A Treatise Concerning Leg Wounds

and the Foolishness of the Concept of Continuing Combat after Receipt of the Same

Don Aubrey de Baudricourt and Lord Joachim van den Has

Against studpidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

–Anacreon, 8th century B.C.

At first, all that I could think of was how much it hurt. Later, after the adrenaline, all that I could think about was how much it hurt.

–Duellist #1, 24 June, 1997

I. Introduction: In Which is Described the Leg Wound Controversy now being discussed within the rapier community of the SCA and a Disclaimer Concerning the Wisdom of Such Actions as Are Described Later is Presented

A combatant receiving such a valid blow to the leg or foot will be considered grounded. By definition a grounded opponent cannot move from the spot in which he selects to place himself before continuing combat…. A grounded fighter must decide if he will fight from the sitting or kneeling position.

–Ansteorran Rapier Combat Rules

One of the liveliest and most divisive points of contention now plaguing the rapier community is the controversy surrounding the actual effects of wounds to the legs and the proper conduct on the list field once one has received such a wound. This seemingly straightforward subject has given rise to many questions (and a few heated disagreements) that no one person or event has been able to put to rest. How much pressure does it take with a thrust to cause an effective wound? How effective is a wound to the leg in a duel and how does such a wound affect the wounded party? What affect would the pain and shock of the wound have upon the combatant? How much at the mercy of his opponent would the wounded man be in the moments after the wound? Would a fighter, struck with such a wound, continue to fight? Would he be able to do so? Would his honor demand that he do so? Would the honor of his opponent allow him to do so? And, finally, just how ridiculous is the concept of continuing the fight from the ground after receiving such a wound?

Current convention in the SCA, at least as defined by the Ansteorran rapier combat rules, is that a thrust or draw cut of sufficient length to the leg in regular rapier combat causes loss of use of the leg. By the rules of most kingdoms in which rapier combat is conducted, the fighter can elect to continue the combat from a seated or kneeling position. If he does so, he is required to remain in such a position, robbed of mobility, and, in theory, can fight from such a position indefinitely. Some fighters even rise to a fully kneeling position at times and at least one is known to have hopped around from such a position. In heavy rapier, a tip cut also results in the same outcome as a thrusting wound to the leg with a standard blade. As noted in the previous paragraph, some have questioned this policy of fighting from the ground from the perspective of both pain and honor. This paper is being written to address only those points dealing with pain and the ability to continue on after having portions of a three foot long sharpened steel implement plunged into your leg or dragged across a part of your leg or thigh.

Heretofore we have attempted to answer the questions in the first paragraph based solely upon a great deal of indirect evidence and conjecture. Descriptive historical accounts, dry anatomy books, experiences of being cut with household utensils or small bladed weapons that were once prevalent before the advent of the cheap handgun, theorizing by testosterone-laden jocks on how much pain they could really take and the opinion of those trained in the medical field were once all that we had from which to draw conclusions. While these sources can provide useful information and insight in trying to answer questions concerning leg wounds and their effects, these sources are still indirect and lacking in the personal aspects of experience. No words on a page or theories expounded on the side of a list field can replace actual experience with the real thing. We now have more information from which to form an informed opinion.

Thanks to an innovation known as “Really Duelling with Real Rapiers” or “Virtual Duelling”, we are now no longer dependent upon the limited information of the past. Instead, with the aid of this truly amazing technological breakthrough in the area of entertainment and sensory perception, we can now tap directly into the real life experiences of folks foolish enough to actually fight with real rapiers and live to tell their tale. (Requried Disclaimer: The activity described in this paper was undertaken as a non-SCA related activity and is best left to the criminally insane.) The goal of the duel herein described was to experience the true feeling of fighting with period weapons (in which it was a success), preferrably without doing harm to your opponent (in which it failed in a rather spectacular way). While such a goal is admirable from a scholarly point of view, it is fraught with such dangers as should preclude any person in possession of even a small portion of their faculties from ever attempting such an undertaking. The duel of this type that is the central point of this paper resulted in wounds to each party and, thus, neatly illustrating our point concerning the lack of sanity involved in such an experiment. But, following in the spirit that no experience should be wasted, the participants have agreed to put their experiences at our disposal in order to offer important insight into the mechanics of delivering tip cuts and thrusts to the legs and the advisability or even possibility of continuing to fight after receiving such a wound.

Despite the jovial tone taken throughout much of this paper, the events related actually did take place and the participants were very lucky that nothing more serious took place (i.e. death or permanent maiming or injury). The writers DO NOT encourage others to emulate the two duellists or their foolish actions. This is neither a safe nor intelligent activity and should not be repeated by anyone (not even by those people that the writers do not like, no matter how much they may hold the individual in disdain and contempt). At best, the situation and events herein described proves that: 1) no experiment is ever a complete failure, it can always be used as a bad example and 2) evolution has not always tended to enhance the intelligence of a particular species and, therefore, some elements of the species should be removed from the gene pool. Benefit from the experiences of the two duelling guinea pigs but do not join them. (Actually, you won’t get the chance to join them as they were heard to say as they hobbled from the combat area “I’m never doing that again. Not ever.”) Their friends believe them.

II. Wherein are Described the Weapons and Armour used in this Famous encounter and an accounting of the Duel Itself, as well as yet another disclaimer that seeks to separate these Goings-on and others like them from those of the SCA

The word rapier today is ususally taken to refer to a type of sword with a long, narrow, straight blade designed purley for thrusting or, at the most,, only of limited use for cuting.

–A.V.B. Norman, The Rapier and Small Sword, 1460-1820, 1980

But if blowes come from the knees downwardes, they of force must be encountered with the sword, and alwais with the false, or backe edge thereof…& therewithall the enimies legge must be cutt…

–Di Grassi, His True Arte of Defence, 1594

What happened? I guess that I missed the bloody parry! Stupid question.

–Duellist #1, 24 June 1997

The duel in question was fought under the auspices of the North Dallas Dueling Society, an organization that is dedicated to the recreation of period combat in period styles and, thusly, is in no way connected to the SCA nor bound by its laws, customs or traditions, nor does it place any liability on the SCA for any injuries incurred during its activities. The duel was fought as the part of a larger activity involving the demonstration of Renaissance swordsmanship, scholarship and dance at a local bookstore. Several participants executed a number of passes using pointed or pointed and lightly-edged rapiers of modern manufacture and of approximate period weight, balance and length. Prior to the last combat, matters had progressed without difficulty, the fights being conducted at such a range that even at full extention, no harm could be done. Considerable control had been exhibited by all combatants during the early fights.

Both combatants in the duel that has provided the information upon which this treatise concerning leg wounds and their effects is based were equipped with pointed but unedged or lightly edged rapiers of 36 inch or greater length. The rapier used by Duellist #1 had an elaborately grooved cup hilt and quillons and terminated in a relatively sharp point but possessed no edge. Such a weapon was prevalent in the mid-17th century. The other rapier was a swept-hilt weapon possessing loop guards, back guards, side guards, knuckle bow and quillons of such a type as was used in circa 1575. The blade terminated in a point and possessed one slightly sharpened front edge.

Duellists #2 was protected by various pieces of body armor, to include a zigschagge helmet with perforrated steel face, steel gorget, steel back and breast plate, cup, and a buff coat with pants, shirt, lower thigh-high boots and leather gloves. This was standard for a cavalry officer of early- to mid-17th century Western or Central Europe. The other participant fought in doublet, pants, shirt, gloves, cup, and knee-high boots of circa 1640. Both had years of experience in sword fighting with lighter unedged and unpointed weapons and had, from time to time also fought with untipped and pointed weapons.

The two conducted several passes in which minor “cuts” were inflicted to the lower shin area by the sliding of the blades across the pant legs or boots. These were “called” through the material of the pants or the boots with little trouble. These “wounds” were inflicted with the edge of the weapon and resulted in no damage to material or wound to the body. In the fifth pass one duelist inflicted a thrusting “wound” to the other”s gloved hand that, while not penetrating the leather, was felt through the glove.

The sixth pass saw Duellist #1 inflict an actual wound, fondly called the Lesser Wound, in the form of a tip cut to the left center of the right thigh of Duellist #2. This ragged wound was inflicted exclusively by the tip of the weapon penetrating to the depth of half an inch and then being dragged across the surface of the leg after initial penetration of the epidermal layer. This type of wound is typical of those now used in heavy rapier and called incapacitating when inflicted upon an arm or leg and fatal or debilitating when inflicted upon the body. Given the lack of effect upon the recipient of this particular tip cut, it is time to re-evaluate how we call such wounds and simulate their effects.

The recipient of this particular tip cut later attested that there was little pain involved, feeling more like the scratch of a cat, the tear by a thorn or a quick burning sensation than a true wound . In fact, the wounded man stated that he did not truly notice it until some time later. Upon investigation at that time he determined that he had received a 3 1/2 long jagged cut of 1/4 to 1/2 inch depth. It bled copiously but not profusely and closed quickly. (Though the next day it became infected, perhaps reflecting the state of medicine of the time). It was described as mildly annoying after the conclusion of the fight. Needless to say, unfortunately, the tip cut caused no loss in Duellist #2’s ability or will to fight, much less incapacitation. The duel continued until the seventh pass, resulting in the wound upon which this article is truly built.

III. The Greater Wound is described and both the manner in which it was delivered and received and Its Effects are detailed for the reader

Provided that no arteries or tendons are severed and the muscle and bone remain intact, the human body is capable of taking severed lacerations and still keep going. This is apperently not the case with internal puncture wounds…

—John Clements, Renaissance Swordsmanship, 1997

They’re not really supposed to stick each other like that, are they?

–Obnoxious Red Bearded Man, June 24, 1997

On the seventh pass the two combatants became locked corps-a-corps in a lower parry to the right of Duellist #2 that bound both blades. Duellist #2 then pivoted to an off-line position off his lead foot and his opponent followed suit with his lead leg. In doing so Duellist #1 impaled his right leg upon his opponent’s point to the depth of about two centimeters at a point an inch above and to the right of the knee. This brought the fight to a complete stop for reasons that shall be explained shortly.

To Duellist #2, the sensation of the blow as felt through the hilt of the rapier was little more than what would be registered with a good schlager strike or, more accurately, a slap with the weapon. This was, in part, due to the fact that he was not in the process of delivering a blow but, rather, that his opponent ran up upon the blade. In fact, the “wounding” party was unaware that anything more than a solid thump to the leg with the flat of the blade had been delivered until his opponent fell to the ground, which took place almost immediately. For the next four to six seconds, according to Duellist #1, he was completely at the mercy of Duellist #2 due to the sheer shock effect of the wound. Duellist #2 did notice a disorientation and state of confusion about Duellist #1’s behavior at this time in that Duellist #1 did not respond to verbal instructions to move his hand from the wound so that it might be inspected.

But the effect of the wound upon Duellist #1, who has had previous expeience with wounds by bladed weapons (but not of this type) was telling. The leg folded beneath him immediately, forcing him to a seated position. So far this tracks with what is commonly done in SCA rapier and heavy rapier combat when one takes a leg wound. But by his own account, Duellist #1 was in absolutely no mood to continue fighting, adrenaline or no adrenaline. A combination of shock, surprise and pain left him defenseless for a considerable period of time, as noted above. Once recovered from that, however, the wounded duellist attested to the fact that the pain was such that he would not have been able to mount any kind of coherent defense, despite the fact that he was then “wired” with adrenaline.

Duellist #1, unable to place weight upon the leg at all, was quickly taken to a back room where the wound was inspected and first aid performed by Deullist #2 and members of the supporting cast. It was at this time that Duellist #2 noticed that his wound had left a bloody patch and, as time permitted, he examined his wound as well. The thrust wound itself was relatively superficial. “D” shaped and two centimeters deep, it had missed any veins or arteries and did not cause appreciable muscle or tendon damage, being located in the area between the lower tibialis anterior and lower extensor hallucis longus. It bled very little (in fact, less than did the tip cut inflicted in the earlier pass), filling with blood but never bleeding beyond that point. All in all, while spectacular in appearance, it was little more than a flesh wound.

In an interview enroute to medical treatment Duellist #1 rated the pain of the wound as a “5” on a sliding scale of 1 to 10. In describing the experience he said that he could actually feel both the impact and the force of the weapon as it slid into the leg. His estimation of the depth of the wound, judged by these sensations, was amazingly accurate. There were no other sensations relating to the wound (i.e. dizziness or light-headedness) once the initial shock wore off. He also had lost the ability to bend or otherwise manipulate the central region of the leg, though he could move the toes and pivot the foot on the ankle.

Once at the clinic, after the rather sticky task of describing the accident and explaining our novel form of dress, the medical staff quickly cleansed and dressed the Greater Wound. The physician confirmed that the blade had missed striking anything of note and that the wound would heal in about a week. The Greater Wound required six stitches and Duellist #1 was up and about the next day, albeit with the use of a cane and was fighting again within two weeks.

IV. Conclusion: Wherein is Stated: “Boys and girls, don’t do this at home. We are trained professionals… and even we didn’t get it right.”

I have always thought that fighting from the ground after getting “legged” is rather stupid.

–Duellist #2, 25 June, 1997

I see your point. The next time that I see someone fighting from the ground I will tell them just how clueless they are.

–Duellist #1, 25 June, 1997

I can’t believe that you two were stupid enough to do that. No, wait a minute. Yes, I actually can believe it.

–Duellist #2’s Girlfirend, 25 June 1997

What conclusions can be reached from the folly of our two friends? A number of lessons have sprung from this experience, not the least of which was a resolve by the participants to never embark upon such a foolish course of action again. The two duellists, hooted at, mocked and laughed at by their friends and much embarrassed, have stated to the authors an unwillingness to restage the fight so that a larger party of observers might be present and benefit from the experience.. “No, this is a party that is not coming to an Academy or Queen’s near you!”

From a more practical point of view in regards to rapier combat, the experience has much value to offer. As the only documented duel with actual rapiers, at least in Ansteorra (we are normally smarter than this; see disclaimers earlier in this paper) that has resulted in documented wounds, this situation offers several valuable pearls of knowledge.

First, both duelists were more than a little amazed at the lack of force or pressure that it took to penetrate with the sword into the flesh and cause a disabling wound. Seeing the Machine is one thing. Stabbing and tip cutting an actual person is quite another. Neither the tip cut nor the puncture seemed to require more force than that required for a decent epee or heavy rapier shot in SCA combat. Clothing offered absolutely no protection from the rapier points, being penetrated probably more easily than was the skin, though of course the metal armor and, to a lesser extent, the buff coat provided some real protection. The tip cut left nothing more than a small hole in the pants, rather than a long slash, and the thrust only opened the material a few threads wider than the wound itself. Running onto the blade, with even a little force, appears to be sufficient to cause a mildly disabling wound. Had Duellist #2 been in the process of delivering a thrust when Duellist #1 stepped onto his blade, the rapier would most likely have completely transfixed the leg and done serious damage. Upon reflection, Duellist #2 believes that the “thump” he felt through the hilt of the weapon was his point impacting on one of the leg bones of Duellist #1, such was the lack of resistance the blade met and the ease with which it penetrated.

Secondly, the concept of two fighters being in complete control of a fight, no matter their experience level, needs to be revisited. Both duellists had shown remarkable control during previous duels that evening and, yet, the duel ended with injuries. Two individuals who are in complete control over their own blades are still not necessarily in control of the fight. Both duellists knew exactly where they were, where their opponents were and where their own blades were and were careful to keep the points away from the opponent. But neither could control the movements of the other and, these being very quick, were unable to compensate in time for this unpredictability. In the case of the first wound, the tip cut, the wounded individual moved onto the point ever so slightly. This made what would have been a flick of the point delivered onto the cloth a rent into the flesh. The thrusting wound was also moved into by the wounded party. The moral of the story from this angle seems to be that no one truly controls the fight.

Thirdly, the disparity in the effects of the wounds was also suprising. True, the puncture wound was three times as deep as the tip cut. But it was far more than three times as effective. The tip cut did not deter the wounded fighter one whit in continuing the fight while the thrust to the leg terminated the fight by incapacitating the wounded duelist. It would seem that punctures are significantly more effective than tip cuts. One could even argue that tip cuts have little effect except when delivered to the face, eyes or forehead. For a tip cut to be deep enough to have any true effect it would have to penetrate deeply enough that it becomes a puncture. This may require a review of the rules in regards to tip cuts and other related types of wounds as they pertain to heavy rapier or at least the way that we call them and acknowedge the effects of such wounds..

But the most important finding concerning this ghastly little experiment dealt with the pain of a thrust to the leg and its sapping of one’s will and ability to continue fighting. An admittedly shallow puncture wound that touched no vital areas and caused no significant permanent muscle or tendon damage rendered a fighter completely defenseless for a matter of at least five seconds (more than enough time for his opponent to finish him) and both unwilling and unable to continue the contest once the shock had worn off. This was in spite of the rush of adrenaline that the wounded individual admitted was coursing through his system within seconds of the wound. The pain of the wound was not lessened in any way by a change from a standing to a sitting or to a prone position. The pain was ever present and it terminated the fight.

With all of this in mind, should we not review the rules governing leg wounds and the continuing of a fight once one has been so wounded? Putting all matters of honor and properness aside for the moment, does not the sheer physical inability of a young fighter of considerable skill, endurance and experience to continue fighting after receiving a relatively minor leg wound call into question the entire concept of continuing to fight under such circumstances on the field? The answers to both questions are the same: yes. It can be argued that this is but one piece of data. That is true. But it is a very important and relevant piece of data unlike any gathered before. It is time to consider treating these wounds in a more realistic manner and move away from a practice that seems now, in the light of this dearly bought experience, to be little more than a way for someone at a disadvantage to continue fighting with hopes to gain that all -mportant win. It is time to eschew such practices and move towards a more realistic portrayal of the results of what we do.

The End

The Cast

This paper was shot on location in North Dallas, Richardson and at the A.M./P.M. Clinic.

Any resemblence between the events and people described herein and any real personage or event is purely truthful.

No real cadets were harmed in the making of this paper.