Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Das Federschwerter: How the Hell Did That Happen?

Apparently the now ubiquitous term “federschwert” (feather-sword) used in reference to the foil, particularly that of the longsword, is an entirely modern, a-historical term. Not entirely unbefitting, but improper nonetheless. I decided to delve into the roots of this term after having used it often enough myself; but I never, ever found its use in any piece of historical martial arts material in reference to the foil.

Much could be written on this, but apparently the term “feder” used in regard to the sword came about as a derisive term for the rapier/slender, long, thrust oriented sword (oddly, often now called a “cut & thrust” sword, as if others weren’t), apparently helped along by the very name of the Federfechter guild who championed them. The Federfechter were so-called due to the feather in their heraldic insignia, but combined with the new “feder” term used to make light of the rapier, and their use of said weapon, it could also be taken to have meant “feather sword fighters,” “feather-fencers,” etc. to their opponents. Presumably the term was used for the rapier because of its lightness, relative harmlessness (infinitely arguable, of course), and not to mention that the feather is the traditional symbol of cowardice and flight. There were no shortage of contemporary detractors of the rapier, alongside derisive terms for it in England, for one (just ask Master Silver).

As far as I have been able to surmise, the lineage of the current misuse of the term stems to the misquoting and faulty memory of a certain practitioner whose primary source material is apparently old Egerton (Castle), rather than the primary martial arts source material. Egerton speaks a bit about the term in his Schools and Master of Fencing, but not inaccurately. Though on reading this, one could see how the memory could play tricks; perhaps even thinking that “Federfechter” meant something more akin to “foil-fencers.”

Anyway, the origin of our misuse is irrelevant in the face of that misuse. So here’s a new policy on how to not be an ass-hat: everyone stop calling foils, blunts, I.e. rebated swords “federschwerter!”

Special thanks to Mike Cartier ( for confirming this research, particularly with his expertise of Master Meyer’s material and context.


Copyright July 2009 “Casper” Bradak


Lessons on the English Longsword said...
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Krupp said...

Die Fechter Selber wissen nichts davon!,, the fencers themselves know nothing of it. This from Wassmansdorf. He was adamant that the term was not used to describe a weapon, The feder in the Veiterfechters Waffen or coat of arms, could very well be a Palm, which is a symbol of the Martyed Saint Veit, there are many examples of this same "palm", and the Marxbruder included it as well. As St Mark was martyrd also. The clasped hands are interesting. I feel the term feder is late 18th century with regards to any weapon. The fighters of St Veit, were known for their writings of the Arts. this was not done by the Marxbruder. It instigated a widespread learning of these Arts.
And is written about by the marxbruder in fechtschulen rhymes of 1579. Love your article Bro, thanks.
Kevin Maurer

Lessons on the English Longsword said...

TY, Kev!