The club has a good supply of equipment so that newcomers can borrow things like training swords and fencing masks in the beginning. There are no equipment hiring fees, and no need to book gear in advance.
If you have your own fencing mask already, please do bring it with you!
Where to buy equipment
Some books and pieces of protective equipment can be bought from us directly through the club, and the income from these purchases goes directly toward improving our organisation and the services (and equipment) we can offer at the club. Our online shop is the Academy of Historical Arts online shop and club members with an up to date membership are entitled to discounts on many items.
There are other places to buy protective equipment, but we have no agreements in place with them for club members to receive discounts. Needless to say, we would rather you buy from us and support the club! We won’t be upset if you make the decision to buy from somewhere else, that’s not a problem, but it would be nice to support then club whenever it is possible to do so.
For steel training swords, your best option is to go directly to the manufacturer, unless you know of a shop that keeps stock of these models.
Buying equipment – protective gear
First: buy a fencing mask
If you decide that this is the sport for you, then we strongly recommend buying your own fencing mask as soon as possible. Masks are not so expensive in the grand scheme of things, and having your own means that you will always have one and you won’t need to share with anyone else. This makes it more hygienic, and there will be a better chance that your own mask will fit you correctly, as masks are designed to be squashed slightly in whatever directions are required to achieve a better fit.
The minimum quality of fencing mask that we accept is a CEN level 1 fencing mask in good condition, although we recommend a CEN level 2 mask if possible.
For your first mask, we happily recommend:
- Red Dragon CEN 1 mask
For a more protective CEN 2 mask, it will be largely a case of finding a mask shape that fits you and that you like. It cannot be guaranteed that any given mask will be “strong enough” to do as you like with it, or to survive tournament fencing unscathed. There is also the chance of receiving a slightly softer mask from any given maker. However, your best options for a CEN 2 mask probably come from:
- Leon Paul
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 and good gloves will help to keep them safe.
For good quality gloves that will keep your hands much safer, even at higher levels of intensity, the following are the only gloves with any decent kind of track record for protecting hands:
- Sparring Gloves (mitten model)
- SPES “Lobster” Heavy Gloves
- Koning Gloves
For budget, entry level gloves (the absolute minimum, and intended only for low intensity practice):
- Any light, leather swordsman’s gloves
- Red Dragon HEMA gloves
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.
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:
- SPES “Unity” leather overlay
For a budget, entry level back of head protection, we recommend:
- SPES “Vectir” back of head plate
A padded jacket serves several purposes. It allows you to receive harder strikes without injury, it protects against the pain that comes with thrusts, and good jackets will also come with a Newton rating against punctures. 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.
For a good quality jacket that is quite safe to use in any training situation up to and including high intensity sparring, with years of being to the go-to standard jacket for the international HEMA community, we recommend:
- SPES “Axel Pettersson” jacket (review)
For a budget, entry level jacket:
- Superior Fencing jacket
Elbow protection: we recommend:
- SPES elbow protectors
Knee protection: we recommend:
- Knee Pro UltraFlex III knee guards
- Neyman Fencing knee guards
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:
Groin guard: we recommend:
- SPES groin guard
- Any competent groin guard that fits, really!
Buying equipment – training swords
When it comes to buying swords, you have 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: Red Dragon synthetic swords and Black Fencer swords.
The Red Dragon 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 Red Dragon 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.
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 your 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.
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.
- Regenyei Armory “standard” feder (medium blade) (consider these guidelines for buying your first Regenyei feder, and probably don’t buy any side rings on your feder)
- Regenyei Armory “museum replica” feder
Other makes and models we might recommend:
- Ensifer “light” feder
- Regenyei Armory “light” Trnava feder
- Regenyei Armory “short” feder (medium blade)
- Albion Meyer
- Albion Liechtenauer
- Kvetun feder
- Viktor Berbekucz feder
At all costs, avoid Hanwei swords. They are just not sufficiently safe for our purposes.
Buying equipment – books
Recommended reading, to supplement what we do in the lessons:
- Keith Farrell and Alex Bourdas. AHA German Longsword Study Guide. Fallen Rook Publishing, 2013.
- Jamie Acutt. Swords, Science, and Society: German Martial Arts in the Middle Ages. Fallen Rook Publishing, 2019.
- Jeffrey Forgeng. The Art of Combat. Frontline Books, 2015.
Other books to consider:
- Keith Farrell (ed.). Encased in Steel Anthology I. Fallen Rook Publishing, 2015.
- B. Ann Tlusty. The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
- Dierk Hagedorn. Jude Lew: Das Fechtbuch. VS Books, 2017.
For going directly to source material, and reading translations, there is no better resource than the Wiktenauer.
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!