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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blade Length in La Verdadera Destreza (Part 1 of 2)


This will be a 2 part post this week since I have many thoughts on distance and measure in relation to La Verdadera Destreza (LVD).  I broke it into 2 posts since the last thing I want is for folks to get overwhelmed and just say TLDR (too long didn't read).  This first part will be on period blade length in the LVD style of fencing and things to consider when deciding on what size blade to use.  The second post will deal more with how blade length and distance are related to the LVD concepts of the 4 generals, atajo, and footwork/measure.

I give credit to my friend Lupold for inspiring this post.  After practice last week we had a conversation regarding the effects of blade length on the techniques in LVD.  You can find a link to his blog over on the right side of this page and here is a direct link as well: Lupold's Mad Sword Science . I will try to summarize some of these insights and their historical context, to give folks something to think about as they chose their blade length and how it might  effect their LVD fencing.

On Period Blade Length and What I Chose to Use:

I completely understand that many people will question why it matters how long your blade is, since we are practicing a modern interpretation of a historical style, be it HEMA, the SCA, or some other blade group.  That is very true to some degree, but what I will hopefully show in this and even more in the  second part of this post is that, if you are studying a historical style of fencing, the period material you are reading bases its concepts and techniques on certain premises.  One of these foundations in the Spanish style of LVD, as laid out by the period laws and masters, deals with how long your blade should be in relation to your body.

There are many arguments in the old on-line sword forums (old meaning 2006-2010) regarding what was the period LVD blade length.  Based on the Spanish law of 1564, King Philip II gave an edict saying that the length of the blade could not be longer than "5/4ths Vara". The Vara was a period measurement that did have some variation, but Puck Curtis estimates it to be 0.835 meters.  This means that 5/4th came out to approximately 41-42 inches.  It should be noted that there are also many historical Spanish rapiers (not 2 handed montantes) that are significantly longer than that, going up to 50 inches or greater in length.  I have no idea if the owners of these weapons flaunted them openly or what not, but they did exist.

Pacheco writes at length about how men with longer swords lack valor and are pretty much over compensating, if you get my drift.  He says in the same paragraph how the longer blades are slower, weaker, and at the same time appear to give the person an unfair advantage.

I will tell you that I use a long blade (Darkwood 45 inches), BUT I am also very tall at 6 feet 5 inches. I am in no way period size and would be a historical giant, but by any "period" measurement my blade is proportional to my body.

Pacheco says to measure the blade length as follows:

"... and that from the left shoulder to the extremity of the right hand there are five fourths." 
-Luis Pacheco de Narvaez, New Science (1672)

According to this standard my 45 inch blade is pretty much 5/4th vara in relation to my body.

Thibault might be considered outside of LVD standard on occasion, but he also goes in depth on how to get the correct length blade.  He agrees with Pacheco and calls the men who prefer long blades cowards, but goes into a "science" to describe the proper way to get your blade measurement.

"Therefore the measure of the sword is such that the length of the blade from the point to the quillons is equal to the half diameter; that is, if the point is set on the ground between the hollows of the two feet, the quillons come exactly to the height of the navel"
-Girard Thibault d'Anvers, Academy of the Sword (1630)

By that historical standard I should in fact be wielding a 47 inch rapier.  Thibault also precedes this standard measurement by saying that there are, "occasions more favorable for long swords, and others more favorable for the short ones".  This alone would be my suggested take away. While historical context is important, it is essential for each fencer to look at all of the evidence and decide in an informed fashion what is best for their body and sport.

That is about it for the first part of this post.  Stop back later this week to read more about my thoughts on how blade length and distance affect a number of important techniques and concepts within LVD.

Click to go directly to: Blade Length in La Verdadera Destreza (Part 2 of 2)

Thanks for reading.


  1. When I at first began fencing (hema) we were doing an odd mix of spanish fencing and italian (due to change of instructors) most at the club used spanish cuphilt rapiers (and still do) but as a newbie buying my first sword I decided to see if I could find some source material and Base my length off that, I ended up looking at capo ferros measures (a mistake when doing LVD), who mention swords reaching the users armpit, and ended up with a sword that was named "the lance" with a blade 119cm from tip to quillon (I ordered a 110cm blade, but the manufacturer thought I meant from ricasso to tip, and ended up with an extra 9cm).
    It made it nigh on impossible to do LVD with those lengths and found myself forced into an even more Italian style of fencing, my footwork was more linear, the spirals were far too clumsy to be of any use, but the Italian techniques worked like a charm (who would'be thought)

    I did later switch out to a danelli standard cuphilt rapier with a 42inch blade and besides the now fabris based instructing I do some proper LVD with a couple of mates from the club on the side

    1. Hello Ronnie, It is great to hear about your experience with the 119cm (or almost 47in if my math is right) and how it affected your spirals in LVD. I didn't know very much about how the Italian masters measured their blades. My experience has been similar with the 45 in that my game has had to be changed a bit, but I think that me being 6ft 5in might make it a bit easier. I have had to modify the timing of my generals, but the extra distance of my arm and blade gives me a bit more time to implement them. I have a friend who is working with a 37in blade now and I have serious respect for the difficulty he faces when entering to get the atajo, but he gains a great deal of benefit in the tightness of the spirals once he is there. Actually the Danelli cup hilt is on my list of weapons I am saving up for. One of my long term projects is to take a look at how the hand cover of the cup hilts relates to the style historically since it doesn't seem to have really hit the main stream until almost 1630-50.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience with blade length in LVD.