Starting a HEMA club on a tight budget

sparring with singlesticks
Stuart Beattie and Keith Farrell sparring with singlesticks at FightCamp 2018. Photo by Jonathan Spouge, 2018 (edited by Keith Farrell).

Many HEMA clubs have a very tight budget when starting out. This can make it quite difficult to get a club off the ground if you don’t have the spare money to invest in equipment, or if you aren’t sure that enough people will join for it to make sense financially.

However, there are some things that you can do to start a HEMA club on a tight budget! Of course, having a higher budget means you can perhaps skip straight to doing exactly what system you want, with exactly the equipment you want, in exactly the way you want; but even without having lots of spare cash, you can still get started quite easily.

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Synthetic and steel, or a question of intensity

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Jodie and Ben performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2018.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 5th June 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

When HEMA practitioners discuss protective gear, and for which kind of activity it is most suitable, someone usually says that a piece of gear is “suitable for steel” or “good for synthetics but not for steel”. However, I believe this is the wrong way to look at the use of training swords for historical fencing, and the protective equipment that must be worn, as it forces a certain dichotomy that ignores the most important aspect of risk when fencing: intensity.

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A sensible progression for buying longsword equipment

Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer
Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2015.

When people begin training at a club, it is only reasonable for them to be able to borrow some equipment from the club. After all, no one can reasonably expect that a complete beginner will run out and buy themselves all the protective gear to participate in high intensity longsword fencing, right from the first session! However, people will inevitably want to begin to acquire their own kit – or, if they don’t, the club may need to wean members from borrowing equipment after a while, to free it up for newer members.

This article will attempt to advise a sensible progression for buying equipment for learning to fence with the longsword, along with suggestions for items that might be most suitable and useful.

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What is the difference between a “350N” fencing mask and a “1600N” fencing mask?

A row of fencing masks at The Vanguard Centre in Glasgow. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 22nd April 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

When looking to buy a fencing mask, there are a huge variety of makes and models, and they all come with some numbers to describe how protective they are.

If you have listened to club members talking about masks and their protectiveness (or, even worse, read some of the nonsense that people spout online when discussing fencing masks), you may have come across the terms “350N”, “800N”, “1600N”, or even “12kg” or “25kg”. Unfortunately, most people do not understand correctly what these numbers mean – and if you are going to buy a fencing mask, you should make your decision based on a proper understanding of what the ratings actually mean.

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Cleaning your fencing mask

Cleaning a fencing mask in a tub of warm, soapy water. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2017.

Cleaning your fencing mask is an important thing to do from time to time, to prevent it from smelling bad, and to keep the insides a little healthier for when you wear it. With enough use, a fencing mask accumulates a lot of sweat. If it has been in storage for a while, it can accumulate quite a bit of dirt and dust. These can all be dealt with quite easily.

This article is going to deal with fencing masks designed for HEMA purposes, or for modern fencing with “steam” (non-electric) equipment. Masks with conductive materials for modern fencing with electric equipment should be washed much more carefully, to preserve the conductive materials.

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Buying gear on a tight budget

feder in a field
A feder in a field, at the AHA Loch Lomond 2013 event. Photo by Elliot Howie, 2013.

I was brought up as a stereotypical Scotsman, making many purchasing decisions with my wallet-brain. This meant I almost always went for the cheapest option, and didn’t even consider more expensive options. However, this also meant that I ended up making poor decisions and often ended up buying more expensive equipment in the end, so I wasted quite a lot of money in the process.

Buying equipment on a budget is an issue that almost everyone will face at some point in time. The budget may be very tight, or it might have quite a bit of space in it for more purchases, but inevitably everyone will reach a point where they will think “what can I afford, and should I maybe take a cheaper option?”

Often, and most especially when starting out, I believe that the best policy is not to skimp on certain purchases. It is far better, for many reasons, to save up for a little longer and to buy something better as a result.

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The importance of wearing a fencing mask during training

Adam Boulton and Ken Kot, training a halfsword technique. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2016.

Every modern fencing group in the world demands that members wear their fencing masks while working with swords in hand. Most HEMA clubs demand similar behaviour for the purpose of safety of participants. However, there are some groups that, for whatever reason, do not see fencing masks as important pieces of equipment, and who quite happily permit members to train and even to spar without this most basic piece of protection.

The purpose of this article is to explain some of the reasons why fencing masks are such important pieces of equipment, hopefully helping more groups come to terms with this point of view, and promoting a safer community of sword enthusiasts.

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