TFS, Spanish School of Fight

TFS, I was recently reading a interesting article on the development of the various schools of fighting in Europe and have a question. As the Spanish school was the first (I think, correct me if I am wrong) to use the rapier and dagger, why does the French school seem to be aknowledged as being better? The spanish used rapiers that were sharp on both sides as well as the point, while the France (to the best of my LIMITED knowledge) used rapiers that only had the sharp endpoints. With the angles that the spanish school would use that could set up cuts that could be the downfall of a opponent later in the fight, and their use of angles to use the opponents momentum against them, would this not be superior to the french way of fighting?

Thanks for answering my question. I recently really started to look into the Euro schools that taught rapier and sword, and the Spanish school to me seems to be the best of them all. With the amount of influence it had with Filipino martial arts (escrima, espada y daga) it seems to me to be a excellent all around school of fighting. Too bad I can't train it, though. Would be awesome to. And what is your opinion on the slash vs the cut, as the spanish school's rapier was made for both cuts and thrusts while the more popular french school just could thrust. If I am wrong then please educate me, as I am a DEFINITE neophyte and would love to learn more.

Hunter V,

I have to get ready to go to work, but I'll answer your question within the next 24-36 hours or so. There is much that I would like to comment upon.

Talk with you soon,


Hunter V, I don't know where you live but if you are
on the east coast and want to train with a reknown
traditional Spanish rapier and dagger man contact
Master Ramon Martinez in Jersey City, NJ. He
could be the most authentic in North America.

double post

I agree with DAT, from all reports Maestro Martinez's reconstruction of Spanish rapier techniques are second to none.


I remember we discussed Maestro Marinez's possible claims to a living lineage in either Spanish or Italian forms of rapier play/16th Century fencing. In a recent swordfoum discussion he discussed the background to his teachings. I include it here for no other reason than I thought it was good reading.


I will repeat here in a condensed statement what I explained to the participants of the seminar in Rochester NY.

I offer the following;

The long sword that I learned from Maitre Rohdes is a collection of techniques and NOT a complete system. I also learned a collection of techniques in single sword, sword & shield, and side sword along with cloak, dagger and buckler. I was also instructed in round shield & sword as well as round shield & axe. I received no instruction in pole weapons but I was instructed in some very elementary quarter staff techniques. There were also other things that I learned such as walking stick self defense and some unarmed self defense techniques based on fencing theory and the experience that Maitre Rohdes had gained during his time in the German Navy.

Maitre Rohdes never told me where he learned these weapons and techniques from the middle (16th century)and early (14th &15th centuries) historical periods. When I asked him where he learned these techniques, he told me he learned it "some where in Europe". Maitre Rohdes instructed me in English for the simple reason that I do not understand a word of German and he felt that I would not understand his terminology. Maitre Rohdes informed me that what he taught me from the early and middle periods was German. There is nothing strange in that I do not know the origins of these techniques. Maitre Rohdes adhered to his professional duty in seeing that the knowledge was transmitted to his disciple. In his capacity as a Master what his objective entailed was that I fully comprehended the instruction that he was imparting to me and that I would be able to teach it. I accepted what he told me as fact. My master always encouraged me to conduct my own research as part of my training and preparation to become a teacher. During many years, I consistently verified that everything he taught me in regard to the French and Italian schools was correct and is thoroughly documented. I have fluency in Spanish, Italian and some French therefore, I am able to read the primary source material in these schools of fencing. My lack of knowledge of the German language was an obstacle for me in researching the German treatises. In regards to these early weapons I have never changed what I was taught. I continue to teach it as it was taught to me. It is only recently that I have been attempting to find the origins of what he taught me from these early periods. In the end it is difficult to know if these methods are from the German revival and reconstruction in the 19th century or if they where learned from some obscure master in Europe.


In many of the fencing academies of the 18th and 19th centuries in Italy, Spain and France, what was termed "ancient fencing" was taught along with the contemporary weapons. For example, even though we have no long sword and dussack treatises in the 18th century that I am aware of, these weapons were still being practiced in the salles as is evidenced in Diderot's Encyclopedia of the late 18th century. These traditions existed well into the 19th century. However, it is difficult to know how these methods were taught and how they may have changed during these later periods. To my knowledge there are no specific treatises written in the 18th and 19th centuries that can document the pedagogy that was utilized to give instruction in the older weapons.

After having taught the seminar in Rochester, it was clear to me and some of the participants that some of the elements of what I teach are indeed German. During my recent time in Italy at the IMAF Academy I discussed this with Stefan Dieke. He feels that there are some German and Italian elements along with some techniques that he has never seen before. The information provided by him was extremely helpful as it gives me a direction for further investigation as to the origins of these techniques.

In regard to the question of lineage, I come from a "Living Tradition" in the weapons and styles of the classical period and the late historical periods because I learned complete systems directly from a master who learned from his master. In fact my linage is in complete systems of fencing that can be traced directly back to the Italian and the French academies of the 19th century. These systems can then be traced back to the 17th century. This linage can be verified by the fact that the systems are documented in the period treatises. The transmission of a traditional line of fencing knowledge (LIVING TRADITION) can only be attained through a master disciple relationship. The master of that lineage must have attained his knowledge through his master, who in turn received the transmission of knowledge from his master. This chain of knowledge cannot be gained through the reading and study of treatises.

My tradition is in the classical weapons and in the historical weapons of the late historical period. I cannot make the same claim for the middle and early historical periods (Medieval and Renaissance) because I did not learn any complete systems in the weapons of those periods but only a collection of techniques as they were passed on to me by my master. I have never claimed otherwise.

As for research and reconstruction, my work with the Spanish School stands on its own. However, long before I began my work with the Spanish School I had conducted intensive research of the Italian and French Schools (and continue to do so) in order to expand my knowledge and further my understanding. As a professional it is incumbent upon me to continue to study and work very hard in order to improve as a Maestro De Armas. It would be a disservice to the art & science as well as disrespect for the legacy that my master left me and to the masters of the past for me to just rest on my laurels. I hope that this brief explication will give clarity to the questions that have emerged on this thread.

Maestro Ramon Martinez, IMAF
Martinez Academy of Arms


Hunter V,Let's examine your post and see if we can come up with some answers to your various questions...TFS, I was recently reading a interesting article on the development of the various schools of fighting in Europe and have a question.What was the article you read, and who wrote it? What publication did it appear in?As the Spanish school was the first (I think, correct me if I am wrong) to use the rapier and dagger, why does the French school seem to be aknowledged as being better?The Spanish school was not the "first" to use rapier and dagger--the use of rapier and dagger (or sword and dagger) was common in most of the Mediterranean countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy), and even the English apparently had their own indigenous method of sword-and-dagger fighting. The first duel involving sword and dagger that we know of in fact took place in 1512 in Ferrara, Italy. Northern Italy, in particular, had a strong tradition of spada e pugnale (sword-and-dagger) fencing--Bologna was the home of the best fencing schools, Milan and Brescia (and to a lesser extent, Venice) were the main Italian centers for arms production, and Venice was host to numerous printers who published many of the fencing treatises by the great Bolgnese masters. In addition, the Friuli region was noted for its many formidable swordsmen. The spanish used rapiers that were sharp on both sides as well as the point, while the France (to the best of my LIMITED knowledge) used rapiers that only had the sharp endpoints.This is not true. The word rapier is used to describe a complex-hilted, double-edged sword capable of both cutting and thrusting, but generally geared more towards the use of the point. However, the earlier forms of "rapier" were indeed capable of inflicting very damaging cuts--they were fairly broad-bladed (see the plate from Jakob Sutor's 1612 fechtbuch that shows a man using a rappir to completely sever his opponent's sword-hand at the wrist). The rapier is thought to have originated in Spain in the late 15th century, though the term was never used in the Latin countries (Spanish and Italian swordsmen referred to their weapons as espada and spada repsectively--both terms mean simply "sword"). The term "rapier" was used by the English to describe these foreign swords (but again, it can get confusing--the type of "rapier" favored by early 16th century Italian masters like Marozzo was not overly long, and was a dual-purpose cut-and-thrust weapon--George Silver and John Smythe probably wouldn't have had a problem with it). As the century progressed, many rapiers were made with longer, thinner blades, that were intended more and more for pointwork. Finally, in the 17th century, the cup-hilt rapier appeared. This was considerably longer than many earlier rapiers (often with a blade that was some 4 feet in length), and was double-edged, but it's narrow blade profile and considerably obtuse bevel meant that it was not a good cutting weapon--the cuts that could be delivered with it were rather superficial, when compared to what more robust cut-and-thrust swords could do.In any case, the system of rapier fencing taught by the French master Henri de Sainct Didier in his 1573 manual was similar to contemporary Italian methods, and included both cuts and thrusts. I therefore suspect that the "French rapier" you are referring to is in fact the smallsword of the 17th century.[continued below]

[continued from above]The smallsword was predominantly a French development, though the Italians eventually abandoned their style of rapier-play by the early 18th century, and took up the smallsword too (though they had their own particular methods for its employment, which sometimes involved the use of a dagger, and therefore differed somewhat from French technique). The smallsword was much shorter than the rapiers that had preceded it (generally around the same length as a modern epee, though often even shorter), and it was used exclusively as a thrusting instrument (some earlier smallswords were double-edged, but they could not cut well, and the edges were apparently intended merely to deter an opponent from grabbing the blade; most smallsword blades were actually of an edgeless, triangular cross-section, like a modern epee).With the angles that the spanish school would use that could set up cuts that could be the downfall of a opponent later in the fight, and their use of angles to use the opponents momentum against them, would this not be superior to the french way of fighting?I do not believe that the 17th century Spanish system of the rapier (the so-called "Mysterious Circle") was inherently superior to either the Italian school of rapier, or the French and Italian methods of smallsword. They all had their strong and weak points. The recent popularity of the reconstructed version(s) of the Spanish rapier school has apparently caused some folks within the historical fencing community to elevate the Spanish methods far above those of other Western European nations, but the French and Italian masters of the time did not seem to be as impressed.Late Italian rapier men, like Francesco Antonio Marcelli, were familar with the Spanish school, and while the strengths of the Spanish style were noted, these men did not view the "Mysterious Circle" as being superior across the board by any means. In fact, fencer and author William Gaugler mentioned that, "Marcelli observes that many have written about fencing and have complicated it with discussions concerning philosophy, geometry, and mathematics, and with a multiplicity of lines, circles, and angles. He, however, believes that not everyone is familiar with these disciplines, and that intellectual digressions of this nature will more than likely confuse the reader. For this reason Francesco states that he has sought to make the subject of fencing intelligible to all." To me, it seems as if the Italian rapier school was a little more reality-oriented, though I certainly cannot state that with any real certainty. The French smallsword men of the later 17th and 18th centuries also had some things to say concerning the Spanish school. Angelo, the famous Italian fencing master who was trained in the French smallsword tradition, wrote in 1787, The Spaniards have in fencing a different method from all other nations; they are fond often to give a cut on the head, and immediately after deliver a thrust between the eyes and throat. Their guard is almost straight, their longe [lunge] is very small; when they come in distance they bend the right knee and straighten the left, and carry the body forward; when they retire they bend the left knee and straighten the right; they throw the body back well, in a straight line with that of the antagonist, and parry with the left hand, or slip the right foot behind the left.b> [continued below]

[continued from above]Their swords are near five feet long from hilt to point, and cut with both edges; the shell is very large, and behind it is crossed with a small bar, which comes out about two inches on each side; they make use of this to wrench the sword out of the adversary's hand, by binding or crossing his blade with it, especially when they fight against a long sword [ie., another rapier]; but it would be very difficult for them to execute this against a short sword [a smallsword]. Their ordinary guard is with the wrist in tierce, and the point in a line with the face. They make appels or attacks of the foot, and also half thrusts to the face, keep their bodies back, and form a circle with the point of their swords to the left, and straightening their arm, they advance their body to give the blow on the head, and recover instantly to their guard, quite staight, with their point in a direct line to their adversary's face. Angleo's observations of the Spanish style are fascinating, since they give and outsider's view of that system. Also, his comment about binding against a shorter sword for disarms seems to echo some of George Silver's ideas concerning swords that may in fact be too long to be really practical. ...and the Spanish school to me seems to be the best of them all. With the amount of influence it had with Filipino martial arts (escrima, espada y daga) it seems to me to be a excellent all around school of fighting.We should be careful here. We don't know too much about the military systems of swordplay used by the Spanish during the early-to-mid 16th century (the time when they first came to the Phillipines). Jeronimo de Carranza, whose treatise was published in 1569, is the first Spanish master known to have described what we refer to as the "Spanish method" of swordplay (with its esoteric qualities--it's emphasis on geometry and metaphysical stuff). However, it should be noted that Carranza's system differed somewhat from the later Spanish style, if only because the sword used at that time was a stouter cut-and-thrust weapon (Carranza placed more emphasis on cuts than did later Spanish masters). Also, it is not clear as to whether or not Carrana's methods were representative of Spanish swordplay as a whole. It seems likely that military Spanish swordfighting (as practiced by the conquistadores) bore some resemblance to contemporary Italian systems (Marozzo, Viggiani, di Grassi, etc). It is known that Spanish and Italian swordsmen exchanged ideas during the 15th and 16th centuries (both countries made considerable use of sword-and-target men--rodeleros or rotularii). Certainly, as J. Christoph Amberger has pointed out, the later 17th century-style of Spanish cup-hilt rapier fencing--as practiced by men like Ramon Martinez--does not bear all that much resemblance to current methods of Filipino stick, sword, and knife work. There do appear to be, however, some parallels between modern FMA and the earlier 16th century Italian systems of cut-and-thrust play. It would be great if we could find out more about Spanish military swordplay from this period.Again, I must stress that I do not view the Spanish system as being ineffective--it clearly has its good points, but I don't feel that it was innately superior to other national methods. In many parts of Europe, there were swordsmen who appear to have been just as formidable as their Spanish counterparts.I hope that this isn't all too confusing--if you are unclear on anything I have posted here, please feel free to ask me, and I'll do my best to clarify my points.Sincerely, TFS


Thanks for posting that Martinez stuff--I will offer my comments upon that very soon.

And I haven't forgotten about our Silver/Saviolo debate! :-)

Talk with you soon,


TFS, you are indeed correct on the shortsword comment in regards to the French school. I didn't have the article by me when I was typing so I believe I may have inadvertantly mashed some things together. The article I speak of was in MA Insider, by Anthony DeLongis and titled : "Fencing, the Martial Art of the Western World." I just found the Spanish school to be more well-rounded because they had both the option of the stab and slash, as opposed to the French with their shortswords better for the stab only. Thanks for the interesting information, btw. And what would be your opinion of fighting with two swords? I remember seeing a article on the web somewhere about it but can't for the life of me remember just where. And DAT, thanks for that website. Hopefully one day I can make it up to New Jersey.

Hunter V,The article I speak of was in MA Insider, by Anthony DeLongis and titled : "Fencing, the Martial Art of the Western World."DeLongis' articles can be somewhat informative and entertaining, but I should warn you that he is not always the most historically accurate author (and that goes for his partner F. Braun McAsh too). DeLongis tends to write pieces that are somewhat cliche-ridden, and even contradictory--for example in the article that you read, he first echoes the sentiments of earlier fencing historians like Egerton Castle, ...the art of sword fighting in Europe evolved as a result of the introduction of firearms to warfare during the sixteenth century... During the middle ages, the sword was almost exclusively an offensive weapon. Defense depended largely upon the wearing of metal body armor... At this time knights and nobles consulted men who had not been able to afford armor, the men who depended on their skill and ingenuity with the sword for their continued survival.But then he suddenly changes his tune,There is a common misconception that a disciplined and systematic system[one would hope that a system would be "systematic"]of arms training did not emerge until the appearance of the rapier in the sixteenth century. A long overlooked library of Fechtbuecher(fencing manuals) by German sword masters dating from 1389 to 1612, demonstrates conclusively that medieval swordsmanship was detailed, disciplined, and deadly.There are several problems with the above statements. Medieval knights and noblemen did not have to seek out lesser men in order to learn how to fight--they already had complete systems of combat themselves (and it should be pointed out that many of the fechtbuchs contain techiniques of armored combat, as well as unarmored combat). Also, men of lesser rank would still often go into battle with a certain amount of armor--armor that they had either purshased or looted off of the battlefield. This whole concept of knights depending solely upon their armor for defense is absolutely absurd.F. Braun McAsh has made his share of odd mistakes too--he once even described Vincentio Saviolo as a "17th century master" even though the man died sometime in the 1590's. I tend to view these two fellows with a certain amount of suspicion, since they appear to be mainly concerned with stage combat.Still, I'm glad that you found the article interesting--every little bit of info helps!I just found the Spanish school to be more well-rounded because they had both the option of the stab and slash, as opposed to the French with their shortswords better for the stab only.You must keep in mind that, by the late 17th century, even the Spanish use of the rapier was geared mostly towards the use of the thrust as well. The Spanish rapier's ability to cut was limited at best--it could not deliver really dangerous cutting blows like more general-purpose cut-and-thrust swords.And what would be your opinion of fighting with two swords?Fighting with two swords--the so-called "case of rapiers" (due spade or deux espees), was never as common as sword alone, or sword and dagger, or sword and buckler/target. Certainly, it was almost never seen on the battlefield. Also, Hank Reinhardt once mentioned that, when pitting case of rapiers against rapier and dagger, the man with two swords was at an obvious disadvantage, because the rapier and dagger man could close the gap (get inside the range of the two swords) and use his dagger.Maestro Martinez, btw, is probably the closest you'll get these days to actually learning the Spanish "Mysterious Circle" system.Good luck,TFS

Maitre Rohdes seems to have been quite an interesting, and knowledgable, character.