So, as promised, the most recent of my recent adventures: I sparred with steel and survived the experience.

A short background for people who have no idea what I’m going on about (people who do have an idea what I’m going on about, please ignore this part because I’m sure it will be a terrible explanation). I spend my Sunday evenings learning and practising HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts. Or, I spend my Sunday evenings learning and practising hitting people with swords. HEMA is a lot more than that – it’s a scholarly pursuit and really interesting with my historian hat on – but let’s face it: when it gets to the end of the week what you really want to do is pick up a sword, learn how you’re supposed to use it and then try and hit people with it (using those techniques you just learned, of course).

My club, Virtus Sword School (Cardiff Chapter), focus on learning German Longsword, predominantly from a translation of Joachim Meyer’s 1570 treatise. We dabble in other things, but this post is about longsword so I’ll stick to that for now.

I’ll put a couple of links at the bottom of this post for actual information about HEMA and Virtus Sword School, which is the club I train with.

Back to the freaking out over a steel sword. Again for the people who have no idea what I’m going on about, they’re not sharp. But my god they can pack a punch. And the feeling is very different to what I’ve done before, which is sparring (and training) with a nylon synthetic sword.

The biggest difference I noticed (although apparently for some people *cough*Dan*cough* this isn’t an issue) was the weight. The feder feels a lot heftier than the synthetic. Being, in the words of my friend and instructor, “a bit of a shrimp”, I felt incredibly ungainly trying to wield it. My synthetic is too long for me seeing as they’re one-size-fits-all (non-shrimpy people), but it’s light enough that it doesn’t really make a difference. Besides maybe a tendency to over-swing, but that’s just my poor form. With the steel, however, I could really feel the extra couple of inches affecting me. With practice, I’m sure I’ll get used to it, though. And I’ll (hopefully!) get stronger, and my jacket will become less new-jacket stiff.

Which brings me neatly onto the other major difference between sparring with synthetic and steel. The kit.

For my past four months or so sparring with synthetics (including one tournament, in which I proudly beat one of my ~15 competitors) I’ve been wearing a t-shirt, trackies, fencing mask and Red Dragon protective gloves with a pair of normal fingerless gloves underneath. (Shrimp, remember? The smallest size of the HEMA sparring gloves we use are too big for me). Occasionally I’ve added my Steampunk costume leather vambraces as a bit of extra forearm protection.

Cool.

Now, when I talk about kit for sparring with steel, what I wore on Sunday is the tip of the iceberg. Basically, I wore what I usually wore, plus the aforementioned stiff new jacket. I’m wearing it right now as I type this because wearing it is the only way I’m going to get it at all more flexible. It is very sweaty.

 

I guess I’m quite lucky getting into HEMA at the point in time I am, as women’s cuts for things such as jackets are just beginning to become more common. I’m sure you can appreciate, having something that actually fits you is a major plus in the ‘likely to protect you’ column. Hopefully affordable shrimp-sized gloves will follow.

To fight with steel in anything but the people-I-know-in-my-club capacity I’m sticking to for now, the necessary protection is at least twice that. Extra plates on the outside of the jacket (particularly mine, which we found doesn’t have as much padding on the sleeves as the ones the guys have. That isn’t a difference between the men’s/women’s cuts, just different brands of jacket), knee and shin guards, throat and groin protection, addition to the mask to protect the back of the head. This shit is serious.

I’ve got to admit it feels pretty badass to stand there all armoured up with a sword that feels a lot more like a sword. Which is the other difference, really. For all the training and techniques and historical references, a synthetic sword does often feel more like a toy than a weapon. Not so with the feder. Just from messing up drilling I have a cut on my finger (not serious at all, but a cut all the same. I got my distance wrong and somehow walked straight into the end of Dan’s sword. Not a euphemism, just a really stupid mistake).

A little aside on the messing up in drilling note – I also somehow managed to get the rolled tip of my borrowed feder stuck in Dan’s hair, accidentally giving him his first haircut in three years. Oops.

So it definitely feels like a step up, and it’s one I’m really excited to make. Now to save up enough money to get a feder of my own…

Bis Bald,

Cap’n

HEMA Coalition

HEMA Alliance: What is HEMA?

Virtus Sword School

 

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