When studying historical martial arts, there is always the question of how gear influences interpretation. Is my longsword too long for the system? Is my gear restricting my movements in a way that makes some techniques difficult? Today, we will explore what is the right size buckler for I.33; both from a historical context and a functional context.
In this analysis, NASA-STD-3000 regarding average sizes of human anatomy will be used to try and calculate the diameter of the bucklers shown in the images. This is done partially because it is a scientific standard for rough approximations and also to check the checkbox of “over-analysis” for a medieval manuscript.
To compare the calculations made to some historical examples, The Book of the Buckler by Herbert Schmidt was used. According to Herbert Schmidt, the buckler “has a maximum diameter / dimension of approx. 45cm [17.7in]. The calculations made using NASA-STD-3000 had to be realistic when compared to historical examples.
The Size of the Buckler in the Image
Small, medium, and large buckler are all shown in I.33. While some variations may be caused by the illustrations being drawn by hand, others seem more deliberate.
The images of Walpurgis show possibly the smallest buckler in I.33. When using the female 50th percentile estimates in NASA-STD-3000 to calculate the size of a female head, the buckler’s diameter appears to be around 29.9cm (11.8in).
The image of Sixth ward on the first pages of I.33 shows one of the largest bucklers in I.33. The buckler appears to be roughly the same size as the fencer’s torso from neck to waist. Again, using NASA-STD-3000, this would put the large buckler’s diameter roughly at 40.9cm (16.1in).
These estimates for the size of the bucklers illustrated in I.33 are rough at best. There is a number of variability introduced by the artist in the images, both with the buckler size as well as with the size of the fencers. To give a wide range of buckler size to account for potential errors, the bucklers used in the illustrations of I.33 appear to be anywhere from 25.4cm (10in) to 43.2cm (17in) in size.
Functional use of the Buckler in I.33
I.33 primarily uses the buckler to protect the hands while they are extended in front of the fencer. In most images, I.33 shows the buckler extended forward as opposed to close to the body. So the right size buckler must be able to be extended in front of the fencer for the majority of the engagement.
On the surface, the largest buckler someone can find would seem to be the best option. However, the buckler needs to be light enough for the fencer to extend the buckler forward. One way to reduce the weight of the buckler is to reduce the size of the buckler. Another way would be changing the material of the buckler to a lighter material.
Based on the art in I.33, there is a wide range of sizes of bucklers a fencer can use while still being historically accurate. As long as the buckler is round and no larger than 43.2cm (17 in), it will match the art of I.33.
The real determining factor for the size of the buckler comes down to the fencer using it. If the buckler is too large and heavy, the fencer will fatigue and become less effective in the fight. If the buckler is too small for the fencer, they may struggle to defend their hands while they are engaged in the bind.
When studying I.33, the best buckler will be the one you are most comfortable with. Training strength to handle larger bucklers is advantageous. However, smaller bucklers will almost always be quicker which can have its own advantageous in the engagement. The most important thing to remember is that the buckler’s job is to reduce the chance of you getting hit.
So remember, when studying I.33…