Get Right to the Point with Dexter’s Ed Francis, 17th Best Rapier/Dagger Combatant in the U.S.


Ed Francis (L) about to subdue an opponent with his rapier and dagger. Courtesy Ed Francis.

Dexter resident Ed Francis, a 52-year-old former state rapier champion, has made an impressive comeback in the world of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) after a 20-year hiatus from competition.

Recently, he secured the title of the 17th-best rapier and dagger fencer in the United States at a tournament in Columbus, Ohio. As a member of the Ann Arbor Sword Club, Ed's passion for rapier and dagger fencing is evident in his dedication to the sport and his commitment to constantly improving his skills.

“Historically speaking, many people fought with rapier and dagger,” says Ed. “The dagger was used more for defending against attacks, whereas the rapier was for attacking.”

Ed Francis with his recent Ascalon Tournament medal. He is ranked 17th in the country for rapier and dagger combat. Photo by Doug Marrin.

From 1995 to 2002, Ed was a two-time Pentamere Regional Rapier Championship finalist (the equivalent of a state champion). He won the Pentamere Regional Rapier Championship outright once. In the world of swords and medieval terminology, he was also a Middle Kingdom Rapier championship semifinalist.

The history of dagger and sword fighting dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries when the rapier was a popular weapon. On the other hand, the dagger was commonly used for deflecting attacks and served as a multi-purpose tool in daily life. Today, HEMA practitioners like Ed keep this ancient art alive by engaging in historical fencing with rapiers and daggers, the precursor to modern fencing with a foil.

Instead of a single blade thrusting and being parried by an opponent, as in modern fencing, Ed’s sport uses the dagger to deflect an attack while simultaneously thrusting with the rapier. Twice the action in the blink of an eye.

Ed began his fencing journey while attending Michigan State University, where he met a classmate involved in the fencing club.

“I was looking for a martial art to do, so I went with her to a practice,” says Ed. “I liked it and joined and started out doing combat with sword, shield, and armor,” says Ed.

Although he initially started with combat using a sword, shield, and armor, the high cost of quality armor led him to try rapier fencing instead. Ed quickly discovered his natural talent for the sport and soon rose to the top of his group.

Ed Francis (third from right) with other medalists at the recent Ascalon Tournament in Columbus, OH. Courtesy Ed Francis.

Ed remembers, “They had me go up against this really experienced guy. We fought each other to a standstill. I didn’t score many hits on him. He didn’t score many hits on me. Back and forth we went. I had a lot of fun. The guy in charge said, ‘You have GOT to do this.’”

In one memorable moment, the group had a mini-tournament among themselves. The winner would fight the instructor. Ed won the tournament. The instructor told him, “I’m not surprised. I was expecting this.”

Ed battled the instructor, who scored the first touch, winning the short match. The instructor asked Ed if he wanted to go again. Ed did and scored the next touch. The game turned into the best out of three. Ed won that, and it turned into best out of five, which Ed also won.

Ed’s rapier weighs about two pounds, and the blade is 45 inches. His dagger is around 18 inches.

For strategy, Ed explains the root lies in the word “fencing,” which comes from “defense,” as in “self-defense.”

“Fencing was originally called ‘the art of self-defense,’” explains Ed. “The strategy then is in being patient, not rushing into combat, setting up your opponent.”

Ed watches his opponent’s centerline and stomach so as not to be fooled by any feints. He plays a patient game, letting his opponent bring the fight to him. He also notices an opponent’s quirks, which play to his advantage. One combatant had the habit of drawing his arm back right before charging, giving Ed an advantage in setting his defense.

Safety is a top priority in rapier and dagger fencing, as the weapons can be dangerous without proper precautions. Participants wear protective gear covering their face, throat, and body, and the rapier tips are covered to prevent injuries. A critical code of ethics governs the sport, requiring competitors to acknowledge hits out of honor and respect for their opponents.

In contrast to the staged combat seen in films and shows, which prioritizes impressive and showy swordplay, Ed emphasizes the importance of realism and practicality in competitive fencing. He doesn't gravitate towards shows with swordplay because they are designed to be impressive and showy, unlike actual combat, which prioritizes survival.

He acknowledges that actual combat is not meant to be pretty, with the goal being survival rather than telling a story. A flashy fencer won’t last long in actual competition. Ed recalls one opponent who attempted a stylish leap. Ed quickly struck him in the air.

Rapiers are long, slender swords optimized for thrusting attacks with an overall length of 45 to 50 inches. Daggers are shorter, double-edged weapons primarily used for stabbing and thrusting. Their typical overall length ranges from 10 to 18 inches. Pictured here: Acadamie de Espada Rapier & Dagger Set.

As a member of the Ann Arbor Sword Club, Ed trains regularly with other enthusiasts, sharing his knowledge and experience with those eager to learn the art of historical fencing. He prefers the joy of sparring, valuing personal improvement over winning contests. But that doesn’t mean he’s retired (again) from the competitive circuit.

Looking to the future, Ed remains focused on his love for the sport. With his interest reignited, he plans to physically condition himself to be even more of a force than he already is. He is looking forward to continuing in tournament competition and sparing all he can in between.

Ever the philosopher and deep-thinker, Ed says, “Like many fencers, I tend to be hypercompetitive, but as the years go by, I realize that perhaps the most fun thing about these tournaments is that I get to cross swords with fencers from other clubs and places, even from other countries. One of my opponents belongs to a fencing club in Montreal.”

“It’s important to remember that tournaments are as much learning experiences as they are competitive events,” he adds.

For those interested in learning more about historical fencing or joining the Ann Arbor Sword Club, visit their website at

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