This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 17th April 2015. It has been modified for reposting here.
Many longsword practitioners choose to buy their first feder or training sword from Péter Regenyei at Regenyei Armory. These swords are now ubiquitous throughout the longsword community in Europe, and are becoming more popular across the world. One of the greatest strengths of Péter’s feders is the large number of standard options that you can choose when ordering your sword, to make it just right for you – but this can also lead to confusion if you have not had the opportunity to handle swords with some of the different options.
I have had the pleasure and the opportunity to handle many variations of Péter’s feders. Since I have received many requests for advice from people looking to buy their first feder, I have put together my thoughts on the issue and have produced this article as a point of references for people going through the dilemma of deciding what to order.
A feder is a good option for training tool, as opposed to a “blunt longsword”. The weight and flexibility can make them safer tools – it does not always make such a huge difference for you, but it really does make quite a difference for the people who will be receiving your strikes and thrusts!
Point – Rolled
A feder with the rolled point (possibly even with a rubber archery blunt or a strip of leather added to it, to dampen the force of thrusts further) is probably the best longsword training tool that is available on the market at the moment, in terms of what it lets you do, and in terms of keeping your training partners relatively safe when you land a thrust on them. Even if you do not particularly like the look of a rolled tip, it is worth having one on your sword because of your responsibility to your training partners, a matter of importance about which I have written previously.
Blade – Flexible or Stiff?
It used to be the case that Regenyei feders came with either strong or light blades. Now, the choice has been expanded to include a “medium” blade.
Previously, with just the two choices, I always advised that people choose the heavier blade, because the light blade was too flexible and too liable to snap. Now the heavy blade tends to be incredibly stiff, to the point of being dangerous, and I would now recommend that people choose the medium blade.
The lighter blades are maybe 200 grams lighter, and they do flex rather a lot, making it more comfortable to receive a thrust from one of them. However, due to the lack of stiffness, the blades begin to take a “set” (a permanent bend) very quickly, and this easily develops into an “S-bend” (a bend in one direction, then another bend in the other direction – a very dangerous thing that can eventually lead to the blade snapping in the thrust).
The heavy blades are designed for tournament fencing, and need to withstand incredibly heavy hits, and so they now tend to be quite over-engineered so that they survive the tournament. Unfortunately, this means that they have very little flex, and they are not really safe for using with a training partner. If you thrust someone with one of these blades, there is so little flex that your training partners face a much higher risk of broken ribs or of having their masks crushed.
The medium blade is a perfect middle ground. It is strong enough that it is unlikely to develop the S-bend and snap, while it is still flexible enough that you are not as likely to damage your training partners. This should really be your default and automatic choice unless you have a specific reason for wanting one of the other types of blade.
Blade – Length
The issue of suitable length is difficult, and often quite personal.
There is a definite advantage to having a longer reach, especially if you are a slightly shorter person to start with. As a relatively short person myself, a longer blade can be quite a relief from time to time! However, coming to rely on the reach of a longer blade can lead to bad habits and poor cutting mechanics, along with a host of other problems. Having a longer blade is no substitute for learning to perform techniques properly in the first place.
In my opinion, it is better to choose a blade that is comfortable to wield; and if it is a bit shorter, then it is a wonderful opportunity and reason to learn how to manage and control distance, so that the reach of the blade is no longer a factor on which you rely. Because I often work with one sword with a blade length of 92.7 cm, and another sword with a blade length of around 104 cm, I have learned to manage distance with my body and feet, and therefore the length of whatever sword I happen to be using at any given time is now largely irrelevant to me.
My height is about 167 cm. I find that a 104 cm blade is too long for me, so it has poorer handling characteristics. I suspect my ideal feder would have a blade length of between 95 and 98 cm, and I think this is probably a good option for most people.
Filippo Vadi recommends that the overall length of the sword should be such that it reaches to your armpit from the ground. However, following that advice may give you a blade that is too long to be able to study your chosen system of longsword correctly. Guy Windsor’s article on why “Size Matters” is an excellent summary of the problem that while a sword of a certain length may be suitable for practitioners of one system, it may be entirely unsuitable for practitioners of another system.
Schilt – Broad or Spiky?
With regard to the schilt, I think the broader schilt is much better than the spiky version. It adds about 50-80 grams to the overall weight, but in a very convenient location, so I believe it improves the overall handling of the sword.
Furthermore, the broad schilt gives you significantly more protection for your thumb and fingers – after becoming accustomed to the broad schilt on my own Regenyei feder, and to the reasonably broad schilt on the Albion Meyer, I feel very reticent about using a feder with a spiky schilt, since it simply does not provide the same level of protection for my hand.
People have different opinions with regard to the schilt, but I would recommend to all my own students to get the broader schilt, even if only for the protection it offers.
The crossguard types are mainly cosmetic. It only starts to have any real difference when the terminals start curving in one direction or the other – then it can facilitate traps in winding actions, or it can make life a bit more difficult. I haven’t really had much experience with the S-shaped crossguards; I quite like a good straight crossguard, and so really whatever design you choose, it’s probably going to work just fine for you.
You probably don’t want too long a crossguard, because it can get in the way of your wrist and forearm if it is too long. The Albion Meyer has a crossguard of 28.6 cm, and quite frequently I find that it gets in my way. Something around 25 cm will probably be perfectly usable without being a problem.
In my opinion, it is probably best to avoid getting the siderings on the crossguard. While they do give your hands a little more protection than a simple crossguard, they have two major drawbacks: first, they make it more difficult for you to perform techniques where your thumb rests on the flat of the blade (so about two thirds of the techniques in German longsword!); second, they lull you into false sense of security and you can become lazy about putting your crossguard in the right place to parry things, leading to potential injuries through carelessness.
I know many people who have siderings on their feders, and while these do offer some protection, my observation is that they tend to find they get in the way of proper technique more often than not. I have heard several people say after a few months with the siderings that they wished they had just gone with the normal crossguard, because they have found the siderings to be so limiting.
If your hands are absolutely critical to your ability to earn an income, and you don’t want to risk even some bumps and bruising, then you should look after them with siderings and the best possible protective gloves; but be aware that you will struggle to perform some techniques. If your hands can risk a bit of bumping and bruising, then go without the siderings, as this will give you a better opportunity to learn the art and technical skills properly, which in the long run will give you a much surer and safer defence for your hands.
Alternatively, consider taking a sidering on just one side of the sword. Then you can use your thumb unrestrictedly on the side without any rings, and the ring will be there to offer a bit more protection for the fingers.
Unlike the crossguard, the shape and size of the pommel can make quite a significant difference to the handling of the sword. Generally speaking, I would advise something relatively pear-shaped, nice and round and smooth, so that it is comfortable in your hand. The “standard pear-shaped” pommel is perfectly usable.
Of course, depending on which system of longsword you study, maybe you should not be manipulating the sword by the pommel. Even so, it is better to have a comfortable pommel that does not rub the base of your hand raw with uncomfortable edges.
Unless you know for definite that you have a distinct preference for a specific type of pommel, I would advise going for the basic pear-shaped pommel. It will do everything you ask of it, and it will be relatively comfortable in the hand. It might not be the most exciting to look at, but there is nothing worse than ordering a different shape of pommel for aesthetic reasons only to find that it hurts your hand and renders the sword next to unusable!
Grip – Length
The length of the grip can have an effect on how the sword likes to move in your hands. As a result, you should pick a grip that is suitable for the style of longsword fencing that you practise.
You don’t want a grip that is too short. While it might be perfect for drilling without wearing gloves, or when wearing only some thing gloves, it may be too short for you to use comfortably when wearing padded gloves for sparring. This renders your sword usable only for drilling, not for sparring, which is almost a waste of an investment. The length of roughly three hands (so a distance of roughly one hand in between your own hands while holding the handle) should give you an adequate hold on the sword, even when wearing padded gloves.
By the same token, you don’t want a grip that is too long. With such a grip, your left hand can begin to act as a brake on the sword when you strike, rather than doing anything helpful. With my height of about 167 cm, I find that a 104 cm blade with a 34 cm grip (including pear-shaped pommel) is actually too long for me. As I said previously, the blade is a bit too long, and it has poorer handling characteristics. Furthermore, the grip is also too long, to the point where my left hand often acts as a brake and hinders my striking mechanics – I also sometimes feel some pain in my left wrist, stemming from poor striking mechanics that transfer force up my wrist in an unfortunate fashion. While of course I could suffer from bad striking mechanics with a grip of any length, I find such mechanics most prevalent when my grip is too long, and I see exactly the same problem in my own students and the students that I meet when I attend international events. It is only worth going with a very long grip if your hands are massive, or if you have a very particular reason for choosing a sword like that.
The Albion Meyer has a grip length of 28.6 cm including pommel. This is nice when drilling with bare hands or with light gloves, but I feel this is slightly too short when I am wearing larger, more heavily padded gloves for sparring. My Regenyei feder has a grip of 34 cm including pommel; this is much too long when drilling with bare hands, and still a bit too long when wearing padded gloves for sparring. I suspect my ideal feder would have a grip of 31 cm, including the pommel.
Grip – Wrapping
For the grip, I would advise just going with the standard cord wrapping. It might look prettier with a fancy grip, but over the course of a few months of training, it will receive several hits and may begin to look rather beaten up. Better to plan on having a “work feder”, rather than having a pretty sword that you must worry about keeping in perfect condition.
- blade type: medium
- point: rolled (and add a rubber tip for good measure)
- blade length: 95-98 cm
- schilt type: broad
- siderings: none
- crossguard length: 25 cm
- grip length: 31 cm (including pommel)
- grip wrapping: cord
- pommel type: simple pear-shape
It may seem a lot to think about, especially if this is the first time you are buying a sword. Experienced fencers could debate the subject for hours if you let them! At the end of the day, this is only your first sword, and there will (hopefully!) be many more to come after this one. You need something to get you started, so something cheerful and simple will do the trick.
The sword needs to handle well in your hands. It needs to be safe for the training partners against whom you will use it in training, since they will be the people who receive your cuts and thrusts to the head or body. It should not be a pretty piece that you need to keep in sterling condition, because over the course of training it will be beaten, dented, chewed, and otherwise damaged cosmetically. However, you can remain confident in the overall quality of the sword, because Regeyei Armory makes excellent swords that stand up to a lot of abuse over a long period of time.
The advice in this article has come from my own experience handling and working with several swords from different makers (including goodness only knows how many different swords from Regenyei Armory) over the years, in several different countries and at many different events.
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.