# How practical is a spear-rapier (fencing foil) hybrid?

Recently got inspired by chinese wushu martial arts movies and I wanted to implement a little bit of what I saw into one of my fantasy worlds.

The idea was to make a lightweight spear-rapier hybrid type of weapon for my some of my fantasy world's elite soldier. (armor having gone out of fashion)

The shaft of the weapon would be pretty much like a bo-staff while the tip/blade would be made out of a thin razor-sharp, extremely durable and flexible/wobbly material.

It would be designed to do damage from thrusts and slices using the strength of one's muscles rather than momentum.

This would be for more theatrics (impractical jumping, back-flips...etc) and overly dramatic fast-paced fencing, users would be able to collide/clash blades at a distance without having to get too close except of the occasional colliding of shafts for dramatic effect.

Also on a less important note and unrelated to the main question at hand but for additional information. Since my world is fantasy I was personally planning on making the metal the tip/blade of my spear-rapier hybrid's are made out of be able to heat up with momentum eventually turning it into a "heatblade" with sufficient time/momentum, this in order to counteract the inherent weakness of these type of weapons against armor.

• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Nov 6, 2020 at 22:51
• Just to clear a couple things up: Rapiers and smallswords were both very stiff blades. That's what you want for a thrusting blade, which they were. The rapier came first, as a long (floor to armpit), anti-armor weapon intended for piercing through gaps in armor. The smallsword was developed from the rapier for use primarily for wearing outside of battles or for duels. Both of those swords were... not great... at cutting, with the smallsword being worse. The fencing foil came from the smallsword, designed to be bendy specifically so it would not pierce the opponent in a mock duel sport setting. Nov 6, 2020 at 23:22
• The weapon you're looking for is just a variant of what we call a Glaive nowadays. It is a staple of fantasy works, specially modern MMOs. As this is fantasy, you can go as silly as you want with the theatrics and handwave it off as "supernatural skill". Nov 7, 2020 at 18:15
• >This would be for more theatrics | Well then any and everything is possible. Ritualistic "fighting" can very easy deviate from anything that makes sense on the battlefield Nov 7, 2020 at 20:54

The basic weapon you're looking for to marry to your bo staff is the urumi. This is basically a sword that is razor sharp, and more importantly for the martial art you're considering, razor thin as well. As you can see, the urumi, with its flailing blades and some amount of uncertainty where they're actually going makes this a terrifying weapon. And that's just for the warrior wielding it! Imagine facing someone flailing one of these things around! (They are actually carried by men in parts of India, and form the basis for one of that country's more astounding martial arts.)

So, why not just snug the handle of an urumi onto the end of a quarter staff!

Allow me to introduce the kshwanna, a curious weapon wielded by crack warriors in a world near you.

Fig. 1. Preparing for the Attack from Below to Above:

As you can see in figure 1, the crack warrior is positioning his kshwanna low for a surprise attack. His opponent is momentarily baffled by the presence of his wing, which like the tassels on many kinds of weapons, is being used as a visual block and a distraction.

Fig. 2. The Attack is Carried Through Successfully:

As you can see in figure 2, the attack came as just a bit of a surprise to the foe, as the wing was drawn back, revealing the terror of wicked sharp flails rapidly approaching. The foe has been caught off guard and is now suffering from multiple injuries: part of his ear has been sliced off, one eye has been destroyed and long gashes can be seen upon his torso.

While the wounds made by the kshwanna are not usually deadly in and of themselves, the cumulative effect is often shock and weakness from blood loss. The blades are not able to stab, but a strong jab from the quarter staff itself can knock a foe off his feet. The blades can, however, slice off fingers, noses, ears, and other bits, which is also true of the urumi upon which this weapon is based.

The kshwanna is rarely used in battle against earnest enemies. Rather, it is a showy weapon wielded by skilled warriors during flamboyant and exciting martial arts exhibitions and contests.

• urumi can only work if the opponent is shirtless though, if the opponent have thick enough cloth slashing is ineffective, though theres a way to make stabbing possible regarding urumi technique as far as i know, which unlikely work with long shaft. Nov 5, 2020 at 23:20
• See, that's the thing. War usually is a very good motivator for inovation, and the usage of a weapon like this one would push the use of armor really quickly. This thing is almost useless against plate. The blade would do nothing. Nov 6, 2020 at 15:32
• @T.Sar -- I don't disagree with you. Note however that a) what I'm describing is, in world, nòt a weapon of war so much as a weapon of elegant showmanship and b), the OP isn't asking for a weapon of war, but rather "this would be for more theatrics (impractical jumping, back-flips...etc) and overly dramatic fast-paced fencing..." There's a reason that, on Earth, people no longer wage wars using swords: armour. And also guns. Yet fencing is still a thing. Nov 6, 2020 at 15:45
• @LiJun -- As for the kshwanna being effective whilst wearing a shirt, I'd just say: don't forget that those flexible blades are still attached to a solid stick of wood that is entirely capable of delivering a killing blow. Shirt or no shirt. Nov 6, 2020 at 17:01
• killing blow is most likely happen if delivered on head though rather than through the body, and i agree that OP context here doesnt seems to mean warfare, though OP also mention armor in there, so seems like the duel/competition doesnt exclude armor, even a shield can also help mitigate it. it all depend on OP duel/competition rules and the type of duel/competition. Nov 7, 2020 at 8:54

What you describe is in essence still a spear, and it’s arguably not a good one.

To understand why, you have to understand the practicalities of the construction of a spear versus those of a rapier.

### How a spear is built and why it works.

Note that I am considering an actual spear here, not a javelin.

The general construction of a spear is a relatively compact piece of hard material (usually metal or stone) on the end of a relatively rigid pole (usually made of wood). The details of this construction are actually kind of important to understanding the fighting style. In particular:

• The head is very compact relative to the rest of the weapon. This allows it to be kept light without sacrificing durability, which allows for better control when thrusting (compare to many other polearms, where the head is a significant portion of the weight of the weapon and for which thrusting attacks were inefficient compared to other options) while still avoiding significant risk of the head itself breaking.
• The shaft is (usually) constructed to have very high compressive strength along its length, typically at the cost of durability perpendicular to the length of the shaft. This allows for even better thrusting attacks, but means that using the shaft to block is usually a bad idea (which is why so many traditional fighting styles using a spear either use a shield with it, or emphasize dodging or deflecting/redirecting over blocking).
• The binding of the head to the shaft is a potential weak point on the weapon. It’s got to be durable enough that shock loading won’t cause it to come undone, but in general it’s still the most likely part to break unless the shaft itself is attacked directly. The combination of the very compact head and the structure of the shaft means that it can be optimized, however, to simply have good compressive and tensile strength relative to the length of the shaft, and most historical designs were built like this. This leads to a case where striking a spear head as it’s thrust can often easily knock it off the weapon (or knock it out of alignment with the weapon, which will cause it to break off the next time you try to thrust at something).

All of this leads to a relatively simple to construct and simple to use pole weapon optimized for thrusting strikes.

### How a rapier is built, why it works, and how it’s different from a spear.

At its simplest, a rapier is a short sword (typically about 1m to 1.3m long) with a thin (often 3cm or less at its widest) double edged blade and an often complicated guard. The blade itself is often at least a bit flexible due to its small cross-section perpendicular to its length, and the overall weapon is light, but not exceedingly so when you consider it rationally (typically about one kilogram). Similar to a spear, details of the actual construction are important to the overall fighting style. In particular:

• The tang (the un-sharpened metal at the opposite end for the blade from the tip) extends the full length (or almost the whole length) of the grip and is in some way locked in. This is a crucial part of making any sword a viable weapon, because it makes it almost impossible for the blade to become separated from the grip. This is also, notably, a drastic difference from a spear, where the norm is either a short tang no longer than the head itself, or a locked collar arrangement (similar to how the heads of most farm implements are affixed to their handles).
• The blade itself has to be specially made. The very edges have to be rigid enough to retain their sharpness and not get dented just because of hitting something but soft enough that they won’t just chip or shatter if you hit something hard, and the rest of the blade has to be flexible and springy enough that striking something hard won’t just snap the blade. This is in stark contrast with a spear head, which instead of being flexible relies on its relatively compact dimensions relative to its volume to maintain its structural stability and is a lot less picky about the exact properties of the material it’s made of.
• Due to the short effective range of a rapier, you need a guard to protect the hand. This isn’t needed at all in a spear, so we can kind of ignore it for the purposes of this discussion, but it’s important to understand that the guard also served to help balance the weapon effectively. The reason a rapier works so well for highly agile combat styles (same for many other fencing swords as well as other thin blades with complicated hilts) is that it has more mass right by where you are controlling it from than anywhere else in the weapon. This gives very precise control, at the cost of not being able to hit as hard.

### OK, so what about a rapier on a stick?

What you would get is not a spear, and would not be wielded as such. What it would really be is something along the lines of a glaive, fauchard, naginata, or guandao, but with a very thin blade. Such weapons are generally not great for thrusting attacks, but are very good for sweeping strikes. The problem though is that if the blade is thin and flexible like a rapier, it’s actually going to be too fragile for this type of usage. On top of that, sweeping attacks are pointless unless there’s momentum behind them, because you have to overcome momentum to get them started in the first place (essentially, the lighter a weapon, the shorter it should be if you want it to hit effectively, because you need to put more force directly behind the strike to get the same net impact as you would with a heavier weapon of the same size), and if you get momentum behind it, the impact load on the blade will be enough that it just snaps unless you’re super careful with it.

Now, there are some other designs you could look at that might be better for what you want, but they don’t involve flexible, rapier-like blades. The terms you want to look for are ‘sword staff’, ‘svärdstav’, ‘partisan’, ‘langue de boeuf’, and ‘ox-tongue spear’. All of these describe spear-like weapons that had longer double-edged blades as heads instead of the shorter points many westerners associate with spears these days. They could all be used for both slashing and piercing attacks, and retain most of the benefits of range that a spear would give you, at the cost of some agility due to being heavier (both for durability, and to allow more momentum behind a sweeping attack).

• "Rapiers are designed for close-range slashing attacks." -- Ah, hmm. I'm not sure if were thinking of different sorts of swords, but at least one Ridolfo Capo Ferro from around 1600 might disagree on that. See e.g. most of the figures in in his famous treatise. Nov 6, 2020 at 13:46
• definitely a big citation needed on rapiers being designed for close-range slashing. The form of the blade is clearly specialised for the thrust (being long, straight, and thing, often with very wide-angled edges that add stiffness, which helps with thrusts, but makes cuts less effective). Foils are specifically the form of sword used to train for rapier fights, that then developed into an independent sport. I don't know what sort of sword you are describing, but it does not seem to resemble what is normally meant by "rapier" Nov 6, 2020 at 16:29
• Whilst cuts are shown in rapier manuals, the rapier is definitely primarily a thrusting weapon. Most rapiers wouldn't have been sharp beyond the tip and first 1/3 of the blade, and many later rapiers aren't even edged, but triangular. Early 'transitional' rapiers were used more for cutting, but as sidesword transitions into rapier, the cuts become less important, and eventually all but disappear. Nov 6, 2020 at 16:39
• @ilkkachu Indeed, I was actually thinking of a saber not a rapier when i wrote this. I’ve updated it now to fix the description, though i still hold that the overall gist of the answer (a rapier style blade is too light and fragile for this type of usage) is accurate. Nov 6, 2020 at 18:34
• Rapiers actually have a VERY long reach for a sword. The blades were typically just as long and rigid as longswords, but because of how they are used, they could typically outreach most two handed swords. There are a lot of misconceptions about rapiers because they are often confused with small swords or modern fencing swords. Nov 9, 2020 at 15:18

1st bad news: momentum doesn't cause change in temperature, energy does. That apart, you don't want the metal of any weapon to get too hot, because any metal getting too hot either loses its functional properties or will start creeping. Take a nail and start bending it back and forth. Do it long enough and it will break apart and you will notice it has also gotten noticeably warmer in the point were you have bent it.

2nd bad news: if you don't use momentum you are drastically reducing the efficiency of your weapon. $$F\cdot \Delta t = m\cdot \Delta v$$ tells you that the more change of momentum you have, the more force you can exert in the same time.

3rd bad news: a shaft designed to be flexible and bend won't allow you to exert any appreciable thrust. It's a basic engineering knowledge that any lean structure when loaded on the tip will buckle. Try with a raw spaghetti and see.

If you want to be realistic and accurate, I would say your weapons is ill designed and not very practical/effective.

• Thanks for your help ! However on your first and third points I would like to add that I was aware that momentum did not affect temperature which is why I kind of chalk it up to "magic" and also when I made the shaft would be flexible I meant to say "durable" instead. Nov 5, 2020 at 16:42

As a rule, unless the weapon is entirely magic (in which case, it can look like whatever you want), the answer is simple:

# Was A Similar Weapon Used in Human History?

If the answer is no (as in the case for a spear with an extended, flexible tip), then it's probably impractical. If a weapon would be relatively straightforward to make (strapping a rapier to a staff just involves some rope), and yet wasn't used, then it isn't practical. Weaponsmiths weren't uncreative in human history.

Your stated goal of making flynning practical is also unlikely, because sound and fury signifying nothing is not something any fighter wants. They will opt for a weapon that foregoes the clashing in favour of "end this fight now".

Physics isn't on your side here.

You want "overly dramatic fast-paced fencing". The reason you can get that sort of thing with a fencing foil is that they are lightweight and balanced, with the weapon gripped near its center of mass (large, ornamental pommels were often cleverly-disguised counterweights).

The weapon that you've designed is essentially a polearm of some sort (I'm imagining an ahlspiess with a more flexible blade). Polearms were primarily used for three things: throwing (javelin), thrusting attacks from a safe distance (pike), or using the shaft as a lever to increase striking force (halberd or woldo). The physics that make this class of weapon so useful for that third use case are the exact same physics that will make it almost unusable for yours.

A spear/staff has a shaft that is of relatively uniform density. The center of mass is therefore at the midpoint of the staff, far from the place where the users in your first photo are gripping it (the Bo staff is typically gripped with hands on either side of the center of mass, balancing it). This makes it much more difficult to control when used as in your first image, as you're essentially on the inefficient end of a lever. As an example, try closing and opening a door from the doorknob side. Easy, right? Now, grab the inside edge of the door, just above one of the hinges. Try to swing the door closed (slowly) and while it's moving, try to stop it and change direction. See how that's significantly harder to control and takes far more force than using the doorknob side? Swinging a staff/spear like a fencing sword will take significantly more strength, and the weapon will have so much intertia that it will be hard to control and easy to predict and parry with a lighter weapon. Plus, a small movement on the user's end will translate into a much larger movement on the business end. This means it will be almost impossible to control well enough to make targeted thrusts (attach a pen to the end of a broom handle and try to write with it).

The second photo is a bit more practical. The left hand is near the center of mass, allowing it to be used like a pivot point. The tip would follow the right hand in speed and magnitude, only mirrored. This reduces your range quite a bit, though, because you have to be able to physically reach the center of mass (which is actually beyond the midpoint due to the heavy blade on the end). Plus, your body gets in the way of the back end of the staff, limiting your movement options. Each swing still imparts a lot of momentum that has to be cancelled. Even an unusually strong fighter wouldn't be able to make those sorts of movements quickly enough for the sort of action that you're envisioning.

The reason that you can have fast, flashy sword fights is because the weapons are agile. Fencing is about quick reactions and precise strikes. Long, heavy weapons are fundamentally unsuited for that sort of fighting. The closest thing you might be able to get would be a spear-like weapon whose blade could be removed and used like a short sword in close-quarters combat. This fits in line with many historical weapons used by peasants, which were often improvised by attaching bladed farm implements onto the end of a long tool handle.

From one perspective, it's no more or less practical than a traditional spear

You have a long staff with a metal tip. You're modifying the tip a bit, but it's still just a metal tip. Spears, lances, etc., have never been slashing weapons as there's not enough weight to seriously damage the opponent (please take that for what I mean... think "I can't cut the guy's arm off with a spear, but I could with a sword!"). They've always been stabbing weapons.

And since you're attaching a stabbing point to a stabbing weapon, there's no practical difference.

On the other hand, what's the point?

My first reaction was to think the leverage of a lengthy staff would bend or break the rapier tip. However, there are a number of weapons both European and Asian that have lengthy tips (halberds, guandaro...), meaning leverage might not be an issue. So the real question is...

What's the value of a flexible tip?

The staff itself already serves the same purpose of the flexible rapier: to produce movement that harder to counter. The flexible tip won't be substantially lighter than most spear points (especially given the aggregate weight of the staff and the tip). So I really can't think of a reason why a rapier tip would be a benefit.

But it could be a liability. Armor might be declining on your world, but that doesn't mean some hard object might not get in the way. In fact, comparing your rapier-spear to a traditional spear, a bit of light armor would likely tip the balance in favor of the traditional spear.

• Thanks this is very insightful ! To answer your question it was mostly for coolness/dumbness factor but also to make the dramatic clashing of blades sequences as is often portrayed in movies more practical because I've read that in real life clashing blades is a poor way of using a weapon. Swords for example become dull for fencing which makes all those cool movies scenes unrealistic and impractical. Nov 5, 2020 at 16:50
• @Theexurbmm10a - you're never going to make clashing blades practical. The goal of actual combat is to kill your opponent or force them to capitulate, and extended bouts of parrying doesn't do that, notwithstanding dulling the blades. You may have a rapier-pole, but your opponent will use a net to entangle it and close to dagger range to finish things quickly. Nov 5, 2020 at 19:23

That weapon isn't going to be very good

A rapier does damage by the rotation of your hand causing the blade to whip around, cutting skin and going through the opponents guard. You use this to do slashing style attacks.

A spear does damage through the strength you can put into it's thrust, and the speed and control that can be done with a rigid shaft and both hands. For a strong thrust, you want a mostly rigid blade, although some flexibility can help prevent it breaking.

You also have slashing spears, like the Glaive, however if you look historically, the blades used for these were rigid and strong. This is because a piece of metal on the end of a long shaft is heavy, and due to physics, swinging it takes a lot of strength, and therefore is hard to bring back for a second strike. So you either want them to back off and give you time, or die.

A rapier on a spear end, would combine the worst of both worlds. You have a thin, slashing/cutting blade that needs to be moved quickly and score repeated small hits on a weapon that you can either thrust or do long sweeping swings with. Not ideal.

## The closest practical weapons was the Japanese Naginata

The Japanese actually used weapons very similar to what you are describing (minus the magic heat blade thing.) Naginata were a very common type of light polearm sword thing during the 11-12th century AD. Most of the time the blade was slightly curved more like a katana or sabre than a rapier, but if you are going for an authentic Japanese feel, the weapon should have a curve. The metalurgic techniques used in Japanese bladesmithing actually cause the blade to curl back during the heat-treating process; so, even if a Japanese smith were to forge a straight sword blade it would normally end up with a slight curvature when it was done anyway.

The reason I suggest you go with the Naginata is that it was a light weight polearm designed for quick thrusts and stabs which will fill the role you are looking for quite well. There are plenty of Youtube videos out there of Naginata dueling that are very fast paced and "flashy" much like a rapier duel would be.

That said, what you should never expect out of a Japanese blade is flexibility. The Japanese were not as good as the Europeans or many Near East civilizations at making spring steel; so, their blades were typically thicker and sturdier relying on using bimetallic carbon steel layering and single step temporing for strength instead of homogenized crucible steel with multi-stage tempering. This made their blades very rigid in comparison. When a Japanese blade gets bent, it stays bent; so, you could substitute a Naginata blade with something thinner and more flexible, but it would be somewhat anachronistic.

## ... or the Ahlspiess (frame challenge)

I suspect you actually meant a sabre based on your description, because the rapier is a thrusting sword and very unsuited for cutting even though your question asks for that, so if you want a polearm that is more literally a rapier on the end of a spear then the Ahlspiess would be your weapon of choice. A big part of the reasoning for the evolution of rapiers was that cutting blades like sabers were not very effective against light and medium armor like gambison or chainmail. Since even peasant soldiers had at least a gambeson by then late medieval period, thrusting became a far preferable method of attack.

While the Ahlspiess and Rapier look like flimsy weapons they both have blades that are thicker perpendicular to the edge than broader bladed but similar weapons. This makes them more spike like than blade like so they are actually surprisingly stiff blades despite not looking like it. The idea of rapiers having a lot of bend is a common misconception based on modern fencing foils. Fencing foils are made very flexible on purpose to prevent injuries, but historical rapiers did not bend any more than a broadsword because they needed enough rigidity to punch through through these armors. Yes. they were made of spring steel so they could flex very far without breaking, but it takes a good bit of force to actually do this.

## Many other similar weapons

There were many other historical weapons that could be described as swords at the end of a polearm. This includes sword staffs, bradeches, glaves, etc. but these weapons were typically much longer and heavy hitting battlefield weapons designed to be used in pike squares rather than fast dueling weapons.

The cutty-stabby dueling pole-arm of choice in Europe was the short-staffed Halebred, but these are in many ways the opposite of what you want. They swing with tons of inertia making them great at killing through heavy armor, but they were not what you would consider nimble in the way that a rapier is.

• Yari actually is pretty close too, but sturdier. Nov 6, 2020 at 23:13
• @Trish Yes, there are a lot of spears that are almost sword bladed polearms like the yari, partisan, boar spear, etc. But I was trying not to make the list too extensive. I went with the Naginata because it it's blade and function are the most rapier like IMO. Nov 9, 2020 at 14:47
• ...rather the most dueling sword like. Nov 9, 2020 at 17:45