After several years development, Red Dragon’s component-based HEMA training weapon has emerged from its Eastern European partner’s forge and is on sale through The Knight/HEMA/Sword Shop for a bargain opening offer price of £150.
Under the key word ‘concept’, this puts it firmly in the budget practical sword category, although RD is hinting at a regular price in mass production of £250.
The word ‘concept’ is all important here; this is clearly sold as a working prototype. Taking its cue from the Rawlings synthetic line of HEMA training weapons, RD aims to release a customisable version with a range of different pommels, guards, grips and blades – all interchangeable by simply unscrewing the pommel.
All of which is fine in principle, but how is it in the hand?
First impression – it’s short and it’s light. Short, not in the blade length, but in the grip which can be described as a modest hand-and-a-half (18.5cm) at best, with a trim, spherical, steel pommel. Compared to the monster grips on the Hanwei (34.5cm) and Kingston (31.75) and Windlass budget (28cm) feders, the grip is tiny. This does odd things to the balance (more below). I discussed with the Knight Shop rep the possibility of lengthening the tang, or, more likely, having an optional extended ‘tear drop’ pommel to shift the point of balance further back.
The blade is a comfortable length 101.5cm (versus 94cm, 96.15cm, 97cm), with almost no distal taper from shoulder to tip, but it is not wide; there’s not a lot of steel here. That brings two concerns. One, the point of balance is all the way back near the shoulders of the schilt. Two, there’s not a lot of metal and the resilience of this first batch gives me pause.
The one I handled had been played around with a little, the neatly rounded-off edges showing very little damage or filing. However, looking down the length of the weapon, the blade had already taken on three distinct curves left, right, left, in the top half. This particular blade wasn’t particularly stiff or soft, and took a decent curve with resistance in the top third. Out of courtesy I didn’t lean on it as hard as I’d want.
It had also taken a slight, but visible, off-set at the shoulder, suggesting the tang isn’t thick enough or hard enough. I have a Hanwei feder with this issue, I don’t like straightening it as the micro-fractures this creats will one day go San Andreas and fail.
The tip of the Concepts feder is a neatly rounded-off rectangular block, as seen in some training sabres of old. You can argue whether it is genuinely safer than a rolled tip or flat tip with a rubber cap, but this protoype tip is small and flat, although RD state that fatter tips are planned on future models.
While the overall weight of 1330g is not significantly different from the other budget feders (1360g, 1672g, 1389g), it feels much lighter and more nimble in the hand. The point of balance will be an issue for some fencers used to longer grips, less so for those who favour hand-and-a-half style grips.
How does it compare? Not having sparred with it, or even hit it against another steel, this may be too early to say. Feeling better than our hideous pair of Hanwei’s, lighter than both a Kingston and a Windlass, the Red Dragon may be an attractive option as a club trainer, IF RD can keep the price down £150 may not be realistic in full production.
However, that itself raises two questions.
Is it robust? On the evidence of the samples so far, probably not. Will it withstand class training? Maybe. I imagine that beginners will like it. Will it survive weekly sparring? Probably not, especially in contact with more robust feders and longswords – I suspect my Regenyei feder will chew this up for supper in no time. Will it pass inspection for intensive use in tournaments? Almost certainly not (but that’s not RD’s stated ambition).
Is it ready? I have to say no. I find it a little cheeky to be selling a prototype, even at £150, in this condition, when there is much talk of changing specifications in so many areas. I think I’ll wait for the second batch. RC
Red Dragon HEMA Concepts Federschwert
Total length: 128 cm
Blade length: 101.5 cm
Grip length: 18.5 cm
Weight: 1.33 kg
Blade thickness (tip): 5.8 mm
Blade width (tip): 0.95 cm
Blade thickness (base): 5.8 mm
Blade width (base): 3.8 cm
Point of Balance (PoB): 8 cm
Blade: High Carbon Steel