Since such a big portion of the conan-vs-inigo discussion turned into debate of rapier versus big sword, I thought I'd post a bit of stuff relating to actual historical use of the weapons, and about modern perceptions of them and how these were derived. This should answer some discussion that came my way as well. Hope this ain't too long. I might have to snip it to make this work. There's a massive amount of info out there even if you cut out the drivel that the SCA puts forth (there's a reason they call it "creative anachronism" rather than "realistic anachronism"), and if we're discussing how these things work, a few things are worth looking at. Note that in saying these things, my personal preference is for the european long sword (meaning hand-and-a-half warswords and two-handed weapons the term historically applies best to, not the 1H DnD Longsword which is more appropriately termed an arming-sword or one of several other titles) but that's because I think it's cool and my arguments disregard my personal preference here I hope. I'm mostly just providing a few resources for study, really. Schoalrs often argue too, though recently there's a bit of a clearer picture emerging.
There is much disagreement on swords, with modern sport-fencing masters following their predecessors ofthe past century in asserting that their art is relevant and derived from rapier (it's derived from smallsword) and superior to all other sword styles (hey, it's their living and their ego on the line after all right?). More serious scholarship tends to refute many of their
statements, but bears some of them out as well.
One of the premier groups of scholars and practitioners of historical combat arts is ARMA, which includes some of the world's foremost scholars on the subject and consults with others (the late Ewart Oakeschott, for example - source of modern sword classification). They maintain a webpage with extensive amounts of data on how these weapons actually worked, and they even have film of test-cutting and similar activities. Their Director John Clements (himself a top world expert in practical use and scholarship on the subject) and others have numerous helpful articles at their site. Worth looking at. Yes there are lots of other groups out there, and I'll have links to some too. My favorite is ARMA though so I'll mostly link them here.
Here is an excellent article by Mr. Clements.
There was an attempt by Queen Elizabeth to keep Rapiers out of England, though acocunts as to whether out of annoyance at its length inconveniencing people as the wearer walked or the weapon's deadliness were the cause differ. I find reference to this in the writings of Clements, Hank Reinhardt and William Wilson. This did come on the heels of a movement by some people like George Silver to keep the weapons out.
Hank Reinhardt, one of the world's top sword collectors and scholars (also ARMA's senior advisor) wrote the following article.
Here are two interesting little articles by Mr. Clements amusingly yet carefully and rather fairly addressing the ever-popular questions of "Who Would Win..." as a man experienced in study and actual use of the several weapons involved in the discussion. Frankly if anyone can answer this, it's Clements. Oh, and please read the italicised notes at the bottom of the articles before you flame me or him. Twice. :)
anyone wanting to seriously study medieval and reanaissance arms should also get a look at work relating to the 15-16th-century german Fechtbucher fighting-books). They cover the whole range of knightly arms and focus with particular relish on the long-sword. I'll provide links later that give some access, and ARMA's website has some articles on them, as do some other groups' sites.
An interesting article on rapier, its use and its history with illustration of some moves, guards and the forms of rapier fence by author William Wilson. He at least regularly refers to historical source material, though of course he doesn't agree on all points with other writers (do scholars ever?) He mentions Elizabeth's move to ban rapiers from england by having the long blades broken by gate guards here too, and refers to the writings of George Silver, an elizabethan English critic of the Rapier as well.
Here's the preface to Silver's Brief Instructions to My Paradoxes of Defense where he criticises Rapier so roundly as murderous and dangerous to its practitioners and opponents alike as well as the duels they were for.
On rapiers and earlier swords, one often hears from 19th-century writers Edgerton Castle, Captain Alfred Hutton and Sir Richard Burton, though more modern scholars with access to older texts than these men had access to have often taken issue with their findings, particularly given the men's self-admitted bias and obsession with the superiority of the practice of their own time and progressivist ideas. (funny correlation to art theory of the period as well).
This article by Ken Mondschein of the Association For Historical Fencing talks at length about the writings of these three men, and deals at length with the mindset behind the writings. Thankfully, he cites his sources exhaustively, which to get from ARMA you sometimes have to get a look at their longer articles and books rather than the "feature" stuff.
A handy online library of old fighting manuals is presented here by AEMMA
Another handy article by George Hernandez. Imperfect (as they all will be) but interesting and helpful, and with links to assorted manuals and manuscripts and where to buy them or get PDFs, and it has a little bit on samurai too (though I'm not covering them heavily in this, since I'm focussing primarily on occidental styles.
Reading The Book of Five Rings is a good idea for those interested in samurai work. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone.