Experiment: Reduced Armor for Heavy Rapier

Original Submission Date: Oct 7 2011

Returned by SRM: Jan 27 2012

Date of this Revision: March 18 2012

Final Decision Date: March 14 2012

Decision:   APPROVED

Submitting Kingdoms: An Tir, Atenveldt

Submitting KRM: Luciano Foscari, OWS - An Tir

Author: Thoré de Bethune, OWS - An Tir


What & Why

What: We propose a test of a reduction in the armor requirements for heavy rapier.  Specifically, we propose reducing the armor requirements to the following: rigid cup, gorget, 12kg fencing mask, plus abrasion-resistant fabric for the entire body, with a concern about overlap preventing gaping to show bare skin only on the torso.

Why: Current society armor requirements for rapier combat are designed for penetration resistance in the event of a broken epee or foil.  However, An Tir and Atenveldt allow only what the society refers to as “heavy rapier” – weapons that do not share the same dangerous break characteristics as epees and foils.  Heavy rapiers tend to break near the tang, and break flat as opposed to the jagged or spiral fractures characteristic of modern Olympic fencing weapons.

Given that we are not using modern Olympic fencing weapons (or daggers sharing the same dangerous cross-section), armoring against those weapons is not sensible. In the Western Martial Arts (WMA) community, hundreds of fighters have been fighting with reduced armor (cup, gorget, mask, shorts and t-shirt) for tens of thousands of hours over the past few years, without an increased incidence of injury.  In my own experience doing WMA rapier combat in reduced armor over the past 12 years, penetration-resistant armor offers no benefit.  Academie Duello in Vancouver BC is the world’s largest WMA school.  They have hundreds of students, and use a reduced armor standard.  Their director, Devon Boorman, attests that

Academie Duello operates the world's largest centre for the practice
of European Swordplay with the rapier being our core training weapon.
We have been operating since 2004 and over the course of the past 8
years have had more than 6000 participants in rapier combat with
armour that is equal to or lesser than what is proposed in the SCA
reduced armour experiment. The most significant light armour related
injuries we have had have been superficial abrasions against bare arms
which can be easily prevented through a single layer of clothing as is
proposed in the reduced armour experiment.”

Further, reducing the armor requirements for heavy rapier combat will have the additional benefits of reducing incidents of heat exhaustion, allowing participants to fight in clothing more appropriate to their personas, and reducing the entry bar for new fighters who no longer have to buy or make armor to comply with standards for weapons they’re not facing.


We propose to have participants wear reduced armor in SCA heavy rapier tournament combat.  Opponents will be informed of the reduced armor before each bout, and will be able to request that participants armor up to current SCA standards if they don’t feel comfortable with their opponent wearing reduced armor.  In addition, given that the greatest puncture risk is associated with a fighter being struck by an untipped blade, we will require that each combatant facing someone in reduced armor check the condition and adherence of their rapier blunt prior to each bout. Further, the blunt on the tip of each weapon used against someone participating in the experiment shall be affixed with glue, cement, or fiber tape in addition to the standard contrasting color tape normally used.  We further require that all weapons used against someone in the reduced armor experiment must use a blunt with a metal barrier between the tip of the blade and the blunt (a washer in the tip, for example, or a piece of metal folded over the tip of the blade inside the blunt), to prevent blow-throughs.

As mentioned above, the WMA community already has tens of thousands of hours of fighting in reduced armor with heavy rapiers (we can provide videos of WMA practices and tournaments where we’re wearing t-shirts as torso protection) with no increase in injuries beyond bruises of the sort we already get from heavy rapier combat in existing SCA armor (given our armor is to protect against punctures, not bruising), so the experiment will be to determine if we can bring the reduced armor standards from the martial arts training of WMA to the more casual sports-oriented bouting of SCA rapier combat.  Success will be defined as having no injuries beyond normal bruising, and combatants who feel comfortable facing a variety of SCA combatants whilst wearing the reduced armor.   Any significant injury to a participant that can be assigned as being due to the reduced armor shall result in the experiment being considered a failure and halted immediately.

All experiment participants shall provide a written report after every practice and tournament containing their feelings about the reduced armor and any injuries sustained.  A website shall be created for the purpose of recording these reports. Every month, the experiment author will provide a consolidated report of all the reports received from the participants.

Risk Mitigation

In order to participate, each participant will be required to sign and submit an acknowledgement of risk that reads as follows:

Rapier combat is a combative sport, and as such is inherently dangerous.  The current SCA armor standard for rapier combat is designed to safeguard a fighter who is struck with a broken epee, foil or flexi-dagger.  To that end, it involves rigid protection of the front and sides of the head, the throat and neck, and the groin of male participants, with puncture resistant* cloth over most of the body.  Given that the weapons used in heavy rapier do not present the same dangers (spiral fractures, etc.) as foils, epees and flexi-daggers, we are experimenting with an armor standard that does not concern itself with potential spiral fractures of a weapon.  To that end, participants in this experiment shall be required to wear rigid head protection (a fencing mask or helm), a rigid gorget, and rigid groin protection for male participants.  The remainder of the body shall be covered with a minimum of abrasion-resistant fabric.  I.E., participants will wear normal SCA garb with a cup, gorget and mask.  The weapons used in heavy rapier tend to break flat, and near the hilt, on the rare occasions when they do break.  However, there is always a chance that a participant will be struck with a broken weapon, or a weapon whose tip has been dislodged.

As a participant in this experiment, I acknowledge and accept the risks disclosed above, and agree to participate despite them.  I agree to hold the SCA and its agents and officers blameless in the case of injury.

Where and When

We propose a year-long experiment, starting with several groups in each participating kingdom, each under the guidance of an experienced white scarf (or local equivalent, in the event that we expand the experiment into kingdoms that are not signatory to the WS treaty) chosen by the experiment lead in each kingdom.  Initially, each group will be limited to half a dozen experienced participants.  After four months, we will open the experiment to all the white scarves (or local equivalents) in the participating kingdoms who ask to participate, and after four additional months of that expanded testing, we will open the experiment to 4 additional fighters (of all experience levels, including beginners, but excluding Minors) per participating white scarf or equivalent.

Specifically, in the first phase, 4 groups in An Tir will form, each led by an experienced White Scarf (Chrestien Valois, Talentus del Albero, Warwick Drakkar, and myself).  Each of these people will choose 5 other experienced rapier combatants in their area who wish to participate in the experiment.  Those participants will be required to sign a physical copy of the acknowledgement of risk document and turn it in to the supervising WS, who will scan and submit the signed documents to me.  Each participant will fill out the questionnaire included at the end of this document after each practice and event.  Participants will only be able to participate in the experiment in the presence of one or more of the group leaders listed above.

After four months, we will invite the remaining WS in the kingdom who wish to participate.  They too will sign the acknowledgement of risk document and submit it to me.

After four additional months, we will invite 4 additional participants per participating white scarf.  These participants will be from a wide variety of experience levels, including newcomers (but no minors will be included).  Again, they’ll have to sign and submit the acknowledgement of risk form. They will only be able to participate in the experiment in the presence of a participating white scarf (all white scarves in An Tir are Sr rapier marshals).

No one will be allowed to participate until I have a copy of their signed acknowledgement of risk.  I will maintain a master list of all participants online at the nwrapier.avacal.org website so that marshals can determine who is participating in the experiment at any given time.


Person in charge of the experiment: Thoré de Bethune

Backup Person: Luciano Foscari

Person in charge of the Atenveldt portion: Wyllym Macleod

Backup in Atenveldt: Gall Fox

Person who will send reports to the SRM: Thoré de Bethune


We are testing the feasibility of reducing armor requirements for SCA heavy rapier combat to levels similar to those of the WMA community (cup, gorget, mask, and abrasion-resistant material).


Here is the questionnaire we’re planning to put online for participants to answer after each practice or event in reduced armor:

Mundane Name:  [text box]

SCA Name: [text box]

SCA Branch: [text box]

SCA Kingdom:  Drop down - options (for now): An Tir, Atendveldt

Event or practice you participated in the reduced armor experiment: [text box]

What did you choose to wear to conform to the reduced armor rules?  [text box]

Did you end up more battered or scraped than you normally would? Yes/No radio buttons

Did you at any time feel unsafe in your reduced armor? Yes / No radio buttons

If Yes, please explain: [text box]

Did any of your opponents feel uncomfortable about your reduced armor? Yes/No radio buttons

Comments or Suggestions:  [text box]