Safety and prevention of injuries is an important concern in any martial art. Injuries will happen, but if practiced responsibly, HEMA need not be any more dangerous than any comparable contact sport. Safety measures need to be tailored to the type of exercise one wishes to undertake. Light sparring with shinais does not need anywhere near the amount of protective gear as does full contact with steel swords. It is up to practitioners to make sure they are always on the safe side of the safety vs. comfort tradeoff.
In full or semi contact sparring, the necessity of a solid (1600N) fencing mask should go without saying.
The need of gloves is also self-evident, but the task of finding good gloves for HEMA weapons sparring has proven more elusive.
Gloves: As of 2012, there are a few satisfactory commercial offers. Nevertheless, injuries to the hands
remain the main safety concern in HEMA.
Sparring gloves offered for use in HEMA known to us are:
Both products are still comparatively new, with limited injury statistics available.
But based on the 2012 Swordfish injury report, it seems that the mandatory use of either of the above glove types has greatly reduced the number of hand injuries.
The report lists 27 injuries, all that came to the attention of the on-site doctor, including trivial ones. These included eleven hand-injuries.
Of these, four were less than trivial, with two fractures (IDs 1, 27) and two possible fractures or dislocations (13, 20). By comparison, the 2011 statistics reported six finger fractures, some of them rather severe, and most of them involving people wearing lacrosse gloves.
Use of lacrosse gloves in longsword fencing is comparatively widespread.
Lacrosse gloves offer decent protection for light sparring. But, as discussed above, comparatively severe hand injuries have occurred in full contact sparring.
Lacrosse gloves should not be used in full contact sparring without custom modification, especially improving protection of the little finger.
It seems also that the Lacrosse community is less than thrilled with the use of their gloves in HEMA: they think that it is our job to come up with our own equipment, and fairly so.
Anyone using such gloves for fencing must be aware that this is not the use these gloves were designed for.
Suppliers: Perfectly suited for HEMA are standard protectors for groin, knees, elbows, shins, lower arms, etc. as well as standard fencing masks.
In addition, there are certain areas that need custom-made protectors for our purposes.
Apart from the hands (discussed above), this includes especially protection of the throat and of the back of the head.
We are aware of the following commercial suppliers offering products designed for HEMA:
Then, there is Akademia Broni (Polen)
with a selection of equipment not designed for HEMA but selected for its utility in HEMA weapons sparring. For orders combining more than one manufacturer (e.g. SPES and PBT), useful resellers of the above products include
trainingsschwerter.de and for Switzerland
Also seen are various convincing custom solutions (gambesons, gauntlets etc.) made and sometimes offered for sale by individuals.
Roger Noling’s Hroarr has a page about HEMA equipment.
People interested in an overview of available equipment in list form should consult that.
It is not our aim to maintain a list of sword replica makers or resellers.
Listed here are known sparring weapons suitable for semi-contact free fighting, in four categories:
- “modified shinai”: a standard shinai (bamboo sword for Kendo) with an added crossguard; this is “DIY”, use google.
These were mostly in use during about 2004 to 2008, before high quality sparring swords became available, but they remain of interest (to some) for casual, low-risk sparring.
- synthetic (plastic) wasters
- Federn (i.e. a ‘revived’ type of 16th-century longsword simulator),
- Regenyei Feder (also sold by PBT)
- Pavel Moc Fechtschwert
- Ensifer Feder
- Berbekucz Feder
- Arms & Armor Training Items
- The Hanwei Feder has been known to break and has caused a number of injuries, and is therefore banned from some full-contact tournaments. This concerns the model as of 2012, Hanwei has been known to react to problems by improving their products.
- steel sword simulators (i.e. modern attempts at approximating the geometry of a sword while maintaining optimal blade flexibility).
These represent the costliest and most ‘realistic’ option; due to their flexibility, they should be as safe in the thrust as a Feder, but their heavier weight
results in more powerful striking. They offer a valuable alternative to the current Federfechten trend, suited for semi-contact sparring but not necessarily for full-contact tournament fighting.