Capo Ferro arm length measurement

Capo Ferro Chapter III: The Division of Fencing That is Posed in the Knowledge of the Sword

Time for another installment of Capo Ferro. This chapter is all about understanding the sword. This is a super “Swording 101” chapter, but we finally leave some of the philosophy behind and get into more of the practical use and knowledge.

You can find links to all the chapters I’ve interpreted in the Historical Fencing section of the site.

If you’d like to follow along with the translation I’m using, download it here, though I’ve learned from reading through Chapter II that it probably helps to have multiple translations handy to compare/contrast. Wording in one translation might be less clear than another.

However, I just have this translation handy at the moment, so let’s get back to it.

Also of note is that this post has several picture of Rex, who always jumps in during photo shoots. To be fair, dog makes everything better.



Capo Ferro says: “There are two parts to fencing: the understanding of the sword, and its handling.” Understanding the sword is the first step, since once we understand the sword we can understand how to wield it better. Makes sense. Straight forward.


What is a sword? So glad you asked. Capo Ferro describes a sword as an “arm of iron” and a weapon well-apt for defending oneself at a distance in which they can also go on the offensive to deal bodily harm.


What a line from Capo Ferro:

“The material of the sword is the iron material of defence.”

Iron material of defense is a good turn of phrase.

He also says that iron > wood when it comes to weapons.


The sword must also be sharp and pointed, because a blunt sword isn’t as scary in a fight and they would close the distance faster and easier.


The purpose of the sword is to defend oneself (something Capo Ferro consistently harps on in the first two chapters), and to keep your adversary at a distance where they can’t easily attack you.

He even goes further to use the Latin definition of “defend” which is to avoid or distance oneself from the thing trying to hurt you.


Offending an opponent is the final “remedy of defence” in case they’ve crossed the boundaries of of first defense (keeping distance) and has come to a distance that they can finally do some physical harm to you (and you them).

Note: This is a fun juxtaposition to fencing in the SCA. In real life, Capo Ferro wants offending to be a last resort, but in the SCA we’re all about the offending — the attack. We fight tournaments, and you can’t win a tournament by never throwing an offensive movement at your opponent. A lot of this is because we’re not actually trying to harm our opponents in the SCA, whereas a duel in real life was literally a life or death situation. Taking a life shouldn’t be taken lightly, and I think Capo Ferro is driving that point home with the whole “fencing is about defending yourself” repetition (like any good martial art). But it is fun and interesting to compare this idea to the SCA rapier culture, especially when watching the “gun slingers” fight. It’s the divergence of sport verses martial self defense. /note

However, should your opponent step into a measure that they can harm you and have intent on doing so, Capo Ferro has a fun line about what to do:

“…I am no longer obliged to carry any respect for the conservation of his life.”

AKA, fool needed killing.


Because defending oneself is the purpose of the sword, the length needed to do thus is measured.

Note: This measure is important and will come up a lot in future installments.


Capo Ferro says, the sword needs to be twice as long as the arm, which roughly translates from the distance of armpit to sole of the foot.

I’m not sure what he defines as the arm. Does he mean from armpit to wrist? Armpit to finger tips? Does the arm start at the shoulder?Let’s measure armpit to finger tips.

Capo Ferro arm length measurement
Rex measured in at 45″ tall when on hind legs, for those wondering.

I’m 5.6′ or 66″ for contextual reference.

So if the arm is from armpit to wrist, my arm is 21″; if it’s to finger tips than my arm is 28″ long. According to Capo Ferro’s “twice the length of the arm” equation, my sword should be somewhere between 41-56″ long.

He also says this is about armpit to sole of the foot. So let’s see how that compares.

Capo Ferro sword measurement

At 54″, it looks like armpit to finger tips is the closet to “twice as long as the arm.”

So according to Capo Ferro, my sword should be roughly 55″ long. This is drastically different than the rapier I do use, which is a 37″ blade, and 45.5″ total length. Even from tip to pommel, my current blade is shorter than Capo Ferro suggests.

Capo Ferro Blade Length

I do have a longer, cup-hilt rapier. Let’s see how that stacks up with Capo Ferro’s text.

Capo Ferro sword measurement

This is the longest rapier I own (40″ blade, 49.5″ total length) and drags on the ground if it’s hanging from my frog. Even so, it’s still shorter than Capo Ferro’s desired 55″ sword.

Capo Ferro sword measurement comparison
All the measurement comparisons!

8/19 Addition: Capo Ferro also mentions the sword length to also be equal to the “extraordinary pace” which, currently, doesn’t make any sense to me. However, I’m told by others that this means distance of the lunge. I didn’t take a photo of that, but my lunge is about 46″, depending on how deep of a lunge I go.

So my 37″(ish) rapier is way too short, according to Capo Ferro, in every possible way of measuring. Yet it’s the longest blade I can easy carry without it dragging on the ground, and I can easy draw from my frog. I feel like being able to draw your sword is really damn important. A sword is no good to me if I can’t get it free fast enough to defend myself in the street.

In a scheduled duel, however, drawing your sword isn’t as much an issue, so a longer blade would be a bit more beneficial.

The length of one’s blade was a hot topic back in the Renaissance and early-modern period. Every master had their own idea, and cities and countries had laws on the longest length a sword could be. If you were caught breaking said rule, your sword would be broken down to size, which would be terribly humiliating and emasculating.

Blade length is also a hot topic in the SCA. We have rules set that defines how long (or short) a sword can be. We even have rules on handle to blade length ratio. Some of my friends walk out there with howitzers, others prefer super short 20″ swords.

Good to know that in the 500 years of discussion, we haven’t decided what the proper length or ratio is for a sword. I say if you can’t draw it, it’s useless; Capo Ferro says I should go much longer.


37. – 38.

There are two parts to the sword — the forte and the debole. The forte is the strong part of the blade and begins from the hilt and to the middle of the blade; the debole is the weak part of the sword and is from the tip to the middle of the blade. Forte is for parrying, debole is for striking.

Capo Ferro - Parts of a Rapier Sword

The blade also has two edges — true and false. The true edge faces downward when the hand is held in a natural position (aka your basic en garde position of terza, which will be shown/explain in a later post). The false edge is the edge of the blade opposite of the true (so facing upward when in terza).


Capo Ferro says the true and false edges only matter with the debole and not the forte. This is because the true/false only come into play when attacking (which is the debole’s job). The forte is just there for parrying, so true/false don’t matter.

He says it’s also not weird to have your forte blunt, so you can grasp your blade there (Note: I half sword my rapier when in-fighting at times), and so you can cover your head while striking.

That’s all for this installment. Chapter IV will be about measure. We’re finally getting into the practical techniques and applications.

Thoughts? Ideas? Leave ’em in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “Capo Ferro Chapter III: The Division of Fencing That is Posed in the Knowledge of the Sword”

    1. Cool. “Extraordinary pace” is another line where I wish I had a second translation to bounce back and forth off of, so thanks for the insight. I meant to put in a line about that.

      I have a feeling my sword still would be considered “too short” for Capo Ferro. I’ll have to go and measure for funsies.


      1. When you say toe to toe, do you mean you hold the lunge pose and have someone measure from the trailing foot to the lead foot? Because there may be a different measurement. I always understood this to be about “increase” in pace. So from where your lead toe is on guard, to where your lead toe is at the end of the lunge. Admittedly based on nothing but my own interpretation.


      2. Right. I lunged and measured back foot front toe to lead foot toe.

        There’s no context clues in the text on exactly what “extraordinary pace” means (in this chapter). Perhaps that gets cleared up more later in the text. Not sure. I’m trying to just go by the translation I have at hand and less on outside (aka fencing expert interpretations) have interpreted it as. Basically see what I get out of it without “help” — for now. 😀


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