Swordplay Combat Guide

Introduction to Combat

Our intention is to recreate the circumstances and conditions of a duel or defence of your life against single or multiple opponents.  Our rules are relatively light in comparison with many other organizations.  From time to time students will practice under the rules of other organizations, in order to familiarize. Regardless of the particular rules, students of the Academie Duello are expected to uphold our tenets and act at all times as if a blade were sharp and pointed. This is a point of honour for our school. Above all else, honour is the true judge of victory.

The rules we will fight under follow.

Rules for Combat

The Grand Rules

Common sense is to be assumed and enforced where needed, at all times. No one incapable of common sense shall be permitted to compete in tournaments, and a demonstrated lack of common sense will be grounds for removal from the tourney.

There are certain rules that override all others. These are:

  1. Do not be an idiot.
  2. Always assume the blade is sharp and needle-pointed.
  3. Depart the field only when satisfied.

Safety Foremost

The highest concern at all times during any Academie Duello event or class is for the safety of all participants, spectators and officials.  Any conduct deemed dangerous or likely to cause injury by an Academie officer or any appointed official will result in expulsion from the class or event.  If a technique, weapon, or rule is in question, it must be discussed with an official before it is used in a bout.  Recklessness or lack of control will not be tolerated.  Please note that a charging thrust without technique constitutes recklessness.  Conduct deemed reckless or endangering must be reported immediately.  It is not possible to stress strongly enough the importance of safety and respectful conduct towards all participants, spectators, and others involved in any martial arts event.

Disqualification of a bout or combatant is always at the discretion of the official responsible for that bout.  If a breach of conduct was clearly accidental and the judge deems the combatant is truly safe, he may allow the bout to be refought at his or her discretion.  If there is any question about the safe conduct of a combatant, however, he or she will be removed from the tournament rather than risk subsequent injury.

The rules below cover sidesword, backsword, longsword, etc, (hereafter referred to as ‘sword’) as well as rapier.  The sword presents special challenges because of the weight of the blade and extreme caution must be exercised.  Participants wishing to fight sword must receive explicit permission from an Academie officer or judge to fight during an academie event.

Any participant may be asked to qualify by demonstrating safe and reasonable conduct at the discretion of any official of the tournament or officer of Academie Duello.  In the event that the participant is deemed unsafe and the participant chooses to leave the event completely, the participant may request a complete refund of their registration fees.

Academie Duello students will not compete at a tourney until approved to do so by the directors of the academy. Permission to compete at a single tournament does not equate with blanket permission for future tournaments. Students who have attained third rank (Red Cord) have implicit permission.

Calling “Hold!”

At any time during practice or tournament any judge, combatant or bystander may call “Hold!” if they see any sign of danger that threatens anyone’s safety.

Upon hearing a hold all active combatants will drop their tips to the ground and kneel until the issue has been addressed and they have been instructed by a judge or official to stand and continue.

Always call a hold if there is any possibility of injury.  We would much rather have a few delays than a few injuries.

Weapons and Armour

All weapons and armour are to be approved by an official before the tournament begins.  Refer to the equipment section of this document for a more in-depth description of equipment standards for each discipline of combat.

Off-hand Weapons

The rapier and sidesword as well as other weapons may be accompanied by a weapon held in the opposite hand.

  • Daggers are to comply with the rules for rapier. Non-flexible and flexible daggers may be used, but extreme caution must be exercised in thrusting. Daggers cannot be thrown and use as such will disqualify the thrower from the tournament.
  • Cloaks, though primarily used to protect the left hand and arm when it encounters the blade, throwing the cloak or entwining the blade were used in period and considered reasonable technique. Cuts to the covered hand and arm are considered parried but thrusts into the hand or arm are scored as hits.
  • Buckler, Shield and Target must be sturdy and secure without sharp edges or points.  If both combatants wish to allow buckler pushes and shield knocks, they must both give explicit consent in the presence of the judge. Size will be limited to that appropriate for a civilian duel, but larger shields and targets may be used with the consent of both opponents. See Optional Rules below.
  • Stick, Cane and Scabbard must be smooth and without sharp edges.  If both combatants wish to allow a strike with the stick, they must of both give explicit consent in the presence of the judge.  Rigid hand protection is strongly recommended and attacks to the hand holding the stick are scored as hits. See Optional Rules below.
  • Others weapons were less common but used.  For the purpose of the tournament, comical or fanciful off-hand weapons are inappropriate but any legitimate weapon may be submitted to an official for consideration.

Sequence of a Bout

The sequence of a bout is as follows.

  1. Opponents enter the field of play.
  2. Opponents salute each other.
  3. Official ensures both opponents are ready to begin.
  4. Official announces “Begin”.
  5. Opponents engage until a decisive hit has been scored or “Hold” is called.
  6. The official discusses the bout if necessary, asks if both combatants are satisfied, then declares a winner.

Rapier Scoring

Unless agreed upon by the participants and official beforehand, all bouts represent a duel-to-the-death fought by unarmoured opponents.  The rules assume opponents are dressed in a thick doublet, leather gloves, and some light fabric over the legs.  Rapiers are assumed sharp but relatively light blades as distinguished from heavier one-handed swords.

Calling shots

At Academie Duello the honour of determining whether a particular blow has landed successfully or not is held in the hands of the fighters on the field. Attending Judge Marshals are available for secondary witness or to make a ruling but this is at the discretion of the combatants themselves.

A struck combatant must acknowledge a blow by loudly calling where it landed (e.g. “Arm!” or “Cut to Arm!”).  If the blow was indecisive, the combatant must declare “Poor Cut” or “Poor Thrust” to indicate that it would not have been effective.

If you have thrown a blow that you do not believe to be good, call out `no good!` Never allow someone to take an imprecise or poorly thrown hit. If a dispute arises over the validity of a blow or if you believe a blow has not been taken that should have been, discuss it first with your opponent, and then with a Judge Marshal.

A Decisive Hit or Ending a Bout

A decisive hit is a hit on any part of the body that would have successfully disabled that part (i.e. a solid thrust or cut to the arm, head, body, groin, or leg.)  Some people may be able to withstand and fight through any number of injuries, but the objective of the school is to encourage as clean a fight as possible.

If the touch of your weapon would not have pierced clothing and still have enough force to leave a wound, it is as good as a miss. Grazes can be reasonably discounted. The official is the final arbiter in all disputes and should call hold if a touch is in doubt. Thrusts must be sufficient to be left (these might cause a slight bend in a rapier – caution is to be exercised with the longsword). Cuts must be palpable, but not injuring.

No pausing of combat is required when an indecisive hit is registered.  If there is concern on the part of either combatant or a judge that a blow has been miscalled, any may call “Hold!” to stop the bout and settle the issue.

Excessive Force

Where proper protection is concerned, each participant is ultimately responsible for his or her own safety.  Different schools and individuals will have different ideas of excessive force.  If at any time you are struck with excessive force you should report it to an official.  If the official believes the offending opponent has shown insufficient control or intended to cause injury, the bout will be thrown out and the offender will be disqualified from the tournament.

If a participant at any time feels that the officials are neglecting safety or that a breach of conduct has taken place, they may request to be removed from the lists and receive their registration fee in refund less costs for administration, meals, and/or additional services provided.

Blade Grasps

Grasping the blade with the hand (as opposed to open-handed parry or beating aside the blade) must be done with great control.  A blade must be grasped at its midsection or forte.  If a blade is grasped at the tip or slides in the hand when held, the hand must be removed and the fight continued with your remaining hand only.

If an official sees an improper blade grasp they will call a hold and indicate the loss of the hand to the appropriate combatant.

If both opponents bind blades and grappling is not permitted or neither opponent grapples, then the official calls “Hold” and the bout begins again.

Forearm Contact and Seizure

The forearm of your opponent up to the elbow may be contacted by your offhand in order to control their blade or push your opponent away.  Further grappling is covered in the optional rules below.

Optional rules

These rules are optional and may be used if both combatants agree to use them before the bout begins in the presence of the judge.


Disarms must be conducted with care.  If you are about to conduct a disarm that could cause real injury to your opponent stop just before execution of the move and call a hold.


Grappling will not be taken to the ground.  If in the opinion of the judge one combatant has gained control in under 3 seconds, he must call “Hold” and declare the winner.  If 3 seconds pass or it appears one or both combatants will fall, the judge must cry hold.  Joint locks and similar injurious techniques may be simulated by proper placement of hands followed by a call of “Hold.”  The following are disallowed: hand and foot strikes (punching and kicking, etc.), lifts, and throws (as opposed to controlled take downs).

Buckler Punch/Pommel Strikes

Any blunt weapon technique must be used with extreme caution.  Damage to the mask or weapons of the opponent constitutes excessive force, causing the bout to be thrown out and may result in the disqualification of the offending combatant.  If buckler punches are permitted, a blow to the face is decisive.  Buckler punches are only to be performed with the flat/boss.  Striking with the buckler edge is unsafe and will result in the disqualification of the combatant

Sword Scoring

Because the sideswords, backswords, longswords, etc are heavier weapons, control and prevention of injury become more critical and even a graze, if it was being pulled to avoid heavy impact, scores as a hit.  This is particularly true of the thrust where it is good form to assume the blade offers an additional inch rather than require a stout poke with a stiff blade.  If the attacker who lands a blow believes it would have landed light he can discount it by calling “Nothing!”

Judge Marshals

Each engagement will be officiated by one or more Judge Marshals.  The role of the Judge Marshal is to oversee the fight, ensure its safety, and offer fair witness or final ruling on a given blow or the overall bout outcome. Before any bout begins, the Judge Marshals must determine that the combatants are in agreement on the terms of engagement.

Sparring at Practice

Typically at a practice or class there will be no judging or formal initiation to bouts.  We request that you follow all of the combat rules as described above while self-officiating.  If you are in a public area ensure there is at least one third-party who is maintaining a safety awareness of your fight and its environment.