit in imperial units — Instruction sur l’escrime au sabre (Contre-pointe), Rieder & Simmen, Bern, 1876.
100. Exercier-Reglement für die k.u.k. Cavallerie, loc. cit. Earlier versions of these regulations as far back as 1875 also say soldiers were to be provided with ‘light fencing sabres’ — See Exerzir-Reglement für die kaiserlich=königliche Kavallerie, vol. 1, Druck und Verlag der k. k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna, 1875, p. 50.
101. Lambertini, op. cit., p. 2.
102. J Garry, ‘Nineteenth Century French Military Sabre: Sport, Duel and War Fencing’, Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 6, no. 2, 2018, p. 24.
103. G Giuliani-Bolognini, Sul maneggio della sciabola: trattato teorico-pratico, Tipografia della Pace a canto alla gran Guardia, Ferrara, 1850.
104. Brunet, loc. cit.
105. Masiello, La scherma italiana di spada e di sciabola; War Office, Infantry Sword Exercise, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1895 (repr. The Naval and Military Press, Uckfield, UK, 2009).
106. A Hutton, ‘The Infantry Sword Exercise of 1895’, The United Service Magazine, March 1896, pp. 631–40.
107. F Masiello, La scherma di sciabola a cavallo, G. Civelli, Florence, 1891, p. 10. For the regulation Radaellian cavalry sabre method see Del Frate, Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola; Ministero della Guerra, Regolamento di esercizi e di evoluzioni per la cavalleria, vol. 1, Voghera Carlo, Rome, 1885. Although Masaniello Parise’s system had officially been regulation in Italy from 1884 to 1889, the cavalry adaptation of his system had to undergo multiple rounds of review and modification until the military leadership considered it acceptable in late 1891. Until that point (and even years later) the cavalry continued to use Radaelli’s method due the perceived deficiency of Parise’s method — J Gelli, In difesa di un morto, Tipografia Lombardi, Milan, 1894.
108. Hermann, op. cit., p. I.
3 thoughts on “The Right Tool for the Job: A study of sabres for fencing and practice as detailed in historical sources”
It might be relevant to your interests to add this data, which involves measurement requirements around US competitions in the late 1800’s:
I am sure there is probably more on this line of inquiry for European sources somewhere as well.
G’day Brian, thanks for the comment. Despite my ever-growing collection of tournament regulations with sabre specifications, I decided to restrict the scope of the article to the treatises, as that’s what HEMA currently bases its practice off. Nevertheless, I would very much like to do an article at some point in the future focusing on what evidence we have from tournaments.
Here are a few snippets of what I’ve found so far:
1892 Palermo tournament: Minimum blade width 15 mm.
1894 Amateur Fencers League of America fencing rules: Maximum blade length 83.8 cm; minimum blade width 12.7 mm at the heel, 9.5 mm at the point.
1896 Budapest international tournament: Blade between 13 and 17 mm wide, no longer than 88 cm; total weight at least 600 g.
1900 Paris Olympics: Blade length between 82 and 91 cm; total weight between 450 and 950 g.
[…] Joseph-Renaud’s own, the training of cavalrymen. Italian masters (notably Giuseppe Radaelli, but many others as well) had simply decided that a lighter sabre was preferable for training soldiers than a heavier […]