This is a follow-up to my original review of the Black Fencer synthetic broadsword, an item which I have used for training, sparring, and for competition since the summer of 2015. It is a remarkably useful training tool, and I recommend it highly.
This review: motivation and transparency
We have bought a few of these swords for general use in our full-time HEMA school in Glasgow. We have been using them for lessons, drills, sparring, and private tuition in the school ever since.
When we bought these broadswords for our school, the Academy of Historical Arts online shop was also beginning to distribute Black Fencer synthetics in the UK. Although I could have been influenced by the desire to sell more, I only try to stock items in our shop that I’m willing to use myself for sparring and training. Our shop doesn’t usually keep these tools in stock any more due to the fluctuations of currency and supply and demand, although we do sometimes receive requests to order them in.
(Edit: this “motivation” section was added on the 9th of March 2019, as part of an effort to improve the transparency of the various reviews on this website.)
The dimensions are as follows (taken from the Black Fencer website):
– total length: 97.5 cm
– blade length: 82 cm
– weight: Around 1.25 kg
The dimensions (other than weight) are broadly in line with the shape and size of basket-hilted broadswords in museums, such as those in the Scott Collection in the Glasgow Museums.
The weight is a little less than that of original basket-hilted broadswords, of course, because plastic is a lighter material than steel. However, the balance and handling is very reasonable., and the piece handles in a very similar fashion to the original broadswords I have handled in the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.
Since working with a broadsword places quite a lot of stress on the sword arm and the dominant shoulder, it can be quite a shock to the system when beginning to study this kind of system. Therefore, having a slightly lighter training sword will put the body under less stress while learning the correct mechanics, and this will help practitioners to avoid injury. For this reason, it is probably adviseabe for broadsword fencers to begin by using one of these swords, rather than a steel broadsword, to build up the necessary muscles with a slightly lighter tool. If I had had that opportunity myself when beginning to study the broadsword, I could have avoided several pains in my wrist and arm!
The bade has about as much flexibility as you would expect from a training sword made from thick plastic. It is not exactly comfortable to receive a thrust while wearing just a t-shirt, but nor is it particualrly painful to receive a thrust when wearing the appropriate protective gear. It is more flexible than some steel training broadswords I have used in the past; I would say it is perfectly safe for thrusting, as long as you don’t expect it to handle like a fencing foil.
The basket is made from steel, which provides considerable protection for the hands. It is large enough to use while wearing padded gloves, so the sword hand is very safe with this sword! The steel of the basket does deform with hard hits, so it is not bombproof. In particular, the two protruding lugs at the front and top of the basket are quite susceptible to bending under impact, and will probably not remain standing proud of the basket for very long if you use your sword on a regular basis.
If you do as the historical source material says, and perform parries with the fort of the blade rather than with the basket, then the basket will remain in good condition. However, if something goes wrong and you do take a hit on the basket, it will provide more than enough protection for you to avoid injury.
I feel that the price is very fair for a training tool like this. At slightly more than £100, it is still less than half of the price of an entry-level steel broadsword, and the waiting list from Black Fencer is nowhere near as long as for many smiths!
This is an excellent training tool, with the correct kind of dimensions and a good balance. It serves very well to introduce fencers to the broadsword, as the weight makes it usable and safe even while practitioners develop the musculature and mechanics necessary to use a steel broadsword safely without injury to themselves.
When asked what training tool I recommend for people beginning to study the Scottish broadsword, I would recommend this sword from Black Fencer every time.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.