I have recently had the opportunity to do play with the Black Fencer “sharp simulator” longsword. This is a rather odd-looking item, with serrated edges (very reminiscent of some traditional Indonesian and Australasian swords!), but these serrations are a key part of the purpose of this training sword: to simulate the “bite” when sharp swords come together in the bind.
This review: motivation and transparency
Black Fencer gave my school a pair of these “sharp simulator” longswords for review and 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 received these longswords 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.
The dimensions are as follows (taken from the Black Fencer website):
- total length: 126 cm
- blade length: 95 cm
- weight: 1.32 kg
This is broadly in line with the standard Black Fencer longswords.
When two sharp blades come together with force, they “bite” a little. Now, I must be perfectly honest: although I have done quite a lot of test cutting and solo flourishing with sharp swords, I have not had the opportunity so far to do any fencing against an opponent with both of us using sharp swords. As a result, I have no experience of what sharp longswords do in the bind, although I have read much of Roland Warzecha’s work, and have also watched the “Sharp Longsword Sparring Experiments” video by RJ McKeehan and Sean Franklin, and have read their article associated with the video. As a brief summary, Roland has found that sharp swords “bite” quite a lot, while RJ and Sean found that at higher speeds there is a bit less “bite” than Roland suggests, although there is still a “bite” in some situations.
I have found something very similar with these swords by Black Fencer. When two of these “sharp simulator” swords come together in the bind, if the actions are slow, then the “bite” is strong and the swords remain “stuck” together. However, if the actions are faster, then there is a bit of a “bite”, but the swords do not “stick” together quite as much as they do at slower speeds.
The “bite” occurs when the two edges come together, as the serrations catch on each other and prevent the edges from slipping up or down against each other. However, if you can cut with your edge onto the flat of your partner’s sword, then there is no “bite”, and you are free to thrust straight forward as described in the source material.
If the edges have come together, and the “bite” has happened, then to perform some kind of winding action such as the Zornhaw Ort, the “bite” must be released before your sword can move. If you don’t release the “bite” first, then as you lift your strong towards your opponent’s weak, your opponent’s sword will “stick” to yours and will move with it; the result will be that the swords will still have more or less the same relationship to each other, but the bind will now be located somewhere else in space, instead of being directly in front of you.
This experience helps to illustrate some of the details in the source material when describing winding actions, such as “turn your short edge to his blade”, an action that involves turning your long edge away from his edge, turning your flat against his sword as you move to the new position, and finally turning the short edge against his sword as your sword comes into place ready to thrust.
The sword is just as flexible as the standard Black Fencer longswords. If you want to use these tools to practise your winding thrusts, make sure you wear the appropriate protective equipment for the intensity at which you are training.
The “sharp simulator” longsword is a little more expensive than the standard Black Fencer longsword. This seems reasonable, as there is presumably more effort and time needed in manufacture, to make sure that the serrated edges are still smooth and free of any burrs or sharp places. It is by no means an expensive sword and is still less than 100 euros for a good training tool.
The finish and quality is up to the usual standard you would expect from Black Fencer.
If you would like to have an experience similar to that of working with sharp swords, but cannot afford a sharp sword of your own (or if you don’t want to expose your own sharp sword to damage), or if the legal environment in your country is predisposed against the ownership of sharp swords, or simply if you don’t want to take the risks of working with sharp swords, then these are an excellent solution. They will give you a safe environment and as close an experience to the use of sharps that you will be able to have, without buying a pair of sharp swords and using them with a partner, with all the attendant risks thereof.
I would certainly encourage clubs and schools to invest in a pair of these. The cost is not great: perhaps less than two decent CEN level 2 masks, or about the same as a single steel sword to lend to club members. This should not be bank breaking for a club, and it will allow all the members in the club to have the experience of how the edges “bite” each other. It will no doubt lead to members learning the details of winding actions more quickly and with more enthusiasm, once they can feel the difference between blades that slide against each and blades that “bite” in the bind.
I like these very much and find it very interesting to work with them, and thought provoking as well.
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.