Gear Recommendations and Links
We’re lucky to have a decent collection of gear to loan to newcomers, so there’s no immediate need for you to acquire gear. This is a gear-intensive hobby and it’s helpful to try out various things and talk to people before investing. You can expect to pay as much as you would to outfit yourself for a gear hobby like snowboarding or bicycling. The one challenge is that the gear needed for historical swordsmanship is more specialized and less available in the used market.
Here’s a suggested list of items. They’re listed in descending order of priority and discussed in more detail in the following sections.
- Non-marking shoes for the loft. SANCA sells some great acrobat shoes in their front office
- Lightweight leather gloves – just to protect yourself from scratches. There’s no need to obtain padded gloves until you start free-play. Listed first because these are relatively cheap, and you should get some that fit your hands.
- Books and web resources – conceptual material to help organize your practice
- Practice blunt – once you have a practice weapon you can drill at home.
- Fencing mask or helmet – there’s a hygienic concern among many about using borrowed masks. Once you have your own you won’t have to live in someone else’s sweat.
- Gorget (throat protector)
- Free-play gauntlets and elbow pads – when you start free fighting the most vulnerable parts of your body not covered by the above, are your hands and elbows.
- Fencing jacket – this is a padded jacket that protects against bruising shots
- Knee and thigh protection (this can be shin guards or fencing knickers)
Buyer beware with this stuff. We are not saying this is the ONLY gear that will work – great new stuff comes on the market from time to time. We have taken the time to write up this article because we want you to get the right gear, and avoid wasting your money. Ask your coaches – they can offer advice and show you the right gear in use.
This is a complicated topic because hands are complicated and important, and there is no universal solution. Most people who do HEMA for any length of time end up owning multiple pairs of gloves and gauntlets that they use in different situations. Some options are presented below, ordered from least to most protective.
It is reasonable to wear nothing on your hands when doing solo drills. Doing controlled partner drills without hand protection teaches you how to protect your hands using the weapon. If you pay attention to the light contact you might receive during drills, you can save yourself damage when you are going full-speed.
Bare hands are also a viable option in bare-knuckle pugilism, hence the name.
Unpadded leather gloves (swords)
Many swordfighters prefer to wear thin leather gloves because it gives them a better grip. These have minimal protective value but may prevent minor nicks. Anything like this will work. Or these are great. Gloves that are dyed will bleed all over your hands when you sweat.
Fingerless MMA gloves (pugilism)
Large conventional boxing gloves are not used at all in pugilism. Some practitioners prefer to wear no gloves at all, other wear “bag gloves” (lightly padded over the knuckles) or fingerless MMA gloves. Since we do a lot of blocking with the forearms, you can do your practice buddies a favor by looking for a style that doesn’t have a lot of exposed velcro or other sharp/scratchy stuff. The Everlast Pro Competition Grappling Glove is a good choice.
Gloves with knuckle plates and wrist padding (swords and sticks)
Gloves like these are commonly used to lessen minor impacts during light sword and stick work. They are especially useful in cutlass, backsword, and longsword drills where the wrist and forearm are targeted.
Lacrosse gloves (sticks)
More heavily padded gloves such as are used in lacrosse are good for stick work, but not recommended for swordplay because they have many vulnerable spots where a blade can sneak in.
Synthetic HEMA gauntlets (tournament legal)
Sparring Gloves are modern gauntlets constructed using heavy-gauge rubber and leather. There is a U.S. supplier, Hema Supplies. They are much cheaper than hand surgery – they fully protect the hands and wrist from fractures.
There are two models (split finger or clamshell). The clamshell versions protect a bit better. They require little maintenance.
SPES Heavies (tournament legal)
The SPES heavies are a hybrid clamshell design constructed of leather and plastic plates. They are tournament legal and are in wide use.
Steel finger gauntlets (not safe for full contact)
There are various steel options out there, but they are not legal at all tournaments, they tend to require more maintenance, and are heavier. They do not adequately protect the hands from fractures during full contact steel sparring.
Steel mitten gauntlets (tournament legal with restrictions)
These offer the ultimate in protection and are actually less expensive than some other options because they have fewer moving parts. We buy ours here. You have to add your own straps and padding. Mobility is worse in some ways, better in others, since fingers are free to move independently beneath the clamshell. Some tournaments do not allow then and nobody will let you punch with them.
A good practice sword is historically accurate in dimension, weight and balance point, is durable, and is safe to use. Safety involves two factors: properly tempered steel that will not easily chip or break; and sufficient flexibility to yield (bend) against thrusting energy, thus protecting your partner.
Edge profiles need to be compatible. A proper training blunt has a rolled, hardened edge that resists chipping. We don’t cross rolled training blunts with half-sharps such as the Hanwei practicals. DON’T BUY HANWEI TP TRAINERS AND EXPECT TO USE THEM FOR PRACTICE WITH PARTNERS.
Suitable longsword trainers:
- Gus Trim i-beams – Lonin occasionally obtains authentic and excellent I-beams made by Gus himself. Don’t buy the “ATRIM” or “Angus Trim I-Beam Trainer” simulators sold through e.g. Custom Sword Shoppe / Valiant Armoury – as of the last update of this page they are improperly balanced.
- Albion Liechtenauer sparring sword
Feders can also be used for Fiore practice, though the slightly longer blade makes them less ideal for the close play that exemplifies Fiore. Taller people can use them for Fiore-style sword grappling. Suitable feders include:
- Arms and Armor fechterspiel
- Ensifer feder – available from Purpleheart Armory
- Regenyei feder – available from HEMA Supplies
Mask (sword and stick)
There are two basic options for a mask. The first is a solid fencing mask made of heavy steel mesh (formerly referred to as a three-weapon mask, but this terminology is obsolete). For our purposes, a fencing mask needs to be combined with a padded cowl that protects the back of the head and the neck. Advantage: cost-effective, readily available for immediate purchase. Disadvantage: tends to be sweaty, does not offer same level of protection as a perf steel helm. Following are some decent fencing masks and covers:
- PBT mask (do not buy the one that comes with a back of head protector, as it is inferior to the SPES one below)
- SPES mask cover
- Zen Warrior Armory 1999 stainless mask
It is also possible to buy various types of helms made from perforated and solid steel sheet metal, or even to make them yourself if you are so inclined. Inquire with the group or search on the Internet if you are interested in that option.
For pugilism, the most popular head protection in our group is the ProForce mask with clear plastic face shield. This is totally unsuitable for any kind of sword or stick work; see the section above if that’s what you want.
Neck protection is essential. Wintertree Crafts sells a couple decent steel-backed gorgets:
You can get nylon, foam-padded gorgets from various sellers:
For elbow pads you can use skateboarding pads for casual use in class. For tournaments you will want a pair of cops that fit comfortably over the fencing jacket.
Many HEMA tournaments now require use of a modern fencing jacket or gambeson. They are moving to disallow hand-made armor. The reason for this is consistency and creating a level playing field around personal armor levels. SPES offers both jacket and gambeson style jackets that are tournament legal, comfortable and well-constructed.
Knee and leg protection
For knee protection, you can purchase any type of lightweight motocross knee/shin armor.
Men must wear groin cups. Women must wear some kind of hard-shell breast protection during sparring or other activities in which chest contact is probable.
Books and web resources
- Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume 2: The Medieval Longsword, Guy Windsor. An excellent conceptual overview of Fiore and medieval sword fighting, by the creator of our technical syllabus.
- Fiore de’ Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, Tom Leoni. This is an English translation of the treatise that we practice from. There are web resources available to those who have purchased this book; talk to your coach for details.
- Swordschool wiki. The wiki detailing our Fiore technical syllabus.
- The Wiktenauer. The world’s largest library of historical European martial arts books and manuscripts.