Usage and History
Rapiers were in common use throughout the Renaissance period and should be distinguished from the later small sword, estocs and from cut and thrust swords. A rapier is primarily wielded with a single hand, although it can be held in both hands in a manner similar to half-swording with a Long Sword. Rapiers are chiefly used for their thrusting ability, and if cuts are made they are largely distracting slices aimed at the hands or face.
Unlike earlier forms of combat, where a single good cut would end the fight, a rapier thrust is not immediately disabling and combat often resulted in both parties taking injuries. Due to the gun shot-like wound and primitive medicine of the time, death frequently occurred from blood loss or infection, hours or days later, rather than immediately from the actual wounds.
Contrary to popular belief, rapier combat was not a gentleman's affair. Kicks and punches were common and it frequently ended in grappling with both combatants drawing their daggers and stabbing each other to death. Historically, rapiers were often used in combination with a buckler or a dagger in the off hand. These bucklers often feature a prominent spike and come in a wider variety of shapes than the older bucklers used with a single-handed sword.
Components and Construction
A Rapier consists of a blade, quillons, a guard, a handle and a pommel. The blade is generally a steel rod with a sharpened tip and not really a sharp edged blade as such. Quillons extend from the sides of the guard and are used mostly for binding and controlling the opponent's blade. Guard styles are quite varied but fall into three main categories; cup, shell and cage. Rapier handles are held with one or two fingers wrapped over the guard and the thumb running along the length of the blade.
We use three types of rapiers in training at Sword Academy. Flexible steel blades and wooden wasters are used for drills and sparring and sharp replica blades are used for cutting and thrusting practice. In drills and sparring we also use steel and wooden bucklers and flexible steel parrying daggers.