A question that appears regularly in Facebook discussions is exactly this: is this piece of equipment tournament legal?
Before we can answer, we have to parse the question. Is it a genuine question about whether or not a given piece of equipment is permitted for use in tournaments? Or is it a question about whether or not a piece of equipment is any good, but phrased in such a way that it puts the emphasis on its use in tournaments?
Language is important. Our choice of words influences how we think about things, and how other people begin to think about things. There are more and less healthy and helpful ways to think about and therefore to phrase different topics.
If you are asking a genuine question about whether or not a given piece of equipment is permitted in tournaments, then this is quite reasonable. After all, if your ambition is to compete, and if you don’t know if a certain piece of equipment will be permissible or not, then it is reasonable to ask before spending your money on it.
However, there may be different ways to phrase your question. “Is this (item) tournament legal?” is very broad. Are you asking about European tournaments? American tournaments? Australian tournaments? Tournaments in a specific country or even county/state/region? Are you asking if it will be legal in every tournament or just the one event you mean to attend?
If you asking if it will be legal across the board, then how will you handle the answer that some events disallow it? For example, I have fenced in events where the Hanwei feder is explicitly banned, and in other competitions where it was perfectly legal and people turned up with the intention of using precisely this item; both kinds of events in the same country.
Perhaps it would be better to phrase the question as follows: “I would like to attend the (whatever competition) at (this event). I would like to use (this item) in the competition; will this be allowed?”
If your interest in competition is so non-specific that you are not planning to attending any specific event, but would just like to make sure that you are buying a decent piece of equipment, then there is probably a better choice of question. For example, something like: “is (this item) a sensible purchase?” This rephrases the question to be less about tournaments (since you don’t have a specific tournament in mind), and instead places the emphasis on making a good choice. It is hard to disagree with that emphasis!
As a corollary, if someone is asking about whether or not a purchase is sensible, and your answer is whether or not the item is “tournament legal”, then you are not being very helpful. In which tournament(s) is it legal? How does that relate to normal club practices in the region where the person lives? Do they need tournament grade equipment from the very beginning?
I typically train in mask and t-shirt (and trousers, for reasons of modesty). Most of my students train in mask and t-shirt (and usually trousers). This is perfectly acceptable for our regular weekly training sessions, yet it is far from “tournament legal” whenever I run a competitive event. There’s nothing wrong with wearing the correct protective gear for the intensity at which you are training, and if your club practises at a low intensity, there’s nothing wrong with masks and t-shirts (and probably trousers).
Similarly, when I attend competitive events, it doesn’t really matter if my sword is “tournament legal” if all I have for protective equipment is a mask, my t-shirt, and my trousers. I won’t (shouldn’t!) be allowed to participate anyway, because I don’t have enough protective equipment for the high intensity of sparring that occurs in a competition.
Even if I have a jacket and better gloves, I might still not have enough (or the right kind of) protective equipment to take part in certain tournaments. For example, FightCamp requires an 800N underplastron in addition to the jacket; I don’t have an 800N underplastron, so it doesn’t matter if my sword is “tournament legal” or not. Similarly, the Nordic League events require that jackets bear a 350N label; my jacket is probably worth a 350N rating, but I bought it a few months before SPES started putting Newton rating labels on their jackets, so my gear is not good enough for these events; it doesn’t matter where or not my sword is “tournament legal”.
If all that you are asking is whether or not a piece of equipment is worth buying, then ask that question, using those words. Consider the price compared to the value you will get out of it. Consider how long it will last you under your normal fencing conditions. Consider your responsibility to your training partners and how safe a sword is for these people – for example, consider my articles about points/tips, flexibility, and schilt when thinking about safe training tools.
When you reduce the issue to tournament legal or not, either by asking the question or by answering a question in these terms, you place the emphasis in an often unhelpful direction. Maybe your tournament allows this item; maybe my tournament doesn’t, or vice versa. Maybe my tournament doesn’t have a policy about it because I have been lucky enough never to have experienced any problems with it, but you know from personal experience that this piece of equipment is not good enough for that high level of intensity and so you allow it for club use but forbid it for your tournament.
If you are considering asking a question like this, or if you mean to answer a question like this, then try to clarify the issue. Is the question about gear requirements for a specific tournament? Or is the question about a specific piece of equipment and how good a choice it is? Once you clarify the question, the correct question can be asked or the correct answer provided.
Honesty is important in martial arts, and clarity is a major part of honesty.
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.