We have often been asked this question by customers. People usually comment “I fight this style of rapier, what length should it be?". While some renaissance masters had suggestions for a certain length or detail of the sword, this is actually far less codified than is commonly thought. In the works left to us describing the use of the rapier there are a few references to how the length of the sword should be determined. But these are based on proportional relationships to the user rather than a dictated length. Both Capo Ferro and Thibault give a length based on comparison to the user’s body.
In the case of Capo Ferro, it is the distance from the armpit to the ground when standing upright, or two lengths of the arm. This is a bit of a conundrum since these are two different measurements on most people.
Long Rapier from Capo Ferro
Thibault, with his typical exactness, states that the cross should be at the navel, and that the distance from the shoulder to the ground when holding the sword straight to the ground makes a defining measurement and is how he envisions his geometric pattern being generated to create the preciseness of his fight and the infamous "magic circle".
"Everyone should have his weapons sized proportionally to their own person. Thus the size of the Sword should be such that the length of the blade from the tip to the crosspiece is equal to half the Diameter, that is to say, if the tip is placed on the ground between the feet, the crosspiece of the handguard will come up to the navel, just as explained in Circle No 1, and the more exactly one can achieve this, the better, for many reasons. " Thibault 1630, translation by Bruce G. Hearns
Most rapiers today are made to standard measurements that ignore the advice of the masters, when really, the appropriate size of a rapier is relative to the user not the market. This may allow us to lose some of this uniqueness of the period swords being adjusted to the individual user and the art of fence that creates. It is one of the reasons we offer custom blade lengths on our swords, to make sure that they fit you perfectly whether you are in the 17th C or today.
Some long rapiers and how they proportion to their users.
If you are interested in more information here are some good links for further study.
Size Matters: How long should your rapier be? Guy Windsor
Choosing the right Rapier for you Devon Boorman
A perfect Length by Alex Bourdas
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.