Monsieur L’Abbat on Sword Length

Parade de Quarte Oposant La Main, L'Abbat, The Art of Fencing, or the Use of the Small Sword, 1734.

Parade de Quarte Oposant La Main, L’Abbat, The Art of Fencing, or the Use of the Small Sword, 1734.

If you are considering acquiring a smallsword, then the choice of blade and the overall weapon length merit careful consideration. Smallsword enthusiasts typically use practice épée blades, though they differ significantly from historic examples. Modern épée blades most often used for smallsword analogs are typically number 0 or number 2. These blade lengths typically measure 30″ and 32″ respectively. Recently, number 2 blades for practice smallswords have increased in popularity, especially in England. In addition, the style and length of grips vary from sword to sword, as does the overall measurement of the hilt. Bearing these modern factors in mind, one can more easily select a weapon conforming the advice of Monsieur L’Abbat from 1734:

Of chusing and mounting a Blade.

Courage and Skill being often of little Use without a good Weapon, I think it necessary, before I lay down Rules for using it, to shew how to chuse a good Blade, and how it ought to be mounted.

The Length of the Blade ought to be proportionable to the Stature of the Person who is to use it: The longest Sword, from Point to Pommel, should reach perpendicularly from the Ground to the Navel, and the shortest, to the Waste; being large in Proportion to its Length, and not extremely large, nor very small, as some People wear them; the over large Blades being unweildy, unless very hollow, which makes them weak, and the narrow ones being not sufficient to cover the Body enough.

In Order to chuse a good Blade, three Things are to be observed: First, that the Blade have no Flaw in it, especially across, it being more dangerous so than Length-way. Secondly, That it be well tempered, which you’ll know by bending it against a Wall or other Place; if it bend only towards the Point, ’tis faulty, but if it bend in a semicircular Manner, and the Blade spring back to its Straitness, ’tis a good Sign; If it remains bent it is a Fault, tho’ not so great as if it did not bend at all; for a Blade that bends being of a soft Temper, seldom breaks; but a stiff One being hard tempered is easily broke.

Excerpted from: The Art of Fencing; Or, The Use of the Small Sword by maître d’armes Labat. 1763. Andrew Mahon, Translator.
Full Text

(note: Due to digital image quality of Labat’s plates, this post was originally published with a plate from Angelo. After locating an acceptable image from Labat, the Angelo plate was replaced. It can be seen here.)
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