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Getting Started

So you want to join the Lansing Longsword Guild. Great!

 

But now what? Historical European Martial Arts is a complicated hobby, with dozens of different weapons choices and areas of study along with competitions and sparring and all of the required equipment that comes along with it. A later blog post will cover the necessities for tournament competition or high-intensity sparring, but a great deal of learning and fencing can be done with very simple equipment.

 

Due to the ongoing health crisis of COVID-19, we have made some changes to our gear recommendations. The guild will no longer be lending fencing masks and will be very careful about lending gloves. New members are highly encouraged to buy their own mask and gloves as soon as possible!

 

Lessons and sparring in the guild require:

  • fundamental athletic equipment

  • a fencing mask

And while not immediately necessary, we urge you to purchase:

  • sparring gloves

  • a gambeson or sparring jacket

 

 

1. Fundamental Equipment

 

Fundamental equipment is a description for the basic gear required in most athletic or martial sports. This means comfortable athletic clothing--jeans are highly discouraged. Shoes should be appropriate for indoor wear. The LLG recommends Feiyue kung fu shoes as an inexpensive option.

 

You should also get a cup and athletic supporter. Compression shorts are comfortable but are not quite as good at keeping the cup in place, but are a comfortable addition to your starting gear.

 

Breathable, moisture-wicking shirts are also encouraged. The guild has LLG shirts for sale!

 

2. Get a fencing mask

 

A fencing mask is one of the most important pieces of personal equipment, and one of the least desirable pieces of equipment to share. Over the past few years there have been a number of new options for fencers looking to get started, but a decent and relatively inexpensive option for a starting historical fencer is the Absolute Force Basic Fencing Mask, available at purpleheart armory. At $60, it’s affordable and durable, and is a great piece of gear to pick up for the price.

 

However, fencers should be cautioned that the Basic mask has no back of the head protection, and you’d have to purchase an additional mask overlay to cover the back of your head. For that reason, it may be more practical to pick up the AF Deluxe mask, which has additional protection for the back of the head included. However, separate mask overlays can also be easily purchased. Back of the head protection is required for sparring at the club.

 

Masks can also be found for resale on eBay or craigslist. Or, if you already have a mask, you will still need back of the head protection. My recommendation is the PBT mask overlay. It’s a bit expensive, but it looks nice and is far more durable than the less expensive Absolute Force Mask cover.

 

All of these items are available at Purpleheart Armory at woodenswords.com.

 

If you have all of the above, you're good to go, and we'll see you at your first class!

 

3. Invest in a Good Pair of Gloves

 

I cannot understate how important it is that you weigh your choices in regards to gloves very carefully. A broken finger will be painful and take away your ability to regularly train for months at a time, and will be far more expensive than a pair of gloves.

 

The current standard are Sparring Gloves, by the Polish Company of the same name. They sell in the US through sparringglove.com, and have five-finger, mitten, and hoof variants. The hoof style is pictured below.

 

Another popular choice are the SPES Heavy clamshell gauntlets. Slightly less expensive than the Sparring gloves and somewhat bulkier, they’re a decent, popular, dependable model of gloves. They will require fingertip inserts or some other reinforcement, however, as the fingertips and thumb, especially, can be vulnerable. SPES Heavies are available at woodenswords.com.

 

 

 

 

 

4. Get a sparring jacket

 

A sparring jacket for historical fencing has to be more robust than the light jackets used in modern olympic fencing. These jackets are thicker and often quilted. At the guild, we recommend the SPES AP Jacket or its light version. There are also variants with puncture ratings (measured in N or "newtons," a measure of the force it takes to pierce the jacket) available in linen, which help to keep you from overheating while you spar.

 

All jackets and their variants are available at woodenswords.com.

 

And that's it! There will always be more options to choose from and more equipment to pick up, but at minimum to start taking classes at the guild you should have fundamental gear--shoes, a cup and supporter, comfortable clothes--and a mask.

 

Stay safe, and hope to see you soon!

3. Start saving for a good steel sword

 

No matter what weapon you choose to study, there is no substitute for a good steel sparring sword. Your first choice should reflect what you intend to do with it. If you want to attend competitive tournaments, you’ll need a feder. If you want to do mostly solo practice or technique work in the club or at non-competitive events, a blunt might be your best choice.

 

Luckily, in recent years the popularity of historical fencing has exploded, and there are a number of affordable options out there for new fencers or those looking to expand their equipment pile.

 

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different options of trainers and what each is good for. There are in essence three varieties of swords used by HEMA fencers at the current state of the community, and all have strengths and weaknesses.

 

1: Feders. Feders are the ubiquitous steel sparring weapons used at most tournaments and by most fencers in the HEMA community. “Feder” is German for “feather” and traces a complicated origin back to pejoratives and adoptive terms for certain fencing guilds in the 16th and 17th centuries. The term, today, means a “foiled longsword,” which has a narrow blade past the hilt, has significant blade flex, a rolled or spatulated tip, and a flare or thick point just above the hilt called a “schilt” or shield.

 

While feders are based loosely on historical counterparts, the aspects of their construction are much different, and they should not necessarily be considered “historically accurate” even if their outline superficially matches historical examples.

 

 

2: Blunts. A blunt is simply a longsword with blunt edges, which should be distinguished from a sharp longsword with dull edges. Blunts have a particular geometry to their edges that make them safer than dull sharps, and have a safer geometry to their points, as well. Blunts are useful for solo practice against pells, for practicing proper cutting mechanics and form, for paired technique practice, and for drilling and sparring at a slightly lower intensity level than would be found at a tournament.

 

Though blunts more accurately model the physics of a “real sword” they are usually stiffer, and their geometry makes them hit harder than feders, which is why the former are the preferred competitive tool.

 

3: Sharps. Fairly self-explanatory, sharps are swords that have a sharpened edge, designed to cut. These are useful to the modern fencer in calibrating the effect of their cuts on rolled tatami mats or against other cutting mediums, as well as for attuning oneself to the feel and flow of a “real” sword. They can also be used in very controlled paired techniques practice, as the dynamics of a blunt edge and the sharp edge can be remarkably different. Even being in the proximity of a sword with a sharp edge designed to cut can have an effect on the way one approaches training with the other sword types.

A good choice for a starter sword are the VB models available at Purpleheart. They sell feders and “techniques feders” that have a more sword-like profile without the schilt. At this point, I do not advocate the purchase of wooden or synthetic swords, as the money spent is more useful when put toward the purchase of steel. Woodenswords.com.

 

 

 

 

There are of course other vendors, such as Castille Armory, Regenyi, Ensifer, Arms and Armor, and many others. It is up to you to find the style of sword you like, and that suits your goals. The swords pictured here are just suitable for starting out, but ultimately, a good quality steel sword will be a big purchase, so think carefully before you buy.

 

4. All the other gear

Of course after you have a mask, gloves, and a sword, you can start accumulating your other gear. Keep in mind your ultimate goal; if you’d like to compete at HEMA events, you’ll need some kind of padded jacket, hard protection for elbows, knees, and throat, a cup and sometimes a plastic plastron. Shins and forearms also need to be covered at some events. It’s best to have all of it, just in case.

 

Of course, there are ways to practice and study even without any of this, but good gear is a good starting point to study.

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