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A cut is an offensive action of a sword which is intended to wound with the edge. While most forms of swordsmanship teach cuts, this article focusses on Italian rapier fencing.

Types of cut

This action can take many forms, and the different methods will have differing effectiveness depending on the type of weapon employed:

  • A chopping or hacking cut arrives on the target in a direction normal to the edge. This requires a large amount of power, and is only effective with a broad-bladed sword. The point of impact should be the blade's center of percussion.
  • A slicing cut arrives on target at an angle, and then the blade is pushed or pulled (a push-cut or draw-cut, respectively) across the target. The greater the length of blade that slices the target, the greater the damage. Slicing cuts are more effective than chopping cuts when a rapier is employed.
  • A tip cut is a draw cut using only the last inch or two of the edge, closest to the tip. These cuts cannot be used to deliver serious damage, but can harass or distract an opponent, and, if employed against the face or scalp, can produce heavy bleeding which may blind the opponent.

Mechanics of cutting

The force of a cut derives from the momentum of the sword, which can be generated by almost any joint in the fencer's body. In the most powerful cuts, the power is generated not just by the arms, but by the hips as well. The arc of the cut can be generated by any of the three major joints of the arm:

  • A shoulder cut is generated at the shoulder. It is the longest and slowest of all the cuts, and is more comfortably accompanied by a step. In addition to being long and slow, it necessarily leaves the fencer uncovered (i.e. out of guard) in the first tempo of the attack, leaving the fencer vulnerable to a half-tempo counterattack. A drawn shoulder cut should land as close to the guard of the sword as possible, and therefore occurs at the closest measure.
  • An elbow cut is primarily a motion of the elbow. Generally, such cuts are chopping cuts, and should therefore land with the center of percussion. As with shoulder cuts, elbow cuts take the fencer out of guard and are vulnerable to half-tempo counterattacks. Elbow cuts are employed at an intermediate measure.
  • A wrist cut is generated by the wrist, and is generally a draw or tip cut. Properly employed, a wrist cut leaves the guard of the sword in front of the body and therefore keeps the fencer in guard, protecting him from the half-tempo counterattacks which are the bane of the other cuts.

Lines of the cut

The tip of the sword traces a line through the air. This line is described using the following terminology:

  • A cut can be falling from above or rising from below.
  • It can be direct (beginning on the sword-side of the opponent) or reversed (beginning on the off-handed side).
  • It can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal.
  • It can employ the true edge or false edge.

For example, a given cut may be a true-edge, vertical, direct, falling cut. Generally, it is not necessary to specify all aspect of the line of the cut, and some may be taken from context or from common sense. For example, a rising, direct cut is probably diagonal and probably uses the false edge, since the other options are very awkward for the arm.

Planar cut

Ideally, when performing a cut, the blade (both edges of it) should remain in a stationary plane. The deviation of either edge from this plane drastically reduces the effectiveness of the cut.

Wheeling cut

Instead of remaining in a plane, some cuts are formed by a circular motion with the wrist, and are referred to as wheeling cuts (Italian: stramazzone). Most often, the edges of the sword will follow the surface of a cone, with the vertex at the wrist, during a wheeling cut. Such cuts are useful if the target cannot be directly attacked with a planar cut: the sword is brought in line and used to wound in the same tempo.

Effectiveness of cutting

A solid cut with a broad-bladed sword could sever a limb, crippling an opponent. On the other hand, an opponent could survive many shallow cuts. Cutting requires the use of large tempos, and often cause the fencer to temporarily drop his guard. Additionally, in order to deal damage, cuts with a rapier require application of large amounts of force. Experiments on water-filled plastic jugs, as well as pig carcasses, indicate that dealing damage with a cut with a rapier is very difficult, requiring considerably more force than a thrust. Sword cuts are ineffective against armour.

Italian terminology

Different masters name cuts in a variety of ways. For example, Fiore calls diagonal upwards cuts sottani, while the later writer Vadi calls cuts in the same angle rota. Some common terms are:

  • fendente: "descending" (falling cut)
  • montante: "rising" (rising cut)
  • sottano/falso squalembro: "from below"
  • tondo: "round" (horizontally across. horizontal cut)
  • squalembrato/squalembro: ??? (diagonal from above)
  • mezzano: "in the middle" (neither from above nor below. horizontal cut)
  • riverso/rovescio: "reverse" (from the left side)
  • mandritto/dritto: "right-handed" (from the right hand side)