Defining Military Sabre

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Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 14 May 2018 13:00

The term "military sabre" gets thrown around a lot in HEMA discussion, yet even as a sabreur myself, I've never been 100% what is intended by this term, nor do I believe all those who use it are either.

So my question to all you self-professed "military sabreurs", what exactly is "military sabre"? Is it a weapon, a system, or a combination of the two? What exactly is "military" in comparison to, duelling sabre? What even is duelling sabre for that matter?

I will clarify that I do not intend to be antagonistic, so my apologies if I come across as such.
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Thearos » 30 May 2018 03:18

I assume C19th systems developed for the army ? With all sorts of problems of definition: Roworth is "broadsword". Marchand surely qualifies. Angelo's exercise ? Down to the more sporty late C19th manuals. But before, I suppose, the Italian manuals of the very late C19th (with the proviso that those were adopted by the British army)
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 30 May 2018 04:31

So is it purely the system that makes it military? If use a modern sports sabre and do Angelo drills, am I doing military sabre?
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 01 Jun 2018 05:27

A voice from the sideline, because I'm not a military sabreur.

IMO military sabre = a given (well defined) system + its weapon (or something very similar).

Re: An Olympic sabre + Angelo drills

A modern "sabre" is unrealistically light, basically anything else can be better for drills, even an boffer with the weight close to a period sabre.
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Bob Sp » 02 Jun 2018 06:55

I would suggest that if you are training to use a sabre in battle and are part of military or para-military unit then you have military sabre. This could be on foot; infantry, naval & artillery, or mounted; cavalry, horse artillery or infantry officer. Your training will include fighting without rules, in a melee, charge or skirmish. Your sabre will likely be relatively heavy to be able to cut through a heavily clothed or lightly armoured opponent and against an opponent with a wide range of weapons.

If you are training for dueling, then you use a dueling sabre that replicates the sharp weapon you will actually use. You are training to fight a single identically armed opponent, in a structured environment with some type of rules in place. Your sabre may vary from light to medium weight and probably only be required to wound a lightly clothed opponent.

If you are training for sport then you are using a blunt sabre. You are training to compete in a very rules oriented environment, against an identically armed opponent and your training will be adjusted according to the rules of the individual sport. The sabre is not required to inflict injury and is likely light weight.

These are generalities because of course you can fence with any weight sabre, go into battle with a light sabre or duel with a heavy sabre. Just might not be the smart thing to do.
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 02 Jun 2018 14:26

Some good replies so far, however a lot of it still seems to be fairly vague, using words like "heavy" and "light" in regards to the sabre. So the sabre itself does matter to be defined as "doing military sabre"? When does a sabre become too light to be "realistic"?
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 02 Jun 2018 17:54

IMO if somebody wants to be a "true" military sabreur, he should study a system:
- written by a person with relevant military experience,
- for military purposes,
- approved by MoD (or equivalent) or widely accepted by military specialists.

The more conditions are met, the better it is.

For drills one should (gradually) use the corresponding military sabre.
For freeplay one could use either of two options:

a) safe fencing sword with the same weight, ~PoB as the original;
b) safe, lighter fencing sword (10-20-30% lighter).

An example from an Italian sabre manual, Del Frate (1868):
- corresponding cavalry sword: ... 985 g
- training, fencing sword: ......... 720 g (27% lighter).
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 02 Jun 2018 17:56

Some other sabres from Hungarian (or K und K) systems:

* Murz (1890): ......................... 640-790 g (average: 715 g)
* Arlow (1902): ........................ <750 g
* Arlow und Litomysky (1894) ....... 13 mm / 16 mm => 620 g (estimated value) [1]

Just for comparison
* 2 training sabres for dueling: ...... 661 g, 743 g (from the fencing collection of Árpád Németh)
* 2 fencing sabres: .................... 575-655 g, 13 mm / 16 mm [2]

AFAIK around 1860 an average British infantry sabre was ~850 g.
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1. The authors provided only data on the width of the blade at the tip and next to the grip.
2. Keresztessy was a famous Hungarian fencing master, active between 1842 and 1895.
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 05 Jun 2018 10:31

Those are some excellent examples Ulrich, and your criteria for military sabre seem to be fairly reasonable, albeit fairly lenient.

Going off that, are there any particular systems which you therefore deem to not fall under the category of "military sabre"?
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby admin » 11 Jun 2018 14:57

There are some things that are clearly military sabre (eg. Roworth or Angelo) and there are some things that are clearly not (eg. modern Olympic sabre). Are they related? Sure. Are they diffenet? Yep. Is there a fuzzy middle area? Definitely.

My own main source, Waite, is a good example. He's writing as if you're going to use your sword in combat (either duel or war), but he is also clearly writing for an audience who will mostly only fence in a fencing club. Some aspects of his system might be viewed as a little 'sporty', although much less so than Hutton's Cold Steel for example. Though Cold Steel was Hutton's most 'sporty' manual and his others are aimed at the military and normal weight sabres (Cold Steel being for the 'light' sabre).

So to answer your question - partly system, partly weapon. As others above have said.

The main reason we say 'military sabre' is to indicate that we are generally using swords which weigh about twice as much as modern sport sabres and that we follow old treatises and old rules, rather than modern Olympic rules (see also target area - legs were almost always a target in British military sabre for example, unlike modern Olympic sabre).
http://www.antique-swords.co.uk/

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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 12 Jun 2018 02:31

admin wrote:The main reason we say 'military sabre' is to indicate that we are generally using swords which weigh about twice as much as modern sport sabres and that we follow old treatises and old rules, rather than modern Olympic rules (see also target area - legs were almost always a target in British military sabre for example, unlike modern Olympic sabre).


I think I like this definition the most so far - having the distinction between modern Olympic fencing and HEMA sabre fencing, although it doesn't seem to be used in that sense all the time in HEMA discussion.

Although I'm sure Hutton was writing Cold Steel for a certain audience, I have no doubt that he intended it to be a manual for "military swordsmanship", and he says that the "light sabre" that he recommends is for "school-practice". At least at the time he published Cold Steel (his opinion had perhaps changed by 1895), he still considered it military swordsmanship if one practised with a "light sabre".

As far as I recall, Waite himself doesn't recommend a particular weight/style of sabre for salle practise, giving separate advice on how to grip a heavy sabre versus a light sabre, he only goes into specifics when discussing his preferences for a "fighting sword".

The differences between "military" and sport-oriented sabre fencing obviously become much clearer as we get into the 20th century, but I would argue that the distinction didn't seem to exist that strongly in the 19th century manuals.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 12 Jun 2018 08:24

Sabs' question from the OP: "What even is duelling sabre for that matter?"

A light sabre, usually below 750 g in Hungary, somewhere between 1880 and 1920.
It is worth remembering that such a sabre was used against the naked upper body of your opponent.
So it was more than enough to cause significant damage if applied properly (edge alignment, CoP, strenght etc.)
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Re:

Postby Sabs » 12 Jun 2018 09:12

Ulrich von L...n wrote:A light sabre, usually below 750 g in Hungary, somewhere between 1880 and 1920.

Interesting, where may I find the source for this?
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Bob Sp » 13 Jun 2018 04:19

The Art of the Dueling Sabre, by Christopher Holzman

https://www.shop.swordplaybooks.com/pro ... egoryId=15
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby Sabs » 13 Jun 2018 15:05

Bob Sp wrote:The Art of the Dueling Sabre, by Christopher Holzman

https://www.shop.swordplaybooks.com/pro ... egoryId=15

Despite the title, that book does not detail a system for "duelling sabre", unless your intent was classifying the Radaellian sabre as a duelling sabre, but that is not explicit in any historical text I've read from the period.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 14 Jun 2018 05:55

Chris Holzman wrote in 2013:
"In the Italian sabre tradition the line between military sabres and dueling sabres is pretty fine. That is, the weapon itself may be different, but the system was used for both purposes.

If we look at the two most influential schools, the Radaelli school from northern Italy, and Parise's from the south, in the late 1860s to 1890s or so, the training weapon used in the schools was approximately 20mm wide blade at the base, tapering to 10mm at the point, that generally weighed between 600g and 700g. Masiello, in 1885 specifies a weapon at 620g and it is probably a slightly narrower blade. By 1912, 12mm blades were specified by Pecoraro and Pessina. 16mm tapering to 10mm is pretty common as well. the 20mm and 16mm blades are wide enough to take a decent edge for dueling, and in fact were the dueling sabre.
"

"...I've been posting snippet quotes from the 1869 Del Frate/Radaelli book, and in it, he mentions that the training sabre should weigh 750g (350g blade and 370g hilt). He compares that to 985g for the Italian M1860 sabre that was currently in use (and which has a blade length of 920mm compared to 890mm for the fencing sabre) That is the first time I've seen an 'ideal weight' attached to Radaelli's sabre." [1]

Fencing/Fighting with Military Sabre's
http://www.swordforum.com/forums/showth ... ry-Sabre-s
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1. Naturally "350g blade and 370g hilt" -> 720g in total.
The same value can be found in the 1868 Del Frate book (Tavola XIX, Fig. N. 50)
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 14 Jun 2018 05:56

Additionally we have some other sources.
I will post those references - Arlow etc. - later.
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Re: Defining Military Sabre

Postby admin » 14 Jun 2018 10:55

Sabs wrote:As far as I recall, Waite himself doesn't recommend a particular weight/style of sabre for salle practise, giving separate advice on how to grip a heavy sabre versus a light sabre, he only goes into specifics when discussing his preferences for a "fighting sword".


He does refer to practice sabres, but really from a point of view of safety - that they should have a 'quill' edge (i.e. a thickened edge, which the standard British gymnasium sabre does have).

The differences between "military" and sport-oriented sabre fencing obviously become much clearer as we get into the 20th century, but I would argue that the distinction didn't seem to exist that strongly in the 19th century manuals.


Yes, it was around the year 1900 and formulating early Olypmic rules when the divide properly happened. Though plenty of people in the UK complained about the 'light' gymnasium sabres being used by Italian schools.
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Re:

Postby Sabs » 14 Jun 2018 12:13

Ulrich von L...n wrote:Chris Holzman wrote in 2013:
"In the Italian sabre tradition the line between military sabres and dueling sabres is pretty fine. That is, the weapon itself may be different, but the system was used for both purposes.

If we look at the two most influential schools, the Radaelli school from northern Italy, and Parise's from the south, in the late 1860s to 1890s or so, the training weapon used in the schools was approximately 20mm wide blade at the base, tapering to 10mm at the point, that generally weighed between 600g and 700g. Masiello, in 1885 specifies a weapon at 620g and it is probably a slightly narrower blade. By 1912, 12mm blades were specified by Pecoraro and Pessina. 16mm tapering to 10mm is pretty common as well. the 20mm and 16mm blades are wide enough to take a decent edge for dueling, and in fact were the dueling sabre.
"

"...I've been posting snippet quotes from the 1869 Del Frate/Radaelli book, and in it, he mentions that the training sabre should weigh 750g (350g blade and 370g hilt). He compares that to 985g for the Italian M1860 sabre that was currently in use (and which has a blade length of 920mm compared to 890mm for the fencing sabre) That is the first time I've seen an 'ideal weight' attached to Radaelli's sabre." [1]

Fencing/Fighting with Military Sabre's
http://www.swordforum.com/forums/showth ... ry-Sabre-s
__________________________________________________
1. Naturally "350g blade and 370g hilt" -> 720g in total.
The same value can be found in the 1868 Del Frate book (Tavola XIX, Fig. N. 50)

While Chris uses the modern conventional term "duelling sabre", none of the sources he cites call it such a thing, merely "fencing sabres" or something to that effect. It seems to me that "duelling sabre" is a fairly modern, vague term used to just describe Italian fencing (that is, blunt and not for duelling) sabres.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 14 Jun 2018 12:26

Sabs,

Chronologically:

1868: ....... Del Frate
1902: ....... Arlow (the upper limit and the average weight of dueling sabres)
1905: ....... the very detailed description of a duel (Keglevich vs Hencz) [1]
2018: ....... measurements of dueling sabres from the Németh Fencing Collection [2]

[1] & [2] supports the observation that - sharpened - ordinary fencing sabres were used as dueling swords in Hungary. In accordance with the terms of a particular duel they also could have a sharp point, when thrusts were allowed for more serious duels.
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1. Later I will post that description. (A lot of details on dueling swords.)
2. The collection's owner told us that the only difference between training swords - which were used to train for dueling - and actual dueling swords was their sharpness.
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