Posted with permission by Reinier van Noort. Edited only for formatting. Follow him and his musings at Ense et Mente
Earlier this year, I received a message from Pavel Moc asking if I would like to test one of the new rapiers that he has developed together with Martin Fabian. As I had already been drooling over the images Martin posted, I couldn't really say no to this request. So, a few weeks ago, I received a long box. One of those that HEMA’ists dream about.
The rapier I received is beautiful, but not a lightweight. With a blade of the flexible type, 108 cm long (from the quillons – I measured 101 cm from the cup), it weighs in at 1230 g (on our kitchen balance). However, as I will discuss below, weight is not as important in handling as some other properties, and this rapier handles very well, with its PoB at 10.5 cm from the quillons. When I handed it to a student who was not aware of its weight, he estimated it was about 900 gram. Pavel informed me that this rapier will cost 350 euros. This is similar to the cheapest option for "build your own rapier" by Castille Armory (319 USD, including one rubber tip) and the economy offering from Darkwood Armory (325 USD), for a weapon that both handles better and looks more finished. If we factor in postage to the EU and import taxes, the Moc is very likely the cheapest option of the three for EU residents. Note that Castille also offers a 189 USD complete economy rapier, which likely comes out a bit cheaper than the Moc in the EU, and much cheaper than the Moc in most other places in the world.
The following review describes my impressions, based on thoroughly inspecting the sword at home, as well as two training sessions, in which I as well as my students handled the sword.
The quality of the hilt is very good, and it is beautifully built, showing Pavel’s attention to detail. The little brass end-parts on the quillons and knucklebow are a lovely addition, giving some grace. Pavel’s attention for detail is also apparent from the lack of visible welds etc. This weapon was not made with only functionality in mind. The idea, that a rapier should be pretty as well as functional is, in my opinion, too often overlooked in off-the-shelf weapons.
The cup is connected to the crosspiece and arms with small screws. On my test version, these are modern torque screws, but they will be replaced with historically correct screws in the final version. Furthermore, the cup is lined with leather. Many modern makers leave out such lining to save time and costs. It is great to see a lined cup on a rapier like this – it makes the weapon look much more finished.
The wooden grip (note that the test weapon I was sent has an oak grip, but the final version will likely have a grip out of a more luxurious wood) has a very comfortable shape. It is somewhat faceted, with a rib along its centre to precisely fit the shape of the quillon block. This allows for very comfortable gripping, using a variety of grip styles (and smooth transitions between grips). I often fence in quarta with my thumb on the flat, and the base of my thumb on top of the grip (to use the structure of my hand for holding the weapon, and relax my fingers), and on many HEMA rapiers this grip is not comfortable. However, on the Moc, this is no problem at all. At the same time, a more standard grip (i.e., tertia with a finger over the cross) can also be used very comfortably. Finally, all parts of the hilt are well-rounded, so there are no sharp or uncomfortable edges where you grip the sword.
Finally, the pommel. Before receiving my rapier, when seeing Martin's photos, I thought the pommel was perhaps a little fat, and I feared this might get in the way. Now that I have had a chance to play with one, I almost forgot about this concern at all. The pommel fits right against the heel of my hand, and does not get in the way of handling, both when gripping with no finger around the cross, and with one finger around the cross.
The blade is well made, with a maximum thickness of 6 mm, and good tapering in both width and thickness, resulting in a very well-balanced weapon. The rapier was provided with a leather piece covering the tip, presumably tied around a button-tip. I am not sure how well the leather will hold up when repeatedly rasping against fencing masks, but otherwise, I think this may be the safest option, with the least impact on handling.
As noted above, the blade I got to test was the more flexible and (I think) somewhat lighter type. The blade is indeed notably softer than my Danelli. However, it is nowhere near as soft as the 43" practical Hanwei blades used to be. When making a quick disengage in quarta, there is some flexing of the blade at the lowest point of the disengage, but there is no wobble after the movement. On the other hand, on a solid thrust the blade bends well without too much force, which was appreciated by the recipients. I think that with this blade, Pavel struck a good balance between flexibility for thrusting, and stiffness for handling, but I can also understand some people might like a somewhat stiffer one. Good news - that option exists!
The handling is great; I have good tip control, but at the same time a secure feeling in the bind. Feedback is clear too. At 1230 g, this rapier is on the heavy side compared to other HEMA rapiers, and it is a little heavier than my Danelli (1090 g) - but its handling characteristics are otherwise almost the same. It handles better than an economy Darkwood (1145 g including the rubber tip for the dish-hilt version).
In the first session that I used this rapier, during sparring, I noticed movements with the hilt were a little slower than usual (or it was because I was out of training, as we had been doing grappling for two months, rather than rapier fencing). In the second session I did not notice this slowness anymore. My arm did get tired a little faster than normal, but this will disappear after using the rapier for a few weeks. This again shows that good handling is more important than simply weight - and comfortable gripping is important too, as this helps the hand, and thus the arm, stay relaxed.
This is a great weapon, and some of the best value for money you will find in a rapier. Considering its weight, it is a particularly good weapon for styles from the earlier part of the 17th century, as practiced by most HEMAists. Looking for a new rapier? Seriously consider contacting Pavel Moc to get one of these. In the meantime, also look out for reviews from Matt Galas and Woody Craig, who reviewed the same weapon but with a shorter, stiffer blade.
You can find Pavel’s work and contact him for orders via his facebook page.