“Fencing pants do not give you extra hit points. They are not a magic item that help you level up.”
A return to our fictional blog series about Oliver Fitzgerald and his HEMA adventures …
My gambeson’s too hot, my gorget’s too tight, and my mask is cutting off my air supply; not to mention the fact that my sword has gained at least two kilos in weight and my gauntlets are flopping on the end of my fingers like clown shoes. There’s no way I can fight with this stuff.
And it all seemed fine when I used it yesterday.
But yesterday I wasn’t warming up for my first ever interclub tournament.
‘I’m not ready.’
our sartorially challenged squire in his terrifying tracky daks
‘Yes, you are.’ Master Raske sounds bored but then we’ve had this conversation about a million times already. “I wouldn’t be allowing you to compete if I didn’t think you were ready.’
‘They’re older than me.’ I look over to the guys in their cool spez jackets and fencing breeches. ‘And you can tell they know what they’re doing.’
Master Raske follows my eyes to the group in the corner discussing, by the sound of the snippets of conversation, the latest superhero movie and precisely what was wrong with it. ‘How?’
‘Well, look at them.’
Master Raske does so. ‘I’m looking.’
It’s not like Master Raske to be so obtuse. ‘They’ve got the pants,’ I explain. ‘The awesome fencing pants and all I’ve got is some old trackie daks. Why are you laughing?’
He’s more than laughing, he’s completely breaking up. ‘News flash, Oliver,’ he says when he can speak again. ‘This is a tournament not a fashion parade. Clothes do not maketh the man.’
the cool guy in their pants. these chaps do know what they’re doing, but these skills are not dependent on their pants. some pants help, though. don’t fight without pants.
‘Fencing pants do not give you extra hit points.’ He’s still chortling. ‘They are not a magic item that help you level up to the next grade.’
‘I know that.’ I’d get offended only don’t think it would work. ‘I know it’s not a role playing game. It’s just that, isn’t it only good fencers who have all the gear?’
‘But? What do they have then?’
‘Skill, experience. Focus on what’s important.’
I’d roll my eyes except that always makes me feel like they’re about to drop out of my head. ‘I mean, what gear do they have?’
‘Mask, gauntlets, box, gorget, gambeson, elbows…’
‘Not that.’ He isn’t getting what I mean but at least it’s taking my mind off the fact that the pools are going up soon. ‘Everyone has that. What do the really good fencers have?’
‘Lots of swords.’ He looks down at the bag at his feet. ‘More swords than they should be able to use. Good gauntlets.’ There’s a pause while he considers that. ‘That still need repairing or breaking in or that they need to get back off a student they’ve just lent them to. A gambeson that qualifies as a biological hazard because they didn’t air it out after the last tournament.’
You came here to fight? Weird, I just came here for the cool pants
This last point is unfortunately very true. ‘What about a mask?’ I say. ‘You told me the first piece of gear I should buy is a mask.’
‘After a training sword, yes, that’s right.’
‘So I can paint it like Ironman.’ I fiddle with the plain school mask I’m wearing. ‘I’m sure I’d fight heaps better if this was painted like Ironman.’
Master Raske face palms. I don’t think we’re on the same wave length here. ‘I didn’t suggest you buy a mask so you could paint it like Ironman. Were you planning to put gold highlights on your fencing pants?’
This is an awesome idea. ‘Can you get them in red?’ I ask. ‘That would really work if you could get them in red.’
Master Raske double face palms. ‘I’m not sure I can take much more of this. How about you go and see what pool you are in.’
It’s the second. Instant relaxation as I realise this means I’m not fighting for another hour. And I now can take my—unfortunately not painted like Ironman—mask off. ‘But what do I do now?’
‘Now,’ says Master Raske, taking my mask and sword and sitting me down on a bench. ‘We are going to discuss what’s important, and not important, about your first HEMA gear.’
Now THESE are some cool fightin’ pants. All fighting pants should have a silk embellished codpiece
HEMA gear: some first steps …
So what are you here for? To learn a martial art? Fitness? Competition? This advice really isn’t going to be useful unless we know what you want to do. My HEMA is not your HEMA. So one size fits all advice isn’t likely to be any more use than a stinky oversized gambeson.
You don’t know yet? Fair enough. You’re just getting started – you don’t know exactly what you want to get out of HEMA, all you know is that swords are cool. Which they are. But immediately after you get a basic training sword/waster/simulator (depending on your budget), you’re going to need some basic protective gear so you’re not borrowing someone else’s stuff all the time.
Key risk areas in HEMA are head, hands and joints – in that order. Those parts of our bodies are fragile – treat them with care! So you’ll need a mask, some decent gauntlets, and a gorget. Because you don’t want to be injured; it really cuts down on training time.
Mask, Gloves, Gorget
Any three-weapon fencing mask should be fine for HEMA. Newton rating is irrelevant – that only refers to the bib. Level 2 mesh however, is good if you can get it. Don’t buy something super cheap, it’ll get chewed up. Just make sure it fits well. Most online sources now have excellent resources to determine your fit.
Gauntlets are a big area. Most HEMA people have far too many gauntlets, and for good reason. Hands are super fragile and get hit a lot. But dexterity is very important in unarmoured styles – hence the constant search for something that combines dexterity and protection. Don’t even start talking to me about the Progauntlet – I prefer unicorns, they’re less mythical.
One thing that we have a lot of experience in HEMA so far is what sucks to use and will get you hurt. Here are a list of BAD ideas for hand protection, and their accompanying injuries:
The HEMA Hall of Shame
*Motocross gloves: many nasty injuries associated with these, they offer almost no protection.
*Mail gauntlets (that’s “chainmail” to the uneducated): Just say no! I had a finger opened to the bone through them.
*lacrosse gloves: kinda OK for plastics, and they last well. They’re made for large sticks, not narrow blades, so they are often bulky and have openings wth little or no protection. Be prepared to mod them to make them safe. You often have pay more for the good versions than they are worth in the end. Many, many HEMA people have had hand breaks using these. I know I’ve been responsible for one (sorry Alex!). Much less good than you think. Check out this link if you’re thinking of going with them.
*Re-enactment style leather gauntlets: almost never have appropriate thumb protection, so awful thumb breaks and bruises here. Often have poor dexterity as well. Only use them as a stop-gap and be ready to mod. Also, will generally degrade quickly compared to other designs.
*Steel gauntlets: The high end ones are OK, but there are better solutions out there. But what is bad about them is that they fall apart and many low end ones have major vulnerabilities. Add that people will hit your hands hard because they think you’re really well protected, and when they fail it’s spectacular (again, sorry James!). They’re also heavy, and that affects your sword work significantly (think 1 kg dumbbells on your hands). Even the good ones tend to require a lot of maintenance.
To start off with you only need something like the Red Dragon gauntlets. These may not be competition grade (especially for longsword) but they’ll work to begin with for drilling and in house freeplay. DO NOT use them in steel tourneys without major mods or leather covers for the fingers!!!
Now I know you may be going “But I want gauntlets that I can use for everything.” So do I. And as soon as you find them, let me know, we’ll make a killing on them. If you have anxiety about hurting your hands (maybe you’re a musician or someone who works with them) then you’ll need to wait until part two of this post, where we’ll look at broader options. Or check out this link.
buy or make a decent rigid gorget like the one shown here. Or risk Master Raske’s wrath. Seriously, he will stab you. Just not in the neck, he’s good like that.
Finally, you’ll need a gorget. A solid rigid one. Beware a lot of stuff on the market at the moment – they are not rigid and they are very unsafe. Yes, they can be uncomfortable and take some getting used to, but yes, you absolutely need one. You know what’s uncomfortable? A crushed trachea or burst blood vessel in your neck. There has been at least one recorded death in the SCA from use of poor neck protection. Your mask bib WILL NOT DO, even if it is reinforced. The point of a sword can easily ride up under the bib.
Destroyer Modz do a great looking gorget, and Winter Tree Crafts do nice simple steel ones. Or just talk to your local SCA group – they’ll have someone who can knock one up. Or you could make one yourself – they’re a simple project, and there are heaps of patterns available on the net. Like here or here.
That’s about it to get started for training, drilling and light freeplay in a controlled manner. You may need a few more bits and bits and pieces of sports PPE for elbows, knees, forearms, and so forth dependent on your style, but you’ll find these easy to source at sports stores, 2nd hand stores, online classified sales sites and bunch of other places. But don’t forget your box (i.e. cup) boys!
But you know what’s no on this list? Fencing pants. They look cool, but don’t make your HEMA about the pants.
this guy loves his pants
FINAL NOTE: Oliver says he still wants Iron man pants—and who doesn’t—but get the gauntlets, mask and gorget first.