When you decide that it is time for buying your own equipment, there are several purchasing decisions that you need to make. Do you go cheap, or expensive? Which brands are most suitable for what we do in the club? What are the safety records of the different options? This list should help. In general, there tends to be just one or two of each type of item that we recommend at the club. After many years of experience handling different pieces of equipment, there are certain items that stand out in terms of quality and good value, and it is best to focus on these.
The issue of budget is one that you will need to consider. While it would be wonderful to recommend only the best quality equipment, not everyone can afford that! However, choosing the cheapest options is not necessarily safe for you or for your training partners. Therefore, if budget is an important consideration when planning your purchases, consider this article on buying gear on a tight budget.
Buying your protective equipment
Protective equipment such as masks and gloves should probably be the first thing you buy. Although swords are really cool, and fencing masks (to be perfectly honest) are not very cool, the fencing mask is the most important purchase you can make. Once you have bought your first few pieces of protective gear, that may be the time to think about buying a sword; but not before! Safety gear comes first, even though swords are shiny.
Purchase 1: fencing mask
The very first piece of equipment you want to buy for yourself is a fencing mask. It might not be glamorous, but it is probably THE most important piece of equipment that you can buy.
It is important to understand what the different ratings mean for masks, and also to know what people are talking about when they refer to different types or ratings. Please read this article on the difference between a “350N” fencing mask and a “1600N” fencing mask to find out more about the issue.
For a budget, entry-level mask, we recommend the Red Dragon fencing mask, which you can purchase through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
For a good quality, CEN level 2 mask, we recommend the Leon Paul Titan X-Change HEMA mask.
Purchase 2: gloves
The next piece of equipment that you will need to buy for yourself is a pair of gloves. Again, these are not very glamorous, but fingers are very fragile creatures and good gloves will help to keep them safe.
For budget, entry level gloves (the absolute minimum, and intended only for low intensity practice), we recommend the Red Dragon HEMA gloves, which you can purchase through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
For good quality gloves that will keep your hands much safer, even at higher levels of intensity, we recommend the following items:
– Sparring Gloves, often available through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop.
– SPES “Lobster” Heavy Gloves, often available through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop.
– Koning Gloves, available from the St Mark website (although we sometimes have them in stock ourselves).
It is probably not worth considering any other gloves at this stage, as they tend to be deficient in some fashion, and broken fingers are simply not worth saving a few pounds here and there.
Purchase 3: back of head protection
Although a fencing mask does a good job of protecting the front and sides of your head, the back of the head is an area that needs further covering. Due to the nature of some of the techniques and footwork that we practise with the longsword, the back of the head becomes a target area more often than one may expect, even if the hits are accidental.
For a budget, entry level back of head protection, we recommend the SPES “Vectir” back of head plate, which you can purchase through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
A step up from a simple back of head plate is the padded overlay, which serves many functions. The integral back of head protection is an important element, of course, and the padding that goes over the mask will help to prolong the life of the mask by protecting the mesh from sword strikes – something worth considering if you have spent a three figure sum of money buying your mask! Furthermore, the padding will help against the impact of sword blows, making it less painful to receive hits over the course of a training session, and reducing the likelihood of receiving a concussion in high intensity sparring.
For a good quality, well-padded overlay, we recommend the SPES “Unity” leather overlay, which you can purchase through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
Purchase 4: padded jacket
A padded jacket serves several purposes. It allows you to receive hard strikes without injury, it protects against the pain that comes with thrusts, and good jackets will also come with a Newton rating against punctures. Although blades do not break very often, having that little extra protection against a catastrophic injury can be helpful! A good jacket should allow for enough mobility to raise your hands above your shoulders, and should also allow space under the collar for a gorget.
There isn’t a budget, entry level jacket that we can recommend at this point in time.
For a good quality jacket that is quite safe to use in any training situation up to and including high intensity sparring, we recommend:
Some people have good experience with Neyman Fencing jackets, but as we haven’t had any meaningful experience with them, we hesitate to recommend them.
Elbow protection: we recommend the SPES elbow protection, often available through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop.
Knee protection: probably the best knee protection are the Knee Pro UltraFlex III knee guards, although these can be difficult to find int he UK at a reasonable price. We sometimes have them available through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop, whenever we can manage to stock them!
Shinguards: for shinguards to go with knee protection, it is quite popular in the community to use field hockey shinguards and slip them inside your socks. Field hockey shinguards may be available at a local sporting goods store.
Throat protection: we recommend either the PBT gorget (Keith’s review) or the Destroyer Modz gorget (Keith’s review), both of which are sometimes available through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop.
Groin guard: they don’t cost very much, and your crown jewels are important. If you haven’t bought one by now, after acquiring all the other gear, then there is no more excuse for putting off the purchase. To be honest, you should probably buy one much earlier, after you acquire your mask and gloves. Simple groin guards from SPES would be perfectly adequate, are not expensive, and can be purchased through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
Buying your training swords
When it comes to buying swords, there is a huge array of choices. Many training swords are good options, but there are also many makers and models to be avoided.
There are two main makes of plastic training swords at the moment: Rawlings synthetic swords and Black Fencer swords.
The Rawlings synthetic swords are what we have for loaner swords at the club. They are light, they are flexible, and they are balanced nicely. They are not very expensive. However, they are so flexible that sometimes they are too flexible, and a more rigid sword would be useful for training. Since we have several of these at the club, it is probably not worth buying one yourself, and it is probably more sensible to save up for a better training sword.
The Black Fencer longswords are heavier and more rigid than the Rawlings synthetics. They are almost twice the price, but they are still only half as expensive as a decent steel sword! For a personal purchase of a plastic training sword, these are probably most worthwhile, although if you can save up for a steel training sword then that is still the best option. These can be purchased through our club’s online shop, with proceeds from the sale reinvested back into the club.
There are three broad categories of steel swords: sharps, blunts, and feders.
Sharp swords have sharp edges, unsurprisingly, and are therefore not suitable for practice with partners. We do not use sharp (or even semi-sharp or butterknife-sharp) swords for training with partners at the club. However, sharp swords have their place as training tools for test cutting. It would be beneficial to have access to a sharp sword if you are a more advanced practitioner, but beginners don’t need to worry about buying a sharp sword, and in fact should probably avoid making such a purchase.
Blunt swords (or “blunts”) are training swords that look like a stereotypical sword, just with blunt edges. These can be very useful training tools, although they can hit quite hard due to the mass in the blade!
Feders (“feder” is short for “federschwert” or “feather sword”) are also blunt training tools, but they have a different blade shape that is more suitable for training with partners. The reduced mass in the blade, combined with the greater flexibility, means that they usually do not hit as hard as blunts, which can be greatly appreciated by training partners who have to receive repeated hits over the course of a lesson.
Generally speaking, we would recommend buying a feder from Regenyei Armory as your first steel training sword. These swords are not too expensive, and they will probably last you for at least a couple of years of training – longer if you use it gently or just once a week. They tend to be well-made and reliable, and safe for your training partners. We would recommend following these guidelines for buying your first Regenyei feder, and take into consideration these thoughts with regards to side rings on your feder. Another good option is the Museum Replica feder made by Regenyei Armory, as it is modelled on the kind of training sword that was used in the 16th century by people studying the same systems that we are practising today.
Other reliable makers are Albion Swords, Viktor Berbekucz, Castille Armory, and Ensifer. At this time, we would not recommend any other sword makers. At all costs, Hanwei swords should be avoided.
Where to buy things
Generally speaking, we should have equipment listed for sale either in our club’s online shop, or in the Academy of Historical Arts online shop. We keep most of our stock at the Academy of Historical Arts headquarters in Glasgow, but we can arrange to bring items down to Liverpool relatively easily. We don’t tend to sell swords, due to legislative issues, but this may (hopefully!) change in the future.
Although you may find some equipment cheaper elsewhere, we hope that you would still place orders through the club. Any and all proceeds from sales go towards keeping the club running, providing it with new equipment, making sure that there are first aid provisions and that the necessary certifications, qualifications, and documentations are in place. Ordering through the club will help us achieve this.
If you would like to make any purchases, please just speak to the instructor, and we can make the necessary arrangements for you.
It may take a while to gather all the equipment, but that is not a problem. You don’t need to dress up like a tank for your first sparring session; it is always best to keep the intensity low until you are able to perform well in that situation, and then allow the intensity to rise commensurately with your skills. Some people may not feel the need to acquire gear such as jackets for several months, although others may be more eager and will acquire it more quickly.
With your protective equipment, it may feel restrictive and uncomfortable out of the box. When you start adding pieces, you may notice significant build up of heat, and it will probably not feel natural. Unfortunately, you just need to stick it out, sweat into it a little, and let it all soften up and “break in”, like a pair of leather shoes.
Although the equipment is expensive, it tends to last for quite a long time, especially if you use it at a light intensity or just once a week. Most of the instructor’s personal equipment has been in use for at least two years, sometimes in use for 12-16 hours a week of high intensity sparring practice, and has gone to regional, national, and international events, where it has also seen use in tournaments. Although the idea of paying £120 for a fencing mask or £150 for a pair of gloves may seem painful, consider that you may well get two or three (or four or five) years of use out of them, and that during this time they will allow you to participate in your chosen hobby to the degree to which you wish to participate, in safety. There is little point in buying the cheaper option to save some money, then feeling unable to train the way you would like to train, and then go home with a broken finger anyway; that would suck, and would be a waste of money. Good quality equipment is not cheap, but is not mega expensive either, and will last while keeping you safe.
Finally, if you have any questions about equipment: just ask!