HEMA: Protective Gear

HEMA fighter in full sparring kitYou may be familiar with the all-white kit worn by sports fencers. Historical combat, however, demands greater protection against hits from heavier metal or nylon weapons.

HEMA clubs and competitions will each set their own standards for protective gear; the amount of protection worn in classes, and training sessions will also vary according to the intensity and the weapons used.

We don’t subscribe to the more macho approach that somehow protective gear is for wimps; the safety of oneself and of fellow participants is a shared responsibility and no-one wants avoidable injuries that put at risk family and work responsibilities.

No matter how confident and competent instructors and students may be, accidents will happen, so to save embarrassment, loss of earnings and time at A&E, we recommend a minimum specification of safety gear. A full breakdown will follow in an upcoming post; you can also find this in our HEMA Safety Rules and Recommendations (PDF download, 1MB).

There is an on-going debate about the merits of steel over nylon over wooden weapons for training and sparring. There is no simple, objective scale dictating the safety equipment required for each type; there is no quantifiable scale of risk for each type; therefore no specific protective gear should be discarded simply for the type of weapon being used.

General requirements for protective kit

It is up to the instructors and students to decide at what intensity the activity requires protective kit. Ultra-slow motion drills with certain weapons and techniques may be comfortably carried out without kit. Wherever there is higher risk, then protective gear should be worn as a matter of routine.

For medium intensity drills, realistic hitting drills on target, or ANY level of sparring, appropriate kit should be worn. This generally means no exposed bare skin, including at the nape of the neck, the back of the shins, the palms, and the wrists.

Cuts, scrapes and bruises are NOT a necessary part of studying HEMA; repeated drills with certain weapons and techniques, even at the lowest intensity, may recommend the wearing of some protective kit; for example, dagger disarms where wooden weapons may likely bruise the wrists and forearms.

Specific recommendations for protective kit and weapons

As the market for HEMA products expands, there is an increasing number of suppliers, both UK-based and overseas, supplying equipment of varying quality.

The club instructors will be able to indicate certain preferred lines and suppliers.

Note that West Devon Swords has a trade account with The Knight Shop (and subsidiary brands The HEMA Shop, The Sword Shop and others), and can arrange purchase of some items at discount against retail list prices.

Wholly subjective, partial and non-binding advice may be offered by instructors in response to questions about particular lines or suppliers. Students are in no way obliged to act on it. West Devon Swords is under no obligation to accept particular kit or weapons into club sessions, subject to the safety checks outlined in our safety document.