A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournament Ready and Training Ready Standards

 

(Edit) It seems that this topic is unpopular. I approached this topic as someone familiar with patents, copyright, and creating standards.

From that pov I see issues like Combatcon’s equipment recommendations allowing modified lacrosse gloves, no shin protection, and with the only stated requirement of a mask being behind the head protection. I have read a lot of equipment rules for tournaments and they are often vague and ambiguous. Also, looking at equipment on retailer websites there is a dearth of info. Most clubs seem to be very insular using the same stuff they’ve been using from the start rather than a mix of goods. Part of this is a reluctance to lay down good money on something they aren’t sure of or confident in.

I would suggest an approach to making these standards as something like this:

I would test protective gear with a broken feder that has splintered leaving a sharp edge or for standardization sake three or four different thrusting and cutting sharps using a machine with a test dummy with the protective gear in question. This machine would hit the gear with an ever increasing amount of force let’s say start at 100N and go up a 100N each time noting the point when damage begins and the point when the protection is penetrated.

Then I would go through all the different major makers of the gear in question. I would then compare them and plot out the standard deviations and compare that quantized information to qualitative information from actual HEMA experts.

I would then try and measure the typical amount of force used by a trainee during practice using the typical weapons in HEMA and compare that to the piercing point/breaking point/cutting point of the gear. I would then get a set of average strikes from a dozen random tournament contestants. Then I would get the hardest hitters and try and guestimate the maximum force a HEMA defender is likely to ever get hit with and correlate that with the different tested gear.

By combining the quantitative analysis of how the gear handles piercing, blunt, and slashing hits from sharp weapons and maybe even a mace or staff along with broken weapons with expert qualitative advice you can get a rough idea of training quality, tournament ready, and tournament approved gear.

That way you can also rate gear for Longsword, Staff, rapier, arming sword etc. A Longsword training level jacket might be tough enough to be tournament ready for a saber for example.

Once you have those standards than the makers of the gear can then go back and beef up their gear or drop it down a bit to provide a cheaper but still quality product. If a jacket maker could make a safe but minimal product for entry level at a low price point without sacrificing too much quality than they make money and more new people get into HEMA.

Then once the enthusiast gets some practice and wants to go compete they can make the choice of getting gear that is very good and ready for tournament level play or they can go to the max and get gear that is overkill and very high quality meeting the highest standards in the industry because there will now be standards.

(/edit)

So, as a novice I’ve been reading a lot about HEMA and coming from an outside viewpoint it is a bit confusing and a lot of things are ambiguous with a lot of regional variation. This naturally emerges from a bottom up structure run by a number of very individualistic people who can bonk you on the head with steel if they disagree with you!
If my ideas have already been beaten around to death I apologize. I’m sure the elders of the tribe keep seeing the newbies saying the same thing over and over.

Anyway, it occurred to me that a way to both help the merchants who sell and the people who make gear for the HEMA enthusiast and to help people make informed decisions when buying gear it seems obvious to me that there should be set/s of standards for different types of activities for training and tournaments.

When I buy a video game I see a set of minimum requirements and recommended requirements which give me a rough idea what kind of PC I need to have to run the game. They usually err on the side of caution for minimum requirements and overkill for the recommended.

Rather than having a deeply piecemeal and haphazard approach to each tournament having different gear accepted and having the fear that your gear which was good enough for a tournament in Chicago but not accepted in Denver it seems to me that there are many organizations in HEMA and more importantly many Tournament Leagues.

Imagine if you will a swordmaker able to put on his website “Midwest Historical Fencing League Tournament Ready Feder” and\or “HEMA Alliance Tournament Ready Sidesword.”

Another approach is for the manufacturer’s to get together to make a standard. This placates those who prefer to avoid any appearance of an overarching “federation”.

If the dozen or so makers of masks for example made a tournament ready and a tournament recommended standard for HEMA and all followed it than the buyer would know better what they are getting versus relying on Cen 1 and 2 which help but aren’t perfect with most of the other gear lacking even that nebulous quantifiable standard.

Imagine a poor quality gorget NOT being able to have any official HEMA stamp of approval so some new person doesn’t buy it trying to save money and get hurt badly.

The customer (us) could be confident that the gear they are buying is not only good for their league but it is also tested and approved by their HEMA organization. This would make makers of quality equipment have an easier time selling gear as doubt would be removed. Your only choice now is to ask around your club and look up the occasional youtube review, blog,  or the handful of reviews at Measure and Weigh.

Also, having standards would make it easier for new makers to enter the market. If a feder needs to be between x length and y length, use m through g quality metal, have x flex, and weigh between c and g weight to be tournament approved than having clear standards would improve the quality of our gear and help the manufacturers know what they need to provide to hit any HEMA requirements.

You could have let’s say the red dragon gloves be “Longsword Training Ready for Prairies Historical Fencing League” which tells the buyer that the gloves are okay for practicing or training but in the long run they will need to get better gear or just skip them to gear that is approved.

A pair of fencing gloves could be “Rapier and Saber Training Ready for HEMAA” and a jacket could be the same letting the buyer know that the jacket isn’t approved or ready for Longsword Training so they don’t hurt themselves through ignorance and are educated about what works for one type of HEMA practice or tournament.

You could even have “Ready” and “Approved” as tiers of quality as well. So, a new Regenyei Feder could be “HEMA Ireland Tournament Approved” while a low end feder that is still solid but not great could get “HEMA Ireland Tournament Ready” while a truly mediocre feder but not a bad or dangerous one could get “HEMA Ireland Training Ready” tag. Take the guesswork out of buying the goods. Take the guesswork for the poor people who have to look through all this gear and be the jerk that tells someone that they can’t participate or even worse feel sorry for them and let them participate in an event in which they get hurt!

Take the guesswork out of buying the goods. Take the guesswork for the poor people working or volunteering at HEMA tournaments who have to look through all this gear and be the jerk that tells someone that they can’t participate or even worse feel sorry for them and let them participate in an event in which they end up hurt!

A way this could really benefit is in gear that we appropriate from other sports like arm or shin protection. If we could go to Adidas and say “your shin protection is great so we would like you to market it as a soccer AND HEMA shinguard.” That way if they did that a soccer player could come across a shin guard and sees the HEMA logo and wonders “What’s that?” and looks us up. If they do that and see it is approved to take sword strikes that puts a lot of confidence that it will take a set of cleats. This would increase attention to HEMA and make it easier to find quality gear.

And by having each league and each member of the HEMA Alliance make decisions on gear approval it might help move regional products into the global market while protecting each leagues autonomy. Say you’re a jacket manufacturer with great quality and fair price but you’re in X country and you want to get some exposure you could send a jacket to each league you’re interested in for them to test it out. If you have a good product not only are you going to get your jacket listed by that league or group as approved you could have them review the gear and word of mouth means a lot. If an instructor says “this jacket is amazing” how many students who respect them might think about picking up that jacket that wouldn’t otherwise look for a foreign made and formerly unknown product?

Say you’re a jacket manufacturer with great quality and fair price but you’re in X country and you want to get some exposure you could send a jacket to a couple of leagues you’re interested in for them to test it out. If you have a good product not only are you going to get your jacket listed by that league or group as approved you could have them review the gear online and word of mouth is a very powerful tool. If an instructor says “this jacket is amazing” how many students who respect them might think about picking up that jacket that wouldn’t otherwise look for a foreign made and formerly unknown product? We get better gear and more choices in that gear and the merchant sells more. Win-win in my book.

It also might be useful to have a model or version number on gear. Say a 800N Jacket type Y v2 2015 by X. That way if there happens to be a bad version or model than the league and the manufacturer can alert its customers about it and there can be a caveat and it is clear what type of jacket is being discussed for those manufacturers who make more than one type of the same product.

By having a version history and easy tracking of how that product has performed we can take a more scientific approach to safety and quality control. I know that the Konig Gloves have gone through different permutations so it would be nice if for example a tag said version 4 2016 just in case there was a safety issue with one version anyone who had the glove could just take a look and see if they needed to worry.

Check out my other blog posts in this series with more to come:

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts

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