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. …

HEMA: Safe conduct of classes

Catling and Pritchard practising sword and bucler at May Melee 2014Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is the serious study and live application of combat techniques from the early Medieval period, through the Renaissance, to the late Nineteenth century.

HEMA is not a fantasy activity like LARP (Live Action Role-playing), it is not historical re-enactment, nor is it choreographed stage fighting. It should be treated the same as other martial arts such as boxing, karate, ju-jitsu and the like. This means a constant and strict regard for the risk of injury, with appropriate steps (instruction, donning protective gear) to mitigate and minimise such risk. …

HEMA – is it safe?

Messengers class training longswordStudying historical combat techniques with heavy weapons is rewarding and fun, but, like most other martial arts, inherently risky. We all have proper jobs to go back to, families to look after, bills to pay; things that are difficult enough without the added burden of trips to A&E, bandages, splints, crutches and the long-lasting effects of concussion (genuinely no laughing matter). We are not 24/7 Medieval or Renaissance warriors. This is a hobby more than a lifestyle choice. …

In praise of plastic

WDS at Dartington Community Dayby Robin Catling.

From Pirates of the Caribbean, to Star Wars and even Transformers, it seems every other movie poster features a character with a sword; there’s been a slew of TV and online ads featuring Olympic fencers in action, TV shows such as Arrow and the Musketeers keep the skill and the romance of the sword alive. It’s no wonder even the smallest children want to give it a try. …

New to Fencing: Start Here

What is fencing?

Fencers on pisteModern fencing is a martial art derived from older forms of duelling with swords. The objective is to hit your opponent without being hit yourself. Modern fencing is a competitive form that emulates a duel – the weapons are blunt and a secondary objective after winning the bout is not to injure anyone. Read more…

The fencing experience – a newcomers’ guide

LSFC club sessionBefore you even walk into any fencing club or tournament, you’ll hear the bright sound of clashing steel. This is both combat martial art and sport.

The modern sport of fencing has three different events: foil, epée and sabre, each with its own history, target area and rules. The goal in all three weapons is to hit the opponent on the valid target area without being hit yourself… Read more…

Fencing: Does it hurt?

Catling - epee competitionNot if done properly. Although executed at speed, a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the shoulder. The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex of the blade. Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can occasionally deliver painful blows, however. Fencing *is* a martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every now and again. They are rarely intentional. The most painful blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet acquired the feel of the weapon. Read more…

Safety First

Epee maskFencing is a safe sport. Regulation equipment conforming to safety standards and common sense fencing helps to maintain our good safety record. Read more…

Where next?

If that has piqued your interest, try the following posts:

Thinking of starting fencing?

What is the Beginners Fencing Course?

Beginners' courseWest Devon Swords runs a number of beginners’ courses.

The beginners course is designed for people who are interested in learning to fence but have no experience. It is a basic introduction to either foil, épée or sabre fencing.

Students will be assessed at the end of the course and signed off at the equivalent of British Fencing Grade One, mostly as a safety measure to ensure all beginners are safe to release into the club sessions.

What do I wear for fencing?

Masterclass - footworkWear suitable clothing as for any kind of anaerobic sport. That means:

  • Trainers (not outdoor shoes) with some grip
  • Loose-fitting trousers (not tight denims or shorts); you need the legs covered, but you also need to stretch and bend
  • Any top will do as long as you can get a fencing jacket over it. Crop tops are not recommended as fencing jackets sometimes ride up and expose skin at the sides
  • Bear in mind that fencing is a sport which involves layers of safety clothing and you WILL sweat even in winter!

Think about bringing a towel, a change of clothes and even a drinks bottle.

The club reserves the right to turn away anyone dressed inappropriately for fencing.

Safety First

Epee mask

Our guidelines on safety are under constant review.

Also, beginners may appreciate the reassurance under Does it Hurt?

In short: no.


Fencing is a safe sport. Regulation equipment conforming to safety standards and common sense fencing helps to maintain our good safety record.

If you are attending classes for the first time, please observe the dress code outlined in What do I wear?

Safety First

  • Always wear a mask when fencing.
  • Occasionally in a controlled lesson, the coach may dispense with the mask while demonstrating a particular point, but this is an exception.
  • Unless the coach says otherwise, the rule is PLAY IT SAFE.

Official Safety Guidelines

A summary of British Fencing Safety Guidelines is available as a PDF document.

Get Adobe Acrobat ReaderGet Acrobat Reader to view PDF documents

The Essential Equipment Guide is available as a PDF document. Indicative prices are correct as at September 2013.

General Safety Rules

Finally, a few common sense precautions. Although they apply to all, they are directed more at the younger fencer whose enthusiasm and exuberance is sometimes difficult to control!

  • First, NEVER wave your weapon about in front of people who aren’t wearing masks.
  • NEVER turn your back on the person you are fencing. This leaves the neck and back of the head exposed. In competition this is illegal and you will be penalised.
  • NEVER remove your mask in the middle of a fight expecting your opponent to stop without warning. The recognised way to stop a fight is to hold up your unarmed hand, palm facing your opponent, and step backwards. Do this BEFORE you take off your mask.
  • Finally, NEVER, NEVER slash at your opponent with your sword; this serves no purpose except to injure. There is no warning or penalty, you will be disqualified from a competition or banned from fencing for dangerous behaviour.
  • Remember, fencing is fun, providing you PLAY IT SAFE.

Safety Equipment

The mask
The plastron
The jacket
The glove