Over a decade ago, the great and renowned HEMA maestro Roberto Gotti of the fantastic Gairethinx – Sala d’Arme degli Erranti came across a rather unique German paratschwert (1) kept in a museum in Italy which he both documented and measured quite carefully, and even prepared a yet to be published booklet on. This is a remarkably beautiful sword with some very interesting markings that I am currently not able to share in the picture below. And, while the characteristics of the sword, with a heavy and also point-heavy blade are unusual, there is, interestingly enough, also a fechtschwert, kept in the Museum Altes Zeughaus in Solothurn, Switzerland, which has nearly exactly the same proportions and characteristics, albeit with a little different blade profile, and the latter is naturally also a lot more worn due to its specific use for everyday training.
As can be seen above, both these swords are unusually heavy compared to modern fencing longswords, weighing in at 1.67kg – a weight only rivaled by the Pavel Moc Fechtschwert – with both original fencing swords having fairly short hilts for their length, around 30cm hilt length, for blades around 104cm long and, with both swords, a bit surprisingly, having a point of balance at 9-9.5cm, all of it distinctly different to pretty much all modern off-the-shelf Fechtschwerter, which commonly are significantly lighter and have their point of balance between 5-8cm, most commonly at the lower end of this range. Simply put, the demand for certain characteristics, like agile point and fast, and lighter & safer, cuts in modern HEMA has quite clearly led to a dominance of a type of fencing sword that didn’t really exist before, as great as they truly are in our modern context. There are a few alternatives that come a bit closer to historical originals though, but nothing quite like the above.
Interestingly, there is even a third original fencing sword of this weight, which was sold in 2013, at a Fisher auction in Luzern, Switzerland. This sword is slightly shorter with a total length of ca 129cm, and again, a slightly shorter 27cm hilt. Curiously, it has its point of balance at a whopping 16cm from the cross! Of course, this quite extreme POB could be due to later rehilting, which isn’t exactly an uncommon occurence, and it may even be a far later replica, perhaps even Victorian era.
Modern fencing longswords
Looking for instance at the Peter Regenyei Standard Feder, which comes in at a total length of 132cm and a hilt of 32cm, the Regenyei SF weighs in at 1.46kg, with POB at 8cm. While at the slightly lighter end, the POB actually still makes it feel slightly forward heavy. The rolled point however, while functional and safe, is not “historically correct” for this type of sword as all known preserved original parat- and fechtschwerter have a non-curled, broad, often spatulated point.
The Regenyei-like Kvetun FFG Federschwert, in turn, has a total length of 133cm, a hilt length of 27.5cm, weighs in at 1.6kg, and has a point of balance at 6cm, so while a bit heavier, the point is still perceived as “lighter”. Proportionally, it matches the originals fairly well, but like the Regenyei, the point is curled for safety.
The Hanwei Feder, on the other hand, comes in at 128cm, has a 34.5cm hilt, and is super light 1.22kg, just under half a kg lighter than these two original swords, lighter by almost 165g even compared to the original it is based on. POB on the Hanwei is at 6.5cm, again, making the point feel much more agile and quick, and the very long handle with a fairly short blade adds even more to this.
The long first version of the Pavel Moc Fechtschwert, finally, comes in at 141cm, with a 36cm hilt, and a weight of 1.75kg. POB is here at 5cm, which again makes it surprisingly agile for its weight and length.
Looking through the list above, no sword really comes very close to the two original fechtschwerter described in the beginning, as either the characteristics, proportions or shape is different.
The GFFG Berbekucz Club Sword
Maker: Viktor Berbekucz
Product name: Italian Feder v2
Total Length: 134cm / 52.75in
Hilt Length: 29.5cm / 11.6in
Blade Length: 104.5cm / 41.14in
Weight: 1675g / 3.69lbs
Point of Balance: 9-10cm / 3.54in
Hilt wrapping: Leather
Now, when starting up the Gothenburg Free Fencers Guild (GFFG) almost three years ago, we wanted to have a club sword that was as close as possible to historical originals, both in shape and characteristics, and which would fit well with the sources we study; primarily the treatises of Joachim Meyer.
Knowing Mr. Gotti and his wonderful discovery we asked and he kindly provided with the details, and realizing they were near identical to the one in Solothurn, we decided to go with this particular set of data. Knowing also that the Hungarian swordsmith Viktor Berbekucz was already producing a sword loosely based on this one, and knowing his reputation for strong swords, we decided to give him the proper data and asked him to make a prototype that would be as close as possible to the original. Berbekucz was more than up for the task and after some email correspondence discussing the details, and the customary wait, he set to work, sending us photos of the prototype, and when we were satisfied, sent four of these swords to the instructors of the GFFG. Since then, several more members have also ordered theirs.
There is little to comment on regarding the specs as they follow the originals, as has already been discussed. Noteworthy though is the attractive leather grip, which is a nice upgrade compared to the older cord-wrapped Berbekucz version of this sword.
While the sword for obvious financial reasons lacks the beautiful engravings of the original, the hilt details with the cross are quite lovely and decorative, making the sword stand out even in this regard. It is a clear step up from simple munitions-grade swords.
Having tried it a bit, my good friend and highly skilled and talented Swedish fencer Robert Molin described this sword in the following words:
“I thought it was fantastic after swinging it in a couple of sparring sessions. Unlike anything I ever used before and all in a good sense. It really challenges you to perform perfect cuts and it feels very different in the bind. I noticed that I had to change my grip while performing an Unterhaw with the long edge from my left side – I’m right handed – to get the best motion.“
I couldn’t agree more. With its distinct presence and a proper, traditional 3cm spatulated point, this sword makes the Hanwei “feder” feel like a toy or a frying spatula. The blade has a distinct flex in the last third, and that, combined with the mass in this part can cause a bit more wobbling and vibrations, which in turn emphasizes the importance of proper edge alignment and varied gripping of the hilt in the cuts, just as seen in the treatises of Joachim Meyer. This sword forces you to work on cleaner fencing. And that is a good thing for a training sword. The vibrations do not last longer than with e.g. the Regenyei fechtschwert though, but the sensation of them is more distinct, more powerful, in the hand. The forward node of oscillation on both swords is about 1/3 from the point.
The fact that it is distinctly more forward heavy also fits well with both the combat system taught by Joachim Meyer and, to a degree, also with Montante and Spadone, etc, in the sense that it encourages continuous, flowing strikes. However, that should not be read as this sword not being good for thrusting. It is, and the flex adds a certain degree of safety with the thrusts, just as it does with the flat strikes. And even the great 2-hand swords were used for a lot of thrusting, as with e.g. Giacomo di Grassi’s advice on the Spadone, and also in the teachings of Achille Marozzo. Looking at the flex specifically, without having actually measured it, I would judge this blade to be a tad stiffer than the early Regenyei Fechtschwert I have.
The craftsmanship is very nice and the durability more than satisfactory. Anyone who has tried any of Berbekucz’s swords can testify to both the quality and the level of beating they can sustain. These are tough swords, and there is absolutely nothing to remark on in this area. Quite the contrary, and especially considering the price. Viktor Berbekucz currently asks about 290€ for it, which is a damn good price.
So, issues and reflections? Technically, I would have liked the schilt shape to have been even closer to the original, with a more curved shape. I assume this was to save costs with the width of the raw material used, and it is no biggie. It is just a cosmetic thing.
The shorter hilt just about fits gloves like the Koning when gripping the sword between the cross and pommel, but holding the pommel is a bit more comfortable and relaxed. This is of course not an issue, as this is what we specifically asked for, aiming for historical accuracy, and comparatively looking, the hilt of this sword is actually a few centimetres longer than that of the the Kvetun FFG Federschwert. And with gloves like the Neyman Armadillos being even less bulky, the hilt will be even more comfortable in use.
It should, however, be mentioned that for younger people, or those with slighter frames, the weight and the point of balance can make it a tough, even difficult, sword to handle. It takes a certain physique that comes with practice, and it takes a bit of getting used to, even for more average-sized fencers. But it is well worth it.
All in all, like the original it borrows from, this is a truly remarkable sword that is quite lovely to handle. It is unlike anything else, but close to historical training swords, and you will be quite conscious of its distinct “presence” when handling it. It has character, personality, and it is a whole lot of fun. We got what we asked for, and more. Personally, I am very happy with it and hope to see it used by a lot more people, not least the students of Joachim Meyer, who really should explore alternatives to the light and twitchy swords, as comfortable and cheap as they are. This one really sets a new standard.
So, thank you Viktor Berbekucz for the excellent work, and thank you also to Mr Gotti for kindly providing us with the original specifications!
1. As discussed in my article The WhatChaMaCallIt-Schwert, my current theory regarding this particular part of historical sword terminology is that “paratschwert” was a decorated training sword primarily used for display and not everyday use, and in this particular case of the “Italian” paratschwert, as Mr Gotti discovered, seemingly made for, and owned by, a fencing master and cutler.