Friday, 29 April 2016

Kit review: Titan Exchange HEMA mask

"The forces generated by larger swords and the contact nature of the sport demand more than a fencing mask with HEMA written on. The Titan mask uses stainless steel mesh that is 20% stronger than a traditional FIE mask, the bib is bigger and uses the contour plus strap to keep your mask locked onto your head."

Recently I upgraded my old style Leon Paul mask for the new "Titan Range HEMA X-change mask", which I'll assume will just be called the Leon Paul "HEMA Mask" from now on.


I ordered this from the main Leon Paul site (rather than the Leon Paul Australia site, which doesn't seem to work for me). It was a breeze to order thanks to a well thought out online ordering system. Postage wasn't expensive and it arrived in New Zealand from the UK is less than a week. There were email updates as the order was processed and the courier tracking system worked nicely.


Many pros for this mask:
    Firstly it's significantly stronger than my old Leon Paul mask. If I take my old mask in my hands and press on the sides I can easily flex the mesh on the sides. If I take the new HEMA mask it's practically impossible. I think this speaks to a much stronger mesh.

    The mesh extends much further around the sides and chin replacing the somewhat dubious protection of bib with that a solid mesh. This is definitely another plus in terms of head protection.

    The bib appears to be more firm and substantial. Poking myself in the throat with a (blunt) dagger is much more comfortable with this bib.

    Take out these inserts
    I ordered the extra high impact padding which is pretty smartly arranged and probably the biggest plus for me of the mask. It's definitely more substantial at all the normal points at the chin, forehead, side of the throat and across the top of the head. This all velcros in and can be quickly rearranged. Not only does it come with beefier padding it also comes with extra inserts that allow customise your padding arrangements. You can remove the extra padding to give you more ventilation and visibility when drilling in low impact situations but then add it back in when you are sparring for extra padding. The fact that it can be moved around also lets you arrange it to where you want, filling in gaps or double padding as required. If you're feeling squeezed in one arrangement, simply rearrange it to suit you. Pretty cool.

    Full padding
    Light padding

    Finally, it's a got a little cord for tying around the back of your neck to prevent the mask coming off, presumably in a grappling or gripping situation. This wasn't much of a problem to me previously, Leon Pauls back of mask strap pretty much makes this very difficult to pull off, but it's a nice touch.


    The least interesting thing to me is the x-change bib. To be honest I've not even tried removing it. I've never had a problem cleaning the fabric bib on my masks before: run a small sink of warm water, add a small amount of washing powder and scrub with a brush until it's all clean. Simple really and I've never understood what was complicated about this. Asides from not really understanding the point of the x-change system and resenting slightly the extra cost, it's really not a big negative.

    This brings us to the cost, it's a very expensive mask. I could almost buy four cheap masks for this price. However, for the sake of something I'll use every single time I train I'm happy to pay extra for small but significant increases in quality and convenience. I've certainly bought cheap gear before and I'm glad that I'm moving beyond that. 


    If you've got the money it's definitely worth it. Seems to offer an overall increase in terms protection and convenience without any significant negatives. I'm a fan.

    Wednesday, 27 April 2016

    10 simple tips for improving HEMA sparring

    Shamelessly inspired by this article:

    1. Game

    I agree that relaxation is important. Being tense means you're thinking about being tense and not smiting the other guy. One of the simplest ways I've found to do this is to play more. This means treating sword fighting more like a game than a serious life and death situation because the only thing in danger in our pretend sword poking is our egos. Here are a whole bunch of games to help induce a relaxed mindset.

    2. Train fast and get faster

    Not many sword fighting sources have ponderous complex actions but rather lots of simple actions done at the correct time and measure very, very fast. Want to be fast? Then recognise that what you are doing now is actually slow and do specific drills to improve your explosive speed. Just try this and see what I mean:

    • Throw a glove in the air and do as many cuts as you can before it falls. Go as fast as you can while maintaining good body mechanics. If you're loosing good mechanics than slow it down a notch. This is your current max speed.
    • Work at this for a week
    • You'll find your number of cuts with good mechanics has increased in the same period of time
    • You'll realise that your original speed was actually slow and this is your new normal speed
    • This will be more immediately useful to you as a fencer than most "slow play" exercises I can think of.

    3. Block your opponent

    It's simple: if you don't want to be hit then always ensure that your sword is between you and your opponent. They're holding the sword that way because they want to hit you from there so don't let them. Be a dick about it and don't "give" them openings, always place your sword blocking the line your opponent is threatening. Don't have a "neutral" fall back position, have your position always be blocking their sword. This means that they will either have to feint (and give you a tempo to attack them) or change position to strike a new opening (and give you a tempo to attack them).

    4. Stick your point in their face

    If given the choice of position to hold, choose a point forward position and ensure your point is sticking towards their face. This is because a thrust using just the hand/arm is just about the fastest action you can perform and if you are blocking (as above) and opponent is kind enough to give you measure and a thrusting line, you will hit them. Of course, this doesn't mean leaving your sword hanging out there so they can bind it, you can pull the hand back to your head or knee to make them work to reach it.

    5. Learn body mechanics

    Don't look at the eyes, the hand, the hips, or the shoulders. Look at everything and learn in a fraction of a second what it means. This is largely the point of the postures or guard positions from the sources, to learn a concise summary of what is best/likely to happen from someone holding those positions. Also, learn when body mechanics are important. For example, how that person is holding themselves in long measure (i.e. able to reach you with a step) is huge. Everything prior to this is likely misdirection but this very specific moment will tell you what they intend to do next. While they might be holding a low guard out of measure if they gather into a high guard the second they move into long measure then you don't want to be caught holding a preparation for a low guard.

    6. Know your principles

    Body mechanics, time, measure. Read his intentions from his body mechanics, pick your tempo which determines your where you need to be.

    7. Recognise the True and False Arts

    The True Art is about surviving at all cost in a real fight. You will block your opponents body mechanics, withdraw from any exchange they initiate and only take an opening when you have it for certain using the simplest, fastest and most reliable of actions. Which is kind of boring in a sparring match, let's be honest. The false art is about upping the risk to yourself by trying to encourage your opponent to attack into your prepared positions with openings, trying to turn the initiative against them, deploying fancy multi-stage actions and feinting liberally. This is more fun but more likely to kill yourself. Be able to switch between the two depending on whether you are sparring for fun or for more serious purposes.

    8. Actually hit the other guy

    A key difference I see in new fencers that denotes success are between those that learn to actually hit the other guys and those never actually hit the other person. It's something instilled in most of us from an early age: you don't hit other people. Watch your training. When drilling or completing exercises are you actually hitting the other guy? If not then modify your training to do this. Two things you can do about this I find. Firstly get accurate so that you're always hitting somewhere that your comfortable hitting, i.e. mask, torso etc. Secondly not hitting the other guy often stems from a lack of willingness to step into measure, often people cut at long measure in the hope their opponent will step into measure for them. Practice stepping from long measure, into measure with the cut and then immediately stepping out to long measure again.

    9. Be on the balls of your feet

    Want to ensure your legs are bent? Go on the balls of your feet.
    Want to move more explosively? Go on the balls of your feet.
    Want to move smoothly? Go on the balls of your feet.
    etc etc

    10. Own Long Measure

    This is the place you should live but holding to this position without thought will get you beat up more surely than anything. Many people take this measure position without thinking and this is where they do their thinking. You are one tempo from getting hit at this point. A half tempo if your opponent has noticed your habit and gathers in preparation to you assuming this measure. Often you'll assume the same "thinking" guard position. This means your opponent knows your measure and likely body mechanics. You're practically gifting him a free hit. Break the habit by forming another habit of assuming your normal position then taking a couple of small steps backward. Now you have two tempos to think. If your opponent is the type to automatically step forwards to make long measure then you know they will be stepping forward, which gives you a time to attack.

    Monday, 25 April 2016

    Kit mod: fencing mask padding

    Look, no padding
    Recently I've got into thinking I should do something to my mask to beef it up against those forthright downright blows to the head that Silver is so fond of. It seems to be something that my fencing mask is entirely not built to protect me against, which makes sense, as it's constructed to deflect thin poking things from the front of my face not heavy iron bars from the tops and sides of my head.

    If I look at my mask all the interior padding is around the front along the chin and forehead. What this means is that if I get smacked directly in the face then the mask is both held away from my face but also I'm somewhat padded. There is also padding around the sides up to my ear level but then above this and to the top has nothing. This means if I get hit here the mask isn't really protecting me as essentially the blow just mashes the mesh into my head and it's like it isn't there.

    This is presumably the problem that all these mask overlays look to address.

    I seem to remember that most designs are based off the old sport fencing sabre cover, designed to give coaches a little extra protection from sports sabres.

    Something that's bothered me for a little while and the reason why I've never bought one of these (big caveat here: I've no personal experience of a wrap around protector) it how it is a good idea to have the padding external to your armour, i.e. your mesh.

    You don't often, historically speaking, get the situation whereby you put your padding over your armour because it's kinda stupid. The blow passes through the soft padding, hits your armour which then gets mashed into your head. What tends to happen is you put your padding below your armour which then supports the armour to dissipate the blow.

    Now, A lot of people use these in HEMA so they must feel like they are working but I can't help but thinking that these have a number of really bad downsides such as:

    • Because they have to cover everywhere without gaps they must totally insulate the head thereby making it much hotter 
    • They must effect your vision as they would cover the area at the corners of your eyes
    • The ones with the integrated neck pieces must effect your head movement
    So not only do I wonder if it might not be more protecting to simply put the padding inside the mask (thereby supporting the mesh to do it's job) but because the mesh forms a continuous barrier you could probably punch holes in your padding to let air through and it also wouldn't sit within your field of vision.

    To this end I cheaply, quickly and without finesse constructed a foam add on to the existing foam padding to cover the top and sides of my mask.

    This is simply some roll mat foam of approximately the thickness of the existing fencing mask foam. I've constructed it with one long piece going from ear to ear and with a second piece directly over the centre of the head to provide extra padding for a direct downwards blow (should also help wedge it in place).

    This is then lightly stitched onto the existing foam insert so that the whole can be velcroed back into place.

    The result is that it fits into place rather nicely, tucking in above the existing padding on the sides.

    When I pop it onto my head I notice a slight reduction in capacity to open and close my jaw but it's only very minor (clearly there's meant to be a little space at the top of the mask).

    To test I popped my mask on and hit myself on the head with an axe handle for a while, both with and without the extra foam, and the difference was a significant improvement with the extra foam.

    Now I'm going to try this in action and I'm also thinking about the best way to punch air holes into the foam to aid cooling but otherwise this is a very cool little mod.

    Thursday, 21 April 2016

    Moving quickly

    "you need the ability to move quickly. When I speak of moving quickly, I'm not talking about how fast you can run a mile. What we are talking about is how quickly can you hurl your entire body weight in a direction in one all out exertion? That is what will determine how fast you can close with an opponent, how fast you can remove yourself from combat, and how fast you can reposition yourself to open up strikes." - Santa Fe Personal Training

    Tuesday, 12 April 2016

    Kit mod: budget club sword rack

    Not really a kit mod but it seems the most appropriate place to put it.

    Every club needs sword racks right? Otherwise you're just tripping over swords all the time. However making them can be something you'd rather put off as it'll tax your basic carpentry skills. However it need not be so. Following from a chat on my club Facebook page I got to thinking how easy it would be to turn a couple of pallets I've got into racks.

    So taking a couple of these small pallets it turned out to be the easiest thing in the word to cut a few panels off and then nail them to the bottom. Hey presto, sword racks.

    They're not pretty or clever but do they hold swords off the ground? Yep. Mission accomplished. They're also relatively light and not something that you'd be scared about chucking in the back of an van or leaving in the rain at a show etc.

    Incidentally if anyone is wondering reciprocating saws are the tool to use when taking pallets apart. I've made a whole pile of things from pallets and using this saw makes it totally zero effort. Making two of these racks took me a total of 30mins from thinking "should I make some racks?" to "huh, better take a picture." In fact it's probably taken me longer to write this than to make the second rack.

    Monday, 11 April 2016

    Kit mod: ventilators for Axel Pettersson Jacket

    I'd like to claim total credit for this idea but I saw this idea first on Facebook and it's genius. Basically put brass eyelets into your gambeson to create little heat vents thus letting the heat out without compromising the defensive aspect.

    I live in the North Island of New Zealand which, for those who don't know, has the same kind of weather as the warmer parts of Spain so most of the year it's just to dam hot to wrap myself up in a thickly layered woolen jacket. So anything I can do to improve things is a win.

    Thinking about this eyelet vent idea that despite the speed of using brass or steel eyelets I discounted them from my reenactment experience: I know that rivets/eyelets in armour can actually be a pain, literally, as if you get struck on one they can be driven into your skin underneath. Also, they tarnish or rust pretty quickly with all that salty sweat coming out. So instead I resolved to sew eyelets in. This has a few benefits the first being that there's nothing to rust, second there's nothing to be driven into the skin and finally, aesthetically, they are practically invisible once done.

    Sewing an eyelet is pretty easy. Firstly you poke (not cut) a hole in the garment with a awl or a nail and then you just sew round the hole using a blanket stitch. Couldn't be easier and I can do about 5 in an hour without stress.

    Now, having a look over the Axel Pettersen jacket, it has very thin fabric just under the arm pits presumably to allow you to raise your hands over your head. This would be the ideal location for vents, I think, easy to punch through and where you get a lot of heat.

    So I've sewn in a group of these little eyelet holes and the result looks quite good. The photo is what it looks like from the inside.

    Anyway I've got to sew some more on the other arm and I might sew some along the back of the jacket. Then it'll be interesting to see if this makes much of a difference.


    I've also sewn some diamonds of holes along the shoulders and then had a good workout in the jacket. It definitely makes a difference, not so immediately stifling and it allows you to cool down much more quickly without taking the jacket off.

    You can also see from this photo how invisible the stitches are against the black.

    Thursday, 7 April 2016

    First fumble with translating...

    So, following from my recent curiosity around the nitty gritty of the meanings in the text I'm studying I've endeavored recently to get off my backside and upskill myself a little bit.

    To this end I've determined that I'll pick a short section of a treatise and have a go translating it. In my favour I have High School level German, conversational Swedish, Google translate and I've picked Mair to start with because much of it is translated already and I can hit CTRL-F to reference this if I get stuck.

    It took a while to get my eye in, but it was surprisingly fluid once I'd got my head around it. Here's my translation of the first play from Mair's Poleaxe:

    "A parrying in the Poleaxe against a Murder Blow

    It happens thus in this play: when you come together, go stand with your right foot forward and hold your Poleaxe in both hands high above your head, the point extended against your opponent. He then stands with his left foot against you and strikes a Murder Blow to your head. So displace him with your Poleaxe on your left side whilst jerking your Poleaxe to your left side and thrusting in to his groin.

    If he thrusts you like this, take it away with your rearmost Poleaxe point. Meantime follow outward with your right leg and hew in with your Poleaxe blade after his face.

    If he displaces you with the handle between both hands, so wind in your rearmost Point between his both arms into his face.

    If he strikes and winds at you like this, step back with your right leg behind and displace between both hands on your haft.

    If he displaces you so, then strike nimbly once more after his upper opening.

    If he strikes you so above, displace with your haft and snatch to your left side and thrust in his face whilst stepping and winding up from him to the rear."

    Now, I haven't refined this yet by hitting anyone with a Poleaxe simulator but it was a fascinating experience to work this puzzle out. 

    Some highlights for me:

    "Indes" which I took to mean "instantly" or "immediately" actually means "meantime" or "whilst." Kind of the same but kind of not.

    "If he strikes you so above, displace with your haft and snatch to your left side and thrust in his face. Immediately step and wind up from him to the rear."

    "If he strikes you so above, displace with your haft and snatch to your left side and thrust in his face whilst stepping and winding up from him to the rear."