BFHS Guidance for restarting classes

Image: BFHS logoThe BFHS Guidance for restarting classes recommends caution in resuming classes in the current COVID-19 pandemic. Wider social distancing restrictions make the resumption of certain practices untenable. The full text of  the Federation recommendations follows.

West Devon Swords will be consulting with members in the next few days with a view to resuming outdoor activities over the Summer.

BFHS General Guidance Regarding the Practice of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) In the COVID-19 Environment

The British Federation for Historical Swordplay is a federation of instructors and clubs rather than a governing body. It does not attempt to dictate what polices its instructors must follow. The officers of the BFHS are not medical professionals or scientists. We can only offer common-sense advice informed by the government’s official policies and analysis of the situation. To this end we have made reference to the guidance given by British Fencing, whose activities are closest to our own – at least in a swordplay-related context.

Note that this guidance refers to training and freeplay with weapons of at least a modest length – cutlass, messer and so forth, or longer. This document does not provide advice on close-quarters weapons such as knives, nor any form of unarmed combat or a grappling and striking component within a swordplay system. Our current advice regarding these activities is that they represent a greater risk than weapons-related training and should not yet restart.

Note also that the guidance presented here does not in any way supersede general advice given by the government, which may vary from place to place. In particular, rules for various activities may be different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to those in place in England, and local restrictions may have been implemented.

This guidance is intended for use only when other factors permit the resumption of indoor training. In the event that this advice clashes with wider restrictions, members should always err on the side of the safest situation. Members must also continue to comply with general government guidance on anti-COVID measures such as hand washing and social distancing.

General Considerations

Once the situation permits, normal fencing activity may resume. Drills, coaching and freeplay may be conducted but always with due regard to distancing. In general, fencing with any weapon of modest length or greater places the participants 1m or more apart, so social distancing can be observed. However, any form of physical contact – such as grappling or disarming techniques – is precluded by social distancing rules.

Members should prepare a risk assessment before resuming any activities and should keep accurate attendance records. These should ideally be maintained by a designated COVID-19 officer and available for inspection upon request. Some venues will insist on seeing these records – possibly unexpectedly. Haphazard administration and record-keeping may not directly indicate an elevated risk but venues may decide those falling below an acceptable standard will not be permitted to train. More importantly, these measures are an effective part of combating COVID-19 and therefore to everyone’s benefit.

Equipment Guidelines

It is not possible to say how much value a nose-and-mouth covering has in terms of the fencing environment. A fencing mask traps droplets, and careful distancing puts fencing in the category of activities where a face covering is not mandatory. The BFHS therefore places the use of face coverings at the discretion of club officials, with the following proviso: A mask may be of benefit when conducting properly distanced drilling and freeplaying, but it most certainly does not make close-conduct activities acceptable in the present conditions.

Members must consider contact transmission outside of drilling and freeplay. Fencers may carefully maintain distancing then put damp kit down where someone else can come into contact with it, or mix kit. Physical activity of any sort inevitably leads to touching the face – wiping away sweat without thinking about it, for example – which can create an avenue for transmission that may not readily be apparent.

It is therefore to be recommended that all kit be cleaned or disinfected on a regular basis, and that masks and other potentially contaminated items be kept separate from the property of other club members. This is not really a COVID-specific recommendation; members should keep their own kit clean out of regard for others, and club kit needs to be kept in good condition. Care should be taken that products intended to clean kit do not damage it or leave a residue that can be harmful to users.

Equipment should not be shared between fencers without being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and even then masks should not be used by more than one person. ‘Club kit’ may be assigned to a single user if appropriate, but it may be advisable to restrict the number of new starters or club kit users during the current Pandemic.


Group sizes must conform to government guidelines and any regulations imposed by the venue. It may be necessary to subdivide a large class and train at different times in order to keep the number of participants within acceptable limits.

Activities must be modified to comply with social distancing. With most fencing activities this requires no change, as distancing is maintained by the proper use of measure. However, disarming, commanding or grappling techniques should be prohibited for the duration of the crisis. Other actions, such as rushing attacks that may result in close contact, should already be discouraged as bad fencing but are now a violations of social distancing rules and must be prohibited.

Members should be mindful of their habits, and take care to implement an alternative to habitual actions such as the end-of-bout handshake. This is an area requiring special and diligent attention, as fencers may have years of habit to break.

As with previous advice, the BFHS recommends proceeding slowly and carefully, and advises our members to temper their eagerness to fence with caution. In the longer term, COVID-19 will be brought under control more quickly, and more normal conditions will resume sooner, if we err on the side of caution now.

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